Perhaps Heaven Is Your Never-Ending Dream and Natural Afterlife
The theory of a natural afterlife locates heaven in a natural, versus supernatural, realm. It’s consistent with NDEs, science, and religion and very plausible.*
Scientists have yet to locate heaven in this universe. So, if a supernatural afterlife exists, we will likely spend it in another universe or dimension, right? Or possibly, as this article proposes, a “natural afterlife” awaits us in a somewhat familiar realm. More specifically, perhaps:
Your natural afterlife is a dreamlike, near-death experience (NDE)** from which you never awake and thus one that to your knowledge never ends.
Call this the theory of a natural afterlife—or for short the NEE (Never-Ending Experience) theory or, optimistically, the NEE theory of heaven.
This theory calls into question the many centuries-old assumption made in all discussions and debates about heaven that any afterlife must be supernatural. One such debate was fueled by a book that for months was at or near the top of the NY Times, Nonfiction, Best Sellers List: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Dr. Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster, 2012). Like many, Alexander claims, as his title states, that his NDE (near-death experience) provides proof of heaven and a supernatural afterlife. Setting aside the insufficiency of his “proof,” others claim that based on scientific research, NDEs provide no evidence or proof of a heaven or supernatural afterlife. See for example The Death of “Near Death”: Even If Heaven Is Real, You Aren’t Seeing It by Kyle Hill (Scientific American, 2012). Both claims about NDEs may be flawed in that they assume that any afterlife is supernatural.
Links to the Above Articles:
A Natural Afterlife and Timeless Heaven
Astonishingly, the NEE theory does not assume that an afterlife is supernatural! Instead, it suggests that NDEs provide evidence of a natural afterlife and thus perhaps a heaven. In many NDEs, individuals similarly describe intense dreamlike experiences of being drawn through a tunnel toward a bright light into a celestial realm and of feeling wonder, love, and contentment. The NEE theory suggests they are indeed experiencing heaven. But then they awake and return to consciousness. That is, the NDE doesn’t become their NEE and natural afterlife, though it very well could have.
To better grasp this, imagine what it’s like to never wake up from a dream, something none of us have experienced. More specifically, imagine you’re having a dreamlike NDE. Effectively, you’re in heaven. But then you die, and with death, when all mortal material-based consciousness ends, you never become consciously aware that you’re not in heaven, i.e., that your NDE has ended. It’s not like the NDE "screen" displays “The End” or even goes blank! Thus, as far as you know, you’re in heaven forever.
The concept of time here is like that which you’ve “experienced” before-life, i.e., before you were born. Timeless! Billions of years pass by in no time at all, literally. The big difference, however, is that your after-life begins at death enjoyably immersed in a glorious dreamlike experience. While this experience physically ends, from your mind’s perspective it is now an NEE. After a billion years have passed by and death has long since erased all memories from your brain, you’re still believe that you're in your NDE—i.e., your NEE and natural afterlife.
Three natural human traits combine to make the natural afterlife nearly certain:
- our ability to dream and to have a dreamlike NDE;
- our perception of time as a perceived ordering of events; and
- our inability to realize the moment of death, i.e., our imperceptible death.
Supporting Evidence for the NEE Theory
Besides the reporting of numerous NDEs, evidence for the NEE theory comes from what science and experience reveals about NDEs, dreaming, and especially time.
Based on research, some scientists believe that common NDE features may be induced, possibly as a defense mechanism, by psychological and physiological processes occurring in the brain as it senses doom or shuts down. For instance, chemicals are released as a protective mechanism when the brain is traumatized. These chemicals have been shown to trigger intense hallucinations with features like those of NDEs. While such science is used to explain NDEs as just natural phenomena mistaken for a supernatural heaven, it also shows the natural ability and propensity of the brain to trigger vivid NEEs.
In addition, vivid and meaningful end-of-life dreams and visions (ELDVs) have been recorded throughout history. A recent study found ELDVs to be very common and also found that comforting perceptions of meeting deceased loved ones within them were more prevalent as participants approached death. Such vivid, “near-death” dreams are likely to have been reported as NDEs and with death also result in NEEs.
Science tells us that humans perceive time as relative to an ongoing sequence of past, present, and future perceived events. When we begin to perceive none—e.g., when falling into a dreamless sleep or passing out under general anesthesia or dying—our sense of self, or our spirit (or soul?), doesn’t cease but time ceases and we simply enter a timeless state. The universe itself may be fundamentally timeless as many theoretical physicists now believe. The article Is Time an Illusion? by Graig Callender (Scientific American, 2010) reports that time “may emerge from a universe that, at root, is utterly static.” Moreover, God too is generally viewed as existing outside of human time, i.e., timeless. Given all of this, should a timeless heaven be that surprising?
In a timelessness framework, an afterlife must be perceived as a static, forever state of being, not as time one spends in eternity. When in your NEE, you won’t know whether an eternity, measured by human-time, is slipping by just before or after you died. The last moment of the last NDE event you perceive and everything it encompasses simply becomes your forever present moment. Thus death is irrelevant and your natural afterlife, entered via a dreamlike NDE, is essentially everlasting.
More support for the NEE theory comes from our dreaming experiences. I for one believe that despite numerous studies and publications about dreaming, it hasn’t been given the prominence it deserves. Within dreams, my mind can almost instantaneously paint beautiful landscapes, design and decorate rooms, create new faces, and compose dialog worthy of maybe a B-movie script. It would take days to do this in my consciousness. Actually, it’s beyond my talents and skills. When inside our dreams, we can’t distinguish them from real-life. Also, when dreams are pleasant, real-life worries are left behind, as in heaven. Our dreams are truly another dimension of being, like another universe.
And why do we possess this amazing ability to dream? Some scientists believe that dreaming evolved to better prepare us to face life’s crises, though this theory seems to apply only to nightmares and doesn’t seem to explain most of my dreams. The NEE theory provides another purpose: a potentially satisfying, evolved and/or God-given, dreamlike afterlife experience.
And who or what controls our dreams? I certainly don’t control mine. Some scientists speculate they’re brain-controlled processes that assimilate and store recently accrued knowledge. However, many of my dreams are weird, unrelated to recent experience, and so don’t appear to fit this explanation at all. Dreaming and the dreamlike NDE provide a spiritual realm within our universe where a God could certainly intervene unnoticed.
Recap of Evidence Supporting the NEE Theory of Heaven
Numerous NDEs reported by near-death survivors
Very strong likelihood of an imperceptible death
Scientific research showing propensity of the brain to trigger vivid NDEs
Numerous accounts by the dying of vivid ELDVs
Strong likelihood that God, possibly the universe, and any afterlife are timeless
The amazing capability of the mind to create intricate dreams and NDEs
Dreams that are pleasant, worry-free, and like real life
A purpose for dreaming and NDEs provided where a real purpose is still unclear
Uncontrolled dream and NDE content provide a realm for divine intervention
Questions Raised by the NEE Theory
Some thought-provoking questions obviously arise from the NEE theory.
- Should we be disappointed in the timeless afterlife it proposes? Consider instead spending billions of years, day after day after day, in a perfect world that inherently offers no challenges to pass the time. This “heaven running on human-time” alternative, although naturally and commonly conceived by humans, actually has no Biblical basis and upon more reflection should seem uninviting and ludicrous. A static heaven of timeless wonder, love, and contentment may be the best and most plausible that a merciful God (or nature?) can give her creatures.
- Do these creatures include animals? REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep, conducive to dreaming, occurs in higher level animals. So, perhaps there’s a dog heaven after all!
- Does everyone experience the same heaven? The NEE theory facilitates a distributive heaven rather than a centralized one. So, heaven could reflect whatever one believes and dreams. Suppose one doesn’t believe in a God or a heaven? Then maybe there’s no NEE and one’s afterlife will be just like one’s before-life. Or maybe, the NEE will be the feelings and sensations of spending a beautiful afternoon at the beach! NDEs of varying content have been reported by both the religious and nonreligious.
- Can an NEE be hell? Studies based on NDE reports vary much but generally show that on average about 15% of NDEs are reported as hellish experiences.
- Will someone be denied an NEE if they are “blown to bits” in an instant? As indicated before, the brain can likely paint a heavenly landscape almost instantaneously. Also, if the brain can, as reported, make life flash before one’s eyes in the moments before pending disaster, maybe it can create an NDE in nanoseconds before shutting down.
- Is an NEE the only possible afterlife? The theory makes no such claim. Your NEE could be replaced by a supernatural afterlife immediately upon death or serve only as a way-station for such an afterlife, e.g., reincarnation. The basis for believing such possibilities, however, rests on one’s religious or spiritual faith.
The NEE theory finally describes a scientifically plausible and logically consistent heaven, one that is dream-like and timeless and whose location "is all in the mind." Unlike other heavenly claims, no leap of faith is demanded, only openness to the strong possibility that your final, heavenly dreamlike moment will be frozen in time. As philosophically and eloquently expressed by Shakespeare in Hamlet's soliloquy:
... —ay, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come. (Hamlet, Act III, Scene I)
For a more thorough examination of the heaven that is possible with the natural afterlife, see The Heaven of Your Natural Afterlife: a More Revealing Look (HubPages, 2013). For a more thorough analysis of its validity, see the first note given below.
- * - This article was the first written on the natural afterlife and has been updated only slightly, mostly to reflect some revised terminology. For a more comprehensive, in-depth, and scholarly article on the natural afterlife, including a near proof of its existence, see The Theory of a Natural Afterlife: A Newfound, Real Possibility for What Awaits Us at Death. It can be accessed as originally published at http://jcer.com/index.php/jcj/article/view/618/632 (no sign-in required), or a version with some minor revisions can be accessed at academia.edu by clicking on its title. A more recent, yet unpublished article on the natural afterlife, The Theory of a Natural After-life Consciousness: The Psychological Basis for a Natural Afterlife, generalizes the theory of a natural afterlife, giving it a strong psychological basis. In “proving” (based on empirical truths) a natural after-life consciousness, the article proves the existence of the natural afterlife. A preprint copy of the article can be accessed at academia.edu by clicking on its title.
- ** - Here NDEs are not differentiated from end-of-life dreams as only the dreamlike aspects and intense reality of NDEs are relevant to the theory of a natural afterlife. In fact, in older versions of this article, what here is called a never-ending experience (NEE) was called a never-ending dream (NED). Indeed, end-of-life dreams can also provide the basis and content for the natural afterlife.
Your Opinion on the NEE Theory?
After reading this article, what do you think is the likelihood that the NEE Theory is true?
Has this article increased your belief in an afterlife?
© 2013 Bryon Ehlmann