MountedMedic, wrote a beautiful illustrated letter to her dog. Farewell, Good boy.
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In a sworn affidavit, Pashta MaryMoon says her passion for alternative holistic death care began when she was a seven-year-old girl watching a 1950s western movie.
She described watching a scene with a pioneer’s wife whose husband had died. The fictional woman, all alone, had no choice but to care for his body herself, prepare it for burial, inter it and then comfort their grieving children.
“Young as I was, and with the benefit of hindsight, this ‘hands-on’ approach struck me as making more sense than conventional funeral practices,” MaryMoon, now 65, wrote.
“I am a Death Midwife; Death Midwifery is my vocation and it is what I do.”
The problem with MaryMoon’s vocation, in the eyes of the B.C. College of Midwives, is its name.
The college, which is the legal body regulating and overseeing the practice of midwifery in B.C., has sent several cease and desist letters to MaryMoon since 2016 demanding she stop using the term “midwife” to describe her services.
Now, it is turning to B.C. Supreme Court to compel her to drop it in a two-day hearing this week.
According to the college of midwives, its birth-focused registrants provide a “continuity of care and support throughout the childbearing experience.”
Before birth, they provide physical exams and diagnostic tests; during birth they can conduct normal vaginal deliveries; and they also provide postpartum care after birth.
MaryMoon says death midwifery honours the philosophy and tradition of traditional midwives as someone who “attends to birth or death.”
In a document submitted to the court, her friend Mia Shinbrot outlined the services MaryMoon provides.
Before death, she helps the dying plan at-home funerals and work through their grief; during the death itself, she organizes death vigils; and after the person has died, she takes care of paperwork, helps with the funeral and provides grief support.
MaryMoon, in her affidavit, said the dual role of a midwife stretches back into ancient times and claims its roots go as far back as recorded history, as evidenced by ancient Egyptian gods like Isis or the Bird-Headed Snake Goddess, which she claims have aspects of both life and death in their natures.
In an affidavit of her own, college of midwives registrar Louise Aerts argued it is important to keep the term midwife legally reserved for college-certified midwives to avoid confusing or misleading members of the public.
Aerts declined to comment further for this story, saying the matter is before the courts, but in her submission, she noted that other holistic death practitioners call themselves “death doulas” or end-of-life doulas.”
Douglas College even has an End-of-Life Doula certificate program.
But MaryMoon, in response to that, said the term “death midwife” is the only title that accurately encapsulates her services and approach. She believes there is no chance of confusing her work with that of a college-certified midwife.
“When people hear ‘death midwife’ or ‘death midwifery,’ they automatically assume a philosophy about it, in part, because they’re familiar with birth midwives,” MaryMoon said.
“There’s no other term in our culture right now that that the public recognizes.”
She believes that without the title, people facing death will not know that they can take a different approach to dying.
She will ask the B.C. Supreme Court for an exemption to restrictions on the midwife title on Nov. 29 and 30.
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By Judith Graham
Nothing so alters a person as learning you have a terminal illness.
Ronni Bennett, who writes a popular blog about aging, discovered that recently when she heard that cancer had metastasized to her lungs and her peritoneum (a membrane that lines the cavity of the abdomen).
There is no cure for your condition, Bennett was told by doctors, who estimated she might have six to eight months of good health before symptoms began to appear.
Right then and there, this 77-year-old resolved to start doing things differently — something many people might be inclined to do in a similar situation.
No more extended exercise routines every morning, a try-to-stay-healthy activity that Bennett had forced herself to adopt but disliked intensely.
No more watching her diet, which had allowed her to shed 40 pounds several years ago and keep the weight off, with considerable effort.
No more worrying about whether memory lapses were normal or an early sign of dementia — an irrelevant issue now.
No more pretending that the cliche “we’re all terminal” (since death awaits all of us) is especially insightful. This abstraction has nothing to do with the reality of knowing, in your gut, that your own death is imminent, Bennett realized.
“It colors everything,” she told me in a long and wide-ranging conversation recently. “I’ve always lived tentatively, but I’m not anymore because the worst has happened — I’ve been told I’m going to die.”
No more listening to medical advice from friends and acquaintances, however well-intentioned. Bennett has complete trust in her medical team at Oregon Health & Science University, which has treated her since diagnosing pancreatic cancer last year. She’s done with responding politely to people who think they know better, she said.
And no more worrying, even for a minute, what anyone thinks of her. As Bennett wrote in a recent blog post, “All kinds of things . . . fall away at just about the exact moment the doctor says, ‘There is no treatment.’ ”
Four or five times a day, a wave of crushing fear washes through her, Bennett told me. She breathes deeply and lets it pass. And no, psychotherapy isn’t something she wants to consider.
Instead, she’ll feel whatever it is she needs to feel — and learn from it. This is how she wants to approach death, Bennett said: alert, aware, lucid. “Dying is the last great adventure we have — the last bit of life — and I want to experience it as it happens,” she said.
Writing is, for Bennett, a necessity, the thing she wants to do more than anything during this last stage of her life. For decades, it’s been her way of understanding the world — and herself.
In a notebook, Bennett has been jotting down thoughts and feelings as they come to her. Some she already has shared in a series of blog posts about her illness. Some she’s saving for the future.
There are questions she hasn’t figured out how to answer yet.
“Can I still watch trashy TV shows?”
“How do I choose what books to read, given that my time is finite?
“What do I think about rationale suicide?” (Physician-assisted death is an option in Oregon, where Bennett lives.)
Along with her “I’m done with that” list, Bennett has a list of what she wants to embrace:
Ice cream and cheese, her favorite foods. Walks in the park near her home. Get-togethers with her public affairs discussion group. A romp with kittens or puppies licking her and making her laugh. A sense of normalcy, for as long as possible. “What I want is my life, very close to what it is,” she explained. And deep conversations with friends. “What has been most helpful and touched me most are the friends who are willing to let me talk about this,” she said.
On her blog, she has invited readers to “ask any questions at all” and made it clear she welcomes frank communication.
“I’m new to this — this dying thing — and there’s no instruction book. I’m kind of fascinated by what you do with yourself during this period, and questions help me figure out what I think,” she told me.
Recently, a reader asked Bennett if she was angry about her cancer. No, Bennett answered. “Early on, I read about some cancer patients who get hung up on ‘why me?’ My response was ‘why not me?’ Most of my family died of cancer and, 40 percent of all Americans will have some form of cancer during their lives.”
Dozens of readers have responded with shock, sadness and gratitude for Bennett’s honesty about subjects that usually aren’t discussed in public.
“Because she’s writing about her own experiences in detail and telling people how she feels, people are opening up and relaying their experiences — things that maybe they’ve never said to anyone before,” Millie Garfield, 93, a devoted reader and friend of Bennett’s, told me in a phone conversation.
Garfield’s parents never talked about illness and death the way Bennett is doing. “I didn’t have this close communication with them, and they never opened up to me about all the things Ronni is talking about,” she said.
For the last year, Bennett and her former husband, Alex Bennett, have broadcast video conversations every few weeks over YouTube. (He lives across the country in New York City.) “What you’ve written will be valuable as a document of somebody’s life and how to leave it,” he told her recently as they talked about her condition with poignancy and laughter.
Other people may have very different perspectives as they take stock of their lives upon learning they have a terminal illness. Some may not want to share their innermost thoughts and feelings; others may do so willingly or if they feel other people really want to listen.
During the past 15 years, Bennett chose to live her life out loud through her blog. For the moment, she’s as committed as ever to doing that.
“There’s very little about dying from the point of view of someone who’s living that experience,” she said. “This is one of the very big deals of aging and, absolutely, I’ll keep writing about this as long as I want to or can.”
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My story begins eight years ago, when I was approached by my first client requesting that I supervise her in a therapeutic session with a psychedelic medicine.
She had debilitating depression and anxiety brought on by a breast cancer diagnosis. Although she had survived her cancer, she couldn’t shake her terrible emotional distress. She had tried therapists, pills and a residential program. Nothing had worked.
Then she came across stories in the media about research at UCLA using psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) with cancer patients suffering from what was called “end-of-life distress” and how this new treatment was showing really promising results.
She was desperate to try it for herself.
Well, as a licensed therapist and academic, could I help this woman? Reading the research literature, I learned that psychedelic research was becoming well-developed as a treatment for the psycho-spiritual depression and “existential anxiety” that often accompany the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness.
I also found myself in a bind: The science was telling me that psilocybin is the treatment most likely to benefit patients with existential anxiety when other treatments have failed; my ethical code from the B.C. Association of Clinical Counsellors tells me to act to my client’s benefit; federal law forbids me to use this treatment.
This is why, together with colleagues in the Therapeutic Psilocybin for Canadians project, I filed an application with Health Canada in January 2017, seeking a so-called “Section 56 exemption” — to permit us to provide psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to patients with terminal cancer.
Recent research at Johns Hopkins Medical Centre and New York University indicates that treatment of this end-of-life distress with psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy is safe and effective.
The research indicated it led to immediate, substantial and sustained decreases in depression, death anxiety, cancer-related demoralization and hopelessness.
It resulted in increased quality of life, life meaning and optimism. And these changes had persisted at a six-month follow-up.
Patients attributed improved attitudes about life and death, self, relationships and spirituality to the psilocybin experience, along with better well-being, life satisfaction and mood.
It is heartening to see research moving into Phase 3 clinical trials that will involve many more research participants. However, the foreseeable future for Canadians who need this game-changing therapy is not especially rosy.
At our current rate of progress, it may well still be years before psilocybin successfully completes Phase 3 trials and becomes available as an orthodox medicine.
In the meantime, many Canadians with terminal cancer are also suffering from end-of-life distress, and are in dire need of relief — now.
They face serious and life-threatening illness. Their condition is terminal, so concerns about long-term effects of psilocybin are not relevant. They suffer from serious end-of-life psychological distress (anxiety and depression) to the point that it interferes with their other medical treatments. And this distress has not successfully responded to other treatments.
Psilocybin is currently a restricted drug, meaning that therapists risk criminal penalties if they aid or abet its possession. That means that we cannot recommend or encourage its use.
My professional Code of Ethics, however, states that our ethical duty is to act in a way that serves our clients’ “best interests.” The service we provide has to be “for the client’s benefit.” We must “take care to maximize benefits and minimize potential harm.”
I agree with the Canadian medical establishment that, in ordinary circumstances, new medicines should be made available to Canadians only when they have successfully completed Phase 3 clinical trials.
But I contend that the patients described here are not in ordinary circumstances. They have terminal cancer. All other treatments have failed them; they have nothing left to lose. They have the right to die; surely they have the right to try!
These patients deserve access to a still-experimental but promising medicine on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. Because of their extraordinary medical straits, psilocybin now for them represents a reasonable medical choice; it is necessary to them for a medical purpose.
Our application to Health Canada seeking a “Section 56 exemption” will be ruled on very shortly.
We fully expect that it will be denied — for political, not scientific reasons. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is likely in no mood to loosen up on psychedelics before the dust from the legalization of cannabis has fully settled. I think the government would like it if someone else made that decision.
If our application is denied, we intend to file for a judicial review, and if necessary, a lawsuit in Federal Court challenging that denial.
We believe that prohibition of access to psilocybin for a legitimate medical purpose violates a citizen’s Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 7 right to “life, liberty and security of person.”
This clause has already been interpreted by the Supreme Court to imply that a citizen has the right to autonomy in making health-care decisions. Charter-based arguments have already led to success in three recent landmark medical cannabis cases.
We argue that what applies to cannabis also applies to psilocybin:
The prohibition of … cannabis “limits the liberty of medical users by foreclosing reasonable medical choices through the threat of criminal prosecution. Similarly, by forcing a person to choose between a legal but inadequate treatment and an illegal but more effective one, the law also infringes on security of person.” Supreme Court of Canada, R. v. Smith, 2015
One thing that unites all of us human beings is that we will die. Imagine if, when our time comes, we could all have the option to die peacefully, with acceptance, without anxiety.
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By ashley cowie
Any parent must agree that one of the greatest hardships experienced around the death of a family member is having to explain to children what happened and what happens next? Should you tell them the stark truth; that the fun and games don’t last forever? What sort of words will you use; dead, died, passed away, lost, crossed over, or went to sleep? This is a problem with very, very ancient origins. Ancient death rituals offer up evidence for this.
Since the beginnings of civilization, whenever and wherever, parents have had to teach their children how to grieve, commemorate, and dispose of deceased loved ones. And in the ancient world death was an infinitely more complicated affair, evident in the bizarre death rites practiced from culture to culture around the world. Here are some of the oldest funeral rituals in history, ones that take death to a whole new level of macabre.
Zoroastrianism; the ancient pre-Islamic religion of modern-day Iran, was founded about 3500 years ago and still survives today in India, where the descendants of Iranian (Persian) immigrants are known as Parsees. A 2017 article by scholar Catherine Beyer, Zoroastrian Funerals, Zoroastrian Views of Death, describes the first step in Zoroastrian funeral rites, where a specially trained member of the community cleansed the deceased “in unconsecrated bull’s urine.” The corpse was then wrapped in linen and visited twice by ‘Sagdid’ – a spiritually charged dog believed to banish evil spirits – before it was placed on top of the ‘Dhakma’ (Tower of Silence) to be torn apart and finally devoured by vultures.
Similarly to ancient Zoroastrians, today, about 80% of Tibetan Buddhists still choose traditional “sky burials.” This Buddhist ritual has been observed for thousands of years and it differs from the Iranian/Indian rituals because the deceased were/are chopped up into small pieces and fed to birds, rather than being ‘left’ for the birds.
While at first this might seem nothing short of brutal, verging on undignified, a research article published on Buddhist Channel explains that Buddhists have no desire to commemorate dead bodies through preservation, as they are thought of as shells – empty vessels without a soul. What is more, in their doctrines, which promote ‘respect for all life forms’, if one’s final act is to sustain the life of another living creature the ritual is actually a final act of selfless compassion and charity, which are primary concepts in Buddhism.
Native cultures in the American Northwest carved wooden Totem poles to symbolize the characters and events in myths and to convey the experiences of living people and recently deceased ancestors. The Haida people from the Southeast Alaskan territories tossed their dead into a mass grave pit to be scavenged by wild animals.
However, Marianne Boelscher tells us in her 1988 book The Curtain Within: Haida Social and Mythical Discourse that the death of a chief, shaman, or warrior, brought with it a complex and bloodthirsty series of rituals. Dead shamans, who were thought to have cured the sick, ensured supplies of fish and game, and influenced the weather, trading expeditions, and warfare, were chopped up and pulped with clubs so that they could be stuffed into suitcase-sized wooden boxes. Once pressed inside, the boxes were set atop mortuary totem poles outside the deceased shamans’ homes to assist their spirits’ journey to the afterlife.
Known to anthropologists as “endocannibalism” many ancient cultures disposed of their dead by eating them . Herodotus (3.38) first mentioned ‘funerary cannibalism’ as being practiced among the Indian Callatiae people. Furthermore, the Aghoris of northern India were said to “consume the flesh of the dead floating in the Ganges in pursuit of immortality and supernatural power,” according to an article published on Today.
The ancient Melanesians of Papua New Guinea and the Wari people of Brazil both held “feasts of the dead,” where they attempted to “bond the living with the dead” and to express community fears associated with death. Some specialists believe that endocannibalism is something the dead might have expected as a final gesture of goodwill to the tribe and their direct family.
Sati (suttee) is an ancient funeral custom practiced by the Egyptians, Vedic Indians, Goths, Greeks, and Scythians. Banned mostly everywhere today, Sati required widows to be burnt to ashes on their dead husband’s pyres; sometimes voluntary ending their lives, but there are many recorded incidences of women being forced to commit Sati, which is murderous, inconceivable, and beyond any reason.
Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr. is Temple Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Government and Asian Studies, The University of Texas at Austin. In his informative book The Representation of Sati: Four Eighteenth Century, the Sati ritual is considered as having maybe originated to “dissuade wives from killing their wealthy husbands” and it was sold to the public as a way for husband and wife to venture to the afterlife together.
While the threat of a Sati ritual must have utterly terrified Hindi women of all ages and creeds, the death of an ancient Scandinavian nobleman, according to Ahmad ibn Fadlan, a 10th century Arab Muslim writer, brought funerary events of an “exceptionally barbaric nature.” After the death of a chieftain, his body was placed in a temporary grave for ten days while a slave girl was ‘selected to volunteer’ to join him on his passage to the afterlife. The sacrificial maiden was forced to drink highly intoxicating, psychedelic mushroom enhanced drinks, and as a way “to transform the chieftain’s life force” she was forced to have sex with every man in the village who would all say to her, “Tell your master that I did this because of my love for him.”
A 2015 Ancient Origins article written by contributor Mark Miller titled The 10th century chronicle of the violent, orgiastic funeral of a Viking chieftain explored these rites in detail and explained that after what amounts to constitutionalized ‘rape’, the girl was taken to another tent where she had sex with six Viking men. The last man strangled the girl with a rope while the settlement’s matriarch ritually stabbed her to death. The chieftain and his slave girl were finally placed on a wooden ship to take them to the afterlife.
In 1573 AD, the Bo people of southern China’s Gongxian County were massacred by the Ming Dynasty and are today all but completely forgotten, if not for their mysterious 160 hanging coffin baskets located almost 300 feet (91 meters) high on cliffs and in natural caves above the Crab Stream. A China.org article informs that locals refer to the ancient Bo people as the “Sons of the Cliffs” and “Subjugators of the Sky”, and murals surround the coffins that were executed with bright cinnabar red colors illustrating the lifestyles of the ancient slaughtered people.
Having skirted over some of the ancient world’s death rituals, we are now hopefully better equipped to answer those questions that our children will inevitably ask us. You might be well served to offer your child the words of author Robert Fulghum: “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
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By JAN MOIR
Till death do us part – but what comes after that final, bleak separation? For lucky Rio Ferdinand, it has meant a new bride and a second chance at happiness.
Three years after his wife, Rebecca, died of cancer, the former footballer is to marry his girlfriend, Kate Wright. He proposed to her in front of his children on a rooftop during a holiday in Abu Dhabi. Everyone is apparently thrilled.
“You can’t even remember what it’s like to feel happy. And then, bam, out of the blue, you meet someone and everything changes,” loved-up Rio told his biographer, the journalist Decca Aitkenhead.
In a recent interview with The Sunday Times, he also encouraged her to follow in his footsteps and find love after suffering her own bereavement.
“You need to get out there and meet someone too. Trust me – you’ll see what I mean,” he said.
In 2014, Aitkenhead’s partner, Tony Wilkinson, drowned in Jamaica while trying to rescue their four-year-old son (who survived), leaving her a single mother of two young boys.
When she began contemplating her future without him, she initially worried she’d be romantically taken advantage of as a widow. Now, she wryly concludes that what wise friends told her nearly five years ago has turned out to be true.
While widowers seem to become ten times more alluring to the opposite sex practically overnight, men are not attracted to widows in the same way. Look at Decca: attractive, intelligent, successful – and still single. Love after death certainly seems much easier to achieve for men.
A year after his wife, Gemma, died of cancer, and vowing that she would never be replaced, Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas has just announced that he is in a relationship with a new girlfriend.
“From the early stages, she had this empathy towards me. She’s been an incredible support for me,” he said, which tends to suggest their relationship has at least partly revolved around him and his grief.
Not all men would be so empathetic if the circumstances were reversed. Some might say 12 months is far too early for a fresh romance, but Thomas has a young son and found the loneliness of widower-hood “brutal”.
Perhaps one reason why men find new love more successfully than women is that they are less likely to have close friends they can talk to, or a social and emotional support network to help them through bereavement. Or perhaps they are just more selfish.
A recent study found two-thirds of widowers were in a new relationship within 25 months, in contrast to less than a fifth of widows. Over the age of 65, the discrepancy is even larger, with ten times as many widowers as widows remarrying.
But don’t worry, ladies, it’s not all doom and gloom. Becoming widowed is associated with a 48 percent increase in risk of mortality.
So, if you are really miserable, you can cheer yourself up with the thought you’re going to die soon anyway. Excuse my jest! For what else is there to do but cackle with dark humour when contemplating this sea of wifely despair?
But why is there such divergence between the sexes in love after death? The fragile male ego, Decca Aitkenhead is warned, cannot reconcile itself to the indignity of a relationship with a woman still in love with someone else.
Most men don’t want to be the second choice or to feel inferior, whereas women find it easier to show a kind of deference to their predecessor, as they know it’s expected of them.
They also know that men are hopeless by themselves, so they make themselves indispensable. They mould and adapt emotionally in ways men find more difficult.
And we cannot overlook the romantic allure of a widower with young children and the torrent of feelings, both maternal and carnal, that can arouse in a woman.
According to the old saying, women mourn, men replace – and hopefully with a younger model, if the devils can possibly get away with it. Instead of forever dwelling on the past, many men aspire to repeat the happiness they knew as husbands, sometimes aided by women who see bereavement as opportunity, not tragedy.
After his wife’s death, Rio Ferdinand talked often about risking a new relationship and revealed that, in the past, he had judged the bereaved harshly.
If a widower began dating within five years of losing his wife, it was Rio’s belief “he never really loved her”. Now he says that if a husband started dating the day after the funeral, he wouldn’t be appalled any more. He would understand. Who is anyone to judge?
Most men and women would want their surviving spouses to be happy above all – to love and be loved in the years to come.
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Why is my awareness here, while yours is over there? Why is the universe split in two for each of us, into a subject and an infinity of objects? How is each of us our own center of experience, receiving information about the rest of the world out there? Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A gnat? A bacterium?
These questions are all aspects of the ancient “mind-body problem,” which asks, essentially: What is the relationship between mind and matter? It’s resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years.
The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades. Now it’s generally known as the “hard problem” of consciousness, after philosopher David Chalmers coined this term in a now classic paper and further explored it in his 1996 book, “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.”
Chalmers thought the mind-body problem should be called “hard” in comparison to what, with tongue in cheek, he called the “easy” problems of neuroscience: How do neurons and the brain work at the physical level? Of course they’re not actually easy at all. But his point was that they’re relatively easy compared to the truly difficult problem of explaining how consciousness relates to matter.
Over the last decade, my colleague, University of California, Santa Barbara psychology professor Jonathan Schooler and I have developed what we call a “resonance theory of consciousness.” We suggest that resonance – another word for synchronized vibrations – is at the heart of not only human consciousness but also animal consciousness and of physical reality more generally. It sounds like something the hippies might have dreamed up – it’s all vibrations, man! – but stick with me.
All things in our universe are constantly in motion, vibrating. Even objects that appear to be stationary are in fact vibrating, oscillating, resonating, at various frequencies. Resonance is a type of motion, characterized by oscillation between two states. And ultimately all matter is just vibrations of various underlying fields. As such, at every scale, all of nature vibrates.
Something interesting happens when different vibrating things come together: They will often start, after a little while, to vibrate together at the same frequency. They “sync up,” sometimes in ways that can seem mysterious. This is described as the phenomenon of spontaneous self-organization.
Mathematician Steven Strogatz provides various examples from physics, biology, chemistry and neuroscience to illustrate “sync” – his term for resonance – in his 2003 book “Sync: How Order Emerges from Chaos in the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life,” including:
Examining resonance leads to potentially deep insights about the nature of consciousness and about the universe more generally.
Neuroscientists have identified sync in their research, too. Large-scale neuron firing occurs in human brains at measurable frequencies, with mammalian consciousness thought to be commonly associated with various kinds of neuronal sync.
For example, German neurophysiologist Pascal Fries has explored the ways in which various electrical patterns sync in the brain to produce different types of human consciousness.
Fries focuses on gamma, beta and theta waves. These labels refer to the speed of electrical oscillations in the brain, measured by electrodes placed on the outside of the skull. Groups of neurons produce these oscillations as they use electrochemical impulses to communicate with each other. It’s the speed and voltage of these signals that, when averaged, produce EEG waves that can be measured at signature cycles per second.
Gamma waves are associated with large-scale coordinated activities like perception, meditation or focused consciousness; beta with maximum brain activity or arousal; and theta with relaxation or daydreaming. These three wave types work together to produce, or at least facilitate, various types of human consciousness, according to Fries. But the exact relationship between electrical brain waves and consciousness is still very much up for debate.
Fries calls his concept “communication through coherence.” For him, it’s all about neuronal synchronization. Synchronization, in terms of shared electrical oscillation rates, allows for smooth communication between neurons and groups of neurons. Without this kind of synchronized coherence, inputs arrive at random phases of the neuron excitability cycle and are ineffective, or at least much less effective, in communication.
Our resonance theory builds upon the work of Fries and many others, with a broader approach that can help to explain not only human and mammalian consciousness, but also consciousness more broadly.
Based on the observed behavior of the entities that surround us, from electrons to atoms to molecules, to bacteria to mice, bats, rats, and on, we suggest that all things may be viewed as at least a little conscious. This sounds strange at first blush, but “panpsychism” – the view that all matter has some associated consciousness – is an increasingly accepted position with respect to the nature of consciousness.
The panpsychist argues that consciousness did not emerge at some point during evolution. Rather, it’s always associated with matter and vice versa – they’re two sides of the same coin. But the large majority of the mind associated with the various types of matter in our universe is extremely rudimentary. An electron or an atom, for example, enjoys just a tiny amount of consciousness. But as matter becomes more interconnected and rich, so does the mind, and vice versa, according to this way of thinking.
Biological organisms can quickly exchange information through various biophysical pathways, both electrical and electrochemical. Non-biological structures can only exchange information internally using heat/thermal pathways – much slower and far less rich in information in comparison. Living things leverage their speedier information flows into larger-scale consciousness than what would occur in similar-size things like boulders or piles of sand, for example. There’s much greater internal connection and thus far more “going on” in biological structures than in a boulder or a pile of sand.
Under our approach, boulders and piles of sand are “mere aggregates,” just collections of highly rudimentary conscious entities at the atomic or molecular level only. That’s in contrast to what happens in biological life forms where the combinations of these micro-conscious entities together create a higher level macro-conscious entity. For us, this combination process is the hallmark of biological life.
The central thesis of our approach is this: the particular linkages that allow for large-scale consciousness – like those humans and other mammals enjoy – result from a shared resonance among many smaller constituents. The speed of the resonant waves that are present is the limiting factor that determines the size of each conscious entity in each moment.
As a particular shared resonance expands to more and more constituents, the new conscious entity that results from this resonance and combination grows larger and more complex. So the shared resonance in a human brain that achieves gamma synchrony, for example, includes a far larger number of neurons and neuronal connections than is the case for beta or theta rhythms alone.
What about larger inter-organism resonance like the cloud of fireflies with their little lights flashing in sync? Researchers think their bioluminescent resonance arises due to internal biological oscillators that automatically result in each firefly syncing up with its neighbors.
Is this group of fireflies enjoying a higher level of group consciousness? Probably not, since we can explain the phenomenon without recourse to any intelligence or consciousness. But in biological structures with the right kind of information pathways and processing power, these tendencies toward self-organization can and often do produce larger-scale conscious entities.
Our resonance theory of consciousness attempts to provide a unified framework that includes neuroscience, as well as more fundamental questions of neurobiology and biophysics, and also the philosophy of mind. It gets to the heart of the differences that matter when it comes to consciousness and the evolution of physical systems.
It is all about vibrations, but it’s also about the type of vibrations and, most importantly, about shared vibrations.
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