Monday, December 05, 2005

Who Are We Really?

Who of us, in our meditative moments, hasn’t wondered what will become of us when we shuffle off this mortal coil. Are our short earthly lives all there is? Or will we continue in some other realm in some form or other? If we are Christian, will we go to Heaven or to Hell? Or to some place in between, like Purgatory? Or will we reincarnate?

The more I ponder all this, the more I think that our earthly lives aren’t all there is. This doesn’t come out of any religious doctrine but, rather, from accounts of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) whereby someone on an operating table or in a car crash suddenly finds himself floating outside his body and looking down on it. Then he goes through a tunnel towards a very bright light which he interprets as God. This bright light, or God, or whatever, shows the NDEer a run-through of his life as if he were watching a movie. He is made to realize the bad things he has done, and that his time to cross over permanently to the Other Side is not yet. Then he finds himself back in his body.

NDEers often return much changed, becoming more spiritual, more caring, feeling the pain of others, perhaps now more inclined to subscribe to Mother Jones than to the National Review. The returnees also have no further fear of death.

Since NDE-like experiences can be artificially induced when our senses are deprived, the question arises: Is the NDE merely a hallucination? The issue is one of quality, since the experiences of the genuine NDEers have a quality to them which the artificially induced don’t have. And the NDEers are able to describe things that happened in the operating room or wherever, during the time they were supposedly unconscious.

But the NDE isn’t always sweetness and light. Some NDEers don’t have a good experience, not liking it at all. Many encounter souls in torment, perhaps in a state of hell. Many NDEers also return with the conviction that we shouldn’t kill ourselves for no good reason.

But not all who are declared clinically dead and then revived have NDE experiences. Many had none at all.

Based on the NDE, it would appear that our lives in the hereafter will be predicated on how we live on earth. If we are nasty greedy and cruel in our present life, we will have a tough time of it in our next. This is probably what is meant by Hell. Adolf Hitler and the Boston Strangler, doubtless now living in Hell, may have been among the lost and unhappy souls which some of the NDEers encountered.

There are many other signs that there is more to us than meets the eye. Some signs come from psychics who appear to commune with the dead. I realize that many so-called psychics are charlatans, but some are truly amazing, and couldn’t be faking everything. They obviously have a gift which the Men-of-Science can’t explain.

Our everyday notions of reality are contradicted by stories of ghosts, UFOs, abductions by aliens, and the like. While many of these accounts may be faked, there have been so many, that at least some must be genuine. For instance photos of UFOs which no-one has proved are bogus. From this, we can reasonably conclude that photographic evidence of UFOs exists.

And what of the many thousands people who, in the dead of night, have been taken from their beds into waiting spacecraft by little stick-like creatures with large heads? The abductees come from all walks of life, and are genuinely confused and frightened by these experiences. Are they all deluded?

What about being re-incarnated to live another life on earth? I don’t like this idea at all, since having to live a life on earth all over again would be my idea of Hell. But I realize that some - like some of my yuppie friends - quite like the notion of being reincarnated. They imagine their next earthly life will be at least as pleasant as their present one.

How can they be so sure? Given that the lives of most of us on earth are nasty brutish and short, it is more likely than not that a yuppie - perhaps a young rising executive in a large tobacco company, owning a suburban house with white picket fence, driving an SUV, living off an expense account, and supporting the war in Iraq - will have to atone for all this in his next life by being reborn in a cave in Afghanistan, or in a hovel in Sadr City, getting his limbs blown off by a landmine or cluster bomb, thereafter to beg on the streets.

There is, unfortunately, evidence to support reincarnation. For instance there have been many reports of children who, knowing only their own language, are suddenly able to speak another language, like Greek, and fluently. Surely, say the reincarnationists, this is because the child in a previous life was Greek. Perhaps. But an alternative explanation is that there could be a universal mind, a sort of Jungian collective unconscious, containing all knowledge, including Greek, which particularly gifted people, including children, can tap into.

The reincarnationists also tell us of people under hypnosis recounting in graphic detail their previous lives in ancient Egypt or Elizabethan England or wherever. It turns out, however, that the human mind is quite promiscuous as to the sources it draws on under hypnosis. The hypnotized person will often unconsciously merely regurgitate what he has read in a history book. But does this explain all such instances?

There is, incidentally, a branch of psychology called Transpersonal Psychology, whose therapists use the patient’s past-life material to cure him of his malady. And the success rate is high. Surely, then, the patient must actually have lived these past-life events. Not necessarily. If the patient merely believed he had lived a previous life, the past events used in the therapy sessions may have been the psychological equivalent of a placebo.

* * *

Perhaps our next life won’t be exactly on this earth, but in a parallel universe nearby. Let me explain. Our Men-Of-Science have established there is no such thing as Matter. There is only energy. All so-called Matter – and this includes us – is energy vibrating at different frequencies. We are not designed to perceive anything vibrating outside these limits. Hence there are sounds we can’t hear, but a dog can.

Our TVs pick up visual and sound waves which still pulsate through the room after we have turned our TVs off, only we can no longer see and hear them. Why, then, shouldn’t beings exist, but whom we can’t perceive because they exist only in ranges of energy vibration outside the limits we can perceive. Perhaps the room you are in right now is swarming with beings you can’t see or hear. Perhaps they are the spirits of the dead.

Those who are psychic may simply be able to perceive ranges of energy vibration greater than the rest of us can. However, we may all have been born with this perceptual gift and then have lost it. Small children, as well as animals, seem able to sense things which grownups can’t. Many children, for example, have imaginary friends who are real to them.

People in many primitive societies see ghosts and spirits all the time. Perhaps we modern urban adults can’t see what tribes people and children can because, being inculcated with the beliefs and values of an urban secular scientific society, we lost this gift of seeing.

* * *

Physical death is a function of time. But what if a part of us exists outside of time? There have been many instances of precognitive dreams where the dreamer dreams of an apocalyptic event like an earthquake or an assassination, and a few days later it actually happens. But why should precognitive dreams be only about newsworthy events? What about the ordinary and the everyday? You may have visited a particular shop for the first time, but felt you’d been there previously. Perhaps a few nights ago you had dreamed of visiting the shop, and when you actually did, you felt you’d entered it before.

Assuming the precognitive dream to be real, a part of us exists in a much slower time dimension, perhaps a timeless zone, from which we can observe that part of us which exists in normal corporeal time. Hence we can see our future. If there is a timeless dimension, we can make the case that we are all eternal beings, and it is only our bodies which die.

The concept of different time dimensions isn’t easy to grasp. But compare a dog, living normally only twelve years, with ourselves who live normally to three score years and ten, and longer. The dog therefore lives in a faster time dimension than do we. But its life would seem to it just as long as our lives seem to us. We are able to see the dog as a puppy, then growing to maturity, then getting old, then dying, all in quite a short space of our human time.

Imagine that instead of only living seventy or eighty years, we could live to a million years. The life of a dog would then pass in front of our eyes as fast as the twitch of an eyelid.

* * *

It is possible that our Men-Of-Science are right after all, when they say we are nothing more than a collocation of atoms in a meaningless universe. Therefore when we die, that would be it. Who can prove this wrong?

I only know the world around me exists because I experience it. It is, if you like, a function of my experience. Hence when I breathe my last the whole universe, as far as I'm concerned, will come to an end. But since I think it unlikely that the universe will snuff out when I die, this means I will in some way always experience it.

Or perhaps my current life is simply a dream. When I die I will begin to dream another dream, and so on and on. Perhaps this is what reincarnation really is.

These frustrating intellectual cul-de-sacs remind me once again that the riddle and meaning of life, of the universe, of existence, can never be answered through the intellect. To assert otherwise is mere arrogance born of ignorance. We have no idea who we really are.

Our Men-Of-Science have said we came up with after-life beliefs to comfort ourselves. This is merely what they think. I, however, think we intrinsically know we continue in some way or other when we die, and the world’s religions are merely expressions of this.