Pim Van Lommel - Consciousness and the Near Death Experience
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome once more to conscious.tv. My name is Iain McNay and my guest today is Pim Van Lommel. Hi Pim.
Pim: Hi. [Laughs.]
Iain: We're in Amsterdam - we're doing a day of filming here - Pim is from Holland and he was a cardiologist. He's now retired, but these days he's really interested in the relationship between consciousness and the brain and has done a lot of research into near death experience. And he's written a book which was a bestseller in Holland [holds book up]. That's the Dutch version and it's also out in English [holds English version up]. It's called, Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near Death Experience; he also has an important article in a journal called, Journal of Consciousness Studies, [which] came out quite recently. So, Pim, let's start with - if you like - your story.
You were working as a cardiologist and you were obviously faced with sickness and death a lot. And to start with, it must be quite hard to be in that situation, you care for people and they die. That must be quite a strain, isn't it? Working in those conditions?
Pim: Well. A lot of people survive as well [laughs]. But still, cardiac arrest and coronary artery disease and heart disease... a lot of people will die as well. The problem is mostly when there are young people. That's harder to... and to have to discuss this with the family as well, when there is certain death at [a] young age. It's difficult, rather... difficult to do. But, cardiology has changed so enormously in the last 50 years. Heart disease was just congenital heart disease, valvular heart disease until '67! And then started coronary heart disease and the possibility to treat it, which [is] still just a very young specialisation.
Iain: So a turning point in your life, in your career, was you read a book by George Ritchie.
Iain: He's somebody who I think had a near death experience and survived it and that got you thinking, didn't it?
Pim: Yes. The first time I ever met a patient who talked about his near death experience was [in] '69. [Even then], near death experiences were not known to terminology... [it-] was Raymond Moody [who coined this terminology] in his book, Life after Life in '75...
Iain: Ah, I remember, yes,yes.
Pim: ...but I hadn't read it and it was not published in '69. So, we should remember that coronary care units, at least in Holland, started in '67. Before '67, we couldn't do body resuscitation; we couldn't do electrical defibrillation; you couldn't do external chest massage; so that was [totally] new. Before '67 - 45 years ago - all patients died with cardiac arrest. So coronary care units were [totally] new and in my hospital… in the training hospital for cardiology - [I] was just a very young doctor - we had the third coronary care unit in Holland, where I started to work.
And then a patient had a cardiac arrest and the resuscitation team came, I was one of them, and we started to resuscitate the patient, we several times did defibrillation and after about four minutes the patient regained consciousness. And we, at resuscitation, were very, very happy that we had succeeded... [but] the patient was extremely disappointed, and he told me about beautiful light, and a tunnel and beautiful landscape. And I always say, "I've never forgotten this event", but I didn't do anything with it, because I didn't know that these kinds of experiences could happen. In our university and also at the medical school, we had learned that consciousness [is] a product of brain function.
Iain: But what was your first reaction when the patient told you this?
Pim: Surprised, very surprised. But I didn't know anything about [the] near death experience or that it could be possible. The only thing we knew, that as long as we believed that consciousness [is] a product of brain function, it should be impossible to experience consciousness during cardiac arrest. But I forgot it; I was a young doctor, I had a specialisation, etc.
And then in '86 I read a book by George Ritchie, Return from Tomorrow, where he writes about his near death experience in 1943, when he died as a medical student by double pneumonia and he didn't receive antibiotics. They were not available, hardly available, so he died. His body was covered with a sheet. And the nurse couldn't accept that this young medical student [had] died, so persuaded the doctor to give him an injection of adrenaline right to his heart, which was quite uncommon in '43. But after a death of nine minutes he regained consciousness, and had an extremely intense near death experience with many, many aspects.
And as a medical doctor, he talked about it in university to medical students, and one of his medical students was Raymond Moody. It was also from Raymond Moody the stimulus to start studying these kinds of experiences and he called them 'near death experiences'.
So after reading this book, by George Ritchie, I just started to ask my patients, who had survived a cardiac arrest, if they could remember something of their period of unconsciousness, of the period of cardiac arrest. And to my big surprise, within two years, 12 out of [the] 50 patients [who] I asked - they were 50 patients [who] had survived a cardiac arrest in the past - 12 out of them told me about their near death experiences.
And then my scientific curiosity started to grow because according to our current medical knowledge it's impossible to have consciousness let alone enhanced consciousness [and] the possibility of perception, during cardiac arrest. So, then in '88 we started a prospective study, a field of 44 consecutive patients, who had survived cardiac arrest, to find out if there could be an explanation why patients have these kinds of experiences and bout the cause and content of the NDE; because until that time there had only been retrospective studies, which means a high selection of patients who report an NDE, because mostly people are silent about it, so they don't come to you to talk about it.
Iain: So why are people silent most of the time?
Pim: They are silent because, first of all, it's such an overwhelming experience that doesn't fit in our current worldview that they are overwhelmed themselves and when they try to talk about it, [people] say, "Oh,[it's] just an hallucination"; "Oh... tomorrow it's over"; "[It's] just [a] side-effect of drugs", So, in the medical world, it's not accepted these kinds of experiences, because we cannot explain it. So, those retrospective studies [are] highly selective for patients and it's very hard after twenty or thirty years to find out exactly the medical conditions where those experiences occurred. So, [there] had never been done a real prospective study, which means that when patients have survived a cardiac arrest, within several days, we asked them if they could remember something of the period of unconsciousness and then we noted all the medical conditions, the medication and all the other demographic factors to find out if we could find an explanation, if this patient had a NDE... if we could explain it.
Iain: Mm. So you must have got more and more fascinated by this...
Pim: Oh yes.
Iain: ...because OK you get one story and you were surprised, but then when you got... because 12 out of 50 is nearly a quarter, nearly 25 per cent, it starts to become significant.
Pim: Exactly, but that is still a selective group of patients because... you just ask them, the patients I meet at my out-patient clinic. But, when you talk to patients with a NDE, if they are willing to share it with you, it's such an emotional account that they tell you... they still... [are] very emotional. But I now have met patients who had a NDE 50 years ago and when they start to talk about it, it's like it happened yesterday, with all the emotions.
Iain: Really? So they still feel the emotions at the time...?
Pim: It's the most impressive experience of their life. Always.
Pim: Yes. Always. It's always there.
Iain: Mm... we'll come on in a few minutes to actually what happens in a NDE and what some of those experiences were, but I'm interested in pursuing first of all... the process where it changed your view of reality; you say in the book [that] it raised questions for you, like “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is the universe made of?” So, it triggered something fundamental inside you, didn't it?
Pim: Yes, but that was not in the first years of the prospective study. It changed slowly, when I studied more about it, when I thought more about it, when I met more and more people with NDEs. So first for me, it was the scientific curiosity that it should be impossible to have these experiences, and it still happened. And later on, there came all the other aspects as well.
Iain: OK. So, let's go to... what actually is a 'near death experience', both from the physical side and the details of how somebody has the experience of it.
Pim: Well, so sometimes people report an extraordinary conscious experience during a critical medical situation, like a cardiac arrest. And the near death experience is the report of memory of this exceptional conscious experience with universal elements, like being out of the body. They don't have any physical pain any more. They have the idea they're dead… “[Am I] dead or not?” And when they have an out of body experience, they have the possibility to have a perception out and above the body and they perceive their lifeless body whether [in] resuscitation, or operation, or traffic accident, or whatever.
And then sometimes they can come in a dark room and go through a tunnel to the light and an otherworldly dimension with beautiful landscapes, and beautiful colours, beautiful music. And they can meet a light or being of light, and with this being of light there is unconditional love and wisdom. You get all the answers before asking the questions. It's incredible for them. And in this atmosphere of unconditional love, they see a life review, that they relive their whole life, and I'll come to it later...
Sometimes they can see a flash-forward, a preview of their future life events. And there can be deceased relatives, and come to a border, and last they have a conscious return into their sick body, which is awful for them. So these are the universal elements.
And these near death experiences are reported in cardiac arrests, or patients in [a] coma, through traffic accident or cerebral haemorrhage. You can have it [due to] shock... loss of blood around childbirth [with] young women. You can have it in near drowning for children. You can have it in severe traffic accidents, which is a fear death experience, so you're not really dead. You can also have it in severe diseases, not really life-threatening, and you can have it in, let's say, severe depression, or meditation, or in isolation. So you don't need a non-functioning brain to have these kinds of experiences.
They have been mentioned in all times, in all cultures, in all religions. Plato has written about it 2000 years ago and the Sultan of Arabia who had a classical NDE, and it has been described in the Upanishads, and the Hindus and the Tibetans... So I didn't know that all the mystical or religious experiences... the middle ages, also, have these kinds, described these same kinds of experiences.
Iain: I'm just going to stop you there... because there [are] a lot of experiences that you've covered. So the first stage, or possibility, is that they leave their body.
Iain: So let's say consciousness has left the physical body, and I know [from] so many accounts in the book, you talk about, they're in the operating theatre, and they can see their body, they can see the nurses and doctors around the body, and they're observing what's happening to their body. So that's one stage. And that's similar, I guess, to an out of body experience. People will have an out of body experience...
Iain: ...where they can leave their body and see - not only their body - they can travel, look at other places ...
Pim: Yes, absolutely.
Iain: ...so you've got that. And then you've got for some people the process, where they go further, through a tunnel...
Iain: ...and they see a light and then they might also see dead relatives, what they feel are dead relatives, and can communicate with them... and then you also mentioned about memories of their life and about a possible future. So, tell me more about that, how you see that, because...
Pim: Yeah, what do you want to hear about...?
Iain: About the memories that...
Pim: Well, the experience that all acts, or words, and all thoughts you ever had are kept, with the influence of others. So, they say... it's like I see there [are] all-seeing eyes; you experience every act from the past, even as a young child or as a baby. You experience also what happened to the people surrounding those acts and so when you took some plaything from your little sister, you feel how awful it was for her. You feel her sorrow. You're connected with everybody in the past as well and you see that, if you gave love, or if you didn't give love, which is the most important thing [they report] when they come back.
It's about the intention of your thoughts and words and acts which is important, trying to give love. So it's the life inside experience as well. You really experience how you lived. That's an insight. It's thought condemnation, or whatever. But, you know now how you lived and how you should change if you would love to do it better.
Iain: So, your inside experience and through that, as you say, you then have some kind of ability to see where you could handle things differently in the future, if you come back… and how you would have a different way of handling the same experience and living your life.
Pim: Yeah, but what they experience [is] that you're connected with everybody else and this connection is always there. You're also still connected with deceased relatives. You're always connected, so... sometimes people tell me it's about an experience of unity, an experience of oneness and when they come back they still have this same kind of feeling that you're connected with everything and everybody, with the planet Earth, with nature, whatever. You're always one with them.
Iain: See, I want to come back to my previous question to you, about the effect it's had on you because here you are, a conventional doctor, a cardiologist and, you're medically trained and to have this possibility open to you is so different from the way you lived your life I presume, and also your training.
Pim: Yes. It changed me a lot.
Iain: It must have, yeah...
Pim: It really did. It changed me a lot. I always say that people with a NDE who were willing to share it, their experience with me, were my greatest teachers.
Iain: It must be very touching also to...
Pim: It's very touching... it's very emotional and they're so reluctant to share it with you. When I ask them, "Do you remember something from your period of unconsciousness?" They say, "No". Or you say, "Why?" And then you know it will take at least an hour [laughs].
Iain: OK. So, they're shy, I suppose and they...
Pim: Oh very, because of all the negative responses they get. There's so much prejudice, so many comments they get about these kinds of experiences. For most medical doctors it's impossible that they have these kinds of experiences so they don't accept it as well.
It doesn't fit with our ideas. So, I always say, these kinds of experiences where you listen to those patients and where you hear hundreds and hundreds of those patients, and I've written accounts of more than [a] thousands of those people... then you have to reconsider again the never proven assumption that consciousness is a product of brain function because [if] consciousness [were] a product of brain function, it should be impossible to have an enhanced consciousness during cardiac arrest, with self-identity, with cognition, with emotions, with [the] possibility of perception, with memories; and also impossible to have the conscious return into the body. It's impossible with our current medical knowledge. So, that was a challenge for me as well.
Iain: And you also said in the book, [which] I thought was interesting, that people that had those experiences, most of them, lost their fear of death, because obviously, they'd had an insight into what possibly happens when they die, so they realise they're not just rooted to this body in this lifetime.
Pim: So, death happened to be not death at all. It was another way of life. So, there's no death any more for them. It's...
Iain: There's no death for them?
Pim: No death for them. So, they're convinced that there's a continuity of their consciousness. They're convinced of it, because they experienced it.
Pim: They know [laughs]. It's not a belief any more. They know.
Iain: Yeah, I'm looking for a quote here from [your] book that one person said, “My body, my life, and the whole world suddenly hit me like a prison”. I thought that was interesting. So they realised the restriction of the physical form and not only the physical form, but the mental attitude of society and their emotional restrictions.
Pim: When they have the conscious return into their body they have [a] huge problem because they are too much extended in their consciousness to fit in this small body, which still has the problem with the disease as well. When you had a heart attack, you have the pain again. Where you have a traffic accident, or where you have a cerebral haemorrhage... there are so many limitations in your body and you were, just a few minutes ago, without any limitations at all.
Iain: Now there is - you were saying in the book - a small percentage of patients who find it frightening.
Pim: Yes. Well, first of all let's say that what we found in our study of 40-44 consecutive patients who survived cardiac arrest, [is] that 18 per cent of those patients reported clear memory and near death experience of the period of cardiac arrest, and 82 per cent did not have any memories at all. So the first thing we wanted to know [was]: could there be an explanation why only 18 per cent have these memories, this near death experience? And to our big surprise, there was no difference at all between the group of patients with, or without a NDE in their duration of cardiac arrest, two minutes, or eight minutes, to just how much lack of oxygen there was in the brain... It didn't matter at all if you [were] unconscious for five minutes, or three weeks in [a] coma, it didn't matter at all. They give you medication... [it] didn't matter at all. If sometimes electrophysiological stimulation in the cath lab where you resuscitate patients after induced cardiac arrest within 30 seconds... [it] didn't matter at all. Pre-knowledge about these kinds of experiences, fear of death, or religion and education... [it] didn't matter at all.
So, the surprising finding in our study was that until that time it was always said these kinds of experiences are just caused by [a] lack of oxygen in the brain, they're just hallucinations, just side-effects of drugs, it's just [a] psychological explanation. We could tell now, because we could do statistical analysis in this study, that there is no explanation why people have the NDE and we could exclude physiological, psychological, pharmacological explanations, which was very important.
And then you found all the classical elements. In our study, we didn't find frightening NDEs, but I know quite a few patients who had a frightening NDE. But first of all, about 15 per cent of patients who have a positive NDE have a frightening moment where they are in a dark room. That dark room is frightening and then they see a small point light where they are attracted to, which they describe as a tunnel or a spiral or something. So that staying in a dark room is frightening for them, and then later it becomes positive, but perhaps about 1 or 2 per cent of those patients, staying in the dark room, go down, like Dante has written in his Divine Comedy. They can describe the same things as Dante has written. And when they come back... they are afraid of dying again.
Iain: And so, it really does change people's lives, doesn't it? When they get back?
Pim: Yes, so the second part of our study was a longitudinal, or long-term study to see if the changes that people described, let's say the transformations, which [are]: the loss of the fear of death; a new life inside; what is important to life... [and what’s] important to life is unconditional love and compassion, first towards yourself. Accept your own negative aspects as well. This is hard enough. Then, unconditional love and compassion towards others, and towards nature and toward the planet Earth. And the third aspect of transformation, that they are very reluctant to talk about, is the enhanced intuitive sensitivity, which means that they feel what other people feel or think, which is awful for them. They are connected with other people.
So, what we wanted to know was if this kind of transformation is due to the cardiac arrest itself or due to the NDE. That hadn't been studied before in a prospective design, so what we did is, after two years and eight years, we interviewed all patients with a NDE who survived with a matched control group of patients who survived cardiac arrests without a NDE and what we found was only patients with a NDE had this transformation... which is important, because this is [the] objective part of the subjective experience. You can never prove that someone has a subjective experience. We cannot prove what you think, or what you feel; but we can prove the objective transformation and we found that only the patients with a NDE had this classic transformation, which is very intriguing as well.
Iain: Yeah, also it's interesting when you say they feel what the other person is feeling... and that's unsettling for them. I guess it's unsettling because it's unfamiliar to them.
Pim: It's totally unfamiliar. It's totally new for them. The enhanced intuitive sensitivity... we can perhaps come to it later. We can try to explain it now as well. The question is, 'Where is our consciousness?'
Iain: Let's just talk about it now. That's the interesting thing.
Pim: And then we can talk about it later, this enhanced intuitive sensitivity.
Pim: We know, and that's the important aspect of this prospective study with patients with cardiac arrest, because they all have been clinically [dead]. Clinical death is the period of unconsciousness where heartbeat stops, blood pressure stops and breathing stops. And you have to resuscitate them within five to ten minutes, otherwise the brain is so damaged that they all will die because of irreversible trauma to the brain. It's the first stage of dying. They're all dying, these patients, and you have to be very alert to start CPR within several minutes, otherwise you are too late.
So, when we looked at these patients, then we know what the clinical findings [are] they lose consciousness within seconds. Where you measure the blood flow to the carotid arteries, it's a zero within one second. There's no blood flow going through the brain. The clinical findings are [that] the body reflexes are gone, which is a function of the cortex of the brain. The brain stem reflexes are gone, with the gag reflex or the corneal reflex or widened pupils [that] don't react to light any more. The breathing stops; the breathing centre is close to the brain stem. So the clinical findings are [that] there's no function of the total brain any more.
And there have been studies done in induced cardiac arrest in humans... let's say for threshold testing in internal defibrillators, ICTs or in animals as well, where you measure the electrical activity of the brain, of the cortex, the EEG, you find that within 15 seconds, the EEG has flat-lined. So, there's no electrical activity any more. What we know from the clinical findings and these kinds of studies, [is that] the brain function has ceased within 15 seconds and no patients will be resuscitated within 20 seconds. It's always at least 60 to 120 seconds in a well-organised CCUN, on a cardiac ward, or out-of-hospital arrests, it's even much worse.
So, in all the studies - there have been four prospective studies with a total of 562 patients who survived cardiac arrest - we found the same percentage of NDEs and we know that all these patients must have had a flat-line EEG and no function of the total brain. So then, with our current medical knowledge we believe that consciousness [is] a product of brain function. So, it should be impossible that patients should have enhanced consciousness, with the possibility of perceptions and memories etc. It's impossible, but it still happens, so we have to change our ideas about the relationship between consciousness and the brain.
And in my concept, the brain has not a producing function, but a facilitating function, which means that it makes it possible to experience consciousness in your body, which is your waking consciousness and this is only a small part of this enhanced consciousness. And then, [in] this enhanced consciousness that people experience, there is no time and space. It's [a] non local realm… what we know from quantum physics. Everything is always there at the same time. Everything is always connected, without time, without space. No beginning, no end. There's no beginning, nor end to consciousness.
So, this non-local consciousness, or endless consciousness, is always there and we receive, when we are awake, just a small part of this consciousness as our waking consciousness and so part of these memories as well [are] memories we can know. But the brain has a transceiver function. It transcends the information from our body and transcends the information from our sense organs to our consciousness. And we receive information from consciousness into our body. It's [a] kind of interface function. You could compare it also with your computer. There are one billion websites also here in this room at this very moment, but you need an instrument to receive them and you can change the websites as well when you know the codes. So the one billion websites are not produced by your computer; they are received by it. And also, the mobile telephones, there are hundreds of thousands of mobile telephone calls now going through this place where we are here, but we need an instrument to receive them.
Iain: So, what you are saying is that the brain is like a computer or television set...
Iain: ...which on the one hand, is receiving information from our consciousness and on the other hand, is feeding back to the consciousness the sensations that we have...
Iain: ...which begs the obvious question: where is our consciousness? You've mentioned 'non-local'. Just explain more what you mean by 'non-local'.
Pim: Well, you can understand it when I ask you the question, “Where are those one billion websites?”
Iain: Well, they're in a... [laughs]... a lot of them [are]stored in a desert somewhere in America.
Pim: Well, they're just encoded in electromagnetic informational waves so they're always there. And they're...
Iain: The information is stored somewhere tangibly, isn't it? On a drive somewhere...
Pim: So, it's transmitted by the speed of light. But, it's kind of non-local, you can understand it, about the same time, not the same time, about the same [time] you can receive these one billion websites in Australia, China, New York and the United States. It's always there. It's encoded in waves. And so, the non-local consciousness is also encoded in waves. But they are scalar waves, waves of some other, something else... This non-local realm… everything is there, encoded.
And we just can tap from this and when we have more reception ability, the threshold of consciousness can be lower. And it is lower when you had a NDE, which means that you not receive only channel one, your own consciousness, but you also receive channel two, three, four, five (the consciousness of others) and this is what I call the enhanced intuitive sensitivity. You receive information, not by your senses, and not by your body. It's non-local information exchange, and this is the enhanced intuitive sensitivity. People can have prognostic feelings, premonitions; they can know that someone will die in three weeks and, to their surprise, they will die. And you know, most people know about an incoming phone call, you think of someone...
Pim: ...most people have this. But this is also non-local information exchange. You can feel the sorrow of people, you can feel the pain of people, you can know that they have cancer. You don't want to know it. So, when they have had a NDE and this enhanced intuitive sensitivity, they stay at home, because when you go in public transport you feel all those people there, coming in. So, they're very... having this NDE - which is a positive experience - is a trauma. It is a spiritual crisis, which is [a] trauma. They have homesickness for this beautiful experience but they are depressed because they cannot share it with others. And they feel overwhelmed by this enhanced intuitive sensitivity. So, they are lonely as well, and it takes years and years and years to accept this and at subtle stages to integrate it, to change your life as well.
Iain: And you say again in the book, that it's very helpful to have relatives or friends who are sympathetic and understanding because otherwise they feel even more isolated.
Pim: And, that's the practical problem as well, because most friends [and] relatives are not open for it. And the fact is that more than 50 per cent of patients with NDE get a divorce, because the partner says, "It's not the same person I was married with for the last twenty years. He isn't interested in money any more. He isn't interested in power any more. He wants to help people..."
Pim: "...He's not the same person." So, they get a divorce. And so it's a real practical... about 85 per cent of physicians are not open for it. Nurses are a bit better… happily. And it takes years, mostly, to find a person who is open and willing to listen. And, you need to share it to accept it as well, for yourself, because you cannot accept it yourself as well and you think you're crazy. As long as you don't know that this is called a near death experience, [and that] these kinds of experiences are possible, you think you are crazy. And you feel things [you think] you're crazy... so you are totally changed.
Iain: I still want to go back to pursue this question of, where is the consciousness stored?
Iain: Now, I understand you used the term 'non-local', and you've explained briefly what that is, but do you have an understanding, or the beginning of an understanding of how it works, insofar as you, Pim, have got your history and experiences... somewhere it's stored? We know with websites and everything else... We know it's stored on a hard drive somewhere and through a wire, or through the air we're getting that information, yes, but how is it working with us as human beings?
Pim: Yes. Well, I [always] try to understand it when I talk about the gravity fields, which influence our solar system and influence the whole universe. We don't know what it is. We cannot measure it. We only can measure the physical effects of gravitation. It's the same... in the whole universe, there's gravitational fields. So, also the consciousness is everywhere in the universe. And we only can measure the physical effects by neuroimaging techniques like FMRI, or pet-scan, or EEG. But, we cannot measure consciousness itself. We cannot measure the content of consciousness. We cannot measure what you think or what you feel. So, with the current, materialistic science, neuroscience, it's not possible to prove that you have consciousness, or that I have consciousness. And, that's the reason the materialistic scientists call it, unjustly, consciousness is an illusion, because we cannot measure it. So, then this non-local domain, non-local realm, is not in this physical world. It's outside. It's another dimension and like gravitational fields it's always there.
Iain: Could this be dark matter, or dark energy, which they are now just beginning to discover and quantify [a] little bit?
Pim: The problem is we cannot measure it. We can't discuss it. Also, twenty years ago we thought we knew everything about the universe and now we know four per cent is well-known and 96 per cent is dark matter and dark energy. We don't know what it is. We thought that we knew what DNA was. We know that only four per cent of DNA is important for proteins and 96 per cent is called junk DNA because we don't know what it’s really doing. I don't believe that nature makes junk. So, it has a function. For me, DNA has the local interface function in each cell. So, each cell in our body has contact with this non-local field as well. It's always there.
And so, this interface function changes, is enhanced, when you [have] a near death experience. And so, the threshold of... William James, one century ago, already mentioned this threshold of consciousness and that people like Frederick Myers from England and Henri Bergson the philosopher from France, have written [about] this. It's nothing new. And Plato has written about it and [the] Upanishads, 5000 years old, have written about it. It's nothing new. People have always known it because... these kinds of experiences have been there during all times, all religions and all cultures. People have always had these kinds of experiences. So people knew it. And with our current, fantastic medical science, and materialistic science, we have learned a lot, but we have missed a lot as well.
Iain: Yes. The thing that we do know now, and you were talking about this in the book, is that the brain could not possibly... there isn't enough capacity in the brain to hold information from all the experiences that we've had.
Pim: No. No.
Iain: So, physically that throws out the theory that our mind is in our brain and our brain stores all the information. That cannot be the case.
Pim: And a very interesting aspect as well, is neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is that by changing your consciousness, you can change the function and structure of your brain.
Iain: So, talk more about that.
Pim: So, what you call, scientifically, 'non-local perturbation' means that consciousness has [an] effect, has [an] influence on matter. When you do long-term meditation, the structure and the function of your brain is permanently changed. We know it by EEG. But also, a short-term meditation... gives rise to changes. There's been an interesting study done in England by London taxi drivers. They had to learn the London plan.
Iain: That's right, yes.
Pim: It's about three years of hard study to know it. And when they got a scan, they saw that the hippocampus, the part where it plays a role - it's just a correlation for the role of consciousness - was in all these patients, really enlarged. It [had] become bigger, because they have used it more.
It's also interesting in mindfulness training. You change the structure and function of your brain. Interesting also [is the] placebo effect, where you give patients with Parkinson's disease a placebo, and they believe that they get medication, they improve. You see more dopamine in the brain. You see them moving better. You see the change in the brain by FMRI and pet-scan. Where you do chronic pain patients, you give them a placebo, and they believe that they get real medication; you see changes in the brain, exactly the same as [if] they got their medication. When you do it in depression patients, [when they're] really depressed, and they believe that they get medication, you see changes in the brain. Also, with compulsive disorder, [there] have been interesting studies done. So you can change the function and structure of the brain, neuroplasticity, by changes in your consciousness and that could never be possible when just... consciousness is [a] product of brain function.
Iain: Yes, it seems there is two parts for that. There's the belief system and then there's the focus as well, because you ... mentioned about placebo effect, which is more the belief system. It's...
Pim: Which is also creative consciousness... you think something in your consciousness...
Iain: Yes. It's relief in a way...
Pim: ...and it influences your brain.
Iain: Yes. Now, this is a question… maybe it's going to another level. Where is that thought ultimately coming from? Because we've established that...
Pim: You mean, where [is the] consciousness coming from?
Iain: Where is the thought to change something coming from?
Pim: It's always there. But, let's say... you also ask, ”Why do we receive, or have this break in consciousness? The personal consciousness.” When you have a mobile phone, you have a code in it. And that's the reason you only receive your personal phone calls.
Pim: You also have a code in your body, which for me is the DNA. Each person is unique and each DNA is person-specific. So, this is your code for your person-specific consciousness as well, which is a part of this huge whole of non-local consciousness.
Iain: Yes, but I'm wondering, you see, where the motivation comes from? The personal, the individual, the motivation relating to the human being comes from? You know, it's interesting with the taxi drivers... I forget the word the use for it... they call it 'the knowledge', I think, they call it 'the knowledge'... and they do have incredible knowledge, because you get a taxi in London, you probably know this, when... you say a street and they nearly always know where it is, unless it's in the outskirts...
Pim: They know it! [Laughs.] Which is incredible! [Laughs.]
Iain: It is incredible, because you start talking to them, and you know, their knowledge of the world is quite limited. They'll all talk about football, almost without exception, or they'll talk about current affairs or whatever, or their wives and everything, but you don't think these are people with great brains. You are right, they have learnt this knowledge and it's interesting...
Pim: They've trained their brain.
Iain: ...you can quantify that in the brain and that shows...
Pim: The hippocampus, yeah.
Iain: ...shows in the brain.
Pim: Yes. And also, for musicians, you see changes, whether they are violin players, or... you see changes in the brain... these parts of their brain are larger than my, or your brain because they train it.
Pim: The music. They train the muscles, but they train the music as well.
Iain: Yes. Yes, and I think Bruce Lipton talks about this. He calls it ‘Epigenetics' and...
Pim: Epigenetics is somewhat something else...
Iain: Good. Explain that then. How is it different?
Pim: Well, we always thought, since Darwin, that everything is genetic. It's in your DNA. I believe the DNA is the interface, the transceiver. So, DNA can change. They open or close connections in the DNA by influences from outside. This is called Epigenetics. So, when you have influence by your environment, by your grandfather, by your parents, grandparents.... it will change your DNA which can be inherited by your children as well. So, Epigenetic means that influence from outside changes your DNA, which is genetic. So, it's not just inside you, DNA is also influenced by outside factors. And I've written about it as well in my book... about Epigenetics.
Pim: It's a very interesting aspect that we're connected with our environment as well. And it changes also our body. Not only our brain but also our body, our DNA. That's what is called Epigenetics.
Iain: But it comes down to the fact that we have a power to change our potential...
Iain: ...and that's the fascinating thing, and that's what a lot of us, including myself, forget at times that there is an inherent power there.
Pim: And that is... unconscious aspect - like epigenetics is not conscious - but you can also consciously change it by meditation, mindfulness or whatever... by training yourself.
Iain: Yes. I was looking at my notes, though, and I wanted to cover some other things... because I know time is finite and we have to finish in about ten minutes, but I still want to get as much as I can in this programme and you also mention in the book that in a way the near death experience and the concept of non-local and endless consciousness… that explains things like death-bed visions, which we covered with a programme with Peter Fenwick and Conscious TV, heightened intuitive feelings, which you've talked about a little bit, and also remote viewing, which I have always found fascinating and I read this book a few years ago where...
Pim: Stephan Schwartz. By Stephan Schwartz?
Iain: It wasn't Stephan Schwartz. It was somebody else; it was somebody who has worked for the US military and had this...
Iain: I don't know, but he'd been...
Pim: Yeah. I know.
Iain: ...shot. It was friendly fire. He'd been hit on the head, and he was wearing a helmet, so it didn't kill him, but it changed something in the way he saw reality and then he had all kinds of powers, including remote viewing.
Pim: He had the near death experience. I'm quite sure.
Pim: He must have had. So, it changes your reception ability. Well first, when you have the end-of-life experience of death-bed visions.... that people can have in the end stage of their disease,[they] can have also this period of enhanced consciousness. They see their deceased partner, or deceased parents coming together. They see a light, or a tunnel of light. Sometimes, children who are dying see angels. The difference with near death experience is that they have, at the same moment, their waking consciousness and this enhanced consciousness, so they can talk about it at the same moment. When you are unconscious in cardiac arrest, you cannot communicate about it. But end of life experience, you can communicate about, and... sometimes they just say, "Oh, what a beautiful light," and then they die.
So they have the same kind of experiences, and... there's a recent book by Raymond Moody, Shared Death Experiences, [where] people who are at the death bed of their loved relative, who dies, they are taken with their consciousness with the death experience of this dying relative and they go also through the tunnel, to the light. Sometimes, [they] see the life review of the person who just died, but the body is still at the bedside. And then they come back to their consciousness in their body again. They are just normal, healthy people who are - by the love of the dying patient - taken with the death experience, which is the same as the near death experience; [it’s] the [same] content.
And what also can happen is the pre-mortal experience where you are seeing someone, or feeling someone, who is dying at a distance. I know a story from a woman who [was] in a Japanese concentration camp, in the Dutch Indies, in Sumatra; her husband was [in] a Japanese concentration camp in Java, and in the night her husband came to her and said, "Don't worry. I'm fine." And then, six months later, happened to be the exact death moment of her husband... which is a pre-mortal experience. Some people come to visit you to comfort you.
And then you have the post-mortal experience or after-death communication, which is perhaps [a] greater taboo than a near death experience is. People are in contact with the consciousness of deceased relatives in the days, weeks or months after their death... mostly during sleep, but it's not a dream because you never forget it. It's also [a] life-changing experience and they can see them, or feel them, or communicate with them, and there have been some studies, for instance, in the British medical journal, that 50 per cent who have lost their partner have contact with them and when you lose a child 75 per cent. When they give lectures, so many people are sitting there, because they have these kinds of experiences and they cannot believe it themselves, but it is life-changing. They sometimes receive information that couldn't be known, so it's also objective information they receive.
And then, the remote viewing; I call it non-local perception, which [means] you can perceive, not by your senses, not by your body, from a long-distance. And that is what people with an enhanced intuitive sensitivity also can do. You can see things in the future, so it's independent of time and independent of space, of distance. Also, with remote viewing they have found in Egypt, old... grave tombs they didn't know [about], but they can see back in time, so it's also non-local perception. And they used it for the CIA many times. Russia did it as well.
Iain: I know. Yes. Yeah.
Pim: So, when you have the concept, the idea of non-local consciousness, it [is] all so simple. You have contact with these non-local aspects of consciousness. Then you have the non-local perturbation: nervous system, non-local perception, which is remote viewing, enhanced intuitive sensitivity, which is... what you call 'telepathy' or whatever. But... for me, [that] it's old-fashioned terminology. You shouldn't use it anymore because people don't believe it. It's called paranormal, but it is normal when you have a different kind of... scientific approach.
Iain: Yes. It just proves more and more that we're basically these receivers and transmitters as well.
Pim: ...that we have a body. And we are conscious.
Iain: It's our vehicle.
Pim: Without a body, we still are conscious beings. We still have conscious experiences and... someone wrote to me, “I can be without my body, but my body cannot be without me”.
Iain: Yes. [Laughs.]
Pim: You need a connection [laughs]. But there's no connection anymore with your body and death is just the end of your physical aspects.
Pim: It's just a continuity of consciousness. And that's what I've learned from all those people who had a near death experience.
Iain: Yeah. And actually the more I talk to you, the more I realise that how we die is very important somehow.
Pim: Our ideas about death define how we live our lives. Where we think that death is the end of everything we invest in the materialistic, external aspects of our life, but where we know there is a continuity, we invest in what is really important, which is love and compassion and empathy towards others, and towards our endangered planet as well.
Iain: Yes, and as you said earlier, we also have a realisation that we are all...
Pim: We are all one.
Iain: ...an expression of the same thing.
Pim: And everything you have done to others will come to you back as well, the positive as well as the negative aspects. You meet them all again when you die.
Iain: Pim, I'd like to go on, but I'm looking at the clock and we need to finish...
Iain: It's been fascinating and it opens up so many other doorways to look at reality, and it's such important work that you're doing and I appreciate that.
Pim: Thank you.
Iain: I appreciate you also coming to talk to us on conscious.tv, and thank you everyone for watching. [I'll] remind you Pim's book is called in English, Consciousness Beyond Life: the Science of the Near Death Experience [holds book up]. And of course, as we've discussed, the ramifications of what he talks about are pretty mind-blowing in many ways. Thank you for watching, and I hope we see you again soon. Goodbye.
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