A retired professor of computer science, now attempting to employ an open mind and his analytic skills to better grasp our amazing world.
This overview of the natural afterlife gives a scientifically plausible, logically consistent answer to “Where is heaven?” and may change forever how you view death. It summarizes two, more comprehensive, in-depth, and scholarly articles: The Theory of a Natural Afterlife: A Newfound, Real Possibility for What Awaits Us at Death and an even more profound article, The Theory of a Natural Eternal Consciousness: The Psychological Basis for a Natural Afterlife.
You’re dying having what will be called your near-death experience (NDE) should you recover. Within this very intense, “even more real than real”1 dreamlike experience (or dream)*, you believe you’re in heaven. You’re overcome by marvelous feelings of wonder, love, and contentment and excited about such a glorious eternity. With death, this is your never-ending experience (NEE) and natural afterlife. At least, so posits the theory of a natural afterlife.
But how is such a natural afterlife, based on an NDE, possible when presumably any dreamlike experience ends with death and a non-functioning brain? Ironically, it’s possible not because some supernatural consciousness continues after death but because with death, when mortal material-based consciousness ends, you will not perceive and so will never know the following:
- You’ve now just died. You’ll get no indication, like a “The End” or a dark “NDE screen.”
- Your NDE has ended. You'll never notice that nothing more happens in your NDE.
- You’re now timelessly suspended in your NDE, while for others time is marching on. Is this happening just before or after you’ve died? You can’t tell. Relative to you, death is irrelevant and your NDE is essentially your NEE.
It's like watching an extremely exciting movie and not knowing that you’ve unexpectedly, with no perceived drowsiness, fallen asleep. For you the movie is paused, while in reality (that for others), it continues on. Until you wake up, you still believe you’re watching that movie.
Understanding and Appreciation
The natural afterlife is hard to grasp, even harder to appreciate. To grasp it, you must be able to imagine what it’s like to never wake up from a dream, something you’ve never experienced. You must imagine never knowing that your dreamlike NDE has ended, thus forever “believing” it has not, despite knowing now that it will. And, you must imagine an eternity rushing by in what for you is an everlasting, yet unknowingly final NDE moment and thus NEE.
But more precisely how can your NDE become an NEE? First, given we can perceive time only by perceiving events—i.e., our event-relative time—with death and the resultant end of NDE events, you enter a timeless state (just like with falling asleep and the end of awake events). Second, given we can never perceive such loss of time—i.e., our imperceptible loss of time—you’re unaware that NDE events have ended when you’ve died (just like you’re unaware that awake events have ended when you’ve fallen asleep). And finally, given our conscious awareness occurs one discrete, present conscious moment at a time and we can only become aware of something within these moments—i.e., our present-moment consciousness—nothing will ever change your unawareness that the final, present moment of your final NDE event was final because with the forever timelessness of death no perceived event will ever provide another present moment. Thus your final NDE moment becomes in your mind your forever present moment. It embodies your NDE at a point in time including an expectation of future moments (as does any present moment) and your sense of self (as does any dream). This forever moment, along with the timelessness that ensues, is your timeless NEE and natural afterlife as depicted in the above figure.
To appreciate such a timeless afterlife, you must be able to not only envision but value being left at death in a static, dreamlike yet intensely real-like and emotional state of mind enjoying an everlasting, ideally heavenly moment, heightened by an anticipation of many such moments to come. For some, this vision must replace the vision of spending an eternity of human-like time in a time-perceiving, perfect world. Actually, such a world isn’t logical because perfection implies no challenges, no free will lest decisions be bad (even evil), and thus an eternity of boredom. Surely, not perfect! A timeless afterlife, on the other hand, has no such inconsistencies as one can logically experience a relativistic forever, perfect moment—in reality, the optimal heaven.
The natural afterlife differs from the supernatural afterlife or a nothingness** that for centuries were considered the only possibilities for what one experiences after death. For example, the natural afterlife wasn’t considered by the authors of many bestselling books each claiming, based on a personal NDE, that a supernatural consciousness survives death—e.g., Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster, 2013). Nor was it considered by the authors of many scientific articles each claiming that NDEs provide no evidence of an afterlife since they’re induced by the natural physiology of the brain shutting down—e.g., The Death of “Near Death”: Even If Heaven Is Real, You Aren’t Seeing It by Kyle Hill (Scientific American, Dec. 3, 2012). Actually, NDEs, while providing no proof of an afterlife, provide evidence for the natural afterlife as does the science attempting to explain them.
Evidence for the natural afterlife, however, doesn’t guarantee that you will have one, that it will be heavenly, or that it’s the only one possible. You may not have an NDE, in which case your afterlife may be similar to your before-life. Or, your NEE may be of a perfectly marvelous day on the beach, which for you may be the ideal heaven. Or, unfortunately, your NEE may be a hellish nightmare. Up to 15% of NDEs are such by one estimate.8 Also, your NEE could be overridden by a supernatural afterlife at death or sometime thereafter. The theory of a natural afterlife doesn’t preclude this.
It merely defines a new, very plausible afterlife alternative, whose possibility can impact how one views death (and thus life), which is its main significance.
In a nutshell, your natural afterlife could simply be described as dying while believing you’re in heaven (or hell) and for all eternity never knowing otherwise.
The following features make this afterlife extraordinary.
- It’s supported by science—i.e., requires no supernatural beliefs.
- Its aspects are logically consistent.
- It was never part of the discussion before being first identified in a 2013 article 9.
- It’s a gift of nature (perhaps from God) resulting from our amazing ability to have dreams and dreamlike NDEs, perhaps our brain’s propensity to induce the NDE, and our psychological nature regarding time perception and conscious awareness.
- It can be seen as acceptable to both theists and atheists and doesn’t preclude a supernatural afterlife if some type of associated consciousness continues or arises sometime after death.
- Its content is mysteriously produced and personalized, either by nature or by a God as you may choose to believe.
The timeless and relativistic aspects of the natural afterlife that make it difficult to understand and appreciate also make it difficult to explain. If you’ve found my explanation in this overview inadequate, you can find more explanation with more detail and discussion in two additional articles 9, 10 as well as three more comprehensive, scholarly articles.11,12, 13
- 'Afterlife' feels 'even more real than real,' researcher says, Ben Brumfield (CNN, April 10, 2013)
- Sam Harris, 11/11/2012
- Charles Q. Choi, 9/12/2011
- Josh Clark, 10/23/2007
- Colin Lecher, 10/10/2012
- Michael Shermer, 4/13/2013
- Victor Stenger, 10/11/2012
- Consciousness: an Introduction, Susan J. Blackmore (Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 362.
- Perhaps Heaven Is Your Never-Ending Dream and Natural Afterlife, Bryon Ehlmann (HubPages, 2013). This is the first article ever written on the theory of a natural afterlife. It gives a more religious and philosophical perspective on the theory, arguing for its plausibility both philosophically and scientifically.
- The Heaven of Your Natural Afterlife: a More Revealing Look, Bryon Ehlmann (HubPages, 2013). This article attempts to better explain the natural afterlife and argues for the desirability of the heaven that it makes possible. The article also discusses a religious “add-on” to the theory.
- Ehlmann, B.K. (2016). The Theory of a Natural Afterlife: A Newfound, Real Possibility for What Awaits Us at Death. Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research (JCER). 7(11) 931–950. This article provides a comprehensive, in-depth, and scholarly discourse on the natural afterlife, including a near “proof” (later made real 12) of its existence. The article can be accessed as originally published at http://jcer.com/index.php/jcj/article/view/618/632 or a postprint version with some revisions is available at ResearchGate.net by clicking on its title and at academia.edu.
- Ehlmann, B.K. (2020). The Theory of a Natural Eternal Consciousness: The Psychological Basis for a Natural Afterlife. Journal of Mind and Behavior (JMB). 41(1) 53–80. This article generalizes the theory of a natural afterlife, giving it a stronger scientific basis. The article posits a timeless natural eternal consciousness (NEC) that in the mind of the dying person survives death. The NEC experience can range from near-nothingness to a natural afterlife. In deducing the NEC based on empirical truths, the article “proves” the theory of a natural afterlife. A postprint version of the article is available at ResearchGate.net (by clicking on its title) and at academia.edu.
- Ehlmann, B.K. (2020). Death’s New Reality: Challenging Orthodoxy and Dealing With Our End-of-Life Illusion of Immortality. This article discusses the challenges in getting people to understand, accept, deal with, and appreciate the NEC theory and the theory’s significance and potential impact on philosophy and religion. I offer my views on how the NEC and natural afterlife may be seen as compatible (or not) with the afterlife teachings of some of the major world religions. A preprint version of the article is available at ResearchGate.net (by clicking on its title) and at academia.edu.
- * - Here NDEs are not differentiated from end-of-life dreams as only the dreamlike aspects and intense reality of NDEs are relevant to the theory of a natural afterlife. In fact, in older versions of this article, what here is called a never-ending experience (NEE) was called a never-ending dream (NED). Indeed, end-of-life dreams can also provide the basis and content for the natural afterlife.
- ** - A “nothingness” without consciousness is actually illogical. See Why Something vs. Nothing and the Essentialness of Consciousness (HubPages, 2014).
- All trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.
- An earlier version of this article entitled “The Theory of a Natural Afterlife: An Overview” has been published by invitation, January 2017, in the Scientific God Journal, 8(1) 104-109.
- A .pdf version of this article is available at academia.edu by clicking: Your Natural Afterlife: the Non-Supernatural Alternative to Nothingness.
© 2013 Bryon Ehlmann
Kesther on February 11, 2020:
Interesting you wrote about this. I've always thought of an afterlife as something the brain conjures up when dead or near-death. Or that you'll see whatever you want to see whenever your time comes.
Ever since I became aware of the concept of death as a child.
The afterlife never struck me as supernatural, just natural. And I became pretty shocked when I discovered that Afterlife was in the Paranormal/Supernatural category.
But this right here does not seem 'woo woo' or New Age at all.
Funny thing is, my parents always told me that "Death and/or the afterlife is like being in a dreamworld forever". And they do not hold mystical New Age beliefs, nor are they religious.
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on December 01, 2018:
To Tim regarding your third comment:
My comment here will close out my dialog with you. Thanks for your feedback.
I recommend you read my article "The Theory of a Natural Eternal Consciousness: The Psychological Basis for a Natural Afterlife," which has many references to NDE research. You can find it on ResearchGate.
I do not deny that consciousness may involve much more that just our material brains, but I still believe that irrefutable evidence does not exist that the "patients in cardiac arrest" who had the experiences you speak of and later recovered had truly experienced brain death. Nevertheless, the natural external consciousness (NEC) and natural afterlife theories only apply to those who never recover. So, the seemingly paranormal experiences of cardiac arrest patients who later recover are irrelevant to these theories. The above referenced article states that the NEC theory
"... merely defines the NEC, implicitly claiming a default eternal consciousness. It does not deny the existence of a supernatural eternal consciousness, no matter how apparently illogical or (at least for now seemingly) unscientific. Such an eternal consciousness could be an after-death type of NDE or some other afterlife, even an incarnation, that immediately or later overrides the NEC.
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on November 30, 2018:
To Tim regarding your second comment:
First you right in that "proven" is too strong of a word. So I rewrote my response to your first comment replacing "not been proven" by "no substantiated evidence exists."
Second, "brain death" is defined as "irreversible unconsciousness with complete loss of brain function, including the brain stem." See Martin, A. R. (2017). "Brain death. Encyclopedia of Death and Dying," which you can find on the internet.
So, "irreversible" means irreversible! There's no "never ... expected to be recovered" about it. In all the cases you refer to, the patient recovered, so they could not have suffered "brain death" by definition.
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on November 30, 2018:
To Tim regarding your first comment:
You state "Conscious mental activity, with reasoning and memory formation, has been reported by patients ... when their brains could not have been functioning."
You also state "Patients can somehow 'see' and 'hear' ... when ... they are dead, albeit able to be revived.
Sorry, but no substantiated evidence exists that anyone who has suffered "brain death," which means having zero brain activity, can do what you claim or has ever been revived.
tim on November 30, 2018:
Bryon said "Sorry, but it is simply not been proven that anyone who has been truly declared "brain dead," which means having zero brain activity and/or function, can do what you claim or have ever been revived."
Brain dead does not mean simply having "zero brain activity", technically. Brain dead (apparently) means that brain function will never be recovered or expected to be recovered, as in when the brain stem is damaged (apparently)
You are correct to say it has not been "proven" that patients can see and hear what is occurring around their comatose/dead bodies, yes. proven, no but proof as such is only available in mathematics.
However, there are dozens of verified cases (veridical NDE's) that clearly demonstrate that the patient had no brain activity when the observations and subsequent memory formation took place.
My suggestion to you is that you (might like to) familiarise yourself with some of these cases because I can tell you are not aware that they really do exist. I have a stack of them, many well known, others I have discovered myself with a little poking about.
Invest in a few excellent books on the subject. "The Self does not die" contains over 100 veridical cases. Or do some googling if you prefer.
Galaxyvoyager128 on August 11, 2017:
So basically instead of just dreaming you become the dream and don't know you are the dream. I am confused. Maybe this is what I will experience if I'm in vitro preservation. XD
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on June 15, 2017:
The natural afterlife is indeed difficult to understand (and explain!) because of its relativistic and timeless aspects. I greatly admire your persistence! Such persistent is what forces me to try to better improve my explanations and articles. I also am very sorry for the loss of your brother at such a young age.
Have you read my paper "The Theory of a Natural Afterlife: A Newfound, Real Possibility for What Awaits Us at Death"? The paper provides many analogies and thought experiments, which I think should help in trying to grasp the paradox inherent in the concept of the natural afterlife, which is that both of these seemingly inconsistent statements are true: 1) “if I die having an NDE, it will become my … never ending experience” and 2) “consciousness is gone when brain is dead,” which is an assumption (not a conclusion) of my theory.
The relativistic aspect of the natural afterlife makes these two statements actually consistent. We are dealing here with two perspectives, i.e., two realities: that which is in the mind of the dying person, which with an NDE is dream-like and spiritual, and that which is in the mind of a living observer, which is materialistic. Perhaps I need to indicate more clearly in my articles from which perspective I speak. Statement 1 above is true relative to the perspective of the dying person, while statement 2 is true relative the perspective of the living observer.
The timeless and everlasting aspects of the natural afterlife may also be explained more clearly by explicitly indicating the perspectives. The natural afterlife is timeless only to the living observer in that they know it to be only a moment, or instant, of time, not a span of time. It’s like a picture, which is a snapshot in time. However, the dying person does not know that it’s timeless because they don’t know that another moment, like the next frame in a motion picture, will not occur. Thus, to them it’s not timeless. In fact, it’s likely that within their last moment of time they are eagerly awaiting the next. The natural afterlife is not everlasting to the living observer because they know that the NDE ends. However, it’s everlasting to the dying person because they will NEVER know that their NDE is over, thus to them it is an NEE.
Hope this explanation helps. Please let me know if it does as I may incorporate something like it in a future paper and make some changes to my published ones.
In your “one syncope” it seems you simply experienced timelessness, just like we do many times in our beds when falling into a dreamless sleep or just like some may indeed experience in death. You did not, however, enter this state of timelessness from an extremely intense NDE-like experience, unlike with the natural afterlife.
It is uncertain who or what determines whether one has an NDE or what its content will be. This leaves the door open to the possibility of a “higher consciousness” that somehow plays a role or into which we are somehow plugged.
The theory of a natural afterlife at least finally identifies and describes an afterlife that is logically consistent and within the realm of scientific possibility. As such, it provides greater hope that death is not merely the beginning of “nothingness” and the total death of self. Your brother could now be immersed in his heavenly natural afterlife, perhaps even one that includes your spiritual presence. And when you die, you may likewise reunite with him. Hope this can give you some comfort.
Aleeza on June 14, 2017:
Thanks Dr. Ehlmann
Your concept is really not very easy to understand. But I insist on understanding it. I lost my only brother (and only sibling) less than 4 months back. He was only 36, a healthy, kind and happy dental surgeon. I have since been trying to comprehend what death is and if there is an after life. From what I understood from your paper, if I die having an NDE, it will become my last and never ending experience because I won't be able to perceive the moment of my death and thus not perceive whether the dream continued or stopped or whatever. But to me it looks like that will happen only if my consciousness will still continue after death. The never ending experience will be an experience after all. And we can't experience anything without consciousness. On the contrary, the assumption/conclusion of your theory is that consciousness is gone when brain is dead. Then how shall a dead person continue to have an experience?
I have experienced one syncope in my life. I clearly remember when I was unconscious, I experienced nothing. In fact, not even nothingness. There was absolute zero, nil...When I regained consciousness my life started from a few minutes before I went unconscious. Between these two points in time, there was not even nothingness. I feel, if there is no after life then what I experienced during my syncope is what actually happens when we die. There is not even nothingness. There is absolute ZERO.
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on June 14, 2017:
The theory of a natural afterlife does not deny any of what you claim. It simply states that if you die while having a near-death experience (NDE) and if all consciousness ends with death (and is not replaced by some type of supernatural consciousness), then the last moment of your NDE will be, relative to you, timeless and everlasting, i.e., a never-ending experience (NEE). The theory does not attempt to explain all paranomal phenomena.
Aleeza on June 13, 2017:
But how do we explain dream visitations, which are common occurrences and have striking commonalities despite varied cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs of people who lose their loved ones. The deceased loved ones appear younger, healthier and happier. Where do they come from if there is no supernatural afterlife? They even appear in dreams of relatives or acquaintances who are not really grieving. So, it can't be assumed that those dreams are just hallucinations or unconscious realizations of an actively grieving brain.
Quantum physics also seems to be considering the possibility that consciousness is independent of brain. It was and will always be. And uses brain just to translate itself into physical while we are inhabiting this physical realm.
The accounts of near death dreamers reveal that they don't experience just a static kind of scene or feeling. Some of them go beyond, visit a majestic scenery, experience overwhelming visual, emotional and auditory delight, meet people, have conversations with them and are told that they must return because its not their time. But your theory seems to be ignoring these accounts, if I am not misunderstanding your point. It would be helpful if you could shed some light on this.
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on May 05, 2017:
First, I want to say I am very sorry for your loses, which are a lot to bear in just one year.
"Why would we be any different" from "a flower, a tree, or an animal"? Because we are different in so many ways from a flower, a tree, and most animals. For one thing, we have a very different type of consciousness.
The natural afterlife requires no belief in a God, so the rest of your comment, much to which I can agree, is not that relevant to the article other than to state that you, like me and many others, do not require a belief in a God or an afterlife in order to be a good person.
Helen on May 04, 2017:
If there is nothing we will not be able to know. I have lost my mother and my husband this year and I do believe, the end is the end. Just like a flower, a tree or an animal. Why would we be any different. That doesn't mean I am going to do what I please and not be a good person. I feel good when I do something nice for someone, not because a God tells me to be nice, but because I feel it. I know lots of people that really believe in God, but when their help is needed, they are nowhere to be found. Do they think that, at that moment God is no watching? I believe in myself, and I know I am always watching.
Lathaniel on June 01, 2016:
I have been wondering for some time, if i actually woke from my NDE or not. This ties in with that exactly, how do you know if you are in NED or alive?
Bryon Ehlmann (author) from Tallahassee, Florida on October 18, 2015:
Reply to Larry:
I don't know how "people think consciousness will stay organized after death without a brain." The natural afterlife does not depend on consciousness staying organized after death. In fact, just the opposite.
It is quite reasonable to assume that someone can have an NDE, yes a "near-death" experience, just before dying--i.e., "near" to death. Unlike some, they simply don't recover to tell about it.
Larry on October 16, 2015:
Since we know the consciousness directly depends on a living brain, how do people think consciousness will stay organized after death without a brain?
NDE means -near- death experience, not death experience.
Mary Wilson on May 30, 2015:
Thank you for confirming what I have been feeling for a long time. Hope you will continue to research all of this and keep us informed.
paula marie deubel on December 03, 2014:
In other words, our very last memory, only experienced subconciously
Lyn Bigge on October 25, 2014:
Just check the silkworm...if that same energy can be transferred/transformed into something as beautiful as a butterfly, who am I to think otherwise...me in another dimension...cool hey?
Joe Waldron on August 17, 2014:
I think you are the right track
Mac on August 16, 2014:
Hopefully by the end of my lifetime we will actually know EXACTLY what happens when we die, it would be really cool to know :) But Nothingness just wouldn't be my ideal After-life, even if we don't notice the nothingness!
Synergy on July 17, 2014:
So basically like the movie "Source Code"? doesn't sound half bad