May 2024

World-leading neuroscientist Christoph Koch speaks openly in the Philosophy Babble podcast that a Near-Death Experience has shifted his worldview.

Koch shared with philosopher Bernardo Kastrup that the experience has influenced his move away from the physicalist bias of modern neuroscience to a view closer to idealism, which holds that consciousness is primary and the physical world is a construct of the mind. This is significant, as Koch is one of the chief proponents of a theory on consciousness called Integrated Information Theory (IIT), often described as a theory somewhere between physicalism and idealism. However, in this dialogue Koch stresses that IIT has no connection to physicalism.

Kastrup, who is an analytical idealist and computer scientist, tells about his recent embracing of IIT as a theory that can “not only complement but possibly complete analytical idealism”.

Koch shows not to be fully accepting of certain aspects of spiritually transformative phenomena, such as past-life memories and NDEs, despite his own personal experience.

He briefly touches on the famous bet he made (and lost) with philosopher David Chalmers. It has been described as a bet about the “hard problem” of consciousness, but Koch explains that it was not. He says both he and Chalmers are certain to one day find the neural correlate (the brain component) of consciousness, but that will not solve the hard problem.

In his new book, “Then I Am Myself the World”, Koch shares his latest insights and conclusions. The book begins with a depiction of the NDE he had a few years ago:

“I ceased to exist in any recognizable way, shape, or form. No more Christof, no more ego, no more self; no memories, dreams, desires, hopes, fears—everything personal was stripped away. Nothing was left but a nonself: this remaining essence wasn’t man, woman, child, animal, spirit, or anything else; it didn’t want anything, expect anything, think anything, remember anything, dread anything.” (View Chapter 1)

This experience – and a second one, similar in depth – had a profound impact. Koch lost his fear of death, and his scientific viewpoint transformed. In his blog he writes:

“The philosophical grounds have shifted from a blind acceptance of classical physicalism (a.k.a. materialism) to encompass much more diverse, and more ancient, viewpoints, such as panpsychism and idealism; mystical-, near-death, and psychedelic-induced experiences are now taken seriously within the academe and analyzed with scientific tools …”

Anders Bolling

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