On out-of-body experiences
2012-11-06 0:00

By Andrew Brown | Guardian.co.uk

The idea of an untethered consciousness is something we can understand, even when we donít suppose it is found in nature.


I was standing at the urinal in the brightly lit downstairs cloakroom at Lambeth Palace when I realised that to talk about the spiritual dimension of life is perfectly ridiculous Ė because the spiritual, disembodied dimension is where we live all the time. We can only get out of it with a deliberate effort. The physical dimension comes to us at second hand. Consciousness is the form in which experience comes to us.

This is hardly original Ė perhaps itís one of those insights which recurs in different forms throughout your life. But it goes some way to explaining why out-of-body experiences seem so natural to us. Almost all our daily life is an out-of-body experience. When I write this, I am conscious only of the words on the screen, and, faintly, of my fingers somewhere underneath. Least of all am I conscious of my brain, where all this stuff is supposed to be happening.

But what about other peopleís out-of-body lives? Again, these make intuitive sense, because disembodied spirits are something we deal with all the time. When you read this, your mind is reacting (I hope) to my mind. Youíre certainly not reacting to my brain. If you destroy the brain, the mind is also destroyed, but the link between them is still entirely mysterious. The idea, then, of a consciousness that comes completely untethered from its body and survive the bodyís destruction is something that we can understand even when we donít suppose it is to be found in nature. Itís not logically impossible: just contingently so.

An interesting sidelight here is that consciousness seems to be something we associate with purpose and desire: an angry ghost is believable in a way that a computerís ghost is not. Even people who believe that computers can be conscious canít believe in one whose consciousness persisted even after the electricity was turned off. I donít think this is just a matter of materialism. Itís also because computers donít have desires.

Of course, the fact that it is easy and natural to imagine ghosts, or disembodied consciousnesses, does not mean they exist. Science proceeds on the assumption that they donít and that our imaginings are simply illusions produced by the evolved compulsion of our minds to jump to conclusions. When we see Pac-Man pursuing the dots in a crude video game we see a pursuit, which is a purposive activity, and we see it without any conscious reflection at all.

But suppose there were evidence of disembodied consciousness in scientifically monitored situations? The most interesting experiments I know of take place in intensive care units. Since one classic version of the near death experience involves looking down from a great height at your own body Ė come to think of it, I may have had one of those myself when bicycling to my heart attack Ė the obvious scientific test is to place things in an intensive care unit that could only be seen from above, and then to ask whether the experiencer noticed them.

[...]

Read the full article at: guardian.co.uk







Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Anglo-Saxon Sword and Helmet from Staffordshire Hoard Reconstructed
2015-05-29 0:49
Thousands of metal fragments from the Staffordshire Hoard have been reconstructed into two "significant" new 7th Century objects. Researchers have pieced together parts of a silver helmet and a previously unseen form of sword pommel. The hoard, which is valued at £3.2m, was found in a field near Burntwood, Staffordshire in July 2009. Both items have been put on display at Birmingham's Museum ...
ALEC corruption: Legislators and corporate lobbyists meet in secret at Savannah resort
2015-05-28 23:59
The Georgia Legislature has a message for voters: don't ask us about our meetings with corporate lobbyists behind closed doors. The 11Alive Investigators tracked lawmakers to a resort hotel in Savannah last week, where we observed state legislators and lobbyists mingling in the hotel bar the night before they gathered in private rooms to decide what new laws would best serve ...
Swedish politician: US is the true cause of the masses of refugees from the Middle East
2015-05-28 20:13
Editors Note: And who controls US foreign policy? Listen to Jeff Gates. The present Swedish debate about war refugees from the Middle East is an example of peer restricted expression. In the name of political correctness or perceived decency, any questioning of maximum generosity in opening Swedish borders for the refugees is indignantly rejected by the official mainstream. We have a ...
Even if Patriot Act Expires, Government Will Keep Spying on All Americans
2015-05-28 19:52
Government Will Use "Secret Interpretations" to Get Around Legal Prohibitions Mass surveillance under the Patriot Act is so awful that even its author says that the NSA has gone far beyond what the Act intended (and that the intelligence chiefs who said Americans aren't being spied on should be prosecuted for perjury). Specifically, the government is using a "secret interpretation" of the ...
The TPP, Monsanto, Rockefeller, Trilateral Commission, Brzezinski
2015-05-28 19:18
All hands on deck for global, economic, corporate dictatorship There are dots to connect here. They're real, and they're spectacular. Let me begin with a brief exchange from a 1978 interview, conducted by reporter Jeremiah Novak. He was speaking with two American members of the Trilateral Commission (TC), a group founded in 1973 by David Rockefeller and his intellectual flunkey, Zbigniew Brzezinski. NOVAK: ...
More News »