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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Death and Dimensionality

Vortex Tunnel from http://www.gepproductions.com/vortextunnel.html

Copyright © 2011 (Written content only) by Ralph Couey
“Life” has many definitions from the physiological to the metaphysical, but can be basically characterized as that period of existence when the body is functional and the brain active.  It is generally accepted to begin at birth, and end when the body and the brain cease to function.  It also can go beyond pure biological function to describe the universe in which we live.
Our existence consists of three dimensions:  length, width, and height, thus we live in a “3-dimensional universe.”  Many, however, grow this to include the dimension of time.  Scientists have postulated the existence of higher dimensions for quite some time.  M-Theory, a development of String Theory, proposes that there may be as many as ten spatial dimensions.
To understand this at a very basic level, take a piece of paper and draw a straight line.  This is a one dimensional construct.  Now draw another line at a right angle to the first one.  Now you have two dimensions.  Imagine living in such a universe.  You have forward and back, left and right, but up and down are utterly unknown to you.  Were you to use additional line segments to draw walls, you could create a small “house”.  But from the lofty perch of the third dimension, you see that walls are not obstacles.  You can see inside structures.  Were there inhabitants of such a town, you could observe them wherever they went. 
Now stand the pencil upright with the point at the intersection of two lines.  Now, you have created up and down.  This is where you live, in this third realm, 90 degrees apart from flatland.
The creation of a fourth physical dimension would require you to draw another line segment, 90 degrees away from the other three.  Of course, you can’t; nobody can.  But just imagine that another being is watching from atop his line segment, observing you as you move around your little universe. 
Such a higher dimension is possible, but since it can never be proven, it remains a theory.
The question of what happens after death is one that has occupied humans since the birth of conscious thought.

The moment at which the body ceases to function  is what we call “death.”  It is almost universally feared, mainly because it is unknown.  People who die generally don’t come back to report on their journey.  But there are many who have experienced a death.  They have “gone away” and come back, all with fascinating stories to tell.

I happen to be one of those people.
There are common elements to these accounts, such as white lights, personages, meeting and interacting with long-lost family, and even moments of choice whether to go on, or go back.

Every religion that has ever existed has in its belief system the expectation of a beneficent afterlife of some kind.  Since most of them arose in times of great human tragedy, it only seems logical that religion would offer such an idyllic hope for those struggling through the trials of their existence, and that people thus encumbered would be drawn to such a promise.  But since such an afterlife cannot be proven by anything a human scientist would term “fact,” those hopes are dismissed by the agnostic among us.  Their claim is that the tales of white lights and tunnels are merely the frantic electrical impulses generated by a dying brain.
In 1907, Dr. Duncan McDougall conducted a series of experiments involving people who were dying from terminal illnesses.  He had them placed on beds attached to very sensitive scales.  In four of the six cases, a definitive drop in weight was observed at the moment of death, amounting to about 21 grams,  For those of a spiritual bent, this makes perfect sense.  The loss of weight is the soul departing the body.  Since that time, many have dismissed the studies, citing a flawed methodology, the small sample size, and the instruments used not precise enough to measure such a small weight.  Some thought even the idea of such an experiment ghoulish, at best, and inhumane at worst.  MacDougal seems to have conducted similar experiments on dogs, only to record no loss of weight at the moment of demise.  To MacDougal, this made sense because of his religious belief that animals had no soul.  Those of us who have beheld the shining eyes of a beloved pet however find such a conclusion is ridiculous. 
So what if we do possess a soul, one that passes into us at the moment of conception, and flies away at the moment of death?  If that is the case, then where does this soul flee to?
To try to propose an answer to that question, let me take you back to our original discussion, involving higher dimensions.
“Heaven” is a common word used to describe the realm of the afterlife.  For Christians, Jews, and Muslims, it is a place populated by those who went before, in some cases with a support staff of angels, and ruled over by an omnipotent and all-powerful God.  Depending on the religion, “He” is gentle, kind, and filled with boundless love, or vengeful and angry, capable of inflicting untold amounts of death and destruction.  This is the place we believe that we come from, and where we will end up.
Agnostics dismiss the idea of a heaven, pointing out that if they can’t see it, taste it, feel it, hear it or smell it, then it must not then exist.
I beg to differ.
Consider this.  What if “Heaven” existed, but as a realm on a higher dimensional plane?  This would be a plane far beyond the restrictions of linear distance and time.  Communication would be instantaneous and unhindered by language barriers.  Such beings would be able to hear our thoughts and monitor our movements, much like we would be watching the inhabitants of Flatland.  There might be direct communication, but their appearance would be only that portion of themselves that could exist in three dimensions.  And when they spoke, we might hear those voices come from within us. 
This model of inter-dimensional interaction was described by Dr. Carl Sagan in the ground-breaking science series “Cosmos.”  Upon hearing it the first time, I was struck by the similarities between the science and the stories of divine interaction in the Bible.  The more I thought about it, the clearer things became.  Heaven didn’t exist beyond the stars, it was all around us, yet mostly invisible because of our three-dimensional restrictions.  The soul, I realized, was a trans-dimensional part of ourselves that when the body died, was freed to return home.
For several years, I carried this comforting assumption around.  That it was quantitatively unprovable bothered me not a whit.  After all, even in science there are continuing mysteries like the inner workings of black holes, and the existence of dark matter, and dark energy which are characterized by a host of suggestive hypotheses, but utterly lacking in proof.  They are speculations, true; yet, because this is what science thinks is happening, that belief becomes a sort of transitory fact.  This is not intended as a criticism of science, per se, but rather an expression of our dimensional limitations.
In my experience, which can be read about here, I discovered that the white light wasn’t light, but the love of God, so pure and powerful that it was visible.  The tunnel was a familiar construct bridging the “here” from “there.”  Though it happened seven years ago, I am still processing the experience.  But I came away with a firm conviction that my suspicion of Heaven as a dimension was essentially correct.
I no longer fear death; although I remain terrified of the process of dying, mainly because I’m a wimp when it comes to pain.  I’m not ready to give up life; the fact that I wasn’t given a choice whether to stay tells me that I still have much to do before I go.  But at that moment when the transition becomes clearly inevitable, I know I can face it without fear.
It’s natural for a human to fear the unknown.  But the events that follow the end of my earthly life is no longer the mystery it once was.  It is known, and therefore safe.
As hypotheses go, it is, I feel, a healthy one.
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