It appears that unknown to many of us (atheists), a new "theory" of an afterlife has surfaced that proposes there can be a personal "natural afterlife". Leaving out for the moment the overtones of oxymoron, let's examine it in more detail.
The basic claim is that this phenomenon doesn't depend on the NDE or 'near death experience' and indeed, it is exactly when one lacks the NDE that the emergence into a natural afterlife can occur- since consciousness is left behind. In other words, the extraordinary claim is made that a final "dream state" can transform into an eternal state of afterlife, independent of consciousness.
One of the primary advocates of the natural afterlife thesis, Bryon Ehlmann, claims:
Ironically, the plausibility of
experiencing the natural afterlife after death depends not on the persistence
of any consciousness but on its total demise. That is, it depends on not
knowing that we have died, that NDE events have ended, and that time is
marching on without us.
This is an astounding claim given the fact neuroscience shows that no dream state of any kind is possible without a consciousness- forming structure, i.e. brain. (See e.g. 'The Evolution of Consciousness' by Robert Ornstein). To assert a "perpetual dream state" can be incepted at what is terminal, physical death, meaning the brain must perish too, is therefore nonsense.
What makes dreams possible at all? We look here at the fundamental unit of neural dynamics:
We are looking at an electro-chemical signal (action potentials in (B) ) which are conveyed to the receptor neurons in the region of the temporal lobes. The waveform really represents changes in permeability, we note that when an axon is in its resting state it maintains a constant potential difference, or ‘resting membrane potential’ of –70 mV. When it is excited, it rises to a peak voltage of around 40 mV. This is sketched as the wave pulse peak in (B) with the ‘baseline’ value of (-70 mV) included for reference. One could say that (A) portrays the axon segment shown in a kind of equilibrium condition, or one conducive to a dream state. Only levels of partial consciousness are available in these states. Generally, a full peak voltage of 40mV is associated with some level of consciousness.
Now, we go to the driver of consciousness localized at the site of the synaptic cleft or terminal.
In the diagram, we focus on Axon 1 and note that when the action potential arrives at the terminal it’s depolarized. This depolarization enables Calcium ions (Ca+2) already within the terminal to diffuse out into the mediating space. These ions follow a concentration gradient, unlike the case of the Na+ ions in the sodium pump. As the ions migrate, then diffuse to the post-synaptic cell (at Axon 2), they leave a channel in their wake that allows quantal releases of neurotransmitter (shown as a solid dot). These, like the Ca+2 ions diffuse across to the post-synaptic cell(s).
One neurotransmitter is acetylcholine. If the transmission of this or any similar chemical is rapid firing will occur, if not it won’t. Note also that Axon 2 must have a way of eliminating neurotransmitters almost as soon as they arrive. For acetylcholine, the enzyme cholinesterase acts to break it down into choline and acetate. In these inactive forms the neuron is spared being in a state of maximal and continuous excitation that would otherwise destroy it.
Generalizing the electrical cable analogy, the synapses act as switches in the system, the ‘on’ or ‘off’ positions denoted by information, in the form of chemical messages, to cross the synaptic cleft and trigger firing of the post-synaptic neuron(s) or not. Most probably there are bundles of similar neurons linked together by their respective connections, to perform critical functions. One might refer to the neuronal super-assembly or 'super-circuit’ within which considerations such as networks, and optimization of paths as well as 'adjacency and order' take precedence. Again, this is almost absurdly oversimplified since there really are no neurons that have only one connection to another. Indeed, we expect the typical neuron to have something like 10,000 connections to others.
What happens if this entire neural dynamic is terminated? We can begin to grasp the effects by first noting from the above diagrams that all waves of polarization and de-polarization cease. Hence, all synaptic activity ceases. There is no more firing of neurons, nor is there any movement of neurotransmitters across axons. BUT....these neurotransmitters are also responsible for dream states. They are also responsible for persistence of dream states!
Consider the electric cable analogy described above. What happens at death, or brain death? Well, the putative electrical signal cable is cut. What happens if an electrical cable to your home is cut? Well the service is terminated...there is no energy "leakage' or residue that continues after cutting because this would violate the physical laws we know. The electrical energy cannot continue to propagate into your home devoid of the cable within which it's carried. In the same way, all the brain's potential energy terminates at death, there are no 'residuals' left to continue anywhere. Hence, there can be no natural afterlife.
Let me modify that, there can be a rudimentary natural afterlife if one subscribes to the notion of real de Broglie waves, as postulated by the Stochastic Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Real, physical de Broglie waves, by the way, were originally detected in the Davisson-Germer experiment. The experiment revealed wave patterns from which the de Broglie wavelength could be computed. The experimental set up is shown below:
This experiment consisted of firing an electron beam from an electron gun directed to a piece of nickel crystal at normal incidence. An accident occurred in which air entered the chamber, producing an oxide film on the nickel surface. To remove the oxide, Davisson and Germer heated the specimen in a high temperature oven, not knowing that this affected the formerly polycrystalline structure of the nickel to form large single crystal areas with crystal planes continuous over the width of the electron beam. To make a long story short, when the experiment re-commenced the electrons were scattered by atoms which originated from crystal planes inside the nickel crystal, leaving patterns from which the de Broglie wavelength could be calculated according to:
This astounding result showed that matter can appear as waves, just as light can.
The point of all this is that de Broglie waves represent the wave mirror image of matter. When matter degenerates or corrodes, and according to conservation of mass-energy, de Broglie waves will survive. The issue is whether these waves can encompass consciousness and it isn't a stretch or excess speculation to believe they can. Look at the molecules of Ca++ crossing the synaptic cleft for example. If rudimentary consciousness is tied to the de Broglie wave of such ions, then those associated waves ought to be able (theoretically) to survive physical death.
This is not "overly complex" as Bryon Ehlmann claims, nor is it unrealistic. We know de Broglie waves exist - they've been proven by experiment. We also know that they can be tied to consciousness, as David Bohm has shown in his assorted papers, e.g. . Bohm, D. and Hiley, B.J.: Foundations of Physics, Vol. 12, No. 10, p. 1001.
Thus, if the preceding template is accepted, then it is feasible that de Broglie waves could provide the basis for a rudimentary, impersonal, wave-based consciousness (nonlocal) that continues after death. This is indeed much simpler than supposing one magically falls into a perpetual dream based on the last image or neurotransmission one experienced before death.
To summarize: At death, these de Broglie waves are enfolded in such a way as to act like very finely scaled Electromagnetic waves. The waves also exhibit a similar form to propagating electro-magnetic waves, e.g. with an electrical component E(x, t) = E 0 exp [i(kx – wt]) (j) . However, the consciousness that results is nonlocal rather than individual or personal- because the expelled waves mix with all other released waves, from all other deceased individuals. (Nonlocal consciousness has also been invoked to explain phenomena such as telekinesis, such as disclosed in the experiments of R. Jahn at Princeton).
One more comment from Ehlmann is worth considering in this installment:
while conscious, one can fall asleep while watching a movie and not realize it
until waking up, chances seem excellent that while unconscious, one can die
while in a dream and never realize it
But he mixes two different conditions, one for a living human and one that pertains to a dead one, i.e. in a so-called "dead man's dream" . The use of the term "unconscious" is also problematical, as a number of authors- researchers (e.g. Daniel N. Robinson, Robert Ornstein, David Bohm, Henry Stapp et al) have argued that there is no genuine state of being un-conscious. What is described as such is merely a much lower level of consciousness, below the critical threshold of self-awareness.
If I fall asleep while watching TV it basically signals a change in the polarization- depolarization wave thresholds (Fig.1), and a diminished self-awareness. In this state, or actually varied states, I may be aware of a clock ticking in the background but not aware of myself experiencing the clock ticking. . Also, as Prof. Daniel N. Robinson has noted (Consciousness and its Implications) it is just as feasible - given the physical dynamics - for "interior brain events to unfailingly arouse one from sleep to consciousness even without a sound." Again, this indicates variable thresholds of consciousness are operative, as opposed to an absolute absence of such.. The conscious state is then dictated and defined by fluctuating levels of neurotransmitter activity.
However, because the converse is not true for a dead man, i.e. there is no rousing from that 'sleep' - then it is ridiculous to claim one "can die in a dream without realizing it". The very attribute of "realization" implies self-awareness or a high level of CONSCIOUS thought, which the dead man is incapable of. Thus, asserting a man dies in a dream "without realizing it" makes no sense at all. Of course he won't realize it because he lacks self-awareness, the highest conscious state! Also, once dead, being roused is not the same as being roused from a lower conscious state, i.e. while dozing in front of a TV. The point is that no dream is possible once you're dead because an information content is needed. (See next blog post).
Obviously, information content can't persist because all neurotransmitter flow has ceased (in true death, not as in the NDE, which isn't true death). A maximal entropy condition is attained, also indicating no lower entropy (information) can ensue. The synaptic cleft no longer functions, i.e. in allowing or enabling Ca++ passage, so there is nothing there. To claim that one can retain a dream image or final dream state - the last image embedded on death- is therefore preposterous. Where is it? There's no soul, no brain, so where? Floating in the ether?
There are no final dreams, (or dream) a dead man can have. Nor is there anything he can take with him - no mental ideation or state- to a supposed eternity. (Okay, preserving a "timeless" state)
It is either the de Broglie option, or none at all! Take your pick! Again, the simplest hypothesis is that no afterlife exists, period. When you die it's curtains, nothingness. The next simplest hypothesis is the de Broglie nonlocal wave state enabling a rudimentary consciousness, though I'm not even sure such entity makes sense given our current language limitations. The point is that the natural afterlife based on a fixed, never-ending dream makes no sense at all. It contravenes every physical law we know, yet its adherents propose that physical laws, limitations are inapplicable. This is the very definition of pseudo-science.
If the natural afterlife proponents want us to take them seriously they will have to do two things:
1) Indicate the basis for falsification of their hypothesis.
2) Propose an experiment to test the validity of their claim, or failing that - state clearly the necessary and sufficient conditions for a natural afterlife to occur.
More to come.