In a World of their Own: Experiencing Unconsciousness
by Madeleine Lawrence
This book brings a rigorous, scientific approach to the state of ‘unconsciousness’ as we understand it in common parlance: the boxer on the canvas or the patient undergoing surgery. A turning point for the author, a Professor of Nursing, is when she hears Carol, a former patient, recount the conversation between doctors at her bedside when they thought she was unconscious. It was clear the patient remembered what ‘being unconscious’ was like.
Lawrence describes various states of unconsciousness based on extensive interviews and observation; ‘total unconsciousness,’ ‘perceived unconsciousness – Carol’s state described above – and ‘distorted consciousness,’ where the person has hallucinations. She further identifies ‘inner awareness’, ‘out of the body experiences (OBEs), ‘near death experiences (NDEs), ‘near death visits’ and ‘pronounced dead-but-still-alive occurrences.’ For all states she records her subjects’ experiences, reviews the medical literature and relevant theories and offers her own insights.
There is now extensive literature on the ‘out of body’ and ‘near death’ experience but Lawrence records a separate category of experience: ‘inner awareness.’ Several of her subjects reported ‘no awareness of their external environments but an awareness of their inner selves.’ Some had only an awareness of light and darkness and others experienced dreaming, self-dialogue and ‘a transitional place between life and death.’ What is remarkable is that all of these patients, mainly heart attack victims, were free from pain and discomfort. Lawrence’s conclusion is: ‘whatever happens physiologically this inner voice and internal communication mechanism can exist even when the external system is not functioning.’
Along with its original contribution and survey of current research the book has reminders that out-of-body and near death experiences are not the discovery of modern science but have been recorded and reflected upon across the centuries.
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Review by Anand Chetan