Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

After much soul searching it is now official ... we are eternal

I want to talk to you today about your soul. Come back here! Don't worry. I'm not going to jab at it with a stick. Nor am I going to suggest that you don't have one.

I'll be deploying the term loosely and, I expect, inaccurately. As a journalist, I've often thought accuracy an overrated trait.

All that checking. By and large, you could get home a lot earlier if it wasn't for such tomfoolery.

But, no, the following exegesis will be informed, as usual, by the latest scientific findings, combined with a healthy dollop of my own well-honed ignorance.

The situation is as follows. A top boffin has postulated the "remarkable" theory that the soul is made up of quantum substances that are part of the fundamental structure of the universe. Righty-oh.

Dr Stuart Hameroff is - deep breath - Professor Emeritus at the Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology and also the Director of the Centre of Consciousness studies at the University of Arizona.

His business card must be the size of a toilet roll. "Emeritus", as you know, is Latin for "quite good". And you imagine it would be pretty embarrassing to doze off at the Centre of Consciousness Studies.

So Prof Hameroff is a man on the ball.

Watch him nutmeg sceptics with his claim that near-death experiences occur when the aforementioned quantum substances leave the nervous system and enter the universe at large. Hmm, I'll have some of what he's on.

Is he on to something? Well, the usual naysayers are regurgitating the old guff about near-death experiences being the brain bunging out comforting fantasies as you get ready to shuffle off into the void. Could be. I don't know what to think.

First, it's not that new a theory. It's similar to the Buddhist belief that consciousness is an integral part of yon universe.

Most of you have probably had a shot of Buddhism by now, or at least tried some form of meditation. If you haven't, then get down on your knees right now and repent.

I try meditation in two-minute bursts and, by around January, expect to be right enlightened. In Buddhist meditation, you get your ego oot the road so that the universe can come in.

I'm not meaning to put anybody down, but the universe can do things better than you can. You cock things up, with your fat ego bobbing about, demanding to be patted on the head.

Buddhism, though, isn't very scientific. It hasn't dissected one rat. But this new scientific angle, featured in a documentary - Through the Wormhole - on the Science Channel, is pretty random, as the young persons say.

Already, with British physicist Sir Roger Penrose, Prof Hameroff has posited that the soul is contained inside structures called microtubules within brain cells. I see (just nod, like I'm doing).

These have existed since the beginning of time and are part of the fabric of the universe.

The microtubules cannot "die" and are redistributed back to the cosmos when you become an ex-parrot.

There's a kind of logic here, though I'd still like to see one of these microtubules on a plate. All the same: part of the universe, eh? Makes you feel kinda older and taller.

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