Can Our Consciousness Continue After Death?
Do we know for sure that our consciousness is in our brain? If not, is it possible that it will continue 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."
Major 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 really don’t know that for sure. It’s possible that every cell in our body is 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 true after death.
Does Consciousness Continue After Death?
Whatever consciousness is, if it's something that does not require the body then it's possible that it 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 is actually 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 and of no need.
Who’s to say that when the cells of our body die, along with the entire body, our consciousness and memory upload to another storage medium? This 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 really 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 he 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 really stood out for me when I read his story:
- It is known 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, despite the fact that my scientific understanding contradicts the results. Nevertheless, Dr. Alexander's explanation is very 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 from above, looking down, or from another location—observing myself in the situation that I am recalling.
The point I’m making is that it’s possible that people who claim to have an out-of-body experience might just be visualizing the experience in the way we tend to do anyway.
With that said, it’s still hard to dismiss what Dr. Alexander claims about his time in the afterlife, due to his clarity and accuracy of his experiences that were confirmed by his friends and family.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Glenn Stok