Consciousness and Near-Death Experiences, Pim van Lommel

For more than twenty years, cardiologist Dr. Pim van Lommel has studied near-death experiences in patients who have survived a cardiac arrest. His work, described in a 2001 study published in the journal The Lancet and his 2007 book Consciousness Beyond Life, The Science of the Near-Death Experience, provide examples of how our waking consciousness does not always coincide with the functioning of our brain, and shows that it is possible for people to experience some form of consciousness separate from the body.

In an interview with Science and Nonduality, van Lommel describes his research and delves into the mystery of the near-death experience, what he calls an enhanced consciousness that occurs at a point when the brain ceases to function. He compares the details provided to him by cardiac arrest patients to a quantum mechanics view of the universe, where everything is connected and there is no distinct space and time.

“People experience unconsciousness in a dimension where time and space play no role anymore,” says van Lommel. “Everything is there. The past, the present and the future are enclosed in this dimension of consciousness. The dimension is unconditional love and wisdom. In this dimension, there is only subject, and everything is connected instantaneously.”

Unlike coma patients remembering conversations that occurred nearby while they were unconscious, patients who have had a near-death experience displayed no brain activity at all, challenging the assumption that consciousness is a product of the brain functioning.

“The brain does not produce consciousness, but it facilitates consciousness,” says van Lommel. “It makes it possible to experience our waking consciousness, the consciousness that we normally have while we are awake.”

Although we may experience our consciousness as localized in the brain while we are awake, consciousness is everywhere, what van Lommel refers to as the non-local consciousness. In his view, the brain acts as a transceiver, taking in information from the non-local consciousness and feeding it back from the brain and body. Near-death experiences allow people to tap into this non-local consciousness directly, without the limitations of the brain and body, in a nondual fashion. “It’s an experience of oneness, of unity,” says van Lommel. “Everything is connected.”