A Scientific Case for the Human Soul?

Quantum Theory is still in its relative infancy within the entire discipline of science, although it finds its roots as far back as Plato and Descartes. But if some of the notions being pursued by contemporary scientists prove true, it may result in a convergence of science, art, philosophy and even religion that the world never imagined possible.

I’ll admit from the start that investigating the literature for this particular article literally made my head hurt. To full conceive of all that is discussed and examined in Quantum Theory takes a scientific sophistication that I lack. But fortunately there are some out there who are trying to make these complex ideas more digestible, without a string of letters after our names.

One such scientist is Stuart Hameroff, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Anesthesiology and Psychology and the Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. To distill a very complex idea down into a few words, the general consensus in science is that consciousness can be attributed to computations conducted within the neurological networks in the brain. Basically, all consciousness can be explained by algorithms, which makes our brains essentially like big, highly sophisticated computers. There are some limitations thus far to this perspective, such as how such algorithms account for things like aesthetic experience, love, and even our sense of smell. Researchers in the area of Artificial Intelligence believe that discovering the algorithmic bases for such phenomena can lead to the construction (given the necessary technology) of an artificial human brain.

However, there are those, like Hameroff, who believe there is more going on than algorithmic computation in the brain. Enter Quantum Theory, which basically looks at the probability of a particle being in a particular point in space-time. Though the particular particle cannot be observed without disrupting the quantum process, the entire process of quantum mechanics actually behaves more like a wave, and is not bound by the traditional laws of physics.

So basically, scientists like Hameroff believe that there are little microtubules in the brain (built from proteins) within which these quantum processes take place independent of the observable neurological processes that we attribute to normal brain activity. So although the two work in partnership to construct the experience of human consciousness, one is not necessarily dependent on the other to function. In fact, Hameroff suggests, such quantum processes might be a part of a larger “proto-consciousness” that has been around since the dawn of the universe.

So what happens when someone dies? Hameroff theorizes that the quantum processes previously taking place within the brain rejoin the larger proto-consciousness that exists in the universe. He proposes that, perhaps, this greater phenomenon of proto-consciousness of which we are a part, is what many would call “God.” Hameroff even proposes that, although such quantum processes are unbound by the physical body when normal brain function stops, those same processes can re-join the physical brain if the subject is revived. However, they return sometimes with some residual information picked up during the out-of-body journey.

This, he says, might help account for the many thousands of out-of-body experiences some report during near-death trauma.

Many in the scientific community are skeptical about such claims, as they do not conform to the traditional models of science. One such skeptic was Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, at least until he was revived from a severe coma after seven days.

“I had always believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death,” says Alexander in a recent Newsweek article. “In the fall of 2008, however, after seven days in a coma during which the human part of my brain, the neocortex, was inactivated, I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.”

By all accounts, every part of Alexander’s brain that is attributed to human consciousness was inactive during his seven days in the coma. Following is an excerpt from the Newsweek article, quoting Dr. Alexander:

There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility. But that dimension—in rough outline, the same one described by countless subjects of near-death experiences and other mystical states—is there. It exists, and what I saw and learned there has placed me quite literally in a new world: a world where we are much more than our brains and bodies, and where death is not the end of consciousness but rather a chapter in a vast, and incalculably positive, journey.

Did Dr. Alexander’s “soul” or proto-consciousness experience things beyond his physical body while his conscious brain was inactive? Or did his mind confabulate the supposed recollections upon his awakening, fumbling to make sense of lost time, filling in a blank space otherwise filled by nothingness?

Will future advances in Quantum Theory bear out Hameroff’s ideas? Or will we ultimately discover that, indeed, the brain is merely a vastly complex computer, whose function can entirely be reduced to a series of mathematical formulas?

I have no idea, of course, but I hope I live long enough to find out, before I experience it all for myself, first-hand.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002976142314 Liesl L. Gray

    My head hurts now.

  • Raman V.R

    I request people who are interested to read Upanishads.

    • SeetaGashti

      Fuck hinduism drinking cow piss and having thousends of GODs including snakes,monkeys and elephants u call it religion…..F*** U

  • zafar ahmed

    One of my relative was in the same condition in 1973. The over bleeding brought him to the coma/ near to death conditions and the last donor i was whose blood was tried in this condition. After hours when he was conscious again, he called me and said that he was in a very vast unbelievable and describable condition and i was feeling very satisfied but returned from that world. He remain very friendly with me after that and died in 2002. He became my father in law in 1982.

    • yourfather

      Hope u kept jerking him off till his death……..

      • Kiotihere

        @yourfather: Your obsession with jerking off is your own, no else is thinking or talking about it, you immature unimaginative twit. Run along now and go play with your little self in private.

  • Mujahid Tabrez Qadri

    A thorough and coherent study of all the relevant verses and key words of the holy Quran (keeping in mind the original words and their all possible meanings) about the nature of the existence of the universe and God, wherein God has been described – as the Eternal sovereign Lord, who created, evolved, fashioned, Originated, designed the universe, and who constricts, expands, preserves, protects, maintains and records whatever there is in the universe, and who is the Light, the Sublime, the manifest, the hidden, the First, the Last, the watchful, the powerful, the mighty, the compelling, the Omnipresent and Omniscient, the self subsisting, the Unique – as well as the verses about the creation of the universe, the coming into existence of heavens and the earth, the existence of the souls from the very beginning, the creation of the human being, the nature of sleep, of death, the revival and resurrection, the infinite life after death, the bliss of Heaven and the torrent of the Hell, etc. can help to understand the mysteries of the soul, the universe and God.

    • Spiritual

      It would be better if you could took some time to extract all that material and post it here rather painting a speech better for a mosque

  • http://twitter.com/PrayerPunk PrayerPunk

    “If some of the notions being pursued by contemporary scientists prove true, it may result in a convergence of science, art, philosophy and even religion,” Talk about a Unified Field Theory!

  • noname63

    Our souls or spirits or whatever one wants to call the energy that animates us and every other living thing can never be destroyed or cease to exist. Energy is eternal. I concur with Christian Piatt that the Universe = protoconsciousness = god and we’re all a small part of It. Why is this concept so hard to accept for some?

  • Dorian Moises Mattar

    LMAO This is nothing but bad science. Dr. Alexander’s experience is a common phenomena that occurs when the brain is lacking oxygen. It’s been proven and done. Move on.