Evidence that our World is Much More Mysterious Than We Think

A secular culture carries with it many assumptions (that we now take for granted) about the nature of reality.

For example:

— That there is no ultimate meaning or significance to life

— That we are the product of a blind, mechanical, and automatic universe

— That we ourselves are insignificant primates (with prefrontal cortexes) on an insignificant rock, in an insignificant solar system, in an insignificant galaxy, etc.

— You’re born, you live, you die — and that’s it. End of story.

And so on.

All of this paints a rather depressing picture, and I think partly explains why we find ourselves in the midst of a global mental health crisis.

Without being aware of it, for years I carried many of these assumptions too — and only recently had a change of heart.

This was largely brought about thanks to the work of leading consciousness researchers and thinkers like Dr Bernardo Kastrup, Rupert Spira, and Prof. Donald Hoffman, who are gradually building a compelling case that the nature of reality might be much deeper, more intelligent, and mysterious than we could ever imagine.

In this article, I review some of the evidence which hints that our world might be much more mysterious than we think.

Everything you’ve ever experienced happened through the “window” of your five senses:

Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting.

These provide humans with our particular version of the world.

However, have you considered that other realities might exist outside of these five senses?

In other words, that we don’t see the world as it is, but only a partial version of it — that which our sensory system gives us access to?

And it might well be that we coexist with other realities simultaneously, but simply don’t have the “sense” to tune into them?

If this seems far-fetched, consider that other animals have access to sensory information that is completely outside of human perception. For example, did you know that snakes can detect infrared radiation? That bees can sense the Earth’s magnetic field? Or that mantis shrimp see ten times as many colours as humans? [See: An Immense World by Ed Yong].

Consider also the decades of research from Dr. Pim van Lommel into near death experiences (NDEs).

Van Lommel is a cardiologist who studies the subjective experiences of patients who temporarily “die” when their heart stops beating and brain shuts down during cardiac arrest. Although clinically “dead”, many of these patients report having intensely meaningful experiences during these moments, often seeing a tunnel or light, experiencing a “life-review”, and reconnecting with deceased relatives. It’s common for NDE survivors to lose their fear of death and make profound positive changes in their lives afterwards. Notably, these experiences are reported by people from a wide range of cultures, ages, and religious backgrounds, which suggests they may be universal.

Van Lommel’s research is revolutionary because it shows that consciousness may continue — even when the brain is not functioning, which challenges the mainstream scientific view that the brain produces consciousness.

Think about that for a second…

If the brain produces consciousness, how could stopping its activity lead to experiences like those described by van Lommel’s patients? And what might it say about the nature of our reality that people have profound experiences like this when brain activity ceases?

Similarly, under the influence of psychedelics, people claim to experience new realities, report feeling connected to something larger than themselves, and often see fractal visual imagery.

Given the richness, colour, and depth of these experiences, you’d expect psychedelic use to correlate with increases in brain activity. However, since 2012, a consistent finding across multiple studies with many different groups, has been that psychedelic use leads to significant decreases in brain activity.

This leads some to suggest that the brain activity being reduced in this state is that which causes us to feel separate from the world around us. Therefore, the reduction allows our consciousness to temporarily access a larger reality usually unavailable to our five senses.

Sort of like a “mini-death” you get to return from and tell the tale.

There’s also multiple cases in which head traumas have led to enhancements in consciousness.

A particularly interesting story involves Jason Padgett– a futon salesman, who after receiving blows to the head during a violent robbery, became a maths genius with savant-like abilities and perception. When researchers put Padgett in an MRI scanner, they discovered he could access parts of his brain that were normally unavailable, and that his visual cortex was now working in sync with the area that does mathematics. This enabled him to produce extraordinary fractal drawings that Padgett believed “held the key to the universe”.

Or there’s the story of Jill Bolte-Taylor, the neuroscientist who experienced a stroke in her left hemisphere, and was suddenly opened up to a completely new reality.

As Taylor describes it in her TED talk:

“…It was as though my consciousness had shifted away from my normal perception of reality, where I’m the person on the machine having the experience, to some esoteric space where I’m witnessing myself having this experience.”

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

The strange thing about each of the above examples is that reducing brain activity leads to an enrichment of conscious experience and — what appears to be — access to a deeper layer of reality.

This suggests there may be a reality beyond the human sensory system and that perhaps we’re only accessing a tiny fragment of what’s actually there in everyday life.

Interestingly, new advances in cognitive science and evolutionary biology are beginning to provide empirical evidence in support of this claim.

Research from Professor Donald Hoffman at the University of California has found that natural selection didn’t wire us to see the truth of what’s actually there. But rather only the information relevant to our survival and reproduction.

According to Hoffman, our ordinary state of consciousness acts as a kind of “filter”, blocking out everything not relevant to these goals — meaning we only see a tiny fragment of the world.

His research is encapsulated by the sentence:

“Evolution hid the truth from our eyes.”

This, along with the psychedelic and near death experience research, and the stories of Jill Bolte-Taylor and Jason Padgett, hints that there may be a lot more to our world than meets the eye.

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Niall McKeever

Writer and Founder of The Weekend University. Passionate about making great ideas more accessible.

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