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Non-Local Consciousness and the Near-death Experience

Non-Local Consciousness and the Near-death Experience

By Barbara Mango, Ph.D.



The day science begins to study nonphysical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.

Nikola Tesla, Inventor (1856-1943)


In 2005, the journal Science published an issue listing the top 125 questions scientists have yet to answer. The most significant inquiry was, “What is the universe made of?” immediately followed by, “What is the biological basis of consciousness?”  This question may be reframed by asking, “Does consciousness have a biological basis at all?” [1]  Researchers have developed two opposing hypothesis to explain the connection between consciousness and the near-death experience: materialism and non-materialism. 

Materialist science maintains the foundation of consciousness is based exclusively on neuronal activity in the brain. Neurons are defined as cells that carry messages between the brain and body. Susan Blackmore, one of the strongest proponents of this brain-based theory asserts:

We are biological organisms, evolved in fascinating ways for no purpose at all and with no end in any mind.  We are simply here and this is how it is. [2]

Blackmore upholds what is termed “the materialist,” or “local-consciousness” theory. Materialism hypothesizes that consciousness is confined to the brain’s electrical processes and neuronal activity.  Materialists postulate a near-death experience is merely the physiological process of a dying brain.

Materialists purport NDEs cannot be irrefutably proven and therefore, any opposing paradigm is inherently flawed.  Since this model is still taught at most medical schools in the Western world, the majority of near-death researchers continue to support the paradigm that brain processes create consciousness.

Renown cardiologist and near-death researcher Pim van Lommel contends two additional factors strengthen adherence to this premise.  First, nearly all government funding is awarded to traditional science.  According to philosopher Ilja Maso:


Most current researchers employ the materialist hypothesis, “based on materialist, mechanistic, and reductionist assumptions. It attracts most of the funding, achieves the most striking results, and is thought to employ the brightest minds. The more a vision deviates from this materialist paradigm, the lower its status and the less money it receives.[3]


Secondly, materialists tend to reject any challenge to their rigidly held model. 

Philosopher Thomas Kuhn states the non-materialist theory is often considered incongruent with the traditional model. As he explains:


             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.  Needless to say, such anomalies are initially overlooked, ignored, rejected as aberrations, or even ridiculed.  Near-death experiences are such anomalies.[4]

The opposing paradigm, termed non-materialism, purports consciousness is independent of matter and the brain functions as an intermediary between spirit and body. This perspective supports the existence of a non-local, continuing consciousness upon clinical death. Van Lommel compares non-local consciousness to global communication.  Information is continuously exchanged via electromagnetic fields undetectable to ordinary awareness. As he explains:

             We only become aware of these electromagnetic informational fields at the moment we switch on our TV, cell-phone, or laptop.  What we receive is not inside the instrument, nor in the compartments, but thanks to the receiver, the information from the electromagnetic fields becomes observable to our senses and hence perception occurs in our consciousness. If we switch off the TV set, the reception disappears, but the transmission continues.  The information transmitted remains present within the electromagnetic fields.  The connection has been interrupted, but it has not vanished (“non-locality”)…As soon as the function of the brain has been lost, as in clinical death…memories and consciousness do still exist, but the receptivity is lost, the connection is interrupted. [5]

Cutting-edge research in quantum mechanics, (a theory describing the world of atoms and subatomic particles and their interaction between energy and matter), proposes a theoretical, yet highly persuasive argument supporting the paradigm of non-local consciousness.

Theoretical physicist Fred Alan Wolf contends that quantum mechanics continue to authenticate the non-materialist paradigm. As he explains:

           There is evidence that suggests the existence of a non-material, non-physical universe that has a reality even though it may not as yet be clearly perceptible to our senses and scientific instrumentation.  When we consider out-of-body experiences…though they cannot be replicated in the true scientific sense, they also point to the existence of non-material dimensions of reality.[6]

Van Lommel’s research indicates that various aspects of an NDE correspond with or are analogous to some of the basic principles from quantum theory, such as non-locality, entanglement, interconnectedness, and instantaneous information exchange in a timeless and placeless dimension.”[7] 

Cutting-edge research in quantum mechanics suggest consciousness and quantum processing reside in the microtubules of brain cells. Microtubules are fibrous, hollow rods located in the brain. Their primary function is to help support and shape cells. The human brain is composed of approximately eighty-seven billion neurons. It is estimated that one-hundred times as many microtubules exist in every neuron. Quantum mechanics postulates each neuron either contains, or supports consciousness.

According to mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose:

             Let’s just say the heart stops beating and the blood stops flowing [during a NDE], the microtubules lose their quantum state. The quantum information within the microtubules is not destroyed, it can’t be destroyed, it just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large.  If the patient is resuscitated, revived, this quantum information can go back in the microtubules and the patient says, “I had a near-death experience…If they’re not revived, and the patient dies, it’s possible this quantum information can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely as a soul This account of consciousness explains things like near-death experiences and out of body experiences [8] 

Penrose has termed his theoretical model of microtubule consciousness the Orchestrated Objective Reduction Theory, commonly referred to as ORCH-OR.  Although ORCH-OR has been widely challenged by the scientific community, numerous researchers, including anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff staunchly defend it. As Hameroff asserts, nobody has landed a serious blow to it [ORCH-OR]. It’s very viable. [9]

It remains medically inexplicable for lucid consciousness to occur during a time when no measurable brain activity exists. Van Lommel compares the brain in this state to a computer that has been disconnected from its power supply, unplugged, and all its circuits disabled.[10]  Quantum mechanics provides a theoretical framework supporting the validity of non-materialism and the near-death experience. It is this author’s hope that quantum mechanics will finally bridge the gap between science and spirituality.


As academic neurosurgeon and near-death experiencer Eben Alexander affirms:

As each of us awakens to the fact that our individual awareness is part of a much grander universal consciousness, humanity will enter the greatest phase in all of recorded history, in which we will gain a deeper understanding of the fundamental nature of all existence.  This will involve the consolidation of wisdom over millennia, a coalescence of science and spirituality, and convergence of the greatest concepts of our existence.  The answers lie within us all.[11]




[1] Van Lommel, Pim. Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 2010; ix

[2] Blackmore, Susan. Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences. Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 1993; 283-84


[3] Van Lommel, Pim. Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 2010,  xiii

[4] Kuhn, TS. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1962. Print. N.p.

[5] Van Lommel, Pim. About the Continuity of Our Consciousness. Adv Exp Med Biol.; 2004; 550: 115-132.

[6] Wolf, Fred A. The Soul and Quantum Physics. In Experiencing the Soul. Carlsbad Hay House, 1998. Print.

[7] Van Lommel, Pim. Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience. New York: HarperCollins. 2010

[8] Hameroff, Stuart. Interview, Through The Wormhole, Science Channel, October, 2012.

[9] http://www.sott.net/article/252984-Scientists-offer-quantum-theory-of-souls-existence

[10] Ibid, Van Lommel, 166.

[11] Alexander, Eben. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.  New York: Simon & Schuster. 2012; 145.