A few days ago, I was watching a video of a gentleman trying to explain what consciousness is. One of the questions he addressed was, “If consciousness is universal and if we can continue to exist without a brain, how do you explain the loss of consciousness when we’re doing something as simple as sleeping or when we are under anesthesia?” The question that popped into my mind was “Can you lose consciousness?” I wasn’t happy with his answer. So, I came up with my own.
The premise is in the brain state of sleep, or being under anesthesia, we have no consciousness because we can’t recall anything happening. After all, we have no memory of these periods. It assumes there are times when we lose consciousness.
I don’t think we can say for sure that we have no consciousness in dreamless sleep, or even under anesthesia. What we can say is the body doesn’t react to external stimuli (for the most part). Our ears still hear. We know this because if we speak loudly enough, we will awake a sleeping person. We continue to feel when we are asleep. Something is going, some sort of awareness.
I think the premise mistakenly equates memory with experience. I think the only thing we can say with certainty is we have no memory. No memory of something does not equate to not having had the experience.
We sleep every night. We dream every night. Most of us don’t remember most of our dreams. Yet, we did have dreams. We know this. Some of our dreams we recall. Sometimes, the memory of a dream will come to us later, after we thought we had a dreamless night. We did have conscious experiences, even when we don’t recall them.
When we are asleep, or even under anesthesia, our brains are still functioning. We can’t say what experiences we did not have while we were “out,” only that this is a time that we can’t recall.
I think it’s the same explanation for NDEs. Why do some flatline and seem to have no experience while others have rich experiences while “dead”? Maybe it’s like the dream you remember versus the dream you don’t recall. When we wake up in the morning and say we didn’t dream, that’s not true. For someone who dies and comes back, without an NDE what we can say is they have no memory of an experience while they were in the death state. We cannot say with surety that they did not have an experience.
So, the question is, “Do we ever really lose consciousness, or do we just lose the ability to remember what our consciousness was doing for periods?” I’m going with the latter.