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Kate Devlin

June 17th, 2011

Is There An Afterlife? @ 09:10 pm

This post will be a somewhat disjointed collection of related thoughts and a few questions. Here goes...

What happens after we die? Can anyone know?

Sometime in the 1970s a researcher, I forget who, identified the NDE, Near Death Experience. Someone on the brink of clinical death claimed to feel themselves passing though a long dark tunnel. After a time this person emerged into a world of light and saw deceased relatives and and friends greet them, This person was told, something to the effect that, "its not your time" , they left this world at the end of the tunnel and were resuscitated. Since the 70s and the advancement of medical technology thousands of people from around the world now claim to have experience an NDE.

What's going on here? Is this a valid experience or interpretation of the "afterlife"? For many people experiencing an NDE this has proven to be a life changing experience (no pun intended).Atheists experiencing this have become Christians. Christian fundamentalists have become Buddhists or pagans.One of my favorite films, Bliss, uses an NDE as a background to its story of an Australian advertising executive and his disillusionment with industrial rat race capitalism.

There are researchers who claim to be able to artificially induce an NDE though ketamines and PCP. What does this mean? Is this a neurological syndrome created by chemical changes in the brain? There is a Canadian neurologist who claims he has replicated the "alien abduction" experience in volunteers though sensory deprivation and drugs. What does this mean?

Because an experience can be replicated though drugs or otherwise altering brain chemistry, does this necessarily invalidate it? All experience is mediated though brain chemistry. Could it be that human sense perception is something like the graphic user interface-GUI of a Windows (or Linux) program, winnowing out and filtering sense perception so we can more readily understand it? Could naked reality be something like bit code, unintelligible to those untrained in understanding it? What did Blake say, "if man could but unlock the doors of perception, he would see the world as it is, infinite?" That quote has been an inspiration to people from Jim Morrison to Aldous Huxley.

Reincarnation-truth or bullshit? If I had to pick a "religion" or spiritual path it would be a rarefied philosophic Buddhism. Technically Buddhists don't believe in reincarnation of the Self, simply because there is no self to be reincarnated, The individual human personality is like a wave on an ocean, a specific self expression of the vast Isness of the universe. It forms temporarily and then releases.Instead of a permanent self or soul there's a collection of personality aggregates, "skanda" which can be recycled over and over.Having said this many Buddhists in reality do believe in a form of reincarnation. The personality aggregates can contain memories and other aspects of an individual personality. They can be expressed over and over in different ways though a sequence of lifetimes as a means to learn.At least that's the theory.

Some years ago I went to a psychic for a reading. Most of these people are charlatans or semi-con artists. This woman was the real thing however. She didn't know me from Adam but she said some very personal things about my self and my family. She said I was an "old soul",I've had many other life times, many more than is common (the theory of reincarnation is trans-temporal, life times are not sequential. One's "past" lifetime could be in the 23rd century and "future" lifetime in the 1850s.) I'm not sure what was going on but for me this person had the ring of authenticity.

On the other hand some of the literature on reincarnation can be a bit wacky. A classic book is "Many Masters, Many Lives" by  Dr. Brian Weiss. Dr. Weiss describes a patient he did extensive work with, including  hypnotically induced past life regressions. This person described in detail a  life she she had in ancient Egypt in (if I remember) 1500 BC. In another life this person described her life as a WWII German fighter pilot. Critics have lambasted this. How would someone in ancient Egypt know it was 1500 BC? The technical details the German fighter pilot described were  anachronistic, things no one would have described in the 1940s.

Am I being too cynical?

Another book on reincarnation is by Bruce Goldberg, a Baltimore dentist who turned to hypnosis and claims to have regressed people to past and even future lives. He writes about futures lives of people in the 22nd though 30th centuries and produces sort of a rough future history chronology in his "Past Life, Future Lives and in another book which seems to a rewrite of his first book.

Is there anything to this or is this the product of a hyper active imagination?

I've meditated, on and off for years and I've dabbled in shamanism. There is something to the Imaginal Realm. What this is, I don't know. Once while "journeying" at a workshop at a Unitarian church I had a somewhat strange meeting with the Egyptian god Toth. Guided imagination? Reality? Something else entirely?

What's going on with astral projection? Years ago I read several books by Robert A, Monroe, a pioneer in the field of cable TV, Monroe claimed to have had many experiences in leaving his body. He claims to have  traveled to parallel universes and higher or lower energy worlds. "Journeys Out of the Body" and especially "Far Journeys" make for interesting reading. It seems like these books do describe subjective experiences he's had. Monroe started an institute in Virginia designed to teach these techniques to people, the Monroe Institute, which for a time got a good write up in various counter culture media.. I don't know what their success rate is.

On the other hand...

Research into OBEs (out of the body experiences) show that a person's perceived experience "out of the body" does not correlate with reality. Someone may feel they are leaving their body and look at a clock or other objects and what they report does not correlate with what is there. There is theory that an OBE may be triggered by a temporary relaxation of the part of the brain which controls one's sense of self or place. This may have something to do with why someone on the brink of falling asleep feels either a floating or a falling sensation.

I have never had an OBE myself. I have had many, many flying dreams. In my dreams this often seems to reflect some sort of ability I had as a little kid. During the time I read Monroe's books, years ago I had a lot of flying dreams.

Next-if there is something to parapsychology and "non-dualistic consciousness", including things experienced in altered states of consciousness, could this eventually be shown to have a scientific , a "materialist" cause? The writer Arthur Koestler, former journalist for the Hungarian Communist Party and author of the "God That Failed" about the manipulations of Stalinist Communism, developed an interest in "scientific mysticism". He worked  at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Physics. I am not super familiar with his work or thought in this area but it may bear looking into. I have read his "Roots of Coincidence" which was interesting.

It's been recently suggested that I read Wave by Fritjof Capra. I have read his "The Tao of Physics" which I did not think was really that good. (The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zhukav makes the case for a connection between "Eastern Thought" and the "new science" much better, I think. Capra's "The Turning Point is interesting but doesn't have anything to back it up. Having said this Wave might be along the lines of what I'm looking for.

While I'm at it here...is there anything to all the "2012" stuff? about ten years ago I read several books by Ken Carey. He was a freelance carpenter in Pennsylvania's Amish country. Over a period of a week he had the experience of being in communication with some sort of powerful intelligence. "The Starseed Transmission" is the best of his books . It claims to predict changes and the evolution of some sort of cosmic global consciousness peaking around 2011 or 2012 but emphasizes that we should not get hung up on dates.Carey's Third Millennium is interesting but not nearly as good. Its a bit too hung up on American boosterism for my tastes, but I still see his point. Anyway this is the best of the sometimes funny 2012 stuff I've come across.

Between the Christian fundamentalist "Rapture" and "Tribulation" and the New Age "Harmonic Convergence, the New Agers sound like a lot more fun. I'd pick Ken Carey over Harold Camping any day.

Are we on the brink of "earth changes"? The world does seem like its entering a dramatic period of instability. What's going on? How do I fit into it?

Anyway, can there be shown to be n underlying scientific basis for "mysticism"? Am I looking at this in the wrong way?

Will Ray Kurzweil's and Vernor Vinge's "Singularity" occur within the next few decades? This is the idea that since technological change appears to be increasing exponentially, if true artificial intelligence is possible,  this could "implode" into a vastly powerful event horizon or black hole of super intelligence, essentially giving humanity godlike powers. There are different versions of singularity thought. The science fiction writer Vernor Vinge said (at least I think it was him), "if you can survive the next 30 years, you have a good chance of being able to survive to see the far side of the galaxy". I be;believe he said this in the early 90s, for what's that's worth.

Obviously Singularity thought and transhumanism is updated religiosity. Interestingly some early Russian Marxists, the "god builders", Maxim Gorky , Bogdanov, a rival of Lenin in the early Bolshevik Party, and others thought along similar lines.

Is this good, bad, or meaningless?

If you've read my previous post you may understand what's at the root of this. Will I see my Dad again, in some form or other? Am I looking at things the wrong way?

I am reminded of the interesting if cheesy at  Speilberg movie AI. The scenario, if you haven't seen it, is set in a near future world beset by global warming. An upper middle class suburban family can't have kids. Do to advances in AI a company begins producing intelligent human like robots, who can play the role of surrogate children. The mother of this family decides to get a robot. She is warned that the "bonding" process can be very intense, that the intelligent robot will regard it's "mother" as a real,biological mother. Okay, the robot is indistinguishable from human boy, except for the fact that he doesn't grow up. The sad part is that he is not accepted by his "father" or later his "brother" (the mother later on is able to conceive). I forget the details but after much viscous taunting the robot , not being programmed to mature emotionally, attacks and  injures his brother.The robot makes a series of other blunders. The father says we have to get rid of the robot. Robots in this future world are not legally human and can be destroyed. The mother, heart broken, doesn't have her "son" destroyed but leaves him near a futuristic high tech garbage dump, hoping he'll be able to fend for himself.

This futuristic world is becoming increasingly chaotic. After a period of disorientation the robot boy befriends another robot. If I remember the second intelligent robot is trying to find a way to evade police surveillance and get them both off the planet. The robot boy however remains fixated in trying to locate his mother. There are misadventures and mishaps. The robot boy is caught in an exploding building and is tossed under water, in this world in which global warming in causing is now causing the flooding of much of the world's cities.

The water preserves the robot boy.

A thousand years later a highly advanced "alien" species from another planet visiting an Earth in which the human appears to have become extinct, finds the robot boy, in stasis but otherwise intact. They rehabilitate him and hope to use him to help with their archeology and reclamation work. It turns out the boy is still attached to his mother. It seems he won't really be of much use until he is able to get over that aspect of his programming. It is very complicated and difficult, the aliens say, but they can arrange for the boy to spend one last day with his mother. Because this will be transgressing laws of temporality this can be only for one day. The robot boy, intelligent if naive says he understands and agrees to everything. The aliens set things up so so the robot boy can spend one whole day, a day literally torn out of time, with his mother. They have a nice day together. The boy is back in the brief but idyllic family life he experienced a thousand years ago. The boy and his mother play games and have a good time. The mother is somewhat puzzled about where her husband is but doesn't think much of it. Maybe he's late at work? Towards evening the mother gets tired. She goes to bed and the day is over. the boy is back with the intelligent aliens, now ready to help them.

I can't really convey this well. AI was far from a great film., more of a typical Spielberg kiddy flick, but this part of the film was incredibly moving for me, a bittersweet attempt to capture a lost world.

Epic of Gilgamesh, anyone?

Is this what I'm trying to do?

Shit, shit, shit, shit.

Anyway I know this is a bit long but I'd appreciate it if anyone had any thoughts or comments.
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Kate Devlin