Given that I made such a big thing out of a near death experience in Monday’s post on the No-Self issue, I thought the least I could do republish some earlier posts on consciousness and NDEs for good measure before the week is over. This is the last of three that belong together. The first came out on Wednesday, the second yesterday.
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.
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
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.