What happens when we die? This is the ultimate question and one that we still have no real answer. From the first few moments that man became a self-aware being he has pondered upon this mystery.
Every culture has attempted an explanation, and it is reasonable to conclude that all religions exist to give an account of what happens at that moment and, more importantly, where does the person go after their body dies.
One of the most enduring myths is that of the Ancient Greeks. They believed that the recently dead would find themselves at the banks of a vast river, the River Styx. Out of the mists would appear Charon, the Ferryman. It was his job to ferry the soul, termed a “Shade,” across to the other side…. To the Land of the Dead.
But he did not do this for free. He needed a payment. The relatives of the recently dead person made sure the Shade could pay the ferryman. This payment was usually a small coin called an obolus. Depending upon the tradition, either this would be placed under the tongue of the corpse or two oboli would be placed over each eye.
This well known myth still resonates over three thousand years later. “To Pay The Ferryman” can still be heard today. However, there is a lesser known myth that suggests a deeper truth: The myth of the River Lethe.
The Greeks believed that before getting to the banks of the Styx the Shade would encounter a much smaller tributary of the great river. This could be crossed with ease by wading from bank to bank. This small river was called the Lethe, and its waters contained a profoundly important quality.
If the Shade or newly deceased soul drank of this water all their memories would evaporate. They would forget who they are and the events of their life. Their memories would become like those of a new born baby. Of course by doing so the Shade also forgot all of the lessons learned during that life.
But before doing this the Shade had the option of drinking from a small pool next to the Lethe. This was the Spring of Mnemosyne. By drinking here the Shade’s past-life memories became sharp and distinct. Each action and its subsequent effects became crystal clear. Life’s lessons became precise and understood.
If the Shade drank of the Spring of Mnemosyne they were allowed to pay the ferryman, board the boat, and sail across the Styx to the Elysian Fields.
But if a drop of the waters of the Lethe was drunk by the Shade, then they were sent back to be reborn again with no memories of their previous life. Now this was not a form of reincarnation as it is understood by most people. It was a re-birth process in which the same life was lived again. The Shade found itself back in its mother’s womb waiting to start all over again.
This concept is called “The Eternal Recurrence” and has been a long held alternative belief to that of the linear life found in most religions, even those who have reincarnation as their central belief.
However, those who have long held this belief never shared it with the masses. Such a belief has always been found in the secret – esoteric – groups within most of the major religions. This is the great secret carried through the ages by the groups loosely termed as “Gnostics.”
The Gnostic tradition can be found behind the great mystery traditions of the Middle East and Europe. From the Manicheans of Persia to the Cathari of Southern France, and from the Cabbalists of Southern Spanish Judaism to the Sufi’s of Arabia, this hidden knowledge is the real Holy Grail in whose defence the Knights Templar and the Albigenesians died in their thousands to protect.
In my books I present evidence for this belief system, that at the moment of death we are catapulted back to our moment of birth. The theory is supported by a good deal of evidence from modern science, particularly quantum physics, neurology, psychiatry and consciousness studies.
I call this theory “Cheating the Ferryman” because I suggest many of us never make it across the River Styx. We never step into Charon’s boat and we never pay him his obolus. We cheat the ferryman out of his fare and return to live our lives again.
On what evidence do I base such a totally weird idea?
Dreams & Precognitive Déjà Vus
Well, for me, the whole theory started with one very peculiar dream. In this dream I experienced a déjà vu… yes a dream that contained the sensation that I was experiencing an event that I had dreamed before, if that makes sense.
In the dream I had an inner dialogue with another me and this being stated that a déjà vu is a memory of an event that you have lived before in a different life. I then woke up with this idea echoing round my mind.
I had for some time wanted to write a book and now it seemed that my dream self, or more accurately a part of my dream self, had given me both the theme and the incentive.
I was surprised to discover that déjà vu is not only the most common anomalous psychological perception (70% of people will experience the sensation at least once in their lives) but also that experts have no real idea what causes it. Various suggestions have been made but none have been shown to be correct.
As an example, for many years a proposal made by the psychiatrist Paul Efron was considered to have nailed the mystery. Efron suggested that one part of the brain processes information before the other. In this way we have the feeling of experiencing an event twice. This occurs because each hemisphere of the brain receives signals from the right and left visual fields of each eye. As such the non-dominant hemisphere processes the incoming images a split second before the dominant hemisphere. So, in effect, the consciousness receives the signal twice with a short time delay. As one signal is immediately, but not fully, over-written by another we feel as if we have experienced the images twice. But this curious message transferal only works for the eyes. It has recently been shown that congenitally blind individuals experience aural déjà vu sensations. As the brain processes sound in a totally different way to sight, the Efron thesis simply cannot explain this form of déjà vu.
I wondered if déjà vu may not be simply what it feels it is: a curious sensation that suggests the observer has lived this moment before. The Seattle based psychiatrist Dr. Vernon Neppe has defined déjà vu as, “any subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of the present experience with an undefined past.”
So the “undefined past” could be part of this life or a past life. However this ‘past life’ for me did not imply reincarnation for one simple reason: for a déjà vu sensation to be effective it has to be a memory of the exact circumstances, not a circumstance that is similar. For example, if my “subjectively inappropriate impression” consisted of me remembering being in this place in Victorian times, the two images would be quite different. The location may be the same but my clothing, my companions and the décor would be totally different. It would feel more like a time-slip than a doubling of consciousness. For a déjà vu to be a déjà vu the two impressions have to be identical, in all ways. My memory of the event is identical to my experiencing of the event. I am literally re-living an event from my own past, but a past that is, for the moment, the future.
Indeed, I have now interviewed many people who experience precognitive déjà vu’s. The ‘memory’ includes a remembrance of what happens/happened next. The subject suddenly has very short-term clairvoyance.
I found that these precognitive déjà vu sensations are usually reported by individuals who experience three brain-states: migraine, temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) and schizophrenia. I was intrigued as to why this was the case and began researching what may link these three ‘illnesses’.
Much to my delight I found there is one common factor, a neurotransmitter called glutamate.
Perception and Time Distortion
In a curious coincidence that was to have great significance to me later, I learned that neurotransmitters were first discovered by an Austrian scientist called Otto Loewi. Just like me, Loewi had a dream guider. On Easter Sunday 1920 he awoke in the middle of the night having experienced a really vivid dream. He wrote down what he had experienced and went back to sleep. The next morning he excitedly looked at his notes to find them to be illegible scrawl. He knew that he had dreamed something of profound importance so he went to bed early the next night. The dream came again and when he awoke he reproduced his dream experiment exactly as he experienced it that night. In doing so he isolated a substance that was to eventually be called acetylcholine. Such was the importance of this discovery that in 1936 Dr. Loewi and his English associate Sir Henry Dale were awarded the Nobel Prize.
What Loewi’s dream had helped find was the first example of the chemicals that were later to be called neurotransmitters. These are internally-generated substances that facilitate the transmission of messages from cell to cell within the body. The most important group is found in the brain and glutamate is the most important of the brain neurotransmitters.
Glutamate is directly responsible for the peculiar feelings described by migrainers, temporal lobe epileptics and schizophrenics, specifically a sensation that is technically known as “the aura.”
The aura is a form of early warning system. It is triggered by over-production of glutamate and usually takes place a short time before an attack of migraine or a temporal-lobe seizure. (Glutamate’s role in schizophrenia is different but the overall outcome is similar). Experiencers report sensations of time slowing down, of hyper-sensitivity, of visual or aural hallucinations and profound déjà vu sensations. Déjà vu had been linked with both migraine and TLE for years before Loewi’s serendipitous discovery.
Here was the link I had been looking for. Déjà vu has, as one of its causes, a flood of glutamate in the brain. It was then that I made my first big step to “Cheating the Ferryman.”
Quite by chance I was reading an old book I had on Near-Death Experience (NDE). One of the more technical articles discussed the neurochemical causes of the NDE. Much to my surprise I found that glutamate was also connected to this well-reported experience. Another, and quite unrelated, article in the same book discussed one of the most commonly reported elements of the NDE, what is technically known as the “panoramic life review.”
“My life flashed before my eyes” is a quotation recorded time and time again by people who have close encounters with death. Some report the experience as being a series of snapshots, others that they literally re-live every experience of their life but in super-speed. One person reported that it was as if somebody had recorded a movie of his life and was running it in fast-forward.
I was fascinated by this link. Both déjà vu and the Panoramic Life-Review were linked by a specific brain-chemical, glutamate. After doing some subsequent research, I found that Dr. Karl Jansen of the Maudsley Hospital in London had been able to reproduce a full near-death experience in volunteers when he had them take small doses of the drug ketamine. Now ketamine is chemically almost identical to glutamate so here again we had an amazing link.
I was later to find that ketamine, and by implication glutamate, also brings about another curious subjective sensation in the brain: time slows down or almost stops for the experiencer.
In another fortuitous event I was to be given a first-hand description of a glutamate effect by a person who experienced TLE seizures.
Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Breakthrough
I received a phone call one afternoon. It was a lady from a recruitment agency who was wishing to discuss with me a vacancy she was handling. “Margaret” asked me whether I was working and I explained that I was driven to write a book. “What about?” she asked, “I don’t really know at the moment,” I truthfully responded. I then explained that I was reading a good deal about temporal lobe epilepsy and was making some fascinating links.
She went very quiet and suggested that we should meet up to discuss the vacancy. Three days later I met her at a coffee shop nearby. As soon as she had sat down she explained to me that she had to meet me because she wished to discuss with me something she could not mention in her office where she would have been overheard.
“Margaret” informed me that she had recently been diagnosed as a having temporal lobe epilepsy. She described to me how she had first discovered that something unusual was happening in her brain.
She had been having lunch with a work associate in a crowded café. As her associate started to pour a cup of tea from a teapot she suddenly felt a snap over her right ear. Surprised by this she looked at her associate assuming that she too would have heard the noise. One look told her that her lunch companion had heard nothing. This was because she had stopped moving. The stunned recruitment consultant looked round the café and every person was frozen in time and space. It was as if she had suddenly found herself in a three-dimensional photograph. She could hear a low humming sound that seemed all around her. She then looked back at her companion to notice that she was not frozen at all, she was moving incredibly slowly.
Margaret then realised that the low hum she could hear was, in fact, people’s voices! Her metabolic rate had increased to such an extent that time had slowed down to a crawl. She watched in amazement as the tea slowly appeared from the spout of the teapot and slowly fell into the cup. Margaret assured me that this took hours to take place in her mind.
At that point she made a fascinating comment. She said that she could have been in this state for days, months, years, “even a lifetime.” Then, after what seemed like many hours, Margaret felt another snap over her right ear and her associate finished pouring the tea and sat back. “Are you okay,” she asked. “I am not sure,” replied Margaret. Her friend then explained that Margaret had suddenly stopped moving and had stared into space… for about twenty seconds! As Margaret explained to me, those twenty seconds had been hours for her. She went on to tell me that she feared she had a brain tumour but after a series of scans she was told that she had TLE.
I was amazed at this story. Here was evidence that glutamate, when it floods the brain, does, indeed, slow subjective time to an absolute crawl. For some reason I then asked Margaret if she experienced déjà vu. “I get déjà vu’s to kill for” was her reply. “Not only that but when I am in this pre-seizure aura state I know what is going to happen next. I really do see the future!”
My meeting with Margaret presented me with the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle that I had not known, until that moment, I was trying to complete. I knew then what the book would be about – not an explanation for déjà vu but something much bigger, an explanation as to what happens to human consciousness at the point of death!
My theory was both simple but stunning. Déjà vu sensations are exactly what they seem to be: they are recollections of past events, otherwise known as lost memories.
So how can we “remember” the future? Simple, because the future is also the past. Confused? Well the best way to explain this is to give a fictitious example based upon an amalgamation of many NDE reports.
The Physics of the NDE – Cheating the Ferryman
Our hero is a skydiver. He is a very unlucky skydiver because his parachute has refused to open and he forgot to pack his back-up ‘shute’. As he plummets to the ground there will be a point where the stress levels will be so high that glutamate floods the brain. In doing so it brings about the subjective slowing down of time. Indeed, for the skydiver the duration of time slows down to a virtual standstill. But his brain remains completely active.
Just as he is about to hit the ground his motion through space is slowed by the fact that his motion through time has similarly been changed. As we know from the theories of Albert Einstein, time and space are the same thing and they are “relative” to the observer. This is where the word “Relativity” comes from.
So “relative” to the skydiver, time duration has slowed down to a crawl. For him a split second can last days, weeks, years, even a lifetime. This is exactly what Margaret experienced in the canteen.
What happens then? Well something very strange. Recall that many people who report Near-Death Experiences explain they see their lives “flash before my eyes.” This is a Near Death Experience. Our skydiver is in a Real Death Experience. There is no way he will survive the impact with the ground. In this case his life does not “flash” before his eyes but he experiences it in a literal, minute by minute, recreation of his life from the moment of his birth. In effect he lives his whole life again. And at the end of the second life it happens again, and again and again. It is like the movie “Groundhog Day,” but it is not a “day” but a “life” – and all this takes place in the split second before he hits the ground.
This is how he “Cheats The Ferryman.” In his subjective time-frame he never reaches the point of death because it is always in his future.
But there is more – and this where things get very interesting. I suggest each life-rerun is not like a pre-recorded movie that cannot be changed but more like a video game in which all consequences of all decisions are already programmed in. By applying the latest findings of quantum physics I present a model whereby the implications of something called the “Many-Worlds Interpretation” can be shown to allow such a scenario.
Put simply, according to the MWI hypothesis there are literally billions of versions of each person and each one of these versions have the capacity to live out – and lay down re-playable memories – the outcomes of every decision made in a lifetime. There is available to each person a recording of every possible life they could live. I call this recording the “Bohmian IMAX.” Others may recognise it as the “Akashic Record” or the “Akashic Field” of Professor Ervin Laszlo.
I further suggest that at the point of death consciousness splits into two elements. I term these the Eidolon and the Daemon. The Eidolon is the everyday being that calls itself “I” or “me” and it has no knowledge of its previous lives. The Daemon is different. It carries all the memories of the past life (or lives) and as such it acts as a form of “Higher Self” or “Guardian Angel.” In my books I present evidence from modern neurological research to suggest this may be the case.
The “changes” that bring about a new “life-path” are instigated by the Daemon when it warns the Eidolon of potential dangers lying waiting in the future. These can be conveyed through dreams, precognitions, inklings, voices and many other subtle methods – possibly even a deja sensation.
We don’t just “Cheat The Ferryman,” we are also given opportunities to change things and possibly put right the wrongs we do.
I agree that on first encountering this hypothesis it is both bizarre and incredible. But the science does seem to work. Could this be the paradigm changer that we have all been waiting for?
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ANTHONY PEAKE is the author of two books, Is There Life After Death – The Extraordinary Science of What Happens When You Die and The Daemon, A Guide To Your Extraordinary Self. NDE expert Professor Bruce Greyson calls Anthony’s theory “the most innovative and provocative argument I have ever seen.” He has a very active international forum at www.anthonypeake.com/forum
The above article appeared in New Dawn Special Issue 14.
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