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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Deathbed Visions: The Earliest Accounts (Part 2)

Deathbed visions are a different phenomenon from near-death experiences. Near-death experiences are accounts of extraordinary experiences of those who had close brushes with death, but who recovered to tell the story of their remarkable experiences. Deathbed visions are usually extraordinary observational accounts told by those who came very close to dying, and then actually did die.  The great interest in near-death experiences has caused the different phenomenon of deathbed visions to be overshadowed and overlooked. 

In Part 1 of this two-part post I quoted some of the earliest accounts of deathbed visions, provided in a 1906 paper by Ernesto Bozzanno. I also discussed some deathbed visions described in the 1926 book Death-bed Visions by Sir William Barrett, which can be read here.  Let us look at some more accounts in that book that I didn't mention in my previous post. 

On page 43 we have an account of a Jim who when dying said that he saw three of his siblings who had previously died.  On page 46 we read of two sisters who died of smallpox, Minnie dying before Ada. We read this about Ada's death:

"Suddenly the sick child woke up from a kind of stupor, and exclaimed, 'Oh, look, Mamma, look at the beautiful angels !’ pointing to the foot of the bed. Mrs. G. saw nothing, but heard soft sweet music, which seemed to float in the air. Again the child exclaimed :  'Oh, dear Mamma, there is Minnie! She has come for me ' ; she smiled and appeared greatly pleased. At this moment Mrs. G. distinctly heard a voice say, ‘Come, dear Ada, I am waiting for you! ’ The sick child smiled once again and died without a struggle.” 

On page 48 we read of the death of a son:

"Then he spoke again and said,' Mother, here is Grandmother 
come ! You must see her ! And she is with such a great company, and they say that they are come to take me away with them.' Soon after that he gently breathed his last.”

On the same page we read of another person's death:

"Just before death he raised himself in his bed, resting himself upon his hand and said, ‘ Who is that at the bottom of my bed ?’ His mother, who was sitting by his bedside, said, 'There is no one there, my dear.' He said, ‘ Don't you see Emma'  (a departed sister) 'standing at the foot of the bed ?’ She said, ‘No, there is no one there, my dear‘ 'Yes, there is,' he said, 'it is Emma. I am coming, I am ready’; and fell back and died.”

On page 49 we read this account of a death of a boy from consumption:

“On the morning of the day he died, his mother having left the room to fetch him something, heard him call and hastening back, found him sitting up in bed, looking towards the corner of the room, and he said to her, ‘ There is a nice old man come for me ; he is holding out his arms for me. I must go. Don’t fret, Mother’ ; and he fell back gently on his pillow and was gone, without any struggle for breath, and with a smile of joy on his face, which remained." 

On page 50 we read this account of a death:

'An old man, named John George...lay dying. He and his wife, Mary Ann George, had had a great sorrow that same year in the death of their youngest son, Tom, a young man who had been killed on the railway line on which he worked. The dying man had been quiet for some time as though sleeping, when he suddenly looked up, opened his eyes wide, and looking at the side of the bed opposite to where his wife was, exclaimed, ‘Why, Mother, here is Tom, and he is all right, no marks on him. Oh, he looks fine.’ 

On page 51 we read of the death of a woman:

"She suddenly looked up with such a bright expression of face and said, ' Oh, Emmie, Mother is here ; she has come for me, and is going to take me with her.'  She never lost the feeling of confidential joy, and passed away the day after quite peacefully."

On pages 51-52 we read of the death of a nine-year-old boy who saw his sister who had died fours years ago and others who had died such as a Roy who had died a year ago (the account is taken from this other page):

"Feeling that he was going, he asked his mother to hold his hands until he should be gone. Soon he looked up and said, ‘Mother, dear, don’t you see little sister over there ?’ ‘No, where is she ?’ ‘Right over there. She is looking at me.’ Then the mother to pacify him said she saw the child. In a few minutes his face lighted up full of smiles, and he said, ‘ There comes Mrs. C.’ (a lady of whom he was very fond, who had died nearly two years before), ‘ and she is smiling just as she used to. She is smiling and wants me to come.’ In a few moments he said, ‘There is Roy ! I’m going to them. I don’t want to leave you, but you’ll come to me soon, won’t you ? Open the door and let them in. They are waiting outside,’ and he was gone.” 

On pages 68-69 we read of the death of diptheria of a Hattie:

"She knew she was passing away, and was telling our mother how to dispose of her little personal belongings among her close friends and playmates, when she suddenly raised her eyes as though gazing at the ceiling toward the farther side of the room, and after looking steadily and apparently listening for a short time, slightly bowed her head, and said, 'Yes, Grandma, I am coming, only wait just a little while, please.' Our father asked her, 'Hattie, do you see your grandma ?' Seemingly surprised at the question she promptly answered, 'Yes, Papa, can’t you see her ? She is right there waiting for me.' At the same time she pointed toward the ceiling in the direction in which she had been gazing. Again addressing the vision she evidently had of her grandmother, she scowled a little impatiently and said, ‘ Yes, Grandma, I’m coming, but wait a minute, please.’ ...She then fixed her eyes steadily on her vision but so faintly that we could but just catch her words, said, ' Yes, Grandma, I’m coming now.' Then without a struggle or evidence of pain of any kind she gazed steadily in the direction she had pointed out to us where she saw her grandma, until the absence of oxygen in her blood-stream, because respiration had ceased, left her hands and face all covered with the pallor of lifeless flesh....Her grandmother had died a few years previously."

On page 71-72 we read this account:

"My father died in Germany on March 18th, 1892, and my mother then came to live with us at Odessa. Shortly after she fell ill, and died on May 6th of the following year, 1893....A few minutes before her death she regained consciousness (having been in a state of coma for two hours previously), raised herself in her bed, stretched out her arms, and with a happy smile on her face, cried out, ‘ Papa ! Papa ! ’ just as if she suddenly saw him in front of her. Immediately after she fell back into the arms of my wife, and expired. My mother used to call her husband 'Papa' just as we children did."

On page 74 we read of a deathbed vision apparently observed by multiple witnesses:

"In one case two women watching by their dying sister, Charlotte, saw a bright light and within it two young faces hovering over the bed, gazing intently at Charlotte; the elder sister recognized these faces as being two of her brothers, William and John, who had died when she was young. The two sisters continued to watch the faces till they gradually ‘faded away like a washed-out picture,’ and shortly afterwards their sister Charlotte died."

On page 75 we read this account:

"Miss H., the daughter of an English clergyman, was tending a dying child. His little brother, aged three to four years, was in a bed in the same room. As the former was dying, the little brother woke up, and, pointing to the ceiling with every expression of joy, said, ‘Mother, look at the beautiful ladies round my brother ! How lovely they are, they want to take him.' The child died at that moment.”

The next page gives a similar account of a small child reporting an apparition at the time of someone else's death:

"A little girl of three, Hippolyte Notari, partly paralysed, was in the same room with her little brother of four months, who was dying. The father, the mother, and the grandmother of the two children were present. About fifteen minutes before the death of the infant, little Hippolyte stretched out her arms, saying, 'Look, mother, Aunt Olga.' This Aunt Olga was a younger sister of Mme. Notari, who had killed herself a year previously owing to a disappointment in love. The parents asked, ' Where do you see Aunt Olga ?' The child said, ‘There, there !' and tried insistently to get out of bed to go to her aunt. They let her get up, she ran to an empty chair and was much discountenanced because the vision had moved to another part of the room. The child turned round and said, pointing to a corner, 'Aunt Olga is there.' Then she became quiet and the baby died." 

On page 109 we read of someone seeing deathbed apparitions of two deceased friends of a dying girl:

"The first time that I received this ocular proof was at the death of Laura Stirman, a sweet girl of seventeen, who was a personal friend of mine. She was a victim of consumption....A short time before she expired I became aware that two spirit forms were standing by the bedside, one on either side of it. I did not see them enter the room ; they were standing by the bedside when they first became visible to me, but I could see them as distinctly as I could any of the human occupants of the room. I recognized their faces as those of two girls who had been the closest friends of the girl who was dying. They had passed away a year before and were then about her own age." 

1n 1891 Sara Underwood wrote an account of seeing a very unusual apparition: the apparition of a face appearing over the face of a dying person. Her account is to be found on page 364 of the document here (the Arena, August 1891): 

"I thought I could more easily let her go out into the unknown if I could but feel that her hope would be realized, and I put into words this feeling. I pleaded that if there were any of her own departed ones present at this supreme moment could they not and would they not give me some least sign that such was the fact, and I would be content. Slowly over the dying one’s face spread a mellow radiant mist— I know no other way to describe it. In a few moments it covered the dying face as with a veil, and spread in a circle of about a foot beyond, over the pillow, the strange yellowish-white light all the more distinct from the partial darkness of the room. Then from the centre of this, immediately over the hidden face, appeared an apparently living face with smiling eyes which looked directly into mine, gazing at me with a look so full of comforting assurance that I could scarcely feel frightened. But it was so real and so strange that I wondered if I were temporarily crazed, and as it disappeared I called a watcher from another room, and went out into the open air for a few moments to recover myself under the midnight stars. When I was sure of myself I returned and took my place again alone. Then I asked that, if that appearance were real and not an hallucination, would it be made once more manifest to me; and again the phenomenon was repeated, and the kind, smiling face looked up at me — a face new to me yet wondrously familiar. Afterwards I recalled my friend’s frequent description of her dead father whom she dearly loved, but whom I had never seen, and I could not help the impression that it was his face I saw the hour that his daughter died." 

The case below was reported by a Mrs. Chambers, and quoted in pages 30-31 of Death and Its Mystery: After Death by the astronomer Camille Flammarion (one of the three volumes of a trilogy which you should really read in all three of its volumes here, here and here):

"Tommy Brown was a poor boy, twelve years old, belonging to a numerous and destitute family. His health was shattered; he was stretched on a hospital bed. His father had died, two years before, in a bed near this one. On a certain night he said to his mother, 'Mamma, there's Father.' 'No, dear' his mother answered ; 'there's no one there.' 'Yes there is! Why, don't you see him near the bed? Speak to him.' She saw nothing, and the nurse saw nothing. 'What's your papa doing?' the mother asked, at length. 'He's looking at you.' And, a moment afterward : 'He's looking at me, and beckoning me to follow him, so he can take me away with him.'...Talking in this way, the child lost consciousness. He died some days later."

On pages 309-310 of Volume 13 of the Society for Psychical Research, we have the astonishing account below of a man who saw paranormal sights during the last hours of his dying wife's life:

"My wife died at 11.45 p.m. on Friday, May 23, 1902;  and, after four o'clock upon the afternoon of that day, I became convinced that her death was merely a question of moments...At 6.45 (the reason why I am so positive as to the time is because a clock was upon the bureau in plain sight), I happened to look towards the door, when I saw floating through the doorway three separate and distinct clouds in strata. Each cloud appeared to be about four feet in length, from six to eight inches in width, the lower one about two feet from the ground, the others at intervals of about six inches. My first thought was that some of our friends (and I must ask their pardon for the thought) were standing outside the bedroom smoking, and that the smoke from their cigars was being wafted into the room. With this idea, I started up to rebuke them, when, lo ! I discovered there was no one standing by the door, no one in the hallway, no one in the adjoining rooms. Overcome with astonishment I watched the clouds; and slowly, but surely, these clouds approached the bed until they completely enveloped it. Then, gazing through the mist, I beheld, standing at the head of my dying wife, a woman's figure about three feet in height, transparent, yet like a sheen of brightest gold; a figure so glorious in its appearance that no words can be used fitly to describe it. She was dressed in the Grecian costume, with long, loose and flowing sleeves—upon her head a brilliant crown. In all its splendour and beauty the figure remained motionless with hands uplifted over my wife, seeming to express a welcome with a quiet, glad countenance, with a dignity of calmness and peace. Two figures in white knelt by my wife's side, apparently leaning towards her ; other figures hovered about the bed, more or less distinct. Above my wife, and connected with a cord proceeding from her forehead, over the left eye, there floated in a horizontal position a nude, white figure, apparently her astral body. At times the suspended figure would lie perfectly quiet, at other times it would shrink in size until it was no larger than perhaps eighteen inches, but always was the figure perfect and distinct : a perfect head, a perfect body, perfect arms and perfect legs. When the astral body diminished in size, it struggled violently, threw out its arms and legs in an apparent effort to escape. It would struggle until it seemed to exhaust itself, then become calm, increase in size, only to repeat the same performance again and again. This vision, or whatever it may be called, I saw continuously during the five hours preceding the death of my wife. Interruptions, as speaking to my friends, closing my eyes, turning away my head, failed to destroy the illusion, for whenever I looked towards that deathbed the spiritual vision was there.... At last the fatal moment arrived ; with a gasp, the astral figure struggling, my wife ceased to breathe ; she apparently was dead : however a few seconds later she breathed again, twice, and then all was still. With her last breath and last gasp, as the soul left the body, the cord was severed suddenly and the astral figure vanished. The clouds and the spirit forms disappeared instantly, and, strange to say, all the oppression that weighed upon me was gone ; I was myself, cool, calm and deliberate, able to direct, from the moment of death, the disposition of the body, its preparation for a final resting place."

On page 311 of the same volume we have a Dr. Renz testify to the sanity and stability of the witness who made the previous statement:

"By his friends and associates he is considered an extremely calm, level-headed and strong-willed business man... From my own observations I can most positively put aside a temporary acute state of hallucinatory insanity during the time of the vision mentioned above."



Researching the topic of deathbed visions, Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson conducted research surveys of hospital workers. In a July 1977 paper published in Volume 71, Number 3 of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, they reported 178 cases of dying people who reported seeing an apparition of a dead person (Table 1). The number was much higher than the 68 who reported an apparition of a living person. The majority of these apparitions were described as having a purpose of being there to "take away" the dying person.  In the US there was a very high percentage of deathbed apparitions idenitified as a mother, father, spouse, sibling or offspring, while in India there was a relatively high percentage of apparitions identified as unidentified figures (Table 2). Roughly half of the people reporting such visions were characterized as having a consciousness of "clear," rather than "mildly impaired," "severely impaired" or "fluctuating" (Table 3). 

We read the following on a page of the Psi Encylopedia:

"In 2017, Una MacConville carried out a study with Irish health care professionals. The carers reported that 45% of their patients spoke of visions of deceased relatives, often joyful experiences that bring a sense of peace and comfort."

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Deathbed Visions: The Earliest Accounts (Part 1)

At the web site of the Daily Mail, we recently had a very sad-sounding story with the headline, "They All Suffer and Die Alone."  The story is an interview with an ICU doctor Daniela Lamas. Curently hospitalized victims of the coronavirus are not allowed visitors, to minimize the chance that such visitors become infected with the coronavirus.  "The devastating image of the lonely deaths of coronavirus patients in Italy hangs over us all," Dr. Lamas states.

But is it actually true that those dying of coronavirus in hospitals have almost all died lonely, isolated deaths? There is a strong reason for suspecting that such a thing may not be true.  The reason is related to the little-publicized phenomenon of deathbed visions, in which dying people see apparitions of deceased family members and deceased friends. 

Deathbed visions are a different phenomenon from near-death experiences. Near-death experiences are accounts of extraordinary experiences of those who had close brushes with death, but who recovered to tell the story of their remarkable experiences, often in writing. Deathbed visions are extraordinary accounts (purely oral) told by those who came very close to dying, and then actually did die.  The great interest in near-death experiences has caused the different phenomenon of deathbed visions to be overshadowed and overlooked. 

The first major reference to this phenomenon that I can find in the literature of parapsychology is the fascinating 1906 paper "Apparitions of Deceased Persons at Death-Beds" in pages 67-100 of the February 1906 Annals of Psychical Research, (Volume 3), which can be read here. I will now cite several cases from this paper by Ernesto Bozzano. 

The first case cited (pages 70-71) is an account told by a well-known figure of the death of his son:

"Suddenly he murmured: ' Earth recedes, heaven opens up before  me. I have been beyond the gates. God is calling. Don't call me back. It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death it is sweet.' Then his face lit up and he said in a voice of joyful rapture : 'Dwight! Irene! I see the children's faces' (referring to two little grandchildren, gone before). Turning to his wife he said: ' Mamma, you have been a good wife to me,' and with that he became unconscious."

We will see that this seeing of a deceased relative is the most common feature of a deathbed vision. On page 71 this feature occurs again in this account:

"For half an hour, he said, the dying man had been sinking. The breathing, growing more laboured, became slower and fainter. The watcher thought the man was dead, when suddenly his eyes opened with a glad look of wonder and joyful recognition; he threw up his arms as in an embrace, and his whole face was illuminated as he rapturously exclaimed: 'Why, mother!' The same instant he fell back dead. 'Nothing will ever convince me,' said the watcher, relating the occurrence years afterwards, 'that that man didn't actually see his mother then and there.' " 

On page 72 we have this account by an Alfred Smedley of the death of his wife: 

"A short time before her decease, her eyes being fixed on something that seemed to fill her with pleasant surprise, she exclaimed: 'Why ! there is sister Charlotte here ; and mother and father, and brother John, and sister Mary ! And now they have brought Bessie Heap !! They are all here. Oh! how beautiful! Cannot you see them ? ' she asked. 'No, my dear; I very much wish I could,' I answered. ' Cannot you see them ? ' she again asked in surprise : ' why they are all here, and they are come to bear me away with them. Part of our family have crossed the flood, and soon the other part will be gathered home, and then we shall be a family complete in heaven.' "

On page 72 we have this account by a Dr. Paul Edwards of the death of a patient, who said this:

"I see people moving-all in white. The music is strangely enchanting. Oh! here is Sadie; she is with me-and-she knows who I am." 

We are told that Sadie "was a little girl she had lost about ten years before," and that "the dying wife was in full view of the two worlds at the same time, for she described how the moving figures looked in the world beyond, as she directed her words to mortals in this world." On page 73 we read the account of a Dr. Wilson who observed the death of a singer named James Moore:

"Then something which I shall never forget to my dying day happened; something which is utterly indescribable. While he appeared perfectly rational and as sane as any man I have ever seen, the only way that I can express it is that be was transported into another world, and although I cannot satisfactorily explain the matter to myself, I am fully convinced that he had entered the Golden City - for he said in a stronger voice than he had used since I had attended him: 'There is mother! Why, mother, have you come here to see me? No, no, I'm coming to see you. Just wait, mother, I am almost over. I can jump it. Wait, mother.' On his face there was a look of inexpressible happiness, and the way in which he said the words impressed me as I have never been before, and I am as firmly convinced that be saw and talked with his mother as I am that I am sitting here."

On page 78 we have this account of the death of Lloyd Ellis:

"Lying in an apparent sleep one night (one Monday night, I believe) be woke up suddenly and asked his mother: ' Where is my father ? ' She answered him tearfully: ' Lloyd dear, you know your dear father is dead. He has been dead for more than a year now.'  'Is he ?'-he asked, incredulously -' why he was in the room just now, and I have an appointment with him, three o'clock next Wesnesday.' And Lloyd Ellis died at three o'clock on the following Wednesday morning." 

On page 79 we have this account of the death of a brother, who had not been told that his brother had recently died (the account is quoted from page 459 of Volume 5 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research):

"Harry died at Abbot's Langley on November 2nd, fourteen miles from my vicarage at Aspley; David the following day at Aspley. About an hour before the death of this latter child, he sat up in bed, and pointing to the bottom of the bed, said distinctly : ' There is little Harry calling to me.' .. Mr. Taylor adds the following details: ' Mr. Z. tells me that care was taken to keep David from knowing that Harry was dead, and that he feels sure that David did not know it.' "

On page 79 we have this account quoted from page 460 of Volume 5 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research:

"My brother, John Aikin Ogle, died at Leeds, July 17th, 1879. About an hour before he expired he saw his brother, who had died about sixteen years before, and looking up with fixed interest, said: ' Joe! Joe !' and immediately after exclaimed with ardent surprise : ' George Hanley ! ' My mother, who had come from Melbourne, a distance of about forty miles, where George Hanley resided, was astonished at this, and turning to my sister-in-law, asked if anybody had told John of George Hanley's death. She said, 'No one,' and my mother was the only person present who was aware of the fact."

On pages 79-80 we have the following account:

"ln a city not far from Boston, a little girl 9 years of age was dying....Then, as she began to sink, she called out that she saw the faces of friends one after another; grandpa and grandma appeared ; and then, starting with sudden surprise, she turned to her father and said : 'Why, papa, why did you not tell me that Jenny had gone? Here is Jenny, come to meet me.' She had had no idea that there was anything the matter with Jenny; but as a matter of fact she had died only a little while before. They had scrupulously kept this fact from the little girl for fear that the knowledge of it might bave a depressing effect upon her." 


A deathbed vision might be like this

On page 81 we have an account that is taken from page 92   of Volume 3 of the Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research: 

"Six or seven years passed away, and Mrs.--, who had been long ill, was dying, in fact she did die the following day....She changed the subject and said : "Do you hear those voices singing? ' I replied that I did not; and she said : ' I have beard them several times to-day, and I am sure they are the angels welcoming me to Heaven; but '-she added-' it is strange, there is one voice amongst them I am sure I know, and cannot remember whose voice is is.' Suddenly she stopped, and said, pointing straight over my bead : 'Why there she is; in the corner of the room; it is Julia X.; she is coming on ; she is leaning over you'.... I turned but could see nothing....Two days afterwards, taking up the Times newspaper, I saw recorded the death of Julia Z., wife of Mr. Z. I was so astounded that a day or so after the funeral I went up to ---- and asked Mr. X. if Mrs. Z, his daughter, was dead. He said: ' Yes, poor thing, she died of puerperal fever. On the day she died she began singing in the morning, and sang and sang until she died. ' " 

Another source of early accounts of deathbed visions is the 1926 book Death-bed Visions by Sir William Barrett.  On page 11 of the book we have an account of a Mrs. B. who became gravely ill after chidbirth. When near death she complained that the room was getting darker and darker. She then suddenly stated that she saw "lovely brightness -- wonderful beings,"  and her father. Her newborn child was brought in to her, but she seemed to have more interest in the visions than in seeing her newborn child. She then died an hour later.  On page 13 we are told this about something said by this Mrs. B:

"Mrs. B. said, ‘ Oh, why there’s Vida,’ referring to a sister of whose death three weeks previously she had not been told. Afterwards the mother, who was present at the time, told me, as I have said, that Vida was the name of a dead sister of Mrs. B.’s, of whose illness and death she was quite ignorant, as they had carefully kept this news from Mrs. B. owing to her serious illness."

On pages 22-23 of the book, we read the following about an M. Paul Durocq who died of yellow fever in 1894:

"Just before his death, and while surrounded by all his family, he had a prolonged delirium, during which he called out the names of certain friends left in France, and whom he seemed to see. 'Well, well, you too—, and you- , you as well!'  Although struck by this incident, nobody attached any extraordinary importance to these words at the time they were uttered, but they acquired later on exceptional importance when the family found, on their return to Paris, the funeral invitation cards of the persons named by my uncle before his death, and who had died before him." 

On pages 24-25 of the book we read this account by an H. Wedgewood: 

"A young girl, a near connexion of mine, was dying of consumption. She had lain for some days in a prostrate 
condition taking no notice of anything, when she opened her eyes, and looking upwards, said slowly, 'Susan—and Jane—and Ellen' as if recognizing the presence of her three sisters, who had previously died of the same disease. Then after a short pause she continued, ‘and Edward too !'— naming a brother then supposed to be alive and well in India—as if surprised at seeing him in the company. She said no more, and sank shortly afterwards. In the course of the post, letters came from India announcing the death of Edward, from an accident a week or two previous to the death of his sister." 

On page 26 of the same book we read this account by Dr. E. H. Plumptre: 

"The mother of one of the foremost thinkers and theologians of our time was lying on her death-bed in the April of 1854. She had been for some days in a state of almost complete unconsciousness. A short time before her death, the words came from her lips, ‘There they are, all of them—William and Elizabeth, and Emma and Anne';  then, after a pause,‘ and Priscilla too.' William was a son who had died in infancy, and whose name had never for years passed the mother’s lips. Priscilla had died two days before, but her death, though known to the family, had not been reported to her.”

On page 29 we have this account by a Mrs. Snell:

"I recall the death of a woman (Mrs. Brown, aged 36) who was the victim of that most dreadful disease, malignant cancer. Her sufferings were excruciating, and she prayed earnestly that death might speedily come to her and end her agony. Suddenly her sufferings appeared to cease ; the expression of her face, which a moment before had been distorted by pain, changed to one of radiant joy. Gazing upwards, with a glad light in her eyes, she raised her hands and exclaimed, ‘ Oh, mother dear, you have come to take me home. I am so glad ! ' And in another moment her physical life had ceased."

An A. R. Besacon tells this account on page 31, which is a paranormal "twofer" involving both a deathbed vision of a deceased Marie and also apparently an apparition sighting of the very person who had this deathbed vision:

"My mother was attended by my grandmother during her illness. One night the latter was surprised at hearing my mother, who was sleeping in the next room, pronounce certain sentences, among others this :—“ Marie, I can see you at last, I am glad you have come. Help me.' (Marie was my sister who died a few years before this.) Grandmother thought it was a dream ; she rose and approached my mother’s bed, and to her great surprise she found her in a perfectly normal state. My mother even told her the satisfaction she had had in seeing her daughter. Later on in 
the night the 'conversation' was resumed, but we paid no further attention. But on the next morning, Mother was no more. Moreover, during the same night, one of my aunts who lived in the neighbouring village of V----, had the clear impression of seeing mother. 'She passed,' she said to me the following day, 'beside my bed without speaking, then went to embrace my two daughters and disappeared.' "

On page 32 we read this account of the death of a four-year-old boy after the death of his siblings Fred and Annie several weeks earlier:

"On the night when he died the father came to his bedside with the customary medicine, when the little boy, sitting upright in bed, cried out : ' There’s Fred and Annie.’ ‘ Where, my boy ?’ asked the father. ‘ Don’t you see them there—there ? ’ said the lad, pointing to the wall, ‘ they’re waiting for me to go to them,’ and the next minute the little sufferer fell back on the pillow dead." 

Typically, as in the previous case, a deathbed vision is seen only by the dying person. But on page 34 we have an account of a daughter who saw in her last days a vision of her father. She asked her mother whether she saw the same thing, and the mother also saw a mysterious white formOn page 37 we have an account of a child who in her dying days kept seeing visions of an aunt of hers who had previously died. She kept saying, "My aunt has come to fetch me; she is holding out her arms to me." 

On page 38 we have this story told by a mother who lost two sons within two months, with the second one seeing visions of the first son who had previously died: 

"In 1883 I was the mother of two strong, healthy boys. The eldest was a bright boy of two years and seven months. The other a darling baby boy of eight months. August 6th, 1883, my baby died. Ray, my little son, was then in perfect health. Every day after baby’s death (and I may safely say every hour in the day) he would say to me, ' Mamma, baby calls Ray.’ He would often leave his play and come running to me, saying, ' Mamma, baby calls Ray all the time.' Every night he would waken me out of my sleep and say, ‘ Mamma, baby calls Ray all the time. He wants Ray to come where he is ; you must not cry when Ray goes, Mamma ; you must not cry, for baby wants Ray.’ ...Ray soon became very sick. Nursing and medicine were of no avail. He died Oct. 13th, 1883, two months and seven days after baby’s death."

Contrary to the impression sometimes given in movies, the overwhelming majority of hallucinations of psychotic people are auditory, not visual. But the visions discussed here were all visual.  And they were generally from people with no history of psychosis or hallucinations. Several of the accounts I have given include details suggesting that something is going on far more than hallucinations, such as the several cases I have quoted where someone sees an apparition of a person he did not know was dead. 

There are many other fascinating accounts in the Barrett book that I discuss in Part 2 of this post, which will be as long as this one. I will also discuss how the phenomenon of deathbed visions has been well-confirmed by large-scale research done decades after these early twentieth century accounts, research suggesting such visions occur to very many dying people (as many as 45%, according to one source I will cite). 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Why It's Not Scientific to Call Speculative Things “Scientific”

The physicist Sabine Hossenfelder writes a very readable physics and cosmology blog. Hossenfelder has a recent blog post entitled “Are Dark Energy and Dark Matter Scientific?” It is clear in her post that she wants to give an answer of “Yes,” and the RealClearScience.com site has a link to her post with the title “Are Dark Energy and Dark Matter Scientific? Yes.” In the post Hossenfelder claims, “Dark energy and dark matter are entirely normal, and perfectly scientific hypotheses.” She also states the following:

This is why dark matter and dark energy are good scientific explanations. They are simple and yet explain a lot of data.”

But I will argue the following:

  • Hossenfelder was not speaking in a scientific manner when she stated “dark energy and dark matter are entirely normal.”
  • Hossenfelder was not speaking in a scientific manner when she stated dark energy and dark matter are “perfectly scientific hypotheses.”
  • Hossenfelder was not speaking in a scientific manner when she stated dark energy and dark matter “are simple.” 

First, let us delve into the question of what it is to be scientific. The definition I get when I do a Google search for "scientific" is “based on or characterized by the methods and principles of science.” Upon hearing such a definition, the idea that dark matter or dark energy could be scientific sounds very strange and far-fetched. How could some undiscovered postulated particles be “based on or characterized by the methods and principles of science”?

The term “scientific” is not really something we should be using about physical entities, whether observed or unobserved. It makes no particular sense to say something such as “the moon is scientific” or "the ocean is scientific" or “dark energy is scientific.” The term “scientific” is one that should be used mainly when referring to speech, writing, and behavior.

What are some of the things that make writing, speech or behavior “scientific”? The two biggest hallmarks I can think of are the following:

  1. Scientific behavior is conduct that involves very careful and precise observations and very careful and precise recording of such observations.
  2. Scientific speech uses language that is precise, accurate and unambiguous.

It is easy to give examples of speech that is scientific and speech that is unscientific. If I say, “The instant I saw him I knew he'd taken more than he could handle, because he had this kind of 'hit by a tidal wave' look that showed he was in for a world of trouble,” that is not at all scientific language. It's not scientific mainly because it's so ambiguous and imprecise. What is meant by “taken more than he could handle”? What exactly is meant by a “hit by a tidal wave” look? What is meant by “in for a world of trouble?” No one knows. On the other hand, it would be a scientific language if you said something like, “On initial examination I observed the patient had an elevated pulse of 103 beats per minute, a temperature of 102 degrees F, and complaints of weakness and a headache.”

Now, what about calling some theoretical physical entity “scientific”? It's not scientific to be calling theoretical physical things “scientific.” Why is that? Because “scientific” is usually not a precise term when used in any reference that is not a reference to behavior, speech or conduct.

In fact, when you use the term “scientific” when referring to some theory of something unobserved, you are using what is called “loaded language.” Loaded language is language that isn't very precise, but is heavy with hazy connotations, often emotional or judgmental connotations.

Here are some “loaded language” terms that are vague, and heavy with emotional or judgmental connotations, which may be either favorable connotations or unfavorable connotations:

  • un-American
  • imperialistic
  • propaganda (rather than “messaging”)
  • holy
  • virtuous
  • subversive
  • exemplary
  • simple (rather than “skimpy”)
  • skimpy (rather than “simple”)
  • hijack (rather than “use”)
  • flourishing (rather than “growing”)
  • cancerous (rather than “growing”)
  • scientific (rather than “speculative” or “hypothetical”)
  • first-rate
  • top-notch
  • economical (rather than “cheap”)

Notice that I have included “scientific” on my list of “loaded language” terms, meaning terms that are vague and heavy with emotional or judgmental connotations. If you are talking about someone's method of operation, it is fairly clear what is meant by calling such a method “scientific”: you mean that the method is precise and rich in careful truthful observations. But what does it mean to call some unverified speculation “scientific”? It really means nothing precise at all. But someone may call some speculation "scientific" as a way of evoking a vague feeling of approval. Calling some speculation “scientific” is really no more precise or meaningful than calling it “top-notch” or “first-rate.” Since it's not precise to be calling some speculation “scientific,” and since being scientific is largely about being precise, it's not scientific to be saying things such as “dark matter and dark energy are scientific.”

What would be a scientific thing to say about dark matter or dark energy? It would be a precise statement such as “dark energy is a mysterious invisible unobserved energy speculatively postulated by cosmologists to help deal with various observational mysteries they are faced with.”

But what about calling dark energy and dark matter “simple” as Hossenfelder did? That is vague spin-speak that has no precise meaning when used in a discussion of a scientific theory. When people use the term “simple” in regard to speculations about nature, what they mainly mean is “parsimonious,” which means “postulating not very much.” Neither “parsimonious” nor “simple” is a precise term.

And there are very good reasons why neither dark matter nor dark energy should be regarded as simple or parsimonious theories. Dark energy postulates that there is some unobserved energy that has more mass-energy than all other observed matter and energy in the universe. This is the idea that for every observed particle there are very many unobserved particles. There's nothing parsimonious about that. Anyone postulating a theory of dark energy will become entangled in the extremely complex "cosmological constant" problem, the problem of why the vacuum does not have an incredibly high energy density because of quantum contributions. This is one of the most complex problems of science. You can't have a dark energy theory without becoming entangled in great complexities. 

Dark matter involves a similar assumption, that for every observed material particle there are many unobserved invisible particles. Moreover, dark matter requires you to believe in very specific assumptions about the arrangement of such dark matter. In order to solve the observational problems which the idea of dark matter was contrived to solve, you must believe not just that dark matter exists, but that dark matter is arranged in very specific ways. We may compare this to some theory that does not just postulate that angels exist, but also says that angels live in some very specific geographical arrangements such as angel kingdoms existing in particular locations. It is very dubious spin-speak indeed to be calling such a theory of dark matter “simple.”


scientific theory

As for Hossenfelder's claims that “dark energy and dark matter are entirely normal” and that they are “perfectly scientific,” one might coin the term “double spin-speak” to refer to such phrases, which are not at all scientific claims, being completely lacking in the unambiguous precision that characterizes truly scientific claims. Dark matter is supposedly invisible, so how can invisible matter be "entirely normal"? All in all, Hossenfelder's claims about dark matter and dark energy being “perfectly scientific” and "simple" and "entirely normal" are no more substantively sound than her strange recent claim about the coronavirus, this lackadaisical thought: I feel like there isn’t much we can do right now other than washing our hands and not coughing other people in the face.” Of course, there are many other things that we can and should do right now about this extremely severe crisis, including the many things I mentioned in my recent post on the topic of coronavirus (quoting from my 2013 post on how to avoid a pandemic), and also the many important and urgent actions that are being discussed frequently on television these days by health officials, White House officials, and people like the mayor of New York City and the governor of New York.

The jargon term used by scientists for the theory of dark matter is LCDM, which stands for "lambda cold dark matter." It is interesting that a very recent scientific paper is entitled, "Cosmic Discordance: Planck and luminosity distance data exclude LCDM." The paper is co-authored by Joseph Silk, who was the author of a book on cosmology I read.  The authors claim that their analysis "excludes a flat universe" and suggest that the theory of dark matter "needs to be replaced."  If they are correct, then we should reject two of the biggest claims cosmologists have made in the past thirty years: that dark matter exists and that the universe has a flat geometry. 

A person marketing unproven speculations about invisible never-observed particles may say that his theory is "perfectly scientific." And a US Congressman pitching some pork-barrel legislation may call his bill "truly patriotic." And a theologian advocating some apocalypse dogma may say that his scenario is "genuinely Christian."  In each such case of spin-speak, we may say, "an adjective is being used not to say anything precise, but to help sell something by creating a vague positive feeling." 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

My 2013 Depiction of a New York City Pandemic

Below are excerpts from the beginning of my very poorly titled 2013 post "How to Have a Pleasant Pandemic." At the beginning of that post, I imagined a pandemic in New York City.

"One day on the television news you hear about some new strain of flu called H3N7. You don't pay any real attention, because the news report mentions only a small number of deaths. But then over the next few weeks you hear more and more news reporters talking about this H3N7 strain. The reporters say that this new flu has spread to major cities in the United States.

Not very worried, you go on with your business without hardly thinking about the issue. Then one day you notice that the news reporters seem to be talking about almost nothing other than H3N7. Hundreds of people are dropping dead because of this new strain. Scientists have started to work on a vaccine, but they have just got started, and it will be a long time before they are finished.

The reporters tell you to always sneeze onto your shoulder, and to wash your hands frequently. You start doing that. You take the subway to work in New York City, and whenever you see someone sneezing or coughing you move to a different part of the subway.

Before long you hear that hundreds of people have died from the new flu strain in New York City alone. You notice that many people on the subway are starting to wear surgical masks. You wonder whether you should do so also. But you figure that it's a rather timid thing to do, and you notice that still most people are not wearing the masks. So you decide not to wear one.

Soon the death toll in New York City rises to the thousands. At about the time when most of the people start wearing surgical masks on the subway, you start wearing one too. Then you start seeing people collapse on the street, and collapse in the subways. Now you decide you will take no more subways until the H3N7 pandemic ends. You start walking three miles to work every day.

The death toll in New York City rises higher and higher...You decide to take no more chances. You quit your job, and buy all the food you can. It's hard to find much, because the stores have been stripped clean. Then you go to your apartment, and vow to wait it out there until the horrible pandemic is over.

The next day you wake up in your apartment with chills and a horrible headache. You use a thermometer to find out that your temperature is 103 degrees F. You look in the mirror, and notice your face is pale. You are in the grip of the deadly flu. You slump against the wall, and wonder what to do next."

This fictional depiction that I published on this blog in 2013 was somewhat prescient. The virus is not called H3N7 but coronavirus or COVID-19. The virus can give people a fever. A great pandemic now threatens the place where I live, New York City. More than 8000 residents of New York City have the virus, and that number is growing by about 25% to 33% per day. 

A significant fraction of the people in the city are now wearing face masks outdoors.  The news reporters are talking about almost nothing but the virus. Non-essential workers have all been ordered by the governor to stay home. Given the current trajectory in which the number of people infected in the city is rising so dramatically, the death toll in New York City will probably rise to the thousands within another 60 days. People in the city have rushed to stock up their shelves with food.  It's not true that the "the stores have been stripped clean," but when I went to buy pasta recently at my local Target store,  there was almost no pasta or pasta sauce left on the shelves.  A vaccine is a long way off, as in my story. The coronavirus that originated in China has spread to many other places around the world, and has had particularly devastating effects in Italy. 

Coronavirus active cases, 3/23/20, from this site

What advice can I give to anyone threatened by coronavirus? I will now simply quote the exact words I wrote in 2013 about how to get through a pandemic (whenever you read "flu" simply substitute "coronavirus"):
  • "Wash your hands frequently, particularly after returning to your home from outside. A flu virus can spread rapidly through a means such as this: a sick person touches his nose or lips, and gets germs on his hands; that person then touches a surface such as a door knob or subway rail; you then touch the same surface and get the same germs on your hands; you then touch your nose or lips and bring the germs into your body. You can help minimize the chance of this transmission by washing your hands frequently, particularly after returning from outside. You can conveniently wash your hands in a subway, mall, or office by carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Just put a few drops on your hands, rub your hands thoroughly, and wait until they are dry."
  • "Avoid touching your nose or mouth with your hands while you are outside, unless you wash your hands first  If your nose itches, don't use your fingers to scratch it. Use the middle of your arm. The middle of your arm will not have touched any surfaces during the time you were outside, so it will be relatively free of germs."
  • "Try not to let your hands touch commonly touched surfaces. You can assume that there are many germs on commonly touched surfaces, so you wish to avoid them. Let's take the example of a public bathroom. If there is a door knob, it will probably have many germs. You can avoid touching the knob when you enter the bathroom by waiting for someone else to go in first, and quickly follow them in; or you can simply use the knob and wash your hands immediately after. When you leave the bathroom, you can either wait for someone else to open the door and quickly follow them out, or you can grab a paper towel and wrap that for a second around the door knob."
  • "Cough or sneeze into your shoulder, rather than using your hands to block your coughing or sneezing. While walking around outside you may have got other people's germs on your hands, and by sneezing or coughing into your hands, you may be helping such germs into your body."
  • "If a flu pandemic is spreading, avoid crowds. One way to do this is to avoid going to work during rush hour. Other ways to do this include avoiding shopping when there are large crowds, avoiding theater events and sporting events, and avoiding large-crowd public events such as parades and New Years Day celebrations."
  • "If a flu pandemic is spreading, wear a surgical mask or dust mask while you are in crowds. No matter how carefully you follow the advice above, you won't be protected if you are in a crowded train, and the person next to you starts sneezing. A sneeze is a remarkably effective way to transmit germs. So if a very serious flu pandemic is spreading, wear a surgical mask or dust mask in places such as trains and train stations."
  • "If you are in a crowd near someone who is sneezing or coughing, immediately cover your nose and mouth with your shoulder, and hurry to ten feet away. This is a case such as when you are sitting in a subway and someone a few away sneezes or coughs. Immediately lower your head to the left, placing your nose and mouth next to your shoulder, and walk ten feet away."
  • "In a train, theater, or sports arena, try to sit 10 feet away from strangers. No matter how carefully you try to move away from a sneezing passenger in a train, you may breathe in some of his germs. It is best to sit ten feet away from any stranger, when this is practical."
  • "Avoid promiscuous sexual activity. Because some pandemics are transmitted through sexual contact, it is a good idea to limit your sexual partners, ideally to a very small number."
  • "Use disinfectant wipes on your door knobs, cell phones, and shopping carts. Germs tend to accumulate on cell phones, door knobs, and the push handles of shopping carts. You can reduce this risk by wiping them down with germ-killing disinfectant wipes."
  • "Avoid shaking hands with strangers. When meeting someone at an office, a salute and a smile is an alternative gesture of friendliness and respect."
  • "Press elevator buttons with your elbow or a pen. Going into an office building and pressing the elevator buttons with your fingers is like shaking hands with 30 strangers."
  • "Use stairs rather than elevators. If you are going up several floors in an elevator, you are basically trapped if someone starts sneezing or coughing. Better to use the stairs and avoid the risk entirely. Stair climbing is also great aerobic exercise."
  • "Consume foods and supplements which boost your immune system. Eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruit can boost your immune system, which make it less likely that you catch any disease spreading in a pandemic. Among vegetables, garlic is supposedly the most effective at boosting the immune system. To boost your immune system, you can also take a daily multivitamin tablet that includes vitamin C and zinc, or swallow a garlic tablet."

Such was the exact advice I gave in 2013 on how to survive a pandemic. To this I will now add: for the next two months or so,  try to stay two meters from anyone you don't know, and try to take advantage of all opportunities to communicate electronically rather than face-to-face (including telecommuting, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook and email).  

The coronavirus has caused a sharp stock market downturn. Without recommending any financial advice, I can state a very important fact regarding 401k plans and IRA accounts that some people overlook. This fact is that it is never necessary to withdraw money from a 401K plan or IRA account merely because you want to reduce your stock holdings. Doing such a thing (called "requesting a distribution") is unnecessary if you merely want to reduce your stock holdings, because there's a simpler way to do that, a way that has no tax consequences and no 10% early withdrawal penalty. That simpler way is to move money from a stock fund of your 401K plan or IRA account to some other fund within your 401K plan or IRA, such as a money market fund. Every 401K plan and IRA account allows you to do this online, by some online interface.   Some 401k plans or IRA accounts have 10 or 20 funds you can choose from, allowing you to switch money between such funds. At the very least, any 401K plan or IRA account will always have a money market fund (like a no-risk bank account) that can be used as a "safe harbor" during turbulent times, and it is easy to move money online back and forth to such a "safe harbor," after logging in online to your 401K plan or IRA account.  When you make such a movement from one fund of your 401K plan or IRA to another fund in the same 401K plan or IRA account, that is not considered taking money out of your 401K plan or IRA account; it is not considered "requesting a distribution"; and there are no tax consequences or penalties. What I state here is simply a very important fact that some people are unaware of, not any type of investment recommendation.  I am as baffled as anyone else about how money should be invested in these confusing days.  

social distancing
A local government visual about social distancing

Postscript: As of March 28, 2020, the coronavirus has infected 29,158 in New York City. But the daily rate of increase has slowed to less than 15% per day.  The case for wearing masks to reduce coronavirus cases is convincingly made in this Wired post.  The fact that some biology experts in the US have told us we don't need to wear masks is another example of the extremely common phenomenon of biologists teaching unwise or unwarranted opinions contrary to facts or logic. In China, almost everyone in cities wore masks, and the virus infections there are now almost zero. In the USA we have had major experts tell us we don't need to wear masks, and the number of virus infections is skyrocketing, with projections that up to 200,000 in the USA may die from the virus. 

Post-postscript: As of April 4, 2020, the coronavirus has infected 60,850. Sadly, the line in my 2013 story saying "the death toll in New York City rises to the thousands" has come true, and there are now 2254 coronavirus deaths in New York City. On April 3, 2020 the CDC finally got around to advising the general public to wear face masks outdoors.