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Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld cana

My latest sequence mentions the Bahá’í view that religion and science are compatible and necessary if our civilisation is to progress. It therefore seems appropriate to republish this earlier sequence. This is the second of four: the first was published yesterday, and the last two will appear on Friday and Saturday. 

As we noted in the previous post Plantinga, in his thought-provoking book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, feels evolution has incorrectly been seen as hostile to religious belief (pages 63-64):

The scientific theory of evolution as such is not incompatible with Christian belief; what is incompatible with it is the idea that evolution, natural selection, is unguided. But that idea isn’t part of evolutionary theory as such; it’s instead a metaphysical or theological addition.

Divine Intervention

He covers many aspects of the religion/science problem in his book, including the ‘fine tuning’ hypothesis, ie that the probability of the preconditions for conscious life being so exactly met is vanishingly small, and the argument from design. This is well-trodden territory. I felt it might be more interesting to cherry pick some of the more unusual arguments even at the risk of selling short the power of his overall case. He covers so much ground so thoroughly that it would be impossible to do this book anything like justice. It would be best to take the examples below as an inadequate sample or taster and go direct to the book before judging the quality of his argument as a whole.

A topic he moves to along the way is the question of divine intervention. I am risking doing his case an injustice by only picking up his argument from where he begins to deal with the implications of quantum mechanics, but this kind of selectiveness is unavoidable, I fear (pages 94-95):

If we try to define a miracle as an event that is incompatible with (what we presume, on the basis of the best evidence, to be) laws of nature, then it seems that water changing to wine, a dead man coming back to life, etc. are not miracles because they are not incompatible with QM. But QM does say that they are very, very improbable.

It is a short step from this to his feeling that (page 96) ‘[o]n the “new picture,” therefore—the picture presented by QM—there is no question that special divine action is consistent with science.’

Incidentally, QM has other implications as well that other thinkers have seized upon to undermine the default assumption of naturalism. Take Kelly and Kelly, for example, in their book, Irreducible Mind (page xxii):

. . . advances in physics from Newton’s discovery of universal gravitation to 20th century developments in quantum mechanics and relativity theory have undermined the classical and commonsense conceptions of matter to such an extent that reducibility of mind to matter is anything but straightforward, and hardly a foregone conclusion.

Plantinga, before expanding on the implications of QM, argues that the possibility of divine intervention does not necessarily impact upon our ability to make informed decisions about how to act (page 103):

What’s required for free action is that there be enough regularity for us to know or sensibly conjecture—at least for the most part and with reasonably high probability—what will happen if we freely choose to take a given action. . . . . All that’s required for purposeful free action is reasonable confidence in substantial regularity in the neighborhood of the proposed action. And that’s certainly compatible with God’s sometimes intervening.

However, he is not content to leave the matter there (page 108):

The reasons for supposing God couldn’t or wouldn’t intervene in his creation are weak. But now we must face a more poignant question: what, from the point of view of the new picture, is intervention?

Quantum Mechanics

Link to the source of this summary

His argument gets rather complicated here and I hope I have condensed it accurately. It seems to me to boil down to the idea that quantum theory supposes that reality collapses at a ‘regular rate’ into a new state, but there is no requirement for this state to be identical with the previous state. There is considerable uncertainty about how frequent this regularity is. I expect I have lost some of his argument’s subtlety somewhere somewhat but I think that is the basic point.

He feels this paves the way for supposing that divine intervention, rather than being the exception, is in fact the normal state of affairs (pages 115-116):

Perhaps, then, all collapse-outcomes (as we might call them) are caused by God. If so, then between collapses, a system evolves according to the Shrödinger equation; but when a collapse occurs, it is divine agency that causes the specific collapse-outcome that ensues. On this view of God’s special action—call it “divine collapse-causation” (“DCC”)—God is always acting specially, that is, always acting in ways that go beyond creation and conservation, thus obviating the problem alleged to lie in his sometimes treating the world in hands-off fashion but other times in a hands-on way.

The freedom in nature to collapse into any form whatsoever paves the way for God’s hand to be free in this respect (pages 116-117):

[I]t is in the nature of physical systems to evolve between collapses according to the Shrödinger equation; it also is in their nature to undergo periodic collapses; but it is not part of their nature to collapse to any particular eigenstate. . . . . Hence, in causing a nature to collapse to a particular eigenstate, God need not constrain it against its nature.

esptest

Methodological Naturalism

He goes on to take a careful look at what happens when practitioners of the scientific method, including those who also believe in God, bracket the possibility of religious belief and remove it from their methodological process (page 169).

Consider the fact that many who practice historical Biblical criticism themselves personally accept the whole range of Christian belief, but separate their personal beliefs (as they might put it) from their scripture scholarship; in working at scripture scholarship, they prescind from their theological beliefs; they bracket them, set them aside. Why would they do that? Because they believe an effort to be scientific requires this separation or dissociation. Their thought is that scientific investigation requires thus setting aside theological belief. They accept the methodological naturalism (MN) that is widely thought to characterize science.

This is not the same as the naturalism he attacks, and which we looked at in the previous post. Methodological naturalism is confined to the one area of activity (ibid.):

The methodological naturalist doesn’t necessarily subscribe to ontological naturalism. MN is a proposed condition or constraint on proper science, or the proper practice of science, not a statement about the nature of the universe. . . . “Science neither denies or opposes the supernatural, but ignores the supernatural for methodological reasons.”

He spells out what this means in practice (pages 171-172):

According to MN, furthermore, the data model of a proper scientific theory will not invoke God. . . Secondly, there will also be constraints on the theory itself. . . . according to MN the parameters for a scientific theory are not to include reference to God or any other supernatural agents.

There is a totally unsurprising consequence of this (page 174):

Then the relevant point is that the evidence base of the inquiry in question includes the denial of central Christian (and indeed) theistic beliefs. If so, however, the fact that this inquiry comes to conclusions incompatible with Christian belief would be neither surprising, nor—for Christians—an occasion for consternation or dismay.

It is perhaps worth mentioning here that this a priori exclusion of the spiritual dimension from scientific enquiry may not be sustainable for much longer. The Irreducible Mind points up very clearly how psychology must at some point bring this aspect of reality into its approach. Referring amongst other things to psi phenomena, Edward Kelly writes (page xxviii):

These phenomena we catalogue here are important precisely because they challenge so strongly the current scientific consensus; in accordance with Wind’s principle, they not only invite but should command the attention of anyone seriously interested in the mind.

The prevailing attitude of course in many cases goes far beyond methodological naturalism into the strongest possible form of it (op.cit. page xxvii):

Most critics implicitly – and some, like Hansel, explicitly – take the view that psi phenomena are somehow known a priori to be impossible. In that case one is free to invent any scenario, no matter how far-fetched, to explain away ostensible evidence of psi.

In terms, though, of methodological naturalism alone any conflict is in Plantinga’s view trivial. This leads him to conclude at this point (page 190):

To return to that main line: so far I’ve argued that there is no conflict between Christian belief and evolution; nor is the claim that God acts specially in the world in conflict with science. I’ve gone on to argue that there is indeed conflict between Christian belief and certain areas of evolutionary psychology and historical Biblical criticism; this conflict, however is superficial. So much for conflict; I turn next to concord between Christian belief and science.

But that will have to wait for the next post in this series.

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Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld  cana

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently readThese 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 of four posts was first published in 2013 and falls nicely into place after my attempt to convey Medina’s take on reductionist science on Monday.

As we noted in the previous post Plantinga, in his thought-provoking book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, feels evolution has incorrectly been seen as hostile to religious belief (pages 63-64):

The scientific theory of evolution as such is not incompatible with Christian belief; what is incompatible with it is the idea that evolution, natural selection, is unguided. But that idea isn’t part of evolutionary theory as such; it’s instead a metaphysical or theological addition.

Divine Intervention

He covers many aspects of the religion/science problem in his book, including the ‘fine tuning’ hypothesis, ie that the probability of the preconditions for conscious life being so exactly met is vanishingly small, and the argument from design. This is well-trodden territory. I felt it might be more interesting to cherry pick some of the more unusual arguments even at the risk of selling short the power of his overall case. He covers so much ground so thoroughly that it would be impossible to do this book anything like justice. It would be best to take the examples below as an inadequate sample or taster and go direct to the book before judging the quality of his argument as a whole.

A topic he moves to along the way is the question of divine intervention. I am risking doing his case an injustice by only picking up his argument from where he begins to deal with the implications of quantum mechanics, but this kind of selectiveness is unavoidable, I fear (pages 94-95):

If we try to define a miracle as an event that is incompatible with (what we presume, on the basis of the best evidence, to be) laws of nature, then it seems that water changing to wine, a dead man coming back to life, etc. are not miracles because they are not incompatible with QM. But QM does say that they are very, very improbable.

It is a short step from this to his feeling that (page 96) ‘[o]n the “new picture,” therefore—the picture presented by QM—there is no question that special divine action is consistent with science.’

Incidentally, QM has other implications as well that other thinkers have seized upon to undermine the default assumption of naturalism. Take Kelly and Kelly, for example, in their book, Irreducible Mind (page xxii):

. . . advances in physics from Newton’s discovery of universal gravitation to 20th century developments in quantum mechanics and relativity theory have undermined the classical and commonsense conceptions of matter to such an extent that reducibility of mind to matter is anything but straightforward, and hardly a foregone conclusion.

Plantinga, before expanding on the implications of QM, argues that the possibility of divine intervention does not necessarily impact upon our ability to make informed decisions about how to act (page 103):

What’s required for free action is that there be enough regularity for us to know or sensibly conjecture—at least for the most part and with reasonably high probability—what will happen if we freely choose to take a given action. . . . . All that’s required for purposeful free action is reasonable confidence in substantial regularity in the neighborhood of the proposed action. And that’s certainly compatible with God’s sometimes intervening.

However, he is not content to leave the matter there (page 108):

The reasons for supposing God couldn’t or wouldn’t intervene in his creation are weak. But now we must face a more poignant question: what, from the point of view of the new picture, is intervention?

Quantum Mechanics

Link to the source of this summary

His argument gets rather complicated here and I hope I have condensed it accurately. It seems to me to boil down to the idea that quantum theory supposes that reality collapses at a ‘regular rate’ into a new state, but there is no requirement for this state to be identical with the previous state. There is considerable uncertainty about how frequent this regularity is. I expect I have lost some of his argument’s subtlety somewhere somewhat but I think that is the basic point.

He feels this paves the way for supposing that divine intervention, rather than being the exception, is in fact the normal state of affairs (pages 115-116):

Perhaps, then, all collapse-outcomes (as we might call them) are caused by God. If so, then between collapses, a system evolves according to the Shrödinger equation; but when a collapse occurs, it is divine agency that causes the specific collapse-outcome that ensues. On this view of God’s special action—call it “divine collapse-causation” (“DCC”)—God is always acting specially, that is, always acting in ways that go beyond creation and conservation, thus obviating the problem alleged to lie in his sometimes treating the world in hands-off fashion but other times in a hands-on way.

The freedom in nature to collapse into any form whatsoever paves the way for God’s hand to be free in this respect (pages 116-117):

[I]t is in the nature of physical systems to evolve between collapses according to the Shrödinger equation; it also is in their nature to undergo periodic collapses; but it is not part of their nature to collapse to any particular eigenstate. . . . . Hence, in causing a nature to collapse to a particular eigenstate, God need not constrain it against its nature.

esptest

Methodological Naturalism

He goes on to take a careful look at what happens when practitioners of the scientific method, including those who also believe in God, bracket the possibility of religious belief and remove it from their methodological process (page 169).

Consider the fact that many who practice historical Biblical criticism themselves personally accept the whole range of Christian belief, but separate their personal beliefs (as they might put it) from their scripture scholarship; in working at scripture scholarship, they prescind from their theological beliefs; they bracket them, set them aside. Why would they do that? Because they believe an effort to be scientific requires this separation or dissociation. Their thought is that scientific investigation requires thus setting aside theological belief. They accept the methodological naturalism (MN) that is widely thought to characterize science.

This is not the same as the naturalism he attacks, and which we looked at in the previous post. Methodological naturalism is confined to the one area of activity (ibid.):

The methodological naturalist doesn’t necessarily subscribe to ontological naturalism. MN is a proposed condition or constraint on proper science, or the proper practice of science, not a statement about the nature of the universe. . . . “Science neither denies or opposes the supernatural, but ignores the supernatural for methodological reasons.”

He spells out what this means in practice (pages 171-172):

According to MN, furthermore, the data model of a proper scientific theory will not invoke God. . . Secondly, there will also be constraints on the theory itself. . . . according to MN the parameters for a scientific theory are not to include reference to God or any other supernatural agents.

There is a totally unsurprising consequence of this (page 174):

Then the relevant point is that the evidence base of the inquiry in question includes the denial of central Christian (and indeed) theistic beliefs. If so, however, the fact that this inquiry comes to conclusions incompatible with Christian belief would be neither surprising, nor—for Christians—an occasion for consternation or dismay.

It is perhaps worth mentioning here that this a priori exclusion of the spiritual dimension from scientific enquiry may not be sustainable for much longer. The Irreducible Mind points up very clearly how psychology must at some point bring this aspect of reality into its approach. Referring amongst other things to psi phenomena, Edward Kelly writes (page xxviii):

These phenomena we catalogue here are important precisely because they challenge so strongly the current scientific consensus; in accordance with Wind’s principle, they not only invite but should command the attention of anyone seriously interested in the mind.

The prevailing attitude of course in many cases goes far beyond methodological naturalism into the strongest possible form of it (op.cit. page xxvii):

Most critics implicitly – and some, like Hansel, explicitly – take the view that psi phenomena are somehow known a priori to be impossible. In that case one is free to invent any scenario, no matter how far-fetched, to explain away ostensible evidence of psi.

In terms, though, of methodological naturalism alone any conflict is in Plantinga’s view trivial. This leads him to conclude at this point (page 190):

To return to that main line: so far I’ve argued that there is no conflict between Christian belief and evolution; nor is the claim that God acts specially in the world in conflict with science. I’ve gone on to argue that there is indeed conflict between Christian belief and certain areas of evolutionary psychology and historical Biblical criticism; this conflict, however is superficial. So much for conflict; I turn next to concord between Christian belief and science.

But that will have to wait for the tomorrow’s post in this series.

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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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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.

Read Full Post »

aloeMNDL1onSTARaWEB

Mandala (for source see link)

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.

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.

Read Full Post »

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)

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 first of three that belong together. The others will come out at 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.

Read Full Post »

aloeMNDL1onSTARaWEB

Mandala (for source see link)

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.

Read Full Post »

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