What Do Near Death Experiences Tell Us?

MachineElf

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#1
This is a relatively recent literature review by Bruce Greyson about Near Death Experiences. It considers some of the popular neuropsychological explanations for NDEs and OBEs.

The conclusion is as follows :

"An adequate model of mind/brain interactions must be able to explain how complex consciousness in NDEs, including thinking, sensory perception, and memory, can occur under conditions in which current physiological models of mind deem it impossible, such as under general anesthesia and in cardiac arrest (Kelly, Greyson, and Kelly, 2006). Scientific discussions of consciousness, to be responsible intellectually, must take these data into account. Only when researchers approach the study of NDEs with this question firmly in mind will we progress in our understanding of NDEs beyond unsatisfactory neuroscientific conjectures. Similarly, only when neuroscientists examine current models of mind in light of NDEs will we progress in our understanding of consciousness and its relation to brain."

http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S01 ... xt&tlng=en
 

DelphisBorn

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#2
Elf, as you know I am a neutral monist and I tend to suggest a “layer cake” model of consciousness which spreads out, like the mountainous roots of Kilimanjaro, into general cosmic patterns, of which the brain is the most complex known example. Since, due to my metaphysical stance, I take the view that consciousness is not a magical jack-in-the-box of “the brain”, I take the view that awareness (this word itself is a problem) is modified and shaped in its most developed way in “neural consciousness”, the top layer of the layer cake.

This neural consciousness goes offline in seconds when oxygen is not being fed real time to the brain, because the nervous system is very sensitive to hypoxia. However, in this model, there is another layer (and I am still here talking about a layer entirely to do with the body and the individual) that could be called “extraneural consciousness” and this consciousness (again in this neutral monist model) represents a more expansive (but also less focused) consciousness associated with processes of the entire body. And this consciousness, I would suggest, is not compromised within seconds, but may last for many minutes or even hours, until it starts to break down as no longer expressible. I also suggest that this consciousness, indeed all “consciousness”, has its own form of memory and processing.

My suspicion is that many NDEs are taking place in this second layer of the layer cake, which may also have more fluid access to the layers beneath it than the waking mind (neural consciousness) normally possesses. However, I think that this lower layer beneath waking mind, this “extraneural consciosuness” normally has the waking consciousness within it, like a smaller concentric circle active within a larger one. When the brain enters into a crisis during an NDE (but the body is still sustainably, that is, recoverably, “alive”), this inner circle blurs out of existence for a while; nevertheless, it still exists implicitly in the “whole body consciousness”. As the crisis passes and the brain starts to recover, that inner circle comes into focus again and at this point another event happens: the neural consciousness struggles to make sense of events and intuitions that took place at the level of extraneural (whole body) consciousness, the result of which conditions it to a narrative sequence roughly in keeping with the linear logic in the world of our waking experience and its concomitant subconscious imagery.

Beyond this, I suggest an even more generalized and expansive “consciousness” (but also, again, even LESS focused, in all categories of time, space, and causality) that spreads out into essentially all phenomena.

These various strata of form and mind existing in this picture of neutral monism, I notioned a catchphrase for. I tend to call it the “morphic unconscious”. :shock:
 

MachineElf

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#3
Interesting post, Delphis. I have a few things to comment on, but firstly, I would like to ask one thing...

I tend to call it the “morphic unconscious”.
I like your model, but if the layers of the cake are actually more essential forms of consciousness than the inner circle, which goes off-line first, why do you call it morphic 'un'conscious? What is unconscious and of what? The inner circle is unconscious of the other layers? If so, why is it that the name of your model takes as its point of reference the most transient part of the psyche?

I see the human sense of individuality and desire to survive and thrive, (ego), as a product of neuropsychological processes in the brain. It fits with the idea that level one (inner circle) and level two (the less focused state in which NDEs occur) are both tied intimately into the body.

But, Delphis, if Level two (the less focused state than the inner circle) is where NDEs occur, why is it that most NDErs describe the experience as 'more real than real'? Sounds highly focused to me...
 

MachineElf

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#4
These things I would agree with (want to put them in before I forget):

* That the 'story' in NDEs is the result of the egoic mind attempting to grapple with something it cannot adequately understand.

* That the story is actually a narrativised conceptual overlay to what was really experienced.

* That the story is 'narrativised' by the ego (I don't mean that term in the narrow sense, I mean it in terms of human selfhood). And that is why NDEs appear to have a cultural bent (eg. Buddhists tend to have NDEs that reflect buddhist themes; Westerners often see a Loving Light, and may experience Jesus or an angel or something).

Although, I'd say some NDEs are actually more fundamental, and involve an expanded state of self rather than some highly detailed narrative about doing and seeing things in some other realm.

Some NDErs/OBErs will admit that their story is a conceptual overlay to what really occurred, and most will say that there are words to describe what they experienced. As Tracy said in another thread "To try to interpret and relate what was happening to me, while it was happening, was an impossible task. There just were not the correct words - or the words don't exist - to describe it. It's not already known, but we hint at all the time."
 

DelphisBorn

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#5
I like your model, but if the layers of the cake are actually more essential forms of consciousness than the inner circle, which goes off-line first, why do you call it morphic 'un'conscious? What is unconscious and of what? The inner circle is unconscious of the other layers? If so, why is it that the name of your model takes as its point of reference the most transient part of the psyche?

Not sure I’m quite following you here, Elf. The lower layers of the cake are unconscious relative to neural consciousness. The terms “awareness” and “consciousnes” are problematic, imo, as I hinted, because they tend to refer to our waking state condition. In my view, consciousness is a monistic “slider”; it’s not an on/off digital switch. The question of whether these layers are “unconscious” to themselves, when we are not aware of them, is unanswerable (sort of like, does a tree fall over in a forest when no one’s there to see it), but what we can see is how these layers change as an experiencing center opens up in them. My general view, however, is that there is probably only one focus of consciousness possible in the cake at any one time. In the following thumbnail (click to expand), I have presented a (much simplified) version of the layer cake model.




There are several more layers than this, but this makes it about as simple as could be rendered in a diagram. The “somal” unconscious is what I am calling “extraneural consciousness” (again, there is a definitional problem with the word “consciousness” in these discussions, because the english language does not have a “slider” synonym for its concept of consciousness, and that is what I intend). The somal consciousness is awareness rooted in (though not necessarily lmited to) the processes of the body and the personal memory and imagery of the individual. In the second clickable thumbnail, I have expanded upon what I consider likely to be happening in a protracted Near Death Experience scenario.



(note: click "full size" at top left on the target page to maximally expand these diagrams).
 

DelphisBorn

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#6
But, Delphis, if Level two (the less focused state than the inner circle) is where NDEs occur, why is it that most NDErs describe the experience as 'more real than real'? Sounds highly focused to me...
My suspicion is that a developed mind takes some kind of “comet tail” of neural consciousness with it, down into the lower layers of the layer cake, when an event such as this happens. Now that is just one possibility. Your thread concerning very early life memories may suggest other possibilities. My view at present still tends towards the position that “reality” and “focus” are not necessarily synonymous. Taking an electrical metaphor just for fun, one can have the precision of a microchip circuit board, or one can have the raw power of the national grid. I am not really convinced that these great experiences of rememberable awareness would exist in NDEs and the like, were it not for the prior existence of a well developed conscious mind at the “neural consciousness” layer. Indeed, one has to ask: wherefore the whole business of living a life with a neural consciousness, if much better consciousness and experience “already exist” like a Christmas present awaiting us under the tree, at another level of the layer cake. Something is amiss with that picture, IMO.
Although, I'd say some NDEs are actually more fundamental, and involve an expanded state of self rather than some highly detailed narrative about doing and seeing things in some other realm.
Yes, I’d go along with that, and I would say that the boundaries of “somal consciousness” are being erased or transcended. I still think you can get narrativization even from those depths, because the brain has no pre-loaded structure with which to remember such experiences without it.

Some NDErs/OBErs will admit that their story is a conceptual overlay to what really occurred, and most will say that there are words to describe what they experienced. As Tracy said in another thread "To try to interpret and relate what was happening to me, while it was happening, was an impossible task. There just were not the correct words - or the words don't exist - to describe it. It's not already known, but we hint at all the time."
I doubt that a raw experience of Pan-Life Interconnection will ever be entirely describable in terms of neural consciousness. We already find it hard enough just to describe the everyday adventures of consciousness, such as peeling an apple, with its color and its taste, to another person. We only need to be conversing with a color blind individual or someone with no sense of smell, to appreciate the paucity of language in striving to express the tacit, even the simplest instances of it.
 

MachineElf

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#7
HAHA. Nice models, Delphis. Did you just knock them up? 8)

... and I think you did follow my question ... it's just that you were making different assumptions about where the 'center of experience' resides.
 

MachineElf

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#10
So anyway Delphis, I have been thinking about your model and I wanted to get clear ...

What you are proposing is that the 'center of experience' (or experience of self) changes according to the presence or absence of other layers of the cake. So, once my neural consciousness ends, my experience of self is fundamentally different to the sensorial, egoic individual that is writing this post.

But what of the Observing Self? The quiet non-engaged consciousness that is always present. The "I". Where does that fit into your model? Sounds like you don't think there is an essential center, but it is more like tiered centers.
 

DelphisBorn

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#11
Hi Elf,

I think that the “cake” only disappears from the top down, not the bottom up. In other words, you can have neural consciousness removed, or you can have neural and somal removed, but you can’t have neural consciousness, without the somal unconscious, or the unconscious in general, etc.

What I am suggesting is that the “unconscious” layers alter in character as the layers above are “folded” into them. This does not occur in any dramatically structured way, during life, but one possible account of the NDE is that it is exactly such a (structured) event. It is further my suggestion that the “extrusion” of consciousness or the awareness principle or whatever nomenclature we give it in this neutral monistic picture is purposeful to the degree that some benefit (for “consciousness" in general) is achieved via that process. During life, I think there is a less dramatic, but still important, structure for partly folding the layers of the cake into each other, and this is the sleep cycle.
 
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