By Humayun Gauhar

If you are wondering why I’m writing article-after-article about life after death, fret not. Neither am I so old or terminally ill to worry about such matters. It’s just that I’ve been so intellectually engrossed in the subject for decades that I cannot let go until I have either learned more or run out of steam – or find out for myself when the time comes, an inevitable event about which I am philosophical. As the lady sang: “Whatever will be will be.” So bear with me, for it might enrich your worldview. I’m in wonderment and want to explore. And I’m certainly not being apologetic about my personal quest that I’m sharing with you. I’ll tell you why I’m sharing it with you, for I’m sure all this will sound bizarre to some.

I started writing much before I started publishing, sometimes in the Seventies. One day my late father Altaf Gauhar, God Bless him, read one of my pieces and asked, “Why don’t you publish this? It’s not bad.”

‘Not bad’ from him was high praise indeed. Chuffed, I replied glibly: “I write just for myself, to analyze and clear my mind.” My old man lost it. “Just who do you think you are, young man? Knowledge is not anyone’s preserve. It is our God-ordained duty to share it. You will learn and understand more from the feedback you get.” And so it came to pass: Humayun Gauhar started publishing.   

I believe that the term ‘Near Death Experience’ is somewhat misleading. It should be ‘Clinical Death Experience’. Near death could be a near accident, like a near miss between two aircraft of which passengers are usually unaware or a near plane crash of which passengers are aware. Having said that, I have read of people who were in car accidents and their spirits left their bodies just before the crash became obvious. They survived and say that they saw everything from the outside. That is why people who think they have died say that we never had any experience. For example, the heart stopping while the brain is still functioning is not necessarily clinical death, especially if the patient is on a respirator or a ventilator or some kind of life support system. It is precisely because they haven’t clinically died that they have no experience. It is only when the brain stops functioning that people have an out-of-body experience.

However, an out-of-body experience can happen to a healthy person too. Consider my good friend Mahfooz Mustafa, popularly known as ‘Tuku’, whose spirit once left his body while he was lying in bed. He was floating just above it. He had not had pot or drink or drug of any kind – not that he has anyway, apart from the occasional tipple. He saw his body and wondered whose it was. When he realized that it was he, he got alarmed. He was at a loss to understand why he was lying prostrate in bed in his undies. Scared, he says he struggled to get back in. He managed; thank God else life would have been the poorer for many of us. This can happen to anyone: Tuku is not the first to experience an out-of-body episode without something adverse happening to him or under any kind of influence. Mystics of the genuine kind do it regularly. Some say that we all have an astral body, which I believe is our spirit or something connected to it, that regularly leaves our bodies when we are asleep, intercourse with higher guiding spirits that everyone has, and then get back via an invisible umbilical cord as it were, to which it is attached. Next day we remember nothing except for perhaps a dream, for remembering being guided by higher spirits would defeat the purpose. The higher spirits guide our subconscious that guides our conscious minds while we are unaware about it.

What Tuku had was neither a near- nor a clinical death experience. He may have been in that twilight zone, neither quite asleep nor quite awake but somewhere in between, and his spirit left his human body a bit too early. Of course, in this state he wouldn’t have experienced anything of the cosmos or the multiverse, but it did put the fear of God in him – I hope.

At the end of my last article, ‘Life After Life’ I mentioned an American neurosurgeon who had a fantastic after-death experience. His name is Dr. Eben Alexander who was a ‘science sceptic’ before his clinical death. Such people take only a ‘materialism’ view of the world. Now he has ‘turned’. I promised that I would write about his experience in this article that I would call ‘Luminosity’, but that can wait till next week because here I would like to tell you about a scientific explanation of the soul given by two quantum physicists, Dr. Stuart Hameroff and Britain’s Sir Roger Penrose. Dr. Hameroff is Professor Emeritus at the Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology and Director of the Centre of Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. Their theory has appeared in the ‘Daily Mail’ written by Damien Gayle and has also been aired by a television science channel. 

The two scientists argue that, “the essence of our soul is contained inside structures called microtubules within brain cells…our experience of consciousness is the result of quantum gravity effects in these microtubules…A near-death experience happens when quantum substances which form the soul leave the nervous system and enter the universe at large…Consciousness is a programme for a quantum computer in the brain which can persist in the universe even after death…” The theory “holds that the essence of our soul is contained in structures called microtubules within the brain. The two scientists call their theory ‘Orchestrated Objective Reduction or Orch-OR’.”

I am quoting at length from Gayle’s article not only because he has put it so well but also because it reduces my workload. “Thus it is held that our souls are more than the interaction of neurons in the brain. They are in fact constructed from the very fabric of the universe – and may have existed since the beginning of time.” Hinduism and Buddhism also hold that “consciousness is an integral part of the universe.” So do most other religions/faiths, though in different ways.

According to Dr. Hameroff, “in a near-death experience the microtubules lose their quantum state, but the information within them is not destroyed. Instead it merely leaves the body and returns to the cosmos.” Dr. Hameroff said in the Science Channel’s documentary, ‘Through the Wormhole’ that: “Let’s say the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing, the microtubules lose their quantum state. The quantum information within the microtubules is not destroyed, it can’t be destroyed; it just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large.”  

Those of you who have read my two ‘Quest’ articles will remember the Sufi conundrum: why the need for separation between man and God since man’s spirit comes from God’s spirit and thus God is within man – “Then I blew My Spirit into him [Adam]” and “I am closer to you than your jugular” – the You and me debate or ‘mun-o-tu’ in Farsi’ between man and God. This is the basis of the mystical ‘An al Haq’ view: “I am the Truth” of which Mansur Al Hallaj was the most famous proponent and was martyred by the ruler of Iraq for it. The other was Sarmad. Remember too that I talked of the Sufi concept of  ‘fana’ – annihilation and consummation at the same time, the drop falling into the river and dissipating and becoming one with the river while retaining its essential individuality. “Just as a drop of seawater carries within it the ocean,” as Shams of Tabriz said, or Iqbal, that “Each drop of the river has the depth of the river.” The river or ocean symbolizes God, obviously, and the drop man. We will talk about all this some other time.

“If the patient is resuscitated, revived,” continues Dr. Hameroff, “this quantum information can go back into the microtubules and the patient says ‘I had a near-death experience’. If they’re not revived, and the patient dies, it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely, as the soul.”

Needless to say, scientists wedded to empiricism, limited and literal minded as they are in the larger scheme of things but which is important for their disciplines, have criticized this theory. They have to retain their credibility and worldview, their faith in the materialism view of the universe. But Dr. Hameroff believes that “research into quantum physics is beginning to validate Orch-Or, with quantum effects recently being shown to support many important biological processes, such as smell, bird navigation and photosynthesis.”