Posted by: drdata921 | August 16, 2014

Thoughts on Consciousness and Death

What is the link between death and retirement? Metaphorically, retirement is like the fourth quarter of a football game. You always wonder how it will end and what’s next. You may think I have too much time on my hands since I retired, but recently I have run into some very interesting internet content that has sparked me to think about this issue. In retirement, thoughts about death are always at the back of your mind and I have a profound interest in figuring out what this means.

Despite whatever religious beliefs you may hold, I think that most people still wonder what happens after your body dies. Believe what you will believe and hope for the best. Personally, I am not a particularly religious person and the literal concepts of heaven and hell do not make a lot of sense to me. They seem to be constructs that have more historical and political significance than anything else. They are a way to keep people in line according to the current status quo. If you have any doubt about this, did you notice that the Al Qaeda suicide bombers are told that by blowing up innocent people in a terrorist act, they would go to paradise? Really!!! And, with the atrocities of war by America we still believe that god is on our side. So, if we are to be judged as a culture, we are all going to hell because there is no moral justification for many of the things that we do and innocence is a relative term. I have always rejected the concept of heaven and hell because it seems to me it is more likely that if there is an eternal life it is meant to be a process of progression, growth and enlightenment rather than strict judgments based on a very limited lifetime.

However, heaven and hell are secondary considerations. The primary consideration is whether there is life or further existence after death of the body in the first place. In this context, I viewed two TED Talks that seemed to have a perspective on this issue. The first was a presentation by Graham Hancock, a writer and philosopher on the topic of consciousness. This is an 18 minute presentation that was ultimately judged to be too controversial to post on TED. Click this link and you will see why – although I think he has a perspective that needs to be heard because it challenges conventional thinking in a very effective way (The War on Consciousness).

The underlying concept is about the nature of consciousness that applies directly to the conversation about life after death. The question is whether consciousness is generated within the brain and therefore when the body dies, so does our consciousness. If this is true then death of the body is the finality. Or, is consciousness generated separate from the body, by let’s call it the soul, and the brain is only a receptor, much like a TV is a receptor of a broadcast signal. When the TV breaks, the broadcast continues – when the body dies, consciousness continues although in a qualitatively different form. The discussion by Mr. Hancock goes well beyond this topic, but this part of it was particularly relevant. He argues, quite effectively for an afterlife and the help needed (and available) to achieve growth of the spirit.

The second TED talk, which also was judged to be too controversial was by Rupert Sheldrake, an author and researcher in paranormal psychology. Find his talk at (The Science Delusion) . In his discussion, he questions the use of science to understand anything related to consciousness or spirituality. The belief systems and assumptions underlying science do not allow belief in a spiritual world or consciousness as we typically define it. The reason is that underlying our scientific belief systems is the assumption that everything in the world is mechanistic. That is, everything is fundamentally a machine. The task of science is to understand how the machine works. So, based on these assumptions, consciousness is created by brain structures and chemistry and all things (e.g. plants, humans, other physical phenomena) are guided by a process with no room to consider concepts like soul or spirituality. Spirituality and soul are not explainable as a machine and are certainly difficult to observe. He notes that a true scientist could not believe in an afterlife because that goes outside of the mechanistic view of the world.

Indeed, science is very limited in what can be observed and analyzed. Think of this analogy: For most of history astronomers could only comment on things that were directly observable. These were things where astronomical events and objects occurred within the observable spectrum and could be viewed by the human eye. As time progressed, scientist developed instrumentation that allowed observation across the entire spectrum, not just that directly visible to the human eye. This radically changed our view of the universe. However, before this we were only able to understand the universe in terms of things directly observable.

Now, fast-forward to today. Physicists have identified (at least mathematically) somewhere between 10 and 26 dimensions in the universe. We are privy to only four (length, width, depth, and time). Since, it is currently impossible to observe any other dimensions outside of these four, science is limited to these observations and hypotheses and theories cannot go beyond these four. It is equivalent to trying to understand the world around you without the benefits of sight or hearing. What you come up with will be very different from that if you had sight and hearing. That is our present situation in science. Science develops perspectives with a very limited view of the universe. However, since scientists are locked into these assumptions and limitations they write off phenomena that go beyond their view of the world. Spirituality and soul fall outside of the current scientific view. I am not arguing, for example, for intelligent design versus Darwinian evolution (i.e. god vs. the scientific view of human existence). I am just saying that there is a clear rationale to be more open to alternative possibilities.

However, what if the spiritual world exists in the other six to 24 dimensions? We see possible evidence of this among people who are psychics or when people have strong premonitions that come true. They are privy to something unavailable to the rest of us. What if the spirit or the soul after death migrates to a whole different set of dimensions – those currently unobservable? Scientists would contend that there is no consciousness or afterlife or migration of the soul because they cannot be observed. Yet, there is so much that we don’t know and can’t observe. Scientists are locked into current paradigms of thinking limited by a restricted range of events that are observable. This is to be expected, but understanding this opens up a host of possibilities. This does not preclude the existence of spiritual dimensions of existence only that they cannot be observed at present.

Carl Sagan had a great discussion of this in his Nova series. He talked about existence among a group of people called flatlanders who lived in a single dimension. Then along came another person who lived in two dimensions, but the flatlanders could only see what was going on in the one. Think of this story if there truly are 10 to 26 dimensions in our universe and we can only observe four. The implications are staggering. How much are we missing. What if one or more of these alternative dimensions are spiritual dimensions and death is nothing more than a migration by the spirit or the soul. We just need to keep an open mind.

So, is there an afterlife? Do people shift dimensions following death of the body? There is no way to tell until inevitable death occurs. Or, if there is nothing, maybe you will never know. View the two TED videos and see what you think. They sure got me thinking! But then again, I have a lot of time on my hands in retirement.

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