A Summary Review of the NDE
By Will Hart 5/18/15
“I was no longer a body floating above the pool. I became time and space. I could see the entire universe and it was not like when you watch the Nova channel. It was different because I was the universe. I was everything…”
NDE experiences show us that consciousness is not a product of the brain because it separates from the body. But we have problem and that is that we do not know exactly what consciousness is in any scientific way. That of course presents a contradiction; we are using a word-concept to describe something that is itself, an unknown.
We are doing this while unconsciously acting like it is a known. Science has only in recent decades undertaken serious investigations into consciousness and there are as yet no conclusive results.
In the three- dimensional realm we assume that there is a separate entity experiencing consciousness, an observer observing things and events. Additionally, events occurring in time are used to distinguish these phenomena.
Yet none of this seems to apply to the state of pure, disembodied consciousness as the opening quote reveals. The one thing that all NDE reports agree upon is the separation of consciousness, a state of lucid awareness, from the body.
However beyond that, while
there are a number of commonalties that are reported, there are also wide
variations. Where does consciousness go? Is it to a non-physical dimension that
we can in any way compare to the dimensions we know in the material universe?
Some people report soaring off into starry space, others of going through a tunnel, while many travel towards a light and yet others find themselves in a black void. Atheists report seeing spiritual beings even God, paradoxically, many believers do not meet either. The descriptions of the ‘other side’ vary so much that they are bewildering.
In fact, there does not seem to be anything parallel to what we would call a place here on earth, no spiritual Golden City on a Hill where everyone goes, so to speak. This suggests that the ‘other side’ does not have any form or structure, which indicates that whatever is perceived is a projection of consciousness itself.
In other words, a GPS tracking system would be of no use during an NDE episode.
Can a mind that is conditioned in the framework of space and time – in which discrete objects and events exist -- grasp this? That does seem at all possible at least for a mind based on memories, time and thought processes. In the end, the mind is a material process, the product of sensations and memory.
This poses a problem for both NDE reporters as well as those trying to make sense of their reports. Informants can only use language that is itself the reflection of the three-dimensional, separate- observer structure. That system is based upon a linear sense of time, and separate objects existing in space, which is seen as a container.
But Einstein proved that that structure does not, in fact, represent the true nature of what he called the space-time continuum. His equations shattered the traditional paradigm and replaced it with a universe in which everything is interdependent and relative.
There is no space independent
of time, no matter independent of energy. Right away this would tend to support
NDE reports which often fuse objects, events and consciousness into a unity.
Rather than being a bridge for NDE reporters to help them communicate their experiences, language ends up being a barrier. That is the case because the word-concepts are automatically processed, by reviewers, into the conscious mind, which instantly translates them into three-dimensional, linear experience.
The language based mind has no context for a timeless state or an observer being the thing that is observed. It does not compute. When an NDE report claims, I saw a light, the mind knows what that is and it can accept it.
However, whatever the person reporting experienced during an OBE cannot be equated with our sensory experience of light. Neither can anything else that is reported and seems familiar, we have to be wary of transposing NDE accounts into our conventional frame of reference.
It is interesting to note that virtually all NDE reports contain references to visually oriented experiences, i.e., light or darkness, colors. Auditory oriented references are also mentioned, like hearing music, but less often. Then we find that a very much smaller number make references to tactile sensations, tastes or smells.
This brings up the possibility that consciousness may operate like a holographic projector. Alternatively, that pure consciousness is entirely holographic. We know that the hologram we see is not really three- dimensional; but knowing that does not stop it from appearing to be so.
“In its pure form, holography requires the use of laser light for illuminating the subject and for displaying the finished hologram, relying solely on the optical phenomena of interference and diffraction. Under optimal conditions, in a side-by-side comparison a holographic image is visually indistinguishable from the actual subject, if both are lit just as they were at the time of recording…”
Of course the analogy is a rough one but it conveys a possible frame of reference that does not immediately translate a non-physical reality into our
3-D material one.
Now for the sake of understanding , and just for the moment, we are accepting that there is no ‘other’ dimension that we can define in any objective way, except to perhaps compare it to limitless space. When disconnected from the body we will also assume formless consciousness then creates and defines a very different kind of reality.
That reality lacks time and/or objects with boundaries as we know them. Then as the NDE reporter is faced with trying to convey the nature of that reality they find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Almost all NDE reports note that words cannot describe the ‘other side’ with any accuracy.
Perhaps we could make this more understandable by comparing it to something very familiar, the way memory functions. We are so immersed in our memories we are almost like fish swimming in water. They come and go every few moments sometimes in great floods, so real some trigger strong emotions.
Memories seem very real, much like holograms. But if you stop and try to focus on one you find that it is indeed very holographic. I can picture the stream flowing into the lake where I often go. I seem to see it, but where? I am not seeing it with my eyes, so it is not a direct, sensory experience.
We ask: how can an NDE reporter see anything without eyes, nervous system and brain? Yet, we ‘see’ images without eyes in our memories.
We think, or have been taught to think, that our memories exist within our brains. But how is this apparent image inside of my brain? I can have my eyes open and still seem to ‘see’ it’; but the person standing next to me does not see anything. Though it is not visible to anyone else, like the hologram, it appears to be three-dimensional to me.
However, it clearly does not have any real dimensionality at all. Exactly what
memory is and how it moves so quickly to formulate images, recreate sounds,
etc., remains a mystery. But it is so
familiar we take it for granted as if we, or some group of scientists, fully
understood it. However, such is not the case.
The holographic paradigm is not the author’s invention. Several decades ago two scientists Karl Pribam, a neuroscientist and David Bohm, a physicist, collaborated and came up with the holographic theory of memory.
Pribram was originally struck by the fact that information about an image point is distributed throughout a hologram, such that each piece of a hologram contains some information about the entire image.
Bohm, a protégé of Albert Einstein, had been working on a physics theory he called the implicate order. He had made a number of significant contributions to physics, particularly to quantum mechanics and relativity theory in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Though very well known during his lifetime, he died in 1992, Bohm tried to take physics in a direction that many in the field did not want to go. In fact, it has not gone that way. He delved into the realms of thought and consciousness. To him there was an explicate order that conventional physics described as the observable and measurable, space-time continuum.
However, he also theorized that there was also a hidden, measureless, implicate order underlying this material dimension. Perhaps we could compare that to the dimensionless (dimension) of NDE experience, albeit, in a very vague, imprecise way.
The collaboration produced a theory (Holographic Memory) of brain and memory function; based upon the principle that memory is stored in the brain much the same way that information is stored on a three dimensional holographic image.
Unfortunately, the physics formulas they used to justify the theory are far too technical to try to present here and the author is no physicist.
Still this is very important to this discussion because neuroscientists
believed, until quite recently, that memories were stored in specific parts of
the brain. But current research has shown that not to be true.
Neuroscientists now believe that memories are distributed throughout the brain and not in well-defined compartments.
In fact, as to where memories are physically stored scientists now admit there is no solid answer. Neurologists have done studies in which they teach a mouse a trick then they removed the right half of its brain, and it still remembered the trick. Then, they removed the left half, and it still remembered the trick!
People with brain damage have provided similar outcomes though obviously not under those kinds of controlled conditions. The deduction is that the memory remains intact, independent of the functioning of any physical part of the brain.
Now this is rather strong support for the holographic memory theory. From a strictly materialistic point of view we could conclude that ALL memory must exist in ALL parts of the brain equally at ALL times. That is exactly how holograms function as well.
But what if we look at it from the perspective of pure consciousness instead of from the brain-based point of view, what happens? It actually makes more sense to have memory stored in consciousness rather than being distributed by neurons neurotransmitters and dendrites (electrochemically) to all parts of the brain.
Memories just seem to work too fast to be based upon electrical, biochemical signal transmissions instantly traversing the brain. We walked through how memory works above but you can verify for yourself, by becoming super-aware of the process at any moment.
Now we have to ask then what is the brain’s main role in terms of sensory functions and behavior?
We generally think of the brain as the command center where we carry out
conscious, executive functions. The brain thinks, analyzes, strategizes and
However, it has a more primary role as a filtering instrument in terms of sensory input. To properly encode a memory, you must first be paying attention. Since you cannot pay attention to everything simultaneously; most of what you encounter every moment is simply filtered out; and only a few select stimuli pass into your conscious awareness.
That whole process occurs before the executive roles kick into play. The filtered stimulus is stored as memories and it is obvious they are much more limited than we generally imagine. Our conscious minds and egos further filter that data into a self- image, personal history and world view.
What we think of as constituting our most sophisticated machinery, our brain-mind, is largely made up of a series of pass/no pass electrochemical gates. Our brains are constantly filtering out the universe, at large, so that we can function in our limited domains in reaction to whatever environmental signals are coming at us.
The mind is often used as a synonym for consciousness. However, that is a serious mistake that leads to major misunderstandings. The mind is derived from sensory data and its contents are based in memory.
However, consciousness includes our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, sensory experience, memories and so forth.
As noted previously, the mind is rooted in the brain’s three-dimensional, time-based experiences, consciousness is not. If consciousness were dependent upon the brain, it could not separate from the body -- with full awareness -- and there would not be any NDE reports to study
At this point we have come full circle to the mystery of consciousness; this is the ultimate conundrum wrapped within an enigma, what is consciousness?
Well, here we return to the fish swimming in the sea. Is the fish aware of the
water, the medium, that it has been living in every moment of its life? We might
constructively consider that consciousness, to us, is a similar transparent
It is everywhere and nowhere in particular, permeating and containing at the same time, it sustains us and yet we are part of it, using and interacting with it, a seamless whole as it were.
The auditory experiences that occur on the ‘other side’ are also revealing. People report hearing music but are they really? We also “hear” music which we have memorized but not with our ears. We can hum or sing what we seem to be hearing and make, at once, audible for all to hear.
But what are we actually hearing in memory alone? It is certainly not a direct, audible sensory input it is an encoded memory of one.
Consciousness could do the very same thing in the disembodied state.
This is pointed up by the fact that when people report communicating with a loved one, they often stop and mention that we are to understand that it was telepathic. It is as if they are suddenly aware that no verbal communication in the ordinary sense is possible in pure consciousness.
Another striking and somewhat paradoxical feature of the NDE phenomenon is the Life Review. A large majority of cases mention this aspect of the experience. It would indicate that conscience is a central component of consciousness. What makes this paradoxical is the fact that most reporters mention that the ‘other side’ is a non-judgmental domain.
We have several other important issues we are going to consider here the first is whether the ‘other side’ described in NDE reports is actually eternity or not.
By its very definition the NDE experience falls short of final, physical death. It is a temporary state even if it feels like eternity to the person experiencing it. This is reinforced by the fact that the majority of informants report that, while they have left their bodies behind, they are a step removed from eternity.
The beings they meet are beyond that step in actual eternity. It is as if the
NDE takes them into a theater lobby, but not all the way into the theater to see
the really Big Show.
Some describe being in a waiting room, others of going through a tunnel that ends at some kind of threshold they cannot cross. Very many people try to gain entry but they invariably fail and are told that it is not their time. Almost all report being disappointed by having to return to their bodies.
Another apparently innate feature of consciousness is emotional content. Most reports contain references to the informant having had very intense feelings during the experience. This somewhat surprising since science insists emotions are based in the limbic system, the primitive part of the brain.
These facts raise very many questions about the true nature of the NDE episode. Could it be a preview, like a foreshadowing in a narrative, of a much more elaborate after death reality of which it is just a bare glimpse?
Serious research into this field is still in an embryonic stage and though much has been learned, infinitely more remains to be discovered.