A retired professor of computer science, now attempting to employ an open mind and his analytic skills to better grasp our amazing world.
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:
- Sam Harris, 11/11/2012
- Charles Q. Choi, 9/12/2011
- Josh Clark, 10/23/2007
- Colin Lecher, 10/10/2012
- Michael Shermer, 4/13/2013
- Victor Stenger, 10/11/2012
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.
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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, it can likely create an NDE in nanoseconds (that’s billionth’s of a second) 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, or a postprint version with some revisions is available at ResearchGate.net (by clicking on its title) and at academia.edu. A more recently published article on the natural afterlife, The Theory of a Natural Eternal Consciousness: The Psychological Basis for a Natural Afterlife, generalizes the theory of a natural afterlife, giving it a stronger scientific basis. The article posits a timeless natural eternal consciousness (NEC) that in the mind of the dying person survives death. The NEC experience can range from near-nothingness to a natural afterlife. In deducing the NEC based on empirical truths, the article “proves” the theory of a natural afterlife, which this present article only describes as “nearly certain.” A postprint version of the published article is available at ResearchGate.net (by clicking on its title) and at academia.edu.
- ** - 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?
© 2013 Bryon Ehlmann
Kishan Hansil on April 22, 2019:
Thankyou soooo much for your time and information much respect from Trinidad...22 April 2019
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on November 12, 2018:
To Crispy: First, no evidence exists that anyone who has died has "see relatives that they have no physical memory of." Second, if such a sighting occurred in a near-death experience or end-of-life dream followed only by death, then such sighting would been part of their never-ending experience and natural afterlife.
Crispy on November 11, 2018:
I certainly think it is plausible, but how does this account for those who see relatives that they have no physical memory of?
Eye Am on February 20, 2018:
I have had many strange experiences and coincidences in my life. Some paranormal, some life saving, some that just cannot be explained. I have also spent countless hours researching quantum physics, ancient beliefs and consciousness. As a result of my experiences and research, I have come to question this thing we call "life" and "reality".
If you have ever experienced a 'lucid dream' - a dream in which you become consciously aware that you are dreaming and are able to influence the dream, you would understand how "real" it actually feels in the dream realm.
I am 100% certain that the dream realm we experience during sleep, is a preview of where we (consciousness) go after our body's physical death. In the dream realm, anything is possible and time is not restrictive.
I believe that the afterlife is a never ending lucid dream, where your thoughts and beliefs instantly become your experience. Therefore, your Heaven or your Hell is dependent on your thoughts and beliefs. If you are in control of your mind and think beautiful and loving thoughts, that will become your experience. Adversely, if your mind is uncontrolled and your thoughts are scattered and evil, so will be your experience. To you, this may become a living Hell.
When you die, choose your thoughts wisely!
jesse on August 17, 2015:
I too have tried to explain this theory to friends during discussions of the afterlife or the infinite. I was intentionally made to pass out when i was a kid at a summer camp. Though I was only 'out' for a second or two, I had a significantly long dream. Even at that young age it really shook me up and as I matured the experience always stayed with me. If a second could seem like 20 minutes in dream time, why not eternity captured at the instant of death. Without this life we would not have the ability or the experiences formed to dream, so I believe that this life is a gift for the greater gift of ones own personal 'heaven'. We need to travel, learn, read, watch movies, meet people, fall in love, be kind, make friends etc. I have said that one man's heaven is another man's hell. Heaven must be personal, must be unique to the individual otherwise it wouldn't be Heaven.
NickLS94 on December 22, 2014:
I've been thinking like this for a long time as well. I thought I was the only one. This makes so much sense to me. Of all religious beliefs in the afterlife,what if we're all right? Whatever you think will happen when we die happens. Our own personal Heaven. Or "Dream"
jaferguson49 from Hooks, Texas on August 09, 2014:
A few years back, this very same notion came to me and until today, I thought I was the only one who had ever thought of it. It's tremendously fascinating. I've attempted to discus this idea with family and friends, throughout the years and am amazed at number of who find it unbelievable.
I think there could be a lot more said about the relationship between 'religious belief' and the 'NED'. I believe they are more closely related than what most can understand, depending, of course, on one's level of translation, faith and open-mindedness. If this is true, it would lend towards the notion that there would be 'something or someone' that is in control on the other end...so to speak.
I'm not sure about the 'freeze frame' NED. It could be quite possible that the NED kicks in when 'someone-something' pushes the 'RESUME' button, on the movie player.
Who knows? We can all speculate. It opens up dialogue on so many levels.
I will end with this. The only thing 'Supernatural' is that which we don't understand. Once we do understand it...it's 'Natural'.
nickd412 on July 06, 2014:
Thank you for your quick response. I also better understand the "how we would experience this" part of your theory. I would however propose the possibility that we might actually be doing stuff in this state. Given the fact that time is in fact relative regardless of your state of existence. I think it quite possible that you do DO stuff in this instance of infinity, for lack of a better term. In other words the outside world would still experience the same time in an instance while we , when dead or the split second before it experience an eternity. I do not believe for this theory to work that it requires you to be Still so to speak.
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on July 06, 2014:
Response to nickd412:
Q1. "in this timeless dream, would you say we're frozen in a state of ___________?
Below are the possibilites.
a) present and forever expectant bliss
b) present and forever expectant contentment
c) present and forever expectant misery
Q2. "would u say that we're doing stuff we ..."?
We won't be doing anything since the afterlife is timeless. It takes time to do something. However, if one is already in a present and forever expectant blissful state, there's nothing one need do to provide any more pleasure.
nickd412 on July 06, 2014:
Fascinating article and seems very plausible. I wonder though, in this timeless dream, would you say we're frozen in a state of (fill in the blank) and still or would u say that we're doing stuff we feel like (talking to loved ones, eating, surfing, relaxing, whatever with what would appear to us as eternity?
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on June 12, 2014:
Response to Tim: A person who dies during an NDE does NOT still exist. A person will not know they no longer have a consciousness after death BUT neither will they know that their NDE has ended. A rock, unlike a person, never had a consciousness, never had an NDE, and thus never unknowingly had a "time out" called, or a "pause button" pressed, while they were experiencing it.
Tim on June 12, 2014:
I don't see how a person who dies during a NDE still exists. If the brain dies then the dream dies with it. The person dreaming will not know that they no longer have a consciousness, after death, because they can't. A rock doesn't know its unconscious either. This is not an afterlife; it is oblivion.
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on June 11, 2014:
To Edward: The theory of a natural afterlife does not attempt to explain everything about NDEs. It only posits that an NDE never ends from the perspective of the dying person.
No energy is required to maintain the NDE after death since it does indeed end with death. The important thing to realize, however, is that the dying person never perceives that it ends. So to them, and them alone, it becomes an NED. The final moment of the NDE becomes to them timeless and everlasting. They may die believing they are in heaven and for all eternity never believe otherwise.
Finally, the theory of a natural afterlife does not close the door on some other worldly realm affecting the type or content of an NDE and thus the NED. It also doesn't close the door on some currently unknown natural phenomena affecting the NDE. After all, humans currently can only account for 5% of the matter and energy that comprise our universe and cannot yet explain consciousness.
Edward on June 11, 2014:
Hi enjoyed your article however I would like to make some points.
The Dream like NDE you talk about would not explain Verdical NDE's where information was gained by the dead person while they were dead about the real world, and also Deathbed visions where information from Dying people was given to loved ones and confirmed afterwards to be 100% percent accurate.
Also from a Scientific perspective thought requires energy and to maintain in an infinite dream would require infinite energy to sustain that dream, thus if it is a dream like state it should be finite.
Also a study by Dr Charles Tart confirmed that a girl who during an OBE described a number on a wall above a clock was indeed the right number site: http://www.spiritscienceandmetaphysics.com/out-of-...
I know you want to come up with a natural mechanism to describe NDE's, but what if an other worldly realm is the natural mechanism?.
But I will admit some NDE's not all do seem more like Vivid dreams and proving which Theory is right will be a very hard ask for all researchers involved.
Jordan Watts on April 05, 2014:
This is the philosophy that I have been believing for my whole life. When you die you slip into a never ending dream. Whatever you think will happen when you die will happen. So think happily, and happiness will mix with death to form your own peaceful afterlife.
Treathyl FOX from Austin, Texas on October 30, 2013:
Heaven is not a never-ending dream for me. When I die I'll know if it's real or not. There are only 2 possibilities. Either it is or it ain't. Why debate when eventually you'll know the answer. Just have to be patient.
P.S. That public domain image from NASA is awesome!!
Alma on September 15, 2013:
The only hope we still have is the NDE when all vital signs are absent, those"dead" are dreaming :)
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on June 07, 2013:
Thank you for your comment and for referring me to H.H. Price’s work. From Wikipedia and New World Encyclopedia, I gathered that indeed, like an NED, Price’s afterlife was dream-like and allowed for each person to experience a world of their own based on memories and mental images from their life. Price’s afterlife, however, involved a “disembodied consciousness existence” after death. This seems close to what Alexander believes based on his NDE. The natural afterlife suggested by the NED Theory, on the other hand, does not require one to venture into the paranormal, i.e., supernatural, as does Price. Also, the theory suggests nothing about different minds being “able to communicate via some kind of dream telepathy” after death.
Quake on June 06, 2013:
I am in agreement with your hypothesis. The afterlife from NDE reports are indeed described as dreamlike. The philosopher H. H. Price advocated a dream like world of the afterlife, you may want to look up his hypothesis. He came to the conclusion that it may not be entirely subjective as different minds may be able to communicate via some kind of dream telepathy? Cool stuff.