Proving Survival of Consciousness

by Dianne Reynolds

Whether or not our consciousness survives after death of the physical body is one of the most intriguing questions of our time. New scientific research is closing the gap between speculation about an “afterlife” and supporting a continuum of existence that transcends human life.

This past September, The International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS) held a fascinating meeting to discuss the latest scientific research on near-death experiences (NDEs). Bob Waxman, Ph.D. and Sue Lanier, Ph.D. informed a large audience about the history of NDE research beginning with Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life (1976) and culminating with Dr. Sam Parnia’s ongoing AWARE project.

Parnia’s study includes a collaboration of international scientists and physicians who have joined forces to explore the relationship between the mind and brain during clinical death. More than 25 major medical centers throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States are participating in this research program. A major objective of the AWARE study is to test whether the out-of-body perceptions of near-death experiencers (NDErs) can be verified.

One method involves a visual target being placed near the ceiling which can only be seen by someone reading it from above. After resuscitation, NDErs are asked to describe any symbols or markings they may have observed while “their consciousness” was hovering overhead. The conclusions of the study will be published next year, and scientists, physicians, and the NDE community are anxiously awaiting the results.

According to Waxman, “If a high percentage of NDErs identify the targets on the ceiling, it will be the best evidence to date to support survival of consciousness after death. On that day, people all over the whole world will have proof that an afterlife exists.”

During the meeting many NDErs told their stories about: a) dying in the emergency room, b) leaving the body, c) watching overhead while doctors frantically tried to save them, d) moving through a tunnel, e) being in the presence of a bright light, and f) returning back to life. Waxman explained,

“After 35 years of scientific research into the near-death experience – the qualitative evidence suggests that this phenomenon is a universal experience regardless of age, race, religion, or nationality.”

Leading researchers believe that the core experience is essentially the same across cultures. However, Christians don’t see Hindu gods and Hindus don’t see Jesus, so there is some kind of cultural overlay. Consequently, NDErs may be interpreting various images according to their psychological constructs, but the 12 phases of the NDE process is essentially the same.

Meanwhile, the skeptics are not convinced. They believe that there are other causes for NDEs such as oxygen deprivation to the brain, the effects of anesthesia, and the thoughts of a dying brain. Waxman acknowledges these objections; however, he counters the debunkers by pointing out that there is no evidence to support these alternate theories.
“As for oxygen deprivation, it has been proven that at the time of death, NDErs oxygen levels are exceptionally high and carbon dioxide levels are extremely low. With anesthesia, the chemical ketamine has been cited as a cause for NDEs; However, most NDErs have died in an emergency room and were not given anesthesia,” according to Waxman. Additionally, in recent research studies, there was no medical evidence to suggest that physiological issues were causes of NDEs.

During the meeting, attendees spoke about many aspects of their experiences. Each narrative contained detailed accounts of seeing visions of loved ones, receiving knowledge from a divine source, and feeling incredible bliss. Waxman pointed out: “These experiencers are absolutely convinced that their consciousness survived bodily death—and there’s no telling them otherwise. Most reported feelings of joy, peace, and ecstasy. They also felt that the NDE was the most profound experience they ever had. In fact, most NDErs don’t want to come back to life, but were told it was not their time.”

Significantly, most NDErs experience aftereffects which range from feeling an advanced sense of intuition, having an overload of electrical energy, and coping with cognitive dissonance in cases when religious expectations were not congruent with the NDE.

Waxman believes, “Some people are confused because they didn’t see angels with harps, streets paved with gold, or a certain religious figures who they were expecting to greet them.” After the NDE, when these individuals compared their religious beliefs about heaven with observations during the experience, it took time for them to resolve the discrepancies between biblical teachings of the afterlife in contrast to their non-religious near-death experience.

The consensus at the meeting was that the survival of the mind after death is a natural process of transitioning from one reality to another. If the scientific evidence confirms this theory, then we can look forward to floating out of our bodies after death and moving on to a life after life. This “discovery” will certainly not come as a surprise to adherents of the world’s major religions, since most religious doctrines have held for thousands of years that the afterlife is the next step along the way.

Dianne Reynolds has been involved publicity, marketing, and advertising for The Open Center since 2009. Previously, she worked for the London branch of Sotheby’s Ltd. and is a graduate of Chatham College.

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