Monday, February 6, 2012

Spiritual Realities are Real: Science Says So

A Paradigm Is Dead: Long Live the New Paradigm: Science and Spirit Re-united in the 21st Century
Consciousness > Information > Laws of Physics > Material Reality
Melvin L Morse MD FAAP John Peter Thompson

“You are what you know. Fifteenth Century Europeans “knew” that the sky consisted of closed concentric spheres rotating around a central Earth, carrying the stars and the planets. That knowledge structured everything they did and thought because it told them the truth. Then Galileo’s telescope changed the truth” James Burke in The Day the Universe Changed

Which came first? brain or consciousness?
      Recent scientific advances in Neuroscience and Information Theory have triggered a profound paradigm shift that is currently rippling through science and society. It is the long waited reunion of Science and Spirituality. The New Paradigm embraces consciousness as a primal component of the Universe, no less than the mathematical laws which are also embedded in it. Like prior paradigm shifts, “Consciousness Comes First” does not overthrow our current knowledge of material reality. It simply adds a deeper level of understanding, that our Universe is made of “Vital Dust” as Nobel Laureate Christian De Duve described it.

     James Burke, in his award winning television series and book The Day the Universe Changed, documented 8 dramatic changes in the “truth” which have occurred in Western Society in the past 1000 years. These included a new way of painting pictures in Italy which directly led to
Columbus discovering America; the printing press which forever altered man’s astonishing ability to memorize gigantic amounts of information. This in turn changed what a “fact” meant.
Just as the reality of near death experiences and their spiritual message is ignored by science today, the scientific establishment of the early 1700s ignored French peasants who reported meteorites landing in their fields. The hard evidence was right in front of them, yet they dismissed it as “crazy and delusional”. It took the French Revolution and the overthrow of the Church’s grip on knowledge before science could acknowledge that meteorites were real.

      Burke points out that our current Western state of “truth” is that we control our destiny through our scientific curiosity. Most of us are confident in our abilities to be Masters of the Universe because we do not believe a supernatural deity takes responsibility for our existence. This current “truth” is rooted information learned in the 1800s when the old “truth” that there was a grand design to the Universe created by a Supreme God was determined to be flawed. Even the Bible, then regarded as The Book of Truth, was discredited as it was found to written by men over many generations and centuries. We hold on to our current truths just as firmly as past generations held on to their concepts of reality. Burke concludes that knowledge is merely what we determine it should be, an artifact of what we discover about the Universe, and that reality will be endlessly changing according to our point of view. (Click here for summaries of each of the changes in truth)

The Scientific Debate Concerning Life After Death: “Lame Outdated News Clippings?”

      I realized the Universe had changed for me recently when I hurt the feelings of a good friend of mine, Sara Victoria. “Oh”, she pouted. “I thought you would be interested in anything having to do with life after death. After all, NBC News said you have done more to prove the existence of life after death than any other scientist. Now you’ve made me feel like some old grandma sending you lame outdated news clippings.”

       She had emailed me a link to yet another discussion on scientific evidence of the proof of life after death. This one was between the Head of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and Transpersonal Psychologist Arthur Hastings PhD. I dutifully filed it away to read later. The same folder contained an unread account of a debate between Science Skeptic Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra on the same topic. It rested next to a flyer advertising an upcoming debate between parapsychologists Ray Hyman PhD, Jessica Utts PhD, and Stephan Schwartz at the 2011 American Parapsychological Association meetings. This last debate represents 15 straight years the same individuals have similar debates.
Game Over: Reset to New Paradigm
     Recent advances in Neuroscience and Information theory have made such debates obsolete for me. New discoveries in seemingly unrelated fields have led directly to Science firmly reuniting with ancient Spiritual Truths. They are:

1) Functional neurogenesis: This is the fairly recent discovery that thoughts change brain structure. Even more fascinating is that thoughts alone can trigger the healing of brains severely damaged by strokes or other causes. This healing begins precisely in the same brain structures responsible for our sense of self, personality, memories, and relationship to god. The newly formed brain cells then migrate throughout the brain to where they are needed.

Hippocampal precurser or "stem cells
in the same area of the brain my research
identified as being the "god spot"
I was a student when Fred Gage, a pioneer of neurogenesis, was at Johns Hopkins. I vividly remember him saying how disturbing it was that the brain could alter itself and change. He mused about how personality and memory could be stable in an unstable brain (if they are only brain based). I was already struggling with the same questions, as I was taking care of patients who had had one half of their brain removed for seizure control. Post-operatively they had the same personalities, memories, and even walked and talked with very little apparent neurological deficits.

2) Information Theory: For nearly 100 years, theoretical physicists have struggled with their mathematical models and experimental data showing that information is the core essence of this Universe. Information, which seems to exist independent of time and space, expressed primarily in terms of probabilities instead of absolutes. Information theory, although entirely mathematically based, has impacted neuroscience and engineering in virtually every aspect of modern society, from computer science, cell phones, the Internet, ecology and physics.

Information is defined as a random variable defined by the sum of probabilities of what is real. Concepts such as intuition and hidden math are important parts of information theory. My friend and chaos mathematician Jay Kappraff, in Beyond Measure documents how information theory intersects with the mathematical underpinnings of everything from plant growth to architecture to the myths of primitive peoples.

Paul Davies in Information and the Nature of Reality writes that the basis of reality is “information > laws of physics>material reality”.
Yet if mathematics and information theory are the basis of the Universe, in whose brain are they emanating from? Science has without comment slipped into a profound mysticism implying that there must be a consciousness or source of universal information as the basis of material reality. In fact, Aristotle proposed a similar defination of matter thousands of years ago. The current physics model of “matter” is that it is a sort of “energy-mass-potential” matter, hardly the tiny spects of stuff that were supposed to be the basis of all of reality.

3. Cognitive Neuroscience: One major barrier to understanding spiritual realities is that they seem to be invented or created in the brain. In fact, nearly 25% of our brain is dedicated to perceiving spiritual realities. I coined the term “the god spot” in 2002 to describe the hippocampus and right temporal lobe as links to the “all informational domain”, better known as “god”. This has been supplanted by Mario Beauregard’s documentation that there is no “god spot” as most of the brain is dedicated to intersecting with spiritual realities.

Now visual cognitive neuroscientists such as Don Hoffman (Visual Intelligence) have documented that our consensual “local” reality is also created in the brain. In fact, the brain receives millions of bits of information per second and uses only a small percentage of it to create our visual reality.

Consciousness Persists in Dying Dysfunctional Brains at the Point of Death
A child's drawing of the tunnel and the light.  The darkness
of the tunnel is the end of ordinary sensory input.
The rainbow is the re-emersion into the sensory stream
of information.
     Bruce Greyson MD, the grandfather of near death research, states: “the conflict between current neuroscientific orthodoxy and the occurrence of near death experiences is head-on, profound and inescapable. This reason for this is simple. Consciousness persists in dying dysfunctional brains at the point of death. Two prospective case control studies of near death experiences, mine done on children at the University of Washington, and Pim van Lommel’s done on adults, published in the American Medical Association’s Pediatric Journal and the Lancet respectively, clearly document this.

     All of the so-called controversies in near death research, such as which neurotransmitters mediate the experience, or what is the neurophysiological basis of the tunnel are meaningless. The fact is that dying dysfunctional brains are frequently fully conscious. They shouldn’t be according to the old paradigm’s view that the brain creates consciousness. In fact, this finding has been replicated in laboratory studies of fighter pilots whirled to the point of near death in studies of how the brain responds to high G forces. They report precisely what the children we studied at the University of Washington reported: first a period of unconsciousness as they approached near death, and then a return to consciousness at the point of death.

The Collision of the Facts v Science Saved by Philosophy
     I had a conversation with philosopher John Peter Thompson which finally ended my journey of understanding about near death experiences. We bantered back and forth about field theory, and Einstein, and quantum physics, and how to define imagination as opposed to emerging phenomena when we reach the chaos at the limits of the known reality.

      He restated in philosophical terms what Don Hoffman defined in neuro-cognitive terms: Perception must be defined in BOTH phenomenal terms and relational terms. What we see is first and foremost a visual construct of the mind, a phenomenon. Consensual local reality is something we all see and agree upon. Alcoholics see pink elephants that the rest of us can’t see.

      Visual perception must be further defined in a relational sense. Do we relate and interact with what we see? By this test, pink elephants are not real, and the near death experience is very real. It is transformational to those who experience them. The content of the experience precisely matches what both informational theory and ancient spiritual wisdom tell us about god and reality.
      I learned from John Peter that what scientists now call “Informational Theory” or Jay Kappraff called fundamental mathematical principles he finds in nature, the brain, human mythological structures, the dynamics of waves and curving nature of streams, virtually every religion has called “god”.
For example:
A Person Describes their near death experience as: ”It had all of the love, all of the knowledge, everything that is, was and will be,and that (knowledge) is the hard core of reality. And death? Death is a body problem.

A child describing god in his near death experience: I first saw a wizard dressed in white, telling me to struggle and I shall live. But then I knew it was god, from the knowledge in his voice.
Jonathon Edwards: (American Calvinist, nearly died at age 7: I saw the sweet light of the all knowing god that is not of this world yet surrounds us all.
The Jewish/Christian Bible: he has filled him w/ the Spirit of God, w/ wisdom, w/ understanding, w/ knowledge & w/ all kinds of skills Exodus 35:31

The Koran:that Allah is the All-Knower of each & everything. Al-Maeda, Chapter #5, Verse #97 The knowledge thereof is with Allah (Alone), but most of mankind know not Al-Araf, Chapter #7, Verse #187 And surely, Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower. Al-Anfal, Chapter #8, Verse #42 Knowledge is identical with God’s being; God is knowledge Islam: past, present and future ~ Hans Kung
The Vedas:“The Vedas contain all knowledge . Bless me with this knowledge just as you have blessed the deities.” Yajur Veda via

      Robert Lanza MD wrote in American Scholar that consciousness is the ultimate smallest particle of the Universe. He further states that consciousness uses the brain to interact with this local reality (that small percentage of information received by the brain to create our current version of reality). Time and space are “tools of the brain!” Robert Lanza is arguably the world’s smartest scientist, working primarily with cloning. He doesn’t mention near death research at all in reaching his conclusion that this is a conscious interactional Universe. (Click here for Lanza's website)

      Cognitive neuroscience tell us that we create our shared reality, what we all agree is real” with less than 5% of the total information our brain receives! Information science tells us that all of that information is in fact the underpinnings of reality, not tiny tiny tiny pieces of matter. Jay Kappraff tells us that within this reality (which is but a fraction of the total reality) there are hidden mathematic equations and correlations which seem to be some sort of spiritual glue connecting the myths of primitive peoples with the artwork of great painters to architecture to how plants grow. In fact they seem to be a filter or template within our brain which shapes how we perceive reality.
So Can a Dead Brain Think? And Heal Itself?
      Wow, clearly we can no longer say that we see or understand “reality” with our five senses. To answer the question of “what is real”, we have to consult chaos mathematicians, cognitive neuroscientists, and learn how thoughts can restructure the brain.
       All I want to know, at the end of the day, is “are near death experiences real”. I am a clinician. For the first many years of my career, I worked for an Air Transport Service bringing critically ill children to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Most of these patients died. Over half of those grieving parents have powerful spiritual experiences regarding the death of their child. They want to know if near death experiences are real because they want to know if they can trust their own spiritual visions and intuitions.

       So I put it to John Peter directly: How can we trust the spiritual visions of children who are on medications and have nearly died? They say their experiences are real, in fact “realer than real”. In fact one little girl told me that “I was never so alive as those few minutes I was dead”.
John replied: The explorer of reality must use a consistent, well-defined and well-understood language to communicate concepts such as reality. Ultimately, we have to take what limited information we have, and create a model of reality from it. We can never know absolute reality.
      What we experience as reality is simply a man-made structure. What we observe in nature is not nature itself, but rather nature filtered through our efforts to understand it.
We must be patient with the language of science, to learn what personal myth lies beneath it. Even the experimental data of science is expressed in human words, words which are crafted through metaphor and analogy. It is our word choice and language which ultimately colors and shapes our world view.

      As human beings, we appear to be hard wired to map an informational reality to create a predictable world we can function in. This will work until new information causes the previously constructed matrix to break down.

      Now at last I understand the case of Angela Ronson, who had a severe stroke and was in a coma for seven years. She finally recovered, with her memory and personality intact, yet most of her brain was destroyed by her cranial bleed. She too was still alive. Functional neurogenesis explains how she tediously healed and restored her own brain.

      When her brain was destroyed by the stroke, her consciousness, complete with memories and personality still existed in the greater informational reality, or mind of god depending on your belief system. Most people at that point simply go on to a new brain, what we call re-incarnation. Or as Robert Lanza MD says, we “re-set” to a new brain. Apparently Angela took the trouble to tediously restore and refurbish her old brain, by the now known processes of functional neurogenesis. What a gal! Thanks Angela for showing us it can be done! (click here for article on Angela)

The Old Paradigm Validated that Meteors Are Real: The New Paradigm Validates that Spiritual Realities are Real
      At long last, I can look my grieving parents in the eye, and speak to them with the confidence of a scientist: “Yes, your vision that your departed child returned and told you not to cry was real.” It is as real as math, as real as love, as real as information science. Your child, after his body died in what we call reality, is in fact still part of the greater informational reality we all exist in. There is absolutely no reason, from a scientific point of view, that your child could not have taken the trouble to communicate with you. Your brain simply would have to be prepared to access some information that it usually filtered out as “not real”.

       I shook John Peters hand, and silently cried. So many of my patients died. The handful who survived told me that they had a wonderful secret to share with me, that when they were dead, they were still alive.
This picture represents my transition from Air Lift NW
Critical Care physician to Neuroscientist
       I have felt an obligation to those parents to explain the near death experience in the language of science. It has taken me twenty years.
       Twenty years later, I now understand what a small comfort and terrible understanding this is. Their child still died, no matter that science confirms the existence of spiritual realities. I weep for my failures as a physician and for all those children who died.


  1. Good to see this site up and running Dr. Morse. Been following Angela for a while now, and am living with the fallout of my own 1990 traumatic brain injury. Been reading NDE material (including your excellent stuff) for years.
    Seems you and Pim van Lommel are starting to *run* with this kind of thinking. Look forward to what this site will offer...

    1. Thank you so much. This comment means a lot to me.
      Melvin L Morse MD

  2. This is totally what I "feel" we are as beings. YOU are indubitably the Newton of Science/Spirituality reconciliation awakening. Thank you for all your hard work. Isabelle.