As a scientist I’ve often been asked if there are scientific data that indicate that heaven may actually exist – heaven as a realm in which my personal mindful conscious life continues even after the death of my physical body? My background in the sciences is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD, all earned at MIT, and then, after completing my formal academic studies, several years on the staff of the physics department. So thank God the science part is there. But does that science offer any data that might prove that such a non-physical realm actually exists, not what heaven is like: the Pearly Gates or Dante’s Inferno, but just does there exist a part of me that is not physical, that is always with me as the mindful consciousness of me being me; not the awareness of where my foot or hand is at any moment. That would be the physical me; but of the consciousness of existing, of being?
Certainly in the protons neutrons electrons that join to form the atoms and molecules that join to form my body there is no hint of the consciousness that envelopes me from the moment of my birth.
We don’t question the consciousness within which we are emersed any more than fish would question the existence of water within which they are constantly immersed. This consciousness is the part of me that when I look in the mirror, I do not see but is in fact the part of me that most intimately makes me me. The thesis that I present here is that this personal mindful consciousness outlives my physical body. It is always here but exists beyond the body’s limited physical existence.
In our search for a realm outside of the physical, that is a metaphysical realm in which our conscious mindful being exists, we first must establish whether there are any scientifically based data that imply a reality that is metaphysical, that is outside of the physical, regardless of whether or not it relates to heaven or humans. If we can establish that, then we can search for a metaphysical realm that relates to us.
Interestingly, Nobel laureate biologist George Wald describes exactly this metaphysical aspect of existence and he labels it as “mind.” Wald’s life-long professional study of awareness and consciousness as related to vision led him to a startling conclusion: the metaphysical is more fundamental and more encompassing than the physical. In his words in the prestigious peer reviewed International Journal of Quantum Chemistry: “It has occurred to me lately – I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities – that both questions [the origin of life from non-living matter and the origin of consciousness in that life that arose from non-living matter] might be brought into some degree of congruence. This is with the assumption that mind [MIND], rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality – that stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create: science-, art-, and technology-making animals. In them the universe begins to know itself.” ( “Life and Mind in the Universe” in the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry: Quantum Biology symposium 11 (1984); 1 – 15. Emphasis added)
Nobel laureate physicist Max Planck, one of the originators of the discipline of quantum physics, quantum mechanics, voiced the same opinion of the essence of existence: ”I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.” Mind and consciousness – two different words describing one identical metaphysical reality. Heaven may be more fundamental than our life on earth.
If what these giants of science have deduced from their life’s study is correct, that is the existence of a universal mindful consciousness, then our individual minds and consciousness would be as splinters of the universal mind, each personal mind tuned to the ”frequency” of its portion of the universal.
The quantum revolution, brought on by the works of Planck, Wald and others, has turned our understanding of the world on its head. Most significantly the quantum revolution has proven that dimensions exist that are beyond, outside of, the physical world we experience with our five human senses. And even though these metaphysical dimensions are by definition outside the physical, they interact with our physical world. Essentially all high-tech industry, your smartphone and computer, prove it every time you make a phone call or surf the web. The quantum revolution has forced the metaphysical, that part of existence outside of the physical, into the physics lab. The duality of the physical and the metaphysical is a fact of nature. It is a fundamental aspect of all existence. And in these metaphysical dimensions rests the source of life beyond death and our free will beyond the controlling laws of nature. The metaphysical dimensions do not beat the laws of nature, nothing does that. The metaphysical dimensions evade the laws of nature simply because they are outside, beyond, nature and so exist independently from nature.
Three and a half centuries ago Rene Descartes speculated that our conscious processes were the product of a duality, with our spiritual or metaphysical mind in contact with our physical brain, a physical brain / metaphysical mind duality. In Descartes’ time, other than the theological claims, there was no proof for this speculation of a mind / brain duality. Today we know that duality is fundamental to the very substrate of all existence. And most amazingly, neurologists who insist that there is no separation between brain and mind, that mind is the perception and projection of the physical brain, those very same neurologists have discovered the part of the physical brain that appears to be in contact with the duality of the metaphysical mind. In that duality resides our life beyond the death of our bodies and the will of our minds beyond the finiteness of our brains. Heaven is not a place to which we go. Heaven is our life-long consciousness breaking free from our body. What happens to our consciousness after leaving our body is a different study.
For the student of the Hebrew Bible, this scientific discovery of a universal mind is merely a confirmation of the 2 millennia old understanding of the opening sentence of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Usually Genesis 1:1 is mis-translated as “In the Beginning …”. This error dates back to the Septuagint, the 2,200 year-old translation of the Hebrew into Greek with the attempt to make the Bible as friendly as possible to the Greek mythology of the time. As an example, the Septuagint does not state that God created the world. It states that God made the universe. The difference: creation in biblical terminology is something coming into being from nothing physical. Making is something being made from something else. A potter does not create a bowl; a potter makes a bowl from pre-existing clay. Greek mythology held that the gods were eternal and that a basic form of matter, hule’, was also eternal, and the gods worked with that hule’ as a potter works with clay to form the physical world.
The renowned biblical commentator, Rashi (ca. 1050), elaborated on the mis-translation and sent us to Proverb 8 in order to understand Genesis1:1. There we read: ”I am wisdom … God made me as the first of his works …. Before there was the earth … when He established the heavens, I was there” (Prov 8 12, 22 – 27). Approximately 1000 years earlier, based on Proverb 8, the “Jerusalem Translation” of the Hebrew into the sister-language, Aramaic, translated Genesis1:1 as “With wisdom God created the heavens and the earth.” God used a totally non-physical substrate, wisdom, as the substrate of our physical world. Wisdom, mind, consciousness, many words saying the same truth. Equally, John 1:1 In the beginning was the logos / word thought principle.
And with that truth, we can understand how bacteria can be so wise as to recognize their own and then to share genetically-held information in order to outwit some of our most potent anti-biotics. And ultimately we learn how seemingly inert protons neutrons electrons can join to form atoms and molecules that eventually become the self-aware, mindful conscious beings that we are. Totally metaphysical wisdom mind consciousness are ubiquitous, the universal mind of which our individual minds and consciousness are off-shoots.
With the scientific discoveries and observations of the past century confirming the biblical understanding of the essence of existence, it is not a surprise to read how one of the founding minds of quantum physics, Nobel laureate Erwin Schrodinger, describes our place in this marvelous universe. From his book, My View of the World: “So in brief, we do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We [the awareness that each of us has of being one’s self], are not part of it. We are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe that we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture. … And this is our only way of communicating with them.”
The existence of our mind / brain duality turns out to be totally logical. Discoveries of the past 100 years have shown that the entire structure of the world is built of dualities. Whether they be matter / energy, or wave / particle, or physical / metaphysical, duality is the nature of nature. The discovery of a mind / brain duality is absolutely consistent with the known duality of our world.
Unfortunately, much of today’s neurological research has yet to incorporate this material / ethereal transcendent relationship into studies of the sensations we experience. If such researchers view the world solely in out-dated materialist terms scientifically known to be false, then for certain there will be no place for a complementary transcendence, the mind / brain duality, in their conclusions.
Here I can add to this list the words of Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg, one of the parents of all modern quantum mechanics. From his book, “Physics and Beyond: “Inherent difficulties of the materialist theory [of existence] have appeared very clearly in the development of physics during the 20th century. This difficulty relates to the question whether the smallest units of matter such as atoms [of which we and all objects from bacteria to galaxies are composed] are ordinary physical objects, whether they exist in the same way as stones or flowers. Here quantum theory has created a complete change in the situation. … The smallest units of matter are, in fact, not physical objects in the ordinary sense of the word; they are – in Plato’s sense – Ideas.”
Now we have mind, thought, consciousness, word, idea.
There is a mindful conscious me outside of physical me and that me communicates with the me of my body. Logically that communication would come via my brain, the organ that processes the information that I receive via my 5 senses informing me about the world outside my body.
Scientific discoveries have brought the confirmation that there is a part of me that exists beyond the limits of my physical body, a mind / brain-body duality. Do discoveries by the scientific community also tell of the communication between these two me’s?
Hints of a mind free of the brain
Internal evidence for our external mind
How does science work? To establish a general pattern in nature, what we call a law of nature, we observe a range of events, notice a commonality among them, and then group the results into a general law. I drop a rock; it falls down toward the ground. I drop an apple, it falls down. I drop a feather, it falls down. I pour water, it flows down. No matter what form of matter I release, it falls down. I have discovered that matter attracts, pulls on, matter. We call that pull, ‘gravity.’
This method of deriving a generality from multiple, particular observations is the basis for much of scientific inquiry. It is called inductive reasoning.
Let’s relate this scientific learning process to the workings of the brain and the discovery of the mind. In the following discussion it must be clear that we are dealing with healthy, conscious, “awake” brains.
We know that certain wave lengths of radiation entering the eye from outside the body induce the sensation of light. The brain is wired to receive specific external radiations and interpret them as the light we see.
Alternatively, we can stimulate a specific part of the brain, the visual cortex, and induce the sensation of light, even though the room is dark. From this we note that the brain has a specific location designated to receive and interpret the information carried by the light waves that originated outside the body. The brain has an antenna, the eye, that is designed to receive the external light rays and to bring that information to the specific part of the brain devoted to experiencing light and vision.
The same relationship exists with the brain’s sensation of sound. We stimulate a specific part of the brain, the auditory cortex, and we hear sound, even though all is quiet. Alternatively we clap our hands and we hear sound. That is because the hand clap initiates waves of vibrating molecules of air. When those vibrating air molecules strike our ear drum, they are converted into bio-chemical signals that in some mysterious way are sensed as sound.
Again, as with the sensation of light and vision, we note that the brain has a specific location designated to receive the information carried by sound waves that originate outside the body.
The same can be demonstrated for all the sensory portions of the brain, whether the smell of garlic or the pain of a stubbed toe. Specific parts of the brain are dedicated to sensing sensations that we know originate external to the body. This is not surprising. The brain is there to make you aware of what is happening, what exists, outside your body. By artificially stimulating the appropriate part of the brain, we can “trick’ the brain into the hallucination that we are sensing these externals.
With this inductive procedure we have shown that the brain has specific parts designed, wired, to receive and interpret information it receives from phenomena that we know with absolute certainty exist outside the body.
Discovering the brain’s neural ‘antenna’ for the mind
The light waves and sounds waves and the smelly garlic molecules are all outside the body and yet they interact with the brain. They do this via the specific brain locations that are uniquely dedicated to record each of these external stimuli.
Now we will follow this method of research to find the part of our brain that is “tuned” to our external mind, that source of our conscious self that is not in our brain and not in our body, and yet is constantly in touch with our brain.
A bit over a decade ago, the noted neuroscientist, Olaf Blanke, came upon something quite amazing. Blanke detected a place in the brain that when stimulated induces the sensation of you being outside of your physical body. This fact was so intriguing and so special that Blanke was able to have the results of his study published in the science journal, Nature[i]. Recall that the journal Nature is one of the two most highly respected, rigorously peer-reviewed, science journals worldwide. Since then, others have replicated his findings.
In his discovery of this you outside of you, might Olaf Blanke have inadvertently come upon the brain’s “antenna” that listens to our mind? Could this specific part of the brain be the brain’s portal, antenna, that receives the messages of the mind? Rest assured, Blanke does not imply this to be the case. Blanke, at least from his writings and lectures to which I have been exposed, maintains that all our cognitive processes are couched within the physical flesh and blood neurons of the brain. With this pre-quantum logic, there is no place for a metaphysical self or mind that exists beyond the body.
Michael Shermer (founder of the Skeptics Society) referred to this sensation as a “shadow person” when quoting the “great neurologist” (Shermer’s words), Oliver Sacks, of blessed memory.
Now let us be consistent with the above line of inductive reasoning, a process inherent in the vast majority of all scientific studies. We’ve shown that the brain has specific multiple locations tuned to react to and record phenomena, such as light and sound and touch and smell, that we unquestionably know exist outside the brain and outside the body. And when we stimulate those brain locations, we artificially induce the experience of those known external phenomena. With this in mind, we have to conclude that since, by stimulating specific locations in the brain we induce this sensation of a metaphysical “shadow person,” a self outside our body, this “shadow person” actually exists.
The brain is wired for sensing this metaphysical presence that exists external to the brain just as the brain is wired to sense light waves and sound waves that exist external the body. And just as these other external stimuli interact with our brain at specifically dedicated locations within the brain, so might this metaphysical self, this “shadow person,” also interact with our brain apparently at the specifically dedicated location discovered by Blanke.
In the meta-physical “shadow person” have we discovered the existence of our metaphysical mind? The difficulty in proving objectively that the shadow person actually exists is that we cannot physically record or measure the metaphysical mind the way we can record a sound or photograph a rainbow. But the location in the brain dedicated to sensing this me outside of me is apparently measurably there. We construct machines that detect light rays and sound waves, other machines that respond to the presence of specific airborne molecules emanating from a food. These are all physical. It has been suggested that each brain may be the only detector sensitive to the emanations of its related mind.
Of course this mechanically induced sense of self is a hallucination. When we stimulate specific parts of the brain and induce the sensations of there being light and sound and garlic in a room that is pitch dark, totally silent and free of any garlic odor-inducing molecules, these are also hallucinations. And just as the brain has retained the locations dedicated to sensing the radiations we refer to as light waves and the vibrating molecules we refer to as sound waves because they actually exist, so too has the brain retained the location dedicated to sensing the shadow person of the mind because it too actually exists?
If this metaphysical mind were not a reality, then the aggressive nature of the neurons of the brain would have long since taken over those portions of the brain now dedicated to sensing this part of me that is outside of me. Those areas would have become dedicated to deal with “real” functions.
We see this clearly in studies reported by Rebecca Saxe and others [who as I understand their writings insist that there is no external mind; so we are relying on nay-saying data to find the yea]. For example, as Saxe describes, in persons blinded by damage to their eyes, but with their visual cortex remaining undamaged, the neurons of the visual cortex are gradually usurped, taken over, by functions related to language. By the age of four in children born blind, this neural retro-fitting has already begun.
Andrew Newburg sensibly pointed out in his book, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience, that these spiritual experiences appear to be ubiquitous across different cultures and epochs. If there is a metaphysical or spiritual reality, then logically the brain would have the ability to connect with it just as it has the ability to perceive light and sound[ii].
How might the mind of an individual be related to the universal mind? At any moment there are in a room hundreds, possibly thousands, of cellular telephone messages passing through, all at the speed of light, all imprinted on electro-magnetic radiation, each bearing a code that makes it accessible only to a specific telephone tuned to that code. In turn, each telephone can only download messages that are encoded for it.
An individual’s mind becomes the receiver tuned to the specific portion of world’s ubiquitous mind that is relevant to it. This individual mind, in turn, is “tuned” to link with that person’s physical brain. This would make the mind more fundamental than the brain, exactly as averred by Wald and Planck and Schrodinger and a list of other Nobel laureate scientists.
These intellectual giants, pillars of modern science who with their insights into the workings of our world changed humankind’s concept of our world, do not shy away from acknowledging the need for the meta-physical if we are to understand the physical. That is not so surprising since the quantum world is their trade and in quantum physics, the meta-physical has entered the physics laboratory.
Near death experiences (NDE) may give us a clue related to our phantom self. Of course, an NDE occurs with a highly stressed brain and so might not be representative of healthy brains.
A study of 62 hospitalized patients who were resuscitated after clinical death and who described having had NDE, was reported in the highly respected, peer-reviewed medical journal, Lancet. In the “core” experience, the patients sensed leaving their bodies and being greeted by deceased relatives. (I personally interviewed several persons who had NDE. Two reported that their deceased mother said “It is not time yet. Go back.”)
This greeting by past relatives is very similar to the several descriptions of death and burial described in the Hebrew Bible. For example, Biblical Jacob, aged and infirm, living in Egypt, asked his children to bury him in the family burial cave located in Hebron, a multi-day journey from Egypt. The Bible then tells us that Jacob died, was gathered to his people, was embalmed (a 40-day process) and months later was buried in the Hebron cave. Note the sequence: death, gathered to his deceased ancestors, and only then buried. Clearly gathered to his ancestors is not the act of being placed in the burial cave where the bones of his deceased ancestors lie. The description reads like an NDE without the “N
The Lancet article concluded that “with lack of evidence for any other theories for NDE, the thus far assumed, but never proven, concept that consciousness and memories are localized in the brain should be discussed. How could a clear consciousness outside one’s body be experienced at the moment that the brain no longer functions during a period of clinical death with flat EEG? … NDE pushes at the limits of medical ideas about the range of human consciousness and the mind-brain relation. … Finally, the theory and background of transcendence should be included as a part of an explanatory framework for these experiences.”
“Transcendence” means a mind outside of the body, transcending the body, that communicates with the body. This medically-based hypothesis matches exactly the physics-deduced hypothesis presented by Schrodinger, Planck, Wald, Heisenberg et al.
The naysayers respond with a very different conclusion, claiming that the NDE experience does not occur during the time of the flat EEG. Rather they attribute the entire near-death experience to a hallucination that occurs during the few seconds or moments just as the brain is re-awakening. In an attempt to discredit the metaphysical implications of the NDE, Michael Shermer titled an article he published in Scientific American,” Proof of Hallucinations.”
The NDE is happening in a stressed brain. As stated, it may not be relevant to the observation of the “shadow person” in healthy brains. However the logic that the “shadow person” when induced in a healthy brain is the result of the brain’s ability to hallucinate, totally lacks logic. A healthy brain is wired to keep its person alive, to record reality as best it can, not to confuse us. Hallucinations do exactly that. They confuse us by replacing reality with fantasy.
The effect of a hallucinating brain that for example repeatedly heard a sound and envisioned a leopard about to leap, and repeatedly no such threat was present, would be a recipe for disaster. In short order, the person experiencing these hallucinations would learn to ignore them. Not a wise decision for a brain trying to keep its person alive since eventually the warning sound might indeed arise from a leopard about to leap.
Hallucinating brains were weeded out from the healthy population of Homo sapiens during the eons of their [our] development in the wild.
My brain is not the source of the radiations it receives from the outside and interprets them as the sensation of light, nor is it the source of the vibrating molecules that upon striking my ear drum induce the sensation of sound. And in exactly the same way, my brain is most likely not the source of my sense of self that I feel as my ethereal mind dialogues with the physical brain of my body.
The biochemistry of how the brain takes in and stores information is well studied. FMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) reveals which parts of the brain are active in any particular experience. The puzzle is not the input of the information. That biochemistry is known. The re-play is the conundrum. We hear sound, we see light but there is neither sound nor light anywhere in the brain.
So deep is the riddle that Robert Sapolsky, professor of biological science and neurology at Stanford University was moved to write in Scientific American “[D]ispite zillions of us [neurologists] slaving away at the subject, we still don’t know squat about how the brain works.”
A similar evaluation was given in Scientific American by the former editor of the journal Nature, Sir John Maddox. “Nobody understands how decisions are made or how imagination is set free. What consciousness consists of, or how it should be defined, is equally puzzling. Despite the marvelous successes of neuroscience in the past century, we seem as far from understanding cognitive processes as we were a century ago.”
SciAm, with its materialist view of reality (as evidenced by its monthly skeptic’s column penned by Michael Shermer), has no intention in these two columns of implying a metaphysical underpinning for consciousness, a separation between physical brain and transcendent mind. But if mind is situated within the brain, it is very well hidden.
Science is filled with puzzles in which we know the quantitative answer, such as knowing the part of the brain that is active when we perceive light or hear sound, but we remain totally in the dark qualitatively as to how that neural activity converts into that which we consciously perceive as light or sound[iv].
And equally unproven is how our non-physical mind communicates with our physical brain. Blanke’s Shadow Person, and the visiting of long-gone relatives experienced in NDE may provide the answer, both phenomena of which are in complete accord with the dualistic structure of our magnificent universe.
Do not dismiss the “universal mind” as scientific fantasy. The governments of every major country are frantically – literally – researching how to access this mind of the universe, and they are not doing this for theological reasons.
Blanke, O., et al; Stimulating out-of-body experiences, Nature 419, 269-270 (2002).
Please note that Blanke, Saxe and Shermer all tell us that there is no mind/body duality. They posit that there only is the physical brain. So here, to find our transcendent mind, I am deliberately using data from scientists who tell us there is no transcendent mind. In this way I do not subjectively prejudice the forthcoming conclusion. One of the locations in the brain that is cited as sensing the external self is in the area of the angular gyrus. This region of the brain integrates visual information related to the sight of the body with the mental image of the body formed from feed-back related balance and the spatial positioning of the body’s limbs.
[ii] Portions of the brain that are used extensively become neurologically enhanced. With musicians, it is the right lobe that deals with harmony. With cabbies, it is spatial relationships integrated with name-site correlations that get the neural boost. Research by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and others has shown that persons suffering from obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) can willfully re-wire portions of their brains by concentrating on alternative behavior, forcing themselves to see their particular form of OCD as worthless behavior, as junk and destructive.
xii The basic challenge of resolving the mind/brain duality finds an equally fundamental conundrum in physics: the puzzle of the photon, that massless particle of which light is composed. What we perceive as light results from reactions induced in our brain’s visual cortex after photons strike the neurons in the retina of our eyes.
All this is well studied. The unknown in this sequence is the photon itself. A photon is formed when an electron orbiting an atom falls from a higher to a lower energy level. The energy released in that fall converts into a photon which in turn exits the atom at the speed of light. We know quite exactly the amount of energy that is released in each such transition. But how that released energy converts and forms the photon particle that emanates from the atom is a complete unknown. Yet it is by those enigmatic photons that we see every bit of light and vision.