Provoked Thoughts: Life & Death


on Life After Death

(Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Celestial Arts 2008)


The Field, The Quest for the Secret

Force of the Universe

(Lynne McTaggart, Harper 2008)

Reading on Life after Death by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (Celestial Arts 2008) and also The Field, The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe by Lynne McTaggart (Harper 2008) provoked many thoughts. These thoughts were, on the main, quite pleasant.

This is not as much a review as it is a commentary in which I praise and criticize as I move through what were important points to me. And here is my usual caveat: what moves me is probably not what moves you, so read these books for yourself if the subject-matter is of interest to you. And in my unabashed opinion, if you are human, currently alive, and thinking as you move through your life, the subject matter of these books will be of interest.

Kübler-Ross was born and raised in Switzerland, became a physician, and came to the US and married. She made her transition from this life in 2004, she was about 78 years old. A number of statements in her book were more meaningful to me than others:

1.    Page 19, where she speaks of the way visiting Nazi concentration camps, after the war, affected her, grabbed my attention because I have had my own downers after making such visits:

I personally saw the concentration camps. I personally saw trainloads of baby shoes, trainloads of human hair from the victims of the concentration camps being taken to Germany to make pillows. When you smell the concentration camps with your own nose, when you see the crematoriums when you are very young like I was, when you are really an adolescent in a way, you will never ever be the same again. What you see is the inhumanity of man, and you realize that each of us is capable of becoming a Nazi monster. That part of you you have to acknowledge. But each one of us also has the ability to become a Mother Teresa. . . .

As I noted on the page linked above, I also find visiting such places very disturbing. I would like to believe I could never do such things, but I am also aware that with a certain upbringing, a certain indoctrination, and becoming part of a command structure that seems to have the blessing of the highest authorities in your society, you can be manipulated into doing horrible things, supposedly for “God and country.” Key to the effectiveness of such manipulation is becoming convinced that you are dealing with sub-humans, enemies, people who are not as fully human as you, who do not believe in the things that you believe in, religio-culturally, and are thus not deserving of God's love, hence not yours either. Have Christians learned from this experience not to indoctrinate their believers with the idea that Jews carry the collective guilt for the death of Christ? Have Christians and Jews learned that Muslims are fully human? Have Muslims learned, as Rumi told them 800-some years ago, that whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jew or Hindu is not as important as knowing God and knowing God as Love? No, dehumanization, discounting the humanity of those who differ from us, is still rampant, at least within factions that are parts of all these groups.

2.     I should like her message on pages 22-25 that our physical, mental and other sufferings here serve a purpose, but I was not convinced:

All the hardships that you face in life, all the trials and the tribulations, all the nightmares and all the losses, most people will view as a curse, as a punishment by God, as something negative. If you would only realize that nothing that comes to you is negative. . . . All the trials and tribulations, the greatest losses, . . . are gifts to you. . . . It is an opportunity that you are given to grow. This is the sole purpose of existence on this planet earth. . . . take the pain and learn to accept it not as a curse, or a punishment, but as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose. . . .

Kübler-Ross follows this with a very moving example of a woman who learned a very valuable lesson in this life coping with her personal challenge, and I wholly agree that this person was transformed by her experience. What gives me pause is two ideas submerged in Kübler-Ross' words cited above.

The first idea is that there is a presence in the universe that deals out what we need in terms of blessings that come as wonderful as well as devastating “gifts,” that is a magical world view I simply can't subscribe to. I also wonder if fully believing this can make us more accepting of the grievous, devastating events and occurrences that we see happening to others either in person or via information-media. Taking action to ameliorate the effects of such occurrences or events could then be seen as lessening the intended lesson for that person or group of persons, perhaps. As a physician, Kübler-Ross did attempt to help people cope with their challenges of course. I just wonder.

The second implied idea is that our growth here means something for us in “the next life.” Kübler-Ross never explicitly says so but the thought underlies the discussion. I saw nothing in later discussions that shed light on this topic except that if we don't learn what we are supposed to learn here we may get sent back for another life here. Cool. I think that may be more fun than becoming merged into the source of all light, which it the other long-range promise Kübler-Ross makes to those who have indeed learned all their requisite life-lessons.

3.     On pages 27-29 Kübler-Ross asserts that no one dies alone:

At the moment of this transition, you are never, ever alone. You are never alone now, but you don't know it. But at the time of transition, your guides, your guardian angels, people whom you have loved and who have passed on before you, will be there to help you. We have verified this beyond a shadow of a doubt, and I say this as a scientist.

The text that follows makes some interesting points: people usually see someone they know and love, but that person needs to be dead. Sometimes people see someone they did not know was dead. In one case she cites a visit by a brother a person never knew he had, etc. When asked who they want with them in the transition, here and there, children say they would like their parents with them, typically, but when they come back after a near-death experience they report others with them if both parents are still alive.

Kübler-Ross says when she counsels the dying who do not believe in an afterlife, she does not impose her belief about an afterlife on them even though her knowledge is based on scientific observation. She notes that cultural and religious differences influence who a person loves, whether a relative or a religious figure, and this determines who they see as they transition.

The factors determining who you will see are that the person must have passed on before you, if only by one minute, and you must have genuinely loved them. This means many of my children see Jesus. A Jewish boy would not see Jesus, because a Jewish boy normally doesn't love Jesus. But these are only religious differences.

I found these statements, based on observations by her team and herself, thought-provoking since I would intellectually lie in the camp of the unbelievers in an afterlife. However, my intuitive side said to my intellect as I was reading these words: “pay attention, stupid!” I did, and intellectually I do not yet know what to make of these pronouncements by Kübler-Ross.

4.     She returns to the religious and cultural differences on her page 46. Kübler-Ross reports collecting data from many different cultural and religious backgrounds because:

We wanted to be sure that our material was not contaminated, and that it was uniquely human experience having nothing to do with early religious or other conditioning.

Kübler-Ross then discusses the common denominators in all the near-death experiences she has documented. What she discusses on pages 46-49 is very interesting and the stories of people with lost limbs having them again, and especially of blind people reporting that they “saw,” describing colors and other fine detail around them during their “death,” are very compelling.

I don't want to go through these common elements, but want to focus on what follows the transition as far as Kübler-Ross ventures to describe it, and she describes the transition as  experiencing an ethereal body (page 47).  On page 49 she calls this ethereal body “a simulated perfect body.” I found “simulated” to be a strange word, went in search for more on this topic, and found it on page 62. (See point 6, below.)

5.    No condemnation in the Divine Presence (pages 61 and 62):

it is remarkable how we run across an idea just at a time when something that crossed your life had already started you pondering on the topic. Another book I have been reading tells of the terrible judgments that will befall all who deny or disobey or otherwise offend Allah in this life.

[ASIDE: The words that dismayed me concerning Allah's hell were on page 27 of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book Nomad, From Islam to America, A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations  (Free Press 2010):

In the hell described by the Quran, flames lick the flesh of the sinners; burning embers will be placed under their feet, their scalps will be scalded and their brains boiled. These tortures are endless, for as their skin is burned it is replaced and burned again.

This reminds me of hell as it is described in Dante's Inferno and does not sound un-Biblical to me. It also reminds me to a degree of Medieval and modern accounts of tortures I have read, from official and unoffical sources, reflecting ecclesiatical and "civil" attempts to extract confessions and names of accomplishments.  Human inhumanity seems to be reflected in humanity's major Gods.]

Then an email correspondent of my younger brother sends him to a website to warn him of his pending eternal torments if he does not turn to and believe in the Jesus this correspondent spends her young life teaching others about.

[ASIDE: The website is the one for the “Jeremiah Project,” and it pains me to read such nonsense spewed in the name of God. The Jeremiah Project is totally anti-Islamic (and anti-Democratic in the US political sense) in its tone.  Islam is  a religion whose radicals, to me, suffer from the same mindless fundamentalism the Jeremiah Project's followers suffer from. While I was roaming the Internet looking at their site I also came across a site that I thought would tell me something interesting about Vienna, Austria, and its Medieval history. The site's title celebrates the defeat of the Ottoman Turks (Muslims) at the “Gates of Vienna” in 1687 and suggests today's Christian-Muslim strife is a resurfacing of that same war, a war of attempted Muslim conquest. The weapons have changed. What really galled me on that website was its shrill insistence in one article posted on it that Islam has brought nothing worthwhile to Europe (history suggests otherwise) and that Islam brought back slavery to Europe in the areas they conquered and influenced, where Christianity was working diligently and successfully to eradicate that social institution and the accompanying sexual and other abuses of slaves.

They say the Norman conquests were blamable on Islam because it was a war on Europe to obtain slaves for the Muslim empire. They even say that the slavery that Spanish conquerers established in the New World was inspired by Islam's example in Spain.

The authors of this article forgot two things: the Old Testament says it is OK to own slaves, but you ought not be cruel to those enslaved from among your own people.  The Old Testament says that cruelty toward slaves from conquered peoples was OK, and so was their sexual use as concubines.  The New Testament says slaves should obey their masters to set a good example as a Christian. Christianity has nothing morally superior going for it where slavery in concerned.

But the biggest omission, in my opinion, was forgetting to mention that in the place of that type of slavery in Europe came feudalism, which meant mass, class-based slavery, which made peons just as sexually available to their overlords as slaves were to their owners.  As a person derived from European peasant stock, I resent those who praise Medieval Christianity as liberating. It was not, in any way that matters to the peons of society.]

After these two reminders of religious insanity, it was utterly refreshing to then read this from Kübler-Ross' pages 61 and 62!

After we pass through this visually very beautiful and individually appropriate form of transition, say the tunnel, we are approaching a source of light that many of our patients describe and that I myself experienced in the form of an incredibly beautiful life-changing experience. This is called cosmic consciousness. In the presence of this light, which most people in our western hemisphere called Christ or God, or love, or light, we are surrounded by total and absolute unconditional love, understanding and compassion. . . . no matter how bad we have been in our life, or how guilty we feel, we are unable to experience any negative emotions. It is also totally impossible to condemned in this presence, which many people call Christ or God, since He is a being of total and absolute unconditional love.

I was slightly dismayed at her suggesting this light was a being, (a “He” being, specifically, which I am sure was meant symbolically). But the message of love not condemnation I found perfectly in accord with what I sensed when long ago I had my own short-lived encounter with this light. Kübler-Ross goes on to explain that the life-review that occurs “in this presence, surrounded by compassion, love, and understanding” is not a condemnation process, but rather a teaching process.

    6.     The ethereal, simulated body is temporary, said Kübler-Ross on page 62:

In the presence of spiritual energy we no longer have the need for a physical form. We leave this simulated body behind and resume again the form that we had before we were born, and the form we will have when we merge with the source, with God, when we have finished our destiny.

It is important to understand that from the moment of our existence until we return to God, we always maintain our own identity and our own energy pattern. In the billions of people in this universe, on this physical planet and in the unobstructed world, there are not two of the same energy pattern, no two people alike (not even identical twins!). . . . it is very similar to a fluttering, pulsating series of different snowflakes all with their different lights, their different colors, and their different forms and shapes. This is what we are like after we die. This is also how we existed before we were born.

How does Kübler-Ross know these things? Her own spiritual experiences, which she describes on pages 64-69. One of her experiences, the epitome of her series of experiences in fact, is one I have also experienced, in part.

    7.     The “one-ness” experience as described by Kübler-Ross on her page 70:

I experienced probably the greatest ecstasy of existence that human beings can ever experience on this physical plane. I was in total love and awe of all life around me. I was in love with every leaf, every cloud, every piece of grass, every living creature. I felt the pulsation of the pebbles on the path, and I literally walked above the pebbles, conveying to them: “I cannot step on you, I cannot hurt you.” As I reached the bottom of the hill I became aware that I had not touched the ground on this path. Yet, there was no questioning the validity of this experience, it was simply an awareness of a cosmic consciousness of life in every living thing, and of a love that can never be described in words. . . .

Kübler-Ross first discussed this experience in a group on transpersonal psychology and was told she had experienced cosmic consciousness (excerpts from pages 70-71):

I was also told at that moment that as I merged into this spiritual energy, the source of all light, . . . [means] . . . the final home of peace, the home all of us will return to when we have gone through all the agonies, the pains, the sorrows, the griefs. It is where we will be able to let go of the pain and become what we were created to be, a being of harmony between the physical, the emotional, the intellectual, and the spiritual quadrants. A being that understands that love, true love, has no claims and no “ifs.” If we could understand this state of love, then all of us would be whole and healthy, and all of us would be able to fulfill our destiny in a single lifetime.

Page 60 warned us that the language of the spiritual is “symbolic” and needs to be understood with your “intuitive spiritual quadrant” and not be “contaminated” by our fears, angers or guilts. My intuitive side again shouted to my intellect: “did you get that, stupid?”

Aside from the feeling of levitation, symbolic of desiring not to hurt and facet of creation, I have had similar moments of awareness when colors were suddenly brighter, air was filling me with power, and love was emanating from all things into me and from me into all things. It is a powerful moment, and too bad it is just that, a moment that can be repeated, yes, but I have not been able to sustain it. Kübler-Ross says it changed her experience of day to day life, and I feel the same way. Even if you are not in that moment, the memory of it can mimic its effects almost at will and a feeling of enhanced universal love can be experienced often, just at a lower intensity. Which is OK by me.

I started and finished this book on a trip to Paris, and one night I went to sit in my favorite, somewhat hidden, seat in the Sacre-Couer cathedral on the Montmartre to meditate. As I listened to the prelude music from the organ and a nuns' choir, I felt myself sliding into the moment and experiencing that enhanced feeling of being submerged in a bath of sound which translated into love, and it lasted until I started to think about people and things including the very obvious fact that just having read this book caused me to expect this experience. The experience was brought up short by my intellect feeling the need to explore this space that my intuition so obviously immersed in enjoying, and knowing.

So from there I went out to eat. How mundane! Yet also pleasant, and I loved my food and thought lovingly of the plants that gave their lives for me, and the cows and microbes and people that made the breads and cheeses for me, and thanked all in my deepest heart of hearts for contributing to my physical survival. So, OK, I was still in that state, to some extent, my intellect being ruthlessly suppressed to not allow it to again interfere in my enjoyment of those moments. I suspect no one on the Metro ride back to the hotel knew they were being looked at in a mode of enhanced love, but that is their problem, not mine. Or maybe it would have become my problem if they had known? That is that beastly intellect talking again!

At this point, the words “cosmic consciousness” kept hounding me, and I turned to a text that promised to address that subject, The Field, The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe by Lynne McTaggart (Harper 2008).

McTaggart's pages 6 and 7 tell of an astronaut’s experience. Ed Mitchell, the sixth man to land on the moon was back in his command module in orbit and finally relaxed:

It was then, while staring out the window, that Ed experienced the strangest feeling he would ever have: a feeling of connectedness, as if all the planets and all the people of all time were attached by some invisible web. He could hardly breathe from the majesty of the moment. . . .

There seemed to be an enormous force field here, connecting all people, their intentions and thoughts, and every animate and inanimate form of matter for all time. Anything he did or thought would influence the rest of the cosmos, and every occurrence in the cosmos would have a similar effect on him. Time was just an artificial construct. Everything he had been taught about the universe and the separateness of people and things felt wrong. The natural intelligence that had gone on for billions of years, that had forged the very molecules of his being, was also responsible for his own present journey. This wasn’t something he was simply comprehending in his mind, but an overwhelming visceral feeling, as though he were physically extending out of the window to the very furthest reaches of the cosmos.

He hadn’t seen the face of God. It didn’t feel like a standard religious experience so much as a blinding epiphany of meaning – what the Eastern religions often termed an ‘ecstasy of unity.’ It was as though in a single instant Ed Mitchell had discovered and felt The Force.

This was a very fitting part of the introduction to this book, which now takes the reader through many interesting attempts to scientifically ascertain the reality and nature of this ‘Force.” The subtitle of the book is the Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe, and that is indeed what the book delivers, a description of the many who have taken part in this quest, what they did, how it came out, and what insight has been gained to this point.

I see a lot of similarity between this unity experience and the one reported by Kübler-Ross. Both felt this to be more real than just a strong thought or an unusually clear awareness, for both it was visceral as well as mental. Both felt their bodies doing things that are not normally thought possible: levitating and stretching. Both saw all creation as being connected by some force, and sensed that both space and time were not the barriers we experienced in normal living.

Regarding McTaggart’s book, I read the whole thing word for word because as a scientist I found it fascinating. The author was convinced of the scientific merit of all the work she describes. She notes that the greater scientific establishment was and is still loathe to call this interesting work full-fledged science. The author says the work and results, no matter how carefully conducted and controlled, is not accepted because the science community is not given to allowing its deeply held convictions concerning the nature of reality to be challenged. Maybe this is so. There is and always has been much of that going around.

I have sympathy for the plight of the investigators whose work she described. On the other hand this is really a good thing. Challenges to accepted fact, to what is scientific consensus understanding, need to be carefully considered or everyone’s pet idea seemingly corroborated by a study would be called science, and science would become even more self-contradictory than it is and would no longer have an authoritative leg to stand on. Science underlies technology, and technology is important to assuring most of us of a certain quality of life.

So I am sympathetic to science, at the same time as I am sympathetic to the suffering by scientists who carried out very well designed and controlled experiments but can’t get the results published in recognized scientific journals. Some of the work described in this book is very compelling. But as I read I had a faint feeling in the back of my head (the intellect is speaking again, sorry intuition) that perhaps there were other possible explanations for the observed phenomena. The phenomena were in some cases very well demonstrated (see McTaggart’s pages 63-73 for an example, which included publication of results in Nature, a very prestigious journal, but the article was followed by a statement from the editor that the results were incredible).

The phenomena unquestionably occurred as described, it was independently duplicated and verified, but in the instance described on pages 63-73 there was one laboratory where the results could not be replicated. In that laboratory there was apparently interference from a woman lab-worker whose mere physical presence scrambled molecular signals embedded into a solution, signals that were repeatedly found when she was not involved. My intuitive side, of course, said “go away, stupid, that makes sense” to my intellect. In this instance, intellectually, I have trouble seeing how a healthy female human being can be a “frequency scrambler” for whatever she touches in a laboratory. Of course every man at a certain age meets a woman who scrambles his brain and induces what Shakespeare described as the sickness due to love. That is not the same thing, is it?

McTaggart says this incident is more at home in a discussion of witchcraft than science. The clear and present danger to women from this reported occurrence may lie neither in the realms of witchcraft nor science, however. It may lie in the realm of religion, scientifically underscoring for some believers in inerrant scripture the Divine wisdom in portions of several of the world’s holy books that place woman very firmly under the control of men. In the Middle Ages there were voices coming from men clothed in robes of ecclesiastical authority seriously questioning if women had souls. Let’s not feed that dog again.

Another thing that bothered me was the statistical aggregation of individually unimpressive results into impressive aggregated results using a statistical technique called cumulative averaging (page 114):

Because any single effect is so tiny, it is difficult, doing it that way, to see any overall trend. But if you continue to add up and average your results and are having effects, no matter how slight, your scores should lead to a steadily increasing departure from expectation. Cumulative averaging shows off any deviation in bold relief.

My thought, at this point, was that sure, there seems to be something to these experiments coming out consistently positive for the effect being studied. But the degree to which individual results were positive showed the phenomenon to be unimportant, even if cumulative averaging showed it very likely to be real.

My intuitive side countered with this argument: “then you are perhaps willing to agree that there is likely a force field connecting everything in the universe, but it is unimportant?” Well, yes. If our astronaut had stepped outside his cocoon without lots of protective gear this force field would not have stopped him from expiring suddenly and violently from vacuum-exposure, the same vacuum described in the book as “a seething maelstrom of subatomic particles fleetingly popping in and out of existence” (page 19), the location of the “Zero Point Field” (page 20) that may be the location of the “secret force of the universe.” Scientists, physicists to be more precise, had always discounted the Zero Point Field’s energy as unimportant (page 20):

It had always been largely discounted because it is ever present. In physics equations, most physicists would subtract troublesome zero point energy away -- a process called ‘renormalization.’ Because zero-point energy was ever present, the theory went, it didn’t change anything. Because it didn’t change anything, it didn’t count.

Precisely, if it is a constant on both sides of the equation it ought to be subtracted out. But McTaggerts suggests this is like subtracting out God on page 96, and the whole purpose of this book seems to be to shows this subtraction is seriously wrong. Zero-Point-Energy can explain a lot that is currently unexplained, and can help reach the goal of unification in physics that currently eludes every attempt to corner it. Page 224 says it in a good summary fashion:

There are those who believe quantum theory will one day be replaced by a modified classical theory which takes into account the Zero Point Field. The work of these scientists may take the word ‘quantum’ out of quantum physics and create a unified physics of the world, large and small.

Of course I had an objection form in my mind when reading this. McTaggart suggests that there are many “unanswerables” and “much remained missing” in quantum physics. That may be so, but it ought to be added that within its domain, quantum theory is among the most successful theories ever, in terms of validated predictions of experimental outcomes on what subatomic particles ought to exist and their energy, mass and other properties. Throwing out this quantum baby’s bathwater ought to wait until the Zero Point Field physics theory is up to the same predictive power, at least.

A reason I picked up this book right after reading the Kübler-Ross book is that Kübler-Ross makes the point that when in near-death experiences people see, hear and recall many things, their brains are clinically dead: not functioning, which suggests that our consciousness resides in an “ethereal” body, as she called it, one that eventually is also lost when we finally merge with the source, which she called God.

McTaggert goes into the same domain when she suggests, based on the work of the scientists she cites, that our consciousness may not reside in our brain, but that our brain is a receptor that accesses stored information external to what we usually consider to be our isolated selves. All our memories and knowledge is stored in the Zero Point Field in which we, and all else in the universe, live, move and have our being. McTaggart discusses all of this in her pages 93-96, perhaps the most fascinating discussion in the whole book, for me.

This is why it is important for McTaggart to have us see that biological organisms communicate with the Zero Point Field, and that physics and biology are therefore a continuum and ought not to be held to be as separated as they usually are. The quantum fluctuations in the Zero Point Field store information and each living thing is connected to that field and can access a portion of that information. No doubt this is why McTaggart is keen on Extra-Sensory Perception experiments being verified scientifically. They show that some individuals have the ability to access a bit more information than is usual. A nice tidy way to explain what is typically considered to be unexplainable or even miraculous (see p. 96).

I think there is good evidence for the whole being more than its parts in natural, living systems, referring now to the phenomenon of emergent properties. It is my unsubstantiated opinion that consciousness in humans and animals is an emergent property that is enhanced by the biological complexity of the organism, especially its brain. To me, that seems logical. So I perked up when McTaggart ventures somewhat into this direction as she describes how the brain is likely to work. She likens it to a quantum-field information processor that receives order from that field and imposes that order on the rest of the body which it animates and regulates.

Here is how McTaggert described the function of the brain and the nature of consciousness. This is the most fascinating aspect of this book for me (excerpting from pages 93 and 94):

Eventually, many of these scientists, each of whom seemed to have one piece of the puzzle, decided to collaborate. Pribram, Yasue, Hameroff and Scott Hagen from the Department of Physics at McGill University assembled a collective theory about the nature of human consciousness. According to their theory, microtubules and the membranes of dendrites represented the Internet of the body. Every neuron of the brain could log on at the same time and speak to every other neuron simultaneously via the quantum processes within.

Microtubules helped to marshal discordant energy and create global coherence of the waves in the body—a process called ‘superradiance’—then allowed these coherent signals to pulse through the rest of the body. . . . Photons can penetrate the core of the microtubule and communicate with other photons throughout the body, causing collective cooperation of subatomic particles in microtubules throughout the brain. If this is the case it would account for unity of thought and consciousness-- . . . .

McTaggart acknowledges that this “was only a theory” but suggests there is “some good mathematics and circumstantial evidence in support.”

Where McTaggart takes this next is to bring in the subatomic dynamics of the Zero Point Field (page 95):

. . . the most outrageous idea of all: short- and long-term memory doesn’t reside in our brain at all, but instead is stored in the Zero Point Field. After Pribram’s discoveries, a number of scientists . . . would go on to argue that the brain is simply the retrieval and read-out mechanism of the ultimate storage medium—The Field. . . .

McTaggert sums up some experimental and theoretic items where I inserted . . . ‘s, and the story in the book is more credible than my excerpts suggest.

Some scientists went as far as to suggest that all of our higher cognitive processes result from an interaction with the Zero Point Field. This kind of constant interaction might account for intuition or creativity—and how ideas come to us in bursts of insight, sometimes in fragments but often as a coherent whole. An intuitive leap might simply be a sudden coalescence of coherence in The Field.

Previously on the same page McTaggart had written:

Nature was . . . open-ended, intelligent and purposeful, making use of a cohesive learning feedback process of information being fed back and forth between organisms and the environment. Its unifying mechanism was not a fortunate mistake but information which had been encoded and transmitted everywhere at once.

So the universe is intelligent and purposeful. This is a declaration of scientifically un-provable belief, in my opinion. The material that McTaggart cites in the chapter preceding these words does suggest that the universe is structured to allow this feedback process as described. But ascribing intelligence and purpose is a leap, though a pleasant leap with a soft landing into the same sort of fuzzy coziness that Kübler-Ross creates for one to look forward to as one dies. The revelations of Rumi and many other mystics would be compatible with this declaration by McTaggart.Kübler-Ross also suggests that we come from a source to which we return at death, a source many people call God. Is the Zero Point Field that source, that God? McTaggert says no such thing, likening it more to the Star Wars movies’ idea of ‘The Force.’

But what McTaggert says does play into the idea that for physical creation to even exist, there must be an intelligent observer. This is a notion based on the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics described by McTaggart on her pages 102-105. McTaggart actually gives a reasonable overview of the implications of the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation, which is a feat since in my opinion the Copenhagen Interpretation was a speculation about the necessity of there having to be an observer in order for there to be a physical reality. To me that was a speculation made in the infancy of quantum physics, has been wrongly intertwined with Heisenberg’s very insightful uncertainty principle, and has now been overcome by events.

What events? Theoretical physicists mathematically predicting particles that have largely been found in successful high-energy physics experiments, showing there are indeed ordered sets of subatomic particles making up all matter. There is structure, and we did not create these particles by willing them to show up in our experiments. Experimental results were replicated, meaning results were verified. That is what real science is all about.

In my view, the notion is absurd that until an observation is made, a subatomic particle exists in a random state. McTaggart suggests that until an observation is made, no quantum particle/wave is pinned down to a single state. It is pinned down through the observer’s collapsing the particle’s wave function. McTaggart loses me totally on page 103 where she declares that . . . “nothing existed in a single state independently of an observer” . . . .

This is where the Copenhagen Interpretation gets really stupid, in my never humble opinion. McTaggart follows on page 104 with these questions that are being asked by a researcher:

The logical conclusion was that the physical world only existed in its concrete state while we were involved in it. . . . was it true that nothing existed independently of our perception of it? . . . scientists wondered to what extent order in the universe was related to the actions and intentions of human beings.

If consciousness itself created order—or in some way created the world—this suggested much more capacity in the human being than was currently understood. It also suggested some revolutionary notions about humans in relation to their world and the relation between all living things. . . . did living consciousness possess some quantum-field-like properties, enabling it to extend its influence out into the world? . . . it was only a small step in logic to conclude that in our act of participation as an observer in the quantum world, we might also be an influence, a creator. . . .

To her credit, McTaggart next talks about experiments and outcomes that suggest there is some basis for these speculations. Some persons have been shown to be able to affect random atomic processes, ever so slightly. OK, here we go back to these very small effects again, but I must admit that in this case I am impressed. But I am not impressed to the point of buying into the whole Copenhagen absurdity.

Also to her credit McTaggart forgoes the wild speculations of some physicists grappling with this problem, a few of whom have theorized that at some future point in time humans will know enough about the universe in all its splendor that this information is then sent back in time (since there is no time, it is an artificial construct, as McTaggart explains with the backing of experiments on her pages 164-166) as an intent to create. Thus we have the cause of creation. Future “we” are what we used to think of as God. Future humans will will into existence the present universe and its worlds, including the one we live on, and us (and hence themselves). In computer science we call this an infinite do-loop! I hope those future humans have also anticipated and will prevent the eventual cold death of this universe. Or maybe they had a long-timescale suicidal streak?

This reminds me of the fight over whether or not the Earth was the center of the solar system, of creation. There is something galling, to me, in insisting that humans play a central role in creation this way. Especially when there is perfectly good and much less problematic substitute: “Nature was . . . open-ended, intelligent and purposeful,” . . . as McTaggart wrote on page 95. There is a sufficient cause, source, God. Nature is the intelligent and purposeful setting in and from which we all arise, in which we develop, some of us reproduce, and into which we all dissipate.

Kübler-Ross suggested that after passing from this body we spend some time in an ethereal, virtual body, and then are reabsorbed (my word-choice) into the source from whence we came. Many others have suggested a similar fate for us. I particularly like this version from Rumi, it is what I choose to base my expectations for an afterlife on:

Jonathan Star and Shahram Shiva, A Garden Beyond Paradise, The Mystical Poetry of Rumi (Bantam Books 1992), pp. 148-149:

Everything you see has its roots in the Unseen world.
The forms may change,
yet the essence remains the same.

Every wondrous sight will vanish,
Every sweet word will fade.
But do not be disheartened,

The Source they come from is eternal -
Growing, branching out, giving new life and new joy.
Why do you weep? -

That Source is within you,
And this whole world
is springing up from it.
The Source is full,
Its waters are ever-flowing;

Do not grieve, drink your fill!
Don't think it will ever run dry -
This is the endless Ocean!

From the moment you came into this world
A ladder was placed in front of you that you might escape.

From earth you became plant,
From plant you became animal.

Afterwards you became a human being,
Endowed with knowledge, intellect, and faith.

Behold the body, born of dust - how perfect it has become!

Why should you fear its end?
When were you ever made less by dying?

When you pass beyond this human form,
No doubt you will become an angel
And soar through the heavens!

But don't stop there.
Even heavenly bodies grow old.
Pass again from the heavenly realm
and plunge into the vast ocean of Consciousness.

Let the drop of water that is in you become a hundred mighty seas.
But do not think that the drop alone
Becomes the Ocean -
the Ocean, too, becomes the drop!

Does this not feel right to you? No? Are you looking forward to a new world much like the old world, except everything and everyone is perfect and all pests are denied existence? Well, bless you. I hope it comes out that way. But I have given up trying to “divine” the path I will take after this life. I have decided to practice what the “Serenity Prayer” suggests: I need to exercise “the courage to accept the things I cannot change,” in this case because they are currently unknowable.

But this is a very good book. It provokes many thoughts. It has many insights that I found compelling. It is just when it comes to pasting all these insights into a coherent theory of the cosmos and our place in it that I choose to remain an unbeliever. The picture just isn’t coming in for me, not yet, and Rumi’s vision will suffice until it does come in as a more compelling picture, or with the reality of my passing. Gee, which will come first? The song Que Sera” said “Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” Now there is poetic wisdom! Not quite as gripping as Rumi’s poetry, but making an equally compelling point.

An even more compelling point is that to me the “miracles” described in McTaggart’s book, by which I mean those many experimental results that do not fit what is assumed to be reality in the mainstream scientific world view, indicate there is great uncertainty about the reality of which we are a certain part. That great uncertainty stretches from the cosmos to our state of being conscious.

All that is certain is that you are alive, a miracle of the first order, and you are self-aware, conscious, and have this moment in which to act in and on this world as you choose. Choose your actions for each moment wisely, and enjoy your life and your accomplishments in it. Now.

If you are blessed to live long and prosper, enjoy. If you are not blessed to prosper, or live long, or are suffering, Kübler-Ross says it is important for you to understand that your suffering has a greater purpose. I am not sure about that, but I am sure that the very fact that you are alive in this moment is a totally unexplained miracle. No matter what we learn about Zero Point Field quantum fluctuations, no matter what mechanistic understanding we eventually gain about our memories and where they are stored, the very fact that you exist today and have memories is a bona fide miracle.

Appreciate being alive no matter what you believe. Please.


There is a PS. You may have noticed that the quarrel between my intellect and intuition was barely discernible during the McTaggart review whilst it was rather noisy during the Kübler-Ross review. Good reason.

Both intellect and intuition were in a contemplative mode during the latter reading. Intellect did not fully believe some of what was concluded from the studies cited by McTaggart, as noted above. Intuition was also in a quandary, because if we take all of McTaggart's sources at face value then we have come a long way to a mechanistic understanding of intuition, as mentioned above.

This silenced my intuitive side because that is supposed to be impossible, it would be like explaining in words something that is ineffable, a contradiction of the first magnitude. So intuition doesn't know what to do with this book's content, it is troubled by it.

Intellect feels sorry for intuition's troubled state. It is used to and enjoys the self-assured banter from intuition, and now that it is absent actually misses it.

In the cathedral setting I described my feeling of floating surrounded by a bubble of sound-borne love. It was my intuition that was floating in a cloud of joy, and it was my intellect that was stealthily groping with virtual fingers for the boundaries of the 'love-bubble.' Exploring its edges in order to limit it by defining it. That is what popped me back into reality.

At that pop, intuition was not happy with intellect. But it was totally happy with its short-lived moment of unity with love.

I am quite happy to forgive intellect for bursting my bubble, that is its purpose. Even now just remembering back to the feeling of being in a state of love allows me to recall a fleeting, wispy moment of joy. I am happy with that.

OK, intuition, please come out now? Intellect can't function well without your witty and piercing challenges. Your good-natured sarcasms ground it, and you know how much it needs constant grounding! I feel unbalanced, shallow, lacking the stability that comes with depth, without you. Come back please?

Go Back to 2010 Yearbook Page

Go Back to Book Reviews Page

Go to ThoughtsandPlaces.Org Home Page