The Phantom World Hypothesis of NDEs/OBEs

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Sam Parnia released a new mini-documentary about Near Death Experiences (NDEs), which he now coined a new term for: REDs, for 'Recalled Experiences of Death.' His argument is that, physiologically, these people weren't merely near death, but actually died and were resuscitated thanks to modern medical technology. Indeed, defining death as a state one can never return from is operationally contingent; it is arbitrary and ignores the physiology—the science—of the process. So I am comfortable with the term RED.


But I diverge. The point of this essay is a common feature of REDs and 'Out of Body Experiences' (OBEs) that have always stricken me as exceedingly odd: the claim by experiencers that they could perceive the colloquially physical world around them—from a mildly elevated, bird's-eye perspective—during the period of, e.g., cardiac arrest, as if they still had working eyes and ears. This seems to violate logic, as evolution required hundreds of millions of years of painstaking adaption to come up with retinas and eardrums. And that these are needed to perceive the world is unquestionable: right now, if you close your eyes and ears, you will see and hear nearly nothing. So how can a patient under cardiac arrest, lying on a hospital bed with eyes closed, see and hear what is going on in the corridors outside their room? If one can see and hear perfectly well without working eyes and ears, why do we need them at all? Why can't I close my eyes right now and see what's happening around the corner of my street?

Nonetheless, I am not one of those people who find it easy to disregard (anecdotal) evidence just because it doesn't fit with their understanding of the world. As a friend reminded me of just a couple of days ago, alluding to a particular scene from the Netflix series Chernobyl, theory must fit the facts, not the other way around. And there are just too many mutually-consistent reports to dismiss. My commitment to truth is such that I just can't pretend otherwise, which puts me at an impasse, for I am equally unable to think of nature as something so capricious as to change the rules of the game on a whim. I just can't accept that eyes and ears are utterly unnecessary to perceive this world during a RED or OBE, but absolutely necessary during ordinary waking states. Moreover, nature just isn't so redundant as to struggle for hundreds of millions of years to evolve retinas and eardrums we can allegedly do perfectly well without.

The present essay is the result of my struggle to make sense of this conundrum. At this stage, however, what follows is still very highly speculative and should be taken with a whole bag of salt. I am not at all committed to the conjectures I discuss below, but simply play with them as an intellectual exercise. In the future, I may further expand on these thoughts in a more rigorous manner, if my argument can be more substantiated. Alternatively, I may abandon the idea altogether. Either way, right now what follows is just a very loose exercise of theoretical imagination, nothing more.

Finally, notice also that the Phantom World Hypothesis is supposed to cover only the parts of a RED or OBE that seem to relate directly to the ordinary, so-called physical world; not the parts about transcendence and other realities.

Assumptions

I am not a RED/OBE researcher or scholar. My interest in these states is professional but ancillary. Therefore, I must start with some basic assumptions, knowing full well that these may ultimately prove to be wrong or misleading. My assumptions are these: (a) experiencers of REDs/OBEs are being sincere and reasonably accurate when they report the ability to perceive the ordinary, colloquially physical world during the period in which they do not have functioning sensory organs; (b) Nature indeed isn't redundant or whimsical, so despite their sincere reports, experiencers in fact aren't truly perceiving the colloquially physical world around them.

Background

I will base my hypothesis on the tenets of my own Analytic Idealism. According to it, all nature consists of experiential—i.e., mental—states. Some of these states are within our individual minds, such as our own perceptions, thoughts and emotions. We identify with these internal states or at least feel that we own them. Other mental states in nature are external to our individual minds and, therefore, constitute the external environment we inhabit. I shall say that these external mental states belong to a 'mind-at-large' beyond our individual minds.

That there can be mental states out there, outside your individual mind, is nothing new: my thoughts are mental, and yet external to your mind. Analytic Idealism simply leverages this trivial fact to argue that the entire world beyond the boundaries of our own minds is constituted of external mental states as well, not just the inner lives of other people.

When external mental states in mind-at-large impinge on our individual minds, they modulate our internal mental states. This is what we call perception: what we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch are our inner representations of external states. As such, under Analytic Idealism there is indeed an external world beyond us; a world that does not depend on us to exist or do whatever it is that it does. When we interact with this world—such that the world impinges on us—its states are represented by our individual minds as the colloquially physical world around us. As such, what we perceive is merely an image, an appearance of states in mind-at-large.

Still under Analytic Idealism, what separates our internal mental states from the external mental states of mind-at-large is a dissociative boundary. Just like the multiple, disjoint personalities—called 'alters'—of a patient of Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as 'Multiple Personality Disorder'), each living being is a dissociative alter of the field of mentation that constitutes nature. A biological organism is what one such an alter looks like when represented on the screen of perception. Biology, life, is the perceptual appearance of a dissociative alter in the universal mind we call nature.

As such, death—the end of life—is, in fact, merely the end of the dissociation, of the alter, not the end of consciousness. The dying process is that by which the previously private mental states of the alter—one's personal memories, insights, etc., originally insulated from their cognitive surroundings by a dissociative boundary—become progressively re-associated with the mental states of mind-at-large. It stands to reason, thus, that this should be experienced as an expansion of consciousness, not its end, which is precisely what experiencers of REDs/OBEs report.



The Phantom World Hypothesis

Among the previously private mental states of an alter undergoing re-association—i.e., a person dying, being re-integrated into his or her cognitive surroundings—are episodic memories. These contain a lifetime of perceptions: a cognitive map of one's home, neighbourhood, city, country, places visited or seen on TV shows and YouTube videos, and so on. We don't just perceive the world, we also remember these perceptions. As these perceptual memories accumulate over time, they form an increasingly broad, high-resolution, internal map of our environment, constituted of the qualities of perception: the colours, shapes, contours, and geometrical relationships that define what we colloquially call the physical world. Even when you are lying in bed at night, with your eyes closed, you can access these perceptual memories to visualise your room, your street, the route to work that you will be taking in the morning, etc. As such, a copy—more or less precise, more or less accurate, more or less comprehensive—of the world as perceived exists in us at all times.

When we die, this copy of the world as perceived and remembered becomes re-integrated with the external mental states of mind-at-large. And since people are dying every minute, mind-at-large becomes increasingly enriched with individual perceptual maps, which are representations of its own states. These perceptual maps—each corresponding to the perceptual memories of a re-integrated alter—become cognitively associated with one another, like different pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle coming together. It is reasonable to infer this because we know that this is how mind works: through spontaneous cognitive associations based on similarities and correspondences. Mind-at-large cannot help but spontaneously put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Nature's mind is thus constantly assembling a cognitive map of itself—a jigsaw puzzle representing its own states, whose pieces are constituted of qualities of perception—based on the episodic memories it inherits from re-integrated alters. Where there are gaps, extrapolations spontaneously arise, just as we extrapolate our own perceptions to infer that, say, a wall partly obscured by a tree in fact continues behind the tree; or that a road continues beyond the visible horizon; etc. These extrapolations reflect well-known and intrinsic properties of mentation: you spontaneously extrapolate a square from the figure below, even though there is no square in it at all; you do it because this is what mind naturally does. Technically called interpolations, the extrapolations complete the jigsaw puzzle where pieces are still missing. The result may be an inaccurate but rather complete cognitive map, a Phantom World constituted of perceptual qualities originally generated by living people and other organisms.


I call the resulting map a Phantom World because mind-at-large isn't actually perceiving the world; it isn't actually representing its own states on a screen of its own perception. Instead, it is merely inheriting the perceptual states of myriad former alters and spontaneously assembling them together through cognitive similarity and correspondence. The resulting pseudo-perceptual world is thus an approximation containing inaccuracies and imprecisions (the interpolations). Nonetheless, it should still feel as though it were a (colloquially physical) world perceived, since it is made of qualities of perception like the colours and sounds you and I see and hear.

During a RED or OBE, I contend that the dissociative boundary that defines the individual mind of a person becomes weakened, porous, permeable, allowing for partial but direct access to external states in mind-at-large, without the intermediation of a screen of perception. And since these external states contain the Phantom World, the experiencer gains temporary access to that pseudo-perceived world.

I suggest, therefore, that the experiencer is not actually perceiving the real world, but the Phantom World instead. For this, the experiencer indeed does not require working eyes or ears, for he or she is accessing the compound result of myriad episodic memories—the assembled jigsaw puzzle—of people who did have working eyes and ears. Analogously, when you are lying on your bed at night, with your eyes closed, visualising your route to work the next morning, you too can visualise it by recalling episodic memories and without using your eyes.

Perspectival transposition

A number of possible criticisms of this hypothesis must be popping in your mind right now. I will try to anticipate and address them in this and the next sections.

The first issue is the perspective experiencers report: a bird's-eye view of things, as if they were floating above other people, the furniture, the cars on the streets, etc. This perspective does not correspond to the episodic memories of any human being, dead or alive, since we don't ordinarily float around like air balloons. How can this be accounted for under the Phantom World Hypothesis?

Even in ordinary waking states, our minds routinely adjust our perceptual experience so to conform to an expected context or perspective. In other words, we don't just perceive the world as it is, we manipulate our perceptual states so they fit with the context we cognitively expect. This is so even when you know what is going on. In the picture below, for instance, the squares marked A and B have exactly the same colour. Yet, because the context forces you to expect them to have opposite colours, that's what you see. And you will continue to see it even after you convince yourself that the squares do indeed have the same colour.



The drawing below contains a variety of perspectival illusions. Even after we realise that what we think we are seeing is impossible, we continue to see it nonetheless. This is an intrinsic property of mind: it tries to fit what it perceives to its expectations and models of what is going on.



There are countless other compelling examples of our minds imposing a perspective onto the contents of perception that is not there at all. The video below is just one more example, where we impose very specific movement where there is none. And even knowing this, and being convinced of it, does not reducelet alone eliminate—the seeming perception.


My contention is thus the following: during a RED/OBE, the experiencer expects to perceive the world from his or her own unique and contingent point of view, not the objective perspective of other people, dead or alive. To reconcile his or her access to the Phantom World with this expectation, the experiencer transposes his or her experiential vantage point accordingly, thereby generating the bird's-eye view. This is possible because the Phantom World is already a cognitive modelan interpolationanyway, so any perspective can be 'computed' from it through a form of grounded, calibrated imagination.

Ongoing experiences

Another issue with the Phantom World Hypothesis is that experiencers often report, veridically, what is going on in the world during the RED/OBE: what people are saying, doing, etc., while the experiencer is in, e.g., cardiac arrest. This means that their pseudo-perceptions cannot be grounded only in the episodic memories of the deceased, but also in the ongoing experiences of living people, as they unfold.

Under Analytic Idealism, the mental inner lives of two different people are ordinarily separated from one another by two dissociative boundaries, each defining the limits of each person's individual mind. During the RED/OBE, however, we've hypothesised that the dissociative boundary of the experiencer becomes weaker, porous, permeable. As such, it is reasonable to conjecture that access to another person's on-going experiences becomes easier than under ordinary circumstances. This is especially so if those other people are emotionally connected with the experiencer, which could spontaneously shift their own state of consciousness in a manner that weakens their own dissociative boundary as well.

If this direct mind-to-mind access does take place, it is in principle reasonable to conjecture that the experiencer will import it into the Phantom World—to keep everything consistent and unifiedand again spontaneously apply a perspective transposition, as discussed in the previous section, so to portray such access as if it were taking place from an external vantage point. After all, the experiencer doesn't expect himself/herself to be another person. Instead, things will be experienced as if he/she were seeing or hearing another person. The experiencer will then report having seeing or heard other people say or do this or that, while, in fact, the experiencer has directly accessed their inner mental states.

Implications and validation

To check whether the Phantom World Hypothesis is consistent with the (anecdotal) RED/OBE data, we must derive its implications and check them against what experiencers report. So let us do this, one implication at a time.

If some of what is reported corresponds to direct access to the inner mentation of living people—subsequently transposed to an external perspective—then experiencers should, at least occasionally, report accessing endogenous mental states of others as well. In other words, in addition to knowing what people said or did, experiencers should, at least occasionally, claim that they knew what people were thinking or feeling. And indeed, this is precisely what is often reported. In the recent mini-documentary by Dr. Sam Parnia, linked above, an experiencer claimed to have become aware of what his doctor was thinking—a claim confirmed by the doctorwhile the experiencer himself was in cardiac arrest. If the experiencer can access someone's thoughts, than she or he surely can access what one is seeing, hearing, or otherwise perceiving. This corroborates the hypothesis that experiencers aren't actually perceiving the real world without functioning eyes or ears, but pseudo-perceiving the world by proxy, through the inner mental states of both the deceased and the living.

Another implication of the Phantom World Hypothesis is that, since the Phantom World is a cognitive construct, a model containing interpolations and extrapolations, at least occasionally experiencers should report things that don't actually match with the real world. These inaccuracies are probably filtered out in the popular literature, since they can easily be (mis)interpreted as refuting the validity of the RED/OBE. Yet, under the Phantom World Hypothesis, occasional inaccuracies and oddities are precisely what one would expect. These inaccuracies—provided that they are localised within a broader context that is itself veridical—in fact corroborate the validity of the RED/OBE.

Finally, the most important implication of the Phantom World Hypothesis is this: the experiencer should not be able to know any fact that has never been experienced by any organism still alive or already dead. Because the hypothesis entails that experiencers only pseudo-perceive the world—that is, perceive by proxy, through the inner mental states of others—whatever no one has ever perceived or otherwise known cannot be accessed by the experiencer. As such, when Dr. Sam Parnia devised his famous experiment to test the veracity of REDs—wherein he placed electronic displays on top of tall cupboards, facing up and displaying random numbers automatically chosen by a computer, to see if the 'free-floating soul' would be able to read the numbers—he ensured that no experiencer would succeed. After all, the experiment was designed to be double-blind: the experimenters themselves didn't know what numbers were displayed. Therefore, no one, dead or alive, knew what the numbers were. It was impossible for the experiencers to access such information, since their access is always by proxy and not direct. The experiencers don't have eyes to perceive the displays; they can only see what others see or have seen. Again, this implication of the Phantom World Hypothesis seems to match with the data, as Parnia's experiment is known to have 'failed.'

Conclusions

The Phantom World Hypothesis should not be taken as a rigorous scholarly theory, for it is no such thing; at least at the present time. As it stands, the hypothesis is merely educated speculation and conjecture, with very little theoretical underpinning or empirical basis. But the little it does have is, well, a little intriguing.

I am not an experimentalist in the field of REDs/OBEs. I cannot, therefore, take it on myself to design and carry out experiments to validate or falsify my own hypothesis. But those who are in the position to do so could perhaps allow themselves to be informally informed by the Phantom World Hypothesis in their experimental designs. Doing so would prevent the understandable but possibly equivocated jump to concluding that Parnia's experiment debunks the veridical aspect of REDs, for its very double-blind design could have precluded any veridical report.

New experiments are needed that are informed by the Phantom World Hypothesis.

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22 comments:

  1. Yes, this is all very interesting Bernardo, particularly your idea that in the out of body state we can only perceive what has previously been experienced. Some of the more profound NDEs do talk about travelling through starfields, past nebulae and galaxies: perhaps MAL’s own experiences?

    Some might look instead to a hierarchy of dissociation: dimensions more subtle than ours; that we have a subtler “vehicle” – i.e. a subtler representation- which, after death, can be released from its ties to these grosser dimensions we normally inhabit. If so, then after death here, we would still have our subtle senses intact with our subtle “vehicle”.

    But if that were true, one might argue, we might expect the subtler senses to only perceive the subtler world, not also the grosser world we normally experience. Otherwise, as you say, why the evolution of eardrum and retina? The answer could be that what really evolved here were only the grosser “representations” of eardrum and retina as we now experience them on the screen of perception: partial, dumbed-down imitations of the deeper, subtler sensorial apparatus beneath (for instance, some NDEs indicate that our subtler self has all-round vision).

    If subtler dimensional representations are true, we would then also have to answer the significant questions of how and why our subtler selves are normally shackled to (or imprisoned by) our grosser ones (the very thought is gross).

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    1. It is reported that the sensory experiences in an NDE are of a higher definition and feel 'more real than real'. This supports the idea above that our 'physical' sense organs are a restricted version of a preexisting ability to generate sensory experiences.
      However, if it were the case that in an NDE it was still this world being perceived but with subtler sense organs, then the failure of the digital display experiment would still need an explanation.
      It could be that this 'physical' world is a virtual world rendered to 'physically' present participant observers, and subtle non-participant observers can only see that which has been rendered.
      As no one in the 'physical' has seen the electronic display, it hasn't been rendered and so it simply isn't there to be seen by a subtle non-participant observer during an NDE.
      An analogy would be someone watching someone else play a video game. They could only vicariously perceive what was happening in the game. If the player doesn't go into a particular room, it isn't rendered to them, and so the non-player observer doesn't get to see it either.

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    2. I would submit that we don't even need to hypothsize about other dimensions and the like. Lucid dreaming, it would seem, suggests that we have all the answes we need already. Here we have another world of sorts where we've another body perfectly capable of seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, etc, etc. Moreover for those skilled in the practice they can even vastly exceed their physical limits, doing things like flying, walking through walls, shrinking to the size of an act and goodness knows what else, seemingly limited only by the scope of their imagination and the ability to keep the lucid dream going.

      Also, if you take the research and accounts seriously enough, some even claim to be able to impact the physical well-being of others through the lucid dream as well. Obviously a very serious claim, but one w/ profound implications if it's even partially true.

      W/ all that in mind, I might suggest that the implications of lucid dreaming go far beyond what I've mentioned. If the hypothesis is is that physical death is the end of the dissocation (setting aside the clear issues w/ Time), then how does lucid dreaming occur at all? How is it possible to create dream bodies apparently on the fly, only to have them vanish after the dream ends and not have that impact us at all?

      One might legitimately be able to wave this question off if we were simply talking about our own isolated mental states, however that doesn't appear to be the case. Shared dreaming, if one takes the accounts seriously, is a legitimate phenomenon that needs to be accounted for. Here we have an instance where people clearly *are not* on the precipe of death (thus the hypothesis that our minds become more open to others on death's door doesn't apply) and yet are able to communicate in a way some might label as psychic or supernatural. What's going on there?



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  2. Dear Bernardo , your Phantom World Hyp is very interesting ; you showed already how it explains several paradoxical points ; I want here to ad one point to that : the old opposition (sometimes very polemic !) between the obe "adepts" and the "lucid dream" adepts ; I was busy myself with that question for decades , had myself experiences difficult to classify (f.ex. obe with mistakes ; or dream with "true" elements) , and had discussions about it years ago , with interested (& interesting!) people like Prof Jean DIERKENS (deceased now ; univ Brussels & Univ Mons , Belgium) , or jacques DOUCHAMPS (Dr Pharmacology) , as well as psychologists , parapsychologs , etc etc . This question "obe versus lucid dream was already considered by the pioniers in both "domains" ; recent (good) authors are f.ex. : Robert WAGGONER (lucid dreams) , and Graham NICHOLLS (obe) . Your hypothesis possibly solves the (apparent) opposition , making both domains as overlapping parts of one larger one . So , yes : this hypothesis is worth further research !!! Best wishes for that ! Roland HINNION (logician,mathematician,musician and...ober and/or lucid dreamer)

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  3. I really like how parsimonious this thesis is. If humans can occasionally access the mental states of others during normal waking life (e.g. telepathy), it makes sense that this potential would become more profound and vivid during death.

    One question. If "the experiencer should not be able to know any fact that has never been experienced by any organism still alive or already dead," how does this track with the idea that Mind-at-Large exists outside of space and time? Theoretically, wouldn't it be possible that "future" facts which will one day be experienced by an organism have "already" been absorbed by Mind-at-Large and may be available to us upon re-association?

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    1. Very good point you brought here. I wish Bernardo would be able to see and answer that.
      I wonder myself if the external perception gets "diluted" over time into the mind-at-large, and that is why the momentarily deceased/experiencer can only perceive what is being experienced at THAT moment in time before the process of dilution..

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  4. Very interesting. But doesn't this imply that all of the accounts of impossible in which the dead person perceives an individuals behavior/state that is the only person in the the room? I'm thinking of the famous case of the doctor who was "flapping his arms like a chicken" while alone in the room.

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  5. I was very incredulous about NDE, because it suggested people perceive without eyes (while in NDE) i.e. "see" in the same visible spectrum as while having human eyes which I found dubious and suspicious. Bernardo's explanation is much easier for me to accept.

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  6. Could this 'Phantom world' hypothesis extend to explain 'Eyeless Sight'?

    This short video shows children wearing masks engaging in a variety of activities including football, climbing and reading. Includes interviews.
    https://youtu.be/NhU-_ekGiP4?feature=shared

    Alex Gomez-Martin PhD, is working on developing controlled experiments for this global phenomena. Interview with Jeffrey Mishlove on 'New Thinking Allowed':
    https://youtu.be/APxUC-06y6A?feature=shared

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  7. As someone who has had many OBEs I feel like I can offer some insight on this. I rarely take naps, but almost every time I take a nap I have an OBE. By now it's happened at least 200 times. There are a few things I've experienced that I think align with your hypothesis.

    It's well documented that smell and taste are incredible cues to episodic memory. Specific scents and tastes tied to your past in some way can instantly bring to mind memories of the past. But unlike vision, sound, and touch, it's hard to imagine the scent or taste of a thing. I'm not sure I can even do it. The internal representation of the way something looks, in contrast, is much more solid. I can easily visualize what my dog looks like. For sounds, I have songs playing in my head all the time.

    In all of my OBEs, I've never smelled or tasted a thing. If the world we find ourselves in while "out-of-body" is created by a collection of episodic memories and cognitive maps, that could be why smell and taste are absent (or at least largely absent) in that space. Meanwhile, vision, touch and sound are incredibly vivid and detailed.

    Another thing - for a period of time in 2018 I had OBEs that ended up feeling as if I was living someone else's memories. It was so strange, but really interesting. I would roll out of my body and fall through my floor into blackness - after 10 or 20 seconds, I would find myself in an entirely rendered environment. One time I found myself all of a sudden walking up a rainy street in the evening as people were lined up to get into bars. Another time I found myself entering an auditorium and being handed a pamphlet to attend a presentation.

    The most relevant was one where I found myself outside of an elegant walk-up townhouse beside a canal. In the distance I heard kids yelling and laughing and I could see kids and pedestrians walking along a sidewalk in the distance. I walked up the steps and opened the door, and it felt like I slipped into the experience of a child. All of a sudden, I felt the excitement of a child running to meet their mother after school. I ran up our stairs to find her, and I knew where to go. I snapped out of it before I got to her though and woke up.

    I'm curious to hear what you think. If you haven't tried to induce an OBE, I think that would be a great investigation. It's not that difficult, it just takes patience. I think anyone can do it. The Phantom World Hypothesis is an intriguing idea. I think you're onto something.

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  8. It seems that the logical next step of this hypothesis is an opening to communion with the dead.

    But the higher-octave question is another one: as you are thinking this hypothesis, what enables the thinker to formulate the hypothesis as if scooping it from outside reality, directly, rather than from outside the thinker’s inner activity which is inevitably embedded in reality?

    Is it feasible to take such an outsider position, formulating thoughts from that de facto blind-spot - that is, from a perspective that forcefully abstracts itself out of reality for the purpose of formulating the thoughts in the hypothesis - and preserve a chance to know reality at the same time?

    The thinker thinks himself out of his own thinking, to formulate a hypothesis as if directly from outside reality. But can he? (He surely 'can', but does the result have any chance to be real?)

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  9. Very interesting all of this, it leads me to think about reincarnation's topic and its compatibility with this hypothesis. Perhaps we are transitioning to another level of dissociation that is less constraining and more 'connected' to the mind at large, which would make a return to the earthly form of dissociation plausible and with a remaining memory baggage from the previous human dissociation.

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  10. These are very interesting intuitions, Bernardo. I wonder if you know how close your 'phantom world' hypothesis aligns with supersensible research of the stages after death. If not, it is definitely something worth looking into.

    As a crude summary, at death the subtle bodies (that Ben mentioned above) loosen from the physical body (this is why the latter naturally decays). The most proximate sheath to the physical is the etheric or vital/life body, so now our core consciousness stops reflecting its existence through the physical senses and begins to reflect its existence through the etheric organization. This body is also responsible for 'storing' our life of memories that were gained through sensory experience. Everything that looks like a sensory-like world in dreams, OBEs, NDEs, etc. takes shape through the etheric body. It is all reverberations of the impressions within the etheric (which could be creatively molded) that have been imprinted through the physical organs. So your intuition that the OBE states are not some magical eyeless perceptions of the physical world is correct - we would not need physical eyes if the exact same thing could be seen without them.

    Now that these impressions are loosened from the physical form, they expand toward the ideal Cosmos and become a vivid panorama of holistic life experience. This expansion indeed makes it possible to experience something like remembrances that are inspired by the spiritual environment, yet the more the etheric body expands, the less it resembles the physical, and thus the perceptual experiences become less and less similar to Earthly seeing, hearing, etc. Eventually, the souls are no longer within a 'phantom world' but experiencing a world of objective spiritual relations (which, of course, is not ontologically divided from the sensory or phantom worlds, only the latter are known from a higher supersensible vantage point).

    Of course, these details are not to be taken as a mere speculative model, neither should they be taken as true upon mere belief. The key takeaway is that, with our reasoned thinking, we are already resonating with the experiences across the threshold of death. That is how someone who has never heard of these details before, who has never even heard of the subtle bodies, could still reach a conceptualization of their realities by reasoning through NDE accounts and so forth from the proper idealistic foundation (without extraneous materialistic assumptions). When our thinking is enlivened and strengthened further through concentration exercises, the inner dimension of these realities can also be cognitively experienced. That is the method of modern spiritual science.

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  11. The thing about 'subtle bodies,' 'etheric realm,' etc., is that, it seems to me, they are just words. _What_ is this subtle body? How does it come into the causal nexus? That is, what does it do? Did it evolve too? What is this etheric realm? How does it relate to the so-called physical? What causal role does it play? How does it interface with the known laws of physics? And so on. Until there are answer to these basic questions, these are just words; they don't mean anything. We just give labels to something worse than ill-defined and pretend that we are saying something. Don't take it as a criticism of you; it's a general issue I have with these 'occult' or 'esoteric' accounts of anything. They strike me as utterly empty, word games.

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    1. Bernardo, maybe these questions can be approached by realizing that MAL *already contains* these subtle aspects, except that we explore only their flattened conceptual projections on the intellectual plane. MAL must necessarily have depth. Otherwise, someone can object in the same way: they can say that “the body is what consciousness looks like” are also empty words. And indeed, nothing in our ordinary phenomenological experience seems to correspond to a nail or cell division. Our statement can only hold water if complemented with “... but most of this consciousness manifesting as bodily structure and life processes, is in fact sub/unconsciousness from our perspective.” So if we reason consistently, we need to conclude that there are depth aspects of MAL – there are some unknown from our waking perspective, MAL mental processes that manifest as life processes.

      The fact that our human consciousness has contextual depth, in itself hints that MAL is contextual (after all, we’re a slice of MAL). Just like an idea acts like an ordering principle for the thinking-words through which we explicate it, so the life processes can be considered to flow within higher-order ideal curvature. This is all very similar to Michael Levin’s nested morphic spaces, except that we need to conceive them *from within*, as ideal activity at different *inner* scales.

      If we reject this ideal contextuality, and we’re consistent with our decision, we inevitably reach some form of flattened reductionism, leading us back to physicalism with a panpsychic flavor. Then we indeed need to use empty words to explain why our thinking ego seems to be nested within the contexts of soul life, biological life, and physicality. If it all was on the same level, we should be able to think a new physical limb, not only its mental picture. Thus, when we explore this inner contextuality within which our waking ego is embedded, we arrive from a purely phenomenological perspective at what the ancients pictorially presented as subtle bodies. When we explore these contextual constraints (resulting from the deeper activity of MAL) within which our waking spiritual activity is embedded, we deal with phenomenological realities.

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  12. Right, the words are not so important, but the *intuition* that we are seeking to focus through them. Every tradition has different labels for the etheric spectrum of experience (the ancient Hindus referred to it as prana life force, tattvas, and so forth). But it's also possible to speak about these aspects of experience without any such esoteric labels. They are entirely pragmatic in the sense that we cannot adequately understand our physical-sensory existence without accounting for them. 

    For example, we know that the 'laws of nature' as we currently know them lead to decay and death. This is why we cannot use these laws to successfully produce a stable living cell through abiogenesis. When the physical body is given over to these laws as a corpse, it decays and its elements return to the mineral domain. What is that prevents this from happening before death? Similarly, we know the mineral structure of a stone is much different than the mineral structure of a plant - the latter is shaped and animated in a very characteristic way. Our intuition of whatever is responsible for these facts of experience can be focused through a label like 'etheric body', but any other label could be used. It can also be misleading if we take 'body' in any spatial sensory way. So perhaps it is better to proceed without any such labels.

    If we reason through the NDE accounts like you did, we also discover there is some aspect of our experience that is independent of the physical senses and the brain, but still 'encodes' the impressions we gain during life. We access this layer of experience dimly during life whenever we remember or picture something, perhaps with our eyes closed as you pointed out, but these memories are still formatted by the brain-sensory organism. When they loosen from that organism, they expand into a panoramic vision (not sensory vision) which can be experienced as a vivid world with sense-like qualities. So now we have the intuition that consciousness can perceive sense-like qualities independently of the sensory organism - that could be focused into the label 'etheric spectrum' (or whatever else we want to call it). 

    Does that make more sense of the labels? We can indeed investigate the causal nexus of these interwoven yet irreducible layers of experience in much more detail, tracing how we can only make sense of one layer (such as sensory) in the light of another (such as etheric) and vice versa. Often the etheric forces are associated with the force of 'levity' as the polar opposite to the force of gravity, and with sustenance/life in polar opposition to decay/death, as we saw before. They are 'peripheral' forces that work in the living cell in polar opposition to 'central' forces. I agree that all of these terms can become quite abstract and schematic if we don't seek out the properly reasoned intuitions first, always rooted in the flow of living experience. 

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  13. The great thing about Idealism is that it doesn’t need to talk about "prana" or "etheric life force", because the so-called physical is just an appearance or image of an inner mental state as viewed by the evolved senses. If there were an etheric body, then that would just be an image too (of even subtler mental states). So if we're saying that prana animates the physical body, we're really only saying that one inner mental state informs another – it’s likely part of a recursive fractal structure. The danger of referring to separate “bodies” is that it cants the whole business towards dualism. So I do agree with Bernardo about the difficulties created by esoteric labels.

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    1. Ben, it is the same 'subtle vehicle' you mentioned in the first comment.

      Anyway, Cleric addressed the main issue above. We need to find the *depth* of inner mental states of MAL and trace how it is *always* present in our normal contextual flow of experience, i.e. how it elucidates the constraints on and possibilities for our intentional activity. NDEs simply bring into more clear view an aspect of our inner organization that is always there during life and without which we cannot make sense of the lawful transformations of our inner life (including sensory experience).

      If we are following this reasoning concretely, then it should become evident how this MAL depth of inner states has the utmost practical significance for our scientific understanding of normal sensory experience, of human history, of natural evolution, etc. It is perfectly fine to drop the ancient esoteric labels and speak more technically about these things, as long as we remember the ideas are always referring to concrete realities in our first-person stream of experience (the only experience we can ever know).

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    2. Yes, the true nature of these ‘bodies’ is indeed MAL’s *ideal* activity, but as I wrote above, in our *ordinary* consciousness we do not have direct experience of this mentation. By avoiding *thinking* about these deeper strata of ideal activity, we completely *preclude* any possibility of our consciousness expanding into their reality. For example, when we think mathematically we use some mental images – Arabic or Roman numerals, apples, fingers, etc. Obviously, none of these images is the ideal reality of Number. We manipulate the images in our imagination according to deeper mathematical intuition, within the curvature of which our thought-images flow. The mental images only help us to intuitively grasp the invisible ideal streamlines, analogously to the way iron filings help us conceive of the invisible magnetic force lines. Imagine a mathematician saying “These mental images are only appearances, they are not the true ideal reality, they are empty symbols, thus I won’t deal with them.” But in this way, it is guaranteed that he’ll *never* discover the reality of mathematical ideas. Before reaching mathematical intuition we need to use the ‘training wheels’ of mental symbols, these are the mental ‘iron filings’ through which we become acquainted with the deeper ideal streamlines of MAL. It’s quite the same with the contextual ideal strata within which our thinking being is embedded.

      If we refuse to use our mental imagery, feelings, and physical sensations as ‘iron filings’ through which we gain intuition of the deeper ideal streamlines of MAL, we simply remain in inner paralysis. Just as little we can discover mathematical ideal streamlines without allowing mental images of numbers to follow their curvatures, so little we can know the ideal depth of MAL without intuiting how conscious phenomena follow individual, shared, and archetypal ideal curvatures. The key here is that we *do not* fantasize that our inner imagery is the reality. We’re *fully aware* that it is only artistic expression. The reality is the invisible ideal activity that orders phenomena across all scales.

      We may believe that we save ourselves from dualism by avoiding using mental images to artistically (metaphorically) represent MAL’s ideal activity but in this way we fall into an even greater duality – we forever cut ourselves from the possibility to *grow into* the ideal depth of reality. The duality is still there. Instead of imagining ‘etheric body’, we imagine a large fuzzy mental image of MAL. Yet the reality of the ideal activity of this MAL always remains on the *other side* of the duality. We really need to meditate on this: seeing our thinking forms as ‘iron filings’ following the streamlines of *ideal intents* of different scales – from personal to Cosmic.

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  14. >] "I suggest, therefore, that the experiencer is not actually perceiving the real world, but the Phantom World instead. For this, the experiencer indeed does not require working eyes or ears, for he or she is accessing the compound result of myriad episodic memories—the assembled jigsaw puzzle—of people who did have working eyes and ears. Analogously, when you are lying on your bed at night, with your eyes closed, visualising your route to work the next morning, you too can visualise it by recalling episodic memories and without using your eyes."

    This is an interesting hypothesis, however there are a number of cases conveying veridical information that go well beyond mere observation in the physical world. Even *if* one were to grant the possibility that the dying subjects in question were somehow able to tap into the mental states of those around them (thus accounting for their accurate observations), that wouldn't suffice for some of the most extraordinary black swan events.

    One line of particularly striking evidence is the case of those (studied by Dr. Kenneth Ring) who have been blind from birth and yet described visionary experiences during the course of their NDEs that were largely consistent w/ typical NDEs. Dr. Bruce Greyson, of course, has worked in conjuncture w/ documenting these and submitted reports on them. I'll leave a link to such a report below. The relevant section can be found under Line of Evidence #3:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6172100/

    How then is one to account for this under the Phantom World hypothesis? There are a number of legitimate issues:

    1.) The blind subjects have no conception of what vision is at all. Even *if* we grant that they were still able to tap into the mental states of those around them, presumably they should only experience that which they have a point of reference for: smelling, touching, tasting, etc, etc. To say that they should suddenly come into another's visionary experiences is akin to saying that they should expect to suddenly know what it's like to be a dog or a cat.

    2.) Secondly, NDE subjects (even those not blind from birth) recount vision that goes well beyond what one would associate w/ normal brain function. They'll describe "360 degree vision," being able to see in all directions at exactly the same time (an admittedly contradictory statement, but one they insist is true). Even granting that they can link up w/ others' mental states, it seems highly implusible to suggest such explosive visionary prowess beyond what any human could rightfully be expected to achieve.

    3.) Perhaps most troubling of all is that the blind from birth subjects have such consistent recounts of NDEs that go beyond mere veridical information from the physical world. Linking up w/ others' mental states doesn't even begin to answer this - and even if some of them had heard NDE accounts before (not an unreasonable suggestion), they would have no point of reference for what a "being of light" or "traveling through a tunnel" would even mean before seeing it for themselves.

    That we have numerous accounts of this occurring from people who couldn't possibly have seen it beforehand is enough to at least suggest that what they saw, even if not necessarily the thing in itself as it *actually* exists, was in fact a representation of something real.

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  15. Fantastic insights and dots connecting. Thank you, Bernardo. Are you aware of David Deutsch and his new constructor theory (fundamental theory in physics)? I think it would be amazing, mutually beneficial conversation between you too.

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  16. Addendum to "lucid dreams" : dear Bernardo & other idealists , I want to mention something discussed initially by Paul Tholey , and later reconsidered in "Lucid dreaming" (by Robert Waggoner & Caroline Mc Cready) , namely the fact that some dream characters can show a high degree of autonomy & sensefull reflection , maybe as far as seeming to be...self-conscious . That is linked to the important question of "dissociated mind" , which is a main element in the analytic idealism conception developed by Bernardo . So surely a path to explore...Best greetings. Roland (math,logic,music,etc)

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