Are you ready for this? There’s an exciting debate underway among respected scientists over a theory more fascinating than Einstein’s about relativity. This new, science-based theory suggests that our consciousness, even our personalities, do not die when we do, have been around far longer than we have, and continue indefinitely.
So let’s take a quick look at how some distinguished scientists have come to acknowledge our very soul, and how the brain in each of us has an identifiable, measurably spiritual nature. And we can start with something as celebrated as things and places said to be “haunted.”
Way down in Rowan County, North Carolina, a second-hand, hand-carved bedroom suite was offered for sale for $1,000 at a Habitat for Humanity thrift store. The couple who donated this furniture to the store warned up front that that it was haunted, and to be quite honest, pass the biscuits please, they were glad to get rid of it.
Now they couldn’t scientifically explain this — we’ll get into some incredible science in a moment —but they did share their ordeal of “continuous nightmares” when they used this bedroom set at home. They described as well how their dogs were ever so suspicious of the 1950s highboy chest of drawers, and “would not stop barking” at the canopy bed.
In the end, the thrift store reports that the bedroom set sold for “full price” to a pair of regular customers thoroughly intrigued with this second-hand bedroom suite and its special features.
We have learned that all sorts of so-called “hauntings” time and again amount to no more than overreacting to something as simple as the ghostly effect of mold, or drafts that can move objects or cause sudden chills. Other culprits are those perceptible vibrations from sound waves that are at a decibel level too deep for us to hear (infrasound). How about electromagnetic fields that expand at night? Even a small leak of carbon monoxide is known to cause ghostly hallucinations.
Some have marveled at ghostly orbs or spirit beings in photographs. This often (but not always) happens with cameras when a piece of dust gets caught in the flash and reflects light, but the camera doesn’t have enough time to refocus before the shutter clicks, creating an unexpected image.
Indeed, all kinds of logical origins serve to dispel the notion of hauntings. But we still come upon some “paranormal” experiences that defy sensible explaining of any sort. Talk to hospital workers about such episodes in their jobs, or consider the many stories of “ghosts” or “angels” who appear suddenly to save lives or serve justice.
So we are left with a fair share of total mysteries — that is, until we consider the remarkable work of a respected and widely published physician, Dr. Stuart Hameroff, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, where he heads the department of anesthesiology and psychology. Additionally, as the director of that university’s Center of Consciousness Studies, he has researched extensively over decades in the field of “quantum mechanics,” the study of the smallest types of matter. Hameroff pioneered in connecting our brain’s quantum mechanics to human consciousness.
And here’s where science, the spiritual and the paranormal meet: in 1996, Hameroff and a distinguished physicist, Roger Penrose, joined to propose a startling theory that continues to be the subject of much debate among scientists: human consciousness comes from “microtubules” in our brain cells.
Suffice it to say that microtubules are remarkably complex, and play a central role in virtually all cellular operations. Further, after death, these scientists contend that microtubules leave the brain and continue to exist, hence the idea of out-of-body experiences. They argue further that these tubules are the very foundation of our souls.
Says Hameroff, “I believe that consciousness….has been in the universe all along, perhaps from the Big Bang.” From his intense work in anesthesiology and research of near-death experiences, he explains that, when the heart stops beating and blood stops flowing, the microtubules lose their “quantum state,” but the information in the microtubules is not destroyed, it is rather “distributed to the universe at large,” and if the patient is revived, the quantum information can go back into the microtubules of that patient’s brain.
This is where the often-repeated, vivid recollection of revived patients comes from — a near-death experience, a white light or a tunnel, or floating out of their bodies. As Hameroff observes in his so-called Orch-OR theory of consciousness, “It’s quite possible that this quantum information can exist outside of the body, perhaps indefinitely, as a soul.” His research in anesthesiology is widely recognized as proof that anesthesia targets consciousness by way of action on neural microtubules.
Needless to say, in our secular, materialistic and increasingly shallow world, this work of Hameroff and Penrose has created quite a stir among scientists. The science community elites have little patience with theories about anything in the body that goes outside of the body and survives, unless a baby, and nothing human is indefinite. Noteworthy among these critics is MIT physicist Max Tegmark, who published an article where he argued that the quantum states of microtubules would, after death, survive for only 10 seconds, and absolutely cannot have an out-of-body existence.
In reply, Hameroff and others argue that microtubules could be shielded against the limited, physical environment of the brain when life gives out. They faulted Tegmark’s analysis for using not their original criteria, but entirely different criteria in his testing of their quantum theory, thus changing the assumptions behind their theory.
Many other scientists have joined this argument, and as recently as 2014, respected physicist Anirban Bandyopadhyay confirmed from his own research a central principle of Hameroff — that the shielding of microtubules from a dying brain environment does indeed occur. In the meantime, Hameroff’s bi-annual Conference on the Science of Consciousness continues with a high level of attendance, scholarship and controversy.
So what do we take from all this? These scientists have yet literally to prove their theory, but they have compiled substantial evidence to back up the assumptions underlying the theory, earning considerable support as well as criticism along the way. One can only imagine where the boundless curiosity of science will take this theory in the future — has it the potential to be one of the glories of the age of scientific discovery?
Or could it be much ado ‘bout things we already knew?
Hameroff and Penrose have given us a thought-provoking analysis of how the smallest types of matter might make up the very foundation of what we call ghosts, an enduring spirit, and so much more. The reader of this column is left to decide whether we have evidence in the science of quantum mechanics that establishes, in some instances, that “ghosts” could actually exist.
Then consider a compelling observation by a reputable mathematical physicist and author who backs the Hemeroff/Penrose position, Dr. Henry P. Stepp. He actually goes further than they, building upon their compelling theory by submitting that a person’s personality can “exist as a mental entity after death, and if these entities can manage to pull themselves back into the physical world, things like channeling and possession by mediums can actually happen.”
One can’t help but remark that pulling oneself back into the physical world would make sense for some attractive places said to be haunted right here in town, such as a magnificent old home on Main Road where a long-gone sea captain has been seen out and about, or a frequently observed, hovering mist years ago on the staircase of the old Jamesport Manor Inn, or the figures some have noticed at the homestead of the Hallockville Museum Farm on Sound Avenue. But why would any “conscious entity,” trying to “pull back into the physical world,” end up in a 1950s highboy chest of drawers?
Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.