Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Uploading to Subtle Realms

The poster One Love gives an interesting link to a Near Death Experience which occurred to a patient during a brain operation in which the body temperature was reduced to 60 degrees, all blood drained from the brain, and zero brain activity possible:


The interesting thing about this experience is that because it occurred during total brain death, there shouldn't be any memory of it, or even perception of an experience. Most medical NDE researchers believe that NDE are produced by chemical processes in the brain. For example, the hallucinogin DMT is produced by the brain in large quantities only during birth and death. It's possible that DMT production was triggered by this operational death, but even so, it would have no affect on a brain that was not registering any activity at all. The only strictly medical argument would be that the experience actually occurred either before or after the period of brain death, and was simply transposed to coincide with the brain death period. But details of the experience suggest that it occurred during the operation itself, and if those are fully verified to have been events that could not have been witnessed before or after the operation (which appears to be the case) then there is no medical explanation.

What this NDE suggests, of course, is that there really is experience beyond the physical body, even experience beyond death. The problem with it as an object of scientific study is that there's no apparent mechanism for either the experience or the memory of it. Think about it: somehow this experience became a part of the patient's brain functioning, at some point after the operation was over. Yet it could not have been part of the patient's brain functioning when it actually happened. What this suggests is that there is a reservoir of both perceptions and memories that exists outside or beyond the brain, but which can interact with the brain and move information into the brain, and even be stored as a memory in the brain, even though it originated somewhere outside the brain. This is far more important, really, than the debate about whether life exists beyond death. It suggests that a mechanism must exist that allows information enter into the brain and become a part of the brain's functionality. It even suggests that there may be an ongoing exchange of information between this "subtle" realm of experience and the human brain, not just during rare NDE or psychic experiences, but on a regular basis.

The problem with medical studies of NDE and psychic phenomena like these is that they remain merely reports of inexplicable events, rather than offering an avenue for serious scientific understanding. Why? Because no one can even come up with a hypothesis to explain these events which can actually be studies. The situation is not as bad as ID theory, because at least here we have a verifiable phenomena that begs for an as yet unknown explanation, whereas with evolution we have perfectly adequate explanations that have no need for supernatural explanations. And yet even these phenomena do not beg for "supernatural explanations", such as God or a creator intervening. They simply seem to require an explanation that goes beyond the current knowledge of science. But that is also how science advances, by encountering phenomena that can't currently be explained, but which require new theories and new fields of exploration and experimentation.

The problem with NDE and other psychic phenomena is that we are at best studying the end result of whatever process is occurring, without getting down to the nuts and bolts of it. Where and how are the memories that are formed during brain death recorded, and how are they able to enter the brain and become embedded there the way physical perceptions become memories? Studies of NDE phenomena would have to go much, much deeper to even begin to provide a clue as to how the brain might interact and be able to receive information from a "subtle" source.

The good news is that even though scientists don't really have a clue as to how to proceed with such explorations, general studies of the brain and how it functions are getting a tremendous amount of attention. My sense is that as we learn more and more about how the brain actually functions, how its chemistry works and its neurons function, clues will eventually emerge that will finally give scientists some way of addressing phenomena such as these more directly, rather than merely establishing that they exist and that they pose a serious question. We can't really fault scientists for not accepting the spiritual and mystical implications of these phenomena without any explorable scientific hypothesis.

This relates to Ray Kurtzweil's notion that the human race is approaching what he calls a technological "singularity", in which the exponential growth of scientific technology in all fields - computers, physics, biotechnology, brain research, and artificial intelligence especially - will lead to an unprecedented leap in human evolution far sooner than anyone expects. Kurzweil suggests that we will be able to create true forms of artificial intelligence by studying and "reverse engineering" the functioning of the human brain through computer hardware and software, to such a degree that we will not only create computers that think and function with the equivalence of our own intelligence, but even ones that are billions of times smarter. This will require a vast understanding of how the brain actually works, and that means a huge push in brain research and genetics. The technology in this field is growing exponentially, particularly the ability to provide detailed brain scans which can track neural function. As these brain scans become more and more effective and watch how neurons actually funciton, he theorizes that we will be able to build computer models which replicate those functions on digital computers.

Kurzweil also theorizes that we will be able to use computers to interact directly with our own brains, something that is already possible in a very primitive way. In is view, these computerized enhancements to our brain will evolve into massive dependence on technological improvements to our own brain, both through computer interaction and through rewiring the structure of our own brains, using genetics and hardware add-ons. In this way, humans will begin to evolve into cyborgs, and eventually, may let go of the biologically-based body and brain altogether, essentially uploading ourselves onto vast computer networks on which we will live and evolve electronically rather than biologically. This becomes rather science fiction-like in its conclusions, and there may be insurmountable obstacles to it along the way, but it's not an utterly ridiculous idea.

What Kurzweil doesn't address, but which makes it relevant to this discussion, is the notion that these detailed brain researches may discover mechanisms which explain both NDE and psychic phenomena in a direct way. What is most interesting about this, in a scientific sense, is that if we can in fact discover the mechanism which allows for information to pass from beyond the brain to the brain, we may be able to unleash a flood of information that far surpasses that achieveable by any other technology, including that of massive computer networks and artificial intelligence. Or, perhaps we will be able to create forms of artificial intelligence that are not only incredibly fast and smart in the physical world, but which are incredibly fast and smart in psychic ways. In fact, in may be that the potential for growoth is greater in the psychic dimension than in the physical, and Kurweil's idea of uploading our consciousness onto vast computer networks will be replaced by the idea of uploading our consciousness onto vast psychic networks. And isn't that what mystics have been talking about - at least some mystics - for milennia? Is this how science plans to "take heaven by storm". Something tells me there's a good movie in all this, great special effects at least. Wouldn't our Governator be perfect for the role of the psychic cyborg?

Humor aside, one wonders if Kurweil's "Age of Spiritual Machines" might not just be more spiritual than he envisions. Perhaps there's a reason why advanced technological civilizations don't seem to use radio waves and so forth to communicate, but - at least according to the UFO reports - use a form of telepathy. Perhaps they have already developed the technology which enables telepathy to work for real, and redesigned their own brains to function on that basis. Or, perhaps it's even possible that advanced civilizations simply upload themselves in the subtle realms, and leave this all behind, as suggested in some spiritual literature.

It's all just pure speculation, but sometimes when it rains all week as it is doing up here in the North Country one's mind wanders.


bob said...

Hi Conrad, twas I that replied with the Pam Reynolds tale, but regardless, I sympathize with your weather condition, having spent the last three winters in your region. If it's any consolation, it's raining pretty much everywhere in the west these days. Grace, eh?
Anyway, to your point about there being no science about such things as subtle realms, I suppose it depends on your definition, but subjects such as this are explored in some detail in the vedic science, for one example, and of course you've got your Buddhist versions, and whatnot ... it's just that they all weren't wearing white lab coats while working for Merck. :-)




bob said...

On another point, regarding Kurzweil's theories about machine intelligence and the evolution of consciousness... here's a quote from Whitley Streiber that I found relevant:

As far as the close encounter experience is concerned, science is absolutely nowhere. Fantastically, the intellectuals, who so distrust the government in every other regard, swallow its lies about this without the least complaint. Perhaps it’s because the visitors completely shatter the secular view of the world. Or maybe they threaten the fragile ego of the educated human being, whose soul knows that all his fine knowledge is but an engine of forgetting. You cannot be with them without also being with your own truth. Then you see what you really are, a little fragment in a vastness so great, so various and so shockingly, unimaginably conscious that it completely swallows you. To enter the universe as it really is, you’ve got to leave your self-pride far behind, and that is a hard, hard thing to do.

Other worlds have faced these same problems. Understand, there are not all that many worlds with intelligent species on them that have survived very long. Often, they come to tragic ends, undone by chance or, more often, by aggression even more excessive than our own. In some places, though, there have been very remarkable solutions to the survival problem.

Some intelligent species have been able to see that their intelligence was a precious asset that could actually intensify itself. They have learned to increase the quantity of this valuable commodity by altering themselves, by creating machine intelligence, and by conferring it on other species on their planets. As if we'd hit upon the idea of genetically engineering brains to greater intelligence, and included not only ourselves but the animal world as well. In such places, life becomes very, very rich.

But mostly it doesn't happen that way. There are people who worry about the fate of consciousness across the universes. (And there is more than one, as we will soon discover.) They worry because so often intelligence--which is the single most important way station on the road to consciousness--fails. It's incredibly rare, and it fails. Thus the journey toward ecstasy is compromised.

The more consciousness, the more ecstasy, and consciousness cannot come about without intelligence. What is worse, until a species is conscious, intervention is very, very difficult. That's the problem that the visitors are having here. If they intervene openly, our culture totally refocuses itself toward them and all human innovation stops. We end up locked in a state of profound disempowerment that will take many generations to recover, and that will leave a permanent scar.

The visitors cannot reveal themselves to us. We must reveal ourselves to them.