Reincarnation and after death has baffled many. Abrahamics have vehemently denied it for long, while Eastern Mystic traditions have woven it in their entire Spiritual tapestry. Now, as more and more scientific research into this topic and subject comes in, more people are revisiting the topic. Faiths, that hitherto, outrightly rejected it may be forced to re-evaluate their Spiritual paradigm.
Sam Parnia, leader of the Human Consciousness Project’s AWARE study, has most significantly, been running experiments. Why is his work so interesting? Because he practices resuscitation medicine. His entire job is to “bring back the dead”. And, these “dead” don’t just stumble back without a “baggage”. They come with stories. Stories that are remarkably similar. Interestingly, not just similar, but they align with the experience of the Divine Universal Consciousness that Mystics of the East have been talking about for ages.
Sam Parnia practices resuscitation medicine. In other words, he helps bring people back from the dead — and some return with stories. Their tales could help save lives, and even challenge traditional scientific ideas about the nature of consciousness.
“The evidence we have so far is that human consciousness does not become annihilated,” said Parnia, a doctor at Stony Brook University Hospital and director of the school’s resuscitation research program. “It continues for a few hours after death, albeit in a hibernated state we cannot see from the outside.”
Resuscitation medicine grew out of the mid-twentieth century discovery of CPR, the medical procedure by which hearts that have stopped beating are revived. Originally effective for a few minutes after cardiac arrest, advances in CPR have pushed that time to a half-hour or more.
New techniques promise to even further extend the boundary between life and death. At the same time, experiences reported by resuscitated people sometimes defy what’s thought to be possible. They claim to have seen and heard things, though activity in their brains appears to have stopped.
Now even the physicists are jumping into the whole question of being and our “substance”.
Soul, Nervous system and Quantum Physics
A ground-breaking new work is being done with respect to brain and Quantum state. The findings, in their initial state surely, are extremely interesting.
A near-death experience happens when quantum substances which form the soul leave the nervous system and enter the universe at large, according to a remarkable theory proposed by two eminent scientists.
According to this idea, consciousness is a program for a quantum computer in the brain which can persist in the universe even after death, explaining the perceptions of those who have near-death experiences.
Dr Stuart Hameroff, Professor Emeritus at the Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology and the Director of the Centre of Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, has advanced the quasi-religious theory.
It is based on a quantum theory of consciousness he and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose have developed which holds that the essence of our soul is contained inside structures called microtubules within brain cells.
They have argued that our experience of consciousness is the result of quantum gravity effects in these microtubules, a theory which they dubbed orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR).
Thus it is held that our souls are more than the interaction of neurons in the brain. They are in fact constructed from the very fabric of the universe – and may have existed since the beginning of time.
This work is still in the pioneering stage. But let us look at some of the work that has already been done and is pushing the envelope on this topic.
Near Death Experiences and Experiments
As per a Gallup Poll, 8 million Americans have had Near Death Experiences (NDEs) [ Mauro, James “Bright lights, big mystery”. Psychology Today, July 1992.] So, worldwide, the NDE and the related experiences are widespread (in millions) and have been studied by many medical and science practitioners every year.
The NDEs of most the people have a lot in common, and the way they change after their experiences is remarkable. But we aren’t interested in that. We are especially interested in a unique phenomenon called “Out of Body Experience” (OBE), where a person, whose body is dead and Brain has ceased to work, remembers not only SEEING what happened in the Operation Room (sight), but also HEARD what people said (Sound). This all happened when the person’s eyes and ears were specifically made dysfunctional.
In 1991, for example, there was a case of Pam Reynolds, where she was brought to the operation because of a giant artery aneurysm in her brain. Neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona attended to her. He was a specialist and pioneer in hypothermic cardiac arrest—a daring surgical procedure nicknamed “Operation Standstill.”
Basically, her body temperature was to be lowered to a level where her brain and heart would stop functioning and then after surgery, she would be brought back to life. Prior to the surgery, she was prepared for it thus:
Pam was brought into the operating room at 7:15 a.m., she was given general anesthesia, and she quickly lost conscious awareness. At this point, Spetzler and his team of more than 20 physicians, nurses, and technicians went to work. They lubricated Pam’s eyes to prevent drying, and taped them shut. They attached EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of her cerebral cortex. Theyinserted small, molded speakers into her ears and secured them with gauze and tape. The speakers would emit repeated 100-decibel clicks—approximately the noise produced by a speeding express train—eliminating outside sounds and measuring the activity of her brainstem.
Eyes and Ears were TAPED shut!
But what she told them about what she KNEW of what happened during the surgery is mind-boggling:
Although she no longer had use of her eyes and ears, she described her observations in terms of her senses and perceptions. “I thought the way they had my head shaved was very peculiar,” she said. “I expected them to take all of the hair, but they did not.” She also described the Midas Rex bone saw (“The saw thing that I hated the sound of looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it … ”) and the dental-drill sound it made with considerable accuracy.
Meanwhile, Spetzler was removing the outermost membrane of Pamela’s brain, cutting it open with scissors. At about the same time, a female cardiac surgeon was attempting to locate the femoral artery in Pam’s right groin. Remarkably, Pam later claimed to remember a female voice saying, “We have a problem. Her arteries are too small.” And then a male voice: “Try the other side.” Medical records confirm this conversation, yet Pam could not have heard them.
Pam’s blood vessels were indeed too small to accept the abundant blood flow requested by the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, so at 10:50 a.m., a tube was inserted into Pam’s left femoral artery and connected to the cardiopulmonary bypass machine. The warm blood circulated from the artery into the cylinders of the bypass machine, where it was cooled down before being returned to her body. Her body temperature began to fall, and at 11:05 a.m. Pam’s heart stopped. Her EEG brain waves flattened into total silence. A few minutes later, her brain stem became totally unresponsive, and her body temperature fell to a sepulchral 60 degrees Fahrenheit. At 11:25 a.m., the team tilted up the head of the operating table, turned off the bypass machine, and drained the blood from her body. Pamela Reynolds was clinically dead.
So, this case – and it is one of the best recorded case in history – opens up an important set of questions and areas of inquiry that cannot be satisfied with existing remarkably creative, yet inadequate theories. The article* sums it up in the best way possible.
The scientific NDE studies performed over the past decades indicate that heightened mental functions can be experienced independently of the body at a time when brain activity is greatly impaired or seemingly absent (such as during cardiac arrest). Some of these studies demonstrate that blind people can have veridical perceptions during OBEs associated with an NDE. Other investigations show that NDEs often result in deep psychological and spiritual changes.
These findings strongly challenge the mainstream neuroscientific view that mind and consciousness result solely from brain activity. As we have seen, such a view fails to account for how NDErs can experience—while their hearts are stopped—vivid and complex thoughts and acquire veridical information about objects or events remote from their bodies.
NDE studies also suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality that normally is not accessible to our senses and awareness.
(Article is excerpted from the book “The Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives by Mario Beauregard, who is an associate research professor at the Departments of Psychology and Radiology and the Neuroscience Research Center at the University of Montreal)
Near Death Experiences, Soul and Rebirth
If body is not the unit of consciousness, but a mere container of it, and this consciousness lives on – independently of the body – after it is gone, then the rebirth becomes more plausible. Coupled with the NDEs and the scientific work being done around it, there is a wealth of cases which point to people who do remarkably remember their past births and can recount details of places, events and people they haven’t ever met, heard or talked to with amazing accuracy. Hindus have always pointed out to the remarkable difference in the fates of all the people to suggest that – given the transcendence of the soul – the different capabilities and limitations are remnants of the past lives. And with that understanding comes the profound underlying truth, that “God doesn’t play dice”. Everyone is equal in the “Inner context”, whatever be the outer manifestation of capabilties.
Ian Stevenson has done remarkable research in this area of Reincarnation or Rebirth.
Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, from the University of Virginia, investigated many reports of young children who claimed to remember a past life. He conducted more than 2,500 case studies over a period of 40 years and published twelve books, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect. Stevenson methodically documented each child’s statements and then identified the deceased person the child identified with, and verified the facts of the deceased person’s life that matched the child’s memory. He also matched birthmarks and birth defects to wounds and scars on the deceased, verified by medical records such as autopsy photographs, in Reincarnation and Biology.
Stevenson searched for disconfirming evidence and alternative explanations for the reports, and believed that his strict methods ruled out all possible “normal” explanations for the child’s memories. However, a significant majority of Stevenson’s reported cases of reincarnation originated in Eastern societies, where dominant religions often permit the concept of reincarnation. Following this type of criticism, Stevenson published a book on European Cases of the Reincarnation Type. Other people who have undertaken reincarnation research include Jim B. Tucker, Satwant Pasricha, Godwin Samararatne, and Erlendur Haraldsson.
His main criticism – including by those like Carl Sagan – has been ” there is no mechanism known to modern science that would enable a personality to survive death and travel to another body, barring the idea of biocentrism“. In wake of the current experimentation being done in the world of today with careful scientific rigor, and where empirical research (including theoretical research) is indeed pointing to such a “mechanism”, maybe it is time to look at Reincarnation, Consciousness, and Life Beyond Death with much more seriousness than it has been.
Btw, it is not a coincidence that the experiences of the NDE survivors completely mirror the central precepts of the Hindu (and other Mystics) so closely. What Hindus have long said to be the experience in the state of Samadhi or Enlightenment, is the experience of a person who comes back from dead.
- An intense feeling of unconditional love
- A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world
- Transcendence of egotic and spatiotemporal boundaries, being one with the Universe and the Light.
The only difference being that the Hindu Mystics found a way to mimic Life After Death withoutdying. Experiencing the transcendent reality while being alive. Fully alive.
Featured Image courtesy: Flickr / Chris Hawes