Collaborative behavioral neuroscientists, Professor Todd Murphy and Dr. Michael Persinger, have steadily built up an empirical, correlative assessment of ancient metaphysics through the field of speculative research called, “neurotheology” since the 1990’s. A bit of a slang term, “neurotheology” is acknowledged by its researchers as a philosophy applied to scientific principle; meaning that this philosophy is a transposition of a variety of ancient metaphysics onto the blueprint of the modern scientific method and the latest updates in fields like neurology, behavioral psychology, anthropology, physics, and even comparative religion. Unfortunately, instead of being invited into the scientific community as a much-needed reassessment of ancient philosophy within the postmodern paradigm, Murphy and Persinger have of course met a great deal of persecution. However, the thorough methodology of their research, their versatile repertoire of data sets, and their novel application of the scientific method into the realm of philosophy and theology, has given them continuous support within the alternative research community.
Publishing his preliminary studies into a scientific journal in 1999, Todd Murphy in association with research and development from Dr. Michael Persinger of neurocognitive electro-stimulation technology, developed his scientific postulation that if reincarnation could be theoretically supposed as an axiom of life, then it would be because it was a biological adaptation to natural selection. Unfortunately, the mere cross-analysis of the two concepts in the title made many people dismiss it, but upon looking at this cross-analysis it not only becomes a smooth transposition, but a plausible one as well.
Since his initial development of the subject, Murphy had published a book in 2013 entitled, Sacred Pathways: The Brain’s Role in Religious and Mystic Experiences, that even included a foreword by the Dalai Lama himself. To quote the book’s official description,
“Professor Murphy proposes that rebirth is an evolutionary adaptation that contributed to the survival of our species, and that the self is a hallucination, that God is a manifestation of our own sense of self, and how enlightenment appears after an avalanche of neural activity, making changes in very specific areas of your brain. He also believes that spirituality is a very positive force in the world, and in the lives of individual people. Spirituality, he argues, is an adaptive force that’s crucial to our survival as a species, and so is an integral part of our nature. An atheist who openly encourages prayer, The author goes well past the debates between skeptics and believers to see how religion helps us, without regard for the truth or falsehood of anyone’s private beliefs.”
The original paper, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Near-Death Studies, boasted the enticing title, “The Structure And Function Of Near-Death Experiences: An Algorithmic Reincarnation Hypothesis based on Natural Selection.” Before moving forward, it’s important to note that Darwin was just another scientist proposing ideas based on his own observations, and in the present scientific community, his ideas are a bit too emboldened and are lacking in continuous and updated reassessment; however, the basic postulations of natural selection have been fundamentally proven in the sense of genetic adaptations to environment in order to further survival.
Now that the groundwork has been laid, some theory can be assessed. The specific fields being cross analyzed are Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s), in association with Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE’s), through altered states of consciousness represented by changes in electrical fields emitted by different aspects of the brain–specifically the temporal lobe. One of the four sections of the cerebral cortex, the temporal lobe, is responsible for “processing sensory input into derived meanings for the appropriate retention of visual memories, language comprehension, and emotion association.” Very much so, this can be considered the integral piece of the brain that allows humans to interact on a social level that involves analogical thought process (reading, writing, speaking, drawing, playing video games, music, even math) and especially dreaming. To quote Murphy’s study,
“It has been theorized (Persinger, 1987) that when our species first evolved it’s unique cognitive abilities, two parts of our brains enlarged more than other portions. The frontal lobes (generally specialized for extrapolating out into the future) and our temporal lobes (generally specialized for remembering the past). When this happened, people learned a new skill; The ability to remember death, and to realize that the same thing would happen to them in the future. The then-new neuromorphological upgrade software included a program for death anxiety. The fear of impending doom.”
In order to understand this “Algorithm of NDE’s,” there must be a few different angles fleshed for each step of the theory. Setting aside the evolution of the brain for a moment, it’s important to understand that the definition of an algorithm is essentially: a process that converts randomness to non-randomness (in terms of data sets).
Taking an excerpt from Professor Murphy’s paper:
“There seem to be certain grammatical rules governing NDEs. Although the research elucidating them is far from complete, a pattern of rough (we cannot emphasize this too strongly: rough; approximate) rules of thumb’ appears to be emerging. Examples include:
(1) In India, instead of an autoscopic out-of-body experience (OBE), the death process may begin with seeing’ messengers of death (Pasricha, 1986). When they call you, you must come. There are also a number of Indian NDEs that begin with an OBE (Blackmore, 1993). The same rule applies to Thai NDEs (Murphy, in press)
(2) For those under seven years old, the Life Review is avoided (Serdahely, 1990) and instead, a visit to heaven or a fairyland is in order.
(3) In preliterate cultures, delete the Life review, and substitute a spirit world , where the significant events of one’s life will manifest symbolically, as features in the spirit world (Kellehear, 1993).
(4) If an NDEer has been able to anticipate their death, (and presumably has had the chance reflect extensively on their life), they may skip the life review (Greyson, 1985).
(5) If your death has appeared unexpectedly, review your life (Greyson, 1985)
(6) If one believes strongly in a particular religious tradition, they may experience the being of light as they have been taught it appears (Osis, 1977, Pg. 37)). If one is an atheist, they may experience it as a ‘presence’.
(7) If one has come to believe that ‘all mysteries will be revealed at death’, they may have a transcendent experience in which the mysteries’ are revealed to their satisfaction. (cf. Eadie, 1992 & Brinkley, 1994)).
(8) If an NDEer needs help, guidance, or an escort during their NDE, they will encounter an Angel (Lundhal, 1992), or a Yamatoot (Murphy, in press). Long discussions are possible in which their concerns are dealt with.
(9) If an NDEer needs reassurance that it’s OK to be dead, they can see their deceased relatives and beloved friends. A joyful reunion with a beloved friend who have passed on may be just the thing to help them have positive affectual post mortem states of consciousness. One too young to have known anyone who has died, but you has lost a pet, can see the pet instead (Serdahely, 1989). If they have not lost a pet, they might see whatever comforts them; A toy for example (cf. Morse 1994, Pg. 62).
(10) If an NDEers life was marked by destructive behavior patterns, the affect of their life review may widen to include the effects of those behaviors on others (cf. Brinkley 1994 & Atwater, 1994, Pg.11).
This list of ‘rules of thumb’ should be taken as being both speculative and incomplete. Each item on the list could be regarded as an approximation of a real grammatical ‘axiom’ that influences the algorithmic progress of NDEs. Because NDE researchers haven’t been looking for them, it is not possible, at present, to state a real series of rules that will explain the functional connections between specific NDE episodes and their predisposing factors in all NDEs. Lundhal (1993) has been able to find a series of NDE rules, but these deal with likelihoods of NDE episodes, rather than their functional roles. In any case, it must be emphasized that the rules or axioms that govern NDEs will not be applicable so much to the experiences as they are to the states of consciousness that produce them.”
Because of the final quoted sentence, the research correlates to not only NDE’s, but also to meditative, “shamanic” experiences; psychedelic drug experiences; and most directly: the cycle of sleeping, dreaming, and waking. Murphy postulates that the fundamental analogical aspect of dreaming likely made it an instrumental part in the development of the brain’s temporal lobe, and by proxy played an equally large role into the spike in sociocultural development at this evolutionary point in history.
Another correlation is found when looking into Dr. Rick Straussman’s clinical studies with N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, as well as the excretion of the chemical from the pineal gland of mammals during sleep cycles, heavily considered to play an integral role in dreaming. Preliminary studies also point to the brain’s release of DMT during the onset of the death experience. Murphy proposes that–whichever was the first catalyst of this chain event, the development of the brain’s temporal lobe came with the development of dreaming as a biological adaptation, which in turn produced the surge in sociocultural activity in ancient man. Supposing that reincarnation is as well a biological adaptation, it is postulated that it would have received development through the same neurological development that corresponds to dreaming, and the sequence of events previously described.
Yet, if reincarnation could actually be a biological adaptation, then there is one crucial blockade in the synthesis of this idea: how could anyone gain a biological advantage from dying? It’s a fundamental fallacy when first approached, but ancient Eastern perspective provides basis for an empirical scientific hypothesis:
“…NDEs appeared in our species even though death prevents the breeding opportunities that select for positive traits. ‘Survival of the fittest’ cannot explain NDEs in our species, because nobody survives death… …rebirth is [theoretically] an adaptation which contributed to our survival at some point in the history of our species. If this is so, then the specific mechanisms by which rebirth operates must be the same for everyone, because we all share a common evolutionary ancestry. A simple, first statement about rebirth is that:Information which enables individuals to adapt is conserved at death, and passed on to other individuals still undergoing prenatal development elsewhere.“
However, in order to entirely cover a working empirical explanation of reincarnation, one simply cannot leave out the two connected ideas of “Karma” during life and the “Life Review” after death. Now, the definition of karma in the east tends to vary slightly from ideology to ideology, but a definitive approximation of the law of karma can be described as such: Individual behaviors in one life can have an impact on following lives. “The theory of natural selection requires that the postulated death and rebirth process should have increased our chances for survival in some way. If so, then it seems reasonable to conclude that if behaviors in one life can influence those of another, that influence must tend to increase the adaptivity of our behavior,” (Murphy). To further stress the empirical approach to the process here, Murphy also states, “To say that rebirth is a mechanism to produce enlightened people is like saying that language is a mechanism for producing writing, as though language had no purpose before it was invented,” meaning that something like an enlightenment would be a byproduct and not a biological function. At least, not directly.
Murphy scientifically assesses karma in a person’s life as a “repertoire of brain states” that are either positively or negatively reinforced by the compounding of life experiences. Darwinism thus plays its role as a social mechanism with the development of the temporal lobe when it became increasingly valuable to easily, fluidly, and comfortably communicate with other human beings on a social level. Of course, this was not always so positively willed, as seen by the many social conquests of empires throughout history. This can also be postulated as being genetically maladaptive, however, when looking at it from a social standpoint instead of a primitive standpoint.
In any case, karma became a person’s cognitive portfolio of both adaptive and maladaptive social mechanisms that ultimately either hindered or helped them to pursue biological reproduction.
“A piece of computer software is the same whether it’s on a disk or actually being used in the system. The recorded behaviors are the same whether the records are in our brains or downloading to a next birth… The life review, we suggest, is the phenomenological manifestation of a state of consciousness which uses the effects of states of consciousness experienced in one’s lifetime to create suggestions for states that enable adaptive behavior during the next life, reinforcing culture-bound behavior and at the same time preparing to download them to a future birth.” -Murphy
It should be stated that being culturally adaptive does not equate to “conforming to a social status-quo,” but rather is a matter of exploring one’s own inner social potentials, and thus exploring more cognitive and biological capacities within an individual and within the their social environment. “The life review can require an NDEer to re-examine everything they have ever done. Not as they remember their experiences, but as they actually happened. When they remember having done something adaptive, and recalling it induces positive affect, the correlative state is marked for repetition in their next life. If they’ve done something bad, and it makes them feel bad to remember it, the state is marked for suppression in their next life. Remembering that it’s our cultures that tell us what is good or bad, the possibility arises that (if our argument up to this point is accepted) life reviews sorts states according to how likely they are to generate culturally adaptive behavior. Perhaps the life review is usually concerned with behavior because behaviors are state-specific. States of consciousness cannot be viewed directly, but the behaviors that act them out can. Re-experiencing an event will include a recurrence of the state one was in at the time of the event, including its emotional content,” (Murphy).
The part that is much more philosophically speculative, while never forfeiting the scientific method, is Murphy’s theory that a reincarnating soul (since brainwaves are Hertz radio waves akin the Earth’s magnetic field) is an electrical signal; he further theorizes that this electrical signal could be considered as a “soliton” in modern physics. Taking the basic definition Wikipedia: “In mathematics and physics, a soliton is a self-reinforcing solitary wave (a wave packet or pulse) that maintains its shape while it propagates at a constant velocity. Solitons are caused by a cancellation of nonlinear and dispersive effects in the medium. (The term “dispersive effects” refers to a property of certain systems where the speed of the waves varies according to frequency). Solitons are the solutions of a widespread class of weakly nonlinear dispersive partial differential equations describing physical systems.” If a “soliton/soul” is absorbed by the Earth’s magnetic field while retaining its solitary informational structure, it would be a basic matter of physics (an electromagnetic attraction) between a wandering soliton and a prenatal fetus or perhaps even postnatal infant.
In a final assessment of the variety of data sets analyzed here: Ancient man‘s spike in sociocultural development directly correlates to the biological adaptation of the human brain’s cerebral cortex (temporal lobe), and the initiation of analogical thought with the incorporation of analogical process (dreaming) during physical recuperation (sleeping). While dreaming by proxy strengthened mankind’s social contexts and civilization development, it in turn served as a precursor to an after-death experience. Dreaming allowed for the analogical processing of karma, which is considered as a repertoire of brain states that have been positively or negatively reinforced due to social contexts of the individual, which is contingent on his success or failure in society.
Upon death, the human being experiences, through their own analogical process, what is described by experiencers as a Near Death Experience (more so in ancient societies as shamanic experiences, since modern science has only recently allowed for the capacity for NDE’s). This Death experience includes the Life Review, which is akin to a software engine that guides the soul through its experiences and extrapolates from it what is biological adaptive and maladaptive, in order to further the success of the soul in its future social developments. Enlightenment, from a biological standpoint, is a cognitive metaphysical “byproduct” of this socially adaptive process.
While this is truly an incredible theory, it still stands as such; but the cohesive line of information that this cross analysis of “neurotheology” thus far represents is truly astounding and intriguing, and deserves further development, consideration, and scientific studying. An afterthought to this concept challenges the reader to take this information beyond the confines of their “ego.” It is considered by Professor Murphy, and all ancient ideologies that believe in reincarnation, that while the cognitive “soul” does survive death, it survives as a repertoire of karmic brain states, and that it does not carry any individualized traits that would be considered as an “ego.” Instead, the individual characteristics of the ego represent the context of each soul’s life cycle.
The idea of reincarnation is one of the oldest theological beliefs of all humankind, but still the question remains: Is it a belief, or a matter or physics? The hypothesis at hand suggests it is a combination of both.