The you inside your brain – Mystery of the mind
Our sense of being, our sense of controlling what we do, choosing and having the thoughts and ‘feelings’ we have, our sense of being our own unique person. – Is it all an illusion? For surely, it is not an identifiable substance in itself that obeys the laws of physics as currently understood. However, it would indeed seem to arise from the workings of the brain, which is an identifiable, if amazingly complex, physical object. So, surely any sense of a non physical centre of being is indeed an illusion?
If not, then where does it come from? What is our mind actually made up of? Does it exist, physically, or in some other way?
Is our mind totally reliant on our brain, and purely caused by it?
Is there any possibility of our mind existing without our brain?
These are questions that thinkers have pondered upon for time immemorial, with ideas being wide open to the birth of religions and faiths, but only comparatively recently has the scientific community took a real interest in exploring the evidence for each possibility. The ‘sharp end’ of this contemporary research is in the field of death and resuscitation medicine, and the exploration of accounts of experience during the dying process.
Near death research
What is familiarly called the ‘near death experience’ or NDE is the feelings and memories of experience apparently gained when a person has begun the dying process, but has been saved from the finality of death itself.
It is important to realise that here dying is a process with stages, and that final death as a point at the end of this process is still a debated topic today. It is generally accepted in the worldwide medical community that permanent death is when the brain (or more specifically, the brain stem) of a subject is damaged beyond any use or repair. In the stages leading up to this state, people have been saved, despite having had little or no measurable brain activity meanwhile, and therefore not only dying, but being ‘temporarily dead’.
For many years, centuries even, survivors of near death have claimed to have had memories of experiences whilst undergoing this process of dying. The persistence of these claims, as well as the nature of some of the content detail, make a real and balanced investigation of the subject worthy.
Of particular interest, is the claimed ‘out of body experience’ or OBE.
Near death out of body experiences (NDE OBE)
The out of body experience as part of a near death experience is a widely anecdotally reported phenomenon, and has been so throughout the ages and life term of medicine and mortality care. As emergency and resuscitation medicine has advanced, such experiences have been more carefully documented and may indeed have become more widely reported, as retrieval from the dying state has itself become more of an occurrence.
The content of near death experiences varies widely, but common features emerge through collation. One of these features is the out of body experience.
Out of body experiences are a widely reported and discussed phenomena, mostly not actually as a near death situation. A common background factor does appear to involve blood flow changes in the brain, or changes in a person’s conscious state.
The content of memorised near death experiences and the circumstances surrounding the more common out of body experiences have had proffered varying reasonable physical and biological process explanations for their occurrence, largely concerning the temporoparietal junction part of the brain.(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temporoparietal_junction)
With this in mind, reported occurrences that are worthy of particularly close scientific analysis are those of a very specific nature – namely veridically perceptive out of body visualisations as part of a near death experience.
Such reported experiences appear to suggest the witness of actual events taking place from an external viewpoint at a time when the subject is in a biological state where the brain is not functional.
Unlike other forms of recalled experience, the timing and apparent witnessed perception can be corroborated.
The non functioning state of the brain can rule out the possibility of minimal consciousness as conventionally understood working with still functioning sensory stimuli.
Accurate audio perception recorded at a time when the brain has little oxygen and would be flatlined on an EEG, with little to no measurable activity would bring the established understanding about the relationship of oxygen, electrical activity, and brain functionality into question.
Out of body visual recollection if corroborated would also bring into immediate question the functionality of the mind as being an attached physical process of the brain, in the conventional currently understood sense.
As Dr Pim Van Lommel stated in the Lancet medical journal –
“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? Also, in cardiac arrest the EEG usually becomes flat in most cases within about 10 s from onset of syncope. Furthermore, blind people have described veridical perception during out-of-body experiences at the time of this experience. NDE pushes at the limits of medical ideas about the range of human consciousness and the mind-brain relation. Another theory holds that NDE might be a changing state of consciousness (transcendence), in which identity, cognition, and emotion function independently from the unconscious body, but retain the possibility of non-sensory perception. Research should be concentrated on the effort to explain scientifically the occurrence and content of NDE. Research should be focused on certain specific elements of NDE, such as out-of-body experiences and other verifiable aspects.”
(Lancet 2001 vol 358)