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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Life and Death

I have written before on the subject of consciousness and new theories about what it means to be conscious.  The other day I spent a few hours reading and researching a related subject many of us have probably spent some time thinking about—what happens when we die? It is, of course, a subject which is laden with emotional, scientific and religious baggage; not something we can easily broach and certainly nothing that we can in any way resolve –at least to everyone’s satisfaction.


Nevertheless, an article on the subject published in a medical journal got my attention with a provocative story about patient one in the nascent field of near death experience (NDE) research.  I imagine most are familiar with the folklore around NDE, the experience of a long tunnel of light, a recounting of one’s past, visits from familiar faces and an overall experience of joy and peace.  It is a common description that with no further proof or examination is sufficient for many people to conclude that there is life after death and it sounds a lot like Heaven. 


Parapsychologists, neurologists, psychiatrists and a host of other scientists and medical experts have somewhat different conclusions about NDE and the closely related phenomenon of veridical memory more commonly known as out of body experience that some who have clinically died and been resuscitated report. But the latest NDE research suggests yet another take on the subject somewhere between the spiritual and the current body of scientific theory.


Patient one, along with a handful of others contributed to this new set of questions and findings in an unusual way, their brain activity following what we have previously thought of as end of life was monitored and recorded with new and highly sensitive technology with surprising results. It turns out that long after the heart stops beating, blood stops circulating, and oxygen no longer reaches the brain causing nearly immediate cell death—the brain is coming alive.  Not only coming alive but operating at a level of activity many times greater than normal.  The question—among many others it begs is what is consciousness if not simply a brain function?  What is the animating force that for as long as 8-20 minutes is communicating with a brain that by all medical definition is dead?


As you might imagine there is a mountain of speculation and no real answers, although it has led some scientists to assert that the real secret of what happens when we die will be revealed within the next decade as a result of this new information.  The theories are many and far too complex for a digest like this but the prevailing thought seems to be that some form of communication is taking place.  During this interval where the brain is dead but also alive and operating at a supercharged level, a high concentration of gamma waves can be observed and at least some scientists hold that this is consciousness—not thought, or sentience emanating from within our bodies but a natural flow of cosmic energy.


Those inclined to spiritual explanation find cause for their view in this theory.  They remind us of scripture, John 1:1, which says “In the beginning there was the Word and the Word was God”.  The meaning of the Word in John is derived from a translation of the Greek word logos that is interpreted by some to mean Jesus, but logos is used more than 300 times in scripture in a variety of contexts and meanings.  In some of those instances scholars suggest its meaning is utterance or more to the point, breath, as in God breathed the world into existence.


As tantalizing as that explanation may be, we still do not know precisely what is happening—what this new finding means and in the strictest sense what it suggests about consciousness—the essence of life itself.  No doubt this research will lead to new studies, further research and hopefully a deeper understanding of life itself.  Wherever you come out on the subject all I can suggest is you take a deep breath, relax and become one with the universe.

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