Is there a ghost in the machine?

Is there a ghost driving the machine that is the human body?

The most compelling reason why many rational people dismiss the idea of a human soul or spirit that survives death is that it seems to be essentially a religious belief. If there is an invisible, intangible spirit, it must be some fragment of a divine creator that returns after death to an equally ineffable heaven world.

Yet there are valid scientific reasons to think that a massless entity could survive the death of a material body in a perfectly natural process that involves no religious ideas at all. And an increasing number of professional physicists have offered observations and evidence for just such a process.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Dürr, former head of the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich, is one physicist who believes in life after death through his research in quantum physics.

“What we consider the here and now, this world, it is actually just the material level that is comprehensible” he says. “Beyond is an infinite reality that is much bigger, which this world is rooted in. In this way, our lives in this plane of existence are encompassed, surrounded, by the afterworld already.”

Durr likens the memories in his brain to data written to a hard drive in the material world but says, “[I can imagine that] I have also transferred this data onto the spiritual quantum field, then I could say that when I die, I do not lose this information, this consciousness. The body dies but the spiritual quantum field continues. In this way, I am immortal.”

Another physicist, Dr. Christian Hellweg, is also convinced the spirit has a quantum state. Through his researches into brain function at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Hellweg was able to show that information in the central nervous system can be phase encoded.  (For an explanation of phase encoding see here

Hellweg says, “Our thoughts, our will, our consciousness and our feelings show properties that could be referred to as spiritual properties. . . No direct interaction with the known fundamental forces of natural science, such as gravitation, electromagnetic forces, etc. can be detected in the spiritual. On the other hand, however, these spiritual properties correspond exactly to the characteristics that distinguish the extremely puzzling and wondrous phenomena in the quantum world. Quantum world, in this case, refers to that realm of our world that is not yet factual; in other words, the realm of possibility, the realm of uncertainty, where we do “know what”, but do not exactly “know when or how”. Based on the context of traditional physics, it can, out of necessity, be concluded that this realm must actually exist.”

We already know of complex entities that do not possess mass and can exist only when embodied in matter, in the manner of Platonic ideas. One everyday example is the operating system of computers, such as Windows. Such an operating system – and even the data it produces – can survive death in the sense of being transferred from one material host to another. It has no independent material existence – being observable only when embodied as notation on paper, or magnetic areas, or states of electronic logic gates.

A key stumbling block to the idea of spiritual survival arises from how we think about energy. We now know that most of the universe consists of energy – matter being something of a rarity. Yet although energy comprises 80 per cent of the universe, it is a subject on which we are almost entirely ignorant. All our knowledge comes from the interaction between energy and matter.

For example, we cannot directly perceive or experience energy. Our experience of light comes from the electrochemical processes that occur when a photon strikes our retina.  Similarly, we cannot directly experience heat energy – only the effects that heat energy have on our receptors.

We customarily think of energy as resembling a fluid, in much the same way that we customarily think of electricity as behaving like a fluid. The key aspect of a fluid is that it lacks organisation and therefore cannot have a structure.  If energy is unstructured, it could not record a human spirit any more than a stream of running water could record a Beatles album.

Yet this generalization is faulty. Liquids can retain a structure under certain specific conditions. Water becomes structured when its temperature is reduced below zero. The liquid crystal display on your mobile phone can take up a structure capable of carrying information when small electric potentials are applied to it. It may well be that energy is capable of being structured under specific conditions.

Such a structured energy entity would appear to us as massless and invisible under most circumstances, unless interacting in some way with the material world. Its existence could be a perfectly natural process and not involve a creator or a heaven.


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