Science at the Tipping Point?

28 Nov

In 2005, my conclusion following my five year prospective hospital research project into NDEs was that our current science simply cannot explain NDEs and requires expansion and updating because it is too limiting. The more prospective hospital research carried out into NDEs is also showing that NDEs can no longer be explained away, dismissed or ignored. Further information on my research has been published in my book The Near-Death Experiences of Hospitalized Intensive Care Patients: A Five Year Clinical Study which is available from most libraries.

I have worked as a nurse for 21 years and as an intensive care nurse for 17 of those years. I have nursed thousands of unconscious patients and was awarded a PhD for my prospective research. From my experience of working as a nurse and undertaking my doctoral research, although it conflicts with my scientific nurse training, I realise I have to remain open minded and conclude that we have no alternative but to look for other explanations of consciousness. To say consciousness is merely a by-product of our neurological processes is not supported by the research I undertook or my experience of dealing with unconscious patients.

I’ve recently noticed how apparent it is becoming that more people are agreeing that there is something about NDEs that simply cannot be explained by the current reductionist science.

I am getting many interesting comments from scientists trained in this reductionist science but who are now recognising that something is happening which is beyond the limitations of the current science.

This is very exciting to me because I believe it symbolises the beginning of a huge shift in the way we understand ourselves and consciousness.

Last week I was contacted by Dr Howard Berman. I have already posted his comments but I wanted to ensure that these very important comments were seen by as many people as possible:

Penny, I am a PhD neuropharmacologist with emphasis in Functional Brain Imaging trained at Cornell in the reductionist processes that a scientist usually is. I point to the work of Sir John Eccles, Noble Laureate, who described the correlation between mental processes and neural activity. In other words, when you do anything or think anything or move your arm for instance, what happens in the brain prior to that? Yes, there is activity in the premotor cortex and motor cortex which initiates the movement. But what happens prior to that; Electrical activity cannot be spontaneous; the question is what gives rise to this in the first place. John Eccles described mental phenomenon preceding electrical activity in the brain; he became a dualist at the end and realized that activity in the brain arising out of nothing was not possible; the tenets of cause and effect require a genesis of activity and that likely serves as the bridge between our free will and action. He further described elements which today are mentioned in the literature as quantum mechanics that serve to link this non tangible and tangible aspects of neural activity. I personally believe that mental phenomenon cannot be specifically centered in the constraints of time/space in the physical brain and there is something else which links this together. This corresponds with memory as well. Consider the cloud computing phenomenon where you can store large amounts of data remote from your computer and have it recalled by your computer. This is likely very similar to some form of field where by memory is stored and can be recalled in the brain. Regardless, this is a fascinating area and has led me to not believe in a purely reductionist hypothesis. Something is going on and for skeptics to outright deny is wrong.

In a second comment Dr Berman wrote:

Penny, how can something arise out of nothing? Meaning how can an electrical signal in the brain arise from nothing? If someone touches your hand, the ensuing electrical activity that orginate from the nocicepters in your skin travel up dorsal column medial lemniscus to subthalamic regions to your cortical regions and your brain processes these signals in the form of electrical activity. Thus, there is cause and effect for these neural signals. However, lets discuss signals originating in the brain through thought or intention; such as something as simple as reaching my hand out to touch someone or as complex as playing a violin. The intent to do it in the first place; where did that come from and how could the brain originate this intent given that electrical activity would have had to be spontaneously produced which gave rise to your intention. Not to be philosophical, but there must be something that bridges the intent with the functional activity in the brain. This is the hard question. This is probably what underlies free will and the non material and non tangible essence of intent. Could this be the ‘soul’ mediating activity in the brain through complex quantum processes? The brain is critical to our functioning in this world; however, I believe it is not the only mechanism. Remember one other thing; how is it possible that people who are clinically dead and yet return are able to experience vivid near death experiences with sight, sound, and emotion? How is this possible and more importantly how can these patients return and recall the memory of that event? The brain was purportedly in crisis or shut down and had little or no blood flow; how could memory of such an event survive? The ONLY way possible is for this external field to somehow ‘hold’ the memory in packets of information, much like a cellular signal that could be reprocessed from cell tower to cell tower and converted into understandable language on your phone. Something external is occurring from the brain which allows an intermediation of non physical process and physical process and packets of information or memory or the essence of whom we are or our free will with intention are able to somehow jump from this external field to the functional aspects of the brain.

Again another Doctor trained in the reductionist science who has now also questioned what he was taught is Dr Eben Alexander.  On November 22 nd Skeptiko’s Alex Tsakiris broadcast an interview with Dr Eden Alexander the neurosurgeon who had a NDE (I have written a previous post on this very interesting case and this highlights a second interview that was broadcast).

The interview is fascinating and what is particularly striking is how, as a result of experiencing a NDE, Dr Alexander has totally changed his view and acknowledges that there is so much more about consciousness that what he was taught in his scientific medical training. If you haven’t already heard the interview it is well worth listening to.

The Skeptiko interview with Dr Alexander is available on the following link – it’s also transcribed


10 Responses to “Science at the Tipping Point?”

  1. Stuart November 28, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    very interesting

    • Ken Ebert December 1, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      Thanks for your post and the compelling quotes within, Penny. When Dr. Berman alluded to “the cloud computing” I had to smile. I’ve yet to actually listen to his interview so your presenting of poignant quotes here is very useful and welcome.

      Because of my own NDE in 1984 I have compulsively wondered about the ’cause and effect’ involved, noting here that, in my NDE, I experienced in my journey as being both “called and projected”, both actions being commenced “with one intention”. One thing that my contemplation led me to is to consider the time in which the trauma was fully actualized. Something bad had happened. My body was damaged, perhaps to near-fatal levels, but regardless, to maintain enough consciousness to remain engaged in a truly important event? It would require pulling back from the trauma of the body – ‘stepping out’, so to speak. This was underscored during the second NDE when the spirit entity came and quickly helped me to disengage from by body as a way to avoid death. In either case the body was ‘otherwise engaged’ and could not support a level of awareness sufficient to keep my consciousness in direct connection with the goings on. This, of course, illuminates the need to consider mechanisms of self and being that do not require the physical unit.

      • Dr Penny Sartori December 1, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

        HI Ken, thank you for your important comments. I always welcome such comments from actual experiencers because you’ve actually had the experience and can give us a very different understanding of what you experienced.

  2. Michael Duggan November 29, 2011 at 6:05 am #

    Libet’s studies and more recent research reveal activity in the brain 5 seconds before any conscious decision is reached. I’m not sure going after free will can resolve the main ontological issues surrounding consciousness.
    I’m intrigued and encouraged you’re getting positive responses from other scientists. Is this at conferences or hospital colleagues? I, too, feel a certain change is in the air.

    • Dr Penny Sartori November 29, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

      HI Michael, yes Libet’s work is very interesting. There are so many complex issues around concsiousness and it can be really mind boggling too. For me, the most important thing is that more people are now recognising how valid NDEs are rather than dismissing them off handedly.

      I’ve been approached by many scientists at conferences, via email and I also found that when my work became well known within the hospital I was also approached by many colleagues. There were so many of my colleagues who had witnessed and experienced unusual occurrences when looking after patients who were dying or near death yet they had never discussed these instances with anyone else because they didn’t want to be ‘made fun of’. I have spoken with a few consultant physicians who have described things that they cannot explain which has consequently intrigued them and motivated them to seek other explanations.

      There were a few really interesting books published by The Scientific and Medical Network, edited by David Lorimer in the 1990’s and early 2000. Most of the authors of the chapters are medical doctors who have saught a greater understanding of what they have encountered in the clinical area.

  3. Max_B November 29, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    “The brain was purportedly in crisis or shut down and had little or no blood flow; how could memory of such an event survive? The ONLY way possible is for this external field to somehow ‘hold’ the memory in packets of information, much like a cellular signal that could be reprocessed from cell tower to cell tower and converted into understandable language on your phone”.

    Although that is possibility, it’s certainly not “..the only way…”, memory could be held by the group both across space, and across time. Fields from other members of the group could interact with a dormant brain (whilst it’s not producing it’s own field of sufficiant strength), the group field would leave an imprint (a variation between the patient and the group), which would later be interpreted by the brain using the usual dream imagery mechanism.

    The group spread out across space (our experience of reality with no ability to move in time), may be entirely complimentary with exactly the same group also spread out across time (no ability to move in space).

    I’m slowly moving towards this as an all encompassing theory.

  4. tim November 29, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Great post, Penny.

    I loved the interview (I guess you would expect me to say that) and I have to pinch myself to remember that this view is coming from an academic nuerosurgeon which is heresy, really, in that branch of medicine (all branches really). I still think there will be a sustained resistance to any change but I’m hopeful it will come.

    Howard Berman’s comments are fascinating too. I believe Wilder Penfield thought along similar lines. A lot of sceptics quote Penfield when they are trying to account for the life review (as you know Penfield electrically stimulated the cortex) but he only produced very rare fragmented memories which are nothing like the complex insightful life review. Penfield concluded his research lateR in his life by stating that the mind has an energy of it’s own….and he had to leave it there.

    • Michael Duggan November 30, 2011 at 3:42 am #

      Indeed, and also it was the “dual” consciousness of his patients – that they could distinguish between these stimulated memories and their internal consciousness – that convinced Penfield of the reality of dualism.
      ps, thanks for replying Penny.

      • tim December 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

        “and also it was the “dual” consciousness of his patients – that they could distinguish between these stimulated memories and their internal consciousness – that convinced Penfield of the reality of dualism.”

        Yes, I should have added that Michael, thanks.


  1. Very interesting article discussing non-local memory location - Page 2 - Parapsychology and alternative medicine forums of - January 4, 2012

    […] nothing to explain consciousness in material terms has surfaced. Reading on Dr. Sartori's blog (Science at the Tipping Point? Dr Penny Sartori) it does seem that more and more scientists are coming to realise that there is something more […]

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