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Archive for April, 2015

The Conscious Universe IRM

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to our take on reality, to where our society is heading and to what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This sequence was first posted in October last year but it maps so closely onto the consciousness sequences of last week and covers other areas than my hobby horse of the NDE to support the idea that the mind is not reducible to the activity of the brain that I thought it worth republishing now. It goes a long way to support the idea of interconnectedness that is at the core of the North American Indian perspective on reality.

As I explained, I am very late indeed in getting round to reviewing this thought-provoking book. I read it a number of years ago but was reminded of it recently when I spotted and re-blogged an article on near death experiences (NDEs) by Mario Beauregard, who, along with Denyse O’Leary,wrote The Spiritual Brain. My understanding of what follows in this part has also been informed by other books such as Irreducible Mind and The Conscious Universe. The former I have reviewed already and a review of the latter will appear soon.

Beauregard’s book is comprehensive and thorough. It seemed best to tackle it in three parts on three consecutive days, focusing in turn on:

(1) his critique of materialism (posted yesterday);
(2) his treatment of consciousness; and
(3) his assessment of the costs of missing the spiritual point, along with an account of his own mystical  experience (to be posted tomorrow).

This is the second of the three aspects.

Consciousness & Mind

So, back to consciousness (2251):

Studying consciousness presents us with a curious dilemma: Introspection alone is not scientifically satisfactory, and though people’s reports about their own consciousness are useful, they cannot reveal the workings of the brain underlying them. Yet, studies of the brain proper cannot, in themselves, convey what it is like to be conscious. These constraints suggest that one must take special approaches to bring consciousness into the house of science.

The computer analogy is for him fruitless, as it has been for others as well (2307):

To make any sense of human behavior, we must confront mind and consciousness, which means confronting beliefs, goals, aspirations, desires, expectations, and intentions, none of which is relevant to the functioning of computers.

Evolutionary theory is equally bankrupt (2462):

The claim that “Darwinian principles” will solve the problem is merely a statement of faith—in this case, a faith at odds with historical experience. . . . . . The fact that “Being human in mind and brain appear clearly to be the result of an evolutionary process” tells us nothing. The question is not whether evolution occurs, but what drives it and what exactly it has produced to date. Finally, whether “Darwin’s is the most ideologically significant of all grand scientific theories” is irrelevant for the purposes of their discussion. Darwin’s theory neither predicts consciousness nor describes it.

He argues that biology is out of step now with the current understandings of physics (2505):

As Harold J. Morowitz has pointed out, biologists have been moving recently toward the hard-core materialism that characterized nineteenth-century physics, just as physicists have been forced by the weight of the evidence to move away from strictly mechanical models of the universe toward the view that the mind plays an integral role in all physical events.

He ends up on Alvin Plantinga’s ground at one point (2520):

We regard promissory materialism as superstition without a rational foundation. The more we discover about the brain, the more clearly do we distinguish between the brain events and the mental phenomena, and the more wonderful do both the brain events and the mental phenomena become. Promissory materialism is simply a religious belief held by dogmatic materialists…who often confuse their religion with their science.

He refers in summary to the areas of exploration he has adduced which he feels a nonmaterialist view can explain more adequately (2528):

For example, a nonmaterialist view can account for the neuroimaging studies that show human subjects in the very act of self-regulating their emotions by concentrating on them. It can account for the placebo effect (the sugar pill that cures, provided the patient is convinced that it is a potent remedy). A nonmaterialist view can also offer science-based explanations of puzzling phenomena that are currently shelved by materialist views. One of these is psi, the apparent ability of some humans to consistently score above chance in controlled studies of mental influences on events. Another is the claim, encountered surprisingly often among patients who have undergone trauma or major surgery, that they experienced a life-changing mystical awareness while unconscious.

He refers to the work in neuroplasticity which I have also dealt with on this blog (2605):

Generally, Schwartz says, success with the four-step method depends on the patient doing two things: recognizing that faulty brain messages cause obsessive-compulsive behavior and realizing that these messages are not part of the self. In this therapy, the patient is entirely in control. Both the existence and the role of the mind as independent of the brain are accepted; indeed, that is the basis of the therapy’s success.

Placebo

Paul Pattison found a placebo helped his Parkinson’s

A recent BBC documentary gave telling support to the power of the placebo effect, including the example of a placebo inducing a brain supposedly incapable of producing dopamine to produce it simply by tricking the mind into believing the placebo was an effective medicine. Beauregard makes this process clear (2809):

The placebo effect—the significant healing effect created by a sick person’s belief and expectation that a powerful remedy has been applied when the improvement cannot have been the physical result of the remedy—must not be confused with natural healing processes. It depends specifically on the patient’s mental belief and expectation that a specific remedy will work.

He feels the placebo effect is coming in from the cold (2971):

Scientific medical research is beginning to help resolve the dilemma by accepting the mind-based nature of the placebo effect. It can be studied as an authentic effect and its power can be targeted, perhaps increased, which is so much more productive than continuing to treat it simply as a nuisance.

He quotes Radin from his book – The Conscious Universe (page 107) – describing the serious problem created by materialism’s position on psi, which applies across the board to other issues as well (3432):

If serious scientists are prevented from investigating claims of psi out of fear for their reputations, then who is left to conduct these investigations? Extreme skeptics? No, because the fact is that most extremists do not conduct research; they specialize in criticism. Extreme believers? No, because they are usually not interested in conducting rigorous scientific studies.

He tellingly adds (3497):

. . . as cosmologist Rocky Kolb, of the University of Chicago, noted recently, we don’t understand 95 percent of nature (dark matter and dark energy). Under the circumstances, it is a stretch to declare a phenomenon identified in a laboratory “supernatural” merely because it does not fit an established materialist paradigm.

Tomorrow we will examine the costs of scientists’ missing the spiritual point.

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'Newton' by William Blake

‘Newton’ by William Blake

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to our take on reality, to where our society is heading and to what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This sequence was first posted in October last year but it maps so closely onto the consciousness sequences of last week and covers other areas than my hobby horse of the NDE to support the idea that the mind is not reducible to the activity of the brain that I thought it worth republishing now. It goes a long way to support the idea of interconnectedness that is at the core of the North American Indian perspective on reality.

I am very late indeed in getting round to reviewing this thought-provoking book. I read it a number of years ago but was reminded of it recently when I spotted and re-blogged an article on near death experiences (NDEs) by Mario Beauregard, who, along with Denyse O’Leary, wrote The Spiritual Brain. I probably neglected to review the book originally because I was posting so many articles reviewing so many other books on overlapping themes: it looks as though I thought one more would be too much.

Once reminded, I thought that the least I could do is provide a brief heads up and pointer to its value.

His book is comprehensive and thorough. It seems best to tackle it in three parts on three consecutive days, focusing in turn on:

(1) his critique of materialism (today);
(2) his treatment of consciousness (tomorrow); and
(3) his assessment of the costs of missing the spiritual point (Wednesday).

There is a coda which draws powerfully on his own direct mystical experience.

Critique of Materialism

His book is a response to the default position of materialism as he sees it: he describes ‘an important tenet of materialism: materialist ideology trumps evidence.’ (Kindle Reference: 129)

In his book he addresses three issues that call that assumption seriously into question in his view (and mine). These are the psi effect, which I have tackled before on this blog and will be coming back to again soon, near death experiences (NDEs), also wellaired here, and the placebo effect, which I have only mentioned once at any length. As a result of the work of researchers such as Pim van Lommel, Sam Parnia, Peter Fenwick, and Bruce Greyson, there is a growing base of information about NDEs, for instance, as well as similar bodies of evidence from other workers in other fields. As these are topics I have covered already on this blog I won’t dwell on them now.

I’ll focus instead on his general case against materialism, which in itself will take quite some time. He illustrates its basic crass assumption with a telling quote from a proponent (277):

The whole materialist creed . . . . hangs off one little word, “Since”—“Since consciousness and thought are entirely physical products of your brain and nervous system…” In other words, neuroscientists have not discovered that there is no you in you; they start their work with that assumption.

He looks at a deep crack through what is perhaps the key stone in the central arch of the materialistic thought-cathedral – evolution (421):

We are driven to the conclusion that if the theory of evolution is to include or explain the facts of artistic and spiritual experience—and it cannot be accepted by any serious thinker if these great tracts of consciousness remain outside its range—it must be rebuilt on a mental rather than a physical basis.

He doesn’t hold out much hope for that rebuilding process, at least for now. He is dismissive of evolutionary arguments to explain away religion (1075):

Alper’s evolutionary argument requires him to describe religion in universal terms but his ideas about religion are strictly Western, monotheistic and personal; and his representation of religious worldviews is exclusively dualistic…. This argument is a clay pigeon, and could be blown away from any number of angles. The word “Asia” should suffice.

His final verdict on science is beautifully borrowed from a Mulla Nasrudin parable (1254):

Science is wonderful at explaining what science is wonderful at explaining, but beyond that it tends to look for its car keys where the light is good.

Redressing the Imbalance 

He then provides his own far richer description of spiritual or religious experience (1281):

For the purposes of this book, “religious” experiences are experiences that arise from following a religious tradition. Spirituality means any experience that is thought to bring the experiencer into contact with the divine (in other words, not just any experience that feels meaningful). Mysticism generally means pursuit of an altered state of consciousness that enables the mystic to become aware of cosmic realities that cannot be grasped during normal states of consciousness.

He hits another long nail firmly in the coffin of scientism (1878):

The culture of popular science is one of unidirectional skepticism—that is, the skepticism runs only in one direction. It is skeptical of any idea that spirituality corresponds to something outside ourselves, but surprisingly gullible about any reductionist explanation for it.

Michael Persinger (for source of image see link)

Michael Persinger (for source of image see link)

And then goes on to dispose of the God-helmet theory about spiritual experience – the one that interprets the evidence as saying that the brain creates mystical experiences purely out of its own activity, not in response to a spiritual dimension, making them by definition hallucinatory (1955):

A research team at Uppsala University in Sweden, headed by Pehr Granqvist, mirrored Persinger’s experiment by testing eighty-nine undergraduate students, some of whom were exposed to the magnetic field and some of whom were not. Using Persinger’s equipment, the Swedish researchers could not reproduce his key results. They attributed their findings to the fact that they “ensured that neither the participants nor the experimenters interacting with them had any idea who was being exposed to the magnetic fields, a ‘double-blind’ protocol.”

In other words, when the participants did not know what they were supposed to experience as a result of electro-magnetic brain stimulation, they didn’t experience anything.  He added (1978):

Granqvist and colleagues also noted that they had found it difficult to evaluate the reliability of Persinger’s findings, “because no information on experimental randomization or blindness was provided,” which left his results open to the possibility that psychological suggestion was the best explanation.

I have skated over his detailed discussions of evolution, brain function and brain pathology, in order to cut to the chase of my favourite topic: consciousness – which is the topic for tomorrow. This is not to imply that his examination of those areas is not careful, compelling and immensely valuable. There simply isn’t space in a brief blog review to do it justice.

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Among other principles of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings was the harmony of science and religion. Religion must stand the analysis of reason. It must agree with scientific fact and proof so that science will sanction religion and religion fortify science. Both are indissolubly welded and joined in reality.

( ‘Abdu’l-Bahá   – Promulgation of Universal Peace: page 175)

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to our idea of reality, to where our society is heading and to what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This article was originally posted in 2012 but fits neatly into place here after my repetition of the consciousness posts last week. 

You may wonder why this post follows so closely on from two very long recent ones on consciousness. Well, beyond the fact that I’m obsessed with the topic anyway, that is. ‘Why now?’ is the issue really, I suppose.

The answer is that, on the Bahá’í New Year 21st March 2012, I had to go to the Birmingham medical school to run a seminar on consciousness and some aspects of the experience stuck with me.

The building was not reassuring. I was already feeling slightly apprehensive as the topic sprawls way outside my area of expertise. Yes, I know I’m a psychologist but that’s less than a tenth of it. Consciousness has a finger in the pie, mathematically speaking, of physics. It has vexed philosophers into paroxysms of confusion and special pleading. Doctors have to grapple with its practical manifestations when coma strikes. And here I was walking into a lion’s den of different kinds of experts to teach my grandmothers to suck eggs. At least that’s how it felt.

And the modernist feel of the building’s interior was quite unsettling in a Kafkaesque sort of way. A massive entrance hall with off-putting security and gleaming surfaces (the picture below is of the library, but it has the same feel) led me up the stairs into a grid of intersecting corridors running in parallels at right angles and all very much the same apart from the identifying codes on doors that read like WAP passwords.

After hanging around stairwells, dithering for what seemed an eternity uncertain which direction to take, I managed to find an Ariadne to guide me through the labyrinth to the seminar room we were due to be in at 5 o’clock.

I was half an hour early and the room was occupied (not by the Minotaur, I hasten to add) so I moved through to a seated area within sight of the library. It was a hot day and the building was warm. I was sweating rather a lot after my walk from the station. Nerves? What makes you think anxiety had anything to do with it?

A psychologist in denial, I sat down in a leather-upholstered chair at a shining table, with an impressive phalanx of academic heavyweights gazing down on me from their imposing portraits, and got out my notes for the umpteenth time, desperately trying to convince myself I had internalised them.

Then the hour of judgement arrived. The seminar room had no outside windows and was uncomfortably warm. No refreshments were allowed to cross its sacred threshold. It was going to be a throat-testing experience, as if mine wasn’t dry enough already.

We were about 16 people – men, women, young, old, atheist, agnostic, religious, culturally diverse. I began to feel more comfortable. People are just people after all. I checked out the audience for experts. Any qualified psychologists? One tentative possible. Relief! Any doctors? Just a small handful. I could cope with that. I’d thought I’d have a roomful. Any ‘real’ scientists? Just one man with a 30-year old physics degree. Things were getting better and better.

My plan was to cover challenging issues such as the improbability of consciousness, caveats about its reality, doubts about the materialist position and aspects of the nature of consciousness as we currently understand its workings.

Not overly ambitious then for a two hour exploration.

It would be too complicated to give a blow-by-blow account of what transpired though it will inform any future attempts I make to explore the topic. I’ll just pick up on a couple of the more intriguing points.

One of the most striking things was the lack of consensus across all shades of opinion about the free will issue. There were those who found the implications of determinism for a just and responsible society too destructive to make that hypothesis acceptable. Other people by contrast were quite comfortable with the idea that what we do is determined in advance by processes of which we are completely unaware and over which we have no control. This last position is bewildering to me, it’s so counterintuitive. ‘But what’s so reliable about intuition?’ you might ask.

Another aspect was that even the agnostics, who felt that theirs was the only rational approach to the issues of free will and determinism and of mind-brain independence, veered towards feeling the reductionist approach was somehow more plausible on both counts.

It’s as though the materialistic dogma of our times biases reason in favour of its assumptions even though they are no more reasonable than spiritual explanations. Materialism is a factoid that doesn’t know it yet. It is as much an act of faith as a belief in God and both creeds should seem equally reasonable or unreasonable, depending on the biases of the observer. And agnostics are supposed to be unbiased.

When the seminar was over the building did not release me easily from its grip. It was even harder to pass through security to get out than it had been to get in. It felt as though the building was finding its own way to express its modernist disapproval of all this flaky spiritual stuff. ‘Only matter matters after all,’ it seemed to say. ‘Agree and I’ll let you out.’ Thanks to a rebel on the inside with a passkey I managed to escape alive to tell this tale.

This clash of values is a serious issue though.

If we place any credibility at all in the eloquently expressed arguments of scholars such as Margaret Donaldson in her book Human Minds, Ken Wilber in The Marriage of Sense and SoulJohn Hick in The Fifth Dimension or Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary, we have to accept the likelihood that, until our society finds a better balance between spirituality and science as pathways to what is fundamentally the same truth, we are in danger of joining previous civilisations in oblivion.

Sometimes it feels as though we are well on the way already, but that’s in my darker moments. Most of the time I believe that the tipping point can be reached where a critical mass of humanity gets the right idea in time. If Sheldrake’s idea of morphic resonance has any truth in it, the more people change their minds the easier it will become for the rest of us. Can we have more Blondins to balance on this tightrope please?

Charles Blondin

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Chief Joseph ( for source of image see link)

Chief Joseph ( for source of image see link)

In conveying John Fitzgerald Medina’s perspective on the modern world in his book Faith, Physics & Psychology, I got as far as explaining his sense of the basic problem of materialism and his hopes for some form of holism as a solution. He also locates part of our current problem in the blinkered attitude of some forms of Christianity to other cultures.

Native North American Wisdom

That these kinds of Christianity mindlessly obliterated what they could not understand is a tragic example of prejudice from which were are still suffering the consequences (page 175):

The American Indians and European colonists had radically different worldviews. The Indian holistic perspective could have helped to equilibrate the excessively materialistic orientation of Western civilisation.

I will be examining the unholy consequences of in far more detail when I come to look at his consideration of racism and prejudice. For now I will deal with Medina’s treatment of the core essentials of the world views themselves. He quotes Chief Joseph 1840-1904 (page 176):

“We shall all be alike – brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky and above us and one country around us, and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land, and send rain to wash out the bloody spots from the face of the earth that were made by brothers’ hands.

He concludes (ibid):

I believe that the traditional Indian worldview contains the seeds for a new vision of reality that can help Americans solve many of their problems. Furthermore, the traditional Indian perspective is consistent with the modern holistic movement, and it is also consonant with several key teachings of the Baha’i Faith.

The contrasting attitudes to nature were a key source of conflict (page 181):

For the European colonisers, the natural environment fell into the secular category, and the earth and its resources were simply regarded as commodities to be exploited for economic and political gain.

. . . . In contrast, the American Indian holistic worldview drew no distinction between the secular realm and the sacred realm – even the natural environment was considered sacred.

The perspective of the Europeans was bizarre to say the least from the Native American point of view (pages 181-82):

. . . . for most Indians, the idea of buying and selling parts of the sacred Mother Earth as a privately held asset was inconceivable and made about as much sense as the idea of buying and selling the air.

A tragic and immensely costly war of ideas was virtually inevitable and not to the credit of the invaders (ibid): ‘ . . . the deist viewpoint was in direct conflict with the traditional spirituality of American Indians, who believed that the creator is in no way separate from his creation’ and the major implications of this were radically in conflict as well. The native American experienced (page 183) ‘all entities’ as existing ‘in an interconnected, interdependent cosmos . . . infused with the power emanating from the Creator’ whereas the interlopers’ worldview (page 184) had a ‘radically different . . . . despiritualised view of the natural world’ captured in the repellent language of Francis Bacon who wrote that nature should be ‘hounded in her wanderings,’ ‘bound into service,’ and made a ‘slave, while the goal of the scientist is to ‘torture nature’s secrets from her.’

It’s hard to imagine a wider divide.

Chiefs of the Six Indian Nations (for source of image see link)

Chiefs of the Six Indian Nations 1871 (for source of image see link)

Social and political organisation

Medina stresses that we should not delude ourselves into believing that native Americans were backward and primitive, riddled by irrelevant superstitions too fantastic to be trusted as a guide to the building of an harmonious and just society. Far from it (page 186-87) as a lengthy quote from his book eloquently testifies:

It is important to recognise that the American Indian holistic model was able to create sophisticated societies that were capable of instituting democratic government, gender equality, egalitarian economic structures, mathematics, science, the arts, religion, and so forth.

. . . . In 1797, years after the American Revolutionary War, Paine wrote in Agrarian Justice, ‘the fact is, that the condition of millions in every country in Europe, is far worse than if they . . . . . . had been born among the Indians of North America at the present day.”

In Indian society throughout the Americas, land was owned communally. . . . The food produced in all the lands was generously shared among everyone in the community including the less fortunate, the aged, and the ill. . . . Indian people were not trained to be mindless drones operating within a collective. To the contrary, they were raised to be independent thinkers and problem-solvers; they were encouraged to think for themselves but to be selfless in the sense of acting for others.

[A French Jesuit missionary in 1657 stated] Their kindness, humanity, and courtesy not only makes them liberal of what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common. A whole village must be without corn, before any individual can be obliged to endure privation.

It is noteworthy that in most Indian societies, women were afforded more respect, equality, and democratic participation in socioeconomic and political decision-making than their European counterparts, who were still largely treated as the property of men.

There is further compelling evidence to support this point of view (pages 189-90):

The Iroquois League was founded sometime between A.D. 1000 and 1450 by the Indian messianic figures Hiawatha and Deganawidah.

. . . . [It] lasted for centuries as an economically prosperous and socially harmonious unit that spanned from New England to the Mississippi River.

In fact it was so successful that the founding fathers of the United States borrowed the model (page 192):

Franklin became a major advocate for the use of Indian political structures within the American government.

. . . The Iroquois system is now known as a ‘federal’ system, in which each sovereign unit retains some power to regulate internal affairs yet yields some of the sovereignty to one central government, which has the power to regulate affairs common to all. . . . [The writer of the U.S. constitution] had only one possible model of what would later become known as federalism – the League of Six Nations. Weatherford states, ‘The Indians invented it . . . . even though the United States patented it.’

Agriculture

The sophistication of the Native American model lay not just in politics (pages 199-200):

Contrary to the American colonists’ misinformed judgements, much evidence now exists to show that the American Indians were in fact, quite adept at cultivating a large variety of plants in a diversity of climates, soils, and environmental conditions. They utilised the Earths resources wisely, gently, and reverently.

This system may be at least equal if not superior to our environmentally disastrous monoculture (pages 201-02):

Unlike the Europeans, who planted row after row of the same plants, the Indians throughout North and Central America cultivated small plots of land that often looked like wild, haphazard gardens. . . . Scientific studies have shown that such Indian-style plots, call milpas in Mexico, are resilient to pests and weeds and protect the topsoil from erosion. . . . . .

Modern agronomists marvel at the simplicity and productivity of Indian-style agricultural plots, and some are actively studying it as an alternative to the European style, monocultural plantation form of farming, which leads to widespread soil erosion and degradation of topsoil due to the massive use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers.

Quantum Mechanics

Holism & Physics

This holistic and interconnected view of the world, underpinned by a sense of a transcendent guiding Presence, is increasingly seen as completely compatible with modern physics, though physics would draw back from including any kind of God in its own model, at least at this stage. Medina draws on a book Blackfoot Physics by F. David Peat (page 217):

Quantum physics now supports a picture of the universe as a dynamic, indivisible whole in which everything is interconnected and interrelated. . . . Some indigenous people, to this day, have been able to maintain a holistic view; . .

The seemingly solid world of appearances is not to be trusted, physics suggests. The native American view is the same (page 218):

At its most fundamental is the Indian philosophical understanding that this physical world is just an illusion, a ‘world of appearances’ or ‘shadow world’ – it is not the true reality. Similar to Bohm’s holographic model…, their philosophical understanding is that each part of the universe ‘contains’ the whole universe within it.

This position is also forcefully expressed by Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, as this experience from His childhood testifies:

In a letter Bahá’u’lláh recalled as a child seeing an elaborate puppet show about war and intrigues in the court of a king and the riches of those in authority. After the performance, Bahá’u’lláh saw a man come out from behind the tent with a box under his arm. “What is this box?” Bahá’u’lláh asked him, “and what was the nature of this display?”

“All this lavish display and these elaborate devices,” the puppet master replied, “the king, the princes, and the ministers, their pomp and glory, their might and power, everything you saw, are now contained within this box.”

Bahá’u’lláh then recalled: “… Ever since that day, all the trappings of the world have seemed in the eyes of this Youth akin to that same spectacle. They have never been, nor will they ever be, of any weight and consequence, be it to the extent of a grain of mustard seed.… Erelong these outward trappings, these visible treasures, these earthly vanities, these arrayed armies, these adorned vestures, these proud and overweening souls, all shall pass into the confines of the grave, as though into that box. In the eyes of those possessed of insight, all this conflict, contention and vainglory hath ever been, and will ever be, like unto the play and pastimes of children.”

Medina balances his dark picture of the Enlightenment and its imperialistic Puritan version of Christianity with an account of its more positive achievements but, in his view, these do not compensate for the cost of its tunnel vision (page 223-24):

. . . in a much needed move, Enlightenment intellectuals did much to expose the gross corruption of the worldly, power-seeking clergy of their time. Unfortunately, because of their ‘blind rationalism’ and their overzealous efforts to expose church superstition, fanaticism, and hypocrisy, they ultimately promulgated an antimetaphysical outlook that has done much to undermine the faith and spirituality of people to this day.

We’re in Irreducible Mind territory here – the ground covered in the Kellys’ encyclopaedic examination of transpersonal phenomena in psychology. For example, they call into question the reductionist bias of the modern scientific consensus which dismisses in advance any and all evidence that suggests that there might be more to the mind than the workings of the material brain.

But more of that next time.

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aloeMNDL1onSTARaWEB

Mandala (for source see link)

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This sequence of three posts (this is the last of the three) was first published in April 2014 and then again late last year. The other two in the sequence were republished on Friday and Saturday this week.

Having looked at his idea that the brain does not produce consciousness and some of his evidence in support of that, this is the point at which Pim van Lommel’s view almost certainly diverges significantly from my own, assuming I have understood him correctly. And that’s part of the problem. His understanding of Quantum Theory is better than mine by a millions of miles and therefore I can only parrot some of what he says and take a partially informed guess at where his views depart from mine.

However, I think his ideas, eloquently conveyed in his book Consciousness beyond Life, are of sufficient value for me to have a stab at reproducing key elements of his argument.

Nonlocality and Interconnectedness

He sees parallels between the kind of transcendence of time and place that NDErs experience, which is reflected in their paranormal experiences, and that within Quantum theory, which is called nonlocality. He feels (page 224) that ‘the mind seems to contain everything at once in a timeless and placeless interconnectedness.’

He is one of those who argue that Quantum Theory implies that consciousness plays a central role in not just our perceiving of reality but in the creation of it as well (page 226):

All matter, 99.999 percent of which is emptiness, can ultimately be regarded as a wave function and thus possesses wave–particle complementarity. . . . . . Some quantum physicists champion the radical interpretation that observation itself literally creates physical reality, thereby ascribing consciousness a more fundamental role than matter or energy. I personally support this not-yet-widespread view that consciousness could determine if and how we experience (subjective) reality.

This is a radical view which some take to its logical extreme (page 237):

Some prominent quantum physicists, . . . . support the radical interpretation that observation itself literally creates physical reality, a position that regards consciousness as more fundamental than matter or energy.

Flower-mandala

Mandala (for source see link)

The key word that seems to come out of all this is ‘interconnectedness.’ It comes in a key passage in which he also pins his colours clearly to the mast (page 241):

. . . since the advent of quantum physics we know that everything is interconnected, that everything operates like a holistic system and not in isolation, and that analysis of these separate elements will never uncover a so-called objective reality. . . . . . I support the not yet commonly accepted interpretation that consciousness determines if and how we experience reality.

He believes that this concept, whether we call it nonlocality or interconnectedness, is important if we are going to understand NDEs in their own terms (page 242):

The conclusion that most fundamental fields and forces in the universe seem to have their basis in nonlocal space is important for our later discussion and understanding of the nonlocal aspects of consciousness that are experienced during an NDE, and for our understanding of the relationship between consciousness and our physical body.

He explains why, in his view, this is so (page 244):

In quantum physics the information is not encoded in a medium but is stored nonlocally as wave functions in nonlocal space, which also means that all information is always and everywhere immediately available.

And he also spells out in more detail what this means (page 245):

According to this interpretation, consciousness has a primary presence in the universe, and all matter possesses subjective properties or consciousness. In this view, consciousness is nonlocal and the origin or foundation of everything: all matter, or physical reality, is shaped by nonlocal consciousness. . . . . . . . The philosopher David Chalmers, who specializes in questions of consciousness, calls this approach monism or panpsychism.

He refers to the work of others with similar views (pages 247-248): the ‘implicate order’ of David Bohm, which was an influence on Jenny Wade’s work on levels of consciousness, and Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of ‘morphogenetic fields.’

So, do we have a soul?

So where does all this leave consciousness (page 251):

Given the current insights afforded by quantum physics and the theory that consciousness and memories are stored in nonlocal space as wave functions, we should speak no longer of holographic organization but rather . . . .  of nonlocal information storage in which memory is nonlocally and instantaneously accessible.

He refers (page 252) to ‘microtubules (the tiny structural components of the skeleton of cells that are involved in many cellular processes) inside neurons’ and feels they ‘might explain our ability to experience consciousness.’ The neurosurgeons in the programme I saw many years ago on Pam Reynolds (see my earlier posts on the subject) also felt that the ‘quantum activity’ at this level of the brain might support consciousness. This idea has clearly been around for some time.

For a thinker like Eccles all this leads to an honest acceptance of ancient ideas such as the soul (page 261):

I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism, with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal activity. This belief must be classed as a superstition…. We have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.

This is, of course, what I also have come to believe, even after the fierce incredulity I initially felt and which I have touched on in a previous post.

Van Lommel is far more cautious (page 263):

I am reluctant to use the word transcendence because it suggests something transcending or rising above the body. Transcendence is usually associated with the supernatural or with the concept of transcendental meditation; hence my preference for the term continuity hypothesis.

He stays as close to physics as he possibly can in his explanation of what is going on (page 265):

In this new approach, complete and endless consciousness with retrievable memories has its origins in a nonlocal space in the form of indestructible and not directly observable wave functions. These wave functions, which store all aspects of consciousness in the form of information, are always present in and around the body (nonlocally). The brain and the body merely function as a relay station receiving part of the overall consciousness and part of our memories in our waking consciousness in the form of measurable and constantly changing electromagnetic fields.

And we come back to one of his favourite metaphors (ibid.): ‘In this view, brain function can be seen as a transceiver; the brain does not produce but rather facilitates consciousness.’

He explains how an NDE serves to demonstrate this (page 268):

The oxygen deficiency brought on by the stopping of the heart temporarily suspends brain function, causing the electromagnetic fields of our neurons and other cells to disappear and the interface between consciousness and our physical body to be disrupted. This creates the conditions for experiencing the endless and enhanced consciousness outside the body (the wave aspect of consciousness) known as an NDE: the experience of a continuity of consciousness independent of the body.

He adduces other examples of nonlocality or influence at a distance, where none should be possible, in support of his conclusion. These include; EEG synchronies in closely related people who are placed in separate Faraday cages, where all forms of radiation are blocked (page 269); ‘strong indications of a nonlocal therapeutic effect of certain drugs such as morphine, when the substance was placed between a pulsating magnetic source and the brain’ (page 276); ‘proof of instantaneous and nonlocal communication between the consciousness of a subject and his isolated white blood cells in a growth medium at a considerable distance away’ (page 284); and lastly, an ‘organ recipient can sometimes sense snippets of feelings and ideas that are later found to match the deceased donor’s personality and consciousness’ (ibid.).

The Role of DNA

dna_molecule,_artwork-spl

DNA representation (for source see link)

As his book moves well into its second part he embarks upon a detailed description of the role of DNA within his view of reality (page 292):

DNA appears to be the direct and indirect personal coordinator of all information required for the optimum function of our body. And for this our individual DNA receives the necessary information from nonlocal space.

It would be impossible to go into further detail about his fascinating summary of the evidence for this. He also adduces examples from the insect kingdoms that appear to offer further support for his view of distal communication. For example he writes of (page 295):

. . . . . bees, wasps, ants, and termites. These colonies are examples of living and self-organizing systems composed of animals with different tasks but with a collective consciousness coordinated by the queen. If the queen is isolated from her colony but alive, everything continues as normal, but if the queen is killed away from her colony, chaos ensues and all work stops.

In the end, though he seems to baulk at ideas of the soul and of heaven, what he does believe is not so far away from my own sense of the afterlife (page 318):

The questions still outnumber the answers, but in view of all the reported experiences of consciousness, we ought to seriously consider the possibility that death, like birth, may be a mere passing from one state of consciousness into another.

He quotes, with something close to approval, such axioms as (ibid.):

A death notice I came across recently featured the following words: “What you have perishes; what you are survives beyond time and space.” Death merely marks the end of our physical aspect. In other words: we have a body, but we are consciousness. . . . . Recently somebody with an NDE wrote to me: “I can live without my body, but apparently my body cannot live without me.”

And that, I feel, is as good a note as any to end this review of van Lommel’s excellent treatment of this subject. Mind you, I don’t expect this will be the last post on this subject on this blog.

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worldwideweb

Worldwide Web (for source website see link)

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This sequence of three posts was first published in April 2013 and then again late last year. The first was republished yesterday and the last will come out tomorrow.

Van Lommel, in his book Consciousness beyond Life, is attempting to persuade us that consciousness is not a product of the brain: in fact, the brain, in his view, may simply be our means of accessing consciousness, rather as a computer gives us access to the internet.

After the first shock of becoming a Bahá’í, which came at the end of twenty years as an atheist including seven years exposure to a reductionist psychological orthodoxy, I had to fight to integrate my new understanding into my current worldview. Now I was reading that the mind is an emanation of the spirit, whereas previously everything that I had read told me that the mind was at best an emergent property of the brain, at worst simply a by-product of neuronal complexity. It was a steep learning curve.

For anyone reading this who is where I was in terms of this collision of ideas, Pim van Lommel is at the top of an ideological Everest. I am not naïve enough to suppose that a sequence of three blog posts is going to do much to shift such a person from where they are at present into this very different paradigm, especially given the bias of mainstream science against the whole idea as completely preposterous.

I would like to argue though that the only tenable position for any true science to adopt is agnosticism, and, moreover, an agnosticism that does not rule out anything a priori, that is prepared to examine any evidence on its merits no matter how dissonant with its prevailing ideas, and that is also capable of realising that evidence and explanation are not the same thing at all. While I might feel that van Lommel’s evidence and the arguments he builds upon its foundations are compelling in their demonstration that there is indeed a soul and an afterlife (in fact, he’s not quite saying that), there might be other conclusions to draw from that same evidence that we will be deprived of if we dismiss it out of hand as virtually delusional.

So, in that spirit, I hope I can carry along any convinced atheists among the readers of this blog at least to the end of this post and of the next one so that they can hopefully get a glimpse of the cogency of his arguments through my rather brutal summary. It has not been possible to also include a detailed explanation of his evidence base. For that a close reading of his text would be necessary. You will have to take my word for it that the evidence he musters, beyond the fragments I refer to here, is not to be easily dismissed as fantasy.

fmri_groot

fMRI Machine (for source see link)

The Evidence

Let’s pick up his argument at what is a crux for his case (pages 132-133):

The fact that an NDE is accompanied by accelerated thought and access to greater than ever wisdom remains inexplicable. Current scientific knowledge also fails to explain how all these NDE elements can be experienced at a moment when, in many people, brain function has been seriously impaired. There appears to be an inverse relationship between the clarity of consciousness and the loss of brain function.

What kind of evidence does he adduce in support of this proposition. The most telling kind of evidence comes from prospective rather retrospective studies, ie studies where the decision is taken in advance to include all those people who have undergone resuscitation within the context of several hospitals and question them as soon as possible both immediately afterwards and then after a set period of time again later, rather than finding people who claimed to have had an NDE and interviewing only them. The data is impressive both for the numbers in total involved (page 140):

Within a four-year period, between 1988 and 1992, 344 consecutive patients who had undergone a total of 509 successful resuscitations were included in the study.

and for the strength of the evidence those numbers provided (page 159):

The four prospective NDE studies discussed in the previous chapter all reached one and the same conclusion: consciousness, with memories and occasional perception, can be experienced during a period of unconsciousness—that is, during a period when the brain shows no measurable activity and all brain functions, such as body reflexes, brain-stem reflexes, and respiration, have ceased.

The conclusion van Lommel felt justified in drawing followed naturally on from that evidence (page 160);

As prior researchers have concluded, a clear sensorium and complex perceptual processes during a period of apparent clinical death challenge the concept that consciousness is localized exclusively in the brain.

What is important to emphasise here is that the precise conditions under which the NDE was experienced were completely, accurately and verifiably recorded, something not possible in a retrospective study: van Lommel is clear (page 164) that ‘in such a brain [state] even so-called hallucinations are impossible.’

He is, of course, not claiming that there is no relationship at all between brain activity and consciousness, only that the brain does not produce or completely determine consciousness in any way we currently understand and any assumption of that kind is unwarranted. He also produces reasons for concluding that our technology is not sophisticated enough as yet to capture what is actually going on. For example, our equipment can only scan once every two seconds whereas cerebral processes take place in milliseconds. This, he says, (page 180) is like ‘reading a book by reading only one of each thousand words.’

Further to this point, he quotes the interesting experience of a sophisticated subject who wanted to test this for himself, unknown to the experimenters. They were testing for the mind/brain’s reaction to either having one’s foot tickled or seeing one’s foot tickled. He decided he was going to think about football in the one case and about his cat’s funeral in the other. The results showed no difference between his thoughts and the thoughts of all the other participants as far as the fMRI scans were concerned (pages 180-181):

At present, scientific research methods appear to be incapable of accurately studying the neural processes associated with our experience of consciousness. . . . . . Given the fact that Roepstorff’s thoughts fell outside the scope of the experiment, the test leader should not have been able to understand the findings. But the leader failed to notice anything strange about the scans. They were no different from the scans of any of the other subjects. . . . .. only the subject himself has direct access to his thoughts.

In the end, the kind of subjectivity, whose abandonment by psychology the Kellys lament in their substantial work Irreducible Mind, cannot be ignored (page 181):

Consciousness is fundamentally unverifiable, and thus fails to meet scientific criteria…. This evaporates the hope for completely objective knowledge about consciousness. Sooner or later, you will have to talk to your subject, so there will always be a subjective link.

memory-improvement-with-brain-games-for-adults

For source see link.

Brain as Transceiver

Van Lommel then moves on to even more interesting ground (pages 183-184):

The hypothesis that consciousness and memory are produced and stored exclusively in the brain remains unproven. For decades, scientists have tried unsuccessfully to localize memories and consciousness in the brain. It is doubtful whether they will ever succeed.

He quotes the conclusions of a computer expert and a neurobiologist (page 193):

Simon Berkovich, a computer expert, has calculated that despite the brain’s huge numbers of synapses, its capacity for storing a lifetime’s memories, along with associated thoughts and emotions, is completely insufficient. . . . . . Neurobiologist Herms Romijn, formerly of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, also demonstrated that the storage of all memories in the brain is anatomically and functionally impossible.

Credibility is lent to the implications of this argument by exceptional but genuine cases of brain damage, take for example (page 194):

John Lorber’s description of a healthy young man with a university degree in mathematics and an IQ of 126. A brain scan revealed a severe case of hydrocephalus: 95 percent of his skull was filled with cerebrospinal fluid, and his cerebral cortex measured only about 2 millimeters thick, leaving barely any brain tissue. The weight of his remaining brain was estimated at 100 grams (compared to a normal weight of 1,500 grams), and yet his brain function was unimpaired.

This leads him to feel that the usual conclusion we draw when brain damage impairs functioning may be simplistic and misleading (ibid.):

. . . [F]unctions can also be lost after brain damage brought on by a cerebral hemorrhage, serious head trauma with permanent brain damage, long-term alcohol abuse, or encephalitis. The obvious and correct conclusion must be that the brain has a major impact on the way people show their everyday or waking consciousness to the outside world. The instrument, the brain, has been damaged, whereas “real” consciousness remains intact.

There is also a two-way relationship between mind and brain, something to which the latest work on neuroplasticity conclusively testifies (see earlier posts for more information). As van Lommel puts it (page 184): ‘A conscious experience can be the result of brain activity, but a brain activity can also be the result of consciousness.’ He expands on this point later (page 200):

In summary, the human mind is capable of changing the anatomical structure and associated function of the brain. The mind can change the brain. There is unmistakable interaction between the mind and the brain and not just in the sense of cause and effect. As such, it would be incorrect to claim that consciousness can only be a product of brain function. How could a product be able to change its own producer?

He therefore feels justified in stating (ibid.):

. . . . switching on your computer, connecting to the Internet, and navigating to a Web site does not determine the content of this Web site. The activation of certain areas of the brain cannot explain the content of thoughts and emotions.

Later he unpacks the implications of this more fully (page 268):

We are not aware of the hundreds of thousands of telephone calls, hundreds of television and radio broadcasts, and the billions of Internet connections around us day and night, passing through us and through the walls, including those of the room in which you are reading this book. . . . . . We only see and hear the program when we switch on a TV set,. . . . . The computer does not produce the Internet any more than the brain produces consciousness. The computer allows us to add information to the Internet just like the brain is capable of adding information from our body and senses to our consciousness.

Samadhi_Buddha_01

Samadhi Buddha (for source see link)

Where this leaves us

He strongly questions the default position of contemporary neuroscience (page 185):

Contemporary research on consciousness in neuroscience rests on unquestioned but highly questionable foundations. Consciousness does not happen in the brain… despite the fact that a majority of contemporary scientists specializing in consciousness research still espouse a materialist and reductionist explanation for consciousness,

He explains exactly where key mechanisms for consciousness fail in a cardiac arrest and why an alternative explanation is necessary for those cases where full or even heightened consciousness exists in such a brain state (page 193):

During a cardiac arrest the cerebral cortex, thalamus, hippocampus, and brain stem as well as all connections between them stop functioning, as we have seen, which prevents information from being integrated and differentiated—a prerequisite for communication and thus for the experience of consciousness. The experience of consciousness should be impossible during a cardiac arrest. All measurable electrical activity in the brain has been extinguished and all bodily and brain-stem reflexes are gone. And yet, during this period of total dysfunction, some people experience a heightened and enhanced consciousness, known as an NDE.

Not surprisingly, this line of thought has spiritual implications (page 302):

Physicist and psychologist Peter Russell compares the ability to experience consciousness with the light of a film projector. As the projector throws light onto a screen, the projected images change constantly. All of these projected images, such as perceptions, feelings, memories, dreams, thoughts, and emotions, form the content of consciousness. Without the projector’s light there would be no images, which is why the light can be compared to our ability to experience consciousness. But the images do not constitute consciousness itself. When all the images are gone and only the projector’s light remains, we are left with the pure source of consciousness. This pure consciousness without content is called samadhi by Indian philosophers and initiates and can be experienced after many years of meditation. It is said to bring enlightenment.

This brings me to a consideration of what van Lommel makes of this possibility. That will have to wait for the next post.

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Dad in Civil Defence

My father in Civil Defence circa 1940 – fourth from the left

As Frederik van Eeden put it back in 1890: “I am more convinced than ever that the a-priori rejection of and refusal to examine unfamiliar and unusual phenomena is the greatest foe of scientific progress.”

(Consciousness beyond Life – page 264)

In 1898 James wrote that the brain’s role in the experience of consciousness is not a productive but is instead a permissive or transmissive role; that is, it admits or transmits information.

(Consciousness beyond Life – page 307)

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This sequence of three posts was first published in April 2013 and again late last year. The next two in the sequence will appear over the weekend.

Here we go again!

I continue to find myself in the grip of the near death experience (NDE) issue. Exactly why it matters so much to me is not completely clear. It may in part be to do with my sister having died before I was born. She was twelve years old. It was 1939 and the war was just about to start. I was born just before the war ended and grew up in the double shadow of my parents’ grief and a world seeking to come to terms with the experiences of the blitz and the holocaust.

Later, when my father was dying, in an incident that I put down to morphine at the time, atheist that I was, he woke from his sleep when my mother called his name thinking he had died. ‘Oh, Mary,’ he said with infinite sadness, ‘why did you call me back. I was somewhere so beautiful I did not want to leave.’ Being a man of few words, he said no more. However, after my mother died and we sold the house, the people who had bought it said they were rather unnerved to wake one night in the master bedroom to find a gaunt and tall old man leaning over the bottom of the bed as though to see who was asleep in it.

On top of that is a feeling, which never completely goes away, that I am in exile – from where or why I have no idea, though I could fill in the blanks quite easily, but not from memory. Whatever the real reason, NDEs and what they might mean is an issue that fascinates me.

How could I resist reading Pim van Lommel’s book?

I am not concerned to discuss those aspects of this fascinating book which deal with areas that have already been well-trodden on this blog, for example the elements of a typical NDE, the alternative neuro-scientific or narrative-tradition explanations. I want to focus instead on what I regard as his main theme and the mainstream resistance to it, which leads him into areas that previous texts I have read do not deal with in such depth. Also I do not intend to go over his explanation of the studies he and others have conducted, though they are interesting in their own right and confirm the authenticity of the experience in so far as that is possible to do at present.

Does consciousness have a biological basis at all?

I have never been an overly religious person. I am reluctant to tell many people this incident but was compelled to write to you after reading this article. Three years ago also my father was murdered. After three weeks the police came to a standstill and put out a call for help in the newspaper. I dreamed of my dad three nights in a row. Each night he told me to look in the files and gave me specific instructions. After the third night I called the head of the ATF who was working on our case. He must have thought I was a real crackpot. But I had looked in my dad’s files. In my dream he had given me a date and a name. Sure enough, the name was there. The ATF agents contacted that person, and he gave the police the names of the people who were involved in my father’s murder. I really can’t give you any more details on this—we haven’t gone to trial yet and there is a gag order issued. I don’t claim to be psychic. I don’t have any idea why these things have happened to me. But it makes me wonder and curious.    

If this story can be believed, and the thousands of others like it, then the question that inevitably arises is the one at the head of this section: Does consciousness have a biological basis at all?

Van Lommel believes it does not, in the sense of consciousness being created from matter. He marshalls both evidence and theory to back up his position. The next three posts attempt to give a sense of part of his argument.

Making the Idea Plausible

Pim-van-Lommel

Pim van Lommel

He is acutely aware that his case is regarded with profound suspicion by the majority of mainstream scientists. He looks at the impact that this has both on the treatment of evidence and on the way we receive the accounts of those who have experienced an NDE. He quotes Kuhn for a key component of mainstream science’s response (from the introduction):

The American philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn claimed that most scientists are still trying to reconcile theory and facts within the routinely accepted (materialist) paradigm, which he describes as essentially a collection of articles of faith shared by scientists. All research results that cannot be accounted for by the prevailing worldview are labeled “anomalies” because they threaten the existing paradigm and challenge the expectations raised by this paradigm.

He argues – and I am not sufficiently expert in quantum theory to judge the strength of his case here – that quantum theory has altered the balance of the argument significantly (ibid.):

According to some quantum physicists, quantum physics accords our consciousness a decisive role in creating and experiencing perceptible reality. . . . . . This transforms modern science into a subjective science in which consciousness plays a fundamental role.

As a result of the implications of quantum theory and supported by his own research and that of others, he strongly feels (ibid.):

On the basis of prospective studies of near-death experience, recent results from neurophysiological research, and concepts from quantum physics, I strongly believe that consciousness cannot be located in a particular time and place. This is known as nonlocality. Complete and endless consciousness is everywhere in a dimension that is not tied to time or place, where past, present, and future all exist and are accessible at the same time.

To help lame-brains like me to keep up, he brings in a helpful analogy that is being used quite widely by those of this point of view (ibid.):

Our brain may be compared both to a television set, receiving information from electromagnetic fields and decoding this into sound and vision, and to a television camera, converting or encoding sound and vision into electromagnetic waves. . . . . . The function of the brain can be compared to a transceiver; our brain has a facilitating rather than a producing role: it enables the experience of consciousness.

Mainstream Resistance

Even though I find this picture of the mind-brain-consciousness relationship quite plausible now, after my decades of wrestling with the implications of this research, most practitioners of medicine and psychology within the system find it too hard to swallow. Van Lommel describes an incident at a conference on NDEs (page 9):

After a few presentations on NDE and somebody’s personal story, a man got up and said, “I’ve worked as a cardiologist for twenty-five years now, and I’ve never come across such absurd stories in my practice. I think this is all complete nonsense; I don’t believe a word of it.” Whereupon another man stood up and said, “I’m one of your patients. A couple of years ago I survived a cardiac arrest and had an NDE, and you would be the last person I’d ever tell.”

And that is a huge problem for those who have such experiences. The following example is not untypical and should be seen as providing strong though admittedly anecdotal evidence (page 32):

During my NDE following a cardiac arrest, I saw both my dead grandmother and a man who looked at me lovingly but whom I didn’t know. Over ten years later my mother confided on her deathbed that I’d been born from an extramarital affair; my biological father was a Jewish man who’d been deported and killed in World War II. My mother showed me a photograph. The unfamiliar man I’d seen more than ten years earlier during my NDE turned out to be my biological father.

heartsurgery

Van Lommel feels we should treat these types of account with respect (page 44):

I am of the opinion that people who have had a near-death experience and who are capable of putting their experience into words can teach us a great deal about the relationship between human consciousness and the brain. Finding an explanation for the cause and content of the near-death experience is a major scientific challenge.

The consequences of contempt

When we are contemptuous and dismissive, this can impact negatively upon the individual with the experience as well as on the progress of science in this area (page 51-52):

The process of accepting and integrating the NDE cannot begin until people feel capable of sharing their thoughts and feelings. With immense perseverance, often aided by positive reactions from those around them, people learn to live according to their newfound insights into what matters in life. . . . . When someone first tries to disclose the NDE, the other person’s reaction is absolutely crucial. If this initial reaction is negative or skeptical, the process of accepting and integrating the NDE typically presents far greater problems than if this initial reaction is positive, sympathetic, or neutral. Evidence has shown that positive responses facilitate and accelerate the integration process. In fact, without the possibility of communication, the process of coming to terms with the NDE often fails to get under way at all.

The research indicates the scale of the problem (page 62):

Sutherland’s study shows that when people tried to discuss the NDE, 50 percent of relatives and 25 percent of friends rejected the NDE, and 30 percent of nursing staff, 85 of doctors, and 50 percent of psychiatrists reacted negatively.

The impact of this is harsh (page 64):

It is very difficult for NDE survivors to explain to others how and why they have changed so much. What follows is a period of intense loneliness coupled with feelings of depression at the rejection of what they perceive to be the most impressive experience of their life.

This is in spite of the fact that a more positive attitude is immensely beneficial (page 66):

The results also show that the higher the percentage of positive responses to their personality changes, the better the NDErs were capable of dealing with the problems. That said, at the time of the survey, more than half remained incapable of communicating effectively about their experience. The absence of unconditional love in human relationships also continued to be a problem for more than half of the respondents.

If we are to shift from this negative and damaging virtual consensus, with what are we going to replace it? That will have to wait for the next post.

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