Does Consciousness Exist Outside the Brain?

Is consciousness actually a property of the universe like gravity or light?

Posted Jun 26, 2019 (

The prevailing consensus in neuroscience is that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain and its metabolism. When the brain dies, the mind and consciousness of the being to whom that brain belonged ceases to exist. In other words, without a brain there can be no consciousness.

Benjavisa Ruangvaree Art/Shutterstock
Source: Benjavisa Ruangvaree Art/Shutterstock

But according to the decades-long research of Dr. Peter Fenwick, a highly regarded neuropsychiatrist who has been studying the human brain, consciousness, and the phenomenon of near death experience (NDE) for 50 years, this view is incorrect. Despite initially being highly incredulous of NDEs and related phenomena, Fenwick now believes his extensive research suggests that consciousness persists after death. In fact, Fenwick believes that consciousness actually exists independently and outside of the brain as an inherent property of the universe itself like dark matter and dark energy or gravity.

Hence, in Fenwick’s view, the brain does not create or produce consciousness; rather, it filters it. As odd as this idea might seem at first, there are some analogies that bring the concept into sharper focus. For example, the eye filters and interprets only a very small sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum and the ear registers only a narrow range of sonic frequencies. Similarly, according to Fenwick, the brain filters and perceives only a tiny part of the cosmos’ intrinsic “consciousness.”

Indeed, the eye can see only the wavelengths of electromagnetic energy that correspond to visible light. But the entire EM spectrum is vast and extends from extremely low energy, long wavelength radio waves to incredibly energetic, ultrashort-wavelength gamma rays. So, while we can’t actually “see” much of the EM spectrum, we know things like X-rays, infrared radiation, and microwaves exists because we have instruments for detecting them.

Similarly, our ears can register only a narrow range of sonic frequencies but we know a huge amount of others imperceptible to the human ear exist nevertheless.

When the eye dies, the electromagnetic spectrum does not vanish or cease to be; it’s just that the eye is no longer viable and therefore can no longer filter, be stimulated by, and react to light energy. But the energy it previously interacted with remains nonetheless. And so too when the ear dies, or stops transducing sound waves, the energies that the living ear normally respond to still exist. According to Fenwick, so it is with consciousness. Just because the organ that filters, perceives, and interprets it dies does not mean the phenomenon itself ceases to exist. It only ceases to be in the now-dead brain but continues to exist independently of the brain as an external property of the universe itself.

What’s more, according to Fenwick, our consciousness tricks us into perceiving a false duality of self and other when in fact there is only unity. We are not separate from other aspects of the universe but an integral and inextricable part of them. And when we die, we transcend the human experience of consciousness, and its illusion of duality, and merge with the universe’s entire and unified property of consciousness. So, ironically, only in death can we be fully conscious.

This is not to be taken as joining God or a creator because the cosmic consciousness that Fenwick describes did not create the universe but is simply a property of it. Obviously, despite his impressive body of research into this subject, there is no current way to empirically establish the validity of Fenwick’s cosmic consciousness hypothesis. Ultimately, it aligns more with faith than science. Thus it seems the answer to the question in this post’s title is “No.” There is no empirically established explanatory framework for understanding how consciousness can exist independently and outside of the brain.

Recall the old riddle, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” Well, it seems the answer is “No.” Because sound is the conscious perception of sonic or acoustic stimuli that requires a sense organ to experience. Without an ear to hear and a brain to interpret the stimulation there will be only molecular vibrations but no sound, per se. In the same vein, all of the energies and biophysical phenomena that the brain experiences as consciousness do indeed exist independently and outside of the brain (e.g., physics, chemistry and quantum events). But the wondrous experience of consciousness itself seems to require a brain to give rise to it and a brain-based mind to perceive it.

Remember: Think well, Act well, Feel well, Be well!

Copyright 2019 Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. This post is for informational purposes only. it is not intended to be a substitute for help from a qualified health professional. The advertisements in this post do not necessarily reflect my opinions nor are they endorsed by me.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: maradon 333/Shutterstock


Fenwick, P. & Fenwick, E. (2008). The Art of Dying. Bloomsbury: London.


“The Five Ages of Man” by Gerald Heard

In 1963, what some consider to be Heard’s magnum opus, a book titled The Five Ages of Man, was published. According to Heard, the prevalent developmental stage among humans in today’s well-industrialized societies (especially in the West) should be regarded as the fourth: the “humanic stage” of the “total individual,” who is mentally dominated, feeling him- or herself to be autonomous, separate from other persons. Heard writes (p. 226) this stage is characterised by “the basic humanic concept of a mankind that is completely self-seeking because it is completely individualized into separate physiques that can have direct knowledge of only their own private pain and pleasure, inferring but faintly the feelings of others. Such a race of ingenious animals, each able to see and to seek his own advantage, must be kept in combination with each other by appealing to their separate interests.”

In modern industrial societies, a person, especially if educated, has the opportunity to begin entering the “first maturity” of the humanic “total individual” in his or her mid teens. However, according to Heard — based on his decades of studies, his intuition, and his many years of reflection — a fifth stage is in the process of emerging: a post-individual psychological phase of persons and therefore of culture. According to Heard, the second maturity can be one that lies beyond “personal success, economic mastery, and the psychophysical capacity to enjoy life” (p. 240)

Heard termed this phase “Leptoid Man” (from the Greek word lepsis: “to leap”) because humans increasingly face the opportunity to “take a leap” into a considerably expanded consciousness, in which the various aspects of the psyche will be integrated, without any aspects being repressed or seeming foreign. A society that recognises this stage of development will honour and support individuals in a “second maturity” who wish to resolve their inner conflicts and dissolve their inner blockages and become the sages of the modern world. Further, instead of simply enjoying biological and psychological health, as Freud and other important psychiatric or psychological philosophers of the “total-individual” phase conceived, Leptoid man will not only have entered a meaningful “second maturity” recognised by his or her society, but can then become a human of developed spirituality, similar to the mystics of the past; and a person of wisdom.[9]

But collectively and culturally we are still in the transitional phase, not really recognising an identity beyond the super-individualistic fourth, “humanic” phase. Heard’s views were cautionary about developments in society that were not balanced, about inappropriate aims of our use of technological power. He wrote: “we are aware of our precarious imbalance: of our persistent and ever-increasing production of power and our inadequacy of purpose; of our critical analytic ability and our creative paucity; of our triumphantly efficient technical education and our ineffective, irrelevant education for values, for meaning, for the training of the will, the lifting of the heart, and the illumination of the mind.”[10]

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PLATO ON: The Allegory of the Cave

The School of Life
Published on Jan 8, 2016

Plato made up an enduring story about why philosophy matters based on an allegory about a cave…

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Citizens’ assembly

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

citizens’ assembly is a body formed from the citizens of a state to deliberate on an issue or issues of national importance. The membership of a citizens’ assembly is randomly selected, as in other forms of sortition.

The purpose is to employ a cross-section of the public to study the options available to the state on certain questions and to propose answers to these questions through rational and reasoned discussion and the use of various methods of inquiry such as directly questioning experts. In many cases, the state will require these proposals to be accepted by the general public through a referendum before becoming law.

The citizens’ assembly aims to reinstall trust in the political process by taking direct ownership of decision-making.[1] To that end, citizens’ assemblies intend to remedy the “divergence of interests” that arises between elected representatives and the electorate, as well as “a lack in deliberation in legislatures.”[2]

The use of citizens’ assemblies to reach decisions in this way is related to the traditions of deliberative democracy and popular sovereignty in political theory. While these traditions stretch back to origins in ancient Athenian democracy, they have become newly relevant both to theorists and politicians as part of a deliberative turn in democratic theory. From the 1980s to the early 1990s, this deliberative turn began, shifting from the predominant theoretical framework of participatory democracytoward deliberative democracy, initially in the work of Jane Mansbridge and Joseph M. Bessette.[3] Since, citizens’ assemblies have been used in countries such as Canada and the Netherlands to deliberate on reform of the system used to elect politicians in those countries.

Ordinarily, citizens’ assemblies are state initiatives. However, there are also examples of independent citizens’ assemblies, such as the ongoing Le G1000 in Belgium or the 2011 We the Citizens initiative in Ireland.

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The Deliberate Rebellion | Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion
Published on Aug 26, 2019

In the UK, Extinction Rebellion’s third demand is that government must create and be led by the decisions of a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Decades of inadequate political action have led to a climate and ecological emergency that poses an unprecedented existential threat to humanity and all life on Earth — “politics as usual” will not meet the challenge we face.

Join the rebellion: https://Rebellion.Earth/
1. #TellTheTruth
2. #ActNow
3. #BeyondPolitics
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Carl Jung and the Shadow – The Mechanics of Your Dark Side

The Quintessential Mind
Published on Feb 24, 2019
Carl Gustav Jung was one of the most important psychologists of the previous century. The notion of the shadow is central to the human condition and the ability to deal with it constitutes a challenging endeavor for most of us. I hope that, by watching this video, the encounter with the shadow will reveal some important personal truths and that the process of assimilation will become less strenuous.

As always, don’t forget to subscribe, smash the like button and follow me on social media so we can help this channel grow faster and give me the impetus required to keep producing quality video essays.

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Viktor Frankl on Humor as a Lifeline to Sanity and Survival

By Maria Popova (

viktorfrankl_searchformeaning.jpg?zoom=2&w=680“When one is considering the universe,” Ella Frances Sanders observed in her lovely illustrated celebration of wonder, “it is important, sensible even, to try and find some balance between laughter and uncontrollable weeping.” Somehow, on our tiny beautiful planet adrift in a vast unfeeling universe, we have managed to create myriad causes for weeping. “Our life has become so mechanized and electronified,” the Hungarian journalist and László Feleki wrote with astounding prescience half a century ago, “that one needs some kind of an elixir to make it bearable at all. And what is this elixir if not humor?” Mechanization is but one way to dehumanize life, but there are others, grimmer, far worthier of weeping and more savaging of sanity.

Even in the face of those — or perhaps especially in the face of those — the ability to laugh stands as a vital protection of sanity and a mighty form of resistance to inhumanity. That is what the great Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (March 26, 1905–September 2, 1997) attests to in his extraordinary 1946 psychological memoir Man’s Search for Meaning (public library) — one of the profoundest and most vitalizing books ever written, abounding with wisdom on how to persevere through the darkest times and what it means to live with presence.


Viktor Frankl

Reflecting on the inner acts of rebellion by which prisoners maintained their dignity, sanity, and zest for life in the concentration camp — making art in secret, reading smuggled books — Frankl writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngHumor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.

He recounts how he awakened a friend to the life-saving value of humor — an acquired skill, like any art — through what is essentially a disciplined implementation of creative prompts:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngI practically trained a friend of mine who worked next to me on the building site to develop a sense of humor. I suggested to him that we would promise each other to invent at least one amusing story daily, about some incident that could happen one day after our liberation. He was a surgeon and had been an assistant on the staff of a large hospital. So I once tried to get him to smile by describing to him how he would be unable to lose the habits of camp life when he returned to his former work. On the building site (especially when the supervisor made his tour of inspection) the foreman encouraged us to work faster by shouting: “Action! Action!” I told my friend, “One day you will be back in the operating room, performing a big abdominal operation. Suddenly an orderly will rush in announcing the arrival of the senior surgeon by shouting, ‘Action! Action!’”


Art by Olivier Tallec from Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto.

Telescoping from the particular to the universal, Frankl considers how his experience in the concentration camp illuminates a broader consolation for the human struggle:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThe attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.

To find humor in the grimmest of circumstances is not only a survival tool but a supreme act of creativity and an assertion of the most unassailable personal liberty. Frankl writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngEverything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.


It is this spiritual freedom — which cannot be taken away — that makes life meaningful and purposeful. An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces.

Complement the indispensable Man’s Search for Meaning with Frankl on seeing the best in each other — another triumph of creativity and spiritual strength — and the great humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm on the art of living, then revisit the Polish painter Józef Czapski on how Proust saved his soul in a Soviet labor camp, Holocaust survivor Helen Fagin on how one book saved young women’s lives, and the stirring letter on suffering and transcendence Oscar Wilde penned in prison.

SFPD to hold LGTBQ ‘reconciliation and recognition’ night at Glide Memorial

(Lola Chase/ Special to SF Examiner)

Police hope to acknowledge hateful history, build trust

Change isn’t easy — but the San Francisco Police Department is ready to give it a try.

Monday night, roughly 53 years after San Francisco police transphobia and violence spurred the Compton’s Cafeteria riot, SF police command staff will sit in front of members if the LGBTQ community at Glide Memorial with a single goal.

To listen.

Billed as a “reflection and reconciliation” session, San Francisco police hope it will be a first step in rebuilding trust with marginalized communities.

“We have to start somewhere,” said Alex U. Inn, a drag king and musical performer who has been at the forefront of the resistance in San Francisco’s Pride Parade, and a frequent police critic.

U. Inn even hotly critiqued police just this year, for their arrest of LGBTQ activists which many described as overly violent. Flipping the script, U. Inn starred in a short video promoting the reconciliation event in a hope to jump-start a conversation.

“We are not going to resolve the disdain that people have for the SFPD and especially in light of what happened at this year’s Pride” right away, U. Inn said. “So it’s a start.”

Even the video U. Inn stars in acknowledges this disdain, with members of the LGBTQ community pointing out San Francisco police history of raiding gay bars and harassing transgender people for wearing dresses, which used to be against San Francisco law.

Two of the event’s organizers, Commander Teresa Ewins, who is the highest-ranking member of the LGTBQ community in SFPD, and Pastor Megan Rohrer, a trailblazing transgender Lutheran pastor and SFPD chaplain, acknowledged this history.

Friday, they told me they don’t want the community to hold back.

“It’s bringing a community together that needs to be heard. There’s a lot of mistrust of law enforcement and there are definite reasons why. Monday is a start of hopefully a new relationship,” Ewins said. “I don’t shy away from the conversation.”

That’s true even in her own department.

To ready for Monday’s real talk, I asked Ewins to speak frankly about her own experiences in SFPD. While the department isn’t busting windows of gay bars indiscriminately, as they did decades ago, there’s still some fumbling in the dark.

Rising through the ranks as an out lesbian, she fields questions from her comrades in blue often. “Some officers’ children just came out. Or they’re asking, ‘why is a person gay?’ How did those feelings shape my life, where it is today?”

The racist and homophobic text messages exchanged by San Francisco police that were revealed in 2015 also uncovered an ugliness that she had to contend with.

“That was difficult,” she told me. The department has since instituted technology to review officers texts and has “many ways” it can detect that type of behavior. “It was a rather big surprise for me, when I found out about it, to be honest with you. The thing that came to mind was, how does this happen?”

Ewins has also learned a lot from Pastor Rohrer, who has studied the history of the Compton’s Cafeteria riot, among other similar incidents in San Francisco’s LGBTQ history.

Conversation is important, Rohrer said, because it can steer history.

“People don’t know that some of the laws that effected the Compton Cafeteria riot changed very quickly after because people didn’t take those as stopping points,” Rohrer said. “They continued the conversation.”

That doesn’t mean the police won’t stumble in trying to initiate that conversation.

Aria Sa’id, executive director of the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District, isn’t too happy with the police rollout of the reconciliation event. There were some crossed wires, with the police claiming they reached out to members of the district, and Sa’id saying they never reached out to her personally — a particularly egregious oversight considering they’re tying their event to the Compton’s Cafeteria riot anniversary.

Whatever happened, it isn’t a good first step, she said. And besides the stumble, she feels “listening” is moot at this point; SFPD needs to act.

“I have some words,” she started.

Firstly, police should reduce their presence at the SF Pride parade, and apologize for their handling of protests this year. “We weren’t just resisting, we were resisting the police” themselves, she said.

She also thinks talk about SFPD’s homophobic past being in, well, the past, is premature.

Many of San Francisco’s homeless youth are kids fleeing far-flung homes where they were rejected for their LGTBQ identities, Sa’id said, and many impoverished homeless people in the Tenderloin are transgender or gay.

“Trans people are affected by the criminalization of poverty,” Sa’id said. “Police tell people in tents to pack up and go. Sit and lie is still a law.”

So sure, the police aren’t beating wealthy gay people in bars anymore, she said — instead, they’re catching up homeless LGTBQ people in sidewalk tent sweeps.

James Lin, senior director of mission and spirituality at Glide, agreed with some of Sa’id’s points.

“The police were doing sweeps in the sixties and they’re doing sweeps now, in San Francisco,” Lin said. “I’m from a generation that can still remember going to establishments that had windows all boarded up because they operated in an environment where things like holding hands in a same-sex couple were punishable.”

It’s not that far back. It’s not history. It’s living memory.

But after Compton’s Cafeteria riots, Glide Memorial played a leading role in moving the community forward. Glide’s leaders helped form Vanguard, a queer youth organization whose youth members were rioters in Compton’s.

So that anger? Lin understands it. And embraces it.

Hard feelings are welcome on Monday night. In fact, that’s pretty much the point of it.

“Bring it all. Bring the anger. But bring the love. Bring the love you have for your people, and the people you know need you at this moment,” Lin said. “It would not be a good event if it were an easy night. It can only be a good event if there was enough difficulty for us to work through something.”

Lin had a point.

“If it’s easy, then, why do it?”

The reconciliation event will be held Monday, August 26, 2019 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at GLIDE’s Sanctuary room (2nd floor) at 330 Ellis Street (please use the Taylor Street entrance).

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at


What is the name of your least favorite child?

In what year did you abandon your dreams?

What is the maiden name of your father’s mistress?

At what age did your childhood pet run away?

What was the name of your favorite unpaid internship?

In what city did you first experience ennui?

What is your ex-wife’s newest last name?

What sports team do you fetishize to avoid meaningful discussion with others?

What is the name of your favorite canceled TV show?

What was the middle name of your first rebound?

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder?

When did you stop trying?

(Courtesy of Alan Blackman)