Near Death - About the Continuity of Consciousness
Presentation given at the Conference for Consciousness Studies, Arizona.
Pim van Lommel, Cardiologist
(Near Death Experiences)
I would like first to talk about our recently published study in the Lancet, entitled: "Near death experience in survivors
of cardiac arrest, a prospective study in the Netherlands". And after that I would like to talk about its implications for
consciousness studies, and discuss how it could be possible to explain the continuity of our consciousness.
In my view the only possible empirical approach to evaluate theories about consciousness is research on NDE, because in
studying the several universal elements that are reported during NDE, we get the opportunity to verify all the existing theories
about consciousness that have been discussed until now.
But first I want to think about death, and what it means to us. As a cardiologist I am frequently confronted with death
and dying, and the fear and uncertainty of patients and their family. The confrontation with death raises many basic questions,
also with physicians. Death is still taboo in our western world. Why are we afraid of death? Are we right with our concepts
about death? Most of us believe that death is the end of our existence; we believe that it is the end of everything we are.
We believe that the death of our body is the end of our identity, the end of our thoughts and memories, that it is the end
of our consciousness. Do we have to change our concepts about death, not only based on what has been thought and written about
death in human history around the world in many cultures, in many religions, and in all times? But also to change our concepts
about death based on insights from recent scientific research on NDE?
What happens when I am dead? What is death? During our life 500.000 cells die each second, each day die about 50 billion
cells in our body, resulting in a new body each year. So cell death is totally different from body death when you eventually
die. During your life your body changes continuously, each day, each minute, each second. But no one realizes this permanent
change. And from where comes the continuity of our permanent changing body? Cells are just the building stones of our body,
like the bricks of a house, but who is the architect, who coordinates the building of this house? Each year about 98% of our
molecules and atoms in our body have been replaced.
Each year a new body has been build, a new house has been build, but who was the architect? Compare our body with a car:
when parked somewhere it is not capable to do anything, but as soon as the driver is in the car, and energy is available (fuel),
the car, which is only matter, can drive and speed up. The driver decides and coordinates the performance of the car. Also
the body needs a conductor. A human person must be more than just his body. When you have died, only mortal remains are left.
But where is the conductor of the body? Is someone his body, or do we have a body?
What about our consciousness when we die?-Where am I during most of the night when I am sleeping, and what kind of consciousness
do I have during my dreams? -Is there still consciousness when someone is in coma? Recently a book was published in the Netherlands,
titled: "Return from coma". Following a very severe traffic accident, the author was in a coma for three weeks, and she describes
in detail what she experienced during her coma, like out-of-body states, being in another dimension, but also seeing and hearing
the nurses and doctors in the ICU. She was not capable to let them know that she was conscious of what was going on in her
surroundings, and that she did not understand where she was, and why. Communication was impossible because of her coma.
-Is there still consciousness when someone is clinical dead during cardiac arrest?
-Is there still consciousness when someone has been declared to be brain dead by physicians, and the procedure
of organ transplantation should be started?
-Is brain dead really means death, or is it just the beginning of the process of dying that can last for hours
to days, and what happens to consciousness during this period?
In his book "My dreams during coma" a patient describes what he experienced during his period of brain death
that was caused by complications following surgery for a brain tumour. His family refused to give permission for organ transplantation,
and in retrospect he was very happy his family did so, because to the surprise of his neurologists he regained consciousness
from his coma three weeks later! -And could there still be consciousness after someone really has died, when his body is cold?
Is it possible to get insight in the relationship between function of the brain and consciousness? In 1969 during my rotating
internship a patient was successfully resuscitated in the cardiac ward by electrical defibrillation. Defibrillation was recently
introduced those days, and coronary care units were started in hospitals because of this new CPR technique. The patient regained
consciousness, and was very, very disappointed. He told me about a tunnel, beautiful colours, a light, and beautiful music.
I have never forgotten this event, but I never did anything with it. I had not read about these kinds of experiences in 1969,
"near-death experiences" which were first described scientifically in a retrospective study in 1976 by Raymond Moody, who
became interested after hearing about this experience at the University.
George Ritchie told during a course of lectures what he had experienced during a period of clinical death of 6- minute
duration as a complication of his pneumonia in 1943 during his medical study in the army.
In 1986, after the death of my 40-year old brother, I read his book "Return from Tomorrow", and out of curiosity and, to
be honest, with some scepticism, I started to interview my out-patient clinic patients who had survived their cardiac arrest.
But to my real surprise, patients reported to me within two years about fifty NDEs. And now my scientific curiosity started
to grow. Because according to our current medical concepts it is not possible to experience consciousness during a period
of cardiac arrest, during the period of unconsciousness that is named clinical death, when circulation and breathing have
A Near-Death Experience (NDE) seems to be a relatively regularly occurring, and to many physicians an inexplicable phenomenon
and hence ignored result of survival in a critical medical situation. An NDE can be defined as the reported memory of the
whole of impressions during a special state of consciousness, including a number of special elements such as out-of-body experience,
pleasant feelings, seeing a tunnel, a light, deceased relatives, or a life review. Many circumstances are described during
which NDEs are reported, such as cardiac arrest (clinical death), shock after loss of blood, traumatic brain injury or intra-cerebral
haemorrhage, near-drowning or asphyxia, but also in serious diseases not immediately life-threatening. Similar experiences
to near-death ones can occur during the terminal phase of illness, and are called deathbed visions. Furthermore, identical
experiences, so-called "fear-death" experiences, are mainly reported after situations in which death seemed unavoidable like
serious traffic or mountaineering accidents. The NDE is transformational,causing profound changes of life-insight and loss
of the fear of death. These experiences are reported with increasing frequency because of improved survival rates of critical
ill patients resulting from modern techniques of resuscitation. The content of the NDE and the subsequent process of transformation
appear to be essentially similar all over the world, in all cultures and in all times. The subjective nature and absence of
a frame of reference for this experience lead to individual, cultural, and religious factors determining the vocabulary used
to describe and interpret the experience.
Several theories on the origin of NDE have been proposed. Some think the experience is caused by physiological changes
in the brain such as brain cells dying as a result of cerebral anoxia. Other theories encompass a psychological reaction to
approaching death or a combination of such reaction and anoxia.
But until now there was no prospective, meticulous and scientifically designed study done to explain the cause and content
of the NDE. All studies had been retrospective and very selective with respect to patients, like the studies of Raymond Moody,
Kenneth Ring, Michael Sabom, and Melvin Morse. In retrospective studies 5-30 years can elapse between occurrence of the experience
and its investigation, which often prevents accurate assessment of medical and pharmacological factors.
We wanted to know if there could be a physiological, pharmacological, or psychological explanation why people experience
consciousness during a period of clinical death. We studied patients who survived cardiac arrest, because this is a well-described
life threatening medical situation, where patients will ultimately die if CPR is not started within 5 to 10 minutes because
of irreversible damage of the brain. The definition of clinical death was used for the period of unconsciousness caused by
anoxia of the brain due to the arrest of circulation and/or breathing that happens during ventricular fibrillation in patients
with acute myocardial infarction.
So we started a prospective study in 1988, and included all consecutive patients who were successfully resuscitated in
ten Dutch hospitals. We did a short standardised interview with sufficiently recovered patients within a few days of resuscitation,
and asked whether they could remind the period of unconsciousness, and what they recalled. Within four years, we interviewed
344 consecutive survivors. And we performed a longitudinal study with taped interviews of all late survivors with NDE 2 years
and 8 years following the cardiac arrest with a matched control group of survivors of cardiac arrest who did not report an
NDE. This study was designed to assess if the transformation following an NDE is the result of having an NDE or the result
of the cardiac arrest itself.
In this prospective study, we recorded the age, gender, religion, standard of education reached, whether the
patient had previously heard of NDE, or had previously experienced NDE, whether CPR took place inside or outside the hospital,
previous myocardial infarction, and how many times the patient had been resuscitated during his stay in hospital. We also
asked them about fear before CPR. We estimated the duration of circulatory arrest and unconsciousness, and noted whether artificial
respiration by intubation took place. We recorded the type and dose of drugs before, during and after the crisis, and assessed
possible memory problems during the interview after lengthy or difficult resuscitation. We classified patients resuscitated
after induced cardiac arrest during electrophysiologic stimulation (EPS) separately. In cases where memories were reported
from the period of unconsciousness, we coded the experiences according to a weighted core experience index. In this system
the depth of the NDE was measured according to the reported elements of the content of the NDE. The more elements were reported,
the deeper the experience was and the higher the resulting score was.
Results: 62 patients (18%) reported some recollection of the time of clinical death. Of these patients 21 (6% of total)
had a superficial NDE, and 41 (12%) had a core experience. 23 of the core group (7% of total) reported a deep or very deep
experience. And 282 patients, i.e. 82%, had no recollection of the period of cardiac arrest.About 50 % of the patients with
NDE reported the awareness of being dead, or had positive emotions, 30 % reported moving through a tunnel, had an observation
of a celestial landscape, or had a meeting with deceased relatives. About 25 % of the patients with NDE had an out-of-body
experience, had communication with "the light", or observed colours, 13% experienced a life review, and 8 % experienced a
Why only a small percentage of patients reported a NDE, while most did not? We found no influence on the frequency of NDE
of the duration of cardiac arrest, or the duration of unconsciousness, or the need for intubation in complicated CPR or by
induced cardiac arrest in EPS. Neither could we find any relationship between the frequency of NDE and given drugs, fear of
death before the arrest, foreknowledge of NDE, religion or education. Increased frequency of NDE was reported by patients
with age younger than 60 years, by patients with previous NDE, and by patients with more than one CPR during stay in hospital.
Patients with loss of memory induced by lengthy CPR reported significant fewer NDE. Good short-term memory seems to be essential
for remembering NDE. Surprisingly, we found that significantly more patients who had a NDE, especially a deep experience,
died within 30 days of CPR.
In our follow-up research into transformational processes after NDE, we found a significant difference between the patients
with NDE compared to those without this experience. Patients could recall their NDE almost exactly 2 and 8 years later. The
process of transformation took several years to consolidate. Patients with NDE did not show any fear of death, they strongly
believed in an afterlife, and their insight in what is important in life had changed: love and compassion for yourself, for
others, and for nature. They understood now the cosmic law that everything you do to others will be ultimately returned to
yourself; hatred and violence as well as love and compassion. Remarkably, there was often evidence of increased intuitive
feelings. Furthermore, the long lasting transformational effects of an experience that lasts only a few minutes was a surprising
and unexpected finding.
Several theories have been proposed to explain NDE. However, in our prospective study we did not show that psychological,
physiological or pharmacological factors caused these experiences after cardiac arrest. With a purely physiological explanation
such as cerebral anoxia for the experience, most patients who had been clinically dead should report a NDE. All 344 patients
had been unconscious because of anoxia of the brain resulting from their cardiac arrest.
And yet, neurophysiological processes must play some part in NDE, because NDE-like experiences can be induced through electrical
stimulation of some parts of the cortex in patients with epilepsy, with high carbon dioxide levels (hypercarbia), and in decreased
cerebral perfusion resulting in local cerebral hypoxia, as in rapid acceleration during training of fighter pilots, or as
in hyperventilation followed by valsalva manoeuvre. Ketamine-induced experiences resulting from blockage of the NMDA-receptor,
and the role of endorphin, serotonin, and enkephalin have also been mentioned, as have near-death-like experiences after the
use of LSD, or mushrooms (psilocybine and mescaline). These induced experiences can consist of unconsciousness, out-of-body
experiences, and perception of sound, light or flashes of recollection from the past. These recollections, however, consist
of fragmented and random memories unlike the panoramic life-review that can occur in NDE. Further, transformational processes
with changing life-insight and disappearance of the fear of death are rarely reported after induced experiences. Thus, induced
experiences are not identical to NDE.
Our question must be: Why only 18% of the survivors of cardiac arrest report a NDE?
With lack of evidence for any other theories for NDE, the thus far assumed, but never proven, concept that consciousness
and memories are localised IN the brain should be discussed.
How could a clear consciousness outside one's body be experienced at the moment that the brain no longer functions during
a period of clinical death, with flat EEG? Furthermore, blind people have also described veridical perceptions during out-of-body
experiences at the time of their NDE. Another theory holds that NDE might be a changing state of consciousness (transcendence,
or the theory of continuity), in which memories, identity, and cognition, with emotion, function independently from the unconscious
body, and retain the possibility of non-sensory perception. And during NDE consciousness could also be experienced in a dimension
without our conventional, body-linked concept of time and space. Scientific study of NDE pushes the limits of our medical
and neurophysiological ideas about the range of consciousness and the mind-brain relation.
Before I go more deeply into some neurophysiological aspects of brain functioning during cardiac arrest, I would like to
reconsider certain elements of the NDE, like the out-of-body experience, the holographic life review and preview, the encounter
with deceased relatives, the return into the body and the disappearance of the fear of death.
The out-of-body experienceIn this experience people have veridical perceptions from a position out and above their lifeless
body. NDEers have the feeling that they have apparently taken off their body like an old coat and to their surprise they appear
to have retained their own identity with the possibility of perception with emotions and with a very clear consciousness.
This out-of-body experience is scientifically important because doctors, nurses and relatives can verify the reported perceptions.
This is the report of a nurse of a Coronary Care Unit:
"During night shift an ambulance brings in a 44-year old cyanotic, comatose man into the coronary care unit. He had
been found about an hour before in a meadow by passers-by. After admission, he receives artificial respiration without intubation,
while heart massage and defibrillation are also applied. When we want to intubate the patient, he turns out to have dentures
in his mouth. I remove these upper dentures and put them onto the "crash car". Meanwhile, we continue extensive CPR. After
about an hour and a half the patient has sufficient heart rhythm and blood pressure, but he is still ventilated and intubated,
and he is still comatose. He is transferred to the intensive care unit to continue the necessary artificial respiration. Only
after more than a week do I meet again with the patient, who is by now back on the cardiac ward. I distribute his medication.
The moment he sees me he says: "O, that nurse knows where my dentures are". I am very surprised. Then he elucidates:"Yes,
you were there when I was brought into hospital and you took my dentures out of my mouth and put them onto that car, it had
all these bottles on it and there was this sliding drawer underneath and there you put my teeth."
I was especially amazed because I remembered this happening while the man was in deep coma and in the process of CPR. When
I asked further, it appeared the man had seen himself lying in bed, that he had perceived from above how nurses and doctors
had been busy with the CPR.
He was also able to describe correctly and in detail the small room in which he had been resuscitated as well as the appearance
of those present like myself. At the time that he observed the situation he had been very much afraid that we would stop CPR
and that he would die. And it is true that we had been very negative about the patient's prognosis due to his very poor medical
condition when admitted. The patient tells me that he desperately and unsuccessfully tried to make it clear to us that he
was still alive and that we should continue CPR. He is deeply impressed by his experience and says he is no longer afraid
of death. Four weeks later he left hospital as a healthy man.
The holographic life reviewDuring this life review the subject feels the presence and renewed experience of not only every
act but also every thought from one's past life, and one realizes that all of it is an energy field which influences oneself
as well as others. All that has been done and thought seems to be significant and stored. Insight is obtained about whether
love was given or on the contrary withheld. Because one is connected with the memories, emotions and consciousness of another
person, you experience the consequences of your own thoughts, words and actions to that other person at the very moment in
the past that they occurred and in the way they were experienced by the other as well as by yourself at that time. Hence there
is during a life review a connection with the fields of consciousness of other persons as well as with your own fields of
consciousness (interconnectedness). And one inevitably understands the cosmic law that everything you give to others will
be returned to yourself. If you hated someone during your life, you will receive hatred, if you used violence to someone you
will receive violence, and if you gave love and compassion to others, you will feel love and compassion yourself. They survey
their whole life in one glance; time and space do not seem to exist during such an experience. Instantaneously they are where
they concentrate upon (non-locality), and patients can talk for hours about the content of the life review even though the
resuscitation only took minutes.
Quotation:"All of my life up till the present seemed to be placed before me in a kind of panoramic, three-dimensional
review and each event seemed to be accompanied by a consciousness of good or evil or with an insight in cause or effect. Not
only did I perceive everything from my own viewpoint, but I also knew the thoughts of everyone involved in the event, as if
I had their thoughts within me. This meant that I did not only perceive what I had done or thought, but even in what way it
had influenced others, as if I saw things with all-seeing eyes. And so even your thoughts are apparently not wiped out. And
all the time during the review the importance of love was emphasised. Looking back, I cannot say how long this life review
and life insight lasted, it may have been long, for every subject came up, but at the same time it seemed just a fraction
of a second, because I perceived it all at the same moment. Time and distance seemed not to exist. I was in all places at
the same time, and sometimes my attention was drawn to something, and then I would be present there."
The PreviewAlso a preview can be experienced, in which both future images from personal life events (sometimes remembered
only later in the shape of "déja vu") as well as more general images from the future occur, even though it must be stressed
that these surveyed images should be considered purely as possibilities. And again it seems as if time and space do not exist
during this review. Quotation:"I had a nice eye contact, they looked at me full of love, and then I surveyed a great part
of my life to come; the care for my children, the terminal illness of my wife, the circumstances I would be mixed up with,
in my job and besides. I surveyed it completely. And then I got the feeling that I had to decide now: "I may stay here, or
I have to go back", but I had to decide now".
3) The encounter with deceased relatives.If deceased acquaintances or relatives are encountered in an otherworldly dimension,
they are usually recognised by their appearance, while communication is possible through thought transfer. Thus, during an
NDE it is also possible to come into contact with fields of consciousness of deceased persons (interconnectedness). Sometimes
persons are met whereas it was impossible to know that they had died, sometimes persons unknown to them are encountered during
Quotation: "During my cardiac arrest I had a extensive experience () and later I saw, apart from my deceased
grandmother, a man who had looked at me lovingly, but whom I did not know. More than 10 years later, at my mother's deathbed,
she confessed me that I had been born out of an extramarital relationship, my father being a Jewish man who had been deported
and killed during the second World War, and my mother showed me his picture. The unknown man that I had seen more than 10
years before during my NDE turned out to be my biological father."
4) The return into the bodySome patients can describe how they returned into their body, mostly through the top of the
head, after they had come to understand through wordless communication with a Being of Light or a deceased relative that "it
wasn't their time yet" or that "they still had a task to fulfil". The conscious return into the body is experienced as something
very oppressive. They regain consciousness in their body and realize that they are "locked up" in their body, meaning again
all the pain and restriction by their disease. They also realize that a part of their consciousness with deep knowledge and
understanding as well as the feeling of unconditional love and acceptance have been taken away from them again.
Quotation:"And when I regained consciousness in my body, it was so terrible, so terriblethat experience was
so beautiful, I never would have liked to come back, I wanted to stay there..and still I came back. And from that moment on
it was a very difficult experience to live my life again in my body, with all the limitations I felt in that period."
5)The disappearance of fear of deathNearly all people who have experienced an NDE have lost their fear of death. This is
due to the realization that there is a continuation of consciousness, even when you have been declared dead by bystanders
or even by doctors. You are separated from the lifeless body, retaining the ability of perception, while you also can experience
consciousness in a timeless dimension where deceased persons can be encountered.
Quotation:"It is outside my domain to discuss something that can only be proven by death. For me, however,
the experience was decisive in convincing me that consciousness lives on beyond the grave. Death was not death, but another
form of life."
Another quotation:"This experience is a blessing for me, for now I know for sure that body and mind are separated,
and that there is life after death."
Following an NDE people know of the continuity of their consciousness, retaining all thoughts and past events.
And this insight causes exactly their process of transformation, and the loss of fear of death. Man appears to be more than
just a body.
All these elements of an NDE were experienced during the period of cardiac arrest, during the period of unconsciousness,
during the period of clinical death! But how is it possible to explain these experiences during the period of temporary loss
of all functions of the brain due to acute pancerebral ischemia?
Complete cessation of cerebral circulation is found in induced cardiac arrest during threshold testing at implantation
of internal defibrillators, indicated for life-threatening rhythm disturbances. This complete cerebral ischemic model can
be usedto study the result of anoxia of the brain. During induced ventricular fibrillation(VF) complete circulatory arrest
occurs, with complete cessation of cerebral flow. The Vmca, the middle cerebral artery blood flow, which is a reliable trend
monitor of the cerebral blood flow, decreases to 0 cm/sec immediately after the induction of VF. Through many studies during
induced cardiac arrest with constant registration of the EEG (and also in animal models), cerebral function has been shown
to be severely compromised and electric activity in both the cerebral cortex and the deeper structures of the brain has been
shown to be absent after a very short period of time.
During monitoring of the electric activity of the cortex, the first ischemic changes are shown at an average of 6.5 seconds
following cardiac arrest, and they consist of a decrease of fast high amplitude waves and an increase of slow delta waves,
and sometimes also an increase in amplitude of theta activity. Also initial slowing (attenuation) of the EEG waves may be
the first sign of cerebral ischemia. With prolongation of the cerebral ischemia ultimately a declining to isoelectricity (a
flat line) is always monitored within 10 to 20 (mean 15) seconds from the onset of the cardiac arrest.
Clinical investigation during cardiac arrest not only shows us functional loss of the cortex with unconsciousness and areflexia
of the body, but also the abolition of the brainstem activity is observed by the loss of the cornea-reflex, of the gag-reflex,
and later also by the finding of fixed dilated pupils. And respiration has ceased because of anoxia of the medulla oblongata.
In those cases where the duration of cardiac arrest exceeds 37 seconds, the EEG activity may not return for minutes to many
hours, depending of the duration of cardiac arrest, in spite of the maintenance of adequate blood pressure during the recovery
phase after restoration of cardiac rhythm. This is caused by the initial overshoot on reperfusion (hyperoxia), which is always
followed by a significant decrease in cerebral blood flow brought on by cerebral oedema, resulting in reduced cerebral oxygen
In acute myocardial infarction, the duration of cardiac arrest on the CCU is usually 60-120 seconds, on the cardiac ward
2-5 minutes, and in out-of-hospital arrest it usually exceeds 5-10 minutes. Only during threshold testing of internal defibrillators
or during electro physiologic stimulation studies will the duration of cardiac arrest hardly exceed 30-60 seconds.
We have to come to the conclusion that all experiences with clear consciousness, as told by the patients in our study,
must have taken place during a flat line EEG, during transient loss of all functions of the brain.
Anoxia causes loss of function of our cell systems. However, in anoxia of only a few minutes duration, this loss may be
transient, while in prolonged anoxia cell death occurs with permanent functional loss. During an embolic event, a small clot
obstructs the blood flow in a small vessel of the cortex, resulting in anoxia of that part of the brain with loss of electrical
activity. This results in a functional loss of the cortex like hemiplegia or aphasia. When the clot is resolved or broken
down within several minutes the lost cortical function is restored. This is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). However,
when the clot obstructs the cerebral vessel for minutes to hours it will result in neuronal cell death with a permanent loss
of function of this part of the brain, with persistent hemiplegia or aphasia, and the diagnosis of cerebro vascular accident
(CVA) is made.
So transient anoxia results in transient loss of functions.In cardiac arrest, global anoxia of the brain occurs within
seconds. Timely and adequate CPR reverses this functional loss of the brain because definitive damage of the brain cells,
resulting in cell death, has been prevented. Long lasting anoxia, caused by cessation of blood flow to the brain for more
than 5-10 minutes, results in irreversible damage and extensive cell death in the brain. This is called brain death, and most
patients will ultimately die.
How could a clear consciousness outside one's body be experienced at the moment that the brain no longer functions during
a period of clinical death, with flat EEG? Up to the present, it has generally been assumed that consciousness and memories
are localized inside the brain, that the brain produces them. As long as this never proven concept is maintained, this means
that together with physical death, and also in clinical death and during brain death, our consciousness and memories must
pass away. However, as is stated before, during an NDE, people experience the continuity of their consciousness, retaining
all thoughts and past events from early childhood, with cognitive functions, with emotions, with self identity, and with the
possibility of perception out and above one's lifeless body. Consciousness can be experienced in another dimension without
our conventional body-linked concept of time and space, where all past, present and future events exist and can be observed
simultaneously and instantaneously (non-locality). In the other dimension, one can be connected with the personal memories
and the fields of consciousness of yourself as well as of others, as well as with the fields of consciousness of deceased
relatives (universal interconnectedness). And the conscious return into one's body can be experienced, together with the feeling
of bodily limitation, and sometimes also the awareness of the loss of universal wisdom and love they had experienced during
NeurophysiologyFor decades, extensive research has been done to localize consciousness and memories inside the brain, so
far without success. In connection with the never proven concept that consciousness and memories are produced and stored inside
the brain, we should ask ourselves how a non-material activity such as concentrated attention or thinking can correspond with
a visible (material) reaction in the form of a measurable electrical, magnetic and chemical activity at a certain place in
the brain. Neuro-physiological studies have shown these activities through EEG, magneto-encephalogram (MEG) and at present
also through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET-scan). Surprisingly even an increase in
cerebral blood flow is observed during such a non-material activity like thinking. And phenomena like presentiment, or the
anomalous anticipatory brain activation, and also the so-called delay-and-antedating hypothesis of Benjamin Libet are a challenge
to our current neuro-physiological theories.
The brain contains about 100 billion neurons, 20 billion of which are situated in the cerebral cortex. Several thousand
neurons die each day, and there is a continuous renewal of the proteins and lipids constituting cellular membranes on a time-span
basis ranging from several days to a few weeks. During life the cerebral cortex continuously adapts and thus modifies its
neuronal network, also by changing the amount and location of synapses. All neurons show an electrical potential across their
cell membranes, and each neuron has tens to hundreds of synapses that influence other neurons. Transportation of information
along neurons happens by means of action potentials, differences in membrane potential caused by synaptic depolarisation (excitatory
effect) and hyperpolarisation (inhibitory effect). The sum total of changes along neurons causes transient electric fields
and therefore also transient magnetic fields along the synchronously activated dendrites.
During each cerebral activity, these electrical and magnetic patterns of the 100 billion neurons, based on photons, change
each nanosecond. Not the number of neurons, the precise shape of the dendrites, nor the accurate position of synapses, neither
the firing of individual neurons is crucial, but the derivative, the fleeting electric and/or magnetic fields generated along
the dendrites. These should be shaped as optimally as possible into short-lasting meaningful patterns, constantly changing
in four-dimensional shape and intensity by so-called self-organization, which can be considered as a biological quantum coherence
The neurons' electric and/or magnetic fields presumably consist of "virtual" photons. Virtual photons have no mass, being
continuously generated and absorbed by all existing matter, and they have a measurable amount of energy, a nanonewton, or
the so-called Casimir effect. They receive, by definition, insufficient energy to start an independent life as real photons,
and they possess an electrical aspect and a magnetic aspect. The term virtual photon is used in quantum mechanics as a metaphor
for the mathematical construction of electrical and magnetic fields. Virtual photons are always omnipresent in the universe,
even in the deepest isolated vacuum in space where hardly any matter remains. And it should be kept in mind that also in all
sub-molecular matter in the cells of our body, and also our brain, about 99.99% is "empty space", and that this void is "filled"
with information-carrying waves such as electromagnetic fields from real photons, as well as fields from virtual photons.
Neurophysiological research is being performed using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in the course of which localized
magnetic fields (real photons) are produced. TMS can excite or inhibit different parts of the brain, allowing functional mapping
of cortical regions, and it can create transient functional lesions. In studies, TMS can interfere with visual and motion
perception and give an interruption of cortical processing with an interval of 80-100 milliseconds. Also TMS can alter the
functioning of the brain beyond the time of stimulation, but it does not appear to leave any lasting effect. Also by localized
electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe during surgery for epilepsy, the neurosurgeon Penfield could sometimes induce
flashes of recollection of the past (never a complete life review), experiences of light, sound or music, and rarely a kind
of out-of-body experience. These experiences did not produce any transformation. Olaf Blanke also recently described in the
journal Nature a patient with induced OBE by inhibition of cortical activity caused by electrical stimulation. From these
observations, we have to conclude that localized artificial stimulation with real photons inhibit and disturb the constant
changing electrical and magnetic fields of our neuronal networks, and so can influence and inhibit the normal function of
After many years of research both the Nobel Prize winners Wilder Penfield and John Eccles finally reached the conclusion
that it is not possible to localize memories or consciousness inside the brain.
Could consciousness and memories be the product or the result of these constantly changing fields of virtual photons? Could
these virtual photons be the elementary carriers of consciousness? Scientific research is done trying to create artificial
intelligence by computer technology, which should be able to emulate programs evoking consciousness. But Roger Penrose, a
quantum physicist, argues that algorithmic computations cannot emulate mathematical reasoning. The brain, as a closed system
capable of internal and consistent computations, is insufficient to elicit human consciousness.
He uses a quantum mechanical approach to explain the relation between consciousness and the brain. He suggests that our
inner reality which gives rise to our consciousness cannot be located in the brain, which would only actualise our subjective
reality, but not define it. And Simon Berkovitch, a professor in Computer Science of the George Washington University, has
calculated that the brain has an absolute inadequate capacity to produce and store all the informational processes of all
our memories with associative thoughts in our brain. We should need 10 to the 24th operations per second, which is absolutely
impossible for our neurons, each of which can transmit up to 100 signals per second. Also transfer rates of information far
superior to the speed of light should be required. Others have calculated that we need more than 10 to the 45th bits memory
capacity in our brain to store all the information of one person during his life, which is an incredible number. Also Herms
Romijn, a Dutch neurobiologist, has stated that storage of all memories in the brain is anatomically and functionally impossible.
We have to conclude that the brain has not enough computing capacity to store all the memories with associative thoughts
from one's life, has not enough retrieval abilities, and is not able to emulate consciousness.
And how then should we explain that consciousness and memories from early childhood can be experienced during a period
of a non-functioning brain, during anoxia of the cortex and the brainstem, during isoelectricity or a flat line EEG?
We have to come to the conclusion, like Eccles, Penrose, Berkovitch, Romijn, and many others, that quantum mechanical processes
should be the only explanation how consciousness and memories relate with the brain and the body during normal daily activities
as well as during the period of brain death or clinical death.
I would like now to discuss some aspects of quantum physics, because this seems necessary to understand my concept of the
continuity of consciousness I want to talk about. Quantum physics has completely overturned the existing view of our material,
visible world. It tells us that particles can propagate like waves, and so can be described by a quantum mechanical wave function.
As an immediate consequence, a particle can be in two or more states at the same time, a so-called superposition of states.
It can be proven that light in some experiments behaves like particles (photons), and in some it behaves like waves, and both
experiments are true. It appears that no observation is possible without fundamentally changing the observed subject. So in
quantum physics, there is no objectivity; exactly like in studies on NDE and on consciousness, only subjectivity remains.
Everything influences everything in reciprocity, and the observer influences the outcome of an observed event. And at the
same moment that an actual, local event takes place, it is instantaneously influenced by events at a great distance (non-local
interconnectedness, or entanglement). This happens because all events are interrelated and are influencing each other. While
observing, a probability is instantly changed into an actuality by collapse of the wave function.
Roger Penrose called this collapse, this resolution of multiple possibilities into one definitive state, objective reduction
(O.R.), which could be based on quantum gravity. Elaborating on Bell's theorem, physicist David Bohm states that everything
is constantly changing and moving in continuous interaction and that all shapes and events in the material universe (matter,
space and time) are present (unfolded) in an implicate order of total wholeness and undivided unity. Time and space are not
relevant in this submanifest universe, consisting only of fields of probability.
The whole, self-organizing course of the universe, extending over the past, present and future, is in its relevant time-space
configuration, permanently present in this phase-space. Within this phase-space, which is a causal world of precise mathematical
exactitude, no matter is present, everything belongs to uncertainty and possibilities, and neither measurements nor observations
are possible by physicists, but this phase-space can be influenced from outside. The phase-speed in this invisible and non-measurable
phase-space dimension varies from speed of light to infinity, while the speed of particles in our visible, physical time-space
varies from zero to the speed of light. Everything in our visible material world with time and space is based on continuous
interaction and succession of quantum states within this invisible phase-space.
Everything visible emanates from the invisible.
Our brain constructs in a mathematical way the so-called objective reality by interpretation of frequencies from 4-dimensional
self-organizing patterns of virtual photons, and these virtual photons are projections from the phase-space, where everything
from past, present and future is present as potential possibilities. According to Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose cytoskeletal
microtubules in neurons may process information due to these self-organizing patterns, giving rise to coherent states, and
with couplings between microtubules and membrane activities.
Our consciousness with declarative memories finds its origin in, and is stored in, this phase-space, and the cortex only
serves as a relay station of memories and consciousness to receive them into our waking consciousness. But they do not physically
Experiencing an NDE during clinical death, during a non-functional brain with flat EEG, one can consciously experience
all past events during review as well as future events during preview at the same moment, since time and space do not exist.
In trying to understand this concept of quantum mechanical mutual interaction between the invisible phase-space and our
visible, material body, it seems appropriate to compare it with modern worldwide communication. There is a continuous exchange
of objective information by means of electromagnetic fields (real photons) for radio, TV, mobile telephone, or laptop computer.
We are unaware of the innumerable amounts of electromagnetic fields that constantly, day and night, exist around us and through
us as well as through structures like walls and buildings. We only become aware of these electromagnetic informational fields
at the moment we use our mobile telephone or by switching on our radio, TV or laptop.
What we receive is not inside the instrument, nor in the components, but, thanks to the receiver, the information from
the electromagnetic fields becomes observable to our senses and hence perception occurs in our consciousness. The voice we
hear in our telephone is not inside the telephone. The concert we hear in our radio is transmitted to our radio. The images
and music we hear and see on TV is transmitted to our TV set. The internet is not located inside our laptop. We can receive
at about the same time what is transmitted with the speed of light from a distance of some hundreds or thousands of miles.
And if we switch off the TV set, the reception disappears, but the transmission continues. The information transmitted remains
present within the electromagnetic fields. The connection has been interrupted, but it has not vanished and can still be received
elsewhere by using another TV set. Again, we do not realize the thousands of telephone calls, the hundreds of radio and TV
transmissions, as well as the internet, coded as electromagnetic fields, that exist around us and through us.
Could our brain be compared with the TV set which receives electromagnetic waves (photons) and transforms them into image
and sound, as well as with the TV camera which transforms image and sound into electromagnetic waves (photons)?
This electromagnetic radiation holds the essence of all information, but is only conceivable to our senses by suited instruments
like camera and TV set.
The informational fields of our consciousness and of our memories, both evolving during our lifetime by our experiences
and by the informational input from our sense organs, are present around us as electrical and/or magnetic fields (virtual
photons), and these fields only become available to our waking consciousness through our functioning brain and other cells
of our body.
So we need a functioning brain to receive our primary consciousness into our waking consciousness. And as soon as the function
of the brain has been lost, like in clinical death or in brain death, with isoelectricity on the EEG, memories and consciousness
do still exist, but the reception ability is lost. We can experience our consciousness outside our body, with the possibility
of perception out and above our body, with identity, and with heightened awareness, attention, well-structured thought processes,
memories and emotions. And we can experience our consciousness in a dimension where past, present and future exist at the
same moment, without time and space, and our consciousness can be experienced as soon as attention has been directed to it.
Everything happens according to our free will, and free choice. And later, people who experience NDE can experience their
return into their body.
And how can we understand this interaction between our consciousness and our brain in our continuous changing body? As
stated before, during our life the composition of our body changes continuously, as during each second, 500.000 cells die
in our body. And from where comes the continuity of our permanent changing body? Cells and molecules are just the building
In assessing all the theories mentioned above, it seems inevitable to consider the DNA in our cells as the place of resonance,
or the interface, from where a constant exchange takes place, of a continuously changing mutual stream of information between
our material body and a non-material universe, the phase-space, where everything is available as a possibility.
DNA is a protein molecule with a double helix structure. It is integrated in 23 pairs of chromosomes, defines 30.000 genes,
and contains about 3 billion base pairs. The human genome differs only of 300 genes (1%) from the DNA of the mouse, but the
main difference is that these animals have 10% less base pairs, and they hardly possess junk-DNA. About 95% of our human DNA
has until now an unknown function, and because of this fact it is called junk-DNA or non-protein coding DNA. Presumably this
junk DNA has an identifying purpose, to be compared with a kind of "barcode" functionality. DNA plays a central role in the
forming and functioning of all body cells including nerve cells, and thus indirectly in generating their permanent changing
electric and/or magnetic fields.
Human DNA is specific for each person on earth, it is the only permanent aspect of all cells from conception until death,
and is not broken down. All 100 trillion cells in our body, with the nearly endless differentiation and specialization of
functions, emerge from the one DNA-molecule that comes into being at the moment of conception. Everything the body can perform
originates from the nearly endless possibilities contained in this first molecule of a new human being. It seems inevitably
to conclude that DNA must be the originator of the continuity in our permanent changing body.
DNA itself does not contain the hereditary material, but is capable to receive the transmittable possibilities and memories
from the past, as well as the so-called morphogenetic information, also part of the fields of our consciousness, because during
our life the body, in all its differentiation, is continuously formed and rebuild from the moment of conception by the DNA
in our cells. And in reciprocity DNA adds all our new experiences in the physical world into the fields of our consciousness.
Personal specific DNA is the receiver as well as the transmitter of our permanently evolving personal consciousness.
According to Erwin Schrödinger, a quantum physicist, the DNA is an a-periodic crystal, an a-statistic molecule. A-statistic
processes originate from the phase-space, and so DNA can function as a quantum antenna with non-local communication. In this
quantum computer model, the 3 billion base pairs should function as qubits (quantumbits), with quantum superposition of simultaneously
zero and one. In a normal computer bits are or zero or one. The DNA should function as a SQUID, a superconductive quantum
interference device. And also protein formation dynamics, as governed by quantum forces in DNA, could play a role in consciousness.
Following this concept, all cellular, molecular and submolecular processes are influenced and coordinated from the phase-space.
Quantum memory exists as wave patterns, created by experiences from the past, and these waves interfere with the quantum system
in our (brain) cells, with wave patterns created by experiences during our life, and by our sense organs. Once again, one
can compare this concept with our computer; the more experienced you are, the more information you can receive from the internet
into your laptop, but the material aspect of your computer is always the same, and the internet is not in your computer, but
you receive it. And using your website you add new information to the internet by transmitting it from your laptop.
Our consciousness is a field of information, consisting of energy waves, and it originates from the phase-space. According
to the law of thermodynamics, energy is indestructible. So consciousness must be indestructible, eternal and infinite. And
also following this definition, it must be impossible to demonstrate consciousness in the physical world, because it is impossible
to do measurements in the phase-space. But the effects of consciousness on the physical world are measurable by EEG, MEG,
MRI and PETscan.
All molecules, including the DNA and all atoms in a human cell are not dead matter, but have vibrational activity, which
could resonate with a electromagnetic radiation at 10 to the 11th Hz, as a result of biological quantum coherence phenomena.
All matter, also in our body cells, is 99.9% emptiness, and this emptiness is filled with energy waves and informational waves
with co-resonance and interference patterns between our molecules.
This is like our surrounding "empty" material universe, which is permeated with invisible waves and energy. Each cell is
connected with the penetrating waves of consciousness, and they communicate with each other, directly by electrical and magnetic
waves, especially in our nervous system, and indirectly by neuropeptides, signal- and messenger proteins, hormones and antibodies.
The direct informational exchange between cells must at least be close to the speed of light because of the reported turnover
of 500.000 cells per second.
Following a heart transplant, the donor heart consists of DNA material foreign to the recipient. In the book: "Change of
heart" it was described that sometimes the recipient experiences thoughts and feelings that are totally strange and new, and
later it is obvious that they seem to fit with the character and consciousness of the deceased donor. The DNA in the donor
heart gives rise to fields of consciousness that are to be received by the organ recipient.
Following an NDE, most people often to their own amazement and confusion may experience an enhanced intuitive sensibility,
like clairvoyance and clairaudience, or prognostication dreams. These so-called para-psychological phenomena seem to correspond
with non-local quantum mechanical interconnectedness with fields of consciousness of other people, or even better: with the
informational fields of the phase-space. In people with an NDE, the functional receiving capacity of the DNA has been permanently
changed, possibly by changing the functionality of informational RNA.
During cardiac arrest, the functioning of the brain, and of other cells in our body, stops because of anoxia. The electric
and/or magnetic fields of our neurons and other cells disappear, and the possibility of resonance, the interface, is interrupted.
Consciousness and memories are experienced outside the body, with identity, cognitive functions, with emotions, and with the
possibility of perception out and above the body. Consciousness can be experienced in a dimension without time and space,
the so-called phase-space, where all past and future is enfolded, and where wisdom and unconditional Love can be experienced.
This occurs during a period of clinical death, during a flat line EEG, with a non-functioning cortex and brainstem. It
also occurs during coma, and also during brain death.
Life is the energy that creates the possibility to receive the fields of consciousness into our physical body, into our
waking consciousness. And a non-functioning brain has no possibility to receive these fields of consciousness because of the
elimination of the electric and /or magnetic fields in the DNA in our cells.
During life, our consciousness has an aspect of waves as well as of particles, and there is a permanent interaction between
these two aspects of consciousness. The particle aspect of consciousness can be measured by means of EEG, MEG, MRI, and PET
scan. This particle aspect is the physical aspect of our consciousness in the material world, the time space, and it originates
from the wave aspect of our consciousness from the phase space by collapse of the wave function. The wave aspect of our indestructible
consciousness in the phase-space, with non-local interconnectedness, is by definition not measurable by physical means. When
we die, our consciousness will no longer have an aspect of particles, but only an eternal aspect of waves. This concept is
a complementary, and not a dualistic theory.
The functioning brain and other cell systems in our body are by means of the DNA the RECEIVER OF as well as the TRANSMITTER
TO our consciousness, but they are NOT the PRODUCER!
Our opinion on death changes fundamentally because of the almost unavoidable conclusion that at the time of physical death,
consciousness will continue to be experienced in another dimension, in an invisible and immaterial world, the phase-space,
in which all past, present and future is enclosed.
According to our hypothesis, death cannot be the end of our existence, but is just the end of our physical aspects. There
seems to be a continuity of our consciousness. Research on NDE cannot give us the irrefutable scientific proof of this conclusion,
because people with NDE did not die, as they came back, but they all were very, very close to death, without a functioning
brain. As I said before: NDE pushes us to the limits of medical and scientific ideas about the range of human consciousness
and the so-called mind-brain relation. In the future, we would like to develop more details on our hypothesis, but most aspects
of our concept seem to concur with the results of current scientific theories from neurophysiology, psychology, nanobiology,
and quantum mechanics.
The conclusion that consciousness is experienced independently of brain function might well induce a huge change in the
scientific paradigm in western medicine, and could have practical implications in actual medical and ethical problems such
as the care for comatose or dying patients, euthanasia, abortion, and the removal of organs for transplantation from somebody
during his dying process, still having a beating heart in a warm body, but with the diagnosis of brain death.
So finally we have to realize that death, like birth, presumably is a mere passing from one state of consciousness to another.
Finally, I would like to quote Plato: The temporary material body is the temporary carrier of our immortal soul. Or: Time
does not exist in the immaterial world. Plato is convinced that in communication we have to use words, but that we also have
to realise that this is a limiting factor to verbalize the essence; the true nature of things is principally concealed, and
not revealed, by our words. And in spite of being aware of this limitation, I have tried to use words to talk about my concepts
on the continuity of our consciousness.