Archives for March 2012

The science of eternity

I’m somewhat accustomed to receiving presents on my birthday, but it was something of a surprise when a friend sent me a present on his birthday. I felt pretty bad, because I didn’t get him anything.

His gift was a link to the website for the Campaign for Philosophical Freedom, specifically directing me to a page featuring a program divided into eight parts called The Science of Eternity. It’s the best present I’ve ever received to commemorate someone else’s birthday. It turned out to be quite educational.

I learned something about Sir William Crookes, the brilliant British scientist. Crookes was a chemist who discovered the chemical element thallium, essential for medical equipment such as MRI machines. He was also a physicist who invented the vacuum tube, essential discoeries making the computer monitor and television screens possible.

The program also exposed me to the work of Sir Oliver Lodge, another British physicist who invented wireless telegraphy, which also contributed to the invention of television by Scottish engineer John Logie Baird.

All three men were also founding members of the Society for Psychical Research, and the video claimed these men allegedly carried out experiments that “proved” life continued after physical death of the human body.

The substantiation for those claims turned out to be a bit difficult to find; the interviewee and presenter alluded to the existence of proof of the afterlife, but didn’t describe or elaborate on it. The definition of scientific proof offered was “repeatable experiments backed up with a theory that has a mathematical base”, but got sketchy after that.

Instead, author Michael Roll extolled his evidence because articles were published in the peer-reviewed Quarterly Journal of Science in 1874, and he repeatedly claimed others were successful duplicated the result of these “scientific” experiments without describing what they were. However, he does hint that a medium, or psychic, was used in these experiments.

Michael Roll described the scientists seeking proof of a “natural” continuation of life after death of the physical body as survivalists, as opposed to spiritualists, normally associated with religious beliefs. In fact, Roll proved remarkably hostile to any form of religion, admitting in his pamphlet that his intention was not to persuade people like me, but Richard Dawkins. Roll wrote,

The only way I can win Prof. Richard Dawkins over to accepting survival after death is if I keep hitting him with scientific facts. When people fully materialise from the etheric world at our experiments, they answer all the questions we fire at them. This then becomes hearsay, not scientific facts. I hit Prof. Dawkins with hearsay at my peril. This mountain of hearsay coming from the people in the “next world” is very interesting, but we can only put this in our pending tray as something to think about. It is only the priests who want you grovelling before them and blindly believing in their supernatural, divisive doctrines and dogmas. Scientists and philosophers want you standing up straight with your head held high, very carefully checking everything that is said. We must all remove the dreadful priestly word “belief” from our vocabularies.

Unfortunately, Mr. Roll chose the wrong target audience. Richard Dawkins is a rather adamant materialist. He would have had a much better chance of convincing author Sam Harris (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation) to take him seriously.

Harris acknowledged his openness to the idea of a mystical realm in “The Four Horsemen“, a philosopher’s love fest featuring Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. At about the 9:00 mark of the video, Harris indicated a willingness to at least entertain the idea of an ethereal world when he said, “I still use words like spiritual and mystical without furrowing my brow too much, much to the consternation of my atheist friends.”

Of course, the “Science of Eternity” program talked about more than Michael Roll and Ron Pearson, but more than a mention of David Icke would require another blog article. We must save that topic for another conversation, a new day. I’m still trying to fathom a reason for Roll’s overt hostility to religion.

He described religious believers as “sanctimonious nitwits calling for a return to morals based on superstition”, failing to grasp the wisdom of Dale Carnegie’s instructions on how to win friends and influence people. It’s tough to remain sympathetic to someone insulting your intelligence.

Roll would have no difficulty convincing me there is a relationship between quantum theory and a spiritual world, but I categorically reject his notion that everyone ends up in the same place when we die. Were that the case, every near death experience would be a pleasant one. Unless Matthew Botsford is a liar,  we simply know that isn’t true. Though he’s no Audie Murphy, Matthew claims that he literally went to hell and back.

Having held the x-ray in my hands that shows the bullet still lodged in Matthew’s head, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I believe he died, and received new knowledge while his physical body lay traumatized, in a state at or near death.  And for some reason I cannot explain, he was apparently given a second chance and brought almost all the way back to a normal life, with a few permanent reminders of his experience.

I know his reprieve was only temporary. Like every other human who has ever lived, except perhaps Enoch, Matthew will once again draw in his last breath. That’s the way of this world.

Ironically, Matthew’s favorite question, which he will boldly ask of total strangers: “Where will you spend eternity?”

While I’m fairly certain that science will never be able to tell us the answers, I’m not opposed to putting forth some effort to find out anyway.

Akiane Kramarik

HeavenIsForRealAkiane Kramarik is an extraordinarily gifted young artist. Her work has been featured on ABC, Fox, CNN, and international television. She has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer, Lou Dobbs, Craig Ferguson, and Peter Jennings. Her story is an interesting one. She allegedly grew up in an atheist household with absolutely no exposure to Christian dogma, yet her work became famous for the realistic religious imagery she has translated into art.

Nevertheless, I’d never heard of her until I was reading the book Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo. A friend lent me his copy, being well aware of my keen interest in learning about the near death experience. In this instance, the book recounts an NDE experienced by four-year-old Colton Burpo, who almost died after the doctors at the hospital misdiagnosed his burst appendix and failed to treat it for several days.

His story affirmed my belief that NDEs are not merely pleasant hallucinations produced by ketamine reaction in a dying, strictly materialist brain.  Todd Burpo hammered home that Colton had accurately conveyed new memories obtained while his physical brain was literally separated from his obviously still-functioning mind. He apparently gained new knowledge of information to which he could not possibly have had access while undergoing a life-saving medical procedure.

Colton accurately recounted where his mother and father were during his surgery and what they were doing while he could not possibly have known by observation. His physical body was in surgery in a different part of the hospital at that time. He also revealed that while “dead” and visiting heaven, he met his unborn sister, who died in utero before he had been born.  In the book, Todd insisted that Colton had never been told about the miscarriage prior to his NDE. Yet somehow, he knew her.

Akiane Kramarik’s name appeared in the story as Todd Burpo struggled to get a physical description of Jesus from his son. Colton claimed to have met the Christ in heaven, and Todd wanted to know what he really looked like in person.  After Colton rejected countless efforts by a great number of artists to capture the real face of Jesus, he said Akiane’s work Prince of Peace got it absolutely right. It was perfect, in every detail.

Kramarik also claimed she visited heaven and met Jesus when she was very young. Her painting was allegedly from memory, a loving rendition faithfully produced when she was only eight years old.

I couldn’t help but notice uncanny similarities between the face in Kramarik’s painting and the result of an attempt to reconstruct an image of the face captured on the Shroud of Turin.

Question: what is going on here? Could this possibly be part of an elaborate scheme by two young children to fool people into believing in a supernatural realm that religious believers like to call heaven? Even the most ardent conspiracy theorist would have trouble swallowing that proposition, considering Burpo lives in rural Nebraska and Kramarik in Idaho. Have these young children simply mistaken a vivid dream or hallucination for a real experience, independently of each other?

If so, then how are accurate new memories formed when the physical brain apparently doesn’t have access to the information in question? Remember, this is hardly the first incidence where the participant in an NDE claimed to create new memories. Also remember, not every NDE is a pleasant experience in heaven; some claim to have visited hell.

Of course, my atheist friends like to describe these stories as “anecdotes” to devalue their importance.  However, once these purported “new memories” become validated by multiple witnesses and impartial observers, they become something more comparable to testimony that would stand up in a court of law, as opposed to mere gossip.

Sometimes, the simplest explanation is also the best one. Heaven is for real. Unfortunately, so is hell.

A new voice from Each Voice Publishing

Tammy Rainey’s trilogy of short stories, Painted Ponies, is nothing short of extraordinary.

Take After describes the relationship between father and son in the wake of a close call with death.

The Last Best Hour spends the last moments of a condemned prisoner in conversation with an important literary figure conjured from the recesses of his memories.

The title story shares the relationship of widowed mother and son as they carry on tradition begun by his late father.

Poignant, touching, and jarring at times, these stories will tug on your heart strings. Available in a variety of ebook formats, including the Kindle at Amazon, the Nook at Barnes and Noble, and the IPad plus a variety of other ebook reader formats through Smashwords.

Brought to you by the innovative and creative voices from within Each Voice Publishing.

Kickstarting the Fonehook

I’m in the late stages of producing the completed first draft of my next novel to be published by Each Voice Publishing, which I’m calling Secondhand Sight, but occasionally I take a break and come up for air….Okay, so the truth is that I occasionally stop screwing around and get some real work done, but that’s another story.

The point of this article is to talk about the crowd funding phenomenon, and a new invention called the Fonehook. The idea to write it originated when I checked my email and found a very polite query from a gentleman named Anthony, who read something I’d published. He asked me to review his new product he’s trying to market, a simple platform designed to safely hold your IPod, IPhone, Android, or other smart device.

The product is clever, inexpensive, and designed well enough to do the job. Prepare the double-sided tape, put two screws into the wall, attach the Fonehook and tighten the screws, and that baby isn’t going anywhere. The only drawbacks to the deal are that you have to buy in a minimum quantity of five Fonehooks for $20, and the screws apparently aren’t included. You’d probably want more than one of these wall hangers for phones anyway, but may not have a use for all five.

The ones you don’t use, you can give away to family and friends. A small package of wood screws can be obtained from a hardware store for a dollar or two. Problem solved.

This product reminded that my son’s smart phone has a cracked screen precisely for the reason he didn’t have a safe place for it when it wasn’t in his pocket. After spending several hundred dollars for his fancy phone and IPod, it’s certainly worth $20 to protect them.

My curiosity led to a test drive around the Fonehook website, a slick promotional tool for the product. There I noticed a button for his Kickstarter campaign and followed the link.

Hours earlier, I’d been at that very website, pondering my own campaign to raise funds intended to garner reviews and pay for marketing and advertising the novel. For the uninitiated, Kickstarter is one of several websites dedicated to “crowd funding” projects ranging from inventions such as Anthony Johnston’s Fonehook to publishing efforts, movies, art, games, music, theater, and other categories of interest.

The way it works is pretty simple. First, you calculate the amount you need to properly fund a project. Next, you formulate a campaign to raise that amount. People come to the website, evaluate your campaign, then decide whether or not to make a pledge of support. If the target amount is reached, the campaign is funded and executed. If the entrepreneur fails to generate enough pledges to meet his goal, nobody pays anything. The project never gets off the ground.

Other sites will provide partial funding, but the Kickstarter philosophy is that you calculate what you need for success. Trying to get by with partial funding is a recipe for disaster. Some campaigns have funded several hundred percent above the goal amount; others expire before reaching their target.

Anthony’s target is relatively modest. His campaign has 57 days remaining for him to raise another $13,705 (at time of this publication). The problem is that by my calculations, he needs about 685 more people to pledge at least $20 to realize his dream.

Even though I don’t own an IPod or IPhone, I’m seriously considering pledging $20 just to help Anthony get his business off the ground, to realize his dream. I may even buy a smart phone later this year, just so I’ll need a Fonehook.

Of course, Mr. Johnston will still need 684 more people to follow suit in order to purse his dream. Perhaps one or two readers of this article will feel the same way as me and follow my lead. With Kickstarter, the risk is practically non-existent. His potential market will decide whether or not his original fundraising target was reasonable or unrealistic.

I wish him every success. After all, I’m seriously considering following his example. The worst thing that could happen is that I would set an unattainable goal and fail to raise enough money, but I will still have a book in any event. The only question will be if I can raise enough money to properly market it. Since I would need less than half of the Fonehook goal, I’m strongly pulling for him to succeed. It will bolster my confidence to follow his lead.

Unless Mr. Johnston’s business model follows the Solyndra example of selling units that cost $6 each for $3, it’s a win/win situation for the aspiring businessman and his potential customer base. You can be sure that I’ll be following the Fonehook campaign closely, as I continue to contemplate my own Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the promotion of Secondhand Sight.

St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah

A friend called me recently and suggested I should come to Savannah for St. Patrick’s Day.

Frankly, I’d rather have my teeth pulled without Novocaine. I grew up in Savannah, so I know all too well what St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah can be like, especially when it falls on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong. It will be great fun. In fact, it’s too much fun for me. It is not a place for someone who doesn’t like “standing room only” anymore. The only way to stand out in a crowd on St. Patrick’s Day is to wear any color except green.

A city of 250,000 people doubles in size. Many of them get drunk, but the police do keep things from getting out of hand. Don’t even think about drinking and driving. The police will be out in force.

Still, the traffic is horrific on St. Patrick’s Day Saturdays, and the parking non-existent. A city known for it’s hospitality gets overrun by more rowdy revelers than it can handle.

Once upon a time, I lived for that sort of thing. If you’ve never been to Savannah for St. Patrick’s Day, the city does roll out the green-dyed red carpet for visitors. There are events, parades, bands, and green beer, the whole nine yards. For me, that’s the whole problem.

I’m too old and cantankerous for that sort of stuff. Besides, at the moment, I’m focused on completing the task of editing my new novel. On the other hand, it would be nice to see the old friend allegedly flying into town for the big celebration, as long as I can avoid the most boisterous of the festivities myself. We’ll have to see how work goes.

Honestly, the green I’d most like to see in Savannah if I’m there for St. Paddy’s Day is on the first hole of Crosswinds golf course.