*This article first appeared on The Huffington Post, Science Section, Used with Permission, 2016.
What is consciousness? Is it an essentially human characteristic or a fundamental characteristic of the universe? Questions about consciousness have intrigued philosophers and scientists for thousands of years. Neuroscientists, like myself, are asking questions about the essential characteristics of consciousness, and the extent to which it is dependent on activity in the brain. In the laboratory, I have studied consciousness through my research on meditation, and more recently the phenomenon of near-death experiences.