Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
I am glad to present an interview with Dr. Michael Nahm, who obtained his PhD with work about physiological responses of beech trees to droughts. In recent times he has worked on forestry science and on various parapsychology-related topics, among them terminal lucidity.
Michael is the author of two books: Wenn die Dunkelheit ein Ende findet. Terminale Geistesklarheit und andere Phänomene in Todesnähe [When Darkness Comes to an End: Terminal Lucidity and other Phenomena in Near-Death States] (Amerang: Crotona, 2012), and Evolution und Parapsychologie [Evolution and Parapsychology] (Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2007).
Although I have never met Michael personally, I have had email contact with him and we have published papers together: Alvarado, C.S., Nahm, M., & Sommer, A. (2012). Notes on early interpretations of mediumship. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 26, 855-865; and Alvarado, C.S., & Nahm, M. (2011). Psychic phenomena and the vital force: Hereward Carrington on “Vital Energy and Psychical Phenomena.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 75, 91-103.
For more about his work check Michael’s website Exploring Frontiers of Biology.
How did you get interested in parapsychology?
When I was a teenager, I was already interested in philosophical issues. This interest was fostered by a fantastic biology teacher at high school. Apart from teaching us the basics of biology according to the course of instruction, he also introduced us to various philosophers, and to biological problems such as the origin of life, and concerns regarding random mutations in the genome. Of the philosophers he introduced to us, I was especially impressed by Arthur Schopenhauer. In the 1990s, I came across the books of Rupert Sheldrake. I was enthralled by the way he aimed at pushing the limits of established science. I contacted him and tried to jump on the experimental train, searching for dogs that know when their owners are coming home, experimenting with ants and crystal growth, and with being woken up in the night telepathically by somebody else. In the end, however, all my attempts to contribute to research into morphic fields remained inconclusive or failed. I also met Rupert in 1997 at a seminar he gave at Schumacher College in Totnes, where we had many stimulating talks. Summing up, I owe Rupert the confidence that one can contribute to researching so-called anomalies also privately without belonging to the in-group of responsible experts, and without affiliation to a relevant academic institution.
My interest in parapsychology increased considerably during the writing of my first book on unsolved riddles of evolution (Nahm 2007), because I recognized that psychical phenomena are one of the most important stumbling blocks for the materialistic and neo-darwinistic interpretation of biological processes including evolution. Ever since then, my fascination for parapsychology remained on a high level and I delved into several different lines of psi research. Yet, professionally, I stayed in a different academic setting (chiefly, forestry research), and I pursue my psi-related occupations in my private time, which, much to my regret, is always too limited.
What are your main interests in the field and how have you contributed to its development?
My main interests in the field are varied, and they also vary with time. This is what I love about parapsychology: There is an enormous amount of highly interesting literature which is often hardly known, and it can be very exciting to dive into a given field of research, unearthing strange and rare literature, or into the biography of a largely forgotten pioneer of parapsychology and its bordering areas. In the recent years, I contributed to topics such as the implications of psi-phenomena for biology and unsolved riddles of evolution, the history of parapsychology, cases of the reincarnation type, out-of-body experiences (OBEs), near-death experiences (NDEs) and other end-of-life experiences.
I suppose most people will have read my name in connection with “Terminal Lucidity”, which can be defined as the unexpected return of mental clarity and memory shortly before death. Cases of particular interest involve patients whose brains were destroyed by diseases such as tumors, strokes, or Alzheimer’s disease, but who seemed to recover shortly before death with their memory being intact. Such experiences were reported since antiquity and especially throughout the 19th century, but they continue to surface until present. Yet, especially the older accounts of terminal lucidity are widely scattered and often difficult to obtain. Hence, I attempted to collect and systemize them, and to publicize the results of this literature survey together with colleagues active in the field of near-death studies (for a short overview, click here to see my article in the Psi Encylopedia.
Moreover, I am fascinated by mediumship, both mental and physical, and published several articles about it. Some might have followed the controversy about the alleged physical medium Kai Mügge, who attracted quite some interest in the parapsychological community. After I was eagerly following and documenting the development of his supposed mediumship for several years in person, I finally discovered that Mügge used fraudulent practices during his séances (see also this article).
Why do you think that parapsychology is important?
When we look at nature, and try to understand it better by applying means of natural sciences, we always need to take the context and the level of organization of the phenomena we intend to study into account. First, for studying classical physics, more or less linear biochemical reactions and chain reactions, the framework of reductionist materialism is the appropriate context. Second, for studying more complex systems like protozoons, interacting cells, tissues, or organs, perhaps also ecosystems, a systemic approach sometimes called “organicism” is the appropriate framework. Yet, third, when it comes to studying even more complex living systems, including human beings, the unfolding of consciousness, psi, postmortem survival, or possibly evolution as a whole, I think that ultimately, only a kind of neo-vitalistic and dualistic approach is appropriate. Finally, when we look at the fundamental levels of reality with a metaphysical slant, we might apply a holistic and monistic approach in which the dualistic properties present on lower levels of biological organization are regarded as complementary and as originating in an initially unified source at the heart of being. Of course, there is no clear-cut border between all these levels of existential organization, they intersect. But when we intend to study the last two levels of organization mentioned, parapsychology is the silver bullet.
Along with Arthur Schopenhauer, biologist and philosopher Hans Driesch (1867-1941), and several other pioneers in our field, I consider parapsychology the most appropriate and most important empirical research discipline for studying these levels of existence – simply because parapsychology takes also so-called “anomalies” and strange properties of the human psyche into account, and thus, offers pathways for the most realistic descriptions and interpretations of existence available.
On a personal level, the occupation with parapsychology and its research results leads to intensification of my self-awareness, and to lots of amazement about the world I live in – what more could you ask for?
In your view, what are the main problems in parapsychology today as a scientific field?
I think that some of the problems that parapsychology faces have not much to do with parapsychology itself. First, the presently prevailing “Zeitgeist” in the mainstream sciences is very conservative and “anti-paranormal”, so that even strongly positive results in parapsychology would most likely not lead to an acceptance of psi-phenomena in the academic setting and among funding agencies. I don’t think this is the fault of parapsychology or parapsychologists, it is a consequence of other socio-political, historical and scientific developments.
Second, I suppose that the decreasing funds and possibilities to work parapsychologically in an academic setting are partially due to natural cycles that many scientific disciplines undergo. In the beginning, they flourish and attract (relatively) many interested researchers, then follows a fruitful period of research, and then, when much of the scientific approaches that can possibly be performed have already been performed, the interest declines again, or the discipline splits up in increasing numbers of subdisciplines. I think that this is where we are now, and in case of parapsychology, we have to face a decline of interest rather than creating subdisciplines. However, I can well imagine that parapsychology will face a renewed cycle of interest after several decades, which will then perhaps take place in a more psi-friendly and supportive scientific environment. Perhaps, this might be triggered by research into near-death experiences and other death-related phenomena in medical settings – an approach that I consider very promising. Anyway: Psi will never go away, and there will always be people who will study it in one way or another.
Can you mention some of your current projects?
At present, Bruce Greyson, David Rousseau, and I try to publish the results of a literature survey concerning unusual brain lesions or disorders that don’t seem to be reflected in the mental state of the affected persons, and on certain aspects of the savant syndrome. These topics pose largely neglected, but very interesting questions for standard models of memory processing and neural plasticity. We try to publish this paper in a mainstream medical journal, and are curious whether we will succeed. Apart from that, I am currently occupied with three projects related to parapsychology.
First, other colleagues and I evaluate data that we obtained from three online-surveys about NDEs, Exceptional Experiences following NDEs, and OBEs. One aim of these surveys among German-speaking NDErs was to find specifically gifted persons who are able and willing to induce OBEs at will, and to experiment with them regarding veridical perceptions from the OBE-state. However, although four persons stated that they can induce OBEs at will frequently, or even always, none of them was willing to participate in such tests.
Second, together with two like-minded sympathizers of Hans Driesch, who was also an influential theoretical parapsychologist, I began writing a German book about this remarkable man. Presently, his neo-vitalistic philosophy is regarded as outdated. Yet, we think this appraisal is premature. Rather, similarly to the writings of Frederic Myers, William James, Henri Bergson, and other pioneers who built bridges from parapsychology to natural sciences, psychology and philosophy, I consider his philosophical concepts still important and topical.
Third, I translated the most important parts of an elaborate and very interesting Hungarian book about studies into apport phenomena (Elemèr Pap of Chengery: Új Látóhatárok Felé [Toward New Horizons], 1938), and started to write an English summary and commentary about it. Every now and then, when time permits it, I write a few lines.
However, time is always running and passing much too quick, and there are many, many more exciting topics that I’d like to trail! You can follow my psi-related activities on my website.
Nahm M (2012). Wenn die Dunkelheit ein Ende findet. Terminale Geistesklarheit und andere Phänomene in Todesnähe [When Darkness Comes to an End: Terminal Lucidity and other Phenomena in Near-Death States]. Amerang: Crotona. 286 pp.
Nahm M (2007). Evolution und Parapsychologie [Evolution and Parapsychology]. Norderstedt: Books on Demand. 400 pp.
Articles and Book Reviews in Journals
Nahm M (2016). Book review: Sabine Mehne: Der Große Abflug [The Great Takeoff]. Zeitschrift für Anomalistik, 16, 484-488.
Ludwiger I von, Nahm M (2016). Apport phenomena of medium Herbert Baumann (1911-1998): Report on personal experiences. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 30, 337-358.
Nahm M (2016). Albert Heim (1849-1937): The multifaceted geologist who influenced research into near-death experiences and suggestion therapy. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 12, 256-258.
Nahm M (2016). Letter to the editor: The role of animals as co-percipients of apparitions in the work of Emil Mattiesen (1875-1939). Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 80, 119-121.
Nahm M (2016). Further Comments about Kai Mügge’s Alleged Mediumship and Recent Developments. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 30, 56-62.
Nahm M (2015). Mysterious ways: The riddle of the homing ability in dogs and other vertebrates. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 79, 140-155.
Nahm M (2014). Book review: Timon Kuff: Okkulte Ästhetik – Wunschfiguren des Unbewussten im Werk von Albert von Schrenck-Notzing [Occult Aesthetics. Wish-Figures of the Unconscious in the Work of Albert von Schrenck-Notzing]. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 78, 172-173.
Nahm M (2014). Commentary on the Essay Review „William Jackson Crawford on the Goligher Circle“ by Michael Tymn. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 28, 345-349.
Nahm M (2014). The development and the phenomena of a circle for physical mediumship. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 28, 229-283.
Nahm M, Greyson B (2013-2014). The death of Anna Katharina Ehmer. A case study in terminal lucidity. Omega, 68, 77-87.
Nahm M, Navarini AA, Kelly EW (2013). Canities subita: A Reappraisal of Evidence Based on 196 Case Reports Published in the Medical Literature. International Journal of Trichology, 5, 63-68.
Alvarado CS, Nahm M, Sommer A (2012). Notes on early interpretations of mediumship. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 26, 855-865.
Nahm M (2012). The sorcerer of Cobenzl and his legacy: The life of Baron Karl Ludwig von Reichenbach, his work and its aftermath. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 26, 381-407.
Nahm M, Greyson B, Kelly EW, Haraldsson E (2012). Terminal lucidity: A review and a case collection. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 55, 138-142.
Alvarado CS, Nahm M (2011). Psychic phenomena and the vital force: Hereward Carrington on “Vital energy and psychical phenomena”. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 75, 91-103.
Nahm M (2011a). Reflections on the context of near-death experiences. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 25. 453-478.
Nahm M (2011b). The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Its history and controversial aspects of its contents. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 29, 373-398.
Nahm M (2011c). Book review: Göran Brusewitz: Conscious connections. About Parapsychology and Holistic Biology. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 25, 407-411.
Nahm M, Hassler D (2011). Thoughts about thought bundles: A commentary on Jürgen Keil’s paper “Questions of the reincarnation type”. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 25, 305–318.
Nahm M (2010a). Book review: Janice M. Holden, Bruce Greyson und Debbie James: The handbook of near-death experiences. 30 years of investigation. Journal of Parapsychology, 74, 182-189.
Nahm M (2010b). Book review: Anabela Cardoso: Electronic voices: Contact with another dimension? Zeitschrift für Anomalistik, 10, 176-181.
Nahm M (2010c). Book review: Gerda Lier: Das Unsterblichkeitsproblem. Grundannahmen und Voraussetzungen [The Problem of Immortality. Basic Assumptions and Preconditions]. Zeitschrift für Anomalistik, 10, 136-144.
Nahm M (2010d). Letter to the editor [On mediumistic communications by living agents], Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 74, 53-56.
Nahm M, Nicolay J (2010). Essential features of eight published Muslim near-death experiences: An addendum to Joel Ibrahim Kreps’s “The search for Muslim near-death experiences”. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 29, 255-263.
Nahm M (2009a). Terminal lucidity in people with mental illness and other mental disability: An overview and implications for possible explanatory models. Journal of Near-Death Studies 28, 87-106.
Nahm M (2009b). Four ostensible near-death experiences of Roman times with peculiar features: Mistake cases, correction cases, xenoglossy, and a prediction. Journal of Near-Death Studies 27, 211-222.
Nahm M (2009c). Book review: Forward ever, backward never? Betrachtungen zum Tagungsband „Charting the future of parapsychology“. Zeitschrift für Anomalistik, 9, 216-237.
Nahm M, Greyson B (2009). Terminal lucidity in patients with chronic schizophrenia and dementia: A Survey of the Literature. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 197, 942-944.
Nahm M (2015). Außerkörperliche Erfahrungen [Out-of-Body Experiences]. In: G Mayer, M Schetsche, I Schmied-Knittel, D Vaitl (eds). An den Grenzen der Erkenntnis. Handbuch der wissenschaftlichen Anomalistik. Stuttgart: Schattauer. (pp. 151-163).
Nahm M (2013). Terminale Geistesklarheit und andere Rätsel des menschlichen Bewusstseins [Terminal Lucidity and other Enigmas of Human Consciousness]. In: A Serwaty, J Nicolay (eds). Nahtoderfahrung und Bewusstseinsforschung. Goc