Skeptiko’s Alex Tsakiris: Parapsychology, NDE, & Falsifying Scientific Materialism

Interview with radio-host Alex Tsakiris. Alex is an entrepreneur and host of the popular podcast Skeptiko. He’s an active investigator in the fields of consciousness, parapsychology, and near death experience research. Unlike other radio hosts Alex regularly engages with Skeptical voices in an attempt to create a larger dialogue about these issues. A full transcript can be found below.

John: Alex thank you for being with me today.

Alex: My pleasure John.

John: Starting out can you tell us a bit about your general background and what initially got you interested in Science generally and Psychology specifically?

Alex: Well I guess I should start by saying I was always a listener. I always enjoyed listening to podcasts; loving learning about, you know, knowledge in general. I think like a lot of folks I don’t see it so much as an issue of parapsychology, as an issue of wanting to understand the big questions of science. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? I mean, I think everyone has those questions, and I just kind of framed them in a scientific vain.

And then that led me to an interest in, well, what are these two groups saying? One group that’s saying hey this stuff is real, and this other group, these skeptical folks, are saying ‘No, no that can’t possibly be real’. Because just my intuitive sense about it was that, gee, I can’t believe that all this stuff is fake, it’s all made up. It just didn’t seem possible. So, that was sort of my starting point but I was genuinely open to what the skeptical position was.

John: So can you tell us a little more about the Skeptiko podcast? How has it evolved, what are your motivations, aims and so on beyond what you’ve already mentioned?

Alex: Well, I’ve tried to keep that pretty loose if you will. I mean I’ve tried to wrap it into a nice, tight interview style, NPR-style format. I’ve had some great guests; a lot of world renowned researchers really and it gets pretty technical and pretty deep at times but I’ve also had plenty of more popular best-selling author types.

The whole thing for me really, and I don’t know what your motivation is John, but I saw podcasting as a way of answering the questions I wanted to ask when I listen to these other interviews. So it’s really my secret way of finding a vehicle for talking to the people I really want to talk to and get the answers I really want answered. As I say it’s my personal journey shared with others, my personal journey to answer these big picture, scientific questions: who are we, where did we really come from?

John: What do you think the larger relevance of parapsychology and NDE research is; NDE standing for near-death experience?

Alex: Well I think that’s kind of an interesting question because it’s one thing that’s come up for me lately is, you know, it’s really easy to get caught up in the research and kind of lose the forest for the trees. I don’t particularly care about NDE per se; I haven’t had a NDE. In fact there’s really no one close to me that’s had a NDE, other than the colleagues and friends I’ve met through Skeptiko.

So what I’m really interested in is this, really the fundamental assumption that drives science. I was about to say skeptics but what really drives science, that is this idea that we are nothing more than biological robots. That’s really the scientific assertion; that’s scientific materialism as it’s currently formulated as we live it as my kids who go to school that’s what they’re taught. Consciousness, the sum total of your human experience John, that is an illusion; that is what famous philosopher Daniel Dennett has said. And you are a biological robot; that’s what famously Richard Dawkins has said.

So that’s the prevailing scientific, status quo view on who you are. And that’s what I challenge I guess, or feel the need to challenge based on everything that I’ve learned through Skeptiko. I guess if I were to add one thing there, to relate it back to your question John, is NDE directly contradicts that right? Directly contradicts that notion because here you have people whose brain is severely compromised at the very least if not completely gone. Severely compromised, should not be operating in any way we would normally expect in terms of producing consciousness. And yet we do have consciousness. In fact NDE science, the science published in peer reviewed journals, report that these people are having the most lucid, the most profound experiences during these times when the brain is supposed to be severely compromised or not functioning at all. So that’s why I’m interested in NDE, and similarly that’s why I’m interested in parapsychology because it again challenges this assumption that your consciousness is an illusion and you are a biological robot.

John: Well because you’re going against the mainstream view inevitably you must come into contact with people who do not share that view. So how do you both view and deal with skeptical attitudes towards your research topics?

Alex: You know that’s probably the biggest change that I’ve gone through as part of this process over the last six or seven years I’ve been doing Skeptiko. [That] is I started out really thinking there was a skeptical position; that there was a meaningful intellectual argument and certainly I suspected there was significant research and data to support the skeptical claims because I kind of took it face value that since these people keep saying this it must be true. I’ve found out just the opposite: time and time again I’ve run into the skeptical position and found it to be at the very least uninformed and in the worst case sometimes intentionally misleading, intentionally distorted to make a point.

So I think that’s one of the main things that I’ve learned through Skeptiko. And the other thing that I’ve come to appreciate, and this is a little bit harder for people to swallow but, if you really get into the material and really try to figure out what’s going on this second point becomes obvious. And that is that the skeptics as we call them, this small community of kind of dogmatic people that really very few people relate to or self-identify with, they’re a pretty small group. But they are really the tip of the spear for a scientific community; a larger scientific community who really likes the way the skeptics promote this silly dopy materialism I was just talking about — that consciousness is an illusion of a biological robot. The larger scientific community really supports both explicitly and tacitly the skeptics going out with all their shenanigans and all their mischief making that they do. And these ridiculous claims they make about research.

So, that’s what I’ve found. It’s really much bigger than just skeptics. It’s the science community that lies behind the skeptics that promotes this idea of scientific materialism which we can talk [more] about in a minute.

John: Directly jumping off that point, what are some of the usual skeptical arguments that you hear used to ‘debunk’ parapsychology, NDE.

Alex: That’s really hard to pick apart because as I talked about recently on the show, there was recently a very proper, and it was actually very well done, buttoned up, nice suits, NPR, Steve Paulsen moderated discussion about NDE. And it featured Sam Parnia from Cornell who’s a NDE researcher; very prominent, well-published, smart guy who’s been on Skeptiko. And it featured a couple of other folks, and it featured another guy who was sort of skeptical. And this guy who’s kind of skeptical is as I was just saying, he’s not a skeptic, he’s not someone who you’re going to find at the JREF convention or the James Randi meet-up group or anything like that. He’s a highly regarded physician, researcher at a major medical institution. And yet his points mirror many of the skeptical arguments that I’ve heard from “skeptics” on my show. And that is they ignore the really overwhelming, most important evidence about NDE. They agree with it on one hand and then they ignore it on the other.

And here’s really where the rubber meets the road with NDE. What the accounts tell us and what the research tells us; again this is peer-reviewed stuff published in places like the Lancet, one of the most respected medical journals in the world. What it tells us is that people are able to report information after they’ve died, after their heart has stopped and brain has flat-lined. Now what Skeptics will attack is that they’ll say ‘How do you know that their brain has flat-lined? How do you know that they’re dead? They weren’t really dead they came back.’ Stuff like this. Or they’ll say ‘Hey it’s just a lack of oxygen in the brain.’ Well what’s interesting about this panel discussion was that they had experts, world-renowned experts on resuscitation. And folks like that will tell you quite clearly and directly that anyone who has cardiac arrest can be assumed to have a flat-line of their brain within 10-15 seconds after that. That’s just a proven medical fact. Now, what you’ll hear skeptics do is argue, and this panel member who should have known better, was making similar arguments.

‘You know what, maybe there’s something deep inside the brain that is still functioning.’ And he went on to talk about some probes that they’ve done deep inside the brain and there is still some activity. The problem with that argument is that in that counter-argument, in that skeptical claim, they’re attempting to overthrow everything we know about neurology, everything we know about how the brain works, everything we know about EEG-scans, MRI-scans of the brain. So we always wind up with skeptical people, people who are skeptical about NDE, as having to accept even probably a greater absurdity, a greater strangeness than the strangeness that we’re reporting with the best evidence we have. In this case the best evidence suggests that consciousness survives after death. The counter-claim that skeptics make in order to support their idea that you are a biological robot, is that there must be some other explanation for it. And from there they’ll wind up going down any kind of path with these really, when you pull them apart, kind of silly explanations for what’s happening.

John: Now, what about arguments that say the parameters or the scientific protocols of certain parapsychology experiments aren’t rigorous enough?

Alex: Well, I would say, you know you can check out the fifty or sixty shows that I’ve done on Skeptiko where we’ve just torn that apart in depth and actually had interviews with some of those skeptical researchers who’ve published. One of the cases that we really dug into quite a bit was this experiment showing telepathy, and I know this sounds a little strange to people who’ve heard it, but telepathy among dogs and their owners. So Rupert Sheldrake, who’s this Cambridge-educated biologist, noticed that there were a lot of people how reported that when they’d come home sometimes on a regular basis, and sometimes after long absences, their dog would be waiting for them. Now maybe they’d run outside or whatever but in a way that couldn’t be explained like the person’s spouse was there and said hey five minutes before you got here the dog started going crazy and knew that you were coming home. Low and behold you came home. Sometimes people would come back from war, service in the army you know, and there’s no way anyone would know they’re coming back. Or you’d have a guy who ran a truck route and no one knew when he was coming home but the dog would know. So there’s a ton of these reports. And biologist Rupert Sheldrake had always taken an interest in this and collected these reports so he started to do some real serious research on this topic.

He did the research. We reported on the research. And then there was this skeptical guy, PhD in psychology: Richard Wiseman. Very prominent psychologist from, I guess you could even say parapsychologist but that’s a whole other story, the UK who claimed to have “debunked” this whole thing. And he published his work in a peer-reviewed journal. So we had both of them on several times and had this ongoing debate. Anyone  who sorts through that and really looks at it in a fair minded way, there’s only one conclusion to come to, and that’s that Sheldrake is right and Sheldrake did hundreds of experiments to prove that he was right. And Wiseman is fudging with the data, he’s making stuff up.  He’s intentionally tried to deceive people in order to promote his idea that there’s no possible way that this telepathy thing could happen.

Just as a quick thumbnail of it, Wiseman did four trials. Sheldrake does hundreds of trials, Sheldrake leaves the set-up: the video camera, everything he used. Wiseman comes in, uses his stuff, does four trials. Actually if you analyze Wiseman’s trials they give the same result as Sheldrake; if you use Sheldrake’s methods. But Wiseman turned it around and said, ‘Hey you know what? I really need to evaluate those trials in a completely different way, and by doing that, I can show you that it didn’t happen. That the dog wasn’t psychic, didn’t have a telepathic link with its owner, it was just random chance.’

So, John I can’t really answer your question really succinctly because every case is different. But I can tell you this, every case that I’ve looked at in parapsychology, when I focus on the best data, the skeptics are always wrong. Always wrong. At least, maybe not always, but their batting average is really, really, really bad. If you look at the best cases.

John: I think the Wiseman-Sheldrake debate that you aired was one of the most fascinating dialogues that I’ve come across; and was refreshing because you actually did bring two people who are on totally opposite sides of that debate. And they were able to have a very good conversation, they were keeping their heads together, and it was very informative. You really got a more comprehensive understanding of where each side is coming from, what each side’s biases are, etcetera, etcetera. So that was really interesting.

That was actually the first episode I heard of your show. And it was excellent, excellent work.

Alex: That’s great, I’m glad you took it that way. I guess on a more cynical note I can take it a different way, and that is to interpret the fact that Richard Wiseman can come on and sound so calm, so collected, and seem to have such a dependable position  speaks to how hopelessly tricky this area really is. Because anyone, again, who really digs into the research would have to conclude that this was intentional deception on the part of Wiseman. And that sounds really harsh, really hard for some people to say, but the evidence is just so clear, so compelling, that there’s really no other conclusion to draw to.

So the fact that we have to play nice, and that Wiseman has this certain credibility that he has, it is a double-edged sword. So yea it’s a pleasant conversation, but underneath that is the absurdity of this skeptical position that only has one goal and that’s to promote status-quo, mainstream science that says none of this stuff can happen. Everybody go back to sleep, you are a biological robot, just deal with it.

John: And the second point I wanted to raise was that I have a hard time believing that it’s taken so long to even gain this amount of interest on parapsychology; because there’s been a huge natural history of it for a long, long time: decades, centuries. And almost all scientific research starts from some kind of observation or anecdotal account. Same thing with asteroids; people were saying rocks were falling from the sky, and people would refuse to believe it or even look at it.

So we always have to start with these observations and I think parapsychology has a strong argument in that case because its natural history is vast. And it can’t just…you could write that off as all delusion, as is often done. But I find that as incredulous as saying that something’s really going on. So I don’t see how the skeptical position is really all that more logical.

Alex: I agree. And I think that’s an often overlooked point. As I just talked about in the case of Sheldrake, you know. I was on an interview with a group of skeptics and they were trying to grill me. I was just presenting the data, and you could see they had no kind of response to this data of Sheldrake’s as it stacks up against Wiseman. And finally one of the guys said, “You know, but Alex, you’re talking about telepathy in dogs! Doesn’t that sound absurd to you?” Which, I love the gut-level, emotional kind-of response because that’s how a lot of people think and I can understand that thinking.

But as you just pointed out John, what we really have to do is get scientific on the thing, and step back and say “OK, is that absurd?” Then we look at the natural phenomenon, the natural history as you just said, and say “Gee. You know we have a lot of people across time, across culture, reporting this same thing.” So, those are usually the tell-tale signs of something we need to investigate further; let’s investigate it with an open mind. Man that’s what science is all about. And again as you alluded to, to immediately jump to the conclusion that this has to be mass delusion, which again is more preposterous. We have no explanation for how that could happen, right? To jump to that conclusion because it fits with our existing bias, our prevailing world-view, is really exactly what science is supposed to guide us through. Science is supposed to guide us past our biases, our prejudices, and allow us to look at this stuff; this stuff being this data, this world we take in, allow us to look at with fresh eyes. And when we miss that opportunity, we’ve really missed a lot.

John: What scientists, in your opinion, are doing the best and most relevant research in these fields that we’re talking about?

Alex: Well, there’s many. You just have to look for them and find them. Rather than rattle off a bunch of names, what I’d say from my research into this is that it’s not that hard to find the truth. It’s not that hard to figure out the answer to your question. So I almost say, you know, if someone halfway interested: Google it! Start from there. Go to the bookstore, the good old-fashioned bookstore, and look on the shelves.  But really the best way to do it is just to sit there and Google it, start reading some of this research. It’s accessible; a lot of these guys are writing popular books to go with it. Then look at the skeptical side as well, and use your own inner sense of guiding yourself toward what is really the best and most reliable research. That’s what I’d say.

Then of course go to Skeptiko. That’s where to find the best researchers, I interview them, and try and present both sides as best as I can. Although, it’s hard because the skeptics don’t really have a really strong position. And I’m not going to create, like so many times in the media, this false dichotomy, this false debate, that there’s two sides to an issue. Sometimes there are not two sides; or it is so lopsided in one direction that it would distort things to present those two sides as being anything close to equal.

John: Fair enough. How much do you think that our own unexamined assumptions contribute to meaningless culture war debates in our society?

Alex: Well you’re trying to tee-up a question there that I’ve kind of tried to dig into a lot. I mean, it’s all about our assumptions; it’s all about our biases. That’s what I’ve come to find out. And we’re all included in that. As I just mentioned, hey that’s the beauty of science; that’s the gift. The scientific method allows us to free ourselves from our biases. It gives us a rigor; a way of going through it.

But what you’re also alluding to in that question is that there are other influencers in our society that are really happy with these stuck-on-stupid debates. This battle against science and religion; oh my gosh it’s science and religion! It’s gays in the military. It’s all this stupid stuff that gets polarized and looks like this battle of ideas. When you push through it, it’s a battle of two intellectually-bankrupt, impoverished viewpoints, you know? It’s one guy saying “Oh, you’re a biological robot and life is meaningless.” And it’s this other guy saying, “Oh no. There’s this one solution, this one answer from this book that’s written 2,000 years ago. And it’s take your pick; it’s one of those two. And those two voices are so loud that it makes it hard to punch through that and say, “Wait a minute, there has to be something else beyond that stupid argument.” And the people who are behind promoting that argument have the other agenda. They say, “Hey, everybody focus on that debate right over there! That’s the debate that I want everyone to have because I don’t want folks to ask the larger question about who we really are, and what that means in terms of how it relates to this society that we’ve created.” And that’s kind of a bigger question that again is really, really challenging for a lot of people to get to, to go there.

But John if you really think about it, and maybe this will shoehorn us into a little discussion about Cold Fusion which you feature so prominently on your website and have done such a nice job of exploring, the society that we live in is a capitalistic society that’s driven by materialism. I don’t know a better way to do it. I mean, I don’t want to move to China, I don’t want to use the Russian system. I don’t know what other system works better. But I think we have to be honest that is our system.

And back many years ago when we had a war and we were bombing Iraqi school-children, and George Bush came on and said, “You know what? Go out and shop. Go on vacation. Don’t worry about things.” It was clear as it should have been to all of us all along that the consumerism and materialism that we are part and parcel of in our society is a reflection of the scientific materialism that I’m talking about that I’ve found with  these skeptics who oppose any idea that you are anything more than a biological robot. So, scientific materialism and consumer materialism are linked. They are twin brothers; one needs the other. Because if you go beyond scientific materialism, if you go beyond the idea that you are this biological robot, well then you’re something more.

Well what more are you? Are you really connected in some real way to other people? If you take that one step further, who are you connected to? Are you just connected to your family, or are you maybe connected to the rest of the people in your community? In your state, in your country, in the world! Can you really justify shooting depleted uranium missiles from your tanks over into those schoolchildren in Iraq? Can you really justify that if we’re all connected? It gets harder and harder to do. Can you really justify trying to scoop up all the natural resources, grab all the water or whatever? And hold it all to yourself while people starve or die of thirst?

I’m not saying I have any answers to those huge, huge problems; I don’t. And I don’t know that I could come to any better solution than what we have. All I’m trying to draw out is the idea that as you dig into this stuff, you keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger problems. And when you bring it back down, scale it back down, and you look at some of these parallels between this really bizarre, silly idea that is scientific materialism. I mean come on. Nobody thinks they are a biological robot. Nobody really believes that. Nobody really thinks consciousness is an illusion. No one thinks the sum total of your life is an illusion. You think it’s real, but you have this group telling  you “No, no, no, it’s an illusion.” Because they need to sustain this model: scientific materialism. Because that model works perfectly with the society and the economic system we’ve created which is consumerism and materialism as it feeds into capitalism.

So, there’s the whole world. That’s why you’ve got to be really leery, not leery, really cautious in your optimism over cold fusion because any new technology that has the potential to dramatically upset the status quo, be it in science or energy or business, is going to be either destroyed or co-opted. So either destroyed and suppressed by the people who have a vested interest in everything staying the way that it is. Or it’s going to be co-opted by the system and used in a way to further the system’s goals. That’s my soap box speech on the really, really big picture stuff. Sorry to go on and on but I don’t really get the chance to talk about this on the air (on Skeptiko), I just stick to the science more or less.

John: To speak to your point on cold fusion I think that co-option, yes, is an issue but as you alluded to we have a structure that is hard to bypass in many respects, so you have these small handful of companies that will inevitably have to work through the military-industrial-academic complex. And will have to accommodate that system in some way. So it won’t necessarily bring freedom or liberation or anything to everybody right away. But I feel like to make it public is important that way people actually know that it’s really going on versus people continually dismissing it as not even existing. Then yes, the powers-that-be taking advantage of it for their own benefit.

But there are some open-source stuff going on that I think is good, and a lot of the literature is pretty open at this point so there’s a lot of dissemination of knowledge in that regard.

Alex: Well let me just interject there John because I thought one of the most interesting things about the whole cold fusion technology, and I’ve been following it because I’m just fascinated by it and I almost feel like I’m watching the sports scores you know when I tune in to the latest development. I’m like a fan cheering on the team, “Go cold fusion, go!”

And to your point one of the things I found interesting was the [Martin] Fleischmann Memorial Project, right? Which is, as you alluded to, totally open-source replication of the cold fusion effect, the cold fusion science. These guys are totally open-source. I mean they’re publishing videos with all the demonstrations they do. I sent them some money and they send me updates all the time. “Oh we just got in the latest device here and we’re hooking it up and should be running it tomorrow. OK here’s the video.” I mean I think that’s fantastic, and I think the fact that the cold fusion community has embraced this idea from the beginning, that they will be co-opted unless they radically oppose that, has been an amazing part of it. Because they said, “We’ve been through this before with Pons and Fleischmann. We know that the machine can be a real grinder.” Whether there is some big agency above that’s grinding it or whether it’s just the competitive system we live in can be a grinder. So it’s interesting that group has from the beginning kind of had a leery eye toward people who are coming at them with this idea that we got to make sure that we bypass some of those power structures and get this stuff to the point, as you alluded to, that is beyond where it can be stuffed back in the bottle. And has to be dealt with in one way or another; is that your take on it?

John: Yeah, I would agree with that point. And to speak to your second point I do think we need more of a mature consciousness anyway to even deal with the ramifications of something like this. So, this idea that our view of science underwrites a lot of our behaviors, in the same way the Church told you during the Middle Ages seeped into your subconscious, and whether you liked it or not it shaped who you were and how you acted, what you pursued and what you saw with a skeptical eye and what you didn’t. So, we take for granted our subconscious and the impact that scientific materialism has. It denies a subjective experience to life, a meaningful experience. So no matter what spirituality you try to attach to that, I can’t see how that can’t get to you; whether you consciously allow for it or not. And I think that leads to alienation, it leads to break downs in communication, and so we have this kind of system that we have. The state that our consciousness is in projects out into the world and we create these systems based on what’s going on [inside our heads]. We have to clear up our thinking before we’re able to make use of anything in a really positive way. But we’re getting there, and like these kinds of small little movements and ideas are what move it along. So [that] keeps me encouraged.

Alex:  Well maybe. I put a big maybe on all that. Not that I disagree with you, or that I don’t want that to happen. But I think it’s interesting in a skeptical way, a Skeptiko sort of way, to kind of pull that apart in a couple ways.

One is what does it really take to change? And this idea that we can creep up toward change and then we will eventually get there needs to be challenged because that’s not always the way. Sometimes this paradigm shift happens instantly. I forget which guest told me this but I thought it was a brilliant insight. Jane Goodall walked out of the African forest and our worldview changed instantly. We were no longer the only conscious, sentient beings. There were other beings on the planet that we had to account for and that changed the world-view instantly overnight. And there’s been other similar kind of paradigm shifts.

So the idea that it changes by these little incremental moves, I don’t think we can really say that. And the other thing we don’t know is where the breakthrough comes. We don’t know if cold fusion is the catalyst, because people say, “Hey wait a minute. Why have we built this whole system around these fossil fuels when there’s this chemical reaction over here that can cleanly, safely, totally redo our world structure as it relates to energy?” Which is like 90% of the total economic value of everything that’s done. Maybe that is the catalyst in a way for a whole different thinking about a lot of things.

Then there’s one other point I wanted to circle back and talk about, is that I agree with your summation about how scientific materialism is really degrading in a lot of ways. It’s degrading to a lot of the values we hold about being human beings. You know, life having meaning, being able to love and connect with people. It’s really anti all that stuff. But what’s so fascinating to me John, and I’ve interviewed so many atheists and skeptics on my show, and anyone can go and find these, is when you confront them with that…you know  I had on this guy John Loftus. It was such a great interview. Because here’s a guy who is just this super-ardent atheist and he’s written all these books and has a website about the ills of Christianity and all this stuff; atheist, atheist, atheist. I said OK, so you’re an atheist. Here’s what you believe: you believe life is meaningless and all the rest. And he’s like, “Well…that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about your family.” I go, “Why? Why would you care about your family?” There’s no meaning, there’s no such thing as love, no such thing as connection.

He’s really thrown by this. I mean this is atheism 101; this is exactly what biological robots are not. This is exactly what “consciousness is an illusion,” is not. So here you have this real contradiction between what the implications are of this scientific materialism and what your run-of-the-mill, this isn’t even run-of-the-mill, this is an ardent dogmatic atheist who writes these books, what he believes. He can’t even believe his own doctrine and he’s not the only one. I’ve talked to [many] atheists on the Skeptiko show, including PhD Stephen Law from Oxford who’s again published these books. They’re totally stumped by this. I mean they just can’t get over this because of course it makes no sense. We do not live our lives like biological robots. We know our life is meaningful and yet we’ve accepted, many people have accepted, this preposterous notion wholesale this idea of scientific materialism. Because it’s really been kind of jammed down our throat in so many ways. Just to kind of put an explanation point on what you’re saying. It is degrading and the worst part of it is, as you alluded to, it’s really a subconscious kind of thing because on a conscious level folks continue to maintain this idea that “Oh no, everything is OK. I should still care about my family, but of course life is meaningless. Ultimately the Universe is meaningless so my life must be meaningless.

John: Interestingly enough I just watched this documentary called The Act of Killing. [It] profiles propagators of the Indonesian genocide of the 60s that wiped out the communists. And there’s a handful of them who are still pretty much celebrities in the country because the regime that took over is still in power. And this director followed them around for seven years and gained their trust and he allowed them to reenact their murders. And so they had these film sets and they were discussing what they did and it allowed for all this introspection that I don’t think they ever really went through. And a couple of them you could see started to reflect on their lives and see what they were doing and became pretty distraught. Toward the end they let themselves be filmed candidly and they had these conversations, and one of the men was with another guy fishing. And he’s like, you know, I feel like we owe these people an apology. And the other man says, “Well your mind is weak. You should go to a neurologist, because the neurologist will tell you that what you are feeling is just electrical impulses in your brain. Your guilt is nothing. It’s not genuine.” So he’s saying you shouldn’t be feeling [any] guilt because you are just this robot with electricity coursing through it; and you are deterministic so how could you really be accountable for anything? So, I feel like you can take that to a kind of perverse degree to give authentication or verification to whatever horrendous or heinous act you would like to commit.

Alex: Yup. That’s fascinating. It’s really kind of disheartening too. And let me at the same time bring people back to where we started in this kind of discussion because it can get kind of political and airy-fairy in a way that people want to push back with “What do you have that’s better?” Or “The world is tough.” Stuff like that. Well no, what I come back to is the science man. I just care about the science OK. That’s where I stay with Skeptiko. It’s like, “OK take that for what it is, but do look at the NDE science and do come to the obvious conclusion that consciousness survives death.”

So that’s my point. We can talk about the killing fields and all the rest of that and then people can square off and have these political discussions, but what you and I are trying to do here, and which is so rarely done, is to say “OK but the best evidence we have from science undermines some of the fundamental belief structures that underlie those political decisions.” I don’t know what political decisions will come but I’m calling for a reexamination of the science because I don’t think it holds up.

John: Transitioning a little bit. We have these different philosophies: materialism, then the other extreme which is idealism, and somewhere in between you have dualism. Is there any way these can be reconciled?

Alex: I don’t go there John. I don’t go there because, again, it’s another way of sidetracking the main issue. The main issue for me is that we’ve built this huge edifice of scientific materialism. If it’s incorrect, and it is, then that’s what we have to deal with. What may come, all those other “isms”, hey I’m open to it. What I’m really open to is that everyone can figure that out for themselves. But what we have to first do is deal with the falsity of scientific materialism and at the same time why we’ve been conditioned to accept something that is just ludicrous at face value, just stupid, doesn’t make any sense. So why were we conditioned, why do all these smart people continue to push this garbage? And before we even get there, we have to say is it really false? Is it really falsified? We can say yeah it’s really falsified. Well then why did it persist for so long? I just say end of story there. Whatever “ism” you want to go to after there, whether a personal transformation, I’ll live with whatever you come up with.

John: Now we don’t fully understand consciousness in any way but we have pretty good hints about what it may or may not be. So, at this point, what meaning might you attach to consciousness?

Alex: Ditto on the last answer. I don’t have to answer that. I don’t have to answer that. The most important thing I can do is falsify the existing paradigm that says consciousness is an illusion created by a biological robot.

John: Fair enough. Fair enough. I guess we’re winding down a bit so to wrap up do you have any upcoming plans or projects you can tell the audience about?

Alex: Well I am kind of toying around with writing this book, Why Skeptics Are Wrong About Almost Everything. The last episode of Skeptiko was a first chapter that I floated out there on psychics and mediums interestingly enough; something I looked into quite a bit a couple years ago and published a bunch of shows on. Again my interest is this idea of falsifying scientific materialism and that’s kind of where I’m headed.

John: OK, well, Alex thank you very much for your time this was a really a nice conversation. We’re closing in on an hour, that was really insightful and I really appreciate it.

Alex: Great John. I was glad to take part and I really enjoy your website and what I’ve seen of it, and all that stuff on cold fusion I wish we could’ve talked more on that but maybe some other time.

John: OK. Thanks a lot Alex, take care.


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