Who remembers the case of Pam Reynolds?

Forums Forum Who remembers the case of Pam Reynolds?

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    The case of Pam Reynolds – one of the fiercest debates in science today: the nature of consciousness. In 1991, Reynolds was found to have an aneurysm on her brain stem. Faced with a ticking time bomb, she opted for an experimental operation called a “cardiac standstill.” The surgeons put her under anesthesia, taped her eyes shut and put molded speakers in her ears that emitted loud clicks, about as loud as a jet plane taking off. When her brain no longer responded to those clicks, the surgeons lowered her body temperature to 60 degrees and drained the blood out of her head, like draining oil from the engine of a car. The aneurysm sac collapsed for lack of blood. The surgeons drilled into her skull, snipped the aneurysm and sewed it up, and then reintroduced the blood into her body.
    Finally, they raised her body temperature and brought her back to consciousness.
    When Reynolds awakened, she had a story to tell. She said she floated upward and watched part of the operation. She could describe what the operating theater looked like and how many surgeons there were. She could describe the unusual-looking bone saw that cut open her head, as well as the drill bits and blade container. She heard conversations, including one in which a female surgeon observed that Reynolds’ left femoral vein was too small for a tube, to which the chief neurosurgeon responded, “Try the right side.”
    Records from the surgery confirmed all these details. Reynolds’ neurosurgeon says he is flummoxed by the episode: “From a scientific perspective,” he told me, “I have absolutely no explanation about how it could have happened.”
    Her story raises the question: Was Reynolds’ consciousness operating separately from her brain?
    Reynolds’ experience – and that of many others – is prompting researchers at institutions such as the University of Montreal and the University of Virginia to investigate the astonishing proposition that a person might have a consciousness – or (gasp) a soul – that can operate when the brain is off-line.
    In the end, we could learn that we are nothing more than nerve cells and molecules. But it is too early for believers to raise the white flag. It is just as plausible –indeed, more elegant – to believe that our brain activity reflects an unseen reality. Perhaps our brains are reflecting an encounter with the divine – unseen, surely, but still real.
    Science can’t referee that question. Either way, whether you are Richard Dawkins or doctor and spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, what you believe is a matter of faith. Given the choice, I opt for God.

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