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There is A LOT of evidence, even within the academic literature, that consciousness can exist and persist separate from a live body.
Physicists Andrew Cleland and John Martinis from the University of California at Santa Barbara and their colleagues designed the machine -- a tiny metal paddle of semiconductor, visible to the naked eye -- and coaxed it into dancing with a quantum groove. First, they cooled the paddle until it reached its "ground state," or the lowest energy state permitted by the laws of quantum mechanics (a goal long-sought by physicists). Then they raised the widget's energy by a single quantum to produce a purely quantum-mechanical state of motion. They even managed to put the gadget in both states at once, so that it literally vibrated a little and a lot at the same time -- a bizarre phenomenon allowed by the weird rules of quantum mechanics.
The Out-of-Body Experience
In this experience people have veridical perceptions from a position outside and above their lifeless body. NDEers have the feeling that they have apparently taken off their body like an old coat and to their surprise they appear to have retained their own identity with the possibility of perception, emotions, and a very clear consciousness. This out-of-body experience is scientifically important because doctors, nurses, and relatives can verify the reported perceptions.
This is the report of a nurse of a Coronary Care Unit: During night shift an ambulance brings in a 44-year old cyanotic, comatose man into the coronary care unit. He was found in coma about 30 minutes before in a meadow. When we go to intubate the patient, he turns out to have dentures in his mouth. I remove these upper dentures and put them onto the 'crash cart.' After about an hour and a half the patient has sufficient heart rhythm and blood pressure, but he is still ventilated and intubated, and he is still comatose. He is transferred to the intensive care unit to continue the necessary artificial respiration. Only after more than a week do I meet again with the patient, who is by now back on the cardiac ward. The moment he sees me he says: 'O, that nurse knows where my dentures are.' I am very surprised. Then he elucidates: 'You were there when I was brought into hospital and you took my dentures out of my mouth and put them onto that cart, it had all these bottles on it and there was this sliding drawer underneath, and there you put my teeth.' I was especially amazed because I remembered this happening while the man was in deep coma and in the process of CPR. It appeared that the man had seen himself lying in bed, that he had perceived from above how nurses and doctors had been busy with the CPR. He was also able to describe correctly and in detail the small room in which he had been resuscitated as well as the appearance of those present like myself. He is deeply impressed by his experience and says he is no longer afraid of death.
Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Adv Exp Med Biol. 2004; 550: 115-132
But the question is not, "Are near-death experiences real?" Even skeptics now concede that it is a real phenomenon. The question to ask is, "Are near-death experiences a phenomenon of a person's consciousness being outside of their body?" And if this can be proven true, then the next question is, "Can consciousness survive bodily death?" This last question likely cannot be proven true to the satisfaction of the skeptics using near-death research alone. This is because no matter how you define "death," the only kind of definition that satisfies the skeptics is "irreversible" death.