Near Death Experiences: Windows into the Nature and Origin of Consciousness

Marjorie Woollacott, PhD, University of Oregon

For many years, scientists have debated the nature and origin of consciousness. Many materialist scientists propose that consciousness originates in the neurons in the brain. However, scientific studies concerning near-death experiences (NDEs) give compelling evidence for the primacy of consciousness, that is, that its origin is independent of brain activity.

In this presentation Dr. Marjorie Woollacott will share her own journey as a materialist neuroscientist who had a spiritual awakening that gave her insights into both the nature and origin of consciousness. As she began to explore research on individuals’ experiences in their NDEs and in meditation, she saw that they have many characteristics in common, including a sense of ineffability, a noetic quality, experiences of light, feelings of being outside one’s body, and a sense of peace, joy and love. This suggests that the nature of consciousness, as experienced in NDEs and meditation, is similar. In many NDEs there is also verifiable evidence that despite no measureable brain activity, a person nonetheless perceives the activities around them (within the ICU during surgery, etc.). Research on these experiences supports the understanding that consciousness does not originate in the neurons of the brain. It also suggests that the brain may normally filter out a higher order nonlocal awareness, which can be accessed through NDEs, meditation, and other expanded states of consciousness.

About Marjorie Hines Woollacott, PhD.

Marjorie Hines Woollacott, PhD, has been a neuroscience professor at the University of Oregon for more than three decades and a meditator for almost four. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, and she coauthored a popular textbook for health professionals and has written more than 180 peer-reviewed research articles—several of which were on meditation, the topic that motivated her to write Infinite Awareness.

As a neuroscientist, Marjorie Woollacott had no doubts that the brain was a purely physical entity controlled by chemicals and electrical pulses. When she experimented with meditation for the first time, however, her entire world changed. Woollacott’s journey through years of meditation has made her question the reality she built her career upon and has forced her to ask what human consciousness really is. Infinite Awareness pairs Woollacott’s research as a neuroscientist with her self-revelations about the mind’s spiritual power. Between the scientific and spiritual worlds, she breaks open the definition of human consciousness to investigate the existence of a non-physical and infinitely powerful mind.

Marjorie Woollacott, PhD, University of Oregon