Can we know what it is like to die?

If we can believe Socrates, all life is a preparation for death. What can he have been thinking? Death is nothing, oblivion. This life is everything. It is all we have and all we can know.

But religious traditions from Buddhism to Christianity are with Socrates. Intimate familiarity with death is a royal path to happiness.

If there’s any wisdom at all in this, we in the 21st Century Western world have missed the boat completely. We have banished death from our thoughts and our experience.

Let us put our toes back in the water of the river Styx. Can we know what it is like to die? The best way is to ask people who have done it. Peter Fenwick is a neuroscientist, not a mystic. He has studied both the physiology of the brain and firsthand experiences of people who routinely attend to the dying. He ties this in with reports of thousands of people who have literally returned from the dead. What did they experience while there was no neural activity in their brains?

Is consciousness a product of the brain, or is there a transcendent reality that is filtered by the brain and rectified to materiality? Wilder Penfield devoted his life to developing a science of the brain by probing the brain with electrodes, and he concluded in the end that the “energy of mind” is a different dimension altogether from neural signaling.  The brain is enormously important, but it can’t explain consciousness.

Monica Renz has interviewed hundreds of dying cancer patients and their caregivers, and she reports commonalities in their experience, including

  • visits from intimate relatives who have predeceased the patient, who come and sit on his bed
  • sojourns to a spirit world and back, conversations with non-corporeal beings who may visit and abide just outside the window
  • light emanating from the room of the dying person, visible to visitors and attendants

Attachment is the source of all the pain in dying. Those who die need to let go of everything—of their possessions, their projects, their loved ones, and indeed everything to which they have devoted themselves while alive. This is the most difficult challenge of dying, and those who are able to let go make a smooth transition to an existence that is far lighter and happier than the one we are used to.

Ancient Egyptians channeled the 21st Century (Thoth’s Prophesy)

Graham Hancockm, Crossroads & Ancient Egyptian Prophesy

Do you know, Asclepius, that Egypt is an image of Heaven? Since it is fitting that wise men should not remain in ignorance of what is to come.  There will come a time when it will be in vain that Egyptions have honored the Godhead with heartfealt piety and service….

In that day, men will be weary of life, and they will cease to see the world as worthy of reverent wonder and worship….  Death will be thought more profitable than life.   The immortal nature of the soul and the journey of the soul’s development—all this they will mock.  It will be a time of wars and robberies and frauds, and all things hostile to the nature of the human soul.  The fruits of the earth will rot and the soil will turn barren and the very air will sicken with sullen stagnation….

Then God, the creator of all things, will stop the disorder by the counterforce of his will.  He will call back to right path those who have gone astray.  He will cleanse the world of evil.  And thus, he will bring the world back to its former aspect.  The cosmos will be deemed worthy once more of worship and wondering reverence.  Such will be the rebirth of the cosmos.

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Pythagoras emerging from the underworld (Salvator Rosa, 1662)

We are a species with amnesia. We have severed our connection to spirit. But we have the power to bring the world back from darkness, and it will be done by millions of individuals acting faithfully in their own small domains.
— Graham Hancock

The real behind the real

Mirror room, designed by Yayoi Kusama, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

I passed into a lucent still abode
And saw as in a mirror crystalline
An ancient Force ascending serpentine
The unhasting spirals of the aeonic road.

Earth was a cradle for the arriving god
And man but a half-dark half-luminous sign
Of the transition of the veiled Divine
From Matter’s sleep and the tormented load

Of ignorant life and death to the Spirit’s light.
Mind liberated swam Light’s ocean vast,
And life escaped from its grey tortured line;

I saw Matter illumining its parent Night.
The soul could feel into infinity cast
Timeless God-bliss the heart incarnadine.

Sri Aurobindo, born this day in 1872
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Shock—sometimes we need it

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#51 from the I Ching Sonnet Project

The lightning can illuminate my soul
Or just as well incinerate my will;
The current of a raging surf can thrill
Or crash and leave me dead upon a shole.
I never voluntarily would choose
To shock my senses with a rude insult
But choice is governed by sources occult…
And if I flag, or stubbornly refuse
To learn when gentler messages appear,
A greater power flexes, to make clear
A fate as beauteous as it is austere.
I run with every muscle bursting strong
I yield my body to the sea, headlong—
The icy waves shake free my primal song.

Parts of a Whole

Through history until the 18th Century, various peoples of various regions of the world had various ideas about the purpose that breathed life into our lives, giving substance and significance to the decisions we make.

Newton’s idea of a clockwork universe supplanted all that.  There was no room for God, and also no room for beauty or virtue or any human value in a world that conists only in particles bouncing off one another according to deterministic physical laws.  This world-view gelled in the 19th Century as a philosophy with the implicity backing of Science.  Nietzsche told us, “God is dead,” and Darwin told us, “Humans are an accident.”

Quantum mechanics in the 20th Century changed that.  There is room in the interstices of physics for meaning, judgments, free choice, and human virtues.  But art and culture were slow to respond. Our philosophy, the fundamental attitude which we bring to the world, is stuck in the 19th Century.  The existentialism of Sartre, the suicide of Camus, the cynicism of the Dadaists, the rage of the Punk Rockers, the self-defeating selfishness of the New Right, the accountant’s mindset of the Liberal establishment are all products of this window on life rooted in 19th Century science.

If it is ever translated into a coherent view of the world (or a mystical view of the world), Quantum Mechanics can be liberating.  QM is inherently holistic.  Every particle knows what is happening to every other particle, everywhere in the universe, and quantum probabilities.  There is room within QM for mind and intention.  The future is open and does not unfold like clockwork from the past.  It’s safe to be passionate again without betraying your commitment to logic or empiricism.  This can be very liberating, indeed.

Listen to David Bohm talk about Parts of a Whole.
Read Jason Josephson Storm’s article on restoring enchantment to our outlook.

Weird Portentous Animals

Ever since man first painted animals in the dark of caves he has been responding to the holy, to the numinous, to the mystery of being and becoming, to what Goethe very aptly called the “weird portentous”…. All this is part of the human inheritance, the wonder of the world, and nowhere does that wonder press closer to us than in the guise of animals which, whether supernaturally as in the caves of our origins or, as in Darwin’s sudden illumination, perceived to be, at heart, one form, one awe-inspiring mystery, seemingly diverse and apart but derived from the same genetic source.
— Loren Eisley, The Starthrower (p189)

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Is there an objective physical world amenable to scientific investigation?

The culture and institutions of science have provided an answer: “Yes, of course. Let’s move on to the business of scientific discovery and stop fooling around with mystical mumbo-jumbo.”

Actual scientific investigation provides a different answer, however: “The objective, material view of reality is a very good approximation for some things, and the basis of a robust technology, but it is not the whole story.” The empirical evidence for this comes from tens of thousands of rigorous experiments on parapsychology that have yielded positive results. Also from millions of anecdotes, less rigorous but more dramatic, about ESP, precognition, NDEs, reincarnation, and other topics. The theoretical evidence comes from quantum physics, which implies that reality is co-created by the wave function “out there” and the consciousness that observes it.

Establishing the need for a new paradigm has been the subject of a vast collaboration over more than a century. The project is ongoing. But there is already more than sufficient motivation to take the next step. Only a few of our greatest thinkers have risen to the challenge of reformulating the rules of science and our fundamental conceptions of reality and what we can know about it.

This is the most interesting and fertile intellectual opportunity of our age.

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Abandoning all pretext of modesty, I will propose a framework for this project. The challenge is to preserve all that mainstream science has discovered and verified, while accommodating unconventional science that on its face appears at odds with the scientific worldview. In quantum theory, half the information that projects the present into the future is in the wave function; the other half is missing, and postulated to be purely random. There is direct experimental evidence, compiled by Robert Jahn, Dean Radin, and others that the random half is not random, and can be influenced by conscious intent. This effect seems to be insensitive to distance and can propagate backward as well as forward in time. I propose that integrating this evidence with quantum biology and the inverse quantum Zeno effect is a fruitful place to begin.