No Experience or No Memory Of It
Spencer made a comment on one of my older posts about memory; namely how can you remember things if your conscious is outside of the brain?
Firstly, the exact manner in which memory is physiologically formed and stored is not completely understood. In fact many aspects of “brain function” such as consciousness itself are not understood either, all we know is that these processes occur in the brain, and that electrical signals passing across billions of different neurons (nerve cells)and synapses (junctions) are involved in these processes. From the materialistic worldview, these structures are more than involved, they are responsible, in other words your brain generates consciousness, it creates and stores memories etc. Circumstantial evidence for this is the fact that brain damage caused either by trauma, or by neuro-degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, result in loss of functions such as memory recall. The exact reason is assumed to be because parts of the brain associated with higher order functions like reasoning and memory are effected by brain cells being lost in areas associated with these functions. However, such observations only support association, not necessarily causation.
From the non-materialistic, spiritualistic worldview, the brain is just a place for the conscious to reside while it is present in the time-bound world in which we find ourselves. If this is the case, as many who believe NDEs are real believe, then where is memory stored and how is it accessed? If an OBE occurs while a patient is clinically “brain-dead”, and there is no electrical activity, then the brain itself is not forming the memories. Some have postulated that memory is universal and can be accessed by everyone who is granted access after death. The whole of experience is somehow recorded and stored for everyone to review and enjoy. Every aspect of the experience is also stored, perfectly. This suggests that the brain may not in fact store memory itself at all, but has the ability to access a limited amount of the central memory repository related only to that person’s life. Evidence for this lies in the fact that some people claim to be able to remember former lives etc, which could not possibly have been recorded in their current physical brain. Anyway, that is really going so far off the scientific piste, I will avoid going any further. Suffice to say, memory, in the context of a reality in which NDEs are real, and therefore one in which we are eternal conscious beings, is very different from our current limited “scientific” understanding.
Now for the part of the post I actually intended to write before I read Spencer’s comment. I recently finished reading “Imagine Heaven” by John Burke. From a reading perspective (and I will post a full review in the resources section at some point), it started very well, but ended up becoming a wee bit repetitive. It was also written from a Christian viewpoint, and every aspect of NDE accounts was looked at through that lens. However, since I am Christian myself, I found it very enjoyable and it helped reinforce some of my existing [biased] beliefs as well as opening my eyes to a couple of new concepts.
One concept, or hypothesis that Burke alluded to, was relatively fresh to me, and relates to the whole aspect of memory of NDEs. As I mention countless times in different posts, only about 10% of adults who die and come back report NDEs. The percentage is significantly higher for children. Various reasons are given in the various books on this subject and more often than not relate to the ability of the person to remember. I have raised the idea that it may be more fundamental than that and some people do not have NDEs because the part of them that was once “spiritual” has long since withered away. Burke suggests another possible reason why some people don’t remember their NDEs – they were so traumatic that their brain refuses to recall the events. There is obviously a precedent for this in the medical world when people who suffer extreme trauma suppress the memory and are unable to recall it. So why would that be the case with NDEs? Isn’t it all about the Being of Light and beautiful green fields etc.
Actually no. About 20-25% of NDEs that have been reported contain some negative aspect(s) to them. This ranges from an uncomfortable grey feeling to some which have a definite hell-like feel to them, with the subject encountering extremely unpleasant beings who inflict extreme pain on them (e.g. Howard Storm’s NDE to name but one of many). Burke, being a Christian, believes in the concept of Hell, and while it is rarely experienced in an NDE as a fiery pit run by a guy in red tights holding a pitchfork, there are elements that would be familiar to followers of Christ and his teachings. I am not going to dwell on the fairness of hell, or any other philosophical aspect of this, but from a significant proportion of NDEs it is clear that not everyone is destined to enjoy a great after life. What if in fact it is the vast majority? What if it is 90% who are going to have a miserable death? Could that be the reason why so many are unable to remember their NDE. Possibly some do remember them but don’t want to share such a horrible experience through shame or fear, but maybe others had such a traumatic time that their brains will not let them recall it. Again, if you believe that Jesus was God in the flesh, then how else would you interpret his suggestion that the majority are heading for hell?
Now I am not saying that this is definitely the case, because frankly we have not the slightest idea, none of this is proven fact let alone scientific, but it is certainly food for thought. On a more positive note, many of those who do report a hellish experience were able to break free from this place, usually by calling out to God or Jesus (whether that is because most NDEs in our literature were from western countries, or whether that is indeed who you need to call out to is a moot point), but my hope is that the end of this life is not the final point at which you can turn and realize your mistakes.
Indeed, consciousness when put into analysis could be and is quite often described as an accumulation of memory and experience. Our sense of free will and personality is built on exposure history to our sensory inputs. We are our own history so to speak. Whilst the core initial ‘control pad’ of our direction is something of a mysterious phenomenon, it’s development is certainly more explainable by the ongoing input data of experience.
As you say, wide study attributes this experience accumulation to physical brain mechanisms, and is logically so, our body being the interface with the physical universe.
No doubt the brain is largely essential to this, but does this mean that all memory and experience is only stored in neuronal construct, and only such a construct can create such memory and experience? It’s a tough one to ponder, given too that NDE OBE is based on similar physical sensory data….
Outside of an unfair bias agaisnt materialist theories of the mind, there are quite a few a priori in this article.
“Every aspect of the experience is also stored,perfectly”
And how would you know that?
A phenomenom explored in neurology is false memory, the tendancy of the mind to rewrite events ending with innacurage memories of an event.
We cannot take as known that nde memories are either complete or accurate per se.
Thanks for the comment. Perhaps you didn’t read the words: “Some have postulated …” before this section. Of course I don’t “know” it, I am just floating things that others have suggested might explain what is going on with memory.