New Physics is Validating Near-Death Concepts
NDE and Physics Research
CD Rollins is not an expert in physics
nor can he string a number of academic credentials
after his name. However, 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.
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 time.
The first 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.
The solution required
Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity.
Einstein's 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.
The next 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.
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.
Solving 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
Unified Theory) or TOE
of Everything). 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 his cork!"
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.
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." (from
Jeanie Dicus' near-death experience, 1974)
"Space and time are illusions
that hold us to our physical realm; out there all is present
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." (from
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 years."
(from 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."
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." (from
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." (from
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.
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 will experience.
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
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"
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)
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 imagining.
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.