David Lorimer on Science Religion Spirituality kiwiconnexion practical theology
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David B: Welcome along to Live On Air this
evening. We’re particularly grateful that David Lorimer from the Scientific and Medical
Network has been able to join with us. David has been instrumental in bringing the network’s
news and its opinions and views, and scientific papers and so on – he’s been bringing them
to public attention now for a very long time. Would you like to just tell us a little bit
about your background, and a brief overview of the Scientific and Medical Network?
David L: Yes, thank you David. I’ve been working with the network now since 1986, so that’s
over 30 years. Prior to that I was teaching French, German and philosophy mainly at an
old public school called Winchester College. While I was there I wrote my first book, which
was called Survival? This is in fact going to come out again. Both my books are being
re-printed towards the end of the year with slightly different titles. So it’s quite exciting
to see them coming back into print after them being out of print for well over 20 years.
So, my interests have grown with those of the network, if you like, but I was involved
in the 1980s a lot in Near Death Experiences, and the implications of Near Death Experiences.
I think since the time I’ve been involved in the network, the whole consciousness field
has exploded, really. Since 1995 we’ve been running the Beyond the
Brain conference, and we’ve got one coming up at the end of October with some very good
speakers. In fact, some of you may not know that we have a dedicated site for the Beyond
the Brain, which is Beyondthebrian.org. So you can have a look at all the details of
the conference, and indeed details of some of the old conferences on that website, which
is currently being developed. Our conference over this period has also grown very considerably
and we’ve been running the Mystics and Scientists conference since the late 1980s, and we just
celebrated the 40th anniversary of that series of conferences. I have a number of other things
that I’ve been interested in, and I’ve previously been president of the Swedenborg Society for
instance, and also president of Wrekin Trust which was started up by Sir George Trevelyan,
and that’s just finished its cycle of activity. I’ve been involved in the International Futures
Forum, which is a sort of think tank, trying to negotiate and navigate the complex challenges
that we have in the world today. I just recently returned from the mountains in Bulgaria where
I’ve been on a two week retreat with my friends in the mountains, doing wonderful Paneurhythmy
dance – sacred dance. In fact, as we speak, the festival of the White Brotherhood is taking
place in the Rila Mountains on 19th, 20th and 21st August. So, today there will probably
be 1000 people dancing Paneurhythmy up in the mountains, which is quite something. So
those are a few sorts of sketches of background. David B: That’s a wonderful introduction,
David. The Beyond the Brain conferences were where I first became very much aware of the
work of the network. I attended the first one, and I think I’ve been to two subsequently.
Then, when you mentioned all the work that came out around Near Death Experience, it’s
kind of an entree point into a world of science that interfaces with medicine, philosophy,
theology and wisdom studies. David L: Certainly, yeah.
David B: It is the most dynamic and incredibly interesting organisation, and one could just
become totally immersed in it; the news and the opinions that come out. You’ve been editing
their magazine for a very long time. What an absolute treat it is, every four months
or so to get the network magazine. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s incredible.
David L: [5:20]. Today I think I’ll probably finish the short reviews, and I’m getting
up towards 15000 words on those. I don’t know whether it’s exciting or depressing that the
shelf is already full of books that I haven’t read, which will have to wait for the next
issue. So they seem to be coming in at an even faster rate than before. If you look
back to about 1996, about 6000 books have been through the network system. So it gives
you some idea of the quantity. It’s running at about 250 a year. That’s the kind of number
I receive through the post-box. David B: I don’t think very many people would
be aware that you’re a phenomenal speed reader. David L: Well, it’s a matter of trying to
extract the essence and something interesting from the book. You can’t read every page of
every book. It simply isn’t possible, but when you’ve been at it for so long, you get
to the point where you have a very good sense of where the book fits into other books in
the field, and therefore what its unique contribution is.
David B: Well, David we’re going to look at the SciMed Network commission and it’s looked
at France, Germany and Britain, and about 1000 scientists have responded from each of
those countries to this question of how their science interfaces with faith, spirituality
and religion. I wonder if you could please – here we are with the first page of your
executive summary of the report; health approaches in these different countries. This is fascinating.
What’s the main finding for you, off this particular data?
David L: I think if you look at the – before we just do that, let me just give you a little
bit of background on the survey, which may be of interest to people; the idea was initiated
by Rupert Sheldrake. Rupert had the feeling, and was approached by the SALVIA Foundation
for some ideas. He had the feeling that quite a lot of scientists might have had interesting
experiences or be practicing or be open to religion and spirituality, but wouldn’t really
admit to their colleagues. So, the question was; if we did a survey on an anonymous basis,
would this show that larger numbers of people were interested in these areas, than might
be apparent in the public, because the press is predominantly what we might call humanistic
or enlightenment rationalists. The press is more inclined towards I think atheism and
agnosticism, so they tend to exaggerate I think the extent to which science is associated
with atheism and agnosticism. So that’s a bit of background.
Now, we asked quite a number of different questions as you’ll see from the survey. If
you look at this particular page, the striking thing is the difference in the different countries
of the use of complementary medicine. We asked if people had used any of these approaches
personally in the last five years. So, you’ll see that France is 40 per cent – this is homeopathy.
Germany; 32 per cent. UK; five per cent. There’s a higher figure in Germany, as you can see
for herbal medicine and naturopathy. The naturopathy is striking in Germany with only eight per
cent, and two per cent in the UK and France. Then French seemed to be much higher on chiropractic,
which is interesting. So, my take-away message here is the culture
of the country has a great influence on the usage of different health modalities. So,
in France for instance, you have homeopathic pharmacies, and you can get homeopathy in
mainstream pharmacies. Whereas, in the UK – and this is a big factor that none of the
above figure where the UK says 58 per cent – there is a very active Quackbusters movement
headed by Simon Singh. He’s aiming to illuminate funding for complementary medicine, and close
down as many complementary medical departments in universities as he can. He’s of the view
that there is no reliable evidence for any of these approaches, which is in fact wrong,
but the sceptical movement applied to complimentary medicine is very strong, as it also is in
relation to parapsychology. David B: Culturally, we’ve got an absolutely
fascinating result here because France, which we considered to be historically the most
secular of countries, and likewise to some extent Germany with its history, have very
clear empathy for alternative medical practices. I don’t even like to use the word alternative
medical practices, but there’s an empathy for that, that we would not expect within
that secular society. British… David L: It’s mainly homeopathy in France,
as you can see, because if you look at the other figures – naturopathy and herbal medicine
– they’re much lower – [12:15] homeopathy and chiropractic as well.
David B: Yeah. A group of us went through the survey and we were really interested in
these regional variations, but in the New Zealand context I would hazard a guess that
we would mirror almost exactly the British [12:40] simply because of the colonial movement.
There’s a fascinating part of New Zealand history from about 1900 through to post-World
War I, where there was an act of parliament that specifically excluded what were called
Tohunga practices. These were the medical practices of the indigenous
Maori people, and the Suppression of the Tohunga Act was considered to be a kind of a breakthrough
thing in terms of improving Maori health. I would be un-surprised if there weren’t similar
kinds of exclusionary things going on in different ways in UK, France and Germany, but some things
have made it through, as it were. When you said about Simon Singh – very famous in terms
of writing books about mathematics and code-breaking et cetera, but very interesting news to hear
that he is spare-heading that sort of rationalist attack – maybe not unexpected…
David L: Yes, exactly. It’s a very old debate, but it goes on in the areas of complementary
medicine and parapsychology, in particular. David B: Exactly, which is part of your area
of brilliant expertise. Religious affiliation, David; like to guide us through that?
David L: Yes. Again what you see here is that the portions of atheists and agnostics are
under 50 per cent in all three countries. You see very similar in France, and lower
in Germany. So again, this sends the message that under 50 per cent less than majority
of scientists, at least in this survey, are atheist and agnostic. You’ll see agnostic’s
the highest figure in the UK, if you break that figure down, and atheists in France.
Again, this is a cultural thing; if you’re not a Catholic in France, you’re much more
likely to be an atheist, because there’s a polarisation within society.
Then, Germany was higher church attendance, which correlates with the lower atheist and
agnostic figure – so 49 per cent is very high. That’s semi-regular – not every week, but
semi-regular church attendance. Then, if religion and spirituality are important to your life;
the UK has the highest figure, which is just about a third, and France and Germany a quarter.
So, that’s also an interesting finding. Then this Spiritual But Not Religious – SBNR – I
was surprised to see that figure as low as it was. I thought it might be higher than
14 and sort of average of 13 per cent overall. David B: Do you draw any conclusion out of
that? You were expecting perhaps these figures to be reversed. You were expecting more people
to declare themselves Spiritual But Not Religious, but we seem to have the reverse effect going
on; more people are declaring themselves religious, or having some form of religious affiliation
and church attendance… David L: Yeah, so the thing is there are 44
sheets of data here – there’s an enormous amount of detail that one can’t summarise
onto a slide like this. One of the things that comes out is – and this is consistent
with other surveys; the higher prevalence of spirituality and religion among women than
among men, but that’s a general finding. Ollie Robinson who is a psychologist at Greenwich
University; he presented a paper to the annual meeting in Plymouth where he looks specifically
at these gender effects, and compared them with other surveys.
David B: Okay, that’s something we may come back to, because I think it’s an interesting
thing that appears to work across culture – not just specific to one regional difference,
kind of thing. David L: Okay. Now, this next slide is a very
interesting one as well. The question is; what do people think is the status of consciousness
in relation to the brain? You could think that if you look at the figures for atheism
and agnosticism, then you’ll see that not every atheist and agnostic – if you look at
the figures from the previous slide, and believe that consciousness is only in the brain, you’ll
see that here the UK has the highest figure of 38 per cent, and behind that figure are
more young people, 25-34 – under 34 – think that consciousness is in the brain.
Conscious beyond the brain; as you would expect, because it’s only in the brain is highest
in the UK, beyond the brain is lowest is in the UK, and in France and Germany a quarter
and a third think that consciousness is beyond the brain. Now, what’s interesting I think
in this slide is that a third of the sample say, well we can’t know – they’re agnostic,
which is far more than people who say they don’t know. So if you put the don’t know and
can’t know together, then you get 45 per cent roughly. So there is a sort of element of
mystery here, and I suppose I would have tried to remove that third category, because I think
it’s sort of – can’t know is a little bit dodging the issue. So I would have preferred
the survey not to have had that; to have had in the brain, beyond the brain, don’t know
– rather than can’t know and don’t know. David B: Was Rupert Sheldrake able to make
any observation about this particular data? All of his experiments with the sense of being
stared at, the perceptions of animals in relation to their owners et cetera; I might have expected
that there would be a higher response rate amongst the scientists who work in biology
particularly, or zoology – sort of an awareness of, yeah maybe things don’t stop at the surface
of the skin. Was Rupert able to make any observations? David L: We’ve got some of Rupert’s questions
coming up later, but these figures are I think fairly standard. Among neuroscientists, as
you probably know, it’s very rare for people to believe that consciousness is beyond the
brain or can be beyond the brain, but that’s mainly because as you’ll see later in the
survey, ignorance of the data – that people talk about – they jump to conclusions about
these areas when they simply are not acquainted with the literature. There’s no incentive
to acquainted with the literature because there’s a self-reinforcing system that if
you’re going to conform to the expectation of the scientific view, then you’ve got to
be very careful about the opinions you voice if you want your career to stay on track.
David B: Yeah, very good point. Okay, now we move to this distinction between religion
and spirituality. David L: Yes. Again, you’ve got three possibilities
here; Science and Religion is the first – that’s SR. So, are Science and Religion complementary;
those figures are about 20 per cent on average that they’re independent. This I thought was
an interesting finding, because nearly half the survey feels that science and religion
are in fact independent domains with different ways of knowing. Contradictory, again the
UK figure’s slightly higher at the quarter, and France and Germany 20 per cent – a fifth.
Then, if you look at the complementarity or otherwise of science and spirituality, which
is the second part, then you’ll see that the figures are almost identical in the UK, but
significantly higher in France, and slightly higher in Germany, but the independent is
still largely the same – slightly higher if anything – even nearer nearly 50 per cent.
The contradictory – and this interesting I think – if you look at the figures for Science
and Religion are contradictory, and science and spirituality are contradictory – you’ll
see there’s a lower figure for science and spirituality being contradictory and significantly
lower – nine per cent lower in the UK – 10 per cent lower in France, but only slightly
lower in Germany, which is perhaps reflected in the higher church attendance. So they don’t
make such a distinction between spirituality and religion. So, for me – carry on.
David B: Do you think David that there’s a possibility that as science itself changes
– and this is a movement I think that started with quantum physics in the 20s and 30s, and
has spread into other areas – that a strictly materialist view cannot possibly hold within
those worlds of the subatomic regions, and so there’s a sense – maybe mystery’s not the
right word, but there’s a sense of reverence or awe for the phenomena that are being looked
at, and an acknowledgement that there may be other ways of dealing with this, that simply
trying to find the underlying mathematical realities, so that spirituality has come to
mean something that’s actually intertwined with the scientific enterprise for a considerable
number of scientists; they don’t see a contradiction between science and spirituality, because
in a sense they’ve become so passionate about the way they do science, that it’s becoming
more and more in built. Do you see that as a possibility?
David L: Well, I think it depends a lot on different disciplines as well. I think for
me physicists tend to be more open than biologists to these areas, and to this kind of view,
but because of the extraordinary paradoxes and complexities that physicists have to accept
if they’re going to get to grips with quantum mechanics and non-locality. Whereas, biology
is much more focussed on the physiology on the brain, and I think by and large, biologists
are more materialistic than physicists are. I think what is closest to spirituality in
relation to this interface is not so much science and religion – this is my view anyway
– as science and mysticism, or spirituality and mysticism. Spirituality and mysticism
are both based on the experience. Whereas, for me, theology is more a question of rational
argument, and argument for certain propositions and against other propositions, which is more
abstract. So I think the science and religion debate
is slightly different from the science and spirituality or interface, and again science
and mystics interface, and you could add to that. I’ve just been writing a short essay
on mystics and scientists for a journal – the relationship between science and esotericism,
which is yet another one of these interfaces. The esoteric view is that the inner science,
as it were, can complement the third person or outer-science, and extend its range without
contradicting its basis. David B: Okay, thank you for that. Just a
very brief overview of what practices go on in terms of religion and spirituality.
David L: Yeah, so this one – the meditation here is for spiritual purposes, whereas meditation
in the first slide was for stress-reduction. So there’s a bit of a difference. These are
the practices that the survey respondents said they went in for once or more a month,
so it’s a consolidated figure from the data. So you see that meditation in the UK is nearly
up to 20 per cent. So that’s really quite high, and it’s not insignificant in France
and Germany either. I was surprised to find that prayer was higher
than meditation in each country – sometimes significantly more, and that the higher church-going
in Germany didn’t mean that Germany was significantly more – the Germany survey people weren’t significantly
more use of prayer than the UK. So I think it’s a high figure for the UK for prayer.
Then spiritually-based exercise – so this would be Tai Chi or Yoga or something like
that – pretty equivalent in the UK and France, but higher in Germany; again I would correlate
this probably with the higher emphasis on natural health in Germany than in the other
countries. David B: Yeah that’s a very interesting point.
When we went through the survey, we didn’t pick that up at all. So thank you for that.
Just moving across now; what you’ve called experiences. There’s a [trependous 30:03]
difference between each of these experiences. Would you like to just guide us through this?
David L: Well, what we asked is – these were a number of questions that we wanted to know
about; had they personally experienced any of these things – had any of them taken hallucinogenic
drugs? What you’ll see here is an overall figure and then a breakdown between the countries.
In some cases the differences are significant; in other cases not. So, in the case of the
hallucinogens, the UK is way ahead of France and Germany. I should add that the gender
balance within the sample is almost identical. It’s pretty much 50 per cent men and 50 per
cent women in each of the countries. Apparitions; I found it interesting that the UK was higher
on this – significantly higher. I don’t know whether the literature is more developed in
the UK or not. I notice that we used in the survey – we didn’t say, have you seen a ghost;
we said, have you had the experience of seeing an apparition? So, we were quite scrupulous
in our use of terms. We didn’t want to popularise the term too
much. Telephone telepathy; this corresponds to one of Rupert’s experiments. As you my
know he’s done very extensive experiments with multiple studies on telephone telepathy,
text telepathy – so you’re sending texts, and email telepathy – somebody’s about to
send you an email. So you’ll see there that the figures are 50 per cent, which is very
interesting. In other words that’s slightly more than half of the survey, and this is;
have had an experience of telephone telepathy. In other words, you’ve thought of somebody
and then they’ve rung you within a few minutes of thinking of them. Now, if you look at Rupert’s
finding on that in the general public are around 80 per cent. So this is a lower figure
than the general public figure, but it’s still a very significant figure. In the sense of
being stared at – and I think this is higher among women than men as far as a I remember,
they’re fairly comparable, but slightly higher in the UK.
Premonition by a pet – and this is a very interesting question, and I find that really
quite surprising and amazing that a fifth of people in the survey say that a pet they
have seems to have had a premonition about something, or known that something disastrous
was going to happen. Of course you’d have to cash that out and say, well what do you
mean – what sort of thing are you referring to? High figure for precognitive dreams; a
third of the survey have had a precognitive dream. So you would think that this would
really make you question your strict materialist approach to reality and time if you’ve had
a precognitive dream. Higher in France, as you can see, again higher among women. Then,
out of body and Near Death Experiences – this is pretty standard I think for the population
as a whole; eight per cent and five per cent. I think some of these figures are very interested,
and higher prevalence than you might expect. David B: the range that’s in that one slide
is actually enormous, and one could spend quite a bit of time on a number of those particular
topics. I will come back to one just in a little while. The next slide asks I think
how their world view changed as a result of this.
David L: Yes, exactly. This again was not a very surprising finding of the top two lines;
the Near Death Experience and the Out of Body Experiences was where the most transformative
experience is. Hallucinogenic; 16 per cent. Then I think what was also very interesting
is if you look at the combination of, it either confirmed my view, or there was no change
in my view, that’s 75 per cent. So, the change in world view – obviously people will interpret
these experiences within their own framework, so maybe if you already have a materialistic
framework these things aren’t going to make much differences except if you have an NDE
or an OBE, which is a bit more arresting. David B: Yeah, that’s unsurprising in some
ways because of the nature of the event that you’re going through; it cannot help but change
you in some respects. David L: Yes.
David B: This is fascinating. David L: Yes, this is another question we
wanted to ask; are you embarrassed to talk about these sorts of experiences in general,
and with your colleagues? You’ll see that they’re under – these figures are quite interesting,
because the French people were only a quarter were embarrassed, whereas over half the Germans
and a third of the UK. What’s also interesting, and I would have possibly expected the opposite,
except I suppose in terms of how people see themselves, that they’re less embarrassed
to talk about these things with their colleagues than they are in general, if you look at these
figures. I would have thought you might be more embarrassed
to talk to your colleagues, because you might feel that they would ridicule you more, but
it must be that people would be more embarrassed in the public, because they feel they’d somehow
lose face more among the public, than among their colleagues. I don’t know. That’s speculation
on my part as to why these findings should have come up.
David B: Well, that’s been an absolutely fascinating series of explanations of the slides, David.
I’d like to draw our evening to a close with this observation from the Auckland scene,
in terms of experience, spirituality, religion, and the science interface. We had an experience
with the family in the church, and the mother and the father are very happy for this to
be public, and have been so for quite some time; they had a very beautiful young daughter
– a young woman who died of cancer, and I was the Methodist Presbyter or Minister at
the time. A number of months after, the mother and father – [Weking and Anne 38:33] asked
me to go and listen to a phenomenon. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I went to their
home, and they took me into a particular location in the home, and they said at two o’clock
in the afternoon if you stand in this spot you will hear a series of very similar to
Chinese chimes in the distance. They explained that this phenomenon had started
when in fact they had returned to Malaysia to visit relatives funeral, and the first
time that [Weking 39:24] heard it was in an elevator, and this set of chimes, which is
very faint had followed them around into different locations throughout Malaysia, and back into
their own home here in Auckland. Because I was following these kinds of phenomenon through
the Scientific and Medical Network, particularly back in the �90s and early 2000s, there
were odd little snippets that would appear in the magazines of similar kinds of experience.
They’re not in the category of apparition. We weren’t seeing things, but I listened and
I heard exactly what they were describing; there were 21 chimes. It was a beautiful effect,
but it was faint. If you moved out of the particular location you no longer heard it.
With their permission I then asked Dr Leo [Hobiss 40:26] – I don’t know whether you
recall Leo, but he was a nuclear physicist, instrumental in setting up…
David L: Sure. David B: I asked a fellow Methodist Minister/Presbyter
to come with me, and [Weking 40:42] and Anne and were perfectly happy. They’d shared the
experience with a number of friends. So we all went back a little bit later and we listened.
Now, my Methodist colleague – Reverend Cedric Hay, also heard this inexplicable sound. It
was a very beautiful, very distant chiming, and it was always 21 times, and [41:10] noted
that over a course of months the intensity of the sound – the level of the sound had
been declining steadily, and in fact it turned out that they continued to hear the chimes
for I think about another year, but progressively getting further and further away, until no
longer audible. So, my colleague, the Reverend Cedric Hay heard the chimes.
Leo did not, but Leo had brought – wait for it; a portable tape recorder. We said to Leo,
to have the tape going, and he put the recorder -held it up like that to listen to the chimes.
Leo was convinced that we had all heard something. There was no question that we were adamant
that we heard things. He hadn’t. In fact, when he had the tape analysed by another person
that was loosely associated with the local SMN group, that was an audio-engineer – this
person was able to amplify, and actually bring up on the tape the chimes, and Leo heard it.
He was as astonished as anyone, because he had assumed that though our experience was
genuine, it was not recordable. David L: Yes, quite – absolutely.
David B: We agreed that at that time there were huge numbers of pastoral sensitivities
– very raw experience, but [Weking 42:55] and Anne were only too willing to share what
they had heard, and we also heard. Since then I’ve spent years trying to think of an explanation.
Just prior to having this online meeting, a few weeks ago I asked Leo about where the
tape was, because I would love to have been able to have played it. Unfortunately they
had been through a number of house shifts, and he was no longer able to locate it. He
does apologise. He’s now in his 90th year, and he sends his apologies for not being able
to come online to talk to you tonight. David L: Yes, greetings indeed.
David B: He heard his own tape recording of it, and that changed everything. I’m just
telling that story because I think it’s the kind of experiential thing – of course, it’s
completely subjective, and of course it’s completely objective in that eventually all
of us who went to hear it heard it, as did a number of the [Lee 44:12] family friends
and acquaintances. It’s taken a long time – not just because of the pastoral sensitivity
issues, but also because of the potential for embarrassment of talking about, we heard
– it’s not a voice – it was a very distinctive set of chimes, as if on a wind, is the only
way I can describe it. Yet, it is the most vivid, real spiritual experience because I
cannot fit it into my theological religious framework, except to call it something of
a mystery of the Grace of God, because there was feeling on the part of the family, and
certainly for myself and my Methodist colleague, that what we had experiences was in some sense
a significant sign to say that all was well, but not all was explainable – explicable.
Any comments? David L: Yes. Well, first of all, is there
any significance in relation to Christine and to chimes? Is there any connection between
her and chimes? David B: She was a very skilled young pianist,
but that’s the only musical connection we could think of.
David L: Okay, there’s a musical thing, and then how – did you say she was 21 when she
died? David B: I think she might have been 22 or
possibly a little bit older when she eventually died, yes.
David L: I just wondered if there was any significance in the number of times the chimes
were heard, and the age at which she died. David B: No, I don’t think so. I spent a lot
of time thinking about the number 21, and various symbolic interpretations that have
been given to that. In Chinese literature, if I remember correctly, it’s a very hallowed
number. David L: Okay.
David B: Yeah, that’s about as far as I was able to get into it.
David L: The other more broad remark would be that there’s a whole field called after-death
communications, which is not necessarily apparitions and classic things, but other senses are involved
as well, so that, for instance you would get somebody who loved roses for instance, and
after they died, a smell of roses would come into the house. So there are many different
modalities for communicating and reassuring those who are still here that you’re okay,
because that’s the fundamental message of all these after-death communications; for
the deceased to reassure those still alive in the physical that they’re okay. Once they
feel they’ve got the message through, they can move on; they don’t need to hang around.
I think the distancing that you’ve talked about – the fact that they got more faint,
that might be indicative of the fact that she was moving on, if this is a phenomenon
associated with her, which it would seem quite probable that it was.
David B: Well look, thank you very much for that particularly, but thank you very much
in general David, for making your time available to talk. There’s so much.
David L: Okay, thanks and greetings to all of you. Have a good rest of your evening.
David Lorimer and the SciMedNet kiwiconnexion practical theology