Abhijit Naskar

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Neurochemical Origin of Afterlife

Today I’ll be taking you in the afterlife. Don’t worry, nobody needs to die to do that. Basically if you die, there is nothing more to experience for your soul. Because the moment your brain stops functioning, your soul ceases to exist. And it is so, because the soul is the expression of a functional brain.

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A lot of people apparently have visited heaven, as in afterlife, and apparently they have come back. That’s the claim made by many people. And the quantity of such claims is just too much to simply ignore. So, let’s not ignore, and try to unravel the truth underneath such claims.

The very first thing that you need to know is that putting aside the small portion of the claims made simply to draw attention, most of these claims are actually made based on actual experiences. Which means as far as the subject who’s making the claim is concerned, his or her encounter of heaven did indeed take place. So, to him or her, it is a real experience, as real as your experience of me talking to you right at this moment. And in fact, in most cases, that afterlife reality actually seems more real to the person than usual reality.

Now first lets look at the origin of this idea of afterlife – the idea of heaven or hell. The idea of an afterlife was created by the imagination of our ancient ancestors who lived in tribes and had way little intellectual capacity. And further this idea fueled in people’s actual encounter of an afterlife. Our ancestors simply could not comprehend the sudden immobility of a walking and talking human being. They had to come up with some sort explanation for the so-called death, which they could not comprehend whatsoever. So, their brain concocted the belief, that there is apparently a soul that runs the body – a life-force, and when the body becomes aged and unsuitable for the soul to function, it simply pops out of the body and goes to either a better place, such as heaven or a horrible place such as hell, based on the person’s deeds.

These ancient ideas have been passed on through generations, and in the process the minds of these people have been conditioned to believe genuinely that when they die, they’d go to another realm, unlike earth. So, one way or another, their minds expect it to actually happen to them when the time comes. They anticipate it, either consciously or subconsciously. Hence, there are people who claim that during a life threatening situation they actually have gone to haven and come back. And over time these claims have increased exponentially. And that’s because of the amazing advancement that we have made in modern medicine. Before when people used to face death, they didn’t come back so much to life, because we were yet to develop techniques to bring them back.

Let me give you an example, a simple one but a revolutionary one. It is the revolution brought by the development of what we the people in medical profession call a Defibrillator. It is a simple device, but often times, the availability of this simple device can determine whether a human being will live again or stay dead forever. If somebody’s heart stops beating for whatever reason, electrical impulses from the a defibrillator can jolt the heart back to life. The same can be done with an Epi-Pen. In this kind of situations where a person apparently faces death, after coming back to life, that person reports that he or she went to heaven while his or her body had been lying dead.

So what’s really happening here? Do these person really go to heaven? Well, in their subjective reality, the experience manifests as more real than the usual reality. And that is why it is almost impossible for them to defy it as anything but the truth. Which means, even though they did not actually budge even a little from their mortal body, the experience of visiting heaven did manifest in their mind as an actual lively experience.

These experiences occur often when a person faces a life and death situation – a situation that has to do with a peerless amount of stress. I have discussed this matter in detail in my book “Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality”. When people face death, in that extreme stress the brain releases a special neurochemical which happens to be more powerful in terms of its hallucinogenic properties than LSD. This chemical is called DMT or Dimethyltryptamine.

When your brain releases substantial amounts of DMT in times of utter distress such as a near death event, your mind goes into an altered state – a state of profound hallucinations where your deepest desires or darkest fears manifest as reality. And this reality seems so damn real that it does not matter whether you are an academic, a medical doctor, a scientist, or a lay person. It is so damn real that anybody would easily hail it as a real experience in heaven or in some cases hell, depending on the person’s internal knacks and desires.

Consciousness is the product of electrochemical signalling in the neurons of your brain. So when the brain stops functioning fully, your consciousness, or to a broader aspect, your mind ceases to exist with its unique individualistic qualities. It’s like the soothing flow of water. It is only water as long as its internal realm of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, remains intact. If you break that structure which we call H20, it ceases to be water. Likewise a soul remains a soul, as longs as its neural structures remain intact. If you mess with those structures, then the entire personality of the soul may get radically altered. So, to think even further, if those neural structures inside your head stop working, then the soul ceases to exist forever. So, as long as you have a functional brain, you exist, and the moment that brain dies you die.

So, hard as it may sound to some, there is no heaven, or hell. And that is more reason that we need to pay attention to this life. Because one life is all you’ve got. Make the most out of it. Live that one life with your friends, family and neighbors. After all, the true value of life lies in living with our fellow human beings, while caring about each other, nourishing each other, growing with each other. And that’s called being human.

 

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads.)

Further Reading

Abhijit Naskar, 2016, Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality

Consciousness is indeed rocket science

A tired brain says all kinds of stuff – but none of it, is the actual intention of the individual. If your wife is extremely upset during the hormonal storms striking her psyche before menstruation, she may most vocally proclaim that she does not love you any more, or that she is tired of you – but the hard reality beyond the momentary hormonal impulses is that those words are nowhere near the actual truth. Now let’s turn the situation around. If your husband gets extremely angry for some reason, and bursts out saying that, you are the greatest mistake of his life, this does not mean, that it is exactly what he feels in his lucid state of mind. And that my friend, is the complexity of human consciousness.

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Human consciousness is not at all as simple as you think. Yes I have said previously on my works that it is the simplest phenomenon on earth, but that statement would only make sense to you if you have actually studied the human brain. Otherwise, you would either take our word for it, or completely refute it, deluded by your culturally passed on barbarian idea of soul and afterlife and all that non-sense of our tribal days.

Human consciousness is the part of the mind which we are actively engaged in. And human mind is not what you think it is, that is, it is not a fixed system. It is a relentlessly changing virtual system, created by electrochemical interactions among the neurons of the brain. Billions of neurons talk to each other through the language of neurochemicals, and voila! We have a sense of being, i.e. a sense of mind. Now here, many new readers of my work have put forward the argument, that we neuroscientists are talking about a magically appearing mind or consciousness out of a bunch of neurons. Recently, somebody referred to it, in the comments sections of one of my articles, as “neurostupidity”. While accepting that I am stupid, and I try my best to become less stupid over time, this attack does not bother me the least, but what does bother me is that these people deem traditionally passed opinions as more important than empirical research of modern science. They think, because those beliefs are a part of their tradition, they must be true. What kind of barbarian logic is that! If one says that it is stupidity for us neuroscientists to say that consciousness is a product of neurons and it does not come from the heavens, because one does not understand it, then it is completely fine, and we scientists would do our best to make the matter as easy as possible. But if one says it’s stupidity, because it does not abide by the traditional wisdom of their forefathers, then I am afraid, it is that one creature who’s stupid and still is living in the barbarian days of ignorance. But the point is, even ignorance can be resolved, but not illusion of knowledge.

“Shallow intellect is worse than ignorance. Ignorance can be treated with knowledge, but shallow intellect, that is illusion of knowledge, is untreatable and quite dangerous to the progress and wellbeing of humanity.”

― Either Civilized or Phobic: A Treatise on Homosexuality

To have a real insight, not just theoretical understanding of how the mind is born through physical activity of neurons, an individual must go through decades of research on the human brain. Without this laborious endeavor, no human can truly realize – truly, genuinely realize, how the neurons create the mind. I am talking literally seeing this fact, as clear as one sees the sun and the moon. And this non-conflicted seeing cannot happen, even if one simply listens to a talk by a Neuroscientist for an hour. Yes, we Neuroscientists can bring up various examples, to illustrate how the brain creates our perception of ourselves and the world, and this may make you a bit able to see this rise of consciousness or to a broader aspect the mind in the brain, but it will still not make you see the way we the scientists of the mind see it. It’s a matter of deep revelation, not just about theorizing and conceptualizing. And, I am in no way saying that we are smarter than you or any other layperson. But the only difference is in our engagement in the matter. While we wake up, while we sleep, while we eat, while we walk, we are relentlessly, thinking about various elements of the human mind. I cannot be sure of other scientists, but at least I function this way.

If one wants to have the confident awareness of how the mind is born in the brain, one must go through the pains that a scientist takes in order to study decades of research on the matter and scrutinize them very closely. The alternative is to take our word for it – by our I mean, the majority of Neuroscientists, Psychologists and Psychiatrists. To avoid the intellectual ordeal, you can depend on us, and that may make things clear to you, but it will still not be a complete understanding of the mind. Like it or not, there is no easy way here. Trying to understand the origin and nature of consciousness without actually arduously studying neurobiology, is like trying to understand quantum mechanics without actually studying physics.

Now the point is, people would most willingly accept that quantum physics is something that they don’t understand, but when it comes to the mind or soul, or consciousness, they would most neurotically proclaim that they know everything, because various traditions throughout the world have passed on their imaginary perception of this concept as a form of divine wisdom. And it takes huge courage and curiosity to actually see that those so-called perceptions were nothing but imaginations and opinions formed in the absence of real empirical understanding of the phenomenon which we scientists call the mind, and the ancient people called soul. This makes me think of the very nature of scientific understanding.

Science or scientific understanding begins not with the knowledge of something, rather with the actual acceptance of our ignorance of that phenomenon. You only begin to understand something truly, when you accept that you don’t know anything real about it – when you accept that your ancestors did not hand over to you actual knowledge, rather they handed over their imaginary stories to you. So, the first step towards actually, genuinely, truly, and least subjectively understand the rise of the mind in the brain, and its true nature and features, is to let go of your so-called traditional or cultural ideas on this issue. If those ideas indeed do have even traces of truth, you would discover them for yourself, once you truly start to understand the phenomenon.

Consciousness is indeed Rocket Science. To understand truly, how it is born from electrochemical activity of neurons, one must take the pains that we scientists take to study it. If you don’t have that kind of time and patience, then the easier alternative for you is to rely on the opinions of us scientists, that is the majority of us. But, be aware, no matter how desperately we scientists attempt to clarify this issue for the understanding of the general population, we can only give an overall perspective on the neurological origin of consciousness, but that perspective could never be an actual revelatory insight. So, the choice is yours – either do the study yourself, or rely on our works, or be a deluded idiot and take traditional beliefs as fact.

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads, Apple News and TopBuzz.)
Recommended Reading

Put God first, but don’t boast it

Belief in God – that is what we will naively discuss in this piece. And the focus is of course on being naive, because it is the first criterion to understand a phenomenon truly with its real fundamentals. One cannot understand something, if one is already filled with predominant conditioned beliefs, opinions and ideas. So, let’s look at the belief in an Almighty Concerned Entity or Force, with literally, not theoretically, naive eyes. If you have read my works, you’d know that one statement is pretty prevalent in most of them. It is “belief is a self-preservation mechanism of the mind.” Here, the belief I mentioned is not necessarily of religious type. The belief in this statement refers to all sorts of belief, not just religious. However, in this piece, we are interested specifically, in the belief in a supernatural entity.

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But why? Why am I talking about it exactly now? Because, I was scrolling through my youtube feed, and came across a video of some actor, shouting out “put God first”. The very first casual response that mind spat out was – even the stupidest and barbarian opinions of celebrities can appear to the masses as greatly inspirational and glorious statements – what a shame! As I said, this was the first response that my mind produced upon watching the thumbnail. So, now, let’s get over this casual response and dissect the situation – to be specific, the statement – “put God first”. It basically says, never lose faith in God, and you’ll achieve everything. I won’t say whether it is civilized or not. But I would say this. Belief in a supernatural entity having control of and concern for, your life, is basically, not a sign of glory, rather a sign of weakness.

Weakness is a fact – not bad or good. Like it or not, we all feel weak at times – I accept, that I do. And specifically in these times of excruciating agony, the mind kicks into a defense mode – where it naturally tends to put its faith and control upon a higher illusory entity. It’s not good – it’s not bad – it is what it is. And we cannot change this situation, just yet, because though we have developed extraordinary brain capacities, inside, we still remain cave-people, with a highly sensitive amygdala, that reacts quite effectively to every single fear and stress stimulus. And to quote from my book The Krishna Cancer“Mother Nature created God as a neurological anti-depressant sentiment.”

Belief in an imaginary entity or force, is a sign of weakness. And, weakness is a part of biological existence. So, glorifying that weakness, does not make a person any more religious, spiritual or wise, than beating one’s wife does for not sleeping with him. Yes, we have developed through the process of natural selection, the capacity for limitless good and glory, but that does not mean, our innate brutal nature has vanished from our psyche for good. We have the capacity for courage and conscience, but you must remember, we also bear the seeds of weakness and brutality within us. These seeds served us well for millions of years. They have been the most crucial elements in our survival in the wild. Let me give you an example.

Imagine a man is sitting with his wife on the couch, while watching TV. Suddenly, a woman on TV starts stripping. What kind of changes do you think, would take place in the man’s pants! Now here is the real question, the man gets erect by watching the stripping lady on TV, say it’s my good friend and popular pornstar Olivia Austin – does this mean, he actually wants to do her? Does this mean, he does not love his wife? These questions are all non-sense. Of course he loves his wife. And consciously, he does not desire to mate with Olivia, but his subconscious mind does – and that’s not a theory, but a fact. Because that’s how the man’s brain has been surviving in the wild. His penis had to be prepare within seconds, the moment he had an opportunity to spread his genes – there was no consent involved. Because the competition was high. And that libidinal programming still remains active within the man’s neurobiology. That’s why erection upon the sight of a hot lady, is quite normal and in fact, healthy, but that does not necessarily mean, it is a sign of intentional desire for intercourse with that lady. A man may be married happily, and still his penis would get erect, the moment his mind visualizes a glimmer of opportunity for spreading his genes. Similar is the process of belief in an imaginary entity, named God.

The mind has various mechanisms to maintain its internal order and well being. And belief in something higher than the petty little human existence, is one of those self-preservation mechanisms. A person may be the most rational being on earth when everything is almost fine in his or her life. But the moment, clouds of excruciating agonies begin to cover the sky of his or her psyche, all rationality will go out of the window, and what will remain, is pure, savage, survival instinct. During these moments of utter disaster, a healthy human mind is more likely to give in to supernaturalism, than to bring out a notebook and do logical analysis. Eventually when those clouds start to disperse, the mind would slowly gain its natural rational capacities. Then he or she would again start talking most boastfully about reasoning and free thinking. This is not hypocrisy – this is human life – or to be more accurate, this is biological life.

Another such mechanism comes to my mind in this context. This mechanism kicks in when somebody faces a life-threatening trauma, and gives rise to the mesmerizing experience of afterlife, in which apparently the trauma-struck individual has an encounter with supernatural entities, prophets, or diseased relatives. And this experience manifests as more real than actual reality. The purpose of it is to put your mind in a preconceived domain of comfort, while your body is under tremendous stress. And before when medical science was not developed, people died with this last conscious experience of entering into a higher dimension. We did not have the means to save a dying person. Now we do. So, even though they go close to the doorstep of death and start experiencing the conscious hallucinatory domain of afterlife, we are capable of bringing the person back to life. And when they finally wake up, they can excite all others around them with their supposed experience of the afterlife, unlike our ancestors who did not have the means to come back from the doorstep of death.

The mind is who you are. You are your mind. And as such, you are not even aware of most of its features – because you are not supposed to, biologically speaking. Underneath the surface of conscious awareness, lies a whole territory of subconscious traits and processes. Some of these processes become active on a daily basis, others, when truly necessary. But they are there, nevertheless. They are there for a reason – the reason of survival – the reason of maintaining well being when every other modern means fails. They don’t follow modern norms of rationality. They only follow Mother Nature’s law of survival. And they are definitely not glorious in nature, rather, they are simply the mind’s way of preserving itself. It is not something to be proud of, or critical of. It just is, what it is – an unavoidable part of human mental existence.

 

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads)

Recommended Reading

Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality, 2016

Soul is born in the Brain & dies with it

What is Soul? Is it magic? Or is it something pretty much physical but seems to be magical? Is it something Science can explain? Or is it beyond human comprehension? In this article you are going to have your confusions surrounding the term Soul, thrown away, once and forever.

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But before you learn about Soul, I must tell you a thing or two about the human brain’s affinity towards mysticism. Our species, that is the Homo sapiens evolved around 200,000 years ago, and even before that our previous ancestral species existed, millions of years back. During the most of existential period we lived in the wild alongside wild animals. On the contrary Modern Science has only evolved a few centuries ago. So, compared to the civilized scientific mind of modern human, the instinctual primitive mind is way older and more deep rooted into the brain. That primitive mind has been surviving in the wild environment for a long time in the midst of fear and ignorance. By nature, that mind is easily fooled by supernatural mysticism. It is very gullible. And no matter how much we the civilized human beings advance in the fields of Modern Sciences, there is always a part of us, that tries to allure us with magical nonsense. Because that nonsense has been with us since the birth of humanity. Scientific understanding of things arrived much later, and in fact, if we compare it with our millions of years long acquaintance with ignorance and fear, Science would look in its infancy. So it is not easy for your brain to embrace the newly discovered scientific explanations of various phenomena which you previously knew as correlated to the domain of the Supernatural or Paranormal.

For example, due to lack of comprehension, primitive humans believed thunderstorms were caused by gods or spirits in the sky, earthquakes were caused by earth spirits and so on. But, now it is common knowledge for you, how various geophysical processes give rise to various weathers, and various natural disasters. Now you know that plate tectonics is responsible for earthquakes. All these things are common sense to the general public. In fact, now you know that the planets including our earth revolve around the sun, but a few thousand years ago, this simple idea was perceived by the ignorant population as blasphemy. Because it was against the mysticism of those days.

Science has advanced quite a lot since then. Especially with advancement in the field of Brain Science, we finally have started explore the existential questions of human life. We are finally investigating questions revolving around our own entity and identity. We Neuroscientists are constantly exploring the fantastic domain of the human mind to understand what makes each human being tick the way they do. And one of the most fascinating terms correlated with the term Mind, is Soul.

The concept of Soul goes way back during our tribal days in the jungle. The only way the tribal primitives could make sense of death, is to incorporate the concept of Soul. They perceived Soul as the breath of Life, without which the body would not function. From this, emerged the ancient mind-body problem. Due to lack of any understanding of human biology whatsoever, the primitive humans perceived Soul and Body to be separate because that’s the only way they could make sense of their fellow human one moment walking around and the next moment lying on the ground lifeless. And in order to diminish the uncertainty that goes along with the notion of death they further developed the primeval idea that Soul is immortal which upon leaving the body reaches a peaceful place, which many cultures termed as Heaven. This idea has been celebrated throughout the world for a long time, because of the comfort that it brings. It erases all the devastating anxiety, uncertainty and ignorance surrounding death. Hence till this modern day of fascinating scientific achievements the common human mind deems death as a blissful departure of the soul to another realm – far more beautiful that our planet earth.

And this idea of heaven is so strong in general human mind, that even today, every now and then we scientists come across various individuals who claim to have visited Heaven and come back to planet earth. These people are not lying. They are indeed telling what they experienced during a life and death situation. And here the ancient idea came into action. A person who has heard a lot about the Afterlife during his or her lifetime, once faced with a near death event, that idea would become a reality through his or her neural circuits. During a traumatic event the extremely high level of stress hormones triggers the release of a special neurochemical called DMT, or Dimethyltryptamine. DMT is one of the most profound hallucinogenic compounds on this planet. And upon the influence of DMT the human mind experiences a reality so soothing and surreal that makes the person forget about the trauma almost completely. It enables the person to deal with the situation. And what the person hallucinates about during that times, depends on the predominant ideas, fantasies and wishes rooted into the neural network of the person’s brain. So, here the person may not actually go to heaven, but to him or her, the hallucianatory reality of heaven or afterlife seems more real and the actual reality. It’s the brain’s way of self preservation. These near death experiences further strengthen the general idea of an Afterlife and the immortality of Soul in the masses.
Now let’s answer the billion dollar question. What is Soul?

It is not really a billion dollar question any more, at least for those who have a basic understanding of human biology. As I have said in my book What is Mind?, Soul is the functional expression of neurons. When billions of neurons start firing, the result is a mesmerizing thing called Soul, or which we more simply refer to as the Mind. Mind and Soul are one and the same thing. Although various cultures till this date perceive Soul to be the driving force behind the Human Mind. Cultural ideas have their own mysticism attached to them, so those ancient concepts cannot be accepted literally. Rather a rational civilization must investigate those beliefs  beyond the limitations of primitive superstitions, in the pursuit of understanding the human mind in a better way.

Human Mind, or from an ancient perspective – the Soul, is born from protoplasmic activity within the brain. All regions of the brain’s neural network play their distinctive roles to construct distinct features of the Mind, such as Emotions, Memory, Individuality etc. If you turn even a small portion of the neural network off, the correlated mental feature of that region would completely disappear from the person’s mental life. And this way, if you keep turning off various regions of the brain one after another, in the end, there would be no sign of mental activity whatsoever. Soul would cease to exist. Because the brain that creates this fascinating phenomenon has been turned off. This is exactly what happens when a person is announced brain- dead.

Hence, we can quite naturally deduce that Soul does not come from any Supernatural Domain outside the body, rather it is born inside the biological domain of the body. And along comes the deduction that soul is born in the brain and dies with it. So, there is no Afterlife, or Heaven or Hell, or Reincarnation. With death you simply cease to exist as your self. However your bodily elements which created your individuality, or from a deeper perspective your Soul, gets dispersed into the nature. So, rhetorically speaking you do live on forever, but not as yourself like depicted in many of the religious cultures, rather as an eternal part of the Cosmos.

 

(This Article was originally published on Goodreads)

Further Reading
Abhijit Naskar, 2016, Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality
Abhijit Naskar, 2016, What is Mind?