How the New Physics is Validating
Near-Death Concepts by C. D. Rollins
CD Rollins has a bachelor's
degree in mechanical engineering and a special
interest in physics and the near-death experience.
Rollins believes the fundamental laws of
the universe, which allow life to exist,
truly are the laws of God. He will not claim,
as others may have, that new theories in
physics support or even prove post-mortem
survival of the human consciousness. He
merely wishes to share some observations
he made recently while reviewing some new
developments in theoretical physics in the
popular science magazine
(December, 2000 issue). There are some very
interesting books on the subject of new
theories in physics and consciousness such
The Physics of
This is excellent reading. The following
is a profile of his observations as they
relate to the near-death experience.
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First it would be appropriate
to discuss modern physics for those who may not be familiar
with it. Modern physics is a paradox created by two
mutually exclusive theories. Both cannot be true, yet
both have been shown by observation and laboratory experiment
to be true. These two theories were born of the intense
desire to locate two different objects in space and
object is the planet Mercury. Mercury has been observed
by human beings since prehistory. As astronomers' instruments
became more precise they were able to more accurately
predict the position of the planets in the sky. This
led to new theories about the nature of the solar system:
first the Ptolemaic system which placed Earth at the
center of the universe was replaced by the Copernican
system which put the sun at the center, and made Earth
simply one of the planets. Soon Johannes Kepler developed
his laws of planetary motion which described the orbits
as ellipses rather than perfect circles, and from there
Sir Isaac Newton
was able to deduce the law of universal gravitation.
Newton's laws appeared to completely
describe the universe. The position of any object in
space could be determined for any point in time with
great precision. However as measurements of Mercury's
position became more exact, it was clear that they did
not match the position predicted by Newton's laws. Could
Newton be wrong? The measurements of the planet's position
were uniformly off by about 43 arc seconds, barely enough
to notice but enough for physicists to question Newton's
model of the universe.
Einstein's Theory of Special
theory changed the way physicists and astronomers view
the universe. In Newton's universe, time and space were
absolutes. A mile was a mile, and an hour was an hour
no matter where in the universe you measured it. Time
and space formed a fixed, rigid, four dimensional coordinate
system. In the new relativistic universe, time and space
are flexible, and only the velocity of light is absolute. "Now"
is not "now" everywhere in the universe since
gravity distorts time and space. A mile is only a mile
relative to the reference frame of the observer, likewise
an hour. This is difficult for many people to understand
because we are so used to seeing time and space as fixed.
Einstein's theory accurately predicts how the sun's
gravity warps space in its vicinity and causes Mercury's
position to be other than where Newton's laws predict
it to be.
object physicists tried to locate in space and time
was the electron. The electron is a sub-atomic particle
found orbiting the nuclei of atoms of which all matter
is composed. Here physicists
Heisenberg, Bohr, Schrodinger
and others were not as successful as Einstein had been
with Mercury. They found that it was impossible to know
an electron's speed and its location in space with exact
precision. In fact the more you knew about its speed
the less you could know its location and vice versa.
The problem has nothing to do with the availability
of precise laboratory equipment for making the measurements.
The problem had to do with the nature of the universe
itself. Imagine an electron detector of arbitrarily
high precision and it will still not be able to tell
you the exact speed and location of an electron. Whatever
the physicist does to measure the speed of the electron
changes its position and whatever he does to measure
its position changes the speed. Thus quantum physics,
a means of expressing the speed and position of sub-atomic
objects in terms of statistical probability was born.
The physicist can say an electron is about here in time
and space and about this speed but not precisely both.
In fact if he establishes the exact location of the
electron it will have an equal probability of being
at any speed from rest to the velocity of light, and
if he establishes the exact speed, it will have an equal
probability of being anywhere in the universe. This
may seem difficult to believe, but it is true.
Strangely enough this quantum
imprecision of the universe extends upwards to macroscopic
objects such as tennis balls, people, planets and galaxies.
Modern physics has discovered that it is impossible
to say exactly where you are at any given moment, however
the degree of imprecision for objects such as people
is minute enough to be negligible. Only with very small
objects such as electrons is it necessary to use probability
to predict where an electron might be, rather than say
it is here.
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The Reason for the Paradox
So why the paradox? In simplest
terms the paradox arises because of how relativity and
quantum physics treat time and space. In relativity,
time and space are relative to the observer. Einstein's
equations allow one to accurately transform position
data from one reference frame to another. Quantum mechanics
treats time and space as a rigid, fixed, four dimensional
coordinate system, however it shows that it is impossible
to place any object in this coordinate system with absolute
precision. So either time and space are flexible and
relative to the observer, or they are fixed and the
observer's position as well as what he is observing
can only be stated as a probability.
this paradox is the Holy Grail of modern physics. There
are many theories:
and various subsets of these and others, each competing
to be heralded as the GUT (Grand
or TOE (Theory
Physicist Julian Barbour has introduced one unique theory
that might solve the paradox. Barbour suggests that
it might be possible to throw time out altogether. After
all, what is time? It isn't a substance, field, or particle
that physics can measure. Is it simply a fundamental
property of the universe? Barbour says no.
Barbour's universe consists
of an infinite number of "eternal nows" stretching
from the Big Bang to the end of the universe (either
by heat death, or super contraction, sometimes called
the Big Crunch). Time is merely an illusion created
by the human consciousness, which only sees one "now"
at a time, as it moves along through all of the "nows"
that make up its life. Somewhere in Barbour's universe,
which he calls Platonia, you are being born, attending
your first day of school, going on your first date,
and lying on your deathbed. However right now you are
only aware of the you which is reading this essay and
probably saying to yourself: "This guy has flipped
Possibly I have. But according
to Barbour, eliminating time as a fundamental property
of the universe would remove much of the difficulty
in uniting relativity with quantum physics and thereby
slay the final dragon of science. Do other scientists
agree? Surprisingly, many physicists and cosmologists
think time will have to be left out of the final unified
theory, and many suspect the concept of space may have
to go as well.
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The Near-Death Experience and the Paradox
So what has that got to do with
the near-death experience. Perhaps everything:
"I was told that before
we're born, we have to take an oath that we will pretend
time and space are real so we can come here and advance
our spirit. If you don't promise, you can't be born."
Jeanie Dicus' near-death experience, 1974)
"Space and time are
illusions that hold us to our physical realm; out there
all is present simultaneously." (from
Beverly Brodsky's near-death experience, 1970)
"During this experience,
time had no meaning. Time was an irrelevant notion.
It felt like eternity. I felt like I was there an eternity."
Grace Bubulka's near-death experience, 1988?)
"I didn't know if I
had been in that light for a minute of a day or a hundred
Jayne Smith's near-death experience, 1965?)
"Earthly time had no
meaning for me anymore. There was no concept of "before"
or "after." Everything - past, present, future
- existed simultaneously." (from
Kimberly Sharp's near-death experience, date unknown)
"Time could also be
contracted, I found. Centuries would condense into seconds.
Millenniums would shrink into moments. The entire civilization
that I was part of passed by in the blink of an eye."
John Star's near-death experience, date unknown)
"Time and space, as
we know them, exist only on the Earth realm. When you
leave the Earth realm, you leave such constraints."
P.M.H Atwater's Beyond the Light)
And there are probably other,
better examples from other near-death experiences. So
what does this prove? Absolutely nothing. What does
this imply? A great deal.
I find it difficult to accept
that the above observations about time and space could
have been generated by a malfunction of the right temporal
lobe distorting these people's time sense as some have
suggested. In particular, Jeanie Dicus' comment is downright
astonishing. Compare her statement to this quote:
"...time is an illusion.
The phenomena from which we deduce its existence are
real, but we interpret them wrongly…" (from
Julian Barbour 1999)
Now I'm not suggesting that
Barbour has proven the case for survival. In fact I
have no idea what he believes with regard to the afterlife.
I am suggesting there is a startling connection between
the words of a twenty-three year old mother in 1974
and a cutting edge theoretical physicist in 1999 that
is not adequately explained by temporal lobe displacement.
Dicus' observation about time, and those of many other
experiencers reveal insights into the possible nature
of reality, unobtainable through normal means, barring
prior in depth study of classical and quantum physics
on their part.
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The Eternal Now
So where does this leave us?
Is there life after death? Neuroscience says no. Consciousness
is a consequence of the brain which is a corruptible
and ephemeral construction of simple matter. Paranormal
experiences, such as near-death experiences, out-of-body
experiences, after-death communications, past-life memories,
apparitions, possessions, and so on, suggest the opposite.
A skeptic might easily dismiss these phenomena as superstitions,
modern myth, or hallucinations, but such casual disregard
for the voluminous anecdotal evidence is hardly scientific.
More complex theories of near-death experiences based
on neurophysiology explain some characteristics of the
near-death experience but all break down at some point.
They can't explain everything. I humbly submit that
there may be nothing wrong with our understanding of
neuroscience (though it is still incomplete), but rather
our concept of time. If Barbour is right, and time is
an illusion, then the question of an "after"
life is entirely inappropriate. Absent our notions of
time, the terms "before" and "after"
At some point in the universe
separated from the present "now" by time (and
hopefully dear reader, many years of it) you are dead.
So where are you? Do you cease to exist? Your consciousness
has been moving steadily though all the "nows"
of your life until it reaches the end, and then where
does it go? Barbour's theory gives us no reason to believe
that it goes anywhere, but the work of Kevin Williams
and other near-death experience researchers, such as
Moody, Sabom, Ring, and Atwater, show that it might
go somewhere, or some when or, like Heisenberg's electron,
to a point that cannot be described precisely as a time
or place. Of course this other state of being, or consciousness
(still not the right word but better than "place"),
might still provide the illusion of time. Near-death
experiencers' reports of heavenly Earth-like environments
in which there is some sense of subjective time indicates
that this is the case.
There is more about near-death
experiences and other psychic experiences that support
the argument that time is illusory. Some experiencers,
such as Dannion Brinkley, have made accurate predictions
of the future. Psychics some times do this as well,
and we are all familiar with the concept of déjà vu.
These phenomena indicate that our consciousness may
be linked to many "nows" or perhaps all "nows",
and that it, like the universe, is timeless. We are
not, therefore, immortal in the sense that our consciousness
goes on and on forever and ever, we are immortal in
the sense that our consciousness exists outside of time
itself. What spiritualists call "physical life",
is simply stepping through each "now" sequentially
in a way that makes it seem as though we have a beginning
and an end.
This idea may seem far-fetched
but, for me, it has a certain logic. Barbour describes
his platonia as being like a reel of movie film. Each "now"
is a frame on the reel, and our consciousness simply
moves through it. If this were so, then we'd have no
free will. Our future would already be written and we'd
be unable to do anything except step through each frame
as helpless observers.
But many experiencers are informed
by spiritual entities that they do indeed have free
will and that, among other things, physical life is
about exercising that free will. How is that possible
if the future has already been determined? I must ask
the reader to take another leap with me, and imagine
that the universe exists not only as everything that
is, everything that was, and everything that will be,
but everything that could be and everything that might
have been. In this universe God creates all possibilities
and it is left to us to find our way through them by
deciding through our choices which "now" we
Imagine that instead of a strip
of film, the universe is an infinite checkerboard. Each
square is a "now." From where you stand in
one "now" you can look behind you. This is
called "memory". You can look ahead of you
and with your intellect guess accurately what might
be in the "now" just ahead. Using the gift
of intuition, you can see further ahead, perhaps just
over the horizon. For most of us this intuitive look
over the horizon comes from our sub-conscious as a gut
feel. For psychics gifted with prophecy, the look ahead
comes as a vision or dream. But not all prophecies come
true. That's because the "now" they saw may
never happen if decisions which lead to that particular "now"
are made differently. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we see
the shadows of things that might be, not the shadows
of things that must be.
Of course our model is too simple.
A checkerboard arrangement makes each "now"
come with five possible decisions (against the rules
to move backwards). Obviously, some "nows"
in our lives come with more than five possible moves.
Therefore, try to imagine each square replaced with
an irregular polygon of n sides, where n = the number
of possible decisions that you can make. Now let us
represent the likelihood of each decision by the length
of the side. The longer that side, the more likely you
will make that decision. Scientific naturalists sometimes
deny human free will and claim that our behavior is
based on genetics and the environment, neither of which
are under our control. I am not denying research that
shows that much of our behavior is genetically based
or influenced by our environment, particularly in early
childhood. Rather, I am stating that these factors merely
help shape the decision polygon, making some choices
more likely than others. I see our physical brains as
shaping our reality and guiding our decisions; however,
in each "now" we still may make any decision
available in our decision polygon. While nature and
nurture affect the length of each side, it is our own
decisions and those of others which affect the actual
number n, of each "now" polygon.
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Connecting It All Together
Another theme repeatedly stressed
in transcendental near-death experiences is the interconnectivity
of the universe. In our new model of the universe, we
can see that as we step through each "now"
making decisions, or not making them (which as the song
says "you still have made a choice"), our
decisions affect the possible decisions available to
others, and likewise their decisions affect us. My decision
to marry eliminates many of my future decisions, and
those of my wife, but it also opens up new decisions
such as whether or not to have children. Somewhere in
the universe there is a "now" polygon in which
I die unmarried and childless. Since I am married and
have a child I can not reach this "now" polygon,
likewise my wife cannot reach the one in which she dies
unmarried and childless.
We are all connected to the
same "now" but each of our "nows"
is not the same shape, or has the same number of sides.
Throughout our lives we step through these "now"
polygons, usually only barely aware of what lies before
us, although as stated earlier, sometimes we are allowed
to cheat just a bit. Eventually, however, we will each
come to a polygon where n = 0. When this happens we
die. There is no where left on the game board to maneuver.
Sometimes this is caused by another's decision, a murderer,
sometimes we take n to zero ourselves, a suicide. But
most often nature at some point relieves us of all decisions.
We can no longer move forward and so our life ends.
Absent the evidence provided by paranormal research
it would be simple enough to conclude that our consciousness
does not exist outside the many "nows" that
it occupies. Indeed it seems to be Barbour's opinion
that consciousness itself exists in discrete, frozen
instants of brain states, and that nothing, not even
consciousness "moves" as I have described
it as stepping through "nows." But something
gives us at least the appearance that we are moving
from the past into the future. So perhaps my theory
is not as half-baked as it sounds. Each frozen brain
state is the lens through which our consciousness (or
perhaps super-consciousness) views reality.
The near-death experience indicates
that indeed some form of consciousness might exist,
perhaps on an entirely new game board full of "nows"
or perhaps in one big super-"now" that stretches
to infinity. The "nows" in these new realms
of existence may not be polygons, but instead be smooth
fluid shapes that can move around on their own, or blend
and merge with other "nows", or fission into
infinite new "nows." Time may move differently,
perhaps at right angles to our current perception of
time, or perhaps along some oblique angle. The geometry
of reality in these other realms must be beyond our
Also our consciousness may step
down, back into a "now" in the physical universe
when a child is born. This is sometimes called reincarnation.
Wherever our consciousness touches this reality, creating "nows"
we see our past and future lives.
Is my model of reality true?
Maybe. After all, it is only a model, and all models
break down at some point. Jeanie Dicus said that before
creation, before time itself began, we all took an oath
before God to pretend that time and space are real.
If she is right then I must have been there too, standing
along side all of the rest of you. Having taken the
pledge I have no choice but to abide by it, using only
my feeble powers of intuition to glimpse over the horizon
at the potential "nows" ahead. I take comfort
in hoping that when for me, n = 0, the veil will be
lifted and I will stand outside these "nows"
we call physical life to journey through new "nows"
or whatever lies beyond.
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