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.