Science does not prove. It refutes, with a margin for error.
A man stuck in a prison with no interaction with the outside, cannot prove that the world outside of it does not exist. The video game character, if it were aware, would not be able to prove that there is an animating force (the player) and a larger reality outside of his virtual sub-reality. Science cannot prove that the materialistic paradigm is accurate, but it may refute it as discussed in Part 2. Science can only provide evidence that will lead scientists to conclude that there is a more likely account of reality. Science also cannot prove the reality of "paranormal" abilities (psi, parapsychism, psychical phenomena, consciential phenomena, or as Dean Radin calls it the supernormal), but it certainly has been unable to refute them. Scientists can only gather evidence that can refute test or null hypotheses: the OBE as a veridical phenomenon stands, materialism is crumbling. If evidence is deemed significant enough, one can say, with certain risk of being incorrect (Type I Error), that there is enough data to suggest that a null hypothesis is refuted. One can never say, that the opposite has been proven. It is possible to not have enough evidence to reject a false null hypothesis (Type II Error). These basic premises of science are missed by many people, including journalists, many academics and professional scoffers who call themselves skeptics, especially when such logical fallacies support their biases.
John Cleese said it best (or at least the funniest) - Youtube
Scientific experiments usually elucidate possible relationships between variables. Potential causes are interpreted from the data and by attempting to eliminate confounding variables, but causation is not directly shown, unless a plausible process can be directly observed. The model to understand that observation is itself a creation of consciousness and it is subject to refutation by a superior model. For example, we can observe an effect we call gravity, but we are far from fully understanding it, though there are different theories that attempt to model it. We can observe electrical activity in the brain of a person that eats a strawberry, but the activity is not the experience of taste and we cannot even say it causes that experience - the electrical activity is a correlate. Therefore, science will never prove whether out-of-body experiences are objective (veridical) or whether they are caused by the brain; whether reality is limited to matter-energy or whether there is something else (namely, consciousness). However, we can make leading-edge, relative truth, temporary conclusions based on intelligent, scientific refutation.
Beyond the reductionist paradigm
The materialistic, reductionist, physicalist, Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm presupposes (a priori) that the consciousness (here meant as the self) and all its attributes and manifestations like thought, will, and emotion are creations of the brain, which in turn is a result of biological evolution, itself a result of natural selection of random mutations in DNA, the biological blueprint for life which is said to have developed quite by chance. The physician and NDE researcher Pim van Lommel discussed this in a brilliant reply to criticism by a professional debunker.
The consciential paradigm, in contract, posits the opposite hypothesis: consciousness is not matter-energy, however, it is an increasingly intelligent, evolving, complexifying, organizing, ordering, anti-entropic, syntropic, living entity that drives biological evolution. I have called this conscientiomotor evolution in the past. It is a bit of a revival of some ideas by one of the earliest evolutionary theorists, Lamark. This consciential neo-Lamarkianism sees the folly of looking for the Knight Rider in the re-run inside your TV, looking for Tim Berners Lee or Steve Jobs inside your smart phone, or trying to understand pain by looking at an fMRI image. The concept of the brain as a transceiver of consciousness arises and a multidimensional space-time as eventual theaters for its manifestations.
The consciouness is unlikely to be proven as a result of physical reality, since all we know about physical reality is understood in our microcosm, as famously advanced by Hungarian philosopher Ervin László and others. Our surround, whether material or beyond, and consciousness give sense to one another and affect one another. Ultimately, as suggested by IAC president Wagner Alegretti and others, we might eventually conclude that our apparently "external reality" is a creation of consciousness, laws of physics and all, evolving, changing as we do. As my good friend from Psyleron/SSE/ICRL Adam Curry has coined it, physical reality, including the marvelous brain, may be a sort of technology of consciousness. So, rather than asking the so-called "hard problem" of "how does the brain produce consciousness," we might ask how does the consciousness communicate with the brain? IAC, lead by Alegretti and Trivellato's research, is pursuing exactly this question. Stay tuned!
Reducing consciousness to what exactly?
The reductionist paradigm also presupposes that a non-material source of consciousness is preposterous, because everything around us seems so solid: why evoke entities that cannot be physically posited? One hundred years of quantum physics have, however, refuted the "billiard ball" idea of reality, which stubbornly remains the way most still regard the world around them. In his latest book, The Observer Effect, physicist and "para-physicist" Dr. Massimiliano Sassoli de' Bianchi makes the case that Reality is not limited to our perceived space-time and that at the nano-scale it is constantly manifesting and vanishing from our limited sub-reality, based on decades of peer-reviewed, theoretical quantum physics research, now accessible to lay and technical audiences. So, if even the foundations of physics, which "look more like concepts than objects," are not likely to be limited to Euclidean space, which includes the body and its brain, why insist that consciousness cannot also exist beyond our limited, perceived material reality.
The Observer Effect by Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi
Psychical phenomena, too, present challenges to scientific prejudices. For instance, individuals whose presence may enhance or inhibit psi abilities in others; experiments whereby a control group of animals or plants also appears to benefit from bioenergy exteriorization to the experimental group, thereby masking the difference in the two groups; the challenge of apparent retrocausality, whereby information can be interpreted as flowing from probable future events (though this is not necessarily the most plausible interpretation); the variability in performance in psi against the expectation of strict replicability; apparent "travel" of information across vast distances. All of these are anomalies, physical and psi, because they are viewed through limited, outdated perspectives. We will find they are quite reasonable and normal as we uncover more suitable models of reality for both the nanoscale and consciousness-related phenomena.
Carl Sagan interprets the fable Flatland
Nelson Abreu is an educator at International Academy of Consciousness based in Los Angeles. He is a contributing author of Filters and Reflections: Perspectives on Reality (ICRL Press, 2009). His research has encompassed consciousness and biological evolution, consciousness and physics/engineering, out-of-body experience, subtle energy and psychometry.