scorecardI changed my views studying near-death experiences; consciousness isn't as we think.
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I changed my views studying near-death experiences; consciousness isn't as we think.

Kelly Burch   

I changed my views studying near-death experiences; consciousness isn't as we think.
LifeScience3 min read
Mark Gober.    Courtesy of Mark Gober
  • Mark Gober studied at Princeton before working as an investment banker.
  • He became interested in phenomena that science can't explain, like near-death experiences.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Mark Gober, author of "The End to Upside Down Thinking: Dispelling the Myth That the Brain Produces Consciousness, and the Implications for Everyday Life." It has been edited for length and clarity.

My life, at least at the beginning, followed a very traditional path. I studied at Princeton, and when I graduated I went on to work as an investment banker. Later, I became a consultant in Silicon Valley.

As I moved through this very academic, analytical world, I always had a fascination with the big questions in life. I used to ponder the universe and our existence. I would spend time really considering, does all of this really matter? Is there meaning to life?

I always came back to the same conclusion. Humans could rationalize that life is meaningful to us, but in the grand scheme of things, there was no meaning. The people who told themselves there were just comforting themselves, I thought. I believed science was moving us beyond religion and superstitions about life after death.

Scientific proof convinced me that psychic phenomena is real

We've all heard stories of a person who saw their life flash before their eyes or knew a loved one had been in a terrible accident before the call came. Those anecdotes are easy to dismiss because they're just one person's experience.

But as my interest in the unexplainable grew, I started to see trends. Experts who weren't working together were finding the same results: that things science couldn't possibly explain like near-death experiences or psychic phenomena, were happening.

I looked at documents from a CIA program where people were asked to send their thoughts — using just their minds — to others. The program concluded that there was a "statistically significant" success in doing this.

I read multiple accounts of near-death experiences where a blind person was able to see, or a deaf person was able to hear. I reviewed stories of children who recalled past lives, and could even speak languages that they'd never been taught, at least in this lifetime.

As I went to the primary sources and interviewed scientists, I felt like I had opened Pandora's box. I had always felt, and been taught, that science led us away from the paranormal. Now, that belief was turned on its head: I became convinced that science was showing us there is something bigger that can't be explained by our current scientific understanding of the universe.

I believe the missing piece is our understanding of consciousness

Mainstream science right now teaches us that consciousness stems from the brain — that there's a biological, physical basis for who we are and what we experience. But that can't explain psychic phenomena and other mysteries.

Researchers call this the hard problem of consciousness: how can the neurons in our brain explain how we experience the world?

I was shocked to learn there are real academic institutions looking at this problem. The University of Virginia's Division of Perceptual Studies, for example, is "devoted to the investigation of phenomena that challenge mainstream scientific paradigms regarding the nature of human consciousness."

I've come to believe in non-local consciousness, or consciousness that originates outside our physical bodies and outside our brains. To me, this is the most scientifically sound explanation.

I often think about what skeptics would say. I used to be one of them. There's a tendency to try to push aside anomalies that don't fit into our understanding of the world, just the way I did with anecdotes about the unexplainable.

I think we're approaching a paradigm shift

It's really difficult for the mainstream scientific paradigm to shift. We've seen this in history, whether it was debunking the idea that the earth was flat or embracing the theory of relativity. Every time there's been something that science can't explain, it's because we need to expand or adjust our scientific understanding.

I believe there is something spiritual in the universe, beyond our typical senses. I don't choose to believe that because it's comforting, but because that's where the scientific evidence has pointed me.

My old assumption was that anything spiritual or religious was primitive superstitions. Now, I think there is meaning built into the fabric of reality and there's purpose to our lives. I don't claim to know the answers, but I now feel that spiritual and religious traditions are onto something fundamental.

The more I learn, the less I feel that I know. But one thing I feel certain about is that there's more for science to discover.




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