Life, Death, and the Quantum Soul

Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D. is a social anthropologist, researcher, writer, and charismatic public speaker. For more than three decades, she has been a leader in the field of consciousness studies. Her research and extensive publications focus on personal and social transformation, cultural pluralism, extended human capacities, and mind body medicine. She recently wrote and produced a feature film (called Death Makes Life Possible) with Deepak Chopra on the topic of death and dying, and how engaging that topic in a deep and meaningful way informs the way we live our lives.

We at least know that all of the consciousness we have experienced in our lives cannot be destroyed; it’s stored somewhere. Rudy Tanzi

Thomas Kuhn was a well-known historian of science. More precisely, he is a legend. He has helped shed any illusion that our scientific models of reality are objective and absolute. His now-classic book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions explored the idea that our paradigms of reality are socially constructed.Further, he showed that throughout history they shift periodically in ways that are revolutionary. Even in hard sciences like physics and chemistry, nothing is fixed.

Kuhn drew upon what is called the Copernican Revolution to illustrate a major paradigm shift. It was the Italian astronomer Copernicus who, during the Renaissance, discovered that the sun and not the earth is the center of our universe. His then-heretical discovery is today called the heliocentric model and predicts how the planets revolve around the sun, not around the earth. This radical idea led people of the time to rethink their worldviews, including their understanding of themselves, God, and the heavens. This catalytic worldview transformation ultimately led to the development of natural science and methods of empirical observation.

When paradigm shifts occur, according to Kuhn, new approaches and questions emerge. These shifts are disruptive, because competing paradigms are often incommensurable and not easily reconciled. In the Renaissance and other times in history, those who challenged pervading paradigms have been labeled heretics, banished from the prevailing religious institutions, and even burned at the stake. Today they might be ostracized from their community of scientists or medical professionals, for example, or they and their work might be the targets of smear campaigns. But paradigm shifts can also be moments of breakthrough, when a new vision of reality is seen from many different scientific vantage points. Ideas that were previously dismissed are reconsidered in new light. In this chapter we consider some of the indicators of a new paradigm that may help answer the age old question: what happens when we die?

The Consciousness Revolution

Many observers of science and religion report that we are currently living in the midst of a paradigm shift. While the billiard-ball logic of Newtonian physics continues to predict the physical world, reality is now being redefined as a complex quantum soup filled with nonlocality, probabilistic outcomes, string theory, cyberspace, cloud computing, bio-fields, potentialities in information fields, and even an uncertainty principle. Things are becoming faster and faster, smaller and smaller, and infinitely more complex and challenging to keep up with. In the midst of this shift, insights that bridge science and spirituality are now coming together to reveal new ways of understanding the nature of reality. Consciousness has become a spark that is shifting scientific, academic, religious, and social discourse.

Research on the survival of consciousness after death is a question that a small group of post-materialist scientists are considering in clinics, laboratories and field settings around the world. Different models are being hotly contested. Careers are on the line. On one hand, there is the strictly materialist view that characterizes the contemporary mainstream scientific worldview about the survival question: when you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it. At the same time, a science of consciousness is emerging that is fundamentally challenging this conventional materialist worldview about who we are and what we are capable of becoming.

The implications of this paradigm shift are profound. It appears that who we are is fundamentally different than what we thought even a few years ago before the neurosciences and molecular biology came on the scene. In this context, our understanding of identity, personhood, and consciousness are being defined in new ways. And so this paradigm shift is momentous. It is also disruptive.

Being present at the convergence of diverse and often conflicting definitions of reality offers mindboggling challenges. It also offers us an opportunity to reflect on our own worldview and to formulate—or reformulate—our understanding of life, death, and what may lie after.The worldview transformation model predicts that social transformation follows the same general pattern as individual transformation, and it recognizes that the paths of both are more fractal than linear. Transformation can be messy. The breakthroughs that are emerging today are appearing at the intersections of worldviews, disciplines, and ways of knowing and being. The shift that is upon us represents a new ontology, or model of reality, beyond the senses and into expanded realms of being.

An Emerging Theory of Identity

In this reformulation comes the potential for an expanded view of human identity that includes experiences of extended consciousness, such as near-death experiences, medium-ship and reincarnation. Bridging insights from both inner and outer ways of knowing may well help us live into a new view of human possibility that transcends the boundaries between science and spirituality.

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