AwareofAware

Evolving news on the science, writing and thinking about Near Death Experiences (NDEs)

Brain Dead

Firstly I would like to thank Tara MacIsaac, a reporter from the Epoch Times, for sending me a link to her excellent write-up of the IANDS 2014 conference that recently took place in Newport Beach California.

There was one particular session that really stood out for me, and chimes with a theory that I have alluded to in previous posts. The session was entitled: Does Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Prove the Soul Doesn’t Exist?

This is a question anyone serious about the subject of NDEs will have contemplated at some point. I first thought about it when I spent a period of my career working in this field. I became very familiar with endless heart breaking stories of people’s minds and personalities being slowly eroded. The fear of knowing you have this cruel disease haunts the sufferers in the early years, and then they become unaware, like children. At this stage it is the family who are tortured as friends, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and spouses are all forgotten. Years of shared experiences and close bonds are all washed away as the connections in the physical brain are destroyed

This disease became personal for me three years ago when my father, who is 72, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I had suspected for a while before, so wasn’t surprised, but at the same time the confirmation was devastating news for both him and my mother. He can still remember who we are, although many other aspects of his personality are now beginning to change…but I know what’s coming, I’ve visited the locked dementia wards where the patients barely resemble humans anymore, and it fills me with dread to know that within a few years, my father will be one of those shadows shuffling around, quite literally like the living dead.

So how do I reconcile that with the notion of an eternal soul? Surely, as the title of the session suggests, dementia proves that there is no soul; our conscious, our personality, is just a function of our brain, and once we contract a neurodegenerative disorder, we lose what makes us who we are. That is certainly one way of looking at it. The other is to understand that our bodies, including our brains, are just hosts of this soul, and just like when the body dies and the spirit is released, so too when the brain becomes dysfunctional, our souls, or spirits are no longer present. The way that I, and others, have described the brain is like a receiver, or interpreter of our spiritual beings. If the brain ceases to be fully functional, then it is no longer able to host and project the essence of the soul effectively.

There is one piece of evidence to support the fact that “the soul” doesn’t actually die as the brain degenerates, and that is the phenomenon of terminal lucidity. I read about this a while back, and it gave me great heart. Terminal lucidity is when someone who has suffered dementia for a long time, and has been in a vegetative state, with no memory, and a loss of personality, suddenly, very close to their death, has a brief period of complete lucidity in which their memory and personality returns and in some instances they are able to say goodbye to their loved ones. This suggests the possibility that the soul is still present, but has just been unable to exist effectively within a degraded brain.

There is one obvious flaw with this theory, in that if the brain has degraded, and been unable to “host” a soul for many years, how come it can suddenly do so shortly before death, when not only are cognitive functions gone, but control of the nervous system is on the brink of collapse? I don’t have a definitive answer for that, but given the fact that the whole concept of the soul is in itself beyond natural explanation, it is possible to conceive of some means by which it can wrest control of the mess that its host has become and communicate one last time.

Knowing how Aricept works, one of the few drugs that delays the onset of dementia symptoms, I can see how this is possible. Patients who are on Aricept have the same physical brain as those who are not, and yet they have better cognitive function. This is explained by the fact that Aricept, and other dementia treatments, while not treating the underlying disease, stimulate the release of excess neurotransmitters, essentially supercharging the brain that is left (some med students have been known to take Aricept before exams as it has been proven to enhance memory function). So while patients on Aricept have less brain than they had prior to the onset of Alzheimer’s, they are sometimes able to function as well as before. There is a catch, as I know is coming with my father, and it is known as the Aricept cliff. At some point, and the timing is entirely unpredictable, the drug is no longer able to mask the underlying pathology. The whole time the patient is taking Aricept the brain has continued to degenerate at the same pace as someone who has not been treated, and at some point just boosting neurotransmitters alone is no longer enough and there are insufficient neurons left to make meaningful connections. The disease then suddenly catches up, and in some cases years of degeneration are unmasked in a matter of months.

Given this evidence that a drug can enhance brain function, it is entirely conceivable that the soul can too, perhaps by suddenly generating a massive boost of energy to fire up the last few working parts of the brain that are left and create this short period of lucidity. Who knows? Personally I believe the phenomenon is real, and I don’t believe that Alzheimer’s proves that the soul doesn’t exist. However, that is not what interested me most about the report that Tara produced, what really caught my attention was the excerpt below:

 

“Further studies need to be done on terminal lucidity to understand the phenomenon and all of its implications, Batthyany said. In a survey of 800 caregivers, only 32 responded. These 32 caregivers had cumulatively cared for 227 Alzheimer’s or dementia patients. About 10 percent of these patients had a sudden and brief return to lucidity”

 

If you have read my previous posts, or indeed read the book after which this blog is named, you will be very familiar with my theory about the death of the soul. Briefly, my rationale for this theory is derived from the fact that most children who die and are bought back to life, experience an NDE. However, most adults, particularly those of older age, do not report an NDE. Coincidentally, or not as the case may be, most studies report that between 5 and 10 percent of adults who die and come back have an NDE. The traditional explanation for this is that due to age, and the corresponding decline in memory function, it is not that older people are not having NDEs, they are just not remembering them.

That is the cozy explanation. However, as I showed in my post entitled Why Do We See a Decline In Reports Of NDEs With Age? I challenge the notion that changes in memory function alone could account for the very significant difference between the incidence of NDEs in children and those in adults. In fact, I show that this is a highly unsatisfactory explanation given the real data showing decline in memory function which is not sufficient to account for the glaring difference. I propose a number of explanations for this in my book, including the extremely unpleasant notion of soul death. I believe that this particular piece of data, albeit not the most robust study you will encounter, supports this theory. Why is that?

Once again, we come across the figure of 10 percent. In this instance it is the proportion of people with dementia having this terminal lucidity experience. Now it was conceded at the meeting that the methodology used to compile this data was not rigorous and the result may have been subject to a number of biases and confounders that could have skewed the result one way or another, but what if the results are reasonably accurate? What if roughly 10 percent of patients with Dementia do have terminal lucidity? If they do, this is a very important finding.

Unlike with other NDE studies in patients who are revived after an MI, memory function in this study must be reasonably constant. In traditional NDE studies some patients could have memory function only slightly eroded from their younger years, and others could have dementia, or at least impaired memory. In this study, it can be presumed that virtually all the patients had almost no brain (or memory) function at all, in other words had the data been collected in a more robust manner you would have a study that controls for brain function, albeit not a study of NDEs, but nonetheless a potential proxy for the measure of the presence of the “soul”.

Putting aside all the caveats about the robustness of the data, it is possible to conclude from this study, not only that the soul is not a function of the brain (i.e. the soul exists independently), but also that only ten percent of people have a soul. Of course that is a quite a leap, or it would be if it was an isolated piece of data, but in combination with the NDE data, which also could be interpreted to show that only ten percent have a soul, it becomes far more meaningful.

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22 thoughts on “Brain Dead

  1. Odottaja on said:

    Only ten percent of people may have a soul, but almost 100% of us are conscious beings. So if the consciousness of a soul-free person survives after death, does he then continue to exist eternally without a soul? Somehow, I believe that God has the power to give someone back his lost soul, if a soul is indeed necessary in afterlife.

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  2. Ah, but the evidence suggests that the conscious only persists in a small percentage after death, hence the controversial theory that I have suggested. I guess the question then moves on to whether the people around us really conscious.

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  3. When people have an nde, they often see deceased relatives. What’s the chance that their moms and dads, grandmas would fall into same lucky 10%?

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    • Now that is a very good point, and not one I had thought about to be honest. I guess there are a couple of follow up questions, which are pretty much unaswerable. Do they see all their relatives, or just a couple? I’m going to read NDE accounts with a bit more scrutiny now to see. Also, I look at my family, and going back many generations there is a strong connection with spirituality…if you come from a family that values spirituality more, is it more likely that other members of your family will therefore be one of the ten percent, thereby making it more likely you will see your own family members on the other side?
      Excellent question though, and thanks for asking.

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  4. Tikileahsmom on said:

    Let’s not forget that many have claimed to see their deceased animals as well. Another thought here. If some of what I have read in the past is true. There is a recovery period for many souls when they pass. A time where the soul may remain unconscious from death until the soul is ready for transition. This may explain why many older people have no memory of their NDE. Maybe they did not have one because they were to go straight to this unconscious resting period. I suppose many may need this after a difficult, long life.There are books out that talk about this

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  5. Hi, Ben! I have some questions for you:

    1) Lucid moments occur every now and then among patients suffering from Alzheimer’s. Does that mean that the soul leaves the brain because of the impaired neurons and that the soul thereafter comes back (from Heaven?) to check up if the brain may be “habitable” again? And when the soul finds the brain fit enough, it decides – or must – moving back if so for just a moment?

    2) What about this objection: If the soul has difficulties returning to the patient’s brain many years before the brain dies totally, why should we then suppose that same soul being able to come back when it’s time for the patient to die?

    3) What about anesthetic – i.e. unconscious – patients? Does the soul leave their body temporarily or what happens to the soul?

    4 What about shared NDEs? Relatives and/or caregivers are not physically ill and are not going to die. How can they also have an NDE, often with many similar experiences?

    5 Also: If you faint or meditate you are said to be able to have an NDE. Those NDEs are the same according to this article: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/937605-the-neuroscience-of-near-death-experiences/ .

    A quote from that article: “The researchers found that people in both life-threatening and non-life-threatening situations described their experiences the same way in terms of content and intensity.”

    6) NDEers often find their experiences hyper-realistic. In my opinion hyper-reality – as well as hypo-reality – is a strong evidence for hallucinations and delusions. What’s your view of hyper-realism?

    7) How do you define what a SOUL is?

    8) And finally: Do you mean that the soul is equal to the mind? But then, how do you define the MIND? For example: Mind is the sum of your personality, emotions and thoughts.

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    • 1 & 2 Firstly, I have absolutely no idea at all what happens! Just throwing ideas out there. How I rationalize this in my article is that it is not really fully understood how the brain maintains “consciousness”. In terms of looking at it as though it is some sort of organic receiver for the soul, it is clear that if a brain is damaged, or even a part removed, provided it’s not too much, then the personality may not change, so it is not like a machine which is often completely disabled if a part is damaged or removed.

      Also, it is widely understood that very little of the brain is used at any one time, and that parts of the brain can take over functions previously accredited to different parts. Moreover, brain “capacity” can be improved by the use of drugs like Aricept…my idea for the potential explanation is that as Alzheimer’s progresses, it becomes impossible for the brain to effectively perform all its functionality, and many aspects of the personality, or soul, become impossible to consistently maintain. However, maybe as the body nears death and the soul senses this, it is able to summon enough energy to monetarily use every single part of the brain left that is working to express what it needs to…like a super dose of aricept. But seriously, I have absolutely no evidence etc to support that.

      That is all I have time for at the moment…I will come back to the other questions later, which I have equally hypothetical answers for!

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    • Questions 7 and 8 are very closely related. This is obviously one of the greatest philosophical questions of all, and many minds greater than mine have tried to generate answers. From the perspective of NDEs, the soul is your conscious…I’m not convinced given the accounts from NDEs that it could be described as the sum of your personality, emotions and thoughts, rather it something more fundamental than that…it is an independent entity that has an awareness of being.

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    • Question 6 – hyper -realism. In this instance I am going to quote Paul from the New Testament.

      1 Corinthians 13:12New International Version

      12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

      Paul famously encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus…in the description of the account, it was a being of light that he encountered. I suspect that in this experience he glimpsed many of the things that are reported in NDEs…maybe that is what he had, either way he describes the other side as being a fuller version of what we see here.

      Hyper realism, from my understanding, is complete reality.

      I had an experience when I was 17 that opened my mind to the whole area of spirituality…in it I had an experience that was very similar to that described by those who have an NDE when they encounter the Being of Light. The sensations of loving and being loved were greater than anything I have encountered in “reality”. Now whether it was an hallucination, just a dream or something more is impossible to say, but from my own perspective it felt more real than anything else ever has.

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  6. But how do YOU define words/terms like spirituality, spirit, soul and mind? You must defined them in some way, since you believe in a soul.

    Do you agree with this blogger: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rationaldoubt/2014/10/no-such-thing-as-spiritual/ ?

    A quote from that blog: What we call a spiritual experience is simply an emotional experience in a religious context or awe-inspiring moment. This is why there is much more similarity between a rock concert and a fundamentalist revival than either bunch would be willing to admit.

    BTW: Your NDE-like experience when you were 17, please tell us more about that one. Were you about to die? Or what happened? Did you believe in souls before that experience? Or how and when did you come to the conclusion that some of us – maybe just 10 percent of us- have a soul?

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  7. No, I don’t agree with that article…that is the blogger’s opinion based on their belief, just as it is my opinion that we have a soul, based on my belief. The difference though is that there is increasing evidence that the soul exists through the various reports of NDEs etc, although far from conclusive, I’ll be the first to admit.

    The very term spiritual is subjective according to your own beliefs and understanding, and yes it is true that you get a “spiritual” experience going to a rock concert or even a sports event. However, having been to those types of events and the kind of revival event you describe, from my own experience, I can tell you they are very different. Both involve the sense of a group joining in a rapturous type way, but when you add in the God dimension, it totally changes for me and I sense his presence and his love when I worship him. Not everyone attending the same event feels the same thing…therefore my perception is either entirely created by my brain out of my erroneous belief, or perhaps not everyone has the capability to sense spiritual things.

    I define the spirit or the soul as that part of our conscious that is capable of existing outside of our body. It experiences what our bodies experience, and it is the part of us, I believe, that generates emotions such as compassion, love etc. While in our bodies it is completely integrated into the circuitry of our brains and central nervous system, but it is not reliant on our bodies for survival. This, of course, has not been proven to be true…yet, but I have not encountered any convincing evidence to suggest it isn’t, and on the contrary I have the evidence from NDEs that support this understanding, along with the tomes of religious text over the millennia.

    With regard to my own experience, it was a dream…and all I can say is the experience I had in that dream of being in God’s presence was the most awesome of my entire life, and it left me convinced that it was more than just a dream, but I don’t ask anyone else to accept that it was.

    At the time I wasn’t a Christian, but I had been exposed to the faith. In my dream I awoke in my bedroom and everything felt completely normal…very undreamlike in fact as I usually find myself in some bizarre outfit in a completely incongruous location when I dream (make of that what you will!). Anyway, in this dream I felt compelled to say the “sinner’s prayer”…Jesus, sorry I have ignored you, sorry I have hurt you and others, please forgive me and come into my life.

    At that moment the image of my bedroom disintegrated into a billion pieces, like a shattered mirror, and I found myself in a dark “chamber”…I don’t know if it was a chamber, but it felt like a big space, with many others there, all looking at me, although I could see nothing, I could feel them, but it wasn’t them that I was most conscious of, it was the being directly before which I was standing. This being emanated pure mind blowing love, which I can’t even begin to describe, and I loved it back which such intensity that it was as though every particle in my being was on fire with love. In this love I knew there was complete forgiveness, and acceptance and that it was unending. When I awoke I said the prayer again, but nothing happened this time, except I started on a lifelong journey to find out the truth about all of this.

    If you want to understand the whole ten percent issue, buy my book or read the previous posts 🙂

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  8. Thank you for your answers, Ben! But are you really a Christian? Believing in the Christian Biblical message?

    Are there any verses in the Bible that support your view? If yes, which one(s)?

    And how can you propose that maybe only 10 percent of us humans have a soul? Here’s a quote from one of your posts: From the perspective of NDEs, the soul is your conscious…I’m not convinced given the accounts from NDEs that it could be described as the sum of your personality, emotions and thoughts, rather it something more fundamental than that…it is an independent entity that has an awareness of being.

    DO YOU MEAN that 90 percent of us human beings are like zombies or robots? That is: In what way(s) do “soul owners” differ from us who haven’t got any soul? Is the ability of having an NDE the only difference? Or are there more?

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  9. “The wages of sin are death” Romans 6:13…clearly people don’t just die physically when they are “sinful”, but maybe their soul dies. And by the way, I am just suggesting this as a possible explanation…not the only one. Another explanation is genetic predisposition to sensing the spiritual side of things.

    Yes, I am a christian, and I believe in the Christian Biblical message that those who believe in Jesus will not die but have eternal life. I try to follow his commands, but often fail, but that doesn’t make me any less of a christian, just not a very good one.

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  10. But isn’t the Biblical message that death means you sort of sleep until the day of resurrection; see http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/what-does-bible-say-about-death .

    A quote from that article: If souls existed as separate entities that lived on after we died, that would mean we have immortality. However, the Bible says human beings do not have immortality. Only God is immortal (see 1 Timothy 6:15, 16). Paul says that the righteous “seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7). If we had immortal souls, why would the righteous seek after something they already have?

    AND DOESN’T the Bible explain to us that we’re not going to Heaven or Hell before the Day of Judgement? The Rapture theology doesn’t fit in with that scenario. See for example:
    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/10/09/theologian-claims-rapture-proponents-might-be-reading-the-bible-all-wrong-and-reveals-an-alternative-end-times-interpretation/ .

    And finally, talking of terminal lucidity: Can’t this case – about a mute autistic young man who suddenly demonstrates that he can sing – be likened to momentaneous lucidity, albeit he didn’t die afterwards: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2112030/Kyle-Coleman-Mute-autistic-man-stuns-experts-amazing-singing-voice.html ? Or are there more differences than the one I just mentioned?

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  11. Hi. As usual,skeptical explanations have all the same flaw. If we compare our brain to a TV-set and this device has some broken circuits, we might see distorted or disturbed frames also if it’s not yet “dead&gone”. Think of a bad contact: if you give it a kick it might come back to life. This means that the trasmission (soul) is not dead, the device is crippled! As usual skeptics look always at the device!

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  12. Ditto!! This is the best explanation I’ve found out about the dualism Brain/Soul!
    Best regards, Claudio

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