Open Letter to Naylor from The Varsity’s Allison Martell

On April 2, Alison Martell, The Varsity’s director of recruitment and training, received an award recognizing her efforts to improve the student experience. Painfully aware of the award’s ironic tone in light of the Flat Fees proposal, Martell handed the following letter to David Naylor when they shook hands at the ceremony.

Dear President Naylor,

I come here today with a heavy heart. I am honoured to be receiving this award, and pleased that you are supporting initiatives to improve the student experience. But your flat fee scheme will fundamentally undermine the work that we are all recognizing today, and I cannot accept this award without speaking out.

I have been involved with The Varsity since first year. The student press is my foundation, an institution that I love, but not immune to criticism. I have always been concerned that the paper is too insular and elitist, that we do not reflect the diversity of U of T’s student body. At the end of last year, I proposed a new masthead position to address these issues: the director of recruitment and training.

I built a system for recruitment, so that anyone who e-mailed us could have a chance to contribute. I organized training workshops and public events, and mentored students one-on-one through their first assignments. The number of new contributors has increased by orders of magnitude. I see this as the beginning of a long process, but presumably this award recognizes some progress made.

This relates to flat fees in two ways. The first is that I would never have pursued this project under flat fees. I took three courses this year so that I could work at The Varsity, keep up my marks, and coordinate the G8 Research Group’s compliance reports, a nearly full-time pursuit that allows 100 other students to participate in original research. None of my positions come with a salary, and I could not have justified paying full-time fees.

The second, and more important, is that my work at The Varsity will be undermined by this initiative. Our paper is run by editors taking reduced course loads. Many of our writers take only four courses. By stretching their degrees out over time, our staff can manage the part-time jobs they need in the short-run against the journalism experience and good grades they need in the long run. Under flat fees, The Varsity would be written only by students who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for the privilege.

I know that times are tough, but a tax on student leaders is not the right place to find revenue. As student organizations collapse, your initiatives to improve campus life will also fail. I know you understand that to attract top students, this university must improve the student experience. In the medium and long run, flat fees will do more harm than good, no matter how much they improve the university’s financial position. Please, reconsider this initiative.

Yours truly,

Allison Martell

Honeymoon in Washington D.C.

While most of the world has returned to normal following Barack Obama’s historic victory, little seems to have changed in Washington D.C. Residents sporting Obama sweaters, hats, scarves, and pins en masse are only the beginning. Downtown souvenir shops burst at the seams with special edition Obama mugs, pens, peppermints, posters, chocolate bars, “Dress the First Family” books, “I love Michelle” t-shirts, and White House toilet paper. In bookstores, the president’s autobiographies are prominently placed in special section. A cardboard version of the man himself stands nearby, making for the ultimate tourist Kodak moment. Blinded by the multiple hanging Obama rugs and rows of presidential bobble-heads, one barely even notices the “Don’t blame me, I voted McCain/Palin” refrigerator magnets in the corner. In the words of one downtown vendor, these “are not very popular items, to say the least.”

As the epicentre of American politics and the site of the 44th Presidential Inauguration, the city naturally has reason to continue the buzz in the spirit of the recent events. “This was a milestone in American history,” says one D.C. resident who witnessed the January inauguration from the National Mall, a two-mile stretch of land running from the Capitol to the Washington monument. Even residents who did not vote for Obama describe the atmosphere in a similar way, with one woman comparing the mood to a “collective high.”

For Washington D.C.’s African-American community, a group that makes up over half of the city’s population, the event was especially momentous. “It’s normal to make him into a celebrity. He’s the first Black [president],” said an Atlanta-bound passenger who immigrated to the United States from Ghana. “[The hype] is all about race.”

“It was like Christmas-time,” adds Maurice Harcum, manager of Ben’s Chili restaurant, describing the mood in the city during inauguration week. “My fellow Washingtonians, they’re not the friendliest people. But people were talking on the subway, and there was love and joy and sharing,” he further explains.

A city institution in itself, Ben’s Chili has witnessed the struggle for civil rights and substantial transformations in American society in its 50 years of existence. Having been a favourite hangout of Nat King Cole and Miles Davis, the restaurant was also the scene of violent rioting following Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, which destroyed much of the surrounding area. Today, not only is the restaurant considered an historic landmark, it was also recently graced with a visit from then President-elect Obama and Washington mayor Adrien Fenty. Harcum, clearly moved by the experience, explained that he had had tickets to the inauguration but did not feel the need to go after the surprise visit. When asked if Obama was a pleasant customer, Harcum answered: “He insisted on paying.”

Clearly, the overall mood among the city’s residents reflects a positive attitude towards the change in government. Though some support Obama more than others and many are uncomfortable with the level of idolatry established by the souvenir industry, most Washingtonians seem especially relieved that the previous government is no longer in power. “Bush managed to turn off all sides,” states governmental lawyer Bernie Weberman. “It’s nice to have someone who is intelligent, who knows how to do things. It’s good not to have a moron.” Even the American Federation of Government Employees takes no discretion in declaring its enthusiasm for the change by adorning municipal buses with the slogan: “Good Government. We’re Ready!”

Happy or not, residents all seem to concur that Obama is a breath of fresh air, despite the hardships he faces. And though many Washingtonians are hesitant to put all of their faith into their new president, the city still appears rather enthusiastic towards the newest addition to their population. Perhaps Ikea’s star-spangled posters, which hang in the Washington Metro, sum up best the meeting of crass commercialism and genuine hope: “Bring a sense of order back to this country! (Start with a new PAX Wardrobe.)”

Freshly Pressed

Jeffrey Pinto – So It Is A Competition

Jeffrey Pinto’s self-released EP, So It Is A Competition, is an auditory tease. A self-described multi-instrumentalist and frontman for Toronto-based My Shaky Jane, Pinto’s solo work experiments with arrangements, instruments, and styles creating a disjointed and nerve-wracking succession of songs. Though the ideas and the concepts are there, the execution is not.

“I Told You So” opens the album with a lush folk-pop sound, with smooth and eerily overdubbed vocals. Pinto’s nasally twang grates against the soothing yet somewhat monotonous percussion. On “It Is A Competition,” Pinto experiments with an excruciatingly long succession of arrangements that drag on past the five-minute mark, repeating the major progression ad nauseum. The track rambles aimlessly without crescendo or direction, with sporadic bursts of interesting though unrelated sounds.

Pinto hits his vocal stride on “Little Games”—his voice is clearly more suited to upbeat power-ballads than crooning folk-pop. Yet “Little Games” falls prey to a similar monotony, spending two minutes on the repeated phrase, “I don’t want to play your little games,” before jumping into a synth progression of diminutive percussion.

Pinto’s haunting church organ mixed with an electric guitar works wonders on “I Told You So.” But it’s a combination that’s missing from the rest of the EP.

Ultimately, it’s just a little too self-indulgent, running aimlessly without a real musical narrative, auditory crescendo, or climax—stimulating, sure, but not satisfying.


—Emily Kellogg

Sandman Viper Command – Everybody See This

When Burlington natives Sandman Viper Command chose Everybody See This as the title of their debut album, it was undoubtedly intended as a bold statement of the band’s supposed talent and originality. But after listening to this effort, it seems less like a declaration of confidence, and more a desperate plea for listeners to take notice of an album that is drenched in mediocrity.

The record opens with jaunty pop tune “Strawberry Quick,” a bouncy, upbeat number that creates the misleading notion that the album might hold some promise. The song, though catchy, is repetitive and predictable.

The remainder of the album reveals a steady decline in both the quality of songwriting and the band’s ability to intrigue the listener. It’s difficult to say which is worse: cringe-worthy songs like “Mushroom Samba” and “Sunday Driver” or the fact that the entire album, above anything else, is simply lacklustre and boring. From the opening rhythms of the first song to the uninspired ending of the last, no riff is infectious enough, nor any lyric poignant enough, to be captivating.

The album is not without a few commendable moments: some impressive instrumental flourishes prove that these boys are indeed capable musicians, but technical ability is rarely a reflection of a gifted and fully-formed band. While the odd guitar solo might be momentarily arresting, vocalist Rob Janson’s wavering, high-pitched whine becomes increasingly grating as the album plays on.

For an album whose title boasts such brazen self-assuredness, the delights are minuscule, and the disappointments immense.


—Niamh Fitzgerald

The Isosceles Project – Oblivion’s Candle

Oblivion’s Candle is the debut from Toronto prog-metal trio The Isosceles Project. It might be labeled an EP, but don’t let the track count fool you—with songs averaging 10 minutes in length, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

On opening track “Doppelganger,” guitarist Eric Euler shows that he’s one of the best up-and-coming guitarists in Toronto, masterfully blending styles ranging from Mars Volta jazz-funK to crushing Pelican rhythms, all in a single song.

But the spotlight doesn’t belong solely to Euler—the band picked the name The Isosceles Project because it signifies two equal sides, the other half being the rhythm section, which rounds out with Scott Tessier on bass and Justin Falzon on drums. The Isosceles Project don’t deal in showboating, they’re just some of Toronto’s most technically superior musicians doing what they do best. Their intricate style allows the band to shine without the help of a vocalist.

It’s just as well, because the blasting metal rhythms of the standout title track can barely be put into words—the band claim it took them over six months to compose and master it. Next is “Solace,” which begins calm and droning and builds steadily before propelling the listener into a wall of spastic storming guitars.

Boasting tremendous creativity and passion, The Isosceles Project are starting a new metal movement in Toronto, and they’re doing it without words.


—Alex Fortuna

Teeter – Heating Up

Teeter’s brand of upbeat heartbreak pop-punk evokes some major nostalgia for the days when Jimmy Eat World ruled and Fall Out Boy had yet to de-throne them. The jarring opening power chords of “Kiss Me and Kill Me After” are accompanied by harsh percussion and soaring harmonies, and they inspire a shuddering wave of nostalgic narcissism for those of us who tried to “stick it to the man” in our early teens by donning oversized Vans sneakers, and scrolling through the 30 songs on our first iPods.

Which isn’t to say that Teeter don’t pump out catchy phrases, sing-along harmonies, and a head-bobbing beat—and hey, after a couple of drinks, the pop-punk angst in the earnest vocals and simplistic lyrics is sure to inspire some sweaty teenage bodies to crash into each other in an impromptu mosh pit. Heating Up was produced by major emo hitmaker Paul Leavitt (All Time Low, Senses Fail)—and the band revels in the most winning characteristics of the genre.

“Standing At Your Window” delves shamelessly into the realm of the cliché, to the extent that it almost becomes an experiment of self-conscious caricature. With lyrics written in rhyming couplets: “I’m standing at your window and I just want to know / I’m hoping and pleading because I’m still believing,” their choruses draw attention to glib phrases about heartbreak. After all, “Kiss me, and kill me after” sounds like something written in ALL CAPS on Facebook chat.

Teeter are the ultimate ear candy—you know, the stuff you keep stuffing in your mouth until you puke purple sweet tarts all over the place.


—Emily Kellogg

Night Flowers – Night FLowers

Local alternative rock trio Night Flowers’ MySpace page boasts that their music is a collection of roughly 10 million influences, and therein lies the problem with their self-titled debut EP: they can’t pick a sound and stick to it. The result is a genre-jumping mess of styles that never quite coalesces into a recognizable whole.

At times, it seems like Night Flowers are clamouring in vain for atmospheric grunge to make a comeback (“Fortune Cookie”), then they turn around and bust out a dance beat and jagged power chords (“Man of the People”), followed by a dose of Luscious Jackson-style Lilith Fair indie rock (“Pep Rally”).

Guitarist Tara Rice, drummer Kim Heron, and brilliantly-named bassist Sködt McNalty trade up vocals, and while each have pleasant voices, the passing of the spotlight doesn’t help with the lack of continuity.

Rice’s snarling lead vocal on “Ground Zero” shows some promise, but McNalty fares much worse with “Fortune Cookie,” a plodding, slow jam that sounds like Stone Temple Pilots coming down from a particularly bad trip.

It’s significant that the album’s best track is its most adventurous. Six-minute closer “Knock On Wood” begins with a loungey tropical vibe, and breaks at the three-minute mark into a glorious outro with angelic harmonies and distorted guitars that make 1993 sound fresh again. At long last, a sound emerges for Night Flowers to bank upon.

This EP is the sound of a growing band trying on different styles before adopting one for good. Perhaps Night Flowers ought to have waited until they found one before making an album.


—Rob Duffy

Barnicke Gallery looks south

South-South: Interruption and Encounters, an exhibition highlighting perspectives on post-colonial African and Indian experiences, premiered in Hart House’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery on April 2. Curated by Tejpal Ajji and Jon Soske, the exhibit features works by Brendan Fernandez, Jemalie Hassan, Hew Locke, Louise Liliefeldt, Omar Badsha, Allan de Souza, Marlon Griffith, and renowned dancehall artist and musician Apache Indian.

The exhibit is part of an ongoing series presented by New College at the University of Toronto, aiming to promote public discussion and dialogue between various South Asian, Caribbean, and African cultures. Each artist confronts the notion of a global “South,” its convergence with “Northern” imperialism, and the impact it has had in forming new communities, ideas, and traditions.

The featured artists comprise a wide range of global backgrounds: England, East and West India, Jamaica, Trinidad, and South Africa, each focusing on ideas and issues of community and the meaning of belonging to an ethnic diaspora. As the works make the connection between identity and history, the exhibit questions colonial and post-colonial racism. Artists deal with the challenges of slavery with new perspectives of 20th-century Apartheid and the complexities of recent or longstanding migrant communities.

Omar Badshaw, a South African Indian whose work deals with his country’s struggle with Apartheid, focuses his photography on issues of identity and politics in the anti-Apartheid movement. Badshaw’s photographs portray 1980s segregated spaces, in hopes of creating a new way of looking at black South Africans—not as second class citizens, but as “makers of their own history.”

South-South intertwines photography, sculpture, mixed media, and video pop culture to express the variety of challenges faced by diasporas both African and South Asian. The use of these different mediums highlights the variety of groups involved and the way they identify with one another. Mixed media, like Hew Locke’s photographs of European monuments covered in faux jewelry, shows how differences in experience shape the understanding of loyalty to a specific culture. In doing so, the collection demonstrates an overarching connection between different cultures. The works featured portray how ideas of national identity have been transformed by a wider understanding of different communities in major urban areas.

South-South also incorporates pop culture into the diversity of the exhibit’s theme. English dancehall musician Apache Indian’s music video piece combines the rhythms of caribbean reggae with American R&B. The exhibit program explains that he explores “the ‘double life’ lived by many young British immigrants who feel caught between cultural loyalty, their family’s sometimes unyielding dictates, and their own complex relationship to different aspects of British culture.”

With the new mediums and innovative measures used by these artists, questions of the past address present-day issues in communities linked together by the way in which they were formed.

South-South runs until May 19 at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at Hart House.

The pain game

As I’m cleared through the daunting security desk, I wonder what goes on in the University of Toronto Centre for the Study of Pain (UTCSP). Inside there are no latex gloves scattered in corridors, no smell of antiseptic, no sound of drills buzzing through the hallway. Relieved, I make my way upstairs. For a place where pain is the name of the game, it’s not so scary after all.

The UTCSP was founded in 1999 in an effort to bring together the large number of pain researchers working in Toronto. It began when five scientists combined forces to operationally function as a centre, and has since grown to include over 60 faculty researchers from U of T and affiliated hospitals.

“There’s a real Canadian history to pain research,” says the centre’s director, Dr. Mike Salter. Some of the world’s foremost scientists in pain include McGill psychologist Ronald Melzack, and psychiatrist Harold Merskey from the University of Western Ontario. Their pioneering work has helped put Canada on the map since the early days of pain research.

Since then, developments in the study of pain have led to a collaborative outlook on how to conduct research in the field. “People were realizing that in order to treat pain effectively, you need to have multiple approaches, and we’ve kept that going here,” says Salter.

The UTCSP is a collaborative project involving the Faculties of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy. According to Salter, “In terms of an academic pain centre that integrates different faculties, there really aren’t any others that do things the way that we do.”

With a mandate of research and education, the UTCSP aims to lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of pain and its alleviation, and to spread and apply new knowledge.

On the research side, the centre facilitates projects, and helps faculty gain access to funding. It emphasizes an approach to clinical research from multiple angles in a number of disciplines.

The centre’s focus on education has led to the development of programs to instruct undergraduates, graduates, and post-graduates in pain assessment and management. The UTCSP’s flagship program, the Interfaculty Pain Curriculum (formally known as Pain Week), is a weeklong intensive course in pain for undergraduate students in various health disciplines. The program has been very successful, and has included 884 students across faculties.

In light of the centre’s educational mission: what exactly is pain? According to Salter, “there are two very distinct aspects that people often get confused: there’s pain, and there’s something called nociception.”

Nociception is the unconscious detection of potentially tissue-damaging stimuli by the body’s central and peripheral nervous system. It can result from heat, chemicals, or noxious mechanical stimulation, like pinching.

“There’s a really good survival value to be able to detect when the integrity of your body is being impaired somehow,” says Salter. “It’s really important to be able to do that.”

But pain is not that.

Pain is a function of the brain, and unlike nociception, it’s a conscious experience. It involves the integrated activity of various parts of the brain. Its relationship with nociception can be a tricky one. Nociception or noxious stimuli usually cause pain, but the stimulus is not always proportional to the discomfort experienced. Sometimes, pain can even occur without stimuli.

“Where things get a little bit more confused is in situations of chronic pain, where the relationship between tissue damage and the experience that you have is quite variable,” says Salter. In cases like these, minor tissue damage can lead to a big experience of pain, or vice versa.

According to Salter, understanding the nature of pain mechanisms is crucial, considering the huge role that pain plays in everyday life. “Most people outside the field think of pain as a symptom of a disease. But what we’ve come to realize in the field, and with huge amounts of evidence, is that pain is in the brain. But the brain is changed by pain. Or the brain changes pain. So we’re coming to see pain as a series of disorders of the nervous system.

“That’s been one of the things we’re trying to educate people about: that pain isn’t just a symptom of diseases. Pain can be a disease in and of itself, and there are many people that suffer from it.”

Statistics show that 10 to 20 per cent of the population suffers from chronic pain. All too often, people are afraid to talk about their pain problems because they don’t want to be stigmatized, or seen as complainers.

For many pain conditions, there are not very many good therapies, which is why pain is both a major societal and health problem. These problems promise to continue to grow in magnitude because there is a disproportionate representation of pain as people get older. “Unless we do something about it,” says Salter, “pain problems are going to increase with the aging population.”

In light of the challenges facing pain management today, the UTCSP aims to continue facilitating pain research, and to move beyond undergraduate professional education into more translational education for post-graduates, professionals, and continuing medical education. An increased understanding of pain as an economic, ethical, and human problem will also help to establish pain as an important focus for research worldwide.

The unexpected consequences of minor head trauma

The 45-year old actress arrived at the resort on a Sunday, and hired an instructor on Monday for a private ski lesson. According to Mont Tremblant spokesperson Catherine Lacasse, she was not wearing a helmet. Richardson fell onto slushy snow, and did not collide with anything or suffer any signs of cuts or injuries. She picked herself up almost immediately and was not placed on a stretcher. The staff followed strict procedures, bringing her down to the bottom of the slope and back to her hotel, insisting that she should see a doctor. Richardson maintained she was okay. “She was joking and laughing,” Lacasse said.

About an hour after the incident, complaining of a headache, Richardson was brought to the Centre Hospitalier Laurentien in Ste-Agathe, and transferred to the intensive care unit of Hôpital du Sacre-Coeur in Montreal. She spent fewer than 24 hours there before being flown to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, during which TMZ reported her to be unconscious. Brain-dead by Tuesday night, she was taken off of life support the next day.

According to the New York City medical examiner’s office, Natasha Richardson died from an epidural hematoma, a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is commonly caused by a blow to the head. It occurs when blood builds up between the skull and the tough, leathery outer membrane of the brain, called the dura mater. Even in absence of a visible external injury, force from a blunt impact to the head makes the brain bounce within its cavity, causing surrounding blood vessels to tear. The resulting blood clotting between the dura mater and the skull reduces the space normally occupied by the brain, which is compressed from the gradual increase in pressure. This explains why Richardson initially seemed fine, but the effects of the impact escalated within such short duration.

Had she agreed to see a doctor immediately after the incident, it would have increased her probability of survival. One week after Richardson’s death, a seven-year old Ohio girl’s life was spared when, after being hit in the head with a baseball, her parents recognized Richardson’s symptoms, and sent their daughter into the operating room in time to save her life.

At least two million head injuries occur in the United States every year, and about 500,000 of these are serious enough for the emergency room. A hit to the head is no laughing matter.

Budget funds fall short of expectations

Ontario will give Ontario colleges and universities $780 million in capital funding over the next two years, the province announced in its budget last week. The money will pay for infrastructure costs, including updating older facilities and building new ones.

The government has also promised a one-time $150-million cash relief injection to help postsecondary schools cope with immediate financial strains resulting from the recession.

Despite the capital funding, U of T still faces significant operational expenses, said university spokesperson Rob Steiner. The costs include supporting research, and updating and expanding campus facilities.

“[The $780 million commitment] is not the kind of funding that helps operate the university any better, but it gives us a better physical plan in which to do it,” said Steiner. “We’re going to have to make sure that over time we also have the support to actually operate those facilities we’re building now”

Dave Scrivener, U of T Students Union VP external, said the payouts aren’t nearly enough to make a significant difference. “To put the $150 million in perspective: the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T has a $48 million deficit, it alone would need one-third of the money to bring it even,” said Scrivener. “Spread this $150 million over 17 universities and 24 colleges, and it’s far too little spread over a large area.” “The current financial situation U of T finds itself in comes out of structural problems, where public universities are forced to rely on the stock market over public investment,” added Srivener.

The 2009 budget has also committed $35 million for medical infrastructure and will create 100 medical school spaces across the province. Another $10 million will be used to expand graduate fellowships.

With government resources stretched, U of T is looking at increasing tuition. Steiner said an increase would likely be in the single digits, and that a significant amount of the revenue from a tuition increase would go back into student aid.

The budget has been criticized for failing to address student debt and financial assistance.

“This is by far the greatest down fall of the budget; that there are no tangible benefits to helping students financially,” said Scrivener. “It’s all focused towards institutions.”

“Ontario students have the fastest rising tuition fees, rising ancillary fees and are facing major enrollment pressures. We’ll need a balance of institutional funding and grants, as well as grants and tuition relief going directly to students, to effectively weather the recession.”

Fringe Science: The near death experience

You remember being knocked off your bike by an oncoming bus, but wonder why you are looking at the crash scene from atop a neighboring building. You notice your body lying motionless as paramedics’ race to your side. Your surroundings dim as the brightness of the sun begins to envelope your entire being and a sense of peace and oneness ensues, when suddenly pain washes over your body. A paramedic explains to you that you had been clinically dead for over five minutes. You have just had a near death experience.

While this event may sound spooky, research suggests that as many as 10 per cent of cardiac arrest survivors report similar experiences.

The controversy arises when an individual claims such an incident “proves” the existence of an after life, or that consciousness can exist irrespective of the body. By suggesting such things, one challenges the empirically well-founded assumption that the mind requires the brain to exist.

For the past few decades, the conventional scientific explanation for near-death experiences has proposed that when individuals approach the moment of death, their brain starts to malfunction, causing hallucination-like experiences via the abnormal release of various neurochemicals. Recently, some researchers have called into question the validity of the “hallucination” hypothesis.

In 2001, Dr. Sam Parnia and Peter Fenwick from the Southampton General Hospital in the UK conducted a large-scale review of literature on near death experiences. Published in the medical journal Resuscitation, their article argued, via the invocation of physiology research, that it is unlikely that biologically-mediated hallucinations occur following clinical death. Their research states that following cessation of the heartbeat, the brain ceases to function within around 10 seconds. This has been measured in various studies involving animals and humans.

Without brain function, the cascade of neurochemicals hypothesized to be released could not translate into near death experiences, as the brain cannot mediate experiences under such deteriorated conditions. Nevertheless, near-death experiences are recalled by patients as occurring over the time period in which they are clinically dead. Furthermore, Drs. Parnia and Fenwick noted anecdotal stories in which patients perceived themselves as floating above their clinically dead bodies in the emergency room, and upon being revived, were able to remember specific details of the time in which they were “dead.” During an interview for Skeptiko in 2008, Dr. Fenwick noted a case in which an individual was in cardiac arrest and had an EEG connected to his head that showed no brain activity. Upon being revived, the individual accurately recalled and verified specific details of the procedure, claiming he saw the whole thing from the ceiling above. As such near-death experiences are noted for both their clarity and cohesiveness, questions remain as to why individuals with no brain activity are still capable of perception and cognition.

At first glance, these anecdotal stories, in conjunction with the physiological research suggest the mind or “soul” may be capable of existing irrespective of the brain. But studies into near-death experiences have limitations. For example, numerous after-the-fact anecdotal stories cannot be substituted for true science and well-structured experiments. To claim that a clinically dead individual maintains existence outside of their body, one would need a way to verify this is not a near-death illusion.

In 2008, a new five-year large-scale study was initiated, involving 25 hospitals worldwide, and 1500 patients. The participating hospitals place images and objects only viewable from a top-down ceiling perspective, to see if clinically dead individuals are actually separating from their bodies and floating to the ceiling. They would be expected to see these images, and be able to report them if revived. As the results of this study will not be published until 2013, answers to the question of the existence of the soul and the after life will need to wait.