Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why the Concept of a "Natural Afterlife" is Nonsense (1)

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:
n\lambda =2d\sin \left(90^{{\circ }}-{\frac  {\theta }{2}}\right),

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:

If 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.


Bryon Ehlmann said...

[Perhaps third time is charm! This will be the third time I have submitted this comment (minus this bracketed, first paragraph) on this post, but it still has not been published, i.e., accepted. Since my first submittal, my name has been changed in the post and is now spelled correctly. Thank you. However, there are still several statements made in the post that are incorrect in fact. I believe either this post should be removed, rewritten to correct the misstatements and the arguments based on them, or at a minimum this comment on the post should be accepted so as to point out its flaws to the reader. My comments were accepted on related posts. Why not on this one?]

Copernicus gets many things wrong in this post. First, he incorrectly states:

“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.”

If you read the articles on the theory of a natural afterlife, you will see how the complete opposite of the above statement is true. The articles use the term “dream” in a broad sense to include the NDE. (To access these articles just search for “natural afterlife” on the internet. I recommend starting with: “Your Natural Afterlife: the Non-Supernatural Alternative to Nothingness” at

Copernicus then goes on to state:

“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.”

True: “no dream state of any kind is possible without a consciousness.” False: The natural afterlife asserts a “perpetual dream state.” It certainly does not! The dream state that the natural afterlife asserts is timeless, static, one whose lifetime delta(t) = 0! It is a MOMENT that exists only in the mind of the dying person just BEFORE death. It does not survive death! The dying person, however, does not perceive this, which is what makes the moment everlasting, what makes an NDE become a never-ending dream(NED)—but everlasting and an NED ONLY AS PERCEIVED BY THE DYING PERSON. There is no “dead man’s dream” as Copernicus puts it in this post.

And yes, not a DEAD person but a DYING person "can die in a dream without realizing it." As Copernicus states: “Of course he won't realize it because he lacks self-awareness, the highest conscious state!”.

None of the articles on the theory of a natural afterlife have claimed it is a scientific theory. All have stated that the theory cannot be proved. Unfortunately, people cannot return from the dead to tell us they did or did not just awake from a NED. The only claims made are that the theory is not based on anything supernatural and is very plausible based on what science and experience tell us about dreams, NDEs, and our human perception of time.

Truly understanding the natural afterlife renders irrelevant the arguments made against it in this post—especially, the argument based on physics.

Copernicus said...

" False: The natural afterlife asserts a “perpetual dream state.” It certainly does not! The dream state that the natural afterlife asserts is timeless, static, one whose lifetime delta(t) = 0! It is a MOMENT that exists only in the mind of the dying person just BEFORE death. It does not survive death! The dying person, however, does not perceive this, which is what makes the moment everlasting, what makes an NDE become a never-ending dream(NED)—but everlasting and an NED ONLY AS PERCEIVED BY THE DYING PERSON. There is no “dead man’s dream” as Copernicus puts it in this post."

I believe this was already well clarified and elucidated with my interjection of 'subjective time' in my Feb. 19 post, 'Resolving the Natural Afterlife Issue'.

As I noted therein, "it’s not a never-ending dream after all, it exists only as a “perception” in the mind of the dying person before death. So, in other words, the natural after life doesn’t exist at all! There is NO “after” in any real, objective sense. What we have here then is a phenomenon of subjective time – experienced by the dying person before he shuffles his mortal coil."

And as I further noted, the downside is that then there is no genuine afterlife, only a semantics ploy based on a perception that erupted in the dying person’s mind before death. Nothing is carried on.

So in the end, it really IS like arguing about how many angels can dance at the end of a pin. The reason is that we have an Ersatz afterlife, not a real one. Basically because subjective time isn't the same as objective or clock time.

This means that the de Broglie wave option is the only genuine natural afterlife left – justified by the name! That is, it is applicable to the post-death state, unlike the NED.

Again, my whole problem with the "NED" is that it emerges more as a semantics ploy or game as opposed to being based on something objectively verifiable.

On that note, I regard this issue- interesting as it's been - as closed. Thanks for your interesting comments!

Jesse Weiskel said...

Ok. I have no doctorate in physics or philosophy or physiology, but it amazes me how difficult it is to explain this theory of the afterlife for which I have believed since an experience as a young boy and only now has it been named this 'Natural Afterlife'. I will briefly tell my story: While at camp at the age of 11 (I am now 41) I was made to be unconscious by a game we were playing of taking very deep breaths then being bear hugged at which point one would go limp, surrendering to unconsciousness. (Please do not re-create scenario as it is quite dangerous and can cause brain injury) I had a dream, which by all accounts lasted 20 to 30 minutes to experience and take in, occurring in the normal speed of every day time. When I woke to other boys in a circle staring down at me, I sat up, disturbed at how long I had been unconscious in the middle of a soccer field and upon being informed that I was only out for a couple seconds-basically I was lain down and instantly came to-I could not believe that it was possible because my dream had lasted a couple thousand times as long as my unconsciousness had lasted. This haunted me through adolescence and into adulthood. Sometime by my late teens I had formed the belief that if 3 seconds could equal 30 minutes (real time vs. dream time) then barring some sort of lawful ratio of the two, nano second(s) could equal eternity. As Einstein had stated, to the effect that time is a human creation, could my dying second encapsulate my afterlife? Could the sum of all my Earthly experience and knowledge create for me Paradise outside the bubble of space-time and seemingly last forever? Only to the observers have I died, but to me time has stopped though I experience an eternal phenomenon much larger than what I experienced at camp as a boy.

Were I an atheist (I'm agnostic) I would find solace in a theory such as this, such as Natural Afterlife as it can stand alone as a phenomenon plausible without religion. But, as I stated, I am not an atheist and this Natural Afterlife does not conflict with religion or my own spiritual belief which is irrelevant and which I will not go into, I will only say to those who believe in a higher power of some kind: What greater gift could be given to beings which you had a hand in creating than an individual 'Heaven' where the only limits would be that which you cannot know nor imagine, just as you could not dream of something you've never seen, though you could imaginatively create something you've never seen through the sum of your acquired knowledge and experience, the people you know or love, the places you've been as well as the books and even the movies you have seen in your lifetime; vicarious fodder for your afterlife. It has been postulated that we never forget anything, we only fail at recall, that we take everything in whether we know it at the time or not. And all this belief of mine stemmed from an earlier concern of mine in Sunday School -' what if I didn't like Heaven?' Well if my theory turns out to be valid, then I don;t think I'll have to worry about that.

Copernicus said...

Interesting account, but it fits in perfectly with the concept of subjective time I had already explicated, e.g.

Copernicus said...

I forgot to add that I posted this personal account because of its personal interest aspect and also the fact it dovetails with subjective time. However, as this issue has been exhausted now, no further comments will be posted.

Bryon Ehlmann said...

How convenient that you close off comments just after receiving one for review that again points out the errors in your article. I wish you would delete the article. As a scientist you should. I will now have to communicate my comment to Jesse Weiskel by some other means.

Copernicus said...

Bryon, I am NOT going to delete the article because we've been all through this - multiple rounds before. Let me repeat once more my most salient point in this:

I share the objection of physicist Euan Squires ('Conscious Mind and the Physical World', Adam Hilger, New York, 1990, p. 74) who notes that "the most useful argument against all such (idealistic) philosophies is that they discourage any endeavor to understand the sensations of the conscious mind."

And thus, in your "natural afterlife" we find invocations of "unconscious death" etc. in order to escape being accountable for such sensations. Yet one notices the contradiction in the claim: i.e. insisting that the perception can only exist BEFORE death and hnce the NED only applies BEFORE death - yet also invoking an unconscious DEATH as a sufficient condition for a natural afterlife.

But one cannot on the one hand demand no death (to accommodate the perception), then contravert it and demand death as a sufficient condition!

Let me correct that, a Materialist can't.

While it is fascinating to make the claim that a near dead man is in this state of unconsious dreaming, I am unable to accept it unless I can actually see for myself - using whatever future technology might be available - what exactly it looks like.

In other words, for me seeing will have be believing if I am to place it on the same level as objective experience, irrespective of how 'real' it looks to the subject.

I am repeating this to remind you the issue was settled and there was NO "error" on my part only on yours. And may I remind you again of what you wrote in an earlier comment?

"Of course I wouldn’t characterize my use of terms like natural “AFTER life” and “never-ending dream (NED)” as a “semantic ploy.” I simply selected terms that made sense from the subjective viewpoint of the dying person, not from the objective, outside observer. From the outside observer’s viewpoint, the natural afterlife could certainly be called a “Ersatz afterlife, or a NEAR Afterlife, e.g. NAL” as Copernicus calls it."

Then we agree there is no "error" and an ersatz afterlife is exactly what it is since the objective reality is the only one that counts! (Whether you characterize it so or not is immaterial!)

Bottom line: the only incontestable reality for now is the objective one, and the only incontestable natural afterlife is the objective one: based on de Broglie waves.

As I no longer have any interest in transacting this issue any further because to me it is settle - this comment thread is closed. Not because of any convenience but because we have exhausted all the points available and anything additional is redundant.

Zachary Zarr said...

Falling upwards in harmonic sync: However, brainwaves are the source of our infinetly growing quantum entanglement. When we die our consciousness will be slung up to the universal level from the point of last conscious moment supported and propelled by photons and receptors aka planets. The universe is like an atom a colossal in motion , proton, smashed into a colossal still, this was followed by the fall, and our activity holds things to evolve, including ourselves. Enevtually, hopefully, there will be other colossals out there for us to grow into and paints are we brush. That being said it is most prudent we make as ridiculous complex patterns as we can while we are young and insignificant, no?

Perfect resync across an infinite space of time is unavoidable. No matter what we perceive consciousness forever regardless of however infrequent or frequent between moments it is

Zachary Vandervelde Zarr

Bryon Ehlmann said...


You might be interested in reading the scholarly paper on the natural afterlife that has recently been published, open-access, in The Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research, entitled "The Theory of a Natural Afterlife: a Newfound, Real Possibility for What Awaits Us with Death." I believe you will see that this afterlife does not violate any principles of modern day physics--i.e., it's something even a materialist should be able to accept. Here's a link:

Copernicus said...

Thanks for the interesting paper! I do concur on reading it that the arguments put forth don't violate principles of modern physics provided we take the NDE-ideated events (inherent in NEEs) as precursors for fully enfolded de Broglie waves with each de Broglie waves enfolded in such a way as to act like very finely scaled Electromagnetic wave.

The final waves exhibit a similar form to propagating electro-magnetic waves, e.g.  with an electrical component E(x, t) = Eo exp [i(kx – wt]) (j).

This latter underscores the final requirement for coordination with modern physics, i.e. that an energy substratum of some form be incorporated. Thanks again!