March 10, 2018

Life after Death, A journey into The Unknown

It was 4:30 in the morning and this man was preparing himself for his daily chores when he felt a sudden pain in the back. It was excruciating. He suffered a grand mal seizure and passed into unconsciousness. The doctors put him into ventilation with a diagnosis of meningo-encephalitis. He was in deep coma. The CSF glucose level read 1. He was as good as dead, with a total neocortical shutdown. But it was in this abyss of unconsciousness Dr. Eben Alexander discovered the hyper-reality of the superconscious. And he came back, to recount his tryst with the unfathomable.

What is life, what happens when we die, do we really die, or does the soul (or whatever) continue to live on? These are indeed quite hard to comprehend or imagine. Erwin Schroedinger, the renowned quantum physicist, in his book ‘What is Life’, assumed that living organisms defied entropy by “‘drinking orderliness’ from a suitable environment” and thus avoiding itself falling into the decay of atomic chaos. Could it be that we are drawing from a single super-conscious entity by means of some kind of tuning in much the same way we tune our radios?

From a human perspective each life can be said to have its own unique consciousness, essentially the “I”ness which seems intimately connected with the physical body. This might automatically point to the possible presence of as many souls as there are physical selves. Schrodinger surmised that the apparent plurality of souls was nothing but an illusion, the same way we perceive so many images in an array of mirrors and he drew a parallel to the mystic Indian Maya.

Now, let us go back to Dr. Alexander’s Near Death Experience (NDE) revelation. He felt like he was a speck on a butterfly’s wing, and he wafted like a breeze from flowers to flowers amid a sweet hymn-like melody on its wings. There were countless other butterflies around, flowers were blossoming right in front of his eyes, indescribably beautiful waterfalls and “angels”. He also saw a beautiful orb of light, he was with the Divine presence! All this while he was in deep coma with a Glasgow coma scale of 6 to 7.

Could all this arise from O2 lack, CO2 build-up, from previous religious conviction or something psychological? Or was it simply the manifestation of the diseased state? Dr. Alexander, a reputed academic neurosurgeon himself, strongly dismisses this. The ‘hyper real’ state which was so vivid and crisp, he argued, could just not simply occur in any other case or disease, or in ketamine induced dissociative anesthesia. Also NDE experiencers across different cultures spread far apart narrated a very similar incident and it did not tally with the person’s education or religious background. Eben himself had no previous bias, rather he was the typical science guy sort. There had to be life beyond death and he was certain that he witnessed that.

So, does all this conflict with science? Does or can consciousness/soul reside outside of our brain or our physical realm? While purists would stick to the reductionist approach that soul existed only within the realms of the brain, Dr. Alexander thinks otherwise: “I think part of the problem is it’s like the guy looking for his keys under the streetlight. Reductive materialists are under the streetlight because that’s where they can see things.” Thus it would be foolish to analyze such an esoteric matter in the light of prevailing science. Our existing knowledge about neurons flounders helplessly to explain how a single neuron can recognize objects or landmarks (Halle Berry neuron).

Even panpsychism, the theory that proposes that soul pervades everywhere and everything, is a good candidate. According to Integrated Information Theory (IIT), any system that has Integrated information above zero has consciousness, and the noted neuroscientist Christof Koch argues that the Internet could be 'conscious'. Recent advances in artificial intelligence research may also throw light in this regard and even radicalize the definition of  'consciousness'. Also, consciousness or qualia could be explained by quantum mechanics as Schrodinger suggested. A more recent and fascinating theory called ‘M’ theory even hints at multiple universes separated by membranes. Do we go to another universe consisting of say 11 dimensions after death? Maybe it’s very close by but we can’t grasp it from our 4-D world.

Elon Musk, SpaceX and Tesla CEO, firmly believes that we live in a simulation created by a superintelligence; and that all our concepts, life and everything is nothing but a video game like program being played by the Master. So, is life all illusion?

Again our body parts don't die at the same time. Some body parts still remain active and this is exploited in organ transplantation. PCs often collapse when its "registry", a database which communicates with low-level settings, is corrupted. Could death be the result of a breakdown or corruption of the ‘registry’database in some hitherto unknown ‘hive’s of our system?  Or is death some kind of a link failure so that we are in some way not being able to drink orderliness from somewhere?

Finally, there may not be any life after death at all. It could be just another wishful thinking. Or we could even be both alive and dead at the same time in the limbo of Superposition (Schrodinger's cat?). Or worse, life could be hellish after death! No one really comes back to tell their tales! What do you say?

I have intentionally not touched upon the vast but very interesting mythological tales about afterlife and reincarnation to keep this article short.

There is nothing over which a free man ponders less than death; his wisdom is, to meditate not on death but on life - Ethics of Spinoza

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