There is an interesting side connection between Wissner-Gross’s work and Dr. Sam Parnia’s investigations into consciousness after death as featured in Wired. It echoes many of the observations of Dr. Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven. Alexander, who was for years on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School, concluded after coming back from an extended near-death experience that “we need a new model of the brain.”
Dr. Parnia’s researches on the other hand springs from resuscitation medicine. “Resuscitation medicine grew out of the mid-twentieth century discovery of CPR, the medical procedure by which hearts that have stopped beating are revived. Originally effective for a few minutes after cardiac arrest, advances in CPR have pushed that time to a half-hour or more. New techniques promise to even further extend the boundary between life and death. At the same time, experiences reported by resuscitated people sometimes defy what’s thought to be possible. They claim to have seen and heard things, though activity in their brains appears to have stopped.”
What is interesting about the “after death experiences” that Parnia documents is that there is no evolutionary reason for it. There is no Darwinian reasons why evolution should take the trouble to create these after-death experiences in organisms that are dying. They won’t survive to spread the gene; there is no survival value to it. And yet as Parnia notices and Alexander knew from his own experience the dying come into contact with something.
Wired: You also study near-death experiences, but you have a different term for it: After-death experience.
Parnia: I decided that we should study what people have experienced when they’ve gone beyond cardiac arrest. I found that 10 percent of patients who survived cardiac arrests report these incredible accounts of seeing things.
When I looked at the cardiac arrest literature, it became clear that it’s after the heart stops and blood flow into the brain ceases. There’s no blood flow into the brain, no activity, about 10 seconds after the heart stops. When doctors start to do CPR, they still can’t get enough blood into the brain. It remains flatlined. That’s the physiology of people who’ve died or are receiving CPR.
Not just my study, but four others, all demonstrated the same thing: People have memories and recollections. Combined with anecdotal reports from all over the world, from people who see things accurately and remember them, it suggests this needs to be studied in more detail.
Wired: One of the first after-death accounts in your book involves Joe Tiralosi, who was resuscitated 40 minutes after his heart stopped. Can you tell me more about him?
Parnia: I wasn’t involved in his care when he arrived at the hospital, but I know his doctors well. We’d been working with the emergency room to make sure they knew the importance of starting to cool people down. When Tiralosi arrived, they cooled him, which helped preserve his brain cells. They found vessels blocked in his heart. That’s now treatable. By doing CPR and cooling him down, the doctors managed to fix him and ensure that he didn’t have brain damage.
When Tiralosi woke up, he told nurses that he had a profound experience and wanted to talk about it. That’s how we met. He told me that he felt incredibly peaceful, and saw this perfect being, full of love and compassion. This is not uncommon.
People tend to interpret what they see based on their background: A Hindu describes a Hindu god, an atheist doesn’t see a Hindu god or a Christian god, but some being. Different cultures see the same thing, but their interpretation depends on what they believe.
The inference is that intelligence and consciousness may not be entirely centered in the human brain. Just as it turns out that the Earth is not the center of the universe so it may turn out that consciousness and freedom may be actual entities existing elsewhere. They may be “out there” in some sense, perhaps in a physically explainable sense, as a form of information for want of a better word, and we can tap into it, or abstract it in software such that it is indistinguishable from truth, intelligence and love as we know it.
If consciousness is somehow external to us, then imposing an ideological framework on reality — the dream of O’Brien in 1984 — is basically a doomed attempt to shut it out. If to rule the human mind is not the same as to rule the universe, then all tyrannies are ordained to end as stupidities.
If so, the speech of Barack Obama proclaiming the eternal nature of Planned Parenthood will be remembered for its essential predictability; preordained unchanging message; as an example of what it means to learn nothing. It will be remembered as a speech to low information voters, as an exhortation not to be free.
“[N]o matter how great the challenge of opposition,” Obama told the crowd, “Planned Parenthood is not going anywhere.”
“It’s not going anywhere today, it’s not going anywhere tomorrow.” …
“Thank you Planned Parenthood. God bless you. God bless you,” Obama concluded.
We are eternal. We are God. Abortion is forever.
The connection between freedom and truth may be a deep one, as deep as the entanglement of power and falsehood. Freedom works because it allows us to see. It allows us to be surprised, by pain or by joy. Perhaps CS Lewis was more prescient than he knew when he urged us to cast our bread on the waters in order to find its source:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”