Brain, Mind and the Paranormal


Scientists may be on the wrong track on their journey to understanding human consciousness. In the process of grasping the function of the brain, slipping through their fingers is the workings of the mind. Despite extensive theories about brain function, current theories still cannot accommodate consciousness: this leaves them severely lacking. However the field of parapsychology, the estranged member of the scientific endeavour, is isolating phenomena that not only contradict current understanding of the mind but may also be the tip of an iceberg into much bigger things.
Improvements in medical knowledge and technology are leading to more people being brought back from the brink of death. Up to 20% of individuals who are revived from death report Near-Death-Experiences (NDEs). An experience consisting of amongst other things, bright lights, feeling at peace, traveling through tunnels, and interaction with deceased family members that come to tell you it’s not time to go yet.
These individuals come back from clinical death to describe strange and wonderful experiences. But are they a ‘real’ experience that challenges our understanding of consciousness or does the brain manufacture the experiences? Science suggests that they may be hallucinations brought on by oxygen starved brain cells either before death or just after regaining consciousness. This is a viable explanation but there are also cases which current theories struggle to explain because they defy the wiring of the brain.


At a UN symposium on the mind-body problem in 2008, Dr. Bruce Greyson, ( spoke of instances of patients with irreversible dementia becoming perfectly lucid prior to death. These patients effectively had irreversible brain damage. They did not fully register their environment and no longer remembered their family members and loved ones. Yet as they lay dying, they became completely lucid. Their memories came back and they once again remembered their family members. It’s as if during the process of dying, their consciousness was ‘released’ from their body to become clear and cognisant once more. As pointed out by Dr. Greyson, current theories about brain function cannot explain this type of anomaly. Only when one considers that the mind can separate from the body, does this evidence make sense.
Perhaps the most striking evidence for the separation of mind from body lies with congenitally blind individuals. The visual system of these individuals never developed; their brains never equipped for sight. Even their dreams are devoid of vision – filled only with sounds, smells and textures. Dr Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper interviewed 31 blind individuals who experienced a NDE or its close cousin, the Out-of-Body Experience (OBE). Published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies in 1997, they reported that during their OBE or NDE, 64% of congenitally blind individuals reported vision for the first time in their lives. The number may have been even higher but some could not explain the perceptions they had because “I don’t know what you mean by ‘seeing’.”


Consciousness during extreme conditions seems to display features that cannot be explained by contemporary theories. Anomalies in scientific theories are commonplace because theories are an approximation of the real world. A simple example can be taken from the succession of quantum theory from classical Newtonian physics. Newtonian physics works really well to describe the large scale world we live in; the motion of objects, inertia, mass etc. However, at the extremes, at small scales and high speeds, Newton’s theories fall short. Quantum theory stemmed from the observed shortfalls and a whole new world of research has opened up.
The mind/body link may operate in the same way. Current theories about brain processing seem to be a very good approximation of conscious states in everyday situations. However it is during extremes of conscious states the theories begin to fall short.
These phenomena point to something big. They figuratively, and possibly literally, suggest a new dimension of human existence. Our perspectives on spirituality, the physical body, human suffering and material possessions could be profoundly affected by this avenue of research. Better understood, these anomalies could affect the very core of the human condition.
Unfortunately the scientific community has largely been labeling these reports as anomalous and sweeping them under the carpet. While science ignores these avenues of research, the evidence is left to the parapsychological community. With little funding for parapsychological research, work on this potentially groundbreaking phenomena progresses at glacial speeds. Until social and scientific attitudes change, the phenomena looks set to be little more than documented and shelved.




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