The biggest question so many of us have in life, one that we have been seeking to answer for years: what happens when we die?
Asking these questions is fundamental to understanding the true nature of our reality, and with quantum physics gaining more popularity, questions regarding consciousness and its relationship to human physicality become increasingly relevant.
Max Planck, the theoretical physicist credited with originating quantum theory — a feat that won him the Physics Nobel Prize in 1918 — offers perhaps the best explanation for why understanding consciousness is so essential: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”(source)
Eugene Wigner, also a theoretical physicist and mathematician, stated that it’s not possible to “formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.”
Does Consciousness Move on After Death?
In 2010, one of the most respected scientists in the world, Robert Lanza, published a book titled Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding The True Nature of the Universe.
His theory implies that our consciousness does not die with us, but rather moves on, and this suggests that consciousness is not a product of the brain. It is something else entirely, and modern science is only beginning to understand what that might be.
This theory is best illustrated by the quantum double slit experiment. It’s is a great example that documents how factors associated with consciousness and our physical material world are connected in some way; that the observer creates the reality.
Physicists are being forced to admit that the universe could be a mental construction, or at the very least, that consciousness plays a fundamental role in the creation of matter.
R.C. Henry, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University wrote in a 2005 publication for the journal Nature:
According to [pioneering physicist] Sir James Jeans: “the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter… we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.” . . . The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.
(“The Mental Universe”; Nature 436:29,2005) (source)
Lanza’s theory implies that if the body generates consciousness, then consciousness dies when the body dies. But if the body receives consciousness in the same way that a cable box receives satellite signals, then of course consciousness does not end at the death of the physical vehicle. This is an example that’s commonly used to describe the enigma of consciousness.
The idea that we could be living in a holographic-type of universe is not so far-fetched, and if the observer is required for physical matter to manifest, then the observer must exist before the physical body.
The hypothesis that the brain creates consciousness dominates the mainstream materialistic world of science, despite the wealth of evidence showing that the brain (and our entire physical reality, for that matter) could be a product of consciousness.
Below is a great quote to illustrate what is meant by “material” science.
“The modern scientific worldview is predominantly predicated on assumptions that are closely associated with classical physics. Materialism—the idea that matter is the only reality—is one of these assumptions. A related assumption is reductionism, the notion that complex things can be understood by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things such as tiny material particles.”
Examining the neurochemical processes in the brain that occur when one is having a subjective experience is important, and does offer certain insights. It tells us that when ‘this’ type of experience is happening, ‘that’ is going on in the brain. But it does not prove that the neurochemical processes are producing the experience. What if the experience itself is producing the neurochemical processes?
Determining how consciousness causes matter to materialize is our next step. One thing is for certain, however; with all of the information out there postulating the existence of consciousness as independent from the brain, it’s time to push the boundaries of our current accepted framework of knowledge and question what we think we know.
The implications of this theory are immense. Just imagine if life after death were confirmed by the mainstream scientific community — how much would this impact not only our understanding of science, but also philosophy, religion, and many other areas of our lives?
A Great Lecture
Below is a great video from Dr. Gary Schwartz, a professor at the University of Arizona, discussing whether consciousness is the product of the brain or a receiver of it. It’s a little overview of a subject that is full of peer-reviewed scientific research that not many people have the time to go through. It would actually be almost be impossible to go through all of it.
Some materialistically inclined scientists and philosophers refuse to acknowledge these phenomena because they are not consistent with their exclusive conception of the world. Rejection of post-materialist investigation of nature or refusal to publish strong science findings supporting a post-materialist framework are antithetical to the true spirit of scientific inquiry, which is that empirical data must always be adequately dealt with. Data which do not fit favored theories and beliefs cannot be dismissed a priori. Such dismissal is the realm of ideology, not science.
– Dr. Gary Schwartz, Professor of Psychology, Medicine, Neurology, Psychiatry, and Surgery at the University of Arizona (1)
What About Near Death Experiences?
Below is a video of Dr. Bruce Greyson speaking at a conference that was held by the United Nations. He is considered to be one of the fathers of near death studies, and is a Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Science at the University of Virginia.
In the video he describes documented cases of individuals who were clinically dead (showing no brain activity), but observing everything that was happening to them on the medical table below at the same time. He describes how there have been many instances of this — where individuals are able to describe things that should have been impossible to describe. Another significant statement by Dr. Greyson posits that this type of study has been discouraged due to our tendency to view science as completely materialistic. Seeing is believing, so to speak, in the scientific community. It’s unfortunate that just because we cannot explain something through materialistic means, it must be instantly discredited. The simple fact that “consciousness” itself is a non-physical “thing” is troubling for some scientists to comprehend, and as a result of it being non-material, they believe it cannot be studied by science.
Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) have been documented and studied for a long time. For example, in 2001, international medical journal The Lancet, published a 13 year study on Near Death Experiences (NDEs):
Our results show that medical factors cannot account for the occurrence of NDE. All patients had a cardiac arrest, and were clinically dead with unconsciousness resulting from insufficient blood supply to the brain. In those circumstances, the EEG (a measure of brain electrical activity) becomes flat, and if CPR is not started within 5-10 minutes, irreparable damage is done to the brain and the patient will die. (2)(3)
Researchers monitored a total of 344 patients, and an astounding 18% of them had some sort of memory from when they were dead or unconscious (no brain activity), and 12% (1 out of every 8) had a very strong and “deep” experience. Keep in mind that these experiences have occurred when there is no electrical activity in the brain following cardiac arrest.
Another study comes out of the University of Southampton, where scientists found evidence that awareness can continue for at least several minutes after death. In the scientific world this was thought to be impossible. It is the world’s largest near death experiences study ever published, and it was published in the journal Resuscitation: (4)
In 2008, a large-scale study involving 2060 patients from 15 hospitals in the United Kingdom, United States and Austria was launched. The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study, sponsored by the University of Southampton in the UK, examined the broad range of mental experiences in relation to death. Researchers also tested the validity of conscious experiences using objective markers for the first time in a large study to determine whether claims of awareness compatible with out-of-body experiences correspond with real or hallucinatory events. (source)
Concluding Comments and Video
Nikola Tesla said it best: “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.”
There’s a reason why every year, internationally recognized scientists continue to push this commonly overlooked topic into the mainstream scientific community. The fact is, matter (protons, electrons, photons, anything that has mass) is not the only reality. If we wish to understand the nature of our reality, we cannot keep examining physical reality while ignoring the fact that the ‘unseen’ makes up most of it.
Perhaps the most imperative question is, what is the role of non-physical system, such as consciousness, in relation to physical systems (matter)?
“Despite the unrivaled empirical success of quantum theory, the very suggestion that it may be literally true as a description of nature is still greeted with cynicism, incomprehension and even anger.” (T. Folger, “Quantum Shmantum”; Discover 22:37-43, 2001)
This is what’s known as post-materialist science, and in my opinion, it’s clearly the next area of study to further understand the nature of our universe. And the study of ‘consciousness’ is right at its heart.