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Traditional concept of consciousness and memory challenged by near-death experiences (NDE)

The concept of spirit mind and physical mind in Unificationism may improve our understanding of consciousness and memory, and their location.

Physicists know today that visible matter is not the only reality. Our visible universe is only the small part we are able to see, of a much, much larger invisible reality. And scientists face this, as research into near-death experiences (NDE) force them to rethink the traditional concept of consciousness and memory as localized in the brain. How then can consciousness and memory continue when the brain is highly dysfunctional or even dead?

Bruce Greyson in 2018. Screenshot from YouTube video.

Dr. Bruce Greyson, author and professor emeritus of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences, points out that materialist psychology, based on the reductionism of classical physics, does not suffice to explain certain aspects of mental activity, especially phenomena like “the continuation of mental function when the brain is inactive or impaired, such as occurs near death.”

Special occurrences during near-death experiences are not explained convincingly by materialist reductionism, such as enhanced mental activity and memory while the brain is impaired, precise perceptions of physical events from an outside the body perspective, and visions of dead ones described in a convincing manner. (See Implications of Near-Death Experiences for a Postmaterialist Psychology, an article by Dr. Bruce Greyson, University of Virginia, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 2010, Vol 2, No. 1, 37-45)

Materialist reductionism claims that all mental activity is basically chemical processes in the brain and is consequently unable to offer good explanations of mental activity that takes place when the brain is dead. Countless experiences prove that consciousness and memory can function independently of the brain cells. A growing number of scientists see the brain as a “receiver”, a unique point of contact between the immaterial spirit and the material body.

Sam Parnia, director of the Human Consciousness Project at the University of Southampton, England has done extensive scientific research on cardiac arrest. In such cases, when the heart stops beating, soon the patient stops breathing, and the whole bodily function shuts down, including the brain.

Parnia has found that there is empirical evidence that consciousness can continue even when the brain is not functioning. Persons pronounced clinically dead, but brought back to life again, were able to describe specific details of what had happened in the hospital room while they were dead. And the doctors could verify that the descriptions were spot on.

Raymond Moody on consciousness and memory
Raymond Moody 5th Feb 2017. Photo: Ehabich / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC ASA 4.0 Int

Through parapsychology, we have received the most startling confirmations of a spiritual reality, and that the spirit can exist independently of the body. We know the research of Dr. Raymond Moody on near-death experiences. He interviewed hundreds of men and women who had experienced being declared clinically dead. In such a state they had intense inner experiences, of which they gave Dr. Moody a detailed description. Everyone remembered leaving the body and looking at it from the outside.

Pim van Lommel
Pim van Lommel in 2012. Photo: Siegfried Hornecker / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC ASA 3.0 Unp

Pim van Lommel, Dutch cardiologist, author and researcher in the field of near-death studies, writes that near-death experiences (NDE) may involve a “changing state of consciousness (transcendence, or the theory of continuity), in which memories, identity, and cognition, with emotion, function independently from the unconscious body”. (About the Continuity of our Consciousness, an article by Pim van Lommel, 2004)

He refers to the extensive research carried out by above mentioned Sam Parnia and Peter Fenwick, British neurophysiologist, who write in their discussion: “The data suggest that the NDE arises during unconsciousness. This is a surprising conclusion, because when the brain is so dysfunctional that the patient is deeply comatose, the cerebral structures, which underpin subjective experience and memory, must be severely impaired. Complex experiences such as are reported in the NDE should not arise or be retained in memory.”  (as cited in van Lommel, 2004)

van Lommel explains,

“How could a clear consciousness outside one’s body be experienced at the moment that the brain no longer functions during a period of clinical death, with a flat EEG? Such a brain would be roughly analogous to a computer with its power source unplugged and its circuits detached. It couldn’t hallucinate; it couldn’t do anything at all. […]

As stated before, up to the present it has generally been assumed that consciousness and memories are localized inside the brain, that the brain produces them. According to this unproven concept, consciousness and memories ought to vanish with physical death, and necessary also during clinical death or brain death. However, during an NDE patients experience the continuity of their consciousness with the possibility of perception outside and above one’s lifeless body.” (van Lommel, 2004)

Text: Knut Holdhus

See also Near-death experiences (NDE)