What is consciousness? Is consciousness in the brain? Or is there proof that consciousness exists outside of the physical body?
Consciousness is the most mysterious phenomenon in human existence. Current scientific paradigm holds that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain and arises out of neurological activity of our brain. In this view, the mind is localized within the brain and is dependent on the mechanism of the physical brain (Radin, 1997). It cannot be argued that many functions of consciousness are localized in the brain and arise out of neurological activity of the brain. For example, the brain has specific areas for speech and language, primary sensory areas for each sensory modality and motor areas which command movement, as well as areas for recognition of human faces, interpretation of colors, and many other functions (Libet, 1994).
However, some scientists and philosophers hold that consciousness is not exclusively local, that some aspects of consciousness are non-local. The principle of non-locality has been established in quantum physics in an experiment with a two-particle system of zero spin – where the spin of each particle is in the opposite direction and they cancel each other (Zukav, 2001). When two particles with a zero-spin are separated in a way that does not affect their spin and then using magnetic field the spin of one particle is purposely changed, the other particle will change its spin as well. Regardless of how far apart the two particles are the change occurs instantaneously - at a speed faster than the speed of light. This phenomenon was first described by Einstein, Podolsky, & Rosen in a thought experiment and later proven by John Bell in a mathematical construct which is now called Bell’s theorem.
The non-locality of particles at the quantum level, proved with Bell’s theorem, provides opportunities for metaphorical explanations of some of the persistent anomalous phenomena of consciousness that cannot be explained within the current scientific paradigm. This paper is an exploration of research in parapsychology and other disciplines in search for evidence of non-local aspects of consciousness. Three classical domains in parapsychology research are explored in this paper: extra sensory perception, psychokinesis, and survival of consciousness after death.
Extra Sensory Perception
Extra sensory perception (ESP) is a term coined by J.B. Rhine in 1934 and refers to information obtained without using ordinary senses (Rhine, 1977). Based on the apparent source of the information, ESP is divided into the following categories: (a) telepathy, (b) clairvoyance, (c) the sense of being stared at, and (d) precognition. Radin (1997) noted that in research conditions it is difficult to distinguish cleanly among the various forms of ESP. While these distinctions are important in the quest for an underlying mechanism of ESP, they do not influence the existence of ESP itself.
Telepathy is a direct communication between two minds without using words, nonverbal clues, signs or other conventional means of communication (Radin, 1997). Telepathy experiments date back as far as 1883 when Sir William Barrett conducted “thought transference” tests between hypnotized subjects (Radin, 1997). From then on to approximately 1940s, many telepathy experiments using cards were conducted and their positive experimental results provided increasingly persuasive evidence for ESP. In the 1960’s researchers noticed that about half of the spontaneous ESP experiences occur in the dream state, thus they began to conduct telepathy tests in a dream research laboratory.
In the mid-1970s Charles Honorton, William Braud, and Adrian Parker, independently of each other, developed a telepathy experiment using sensory deprivation technique called “ganzfeld”, meaning “total field” (Radin, 1997). The idea behind the ganzfeld technique is to deprive subjects of as much outside sensory stimuli as possible. A telepathy experiment utilizing ganzfeld technique has three phases, preparation of the sender and receiver, sending the target, and judging the outcome. To prepare the receiver researchers tape translucent ping-pong ball halves over subject’s eyes while a red light is shining on the receiver’s face, producing an unchanging visual field. Continuous white noise is played through the headphones to create an unchanging auditory field. At the start of each new trial, receivers typically undergo progressive relaxation exercises. The goal is to create and unchanging sensory field to “starve” the nervous system for any stimuli. In the absence of outside stimuli, the nervous system gradually becomes responsive to subtle, barely noticeable perceptions. In the meantime the sender is escorted into a distant, isolated room. A computer first randomly selects a target pack containing four target pictures (or videos) and then one of the four pictures (or videos) from the pack. The sender views the target and tries to mentally send it to the receiver. In the meantime, the receiver speaks aloud any feelings, images, sensations that come to mind. In modern ganzfeld setups the sender can listen through a one-way audio link to the receiver describing their ongoing imagery. This serves as a kind of biofeedback as the sender can now adjust their mental sending strategy. At the end of fifteen or thirty minutes, depending on the experimental design, the receiver is given the four pictures (or videos) from the selected target pack and is asked to rank them according to how well each matches the impressions received during the session. A “direct hit” is assigned if the actual target matches with the picture that was assigned number one. By chance this experiment should result in a 25 percent chance hit rate.
In 1982 Charles Honorton (as cited in Radin, 1997) summarized all the ganzfeld experiments that were published at that time and found that when the actual hit rates were combined for all the studies that reported hit rate, the odds against chance were ten billion to one. Honorton further found that the positive effects were not a result of one or two laboratories, but they were successfully replicated by eight other laboratories.
Selective reporting, also called a “file-drawer” problem, was a factor that might have accounted for the positive results of the ganzfeld studies. This problem occurs when unsuccessful studies do not get published, either because of selective reporting by scientists or because of the editorial policy of professional journals which tend to favor successful studies rather than unsuccessful studies. In 1980 parapsychologist Susan Blackmore conducted a survey of parapsychologists and found that the file-drawer problem was not a serious issue in the ganzfeld studies. She found nineteen unpublished studies; seven of those were successful with odds against chance of twenty to one or greater (as cited in Radin, 1997). However, to nullify the observed effect of the ganzfeld studies that Honorton analyzed 423 file-drawer experiments would have to be found (Radin, 1997).
In a joint communiqué published in 1986, skeptic Ray Hyman and Honorton agreed that “there is an overall significant effect in this data base that cannot reasonably be explained by selective reporting or multiple analyses” (p. 351). They also both agreed that future experiments will have to adhere to more stringent standards which would include: rigorous precautions against sensory leakage, extensive security procedures to prevent fraud, and more extensive documentation of procedures.
To comply with the experimental requirements published in the 1986 joint communiqué, Honorton initiated computer-controlled ganzfeld studies called “autoganzfeld” (as cited in Radin, 1997). Eleven series of experiments provided results of 34 percent hit rate. This produced odds against chance of forty-five thousand to one.
It is evident that ESP is found in the ganzfeld telepathy experiments and that sometimes people can obtain information without the use of ordinary senses. Under the current scientific paradigm this is simply impossible, and yet, the data speak for themselves, revealing that some aspects of consciousness are not confined to the brain.
Clairvoyance is a capacity to access information about an object from a distance without using the ordinary senses. Clairvoyance is frequently called “remote-viewing” (Radin, 1997). Remote-viewing experiments were popularized in the early 1970s when U.S. government initiated a research program at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) which was led by physicist Harold Puthoff (Puthoff, 1996). Puthoff was later joined by physicist Russell Targ and a few years later by another physicist Edwin May. The entire program moved to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in 1990.
In a typical remote-viewing experiment a target is first selected (this could be an individual, a remote location, a hidden photograph, or a video clip). The viewer (who is blind to the target) is then instructed to sketch and describe the target. After the viewer had remote-viewed the target and provided sketches and/or descriptions of the target, a judge who is blind to the true target looked at the data provided by the viewer along with photographs or videos of five possible targets. Only one of these targets was the real target and the judge’s role was to rank the targets where a rank of 1 meant that it matched most closely. The rank was the final score for each remote-viewing experiment.
Over the years researchers developed experimental designs that employed increasingly tighter conditions with remote-viewing experiments to demonstrate proof of clairvoyance. Some of these conditions employed were: (1) no one who knew the target was allowed to have any contact with the remote-viewer before they provided a description of the target, (2) for those who had knowledge of the target, no contact with the judge was allowed until after the judging was completed, (3) no access to the remote-viewer’s responses was given to those who had any knowledge of the target until after the judging was completed (Radin, 1997).
In 1995 Jessica Utts and Ray Hyman were commissioned by the CIA to evaluate the government sponsored research on remote-viewing and related phenomena that was carried out at SRI and later at SAIC during the years from 1973 through 1994 (Utts, 1996; Hyman, 1996). The focus of this review was on the research at SAIC from 1992 through 1994.
The overall analysis revealed positive results of such magnitude that if chance alone was the explanation they “would occur only about once in every 1020 such instances” (Utts, 1996, p. 12). Convinced that anomalous cognition (ESP) exists, Utts concluded her report: “it would be wasteful of valuable resources to look for proof. No one who has examined all of the data across laboratories, taken as a collective whole, has been able to suggest methodological or statistical problems to explain the ever-increasing and consistent results to date” (p. 23). Hyman agreed with some of the findings of Jessica Utts, in particular with the following: that the SAIC experiments were free of methodological weaknesses, free of obvious and better known flaws that can invalidate the results of parapsychology research, and that the effect sizes reported in the SAIC experiments are too large and consistent to be dismissed (1996).
These experimental results and the analysis by the government provide evidence that clairvoyance is possible and it has been demonstrated in laboratory conditions. Clairvoyance cannot be explained within the current scientific theories that bind consciousness in time and space.
The Sense of Being Stared at
The sense of being stared at is another manifestation of information transfer beyond the usual means of communication. This sense refers to a perception beyond the known senses that someone is staring at us. A belief that someone can influence us through the eyes by looks - the evil eye - is found throughout history, in folklore of many societies. According to the biologist Rupert Sheldrake, the belief in the evil eye is “very widespread and very ancient” (2003, p.185). However, this phenomenon was largely ignored by the scientific community and very few studies have been published until the late 1980’s. Since then there has been an increase in the research activity and the results were mostly positive and statistically significant.
Sheldrake (2005) describes a number of ways to test for the sense of being stared at. The easiest experiment involves direct looking. People work in pairs with a subject and a looker. Subjects sit with their backs to the looker who either stares at them or looks away. The subject guesses within ten seconds and the answer is either right or wrong. Because of the ease of performance, direct looking tests have been carried out not only by researchers but by many students with significant positive and consistent results. Sheldrake found that “Typically, about 55% of the guesses are right, as opposed to 50% expected by chance. Repeated over tens of thousands of trials this result becomes astronomically significant statistically” (p.14, 2005).
In a more complicated experiment the subject and the looker are in different rooms and the subject is viewed through a closed-circuit television by the observer. Subjects do not give verbal responses; rather subject’s skin resistance is monitored to detect immediate emotional changes. Most of these experiments gave statistically significant positive results. Subject’s skin resistance changed when they were being stared at (Sheldrake 2003).
A third kind of experiment is conducted in more natural conditions where people are observed by a hidden observer. The observer is hidden behind a one way mirror or a darkened window overlooking a public space, such as hallways of a shopping mall. Subjects are being continuously videotaped to account for periods when they are being stared at and when they are not. The video is later analyzed by a person who does not know the periods when the subjects were being stared at. While not many experiments of this design have been conducted, Sheldrake found positive and statistically significant results with these experiments (2005).
According to Sheldrake (2003), the most statistically significant results come from the largest experiment on the sense of being stared at conducted in Amsterdam. Over a period of several years, more than 18,700 looker-subject pairs have taken part in this experiment and the statistical significance of the positive results reveals that the odds against chance are 10376 to 1.
Sheldrake also conducted surveys to find how widespread is the perception of being stared at. In surveys in Europe and North America, between 70% and 97% of the people questioned said they had had personal experiences of the sense of being stared at (2003). More women (81%) than men (74%) reported having this experience. Both men and women reported that this experience occurred most commonly in public places such as bars or on the streets.
It is evident that the sense of being stared at exists. While there is disagreement between Sheldrake (2003) and Radin (2003) regarding the theoretical explanation of this ESP, the evidence remains and it cannot be accounted for by the mainstream scientific belief that mind is confined to the brain.
Precognition is an accurate anticipation of future events where information could not be inferred by ordinary means (Radin, 1997). In 1989 Charles Honorton and Diane Ferrari set out to find whether there is any scientific evidence for precognition (Honorton, Ferrari, 1989). They conducted a meta-analysis which drew on 309 “forced choice” precognition experiments carried out between 1935 and 1987. In a forced choice experiment a random selection of a target has to be predicted. If the prediction matches the target selection, it is counted as a “hit”. In a database of nearly two million trials, with more than fifty thousand subjects, Honorton and Ferrari found extremely significant results with odds against chance of 1025 to one. The psychologists considered the file-drawer problem and calculated that in order to cancel out this effect; they would have to find 14,268 unpublished, unsuccessful studies.
The forced choice precognition experiments had a limitation – the nature of the test was boring and thus the results declined with time (Radin, 2006). Scientists were searching for an experimental design which would bypass this limitation which led some researchers to design experiments to tests for the presence of unconscious precognition. One way to test for the presence of unconscious precognition is to see whether future emotional states are detectable in the present nervous system activity. These future emotional states are also called “presentiments”, a subset of precognition, referring to a vague feeling that something is about to happen but without conscious awareness of an event (Radin, 1997).
Radin designed and conducted a series of experiments to test for presentiment. The experiments were based on the idea that unconsciously we are constantly scanning our future and preparing to respond to it. If that is true, then whenever our future contains something emotional, our nervous system would respond to it before the actual event occurred.
The experimental design required a subject to sit in front of a blank computer screen. Electrodes were attached on the first and second fingers of the subject’s hand to record fluctuations in skin conductance. On the subject’s third finger, a device was attached to record heart rate and blood flow. Signals from electrodes were monitored by a computer. The subject initiated a trial by pressing a mouse button. The computer waited five seconds, then randomly selected a picture and displayed it on the screen for three seconds, then it disappeared and the screen went blank for ten seconds. After that a message appeared on the screen informing the subject to start the next trial by pressing the mouse button again when he or she was ready. Meanwhile, the subject’s physiological responses were continuously monitored. The images that the subject had seen were either calm photos of nature, landscapes or calm people or emotional photos, such as violent, erotic, or accident scenes.
The experimental results confirmed that the test was working as it was planned and as it was expected by classical orienting response – after the subjects viewed emotional pictures their autonomic nervous system reacted with arousal. After the subjects viewed the calm pictures, they remained relaxed. Most importantly, Radin (1997) observed the presentiment effect which was predicted to occur before the stimulus. Nearly all participants reported that they were not aware of the upcoming picture. The subjects “pre-acted” their own future emotional states. In the first set of experiments conducted by Radin at the University of Nevada, the effect was with odds against chance 500 to 1.
The results of the forced-choice precognition tests and the presentiment experiments reveal that in some instances we can consciously or unconsciously perceive our future and respond to events, even though we have no formal way of knowing. This perception cannot be explained through conventional theories and linear perceptions of time.
Psychokinesis (PK) refers to the direct action of mind on matter or action of mind on events. When this interaction occurs between animate mater, it is referred to as bio-PK (Braud, 2003). Psychokinesis can be divided into two distinct areas: the mind’s interaction with non animate matter and the mind’s interaction with animate matter.
The Mind’s Interaction with non Animate Matter
Starting in 1935 researchers began to test mind-matter interactions (Radin, Ferrari, 1991). The most popular tests were dice-tossing experiments, where researchers tested the idea that the fall of dice may be influenced by mental intention. In a dice-tossing experiment, a die face is specified, then the die is tossed while a person “wills” that face to turn up. If there is a match between the person’s mental intention and the resulting die face, a “hit” is scored. The results are positive and significant if more hits are obtained that it would be expected by chance. In a 1991 meta-analysis of seventy three studies with 148 different dice-tossing experiments published from 1935 to 1987, Radin and Ferrari found presence of a weak, cumulative, genuine mental effect on the fall of dice with odds against chance of more than a billion to one.
In more recent times dice-tossing experiments were replaced by experiments involving random-number generators (RNGs) (Radin, 1997). An RNG produces sequences of bits (the numbers 1 and 0) and a person’s task is to wish for an RNG to produce more of 1’s or more of 0’s, depending on instructions. The advantage of RNG over dice-tossing is that it is fully automated, including the presentation of instructions, the provision of feedback, and data storage and analysis. This eliminates the possibility of contamination of data set by the experimenters.
In an RNG meta-analysis published in 1989, Dean Radin and Roger Nelson found that the overall experimental results of 832 studies, conducted by sixty-eight different investigators, produced odds against chance beyond a trillion to one (Radin & Nelson, 1989, as cited in Radin, 1997). Since then Princeton University PEAR lab accumulated the greatest number of additional RNG data and Dobyns found that their results closely replicated the preceding studies reviewed by Radin and Nelson in their 1989 meta-analysis (Dobyns, 1996, as cited in Radin, 1997). The main effect of PEAR lab experiments was associated with odds against chance of four thousand to one (Radin, 1997).
In the mid 1990s a number of researchers initiated experiments to examine field-consciousness effects (Radin, 1997). These experiments are based on the principle that a random system under ordinary conditions on average has zero order. If order does appear it can be detected using statistical methods. Over a 19 month period, Radin conducted experiments examining field-consciousness during eight different events such as a personal growth workshop, the announcement of O. J. Simpson verdict, and Olympics ceremonies (Radin, 2006).
A general approach in these experiments was that one or more RNGs were programmed to generate 400 random bits every six seconds. Each group of 400 bits was called a sample, an equivalent to tossing a coin four hundred times and recording the number of heads and tales each time. The RNGs were programmed to produce samples about an hour before the event and an hour after the event. For each collected sample, the number of 1’s was examined and transformed into a measure of the amount of order in the random sequence. In some experiments, judges were asked to log in a notebook when there were a periods of high interest or low interest. For example, in the O. J. Simpson verdict a high interest period was when the verdict was announced. A low interest period would be during commercial breaks.
Radin found that data generated by RNGs during the personal growth workshop experiment showed small but consistent degrees of order (1997). An analysis of data generated during the O. J. Simpson verdict revealed that fluctuations in audience attention and fluctuations in RNGs were significantly related to each other. The data collected during the Olympics broadcast showed progressively more order while control data showed chance expected behavior.
More than a hundred field-consciousness experiments were conducted by groups in the United States, Europe, and Japan (Radin, 2006). These experiments were carried out at scientific conferences, psychotherapy sessions, Native American rituals, festivals in Japan, and live television broadcasts. The results of these studies strongly suggest that coherent group activity is correlated with unusual moments of order in RNG data (Radin, 2006).
Over the years, experimental design of research in psychokinesis became more refined, more tightly controlled, with replications that showed “small but persistently successful outcomes” (Radin, 1997, p. 144). The research results show that consciousness can sometimes have an effect on matter at a distance.
The Mind’s Interaction with Animate Matter
The possibility that mental intention and prayer might have a positive influence on an outcome of a physical or mental illness is an area of much public interest. Various forms of distant healing including prayer, shamanism, Reiki, Healing Touch, and Qi Gong are widely used throughout North America and other parts of the world. There currently exist numerous, well-controlled experiments on living systems ranging from enzymes to cell cultures, fungi, plants, mice, and human beings (Targ, 1997).
Psychologist William Braud has been studying psychokinetic influences upon living systems since 1976 (Braud, 2003). In reference to the phenomenon that Braud and his colleagues were studying he coined the term bio-PK and later settled on a name “direct mental interactions with living systems (DMILS)” (xxvii).
In a series of well-controlled experiments Braud and Schlitz (2003) demonstrated that certain automatic physiological processes can be influenced by intention from a distance. A number of physiological parameters, such as electrodermal activity, blood pressure, muscle tremor, and ideomotor reactions were studied. In the electrodermal influence studies, a person to be influenced (the subject) was connected to a biofeedback instrument which recorded electrodermal activity. Meanwhile, in an independent non-adjacent room, during randomly selected experimental phases, an “influencer” was monitoring the polygraph tracing of the subject’s electrodermal activity. The influencer was instructed to create and maintain a strong intention for the remote target person to be calm and relaxed and to produce measurements of the electrodermal activity equal to relaxation. In a series of 13 experiments, 12 showed significant correlation between the level of autonomous physiological activity of a subject and the intentions of the influencer.
In addition to the studies with human biological systems, Braud and Schlitz conducted studies with other living organisms (2003). Significant results were obtained in three out of four experiments where persons attempted to influence swimming behavior of small knife fish. Three of four experiments of intention on locomotor behavior of small mammals (Mongolian Gerbils) yielded significant outcomes. Significant results were also achieved in two out of three in vitro studies where persons attempted to “protect” human red blood cells by retarding the rate of hemolysis mentally and from a distance.
In a review of 37 DMILS experiments, Braud and Schlitz (2003) found that “persons are able to mentally influence remote biological systems, even when those systems are isolated at distant locations and screened from all conventional informational and energetic influences” (p. 103). These findings demonstrate that some aspects of consciousness are non-local and can have an effect on animate matter regardless of distance.
Survival of Consciousness after Death
Survival of consciousness after death refers to the continued existence, separate from the body, of an individual’s consciousness or personality after physical death. The idea that consciousness can survive death is based on a variety of extraordinary experiences and observations that resist the rational explanation of materialistic science that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. Research in the following areas strongly supports the theory of survival of consciousness after death: (a) near-death experiences, (b) near-death awareness, (c) previous life memories, and (d) mediumship.
Near- death Experiences
Near-death experiences (NDE) are extraordinary experiences reported by individuals who have survived a life-threatening crisis or a clinical death. Many NDE’s have been reported and studied. Cardiologist Pim van Lommel (2004) observed: “Near-death experiences (NDE) occur with increasing frequency because of improved survival rates resulting from modern techniques of resuscitation. The content of NDE and the effects on patients seem similar worldwide, across cultures and times.” (p. 115)
One of the most notable and best documented NDE cases is a case of Pam Reynolds, who at age 35 had an NDE while undergoing brain surgery during which she was clinically dead (Beauregard, O’Leary, 2007). Reynolds was diagnosed with a large artery aneurysm in her brain close to the brain stem. In order for the surgeon to operate on her, Reynolds underwent a rare and dangerous technique called hypothermic cardiac arrest. Her body was cooled down to a very low temperature, her heart was stopped and her EEG brain waves flattened. Her brain’s electrical activity disappeared and blood was drained from her head. Reynolds reported that she felt herself “pop” out of her body and float above the operating table. From that position she saw doctors working on her body and she made several observations about the medical procedure which later were confirmed by medical personnel as surprisingly accurate. At a certain point she became conscious of floating out of the operating room and traveling down a tunnel with a light, at the end of which she was greeted by deceased relatives and friends. She reported a presence of a brilliant wonderfully warm and loving Light. Her experience ended when her deceased uncle lead her back to her body.
Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, Pim van Lommel and many others (Moody, 1975; Ring, 1980; van Lommel, 2004) have done extensive research of this phenomenon and described a characteristic experiential pattern of NDE’s. This pattern includes feelings of peace and quiet, an out-of-body experience (OOBE), a passage through a dark tunnel, and seeing and entering the light. The experience then culminates in an encounter with a “presence”, divine judgment with ethical evaluation of one’s life and a decision to come back to life, or in some cases “sent” back to life.
Ring (1984) was interested in the meaning of NDE’s and he found that the NDE is not just an experience that people will cherish as a memory that they may later take comfort in; this experience becomes “the source of one’s true being in the world” (p. 50). Ring found that a typical set of values and belief changes often accompany the life of people who had an NDE. Among these after-effects are changes in personality and outlook on life such as a greater appreciation for life, higher self-esteem and self-worth, greater compassion and concern for others, a sense of purpose and self-understanding, desire to learn, elevated spirituality, greater ecological sensitivity and planetary concern, increased intuitive feelings, belief in afterlife and loss of fear of death. Van Lommel presented similar findings and commented: “[the loss of fear of death] is due to the realization that there is a continuation of consciousness, even when you have been declared dead by bystanders or even doctors.” (p. 122)
In the late 1990’s, Kenneth Ring added an interesting dimension to the NDE research. Ring and one of his students Sharon Cooper interviewed 31 people who were legally blind and had an NDE (Ring & Cooper, 1999, as cited in Irwin, 2000). One of the persons interviewed was Vicki Umipeg, a congenitally blind 43-year-old woman who is described as never having had any visual experience and reports being unable to differentiate light from dark. Following a car accident, while she was being treated in an emergency room in the hospital, Vicky became aware of being out of her body and “watching” medical staff attend to her injured body. After this she found herself going up through the ceilings of the hospital, above the roof of the building, where she "saw" trees, birds, and flowers and encountered deceased friends and relatives who were "made of light". Such reports, complete with visual imagery, were the rule, not the exception in this study. Altogether, 80% of Ring and Cooper’s blind respondents claimed some visual perception during their NDE’s. The researchers termed these visual perceptions “mindsight”, a kind of transcendental awareness that extends consciousness beyond space and time and the conventional boundaries of our bodies.
While research on NDE cannot give us irrefutable scientific proof that consciousness can be experienced independently of brain function, the amount of consistent data certainly speaks against the materialistic view of consciousness and its confinement to the brain. As van Lommel (2004) concludes: “There are still more questions than answers, but…we should consider the possibility that death, like birth, may well be a mere passing from one state of consciousness to another.” (p. 131).
Near death awareness (NDA) is a term to describe remarkable dying person's experiences of the dying process (Callanan & Kelley, 1992). NDA experiences can take place in people from all walks of life. People of all ages, sexes, races, religions, atheists, and people with different levels of education and wealth are capable of experiencing NDA (Sanders, 2007).
NDA’s are similar to NDE’s but differ in number of aspects. One of the distinctions is that NDA develops gradually over time often without a sudden shift in health. Callanan and Kelley (1992) note: “As patients got closer to death, they seemed to develop a special awareness of people, places, and things. This awareness evolved gently and gradually, as though they were drifting back and forth from a consciousness of this existence to an awareness of the next, intensifying as the patient was nearing death” (p. 31). People experiencing NDA are sometimes fully conscious and the purpose of a NDA seems to be to prepare the dying person for death (Kircher, Callanan, 2006).
According to Callanan and Kelley (1992) one of the most universal experiences in NDA is meeting deceased relatives or friends. This can happen hours, days or even weeks before the actual death. Dying people will be communicating with someone who is invisible to others, they may be reaching for someone or something; they may be talking, nodding, and smiling as this is often a pleasurable experience for them. Sometimes persons whom the dying person knew to be alive appear if they have actually died since the time the dying person last heard about them.
It is not unusual that moments before death dying people also report seeing places that are not visible to others. They speak of these places only briefly, in a sentence or two and their descriptions are vague but usually glowing. Often it is among the dying person’s last statements and is seen as a sign that death is imminent. However, some see this place for days, weeks, or even months before death. While interpretations of these places differ based on religious beliefs, they all suggest the same: that life will continue after death (Callanan, Kelley, 1992).
NDA is a human experience that cannot be easily seen by others and scientifically measured. Nevertheless, an overwhelming amount of documented cases exists. These cases are genuine experiences, a testimony to the existence of NDA, and are suggestive that some aspects of consciousness continue after physical death.
Previous Life Memories
Previous life memories can be defined as “reported experiences or impressions of oneself as a particular person (other that one’s current identity) in a previous life” (Mills, Lynn, 2000, p. 285). Memories of previous lives may occur to people under a variety of conditions. In adults, they may be spontaneous occurrences such as: vivid dreams, during experimentation with LSD, and during meditation. Other occurrences may be induced by hypnosis. Of most interest to researchers are spontaneous reports of details of a previous life by young children.
Ian Stevenson (1987), the leading authority on previous life memories, identified three characteristic features which accompany a recall of a previous life: (1) verbal memories, (2) behavioral memories, and (3) special skills.
Verbal memories. Children who will speak about themselves from a previous life, about others, places or events not related to their present life, will typically do so between the ages of two and five. The amount of detail remembered varies from child to child and majority of children will stop talking about the previous lives between the ages of five and eight. Children vary in their desire and their need to talk about the previous life. Some children will speak of these memories occasionally; other children will be completely absorbed in the memories of their previous life. Most of the child’s memories cluster around the events of the last year, month, and days preceding the death of the person in the previous life. In many cases children remember the details of the death, in particular when the death was a violent one. In the case of a murder, the child will often remember the murderer’s name. Children frequently remember the names of the previous personality, their nicknames, names of family members, and friends.
Children often claim that they would recognize family members and friends if someone would take them to the village of the previous life. Especially notable are recognitions that occur unexpectedly and spontaneously, such as when a child recognizes someone walking on the street.
Behavioral memories. Stevenson identified two types of behavioral memories. The first type is related to display of emotions when children are taken to see the surviving members of the previous family; they will often display emotions toward the family members that are appropriate for the memories they have. For example one child was extremely friendly with her sisters from a previous life and cold towards her brother from her previous life who seems to have been cruel to her.
The second type of behavioral memories consists of traits such as fears, likes/dislikes, interests, and skills that are unusual in the present context but correspond to traits of the previous personality. Stevenson is particularly impressed with phobias related to the previous personality’s mode of death. For example if a person died of drowning, the child is likely to have a phobia of water. Children might also show a cluster of unusual behaviors, for example one girl showed “masculine traits, a phobia of airplanes, play at being a soldier, and several ‘Japanese-like’ behaviors” (Stevenson, p.115).
Special skills. Some children with memories of previous life show abilities or talents that they had in their previous lives. For example a young boy in India, who could vividly describe numerous details of his previous life, when taken to his former home, immediately recognized his family and began to play drums with great skill (Morse, Perry, 2000).
Stevenson’s research in previous life memories surpasses anecdotal research. His database contains more than 3,000 individual cases. He took great care in data collection, analysis, and interpretation of these cases. Stevenson’s painstaking research suggests that consciousness is not exclusively local and that some aspects of consciousness possibly survive the physical death of the body.
It has been claimed that sensitive individuals - mediums, can sometimes receive and share information with persons who have died (Schwartz, 2002). In the past mediumship research was of great interest to parapsychologists investigating survival of consciousness after death. However, when it became apparent that mediumship phenomena might be explained through super-psi (retrieval of information via a generalized psychic information channel or physical quantum field, also called super-ESP), mediumship research came to a deadlock (Kelly, 2005).
One of the current researchers in the area of mediumship research is Gary Schwartz, professor of psychology at University of Arizona and the director of VERITAS research program which was created primarily to test the hypothesis that consciousness survives physical death. Over many years Schwartz has collected large amount of data in mediumship experiments that support the survival hypothesis. The experiments that Schwartz conducted were progressively more and more refined in methodology and yielded significant results (2002).
Most recently, Julie Beischel and Gary Schwartz (2007) designed a triple blind study to examine anomalous reception of information of deceased individuals by research mediums under laboratory conditions that eliminate conventional explanations. Eight mediums were selected and eight students served as sitters. Four students had experienced a death of a peer and four death of a parent. Pairs of sitters were created where one sitter’s discarnate was a family member and the other sitter’s discarnate was a peer. An experimenter blinded to the identity of the sitters and to any information about the discarnates, except their first names, acted as a proxy sitter for the students. Each medium performed a reading for both sitters in a pair and each pair of the sitters received readings from two mediums. Each reading consisted of three parts: (a) the medium received the first name of the discarnate and was asked by the experimenter to receive and report any information from the discarnate, (b) the medium was asked about the named discarnate’s physical appearance, personality, hobbies, and cause of death, (c) the experimenter asked, “Does the discarnate have any comments, questions, or requests for the sitter?” The answers were transcribed and formatted by the blind experimenter/proxy sitter. The obtained data were then scored utilizing a novel summary/global rating scale used by the blind sitters. Each sitter in a pair received two sets of reports, one intended for them and the other serving as a control. Each sitter scored both reports while being blind to the origin of the readings. Sitters scored the reports for accuracy of interpretation, gave each item a summary/global numerical score, and at the end were asked to choose the reading that seemed more applicable to them.
The findings of this study included significantly higher ratings for the average summary rating for the intended versus control readings. Also, when asked to choose which reading was more applicable to them, sitters chose the readings intended for them 81% of the time. Beischel and Schwartz concluded: "The results suggest that certain mediums can anomalously receive accurate information about deceased individuals. The study design effectively eliminates conventional mechanisms as well as telepathy as explanations for the information reception, but the results cannot distinguish among alternative paranormal hypotheses, such as survival of consciousness and super-psi (or super-ESP; retrieval of information via a psychic channel or quantum field)" (p. 27).
Regardless of how one chooses to interpret mediumship phenomena, mediumship research is important because it provides a body of scientific evidence that suggests that some aspects of consciousness are non-local.
Repeatable ESP and psychokinesis research provides scientific evidence that our minds can communicate with other minds, that we have the capacity to perceive distant information across time and space, that we can affect animate and non-animate matter in ways that cannot be adequately accounted for or explained by our dominant scientific models and theories. The large body of data from survival of consciousness research strongly suggests that some aspects of consciousness exist independently of the brain and do not depend on the brain for survival.
A number of different theories exist to explain these phenomena. Some of the theories are: signal-transfer theories, goal-oriented theories, field-theories, collective-mind theories, multidimensional space/time theories, and quantum mechanical theories. Physicists, neuroscientists, biologists, philosophers, and psychologists are trying to explain consciousness and persistent anomalous experiences within the framework of these theories. However, we can never externally, objectively explain consciousness and anomalous phenomena for the simple reason that anything we do, measure, verify, or objectify, arises out of consciousness itself. That is, we cannot get “outside” of consciousness to externally prove it or explain it. Every theory we come up with, every measurement we take, every experiment we design, is created with or by consciousness. Thus we can only get closer to the understanding of consciousness; we can use theories as metaphors.
Bell’s theorem, the mathematical proof of the interconnectedness of quantum particles, serves as a useful metaphor in understanding certain aspects of consciousness as it tells us that something unaccounted for is connecting otherwise isolated objects. That is precisely what the results of research in parapsychology and other disciplines explored in this paper appear to be. Certain aspects of consciousness resemble behavior of quantum particles and their non-locality; there is an exchange of information beyond distance and time, a way of communication that is unaccounted for an unexplained. It is tempting to explain the unaccounted for phenomena of consciousness with the theories of quantum physics, however we must remember that “Physics, in short, deals with – and can only deal with – the world of shadow – symbols, not the light of reality beyond the shadowy cave” (Wilber, 2001, p. 7).
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