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Research papers
(updated 09/17/17)

NDEs and the Neural Correlates of Consciousness: slides presented at the 2017 IANDS Conference (Westminster, Colorado, August 2017)

NDEs and the Neural Correlates of Consciousness
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

NDEs & the Neural Correlates of Consciousness
The phenomenology of near-death experiences (NDEs) strongly suggests the existence of a separate, autonomous mind or psyche. In an NDE, the mind exists and operates independent of the physical brain and body, having (1) a sense of separation from the body, with freedom from pain and disabilities; (2) lucid thought processes and hyperreal perceptions with veridical information beyond ordinary physical senses and prior knowledge; (3) real, albeit subtle, interactions with physical processes; and (4) accurate memory recall of past events and the formation of vivid, indelible memories of NDE events. In some cases, the mind entity can be seen and heard objectively by others at a distance from the body. If the mind entity is real, there should be ample evidence of its presence in brain processes during ordinary waking consciousness. We propose that the two neural correlates of the mind-brain interface are (1) the characteristic pauses in neural activation seen in brain EEG and MEG recordings, indicating mental activity during such cases as perception, language comprehension and working memory; and (2) the characteristic increases in neural activation in progressive brain regions, indicating the process of the mental content coming to consciousness from unconscious detection to full awareness. We present examples of interpreting patterns in EEG and MEG recordings in rapid visual categorization, auditory and visual language comprehension and face recognition tasks. The mind-entity hypothesis has greater explanatory power over physicalist brain-production theories in explaining not only the phenomena associated with NDEs but also ordinary neurological phenomena like perception and language comprehension, as well as a number of the enigmas of consciousness, such as the “hard problem” and the “binding problem.”

Color slides (PDF, 3.2 MB, 36 pages). Video of this presentation (58 min).


Unraveling the Mystery of Memory through Near-Death Experiences: slides presented at the 2016 IANDS Conference (Orlando, Florida, July 2016)

Unraveling the Mystery of Memory through Near-Death Experiences
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

Unravelling the Mystery of MemoryNear-death experiencers (NDErs) report that the memory of their NDE is more vivid and lucid than ordinary memories. Two recent analyses of NDE memories showed that they have significantly more characteristics, like visual details, memory clarity, self-referential information (being involved in the event) and emotional content than both memories of real events and imagined events. In addition, the EEG patterns in NDErs differ significantly in several characteristics when the NDErs recall their NDE than non-NDErs when they recall real or imagined events. The hypothesis that the non-material mind separates from the physical body during an NDE is consistent with these findings. According to the hypothesis, when the mind is separated from the body, sensations are experienced directly rather than through the physical senses and the memories are recorded directly in the mind rather than through the hippocampus. The recall of NDE memories would then use different pathways and electrical patterns than ordinary recall of episodic memories. Indeed, we hypothesize that the recall of NDE memories involves an altered state of consciousness which is more like a re-living of the experience than simply recalling a series of events. The evidence from NDEs supports the idea that memories in general are stored in the non-material mind rather than as pattern encodings in neural structures. Ordinary episodic memories are recorded in the mind through pathways in the hippocampus and are recalled again from the mind through reverse hippocampal pathways that reactivate the same sensory and mental neural components, but at a lower intensity.

Color slides (PDF, 8.5 MB, 32 pages). Video of this presentation (55 min).


 Published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, 33(3), 125-149 (2015).

Explaining Near-Death Experiences: Physical or Non-physical Causation?
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

ABSTRACT: A recent comparison of near-death experiences (NDEs) occurring with life-threatening events leading to coma to “NDE-like” experiences occurring with non-life-threatening events showed no significant difference in intensity or content between the two experiences, suggesting that neither the apparent proximity to death nor the specific physiological or psychological factors present influence quality or “depth” of such experiences. This study directly contradicts previous findings of significantly more enhanced perception of light and enhanced cognitive powers in near-death experiencers (NDErs) very close to death compared to those not in danger of dying. We argue that findings of the recent study are more valid due to more appropriate methodology. The general assumption has been that NDEs result from some physical cause that brings people close to death, but such explanations are problematic. An adequate scientific explanation of NDEs needs to be complete, accounting for all aspects of all NDEs. The commonality among NDEs occurring in a wide range of conditions suggests that there is a common underlying “proximate cause” to all NDEs. The proximate cause could be physiological, for example, a common brain circuit in a particular brain region, or non-physiological, for example, the separation of consciousness as an autonomous entity from the physical body. We argue that the latter hypothesis has greater explanatory power, although it posits elements beyond the current physicalist paradigm. Which explanation of NDEs is correct will be resolved only with further scientific investigation.

Reprint: PDF (0.6 MB, 25 pages).


The Importance of Veridical Perceptions and Veridical Information in NDEs: slides presented at the 2015 IANDS Conference (San Antonio, Texas, September 2015)

The Importance of Veridical Perceptions and Veridical Information in Near-Death Experiences
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

Importance of Veridical Perceptions slidesInvestigation of apparently non-physical veridical perceptions (AVPs) during NDEs has been the subject of much experimental and phenomenological research since 1988. Jan Holden’s study (2006/2009) showed that over 90% of cases of AVPs from NDE literature were completely accurate. The multi-hospital AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study of NDEs during cardiac arrest has a major objective of detecting possible AVPs of hidden visual targets. It is important now to look systematically at AVP cases in detail, to include only cases of AVPs that were independently verified to researchers by another person and to include important recent cases. With the sheer number of AVP cases, the weight of the evidence becomes daunting to those who would dismiss the fact that AVPs occur. By grouping similar cases into phenomenological clusters, such as perceptions during cardiac arrest and perceptions beyond the reach of physical senses, a more thorough examination of possible causes becomes possible. Physical explanations that cover all cases of AVPs then become more difficult, especially for a number of the favorite physical explanations of AVPs or that the perceptions were due to hallucinations, fabrication or confabulation of information derived from other sources. Many types of AVPs would require physical explanations that are highly questionable. However, with the weight of many types of AVPs, a strong case can be made for the idea that NDEs involve the actual separation of consciousness from the physical body and may lead to the correct conception of the mind relative to the physical body and to physical reality.

Color slides (PDF, 0.7 MB, 27 pages). Video of this presentation (66 min).


What Medical Neuroscience Can Learn from Near-Death Experiences: slides presented at the 2014 IANDS Conference (Newport Beach, California, August 2014)

What Medical Neuroscience Can Learn from Near-Death Experiences: Clinical and scientific perspectives
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

What Medical Neuroscience Can LearnRobert and Suzanne Mays present how near-death experiences (NDEs) and shared-death experiences (SDEs) provide several lines of evidence that suggest that consciousness separates from the brain and body during these experiences. The mind-entity hypothesis proposes that the “mind” is an objective, autonomous entity that can separate from and operate independent of the brain. When united with the brain, the mind can interact with the brain’s physical processes. The mind is the person’s seat of consciousness. Robert and Suzanne propose an interface of the mind with the brain which can explain a number of open questions about consciousness and specific neurological dysfunctions such as Alzheimer’s disease, addictions and aphasia. They also have suggestions for developing or enhancing neurological treatment and therapies.

Color slides (PDF, 1.4 MB, 28 pages). Video of this presentation here (59 min).

Solving the Mystery of Consciousness through Near-Death Experiences: slides presented in a workshop at the 2013 IANDS Conference (Arlington, Virginia, August-September 2013)

Solving the Mystery of Consciousness through Near-Death Experiences: Evidence from NDEs for how consciousness works
Robert G. Mays, Suzanne B. Mays, Kenneth Arnette and Eben Alexander

Solving the Mystery of ConsciousnessThe nature of consciousness – how consciousness can arise from matter – is a mystery to materialist reductionist science. Near-death experiences (NDEs) provide key insights into how the “hard problem of consciousness” can be solved – consciousness appears to operate independent of the brain. The problem that must now be solved is: how does consciousness work with the brain? In this workshop, we will explore the 3 main theories that are currently proposed: (1) the theory of essence (Kenneth Arnette), (2) the mind-entity theory (Robert and SuzWorkshop discussionanne Mays) and (3) the theory of non-local consciousness (Pim van Lommel and others, with commentary by Eben Alexander). In the workshop, there will be ample opportunity for discussion among presenters and participants, and questions and answers.


Workshop discussion: (l-r) Eben Alexander, Robert Mays, Kenneth Arnette, Suzanne Mays.

Color slides (PDF, 1.7 MB, 42 pages). Video presentation to come.

The Future of NDE and Consciousness Research: slides presented at 2012 IANDS Conference (Scottsdale, Arizona, August 2012)

The Future of NDE and Consciousness Research: Using the transcendent content of NDEs to fathom the mysteries of reality
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

Future of NDE and Consciousness ResearchNDE research can make progress by examining the “transcendent” content of NDEs. Four key anchor points in NDEs convey veridical information: (1) perceptions of the earthly realm, (2) communications from apparently deceased persons, (3) presentations during the life review, and (4) precognitive visions that are later proven correct. The veridical character of the information and the nearly universal experience of the hyper-reality of the NDE support the notion that the NDE is a veridical experience throughout. Thus a systematic investigation of the transcendent content of NDEs should be a fruitful research direction. The “hard problem of consciousness” is to explain how neural brain activity can produce subjective phenomenal experience, such as the experience of the quality of red. Evidence from the NDE suggests that the “mind” is an autonomous, non-material energetic entity that is ordinarily united with the brain but separates from it in the NDE. Because the “mind” is the seat of consciousness and works with the brain, the “hard problem” can be solved. The biggest challenge for this research area is to explain how the non-material mind interacts with the brain. Progress is being made in this area. A related problem is more fundamental – what is the ultimate nature of reality? Again the NDE and NDErs can provide a direction for the “harder problem of reality”: Which is more fundamental, the physical or the transcendent? NDErs give a nearly unanimous response: the transcendent realm of the NDE is fundamental and more real than the physical realm. Three paranormal phenomena that occur as aftereffects in NDErs are worth studying to understand the nature of reality: psychokinesis, precognition and teleportation. The tentative model is: there are two realms of existence, with the physical supervenient (dependent) on the transcendent.

Color slides (PDF, 1.2 MB, 32 pages). Video of this presentation here (62 min).


NDE Physical Interaction and NDE Aftereffects: slides presented at 2011 IANDS Conference (Durham, North Carolina, September 2011)

A Theory of Physical Interaction in NDE that Explains NDE Aftereffects
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

We present a theory of consciousness that the human being consists of a non-material mind united with the brain. This theory is based on evidence of physical interactions in NDE, which shows (1) how the non-material mind can interact with neural structures in the cortex, (2) how the non-material mind can interact with physical processes during an NDE and (3) how specific NDE aftereffects can be explained, such as anomalous electromagnetic interactions, physiological sensitivities and paranormal abilities. We also address how the non-material mind, as the seat of consciousness of a person, resolves the “hard problem” of consciousness and how the mind is fundamentally “localized”, but also possesses “non-local” properties.

Color slides (PDF, 1.6 MB, 31 pages). Video of this presentation here (4 parts, 58 min total).


Theory of mind and brain: article (September 2011, revised December 2011).

A theory of mind and brain that solves the hard problem of consciousness
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

ABSTRACT: We propose that the “mind” is an energetic, spatially extended, nonmaterial entity that is united with the brain and body. The mind is a separate entity having the character of a structured energy field, which can interact with physical processes including brain neurons. The nonmaterial mind is also the seat of conscious experience. The mind interacts directly with cortical neurons, probably via electrical interaction, resulting in both subjective phenomenal experience and causal influence on neurological processes. All cognitive faculties reside in the mind but ordinarily need the brain's neural activity for conscious awareness. When brain structures are damaged, mental faculties dependent on them are partially or totally impaired. The main evidence for this view are phenomena from near-death experiences and various neurological phenomena, in particular phantom limbs. This theory solves the “hard problem” of how phenomenal experience can arise from physical brain activity: conscious experience depends on a second entity with physical attributes – the conscious mind – which interacts with the brain to produce phenomenal experience. Experiences of qualia, such as redness, are an effect in the mind resulting from electrical activity in specific regions of the brain. The unity of consciousness results from the unity of the mind's “field of consciousness”: phenomenal states are unified in the mind as subject. Causal closure of the physical is maintained but the domain of “the physical” must necessarily be expanded. Mind is a fundamental entity, a new dimension of reality.

(PDF 0.5 MB, 25 pages). Video presentation of this paper here (4 parts, 58 min total).

Mystery of physical interaction: slides presented at 2010 IANDS Conference (Denver, Colorado, September 2010)

The mystery of physical interaction in near-death experience:  implications for understanding consciousness
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

The mystery of physical interaction in near-death experienceSlide presentation on evidence of physical interactions during NDE OBE and in phantom limbs and the implications for how the non-material energetic mind interacts with the brain. Presented at the 2010 IANDS Conference (Denver, September 2-4, 2010).

Color slides (PDF, 38 MB, 28 pages) and hand outs (two slides per page, PDF, 32 MB, 14 pages).


Theory of mind: poster presented at Toward a Science of Consciousness conference (Tucson, Arizona, April 13-17, 2010).

A theory of mind-and-brain that solves the "hard problem"
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

ABSTRACT: We propose that the human being consists of (1) an energetic, spatially extended, non-material “mind” that is united with (2) a material brain and body. The mind is a “field of consciousness”; it is non-material (does not consist of material atoms) but rather is a structured, energetic region of space that can interact with physical processes, in particular with neurons, and thus has physical attributes. The mind is united and co-extensive with the brain and body and interacts directly with the brain, probably via electrical interactions with cortical and other dendritic structures.

2010 Tucson Conference Poster PaperThe mind is the seat of conscious experience. All cognitive faculties (perception, thinking, feelings, volition, memory and self-awareness) reside in the non-material mind entity, not in the brain. However, the mind ordinarily is completely dependent on brain structures and neural activity for consciousness. Mental events become conscious only when there is sufficient electrical brain activity. If the electrical activity is not sufficient, the percept or other mental event remains subliminal. On the other hand, the mind can initiate electrical brain activity and thereby serves as the agent that initiates volitional activity, exerts “mental force”, alters brain neural patterns plastically, and is the unified phenomenal field resulting in the sense of the unity of consciousness.

When brain structures are damaged, mental faculties dependent on them are partially or totally impaired, due to interference with the interface between the neurons and the mind. The field of the mind has an internal structure which corresponds to the cortical and other neural structures of the brain. In fact, it is likely that the internal structure of the mind’s field directly maps to the neural structure throughout the body. The mind depends on brain neural activity in particular cortical locations for particular cognitive functions.

In support of this theory, we provide evidence from near-death experiences (NDEs), the aftereffects of NDEs and from various neurological phenomena. In particular, we provide evidence of interaction of the non-material mind entity with physical processes, in NDE and phantom limb phenomena.

2010 Tucson Conference Poster with Dave ChalmersThis theory solves the “hard problem” of how conscious experience can arise from physical brain activity – conscious experience depends on a second entity with physical attributes, the conscious mind, which interacts with the brain to produce phenomenal experience. Subjective experiences of qualia are an effect in the mind resulting from neural electrical activity in specific regions of the brain. A philosophical zombie duplicate of a person is impossible because a physical duplicate would necessarily include a conscious mind as well as a physical body and thus would entail conscious experience. The unity of consciousness results from the unity of the mind’s “field of consciousness”. The mind is the subject in whom phenomenal states are unified.

All interactions in the mind have two sides: they entail both phenomenal experience and a physical causal role. Physical causal closure is maintained because the mind is a non-material entity with physical attributes, whose structures can act causally on neural processes. The domain of what constitutes “the physical” must necessarily be expanded.

(PDF 1.1 MB, 10 pages). See also our Introduction for details of this theory.


NDEs and consciousness: slides presented at 2009 IANDS Conference (San Diego, California, October 2009)

What NDEs tell us about consciousness
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

What NDEs tell us about consciousnessSlide presentation overview of our current theory of the self-conscious mind, presented at the 2009 IANDS Conference in San Diego, CA, October 16-17. Color slides (PDF, 10.7 MB, 19 slides) and hand outs (PDF, 5 MB, 10 pages).




Published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, 27(1), 5-45 (2008).

The phenomenology of the self-conscious mind
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

ABSTRACT: The phenomenon of a near-death experiencer’s veridical perceptions during the out-of-body experience (OBE) strongly suggests the existence of a self-conscious mind as a ‘‘field of consciousness,’’ a region of space where a person’s consciousness exists. In the out-of-body state, the mind appears to be nonmaterial and completely independent of the physical body. Ordinarily, though, the self-conscious mind appears as an autonomous entity united with the brain and body. In this united state, the self-conscious mind operates through the mediation of the brain. This view is supported by evidence from neurological phenomena such as subjective antedating of sensory experiences and mental force. This evidence suggests that a nonneural agency induces conscious experience and self-conscious awareness. Phenomena from OBEs, including apparent subtle interactions with physical processes such as light, sound, and physical objects, as well as reported interactions with ‘‘in-body’’ persons, support the view that the self-conscious mind is able to interact in some physical way with the brain. Neurological phenomena such as Benjamin Libet’s (1985) delayed awareness of willed action can be reconsidered successfully in light of this view. Such efforts might also prove useful, for example, in explaining phantom limb phenomena.

Reprint (PDF, 250 KB, 41 pages)


Phantom limb research: poster presented at the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference (Tucson, Arizona, April 8-12, 2008).

Phantom limb "touch" suggests that a "mind-limb" extends beyond the physical body
Robert G. Mays and Suzanne B. Mays

ABSTRACT:
 
A phantom limb is the vivid subjective experience of the presence of a limb that is absent congenitally or through amputation. The phenomenon of phantom limb "touch" has not been reported to our knowledge. We have completed exploratory experiments with subject M.G., a 56-year-old, college educated woman with congenital unilateral adactylia (missing five fingers of the left hand). In many respects, M.G. experiences her phantom fingers in the same way as other phantom limb subjects. However, she also reports physical sensations in her finger buds, palm and arm (tingling, warmth, pressure) when her phantom fingers are "touched" by an object or by her right hand. When "touched" on the head by M.G., other people report feeling warmth and pressure, and seeing inner visual images (e.g., a dark circle with a white ring of light) which are reminiscent of visual sensations evoked by electrical brain stimulation,

2008 Tucson Conference Poster PaperIn earlier work (Mays and Mays, 2008), we postulated that the self-conscious mind (SCM) is an autonomous "field of consciousness" which ordinarily is united with and operates through the mediation of the brain, but which separates from the body in the near-death experience (NDE). This view is supported by evidence from NDEs and from various neurological phenomena. NDE phenomena include apparent subtle interactions with physical processes (light, sound, surfaces), including interactions with "in-body" persons, suggesting that the non-material SCM is able to interact in some physical way with brain neurons.

Since the SCM in this view is a spatially extended field, coextensive with the physical body, then in the absence of a physical limb, a part of the SCM will still project beyond the stump as a kind of "mind-limb" which is experienced as a phantom limb. The spatial region of the phantom/mind-limb then should exhibit some of the properties of the SCM "body" in the NDE out-of-body experience, such as subtle interactions when a physical object enters the spatial region of the phantom, possibly causing physical sensations in the body, and subtle interactions of the phantom limb with another person's physical body, which could be felt by the other person. 

In our experiments with M.G., we found preliminary evidence supporting both of these properties. M.G. reports physical sensations in her finger buds, in her left palm, along the left arm and in a specific spot in her upper left arm, when her phantom fingers are "touched", and presents objective physiological reactions (increased skin color, twitching of the finger buds). Other people reported subtle but definite physiological sensations (warmth, pressure in the head and sinuses, unusual inner visual images) when "touched" on the face or back of the head by M.G.’s phantom fingers. The visual images include shadows, light, dark circle with white ring, gradually progressing oblique white lines forming a sword-like shape, gradually forming channel rising from abdomen up and ending with bright white light in the head, and arcs of colored light rising up with changing colors.

In this paper, we present the detailed phenomenology of phantom limb "touch" and address alternate explanations.
(PDF 3.3MB, 12 pages).


Original paper: submitted for consideration to the Journal of Near-Death Studies on October 22, 2006. The recommendation was to reduce the paper considerably and revise the neurologically based arguments, which we have done. The original paper is now out of date.

The phenomenology of the independent self-conscious mind (original draft, PDF 530K, 47 pages)
Robert G. Mays, B.Sc., and Suzanne B. Mays, A.A., CMP

ABSTRACT: The out-of-body phase of the near-death experience, where the locus of awareness is no longer in the body, provides details of the phenomenon of the independent self-conscious mind. With these details, one can isolate the attributes and faculties of the self-conscious mind from those of the brain. The phenomenology of the out-of-body experience thus acts as a Rosetta stone in deciphering mind-body phenomena. This view is very similar to the dualist interactionist model of Popper and Eccles (1977) but with several differences. Counterintuitive mind-body phenomena such as antedating and apparent delays in awareness of voluntary actions can be reassessed, showing that the non-material mind is accessible to scientific study. The objection that the operation of a non-material self-conscious mind within the brain violates the current laws of physics is probably correct: the independent self-conscious mind constitutes a new dimension of reality and current physical laws need to be extended, as they have been in the past, to encompass the new phenomena. The laws of mind and the mind’s relationship to the physical dimension of reality need to be investigated scientifically. The proper way to do this is to investigate the phenomena of mind and body in detail. Consideration of the independent self-conscious mind in mind-body phenomena should give useful insights into a number of ordinary mental phenomena such as memory processes, and into solutions to problems such as effective strategies for treatment of autistic spectrum disorders or for rehabilitation from stroke.



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