Saturday, August 17, 2013

Consciousness, Near Death Experiences, and Quantum Mechanics

Near Death Experiences

Near death experiences (NDEs) have been extensively documented, both in popular literature and in scientific studies. Though most older studies were retrospective, sometimes interviewing patients years after their experience, several new studies have been conducted prospectively. As reviewed by van Lommel (1), in prospective studies in Holland (2), the US (3), and Britain (4), cardiac arrest patients were interviewed as soon as possible after their resuscitation. Of these, 6-12% (depending on the study) reported an NDE with high enough clarity to be able to describe what they saw. In the Dutch study, for example, 50% of patients with an NDE reported awareness of being dead, 25% had an out-of-body experience, 30% reported moving through a tunnel, 13% had a life review, and 8% experienced a border. Neither the duration of the cardiac arrest, nor the need for intubation, nor induced cardiac arrest in electrophysiological stimulation had any influence on the frequency of NDE. Nor was the frequency of NDE related to the administration of drugs, fear of death before arrest, foreknowledge of NDE, religion or education. The frequency of NDE was higher in patients who were less than 60 years old, who had more than one CPR during their hospital stay, and who had experienced an NDE previously.

All of these patients had electrophysiological evidence of no brain function during the CPR. Many studies in both human and animal models have shown that electrical activity in both the cerebral cortex and the deeper structures of the brain are absent after a very short period of time. The first ischemic changes in the EEG are detected an average of 6.5 seconds, with progression to a flat EEG pattern occurring within 10-20 seconds, after the cardiac arrest (5-8). In all three studies it was concluded that all patients who experienced NDEs had a transient loss of all functions of the cortex and brain stem. Even though these patients were all unconscious with no EEG pattern they experienced clear, logical consciousness (in describing what went on in the room while being resuscitated during their out-of-body experience, the description of the tunnel, light, review of their lives and meeting with dead relatives, even those that some did not know were dead or even that it was their relative - in one case a patient met a man while in another dimension whom he did not know, yet who he found out years later was his dead father).

It has been shown that NDE-like experiences can be induced through electrical stimulation (9), hypercarbia (10), hypoxia during rapid acceleration during training of fighter pilots (11), and various hallucinogenic drugs (12-14). These induced experiences can result in periods of unconsciousness, a feeling of floating and being out-of-body, perception of light or recollections from the past. These recollections, however, are not the global review of one’s life experienced in NDEs but fragmentary and random memories. In addition, the out-of-body sensations do not have the same ability to see and describe the events in the room at the time of the experiment.

Greyson (3), concludes that “No one physiological or psychological model by itself explains all the common features of NDE. The paradoxical occurrence of heightened, lucid awareness and logical thought processes during a period of impaired cerebral perfusion raises particular perplexing questions for our current understanding of consciousness and its relation to brain function. A clear sensorium and complex perceptual processes during a period of apparent clinical death challenge the concept that consciousness is localized exclusively in the brain.”

Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness

Quantum mechanics describes phase-space as an invisible, non-local, higher-dimensional space consisting of fields of probability in which all possible events are available, out of which one is “chosen” by a conscious “observation” which then becomes the objective reality seen. This wave function of unchosen possibilities then either collapses or, in another interpretation, all possibilities exist in other universes in a multiverse model. The world can thus be seen as depending on some sort of subjectivity, a “choice” of a conscious observer. How this choice is made or acted upon has not yet been understood by physicists.

Van Lommel (1) takes this one step further. He makes an analogy between phase-space of quantum mechanics and the eternal consciousness we experience in another dimension, either with NDE or after we die. The “chosen” objective reality of quantum mechanics can be thought of as the physical life we lead. According to Schrodinger, one of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, DNA is an “a-static molecule,” and a-static processes can be seen as quantum mechanical which originate in phase-space(15). Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose describe microtubules in neurons which give rise to quantum coherence states that can be the basis of consciousness (16). Hameroff (17) suggests DNA is a chain of quantum bits (qubits) with quantum superposition of simultaneously zero and one which could function as a quantum antenna with non-local communication with the phase-space dimension.

According to Simon Berkovitch, a professor of Computer Science at the George Washington University, calculations show that the brain does not have the capacity to produce and store all the informational processes of our memories and their associative thoughts, computations, dreams and so on. We would require 10^24 operations per second, which is impossible for our brain (18). This conclusion is further reinforced by Romijn (19). In van Lommel’s model, our brain does not store all our memories. Rather, our brain is merely a conduit from the phase-space dimension, using only the memories and knowledge it requires. In this concept, ultimate consciousness is not a physical phenomenon. Quantum physicists have agreed for some time that consciousness is a vital aspect of quantum physics. Andrei Linde has proposed that consciousness is one of the vital independent forces, perhaps the vital force of existence (20). According to van Lommel,

Life creates the transition from phase-space into our manifest real-space; according to our hypothesis life creates the possibility to receive the fields of consciousness (waves) into the waking consciousness which belongs to our physical body (particles). During life, our consciousness has an aspect of waves as well as of particles, and there is a permanent interaction between these two aspects of consciousness. This concept is a complementary theory, like both the wave and particle aspects of light, and not a dualistic theory. Subjective (conscious) experiences and the corresponding objective physical properties are two fundamentally different manifestations of one and the same underlying deeper reality…The wave aspect of our indestructible consciousness in phase-space, with non-local interconnectedness, is inherently not measurable by physical means. When we die, our consciousness will no longer have an aspect of particles, but only an eternal aspect of waves. (1)

1.     In Brain Death and Disorders of Consciousness. Machado, C. and Shewmon, D.A.., Eds. New York Boston, Dordrecht, London, Moscow: Kluwer Academic/Planum Publishers, Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Adv Exp Med Biol. 2004; 550: 115-132.
2.     Van Lommel W, Van Wees R, Meyers V, Elfferich I. Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a  prospective study in the Netherlands. Lancet 2001;358:2039-2045.
3.     Greyson B. Incidence and correlates of near-death experiences in a cardiac care unit. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 2003;25:269-276.
4.     Parnia S, Waller DG, Yeates R, Fenwick P. A qualitative and quantitative study of the incidence, features and aetiology of near death experiences in cardiac arrest survivors. Resuscitation 2001;48:149-156.
5.     De Vries JW, Bakker PFA, Visser GH, Diephuis JC, A.C. Van Huffelen AC. Changes in cerebral oxygen uptake and cerebral electrical activity during defibrillation threshold testing. Anesth Analg 1998;87:16-20.
6.     Clute H, Levy WJ. Electroencephalographic changes during brief cardiac arrest in humans. Anesthesiology 1990;73:821-825.
7.     Losasso TJ, Muzzi DA, Meyer FB, Sharbrough FW. Electroencephalographic monitoring of cerebral function during asystole and successful cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Anesth Analg 1992;75:12-19.
8.     Parnia S, Fenwick P. Near-death experiences in cardiac arrest: visions of a dying brain or visions of a nes science of consciousness. Review article. Resuscitation 2002;52:5-11
9.     Penfield W. The Excitable Cortex in Conscious Man. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1958.
10.  Meduna LT. Carbon Dioxide Therapy: A Neuropsychological Treatment of Nervous Disorders. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas, 1950.
11.  Whinnery JE, Whinnery AM. Acceleration-induced loss of consciousness. Arch Neurol 1990;47:764-776.
12.   Jansen K. Neuroscience, Ketamine and the Near-Death Experience: The Role of Glutamate and the NMDA-Receptor, In: The Near-Death Experience: A Reader. Bailey LW, Yates J, eds. New York and London: Routledge, 1996:265-282.
13.  13.  Grof S, Halifax J. The Human Encounter with Death. New York: Dutton, 1977.
14.  14.  Schröter-Kunhardt M. Nah--Todeserfahrungen aus Psychiatrisch-Neurologischer Sicht. In: Knoblaub H, Soeffner HG, eds. Todesnähe: Interdisziplinäre Zugänge zu Einem Außergewöhnlichen Phänomen. Konstanz: Universitätsverlag Konstanz, 1999:65-99.
15.  Schrödinger E. What is Life? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1944.
16.  Hameroff S, Penrose R. Orchestrated reduction of quantum coherence in brain microtubules. In:  Proceedings of the international neural Network Society, Washington DC, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, 1995.
17.  Hameroff S. Quantum computing in DNA. Quantum_computing_in_DNA/index.htm.
18.  Berkovich SY. On the information processing capabilities of the brain: shifting the paradigm. Nanobiology 1993;2:99-107.
19.  Romijn H. About the origin of consciousness. A new, multidisciplinary perspective on the relationship between brain and mind. Proc Kon Ned Akad v Wetensch 1997;100(1-2):181-267.
20.  Linde, Andrei, Scientific American, November 1994

1 comment:

Unknown said...

There are 10 great Near Death Experience Stories in Near Death Experiences-Doctors and Scientists Go On The Record About God, Heaven, and the Afterlife