When science and religion got divorced in the nineteenth century, they split up the family possessions in a reasonably amicable way but there was one piece of formerly joint property that went to the wrong home.
Whenever the subject of the survival of death comes up, it is traditionally regarded as a religious question. If anything can survive death of the body, that something must surely be the human soul or spirit and what is the spirit but a fragment of the divine? Where would such a spirit reside but in paradise? And to whom would the human soul owe its existence other than the creator?
Removing these and similar questions from the realm of science and making them the property of religion has had the inevitable effect of stopping all further research into such questions and marking the file on the matter “Case Closed”.
This is a loss to potentially enlarging our knowledge because there have been many discoveries in the past century that would have been identified as having a bearing on survival of death had the subject remained in the scientific realm.
On the first question – is it conceivable that anything without mass could survive death? – we know now the answer could be yes, in principle. Information can exist independently of any material form. An obvious example is the operating system of the laptop I’m writing on now. Microsoft Windows can be given material form in a variety of ways – as lines of code on paper, as magnetic domains in tape , as indentations in the surface of a disk, as the presence or absence of an electric pulse or as the state of a logic switch in an electronic circuit.
The Windows operating system can and does exist independently of all these material embodiments and can be encoded in many ways – in the manner of Platonic ideas.
Of course, for such information to continue in existence without mass, it would have to be embodied in energy. And the stumbling block to seeing such a scheme as a feasible mechanism of survival is that we customarily think of energy as a fluid, and – as a fluid – of being incapable of taking on any kind of structure or organisation. We usually think and speak of electrical energy in this way – as being a current that runs within conductors, much as the water in a stream runs downhill.
Our conventional view is that if energy is essentially a fluid like water, then it must be formless, like water, and incapable of retaining any organised form, like water. This is a flawed observation. Fluids do in fact take on and retain an organised structure under the right conditions. When its temperature is reduced, water becomes ice. As Nobel-Prize winning physicist Brian Josephson has pointed out, the liquid crystal display in your laptop or cell phone becomes structured when an electric potential of a few volts is applied to it.
Our ideas on energy are generally cockeyed. We like to imagine that through our physical senses we can detect electromagnetic radiation – light and heat for example. In fact we cannot detect electromagnetism directly at all, only the effects of converting it to nerve impulses. In reality, energy is a mystery to us, even though it comprises 80 per cent of the universe, while matter is a rarity.
And because we cannot directly perceive energy such as electromagnetism, physics has tended to ignore any serious study of its nature except when in contact with the material world we inhabit. Physicists talk of dark matter and dark energy as mysterious entities comprising the major part of the universe but whose nature and properties are largely unknown.
But even if energy could be persuaded to oblige by taking on some organised structure, is there any way that complex information could be encoded in it? The answer is that there are numerous such ways. We use three of them to transmit sound and vision to a conventional cathode ray tube television. The radio signal is modulated in three ways – in its amplitude, its frequency and its phase.
The signal itself is one of the most fundamental natural phenomena, a sine wave – that is, a wave that describes the birth, growth to maturity and then diminishing and dying away of everything in the universe from a star to a starfish.
So 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 http://mri-q.com/what-is-phase-encoding.html
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.”
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.