…when we sleep the soul sees without the help of the eyes. The auditory nerves are inactive, but the soul hears. Our members are in repose, but the soul is in movement. Our body is in the room, our soul is traveling through all horizons. It is clear, therefore, that the soul evolves with and without the intervention of the material body. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 126.
So far, sleep research has primarily focused on dreams and on REM (rapid eye movement). But sleep has four other levels, characterized by different brain wavelengths. In our deepest sleep, called slow-wave, where scientists previously thought nothing much happened, recent discoveries have re-written our understanding dramatically.
In one new study, rats explored novel objects, like a golf ball mounted on a spring. Then, using tiny electrodes in the rats’ brains, researchers monitored over 100 neurons for several days. Duke University’s Sidarta Ribeiro found that electrical patterns recorded as the rats first encountered the objects later got replayed over and over during the next two days, mainly during sleep. That mental reverberation, surprisingly, proved most common during slow-wave sleep. This kind of replay during sleep has also occurred in finches learning new songs and in brain scans of people learning to anticipate a pattern of flashing lights. These findings suggest that during sleep, the brain goes over new information again and again.
To fully describe a complete day as we experience it via all our senses must require a very large memory capacity. For humans, if we consider all our mental activity for a day, lessons learned, all decisions made and their justifications pondered, then the total information involved grows greater still. But we now know that data rates in the brain move quite slowly, even though the brain does have massive parallelism. Perhaps we need hours of compulsory sleep to accomplish the necessary memory consolidation for a full day—necessary to refresh and ready it for the day to come.
We can only suppose that the brain’s needed physical processes also serve to expose our memories to the abstract spiritual world. We do not need to know how. The physical world can get on with its job, operating according to its own imperatives and consolidating our memories. Although we have no idea how it might happen, this process must also serve to allow the next world access to information from our own.
Perhaps all ideas, theories, technologies and concepts, all music and the arts, all conceptual thinking, all inventions, flow across from our material world (as billions sleep each night) to find their place in the next world.
Everything in human existence has its beginning in thought, and the thoughts of entire populations could be captured as our brains review them in the daily memory consolidation processes. Evolution has given us a brain obliged to use sleep to implement memory consolidation. Without it we do not have the structurally organised memories we need to function wakefully tomorrow or the identity we are all, in good time, to assume.
A Detour through the Abstract
Looking around us, we might think that everything we are aware of divides neatly into two worlds:
the entire reality outside us and
our private world, the one within us
If we simply called them World 1 and World 2 we would agree with a modern philosopher of science, Sir Karl Popper. But he famously identified a third reality which he, naturally enough, called World 3–abstract reality. This reality includes theories, deep questions, formulas, concepts, principles, stories, songs, designs and the like–not concrete, not part of material reality, but real nevertheless, and real in a quite different sense that we may call “abstract.” We can record them in books, sketch them on a blackboard or play them out by using computers, but we do not confuse their distinct non-material reality with the diagrams, words, sketches or programs that actually represent them.
We can envisage those abstract concepts in our minds, think about them and even revise or improve them, so that they become an evolving abstract reality. But they remain external to our minds, quite separate and distinct from both us and from all physical things.
So World 3 does exist–and we interact with it every day. It stands to reason that World 3 must connect to, make up a part of or be accessible to the next world. Our conscious efforts furnish World 3, the abstract kingdom. Is it so unlikely that our departed souls move into the familiar homes they have built?
It will be essential, then, to preserve our identity and sense of self, that our memories are present when we awaken in the next world, and be recognizably our own. They may well be more detailed, but they must have the ring of truth and be convincingly ours.
Memories must also represent the means by which we connect with others in the next world. The memories we have in common with others, and their memories, will surely flesh out our understanding of life in this world and in the next.
The portal connecting into the next world comes about through the evolutionary imperatives present in this world alone. The next world taps into and receives whatever this world does as a result of its own organic needs. We don’t know or understand the process, but perhaps it is instantaneous. I suspect the data transfer costs are all borne in this material world where things are slow. The replication processes in the abstract world may simply be instantaneous, unrelated to physical time.
Regardless of how it all happens, in our deserved condition we pass out of this material world and at last reach what the Baha’i teachings refer to as the “…abiding joy and glory of future planes of existence.” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 96.