Is There Life After Death?

from Through the Wormhole; Is death the end? Eternal silence? Blackness? Nothingness? Or is there a spark inside of us that lives on beyond our physical selves? Philosophers and scientists have puzzled over that question for thousands of years. It's the great mystery one that, sooner or later, we all have to face. One morning when I was 6 years old, my grandmother didn't wake up then or ever again. It was my first experience with death. How could she be here yesterday but gone today? Was she gone forever? Or did some essential part of her live on? Christians and Muslims believe in a heaven for the just and a hell for sinners. Other religions see death as a transition to an existence on the higher plane or to another life here on Earth. All of these beliefs have one thing in common the body is just a vessel for the soul, and the soul is eternal. This is something many believe in their hearts, but is there a way to prove it or disprove it scientifically? Eben Alexander taught and performed neurosurgery at the Harvard Medical School for 15 years. In 2008, his career took an unexpected turn one that would give him profound insight into the possibility of life after death. He contracted an extremely rare form of bacterial meningitis and fell into a deep coma. I think if you were trying to come up with an experimental model that would best approach human death, meningitis is perfect because what it does is it attacks the entire outer surface of the brain. These are horizontal images taken through my skull, and you can see the entire outer surface of the brain was coated with pus. These bacteria had gotten rid of all the glucose, and now the only thing left to consumer were my brain cells, and so my entire neocortex that part of the brain that makes us human was completely shut down. After seven days of virtual brain death, Alexander emerged from the coma. Bruce Greyson is a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. He has investigated more than 1,000 cases of near-death experiences. The consistent features of a near-death experience are a sense of profound peace and well-being, a sense of leaving the physical body, a sense of brilliant light which seems to radiate warmth and unconditional love. Back in the 1970s, experiments by the U.S. Air Force inadvertently tested this idea. Scientists spun pilots in a centrifuge, subjecting their bodies to massive G-forces. Are near-death experiences the final dream of a mind that's about to wink out of existence? Or are they a sign that there is something beyond death? Finding the truth requires nothing less than a scientific quest to discover the human soul. I the soul a myth or one of the fundamental elements of the universe? For scientists, the question of life after death is inextricably linked with another question. What is consciousness? Where does consciousness come from? And where does it go when we die? Dr. Stuart Hameroff is the Director of Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson. He's also a practicing anesthesiologist. Under anesthesia, patients don't dream even though I said, "pick out a nice dream." We always say that. But there's no awareness. There's no passage of time. Patients wake up. They don't know if they've been asleep five minutes or five hours. Anesthesia takes away consciousness. Brain under anesthesia is quite active. And the difference is still somewhat mysterious. Years watching over patients in the operating room made Hameroff obsessed with understanding the link between brain activity and consciousness. Then, 15 years ago, he met the great British physicist, Sir Roger Penrose. Together, they developed a radical new theory for how the brain works a theory that has grown into nothing less than a scientific argument for an eternal soul. Some of us think that quantum processes play an important role in consciousness in the brain. So, for example, if there's neuronal activity here, it may be coupled through quantum non-locality to processes over here. These neurons are connected even though they're spatially separated so that activity here instantaneously affects activity over here. Hameroff and Penrose argue that a change in the microtubules in one brain cell can affect microtubules in another. But one aspect of death comes to all of us every day. Each night when we fall asleep, our consciousness slips away. Professor Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin is studying how our brains change when they lose consciousness, and in doing so, he's hoping to unravel the secret of what makes us us. The simplest definition of consciousness that which goes away when you fall into dreamless sleep. But the fact of the matter is, the brain doesn't shut off at all. In 1907, Dr. Duncan MacDougall determined that the soul weighs about 3/4 of an ounce, or 21 grams. He determined this by weighing the bodies of dying TB patients. But in the 100 years since then, no one has been able to replicate his findings because there doesn't seem to be anything to weigh. Christof Koch is a Professor of Biology and Engineering at CalTech. He believes that what makes you you has nothing to do with individual atoms or cells. He believes that "you" emerges from the unique way the cells in your brain are organized. The brain is the most complex piece of matter we know in the universe. The human brain typically is on the order of 100 billion nerve cells. Each of those is a very complicated entity by itself. For materialists, the soul is nothing more than a fleeting illusion, an illusion that cannot outlive the physical network from which it arises. Once that electrical traffic ceases because the brain itself doesn't work anymore and the neurons stop firing, then, also, the soul will cease to exist. But renowned cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter is not so quick to dismiss the possibility of life after death. He believes the soul does not disappear the moment we die. If the soul is just a strange mental feedback loop, then it should not be unique to humans. Any sufficiently smart network should be able to experience it, whatever it is made of. Which is why this latter-day Frankenstein is planning to build a soul. What he learns could point the way to a life beyond death. Religion tells us that our souls transcend the body. These are just shells that we walk around in for a while. Most scientists don't believe that. They say that what we call the soul is a self-aware network of brain connections that evolved over millions of years. If that's true, then what would happen if we built a copy of the human brain? Would it have a soul? We're on the verge of finding out. And if the mystery of the mind is something we can crack computationally, it would even give us an escape route from death. Professor Steve Potter of the Georgia lnstitute of Technology designs and builds brains brains that are half-living, half-machine. Potter's team takes neurons cultured from rat embryos then grows them on miniature plates of electrodes. Every time the cell sends a signal to another cell, it has a little burst of calcium. When the brain has grown, potter send information to it through the electrodes, and the brain responds. Those electrodes are connected to a computer that's wired up to a robot body, resulting in a new form of life. This is hybrot a robot controlled by living brain tissue. Its brains are in a refrigerator, but you can see its neurons react on the computer screen as its body finds its way around the lab bench. Building artificial homes for our souls may be a long time coming, so what do we do in the meantime? Turns out the ideal vessels to carry souls after the death of the body may already exist.

Horizontal images taken through skull
Horizontal images taken through skull

After 7 days of virtual brain death, Alexander emerged from the coma
After 7 days of virtual brain death, Alexander emerged from the coma

A new form of life, a hybrot, a robot controlled by living brain tissue
A new form of life, a hybrot, a robot controlled by living brain tissue

How our cerebral cortex reacts
How our cerebral cortex reacts
  One could be sitting right next to you. Despite our advanced technology, the riddle of life still seems a long way from being solved Or...is it? In Bloomington, lndiana, Douglas Hofstadter says it's all a matter of perspective. He believes consciousness is the inevitable result of the strange and wonderful way the brain joins information together into patterns of thought. And the patterns of thought that form us are not unique to us. We are all curious collages of everyone we've ever been influenced by, living or dead. The pattern of your soul is the strongest and most complex in your own brain, but it can be passed on to other brains. This is a book of Chopin etudes. These black splotches on white paper capture some very, very central pieces of Chopin's emotionality his highs, his lows, his sense of triumph, his sense of resignation or anguish. Anything that was part of his emotional makeup comes through, and one gets a very deep glimpse of another human being. Perhaps 150, 160 years after that person has officially vanished from the surface of the Earth, something of their soul persists and invades the minds and brains of millions of other people. This is a form of life after death that we all experience, though we may not recognize it for what it is. It took a great personal tragedy for Hofstadter to see this the death of his wife, Carol. A piece of our soul survives in everyone we have ever encountered. That soul fragment is the strongest, most recognizable in the people who loved us.     This form of life after death is one we can all relate to, whatever our religion. But is there some other resting place for the soul? Does our consciousness just shimmer out of existence in our last moments on Earth? Is the soul nothing more than a network of neural processes, something that one day can be recreated in a machine? Or does the quantum state of our brain get reabsorbed into the universe at large? Scientists believe they are finally getting close to solving this puzzle, even though they passionately disagree about the answer. When you lose consciousness, you lose your soul. You lose everything. The world does not exist anymore for you. Your friends don't exist anymore. You don't exist. Everything is lost. If you take these near-death experiences at face value, then they suggest that the mind or the consciousness seems to function without the physical body. I think the quantum approach to consciousness can, in principle, explain why we're here and what our purpose is and also the possibility of life after death and reincarnation and the persistence of consciousness after our bodies give up. I have great belief and knowledge that there is a wonderful existence for our souls outside of this earthly realm, and that is our true reality. And we all find that out when we leave this earth. Ultimately, every one of us will discover the truth. But will we ever enter our final hour knowing our fate? Perhaps some things really are too big for humans to grasp. That's when we have to shift from what we know to what we believe.
List with pictures of the scientists, in order of their appearance in Through the Wormhole Is There Life After Death? documentary, who share us their knowledges:
Eben Alexander
Eben Alexander (neurosurgeon, Harvard Medical School)
  Bruce Greyson
Bruce Greyson (psychiatrist, University of Virginia School of Medicine)
  Stuart Hameroff
Stuart Hameroff (anesthesiologist, University of Arizona, Tucson)
  Giulio Tononi
Giulio Tononi (University of Wisconsin)
  Christof Koch
Christof Koch (professor of Biology and Engineering, CalTech)
  Douglas Hofstadter
Douglas Hofstadter (cognitive scientist)
  Steve Potter
Steve Potter (Georgia lnstitute of Technology)