Glenn Stok analyzes and writes about peculiar aspects of life, based on his studies of theoretical and critical philosophy.
Is our consciousness in our brain? If not, could it be possible to continue being conscious after our death?
There is no definite answer. However, I’ll review the issues that scientists have been studying for years in the field of neuroscience.
- I’ll start with a brief explanation of how psychologists explain what causes consciousness.
- Then I’ll discuss a philosophical idea that consciousness does not require the body.
- I’ll conclude with a neurosurgeon's experience while being brain dead. He lived to write about it—claiming proof of consciousness after death.
How Do Psychologists Explain Consciousness?
I read the following excerpt in an article in Scientific American1:
"Because we know for a fact that measurable consciousness dies when the brain dies, until proved otherwise, the default hypothesis must be that brains cause consciousness."
— Michael Shermer, Scientific American
I have trouble accepting that statement. The author claims it to be a fact. At least he qualifies his statement by adding "until proved otherwise."
Significant progress has been made in the field of neuroscience to explain how human thinking leads to the ability to learn new skills, solve problems, and communicate with language. However, psychologists admit that consciousness is still a mystery.
The author of an article in Psychology Today, Paul Thagard Ph.D., says that it’s a “result of interactive processes that bind together perceptions and appraisals.” 2
So what does that mean? I’m sure you are aware that you have a keen perception of your environment. You even are aware that you sense your emotion about things you experience as you reflect upon them. Is that consciousness, or is your brain just binding all these perceptions and appraisals? I think that’s what Dr. Thagard was trying to say in his article.
I’m a computer programmer/analyst, and my background causes me to visualize all brain functions as simple calculations. Computers could do all that! Artificial Intelligence is a fast-moving field today that is coming close to doing just about anything humans do—maybe even better.
However, is that consciousness? I think not, but that’s just my opinion.
The Location of Consciousness
Scientists believe that our consciousness is in our brain, but we don’t know that for sure. Possibly every cell in our body could be a storage unit for our memory—and that memory triggers our consciousness.
So, where is that happening? Is there some other entity that is responsible for storing the data that simulates our consciousness? Notice how I refer to it as a simulation. You can’t rule that out. If our entire life is a simulation, there is no way of knowing it.
Just think about how vivid your dreams are. When you dream, you are in a world created in your subconscious where all physical laws apply. You are fully aware of your physical presence. Your dream is a simulation, but while you’re dreaming, it’s just as real.
Your dreams are made up in your mind. Your body is no part of that, even though you imagine your physical existence in your dreams.
I propose the idea that the same may be happening after death.
Does Consciousness Continue After Death?
Whatever consciousness is, if it's something that does not require the body, then it possibly can continue after death. That is to say, our conscious experience continues after we die. One might think of this as heaven.
If all that is true, then whatever happens in heaven could be a dream. This dream can entertain us with all the blessings and good fortunes we deserve or desire.
Our consciousness is what some people might consider our soul. If that’s so, then it may be possible that our consciousness remains after death.
Our physical bodies are of no use to us. When we die, our consciousness and memory upload to another storage medium? That may not be so far-fetched.
Did you ever have the experience of sensing that a friend or family member was in trouble, only later to discover they indeed were? I’ve had that experience, and some friends told me similar stories.
Is There Evidence of Life After Death?
I discovered a book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife3, by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who was in a deep coma for a week. He had a bacterial meningitis infection with a rare case of an E. Coli attacking his brain.
During those seven days in a coma, there was no detection of brain activity. The part of the brain that controls thought and emotion had shut down. However, when Dr. Alexander recovered, he had a conscious recollection of everything that took place while he had been in a coma, even of people not in his presence.
I would tend not to believe what Dr. Alexander wrote about in his book, except for the fact that he is a well-recognized neurosurgeon. Two things stood out for me when I read his story:
- Doctors know that the chance of recovery is slim to none when E. Coli attacks the brain.
- I found it interesting that during his coma, he had an out of body experience that he was able to prove by describing everything that went on with the people who loved him and who were concerned about his recovery.
One has to wonder about that.
The experiences he remembers having had were related to what he describes as being in heaven. Since I had researched similar cases, I found it interesting that many people who encounter Near Death Experience describe their memory of it in very similar ways.
For that reason, I don't want to doubt it, even though my scientific understanding contradicts the results. Nevertheless, Dr. Alexander's explanation is clear and precise. He describes in detail every stage of his struggle:
- How he suddenly succumbed to the E. Coli attack and quickly went into a coma;
- How the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong since E. Coli getting into the brain is so rare, and all they knew for sure was that his brain activity had seized;
- How he was fully aware of the stress all his loved ones were going through as they thought he would never recover;
- How his impression of his out of body experience tended to display proof of heaven.
His story relates well to my research into figuring out where our consciousness resides and if it can survive our death.
Out of Body Memories
The out of body experience that people talk about after having had a near death experience is said to result from the soul leaving the body. However, I have a different idea about this that I call Out-of-Body Memories.
I realize that whenever I remember a past event that I had experienced, I see it from a birds-eye-view. That is, I visualize my memories observing from above, looking down, or from another location.
The point I’m making is that people who claim to have an out-of-body experience might just be visualizing it in the way we tend to do anyway.
With that said, it remains difficult to dismiss what Dr. Alexander claims about his time in the afterlife. Especially due to the clarity and accuracy of his experiences that were confirmed by his friends and family.
- Michael Shermer. (July 1, 2012). What Happens to Consciousness When We Die. Scientific American
- Paul Thagard Ph.D. (April 2011). What Is Consciousness? Psychology Today
- Dr. Eben Alexander. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife. Simon & Schuster
© 2017 Glenn Stok
Kesther on July 27, 2019:
I wish more would just reconsider the mind-is-brain-activity- view for at least a minute, and stop calling those who disagree and those that have spiritual experiences ( I'm one of them ) "arrogant and special snowflakes".
If one person can have spiritual experiences, everyone else can. So that throws "arrogance and special snowflakes" out the window. No one really has the truth either. Not mind-beyond-brain proponents nor materialists.
Keep up the good work.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 26, 2019:
Kesther - That’s a very good explanation. It goes to show that we always need to consider that something else is going on that causes even educated people, such as Dr. Alexander, to imagine activities outside of their body.
Kesther on July 26, 2019:
I am highly skeptical about Eben Alexander.
What's funny is when some materialist try to explain NDEs away, they say that when different people have the same or very similar NDEs, that's proof that it's all from the nervous system, subconscious, and brain-based, because "they have brains and neurons too".
And when there are different NDEs based on different cultures and religions, that's also proof that it's nothing but brain activity and hallucinations, because people see what they believe or want to believe in. If you believe in a spiritual realm, your biology will create those illusions. Evolutionary mechanisms. It's all about survival and reproduction.
You can't win with hardlined materialists. And of course there's one of their favorite sayings "If you disagree that the mind is brain activity, and you think there's a reality beyond the physical, you're poorly or have a low education, naive/gullible, afraid of death and oblivion, want to believe you're special, and you can't accept the harsh reality that this physical world is the only one you get, like an adult. Too many adults believe in childish fantasies."
Looking beyond materialism has nothing to do with education, or behaving like an adult. Many people who do so are highly or well educated, rational, and mature. Even a few atheists think that materialism is ridiculous.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 01, 2019:
AMFredenburg - I was understanding your story as you meant it. I expect you will see the similarity when you read what I discuss in my other article. It’s more related to your story than this article.
AMFredenburg on July 01, 2019:
Thank you for your address to your other article. I will definitely read it.
I think we're seeing things from a different perspective. You're seeing my comments as a report from people on this side having an experience of people who had died; I'm seeing it as a possibility that people from the other side are aware of us and able to communicate with us. I guess I'm making an assumption, but I think it's a valid one. My mother in her condition had no ability to understand that her mother had died, so had no point of reference. My take is that my mother saw her mother (in 1997) because her mother was there. My own mother died in 1999, so she was not experiencing a near-death experience at that time.
The events I've discussed are a small part of the experiences I had with both parents during their final illnesses and their ultimate deaths. Lots of weird stuff went on!
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 01, 2019:
AMFredenburg - The neurosurgeon, Dr. Alexander, noted in his book that I referenced, that he was aware of activities in the world while he was considered brain dead in a comma.
Your story is kind of the other way around, with your Mom seeing your grandmother who had already passed. That fits another scenario known as Terminal Lucidity that I discuss in another article ( http://hub.me/al950 ). It refers to the experience of “seeing” people who already had died just prior to one passing. You might want to see that article because it relates better to your experience.
Sorry for your loss.
AMFredenburg on July 01, 2019:
I had a number of experiences back in the nineties, when I lost my mother and grandmother within two years. I was driving to a job interview about 60 miles from my home and was driving past the road where my grandmother was living in a nursing home, and as I passed the road I began thinking about how after I died I'd like to come back again, and I was enjoying driving through the wooded road, which had sunlight coming through the trees, thinking that the planet was a beautiful place. I found out later that day that my grandmother had died at the exact time I drove past the road to her nursing home.
Later on I went to visit my mother, who had Alzheimer's and was also in a nursing home, and I told her about her mother dying. She got upset and then promptly forgot about it. I told her a couple more times and then gave up; why keep upsetting her when she couldn't retain the information? a few weeks later I went to take her to lunch, and once I got her into the car she said to me, "I am so mad at my mother!" I asked, "Why are you mad at your mother?" She said, "She keeps coming into my room and staring at me, but she won't talk to me!"
At the point where my mother was very ill and not expected to live, my sister and I spent the day and evening with her and then left. I was dozing on the couch at home around 1 a.m. when I woke up suddenly with the image of my mother opening her eyes, looking surprised and pleased. I got up and waited for the phone call, which came ten minutes later.
Consciousness after death? I have no doubts.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 01, 2019:
ason B Truth - I agree with you that editorial on paranormal is of no use in a scientific essay. That's why Nimoy's program was considered Science Fiction.
Jason B Truth from United States of America on July 01, 2019:
There were a lot of shows on television about this topic back when I was a little kid. One show that they have shown reruns of regarding this topic is "In Search Of" hosted by the late Leonard Nimoy. I think that television needs to bring back these kinds of shows and programs, but not in the form of these boring reality shows about the paranormal that are on the SyFy Channel. By the way, you wrote an excellent article.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on June 10, 2019:
Harrison Declan - Everything we read needs to be taken with a grain of salt. There will always be people who make up stories, and people who really believe that they experienced something that may only have been a dream. I question everything just as you do. I found Dr. Alexander interesting only because of his professional background. But I still take it with a grain of salt. We will never know for sure until our time comes. I appreciate your comment.
Harrison Declan on June 10, 2019:
For me this has always been an interesting subject and which always leave more questions than answers. Dr. Alexander's story strongly tilts the pendulum in support of life after death considering his pedigree. But if we're to make our conclusions on his narration, do we also make conclusions on narrations of people who have been abducted by aliens, or on people whose NDE is different from Dr. Alexander's? Do animals have consciousness and do they experience NDE and after life? These are questions that will continue to puzzle us until we find fact based explanation of the source of consciousness.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on December 14, 2018:
Bryon Ehlmann - Your explanation of natural afterlife sounds insightful and relates to other articles I’ve written on the subject. I think you’ll find them interesting as well. They are listed here: https://www.glennstok.com/list-spiritual-philosoph...
Bryon Ehlmann from Tallahassee, Florida on December 14, 2018:
The natural eternal consciousness (NEC), which for some will be a natural afterlife, provides an affirmative answer to "Does Consciousness Continue after Death?" Both phenomena are logically consistent and supported by psychological principles and human experience, i.e, they are not supernatural. They also explain a linkage that exists between dreams, near-death experiences (NDEs), and death as well as the many bouts of timelessness, like dreamless sleep and passing out, that we experience throughout our lives and into death. Contrary to what most people perceive of when they think of an afterlife, the natural afterlife is not a time perceptive one but a timeless one. Also, it need not be associated with religion.
If you do an internet search on "natural external consciousness" or "natural afterlife," you will find more detail.
Eric Breaux on February 19, 2018:
The best rationale for consciousness not depending on the brain is that if we were entirely physical, every thought and emotion we could have is just a reaction we have no control of. that would include every idea we have from what we observe, so no thought could be trusted because it's just a forced reaction of the brain. You wouldn't have honestly looked at any observable thing and made a rational deduction from evidence, which includes the idea that we are only physical, so materialism is contradictory.
Val Karas from Canada on January 29, 2018:
Glenn---Just to add to my comment---it had nothing to do with Lanza's theory, everything was my own speculating, which I did make clear; but, not knowing that you are familiar with "Biocentrism" I suggested that reading.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on January 29, 2018:
Vladimir Karas - I’m familiar with Dr. Lanza’s concept of how we see the world, which he coined “Biocentrism”. You didn’t make it clear in your comment, but his theory includes the need to study biology as well as physics to understand the “theory of everything,” as he puts it. I can’t argue with that. Thanks for your comment.
Val Karas from Canada on January 29, 2018:
In one of my articles---won't mention its title to avoid much disliked advertising---I compared death to my deep meditations during which I have no sensation of having a body, a name, an everyday self-image.
Furthermore, when I decide a night before to wake up the next morning at a certain time, it regularly happens. Now, who, or what in the sleeping-me "knows" what time it is?
Also, when I am walking in my favorite park-forest, why my eyes always look down just before I would step on a goose's poop or a chewing gum?
Here I am talking about consciousness being independent of body, which often happens to long time meditators who consciously detach from their bodily sensations and mind's monkeying around.
I think that consciousness survives physical death, "simply" because in our essence we are consciousness; and body, with its different and loud band of frequencies interferes with the ones of consciousness---so we identify ourselves with the "loudest" entity in our personal space. (Sorry for the long sentence, lol).
I tend to go introspective during my dreaming, so I am aware that it's a dream---sometimes directing it. I think people are operating from their automatic pilot, not living consciously, so they are scared of that bunch of survival automatisms dying some day. It's for the lack of personal sovereignty that we identify with our collective consciousness, not our own.
And now it's time to say it---sorry for the lengthy comment, LOL.
Great and interesting article, Glenn. You may want to read "Biocentrism", by Dr. Robert Lanza, MD.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on December 14, 2017:
Linda, Dr. Alexander is the brain surgeon I was referring to in my comment in your article on S.Pneumoniae. Since he is a professional in the field, his book about his experience is very interesting. It's great that he survived to write about it.
Your article ties in well and helps with the understanding of Streptococcus Pneumoniae.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 14, 2017:
This is a very interesting article, Glenn. I've thought about some of the points that you mention. I haven't read Dr. Alexander's book, however. I'm looking forward to doing this. The nature of consciousness is an intriguing topic.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 02, 2017:
Eugene, You should read Dr. Alexander's book that I listed in the references. You have a very gruesome impression of the afterlife. Dr Alexander still experienced having all his senses while he was brain dead in a coma. He didn't feel deprived, as he explains it in his book. For that matter, he discusses how he had more sensory capabilities during his out-of-body experience.
We are limited in our bodies with only five senses. Finding another "host" is not the solution. You might find my other article about "A Hypothetical Observation of What to Expect in the Afterlife" uplifting with other ideas.
Eugene Brennan from Ireland on September 02, 2017:
My greatest fear is that after death and deprived of it's senses, our consciousness exists in a sensory-deprived void for all eternity (or at least until it finds a 'host'). Not something particularly pleasant to think about. It's something some stroke victims probably experience to a greater lesser degree.
Mary Wickison from Brazil on September 02, 2017:
A thought provoking article.
Like yourself, I will be watching that movie as it sounds interesting. I think people get hung up on words such as God and heaven and defend their viewpoint accordingly.
I personally think there is another spiritual plane where our consciousness is after death or perhaps it is always there.
I too have experienced similar unexplained coincidences which have made me question the connectivity of various people and a joint consciousness.
Jo Miller from Tennessee on September 01, 2017:
Many years ago my mom became ill with a brain disease, and I thought if I read enough books and talked to enough doctors we could fix her. I began reading a book about the brain and soon discovered that we still know very little about the part of us that we know with--our brains. It was a humbling and life-changing event. I've heard it said that the first step in accepting God is to accept that we are not. Mystery may just be another word for God. After all, God is just a word that we humans made up. To assume that we know more about this mystery of life (until proven otherwise) seems a little arrogant to me.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 01, 2017:
A question for the ages! I've seen plausible evidence on all sides of this question. I've yet to make a solid opinion on it, although it would be great if "it survives" is true. Thanks for the additional resources and discussion on this fascinating topic! Have a great Labor Day Weekend!