Thoughts On Life After Death – Does ‘Consciousness’ Survive When We Die?
Some fascinating research has been conducted over the past several years that make the discussion of life after death quite interesting.
The interviewees were Rupert Sheldrake, Bernard Carr, Peter Fenwick, David Lorimer, Iain McGilchrist, Matthew Manning and Pim van Lommel. Van Lommel’s response to my opening question, which asked directly about the afterlife, was a little startling: ‘I never talk about life after death,’ he said. My heart sank a little. Had I got hold of the wrong Dutch cardiologist? But no, it appeared that what he meant is that ‘life after death’ may only temporarily resemble life as we know it here and now; more importantly the quantum ‘non-locality’ of the other side means that it is without time and can be considered to ‘contain’ past, present, and future simultaneously. It is ‘a space or dimension without place or time.’ The simultaneity of the Life Review during many NDEs is well known and that may give us a hint as to what the ‘infinite consciousness’ that apparently awaits us (while not of course really ‘awaiting’ anything) might be like. Many people, van Lommel continued, have experienced non-duality, non-locality, greater or ‘cosmic’ consciousness. That is the ‘thing’ that is always there, timelessly; it is the incomprehensible greater ‘place’ with which we interface only at very special times. From the perspective of this quantum zone life and death are irrelevant concepts. ‘Life’ in this present world is a species of illusion that we go through, indeed that we actually create. Life ‘over there’ however is certainly not ‘life as we know it.’ Interestingly, van Lommel is quite happy to accept that NDE survivors cannot find the right language to describe their experiences adequately. Of course not. Our language is a tool for the here-and-now, for space and time. As is the case with quantum physics, we are able to mouth words about cosmic experiences, but the words have difficulty in demonstrating any significant content. I will return to van Lommel at the end of this but for now come with me to visit Peter Fenwick, who also managed to take the feet from under me when I questioned him; in his case the moment came after a good hour of explanation of his research into End-of-Life Experiences when he said, with the smaller of his two smiles, ‘But we do not have a personal self. We are embedded in the matrix of the universe which is our consciousness.’ Different words for pretty much what van Lommel was saying, then, and incidentally what Neale Donald Walsch says repeatedly in his Conversations with God series (‘There is only one of us’). Fenwick suggests, following Alain Forget, that we can be ‘awakened’ here in this life (to moments of cosmic consciousness) and says that the ego ‘casts a pall over our consciousnesses.’ We are parts of a whole and need to ‘crystallise the light body’ as we do in dreams in similar states.
The ‘limited ego’ is a ‘false self’ but even a glimpse of universal consciousness (‘available right now!’) shows us a bigger self. In extreme NDE cases, Peter pointed out, people seem to go very far, ‘to the point where the illusion of separateness is about to collapse completely.’ In this life we merely make up our stories of life and death. When we recognise that the real is universal consciousness, questions of Survival become non-questions because there is really no birth and no death, just consciousness. Religions, seeking vainly to sift the saved from the non-saved, have lost their spiritual nature by not recognising this universality. Bernard Carr filled in some of the detail of this radical and rather Buddhist conception of the afterlife. He suggested a ‘hierarchy of dimensions’ that may lead up to or end in ultimate consciousness (‘anatta’ – the empty centre of the onion) but meanwhile there are astral levels and reincarnation possibilities as we all head for what must, by definition, be the only possible goal. For Carr there are different levels of space to accommodate these dimensions and the mind creates the world both here and hereafter where a species of ‘dream-world’ awaits us. For Rupert Sheldrake, we already know what it will be like to be disembodied because we have the experience of possessing a ‘dream-body’ at night when we sleep. And, of course, for a physicist like Carr, everything comes down to energy, that is frequencies. Already for Sheldrake there are, famously, morphic fields in which the unknown energies, perhaps those of the ‘non-local’ quantum ‘world,’ operate. And all this, to go back to van Lommel’s opening remarks, is here as may become apparent after death when we may begin to ‘know the place for the first time.’ Sheldrake also observed, as many now would, that, for a while at least, we may get the Life after Death that we expect. We can move beyond our entrapment in desires and the unreal and come to expect something higher and more real, but then again we may not escape from our present lives all at once. He approves of imagination in the shape of myths, fairytales, and dreams, and points out that these are fields that are not based in material reality.
They enact some of the possibilities contained in the infinite quantum field. Like Carr, Sheldrake is ‘not dualistic,’ ‘not a super-naturalist’; there is no separate realm into which we can ‘go.’ Mathew Manning, speaking from the deepest and widest experience of things psychic, spiritual, or, as I would now say, ‘non-local,’ stressed that knowledge of Life after Death is not ordinary knowledge. In his view we learn what we need to know in this life and then move on to less knowable realms. He is also more interested in energy than in ‘life’ as a metaphor for Survival. His famous psychic recreation of Durer’s drawings, and of many other works of art and texts in languages unknown to him, are not so much, he says, ‘Durer coming through’ (the older version of Life after Death perhaps) as a psychic picking-up of the energy of the original moment of artistic creation; it is less a matter of an individual’s survival and more a matter of energy circulating as the scientists tell us it does. By this time I felt that some sort of a pattern was building up.
The new paradigm is perhaps only subtly different from the old one but it seemed to be emerging with some new and useful emphases.
The claims now made about Survival are less personal than they used to be, for one thing, and the respect for the ideas of quantum-physics more solid. David Lorimer, for instance, told me that he sees Life after Death as ‘another state of consciousness’ in which it may be ‘a less distinctive personality that is you.’ He says he is less concerned now with the survival of his own personality as such. We may come to see that each ‘personality’ is ‘an expression of the universal.’ He quotes Betty Kovacs: ‘Birth is a coming into being of form (‘me’) and death a dissolution of form.’ Cosmic consciousness would be the ‘dissolution of all boundaries.’ We are like blocks of ice floating in the Arctic Ocean of universal consciousness; there is development, evolution, both here and hereafter, but we all belong to and return to the same sea in the end. This is not new, of course, it belongs in Hinduism and Buddhism where we become more ‘ourselves’ by becoming less our individual selves; it is also, according to Lorimer, the inevitable direction of consciousness studies as pursued since the founding of the Journal of Consciousness Studies in 1994.
The most ‘materialist’ person I interviewed was Iain McGilchrist. For him, ‘materiality is an important part of any kind of being we might have’; as he pointed out to me, ‘the universe has gone to an awful lot of trouble to produce this material world.’ Surely a useful corrective. If, to put it bluntly, cosmic consciousness is so terrific, why did it have to add us, messy as we are, not to mention the immense quantum charade of the universe, to what it already had? Why bother to Big Bang if you could just go on being perfect? I know that there are good answers to these questions but McGilchrist’s approach reminds us not to fall into the trap of treating spirituality as if our dinners, our doings, and our bodies didn’t matter at all. But McGilchrist too is singing off the same page of our now-slightly-revised hymn book. As he put it, ‘the notion that one would be forever oneself is an appalling idea.’ For him consciousness ‘pre-exists us and isn’t created by our brains; our brains simply transmit or transduce it.’ But there is and always will be an ‘I’ – it is ‘God,’ we may come to see, who is the ‘Great I’ that is all of us.
The publication in 2010 of Pim van Lommel’s Consciousness Beyond Life has been tremendously convenient for this small investigation. His book, subtitled accurately ‘The Science of the Near-Death Experience,’ seems to me to effect the shift in thinking that we have needed. It is not a huge shift but it should now change the quality of the debate. Encouragingly, the interviews which I conducted before Pim’s book had been translated into English fit very well with its proposals. After undertaking them and reading Pim’s book I begin to discern the outlines of the altered paradigm. Here are some of its main features: ——————– Written by Lance St John Butler, who is a Professor of British Literature in the University of Pau. An art piece and lunar calendar all in one. This calendar features moon phases for every day of the month for the entirety of 2020. Hologrpahic foil set on a dark 11" x 11" poster makes the moon's phases shimmer as light strikes them in this unique .
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