Under an administration that crows about the value of "alternative facts" and appears intent on debunking science, the import of investigation and proof cannot be underplayed. But the Netflix Original movie The Discovery, which premieres March 31, makes a strong case that there are mysteries humanity isn't yet ready to understand. In the drama with sci-fi undertones, a neuroscientist played by Jason Segel appeals to his estranged father to walk back his boldest scientific claim in order to save a world in crisis. Dr. Harber (Robert Redford) finds evidence that there is an afterlife, and millions kill themselves in order to get there. It's meaty material for a study of human nature, but could something like The Discovery ever really happen?
To talk about that, I have to talk about the method through which Dr. Harber makes this determination. He discovers something new about death that can be interpreted as the existence of the soul — a non-corporeal self that can live on past physical death. Dr. Harber observes that brainwaves peaced out of dying bodies sub-atomically, almost as if those brainwaves were in a hurry to get somewhere else. And though the researcher doesn't call that other place "heaven," a human race intent on finding meaning in everything assumes that the afterlife that many faiths promised them is suddenly confirmed.
All science fiction has one foot in the "science" part, and The Discovery is no different. Scientists have attempted to find proof of the soul, and some claim to have succeeded. Theoretical physicist Sir Roger Penrose and his collaborator Dr. Stuart Hameroff of the University Of Arizona have studied consciousness for many years. Their theory is that quantam information exists within cells in protein-based microtubules and could be transferable to another medium in the future. (They're working on a subatomic, just like Dr. Harber's research.) In a promotional video for the Global Future 2045 International Congress, Hameroff says that transfer of consciousness could equate to "possibly what people call 'immortality.'"
Not heady enough for you? Then consider the theory of biocentrism, set out by Dr. Robert Lanza in his book Biocentrism: How Life And Consciousness Are The Keys To Understanding The True Nature Of The Universe. The book contends that the universe only exists as consciousness perceives it and in fact is created from consciousness. Lanza and co-writer Bob Berman distilled their mind-blowing thesis in an article for Discover Magazine. They wrote:
"Everything we perceive is actively and repeatedly being reconstructed inside our heads in an organized whirl of information. Time in this sense can be defined as the summation of spatial states occurring inside the mind. So what is real?"
In a nutshell, consciousness is the boss, not the universe outside of it. With that knowledge as a starting point, scientists might someday determine a way for consciousness (or the soul, if you prefer to think of it that way) to break out of this box of perception.
It does not seem to be outside the realm of possibility that science can one day produce a consensus about the existence of the soul. But the question that The Discovery asks is what humanity will do with it. Would the reaction be as extreme as it is in the movie? That's a topic for the philosophers and psychologists to debate.