AwareofAware

Evolving news on the science, writing and thinking about Near Death Experiences (NDEs)

Proof Of Heaven (maybe)

The fact that this book was written by a neurosurgeon instantly gives it a credibility that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Eben Alexander has believed for most of his adult life that consciousness is a product of electrical signals in the brain; a purely physical process. He had witnessed NDEs himself and dismissed them in the same manner that countless scientists and physicians before him had, drawing on the reductionist principles that lie at the heart of modern scientific thinking. He admits, with hindsight, this view was formed without any evidence to support it, instead subscribing to the mantra, the faith, that forms the foundation of methodological materialism..every process, every organism or object in this universe has a physical explanation for its existence.

This faith was turned upside down when he experienced an NDE of his own, except this was not strictly an NDE, it was the wandering of his consciousness while he was in a coma. He argues, very convincingly, that while he wasn’t technically dead, his brain was not in a state to generate the conscious experiences that he claimed to have. Many of the elements of his experience were similar in nature to previously reported NDEs, but some of the elements were unique, something that leads Dr. Alexander to conclude that he was meant to have these experiences, and as a result his life’s purpose is now to share what happened to him with the rest of the world.

Like many “believers”, I’m a sucker for this stuff. Ever since I heard about my fathers own NDE, I’ve been intrigued by the subject, and am perhaps more credulous than I should be as a scientist. So I lapped it all up…then I did some searching on google about Dr. Alexander, and that is where very real questions surfaced that spoiled the fuzzy warm feeling. Esquire ran an article on Proof of Heaven in which they had investigated Dr. Alexander’s claims. They interviewed a Dr. Laura Potter, who was the ER physician who had attended to him when he first arrived and was involved with some of his subsequent care. A number of statements she makes contradict his account:

  • Dr. Alexander did not, and could not have cried out “God Help Me!”. He was intubated, making speech impossible.
  • His coma was induced by drugs, unlike his claim in the book. He was also repeatedly bought back to some form of consciousness, this suggests that it is entirely possible that he hallucinated the entire experience.
  • Most troubling of all, he apparently admitted that he had dramatized some parts of the story to enhance the readability of the account.

What does all this mean? Was the whole thing made up? I hope not, and the unusual account of his meeting with God in a dark (physically but not spiritually dark) place was so similar to my own experience, that it made me feel that his story holds water. But that’s me, someone who has had an experience and met credible people, who have had NDEs, but to the skeptic or the inquisitive, the slightest whiff of dishonesty destroys the potential power of the rest.

I personally don’t believe he made it all up, but if he admitted adding things to enhance the readability, exactly how much did he add? This is why he has poisoned the potential well of his account, and not just his account but others too.

This whole field of research needs serious people like Eben Alexander, Sam Parnia, and Pim Van Lommell to contribute  to it, but it needs to be done in a manner that is rigorously credible, or they are wasting their time.

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9 thoughts on “Proof Of Heaven (maybe)

  1. For mainstream science any phenomenon having a smack of paranormal must be discounted out of hand.It simply cannot exist so it doesn t exist and must be debunked.That goes for UFOs and that goes for NDEs or OBEs too!……..Interstellar distances are huge so no extraterrestrial civilization can possibly visit the EARTH! And never mind the millions of witnesses reporting craft in the sky or on the ground…….As regards NDEs and the survival of the mind after death,never mind the millions of experiencers because the brain is the seat of consciousness and therefore when the brain dies,so does the mind…….Whatever the calibre of the experiencers ,lots of people will have something to object to NDE or OBE reports……….They hallucinated or they dreamt or they concocted their stories.!They had to do so because somebody deprived of his senses can t possibly describe what s taking place in another room or report a conversation at the other end of the hospital,let alone reveal there s a sneaker in a gutter on the 6th floor when the operation room is on the first floor………..If NDEs were only the last fling of the dying brain why would the show always be about floating along a tunnel leading to a bright beautiful place,meeting a being of light projecting the film of your life then meeting dead relatives telling you it s not your time and that you ve got to re enter your body?……Why doesn t the brain show football games,parties,Thanksgiving family meals,MMA fights,horse races etc… NDEs,will gradually bring scientists who have adopted a traditionally monist view of the MIND BRAIN problem to reconsider and to propose a dualist view with a non local mind.Only a dualist view can explain why a flatlined brain doesn t stop consciousness from registering its environment.Indeed,consciousness is not the product of neural activity,emerging at a certain stage of biological complexity.True,damage to parts of the head can erase memory or consciousness but it doesn t follow that the brain actually makes consciousness.We can compare the brain to a radio.Bang it with a hammer and it ceases functioning but it doesn t prove that the origin of the sounds was the radio itself.They originated from a transmitter!..the transmitter or mind or consciousness is a non local phenomenon meaning it isn t localized to specific points in space.Non local events are immediate, they require no travel time.They do not become weaker with the distance.That s why several witnesses couldn t specify the duration of their NDE,or were suddenly aware of the whole universe,could go instantly from one place to another and could even get glimpses of the future

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    • Hi Michel,

      Beautiful thoughts. I agree that the brain is a container for consciousness, and not consciousness itself. In one of my more philosophical blog posts, I spoke about all of us being containers created by God to hold and express something of the divine:

      Containers for God

      Rather than dualism, I think of the universe as being more holistic. However, using the dualism-type perspective, I would say, rather, that the universe is “trialistic.” That’s not a real word. But what I mean is that rather than two levels of reality, there are three:

      1. divine
      2. spiritual
      3. material

      We humans while on earth have both spiritual and material levels, and thus are dualistic. However, we are continually filled with the third, divine level of reality.

      I don’t believe this makes us extensions of God, and thus divine ourselves. The divine is distinguished from everything else by being infinite (having no boundaries) while everything else is finite (having boundaries). However, as I say in the article, even if we are not God, we are containers for God. If God were not continually flowing into and through us, we would instantly cease to exist.

      Tying this back to your comment, I do think that the brain is a container for the mind, not the mind itself. If the brain is damaged, the mind does not have a proper container to flow into and express itself while we are living here in the material world. As you say, it’s not that the brain generates consciousness or is the seat of consciousness. Rather the brain is a necessary organ to express consciousness in the material world and in our interactions with it.

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  2. I’m with you Michel, science is quite reactionary in many ways. My only caveat is that it would help the NDE cause if articles or books like those of Dr. Alexander avoided hyperbole…it’s hard enough for this subject to gain credibility without so called credible contributors exaggerating or even lying.

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  3. Hi Ben,

    I read the Luke Dittrich Esquire article, which was indeed disturbing. I then read a response to it at the IANDS site, which paints a very different picture:

    Esquire article on Eben Alexander distorts the facts

    As I read the Esquire article, I felt twinges at certain points. It began to feel like the article was building a preconceived case by selecting material that supported that case from single sources on each point, rather than presenting the full picture from multiple sources. In particular, it seemed very strange and out of character that a figure with the public stature of the Dalai Lama would be so ungracious as to publicly accuse an honored fellow speaker at a Buddhist venue of being a liar.

    That vague sense of a specially constructed version of the story while reading the article was confirmed by reading the response at the IANDS site.

    There are two sides to every story. Something like Esquire article was bound to happen. Whenever there are extraordinary claims that go counter to what a large group of people believe, there will be attacks and pushback that will pound away at the credibility and truthfulness of those making the extraordinary claims.

    But to get the full picture, it is necessary to keep following the story, and read not only the inevitable “debunking” at the hands of the skeptics, but also the responses to that debunking.

    I now think that the Dittrich article most likely did select what supported the author’s premise going in, without bothering to follow up on other sources that might have called the author’s already formed premise (that Alexander was a liar and a fraud) into question. There were just too many unanswered questions raised in my mind as I read the article. The IANDS response filled in many (even if not all) of the blanks.

    Skeptical attacks do serve a purpose by requiring us to look more deeply into the matter and form a deep and well-founded conclusion rather than just jumping quickly and superficially at things that support what we want to believe. In the process of reading and looking into both sides of the question, we arrive at a more solid, deeper, and more nuanced understanding of the truth.

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    • Hi Lee, great comments, and thanks for putting the link to the IANDS article that “debunks the debunking”. It is every bit as credible as the Esquire article, if not more so, and helps support Dr. Alexander’s story. Personally, I enjoyed the Proof Of Heaven book, and didn’t enjoy having the sense of wonder that it filled me with taken away by Dittrich.

      Unfortunately that is what has happened, and to an extent it’s hard to rekindle the wonder. However, as I have said before, and as I state in my book, I have met credible people who have had NDEs and who experienced elements that are common to all NDEs. That being said, whilst I believe them, as a scientist I know that accounts like these do not provide hard proof of the existence of the afterlife or of the Being Of Light etc…only the AWARE study, or something very similar, can achieve that.

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  4. Hi Ben…..I think you re overoptimistic about the possible impact of the Aware Study.Do you really think that a few hits on the targets will be The smoking gun,will clinch the deal once and for all and will cause the légions of debunkers,doubting Thomas and detractors of all stripes to beat their breast and lay down their arms?………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….Quite the contrary,They ll go into overdrive as it appears that the prospect of an afterlife is abominable to lots of people!………………………………I seized the opportunity to explore some of the atguments put forward to prove that the NDE can be anything except a glimpse of an afterlife………….At least,the NDE in itself is now accepted by mainstream science.Opinions differ in interprétations……………………………Someone is positive that OBEs are brain generated hallucinations.There are discrepancies between what is seen in the NDE and what is actually happening in the real world.What experiencers see is derived from memory and imagination………….For example,Melvin Morse reports an NDE where a Young girl sees her teacher by her body where the teacher is not actually there…Mark Fox chimes in to say that it must be spelled out loud and clear that 25 years after the coining of the phrase NDE,it remains to be established beyond doubt,that during such an experience,anything actually LEAVES THE BODY!………Blackmore,for example,concludes that prior knowledge,fantasy,lucky guesses,plus the way memory works is sufficient to explain OBE imagery in NDEs……………………….A researcher notes Raymond Moody s concession that he sometimes used leading questions when interviewing respondents for LIFE AFTER LIFE……………..Others remark that widespread belief in an afterlife among the general population is likely to bias testimonies………Too much or not enough oxygen or CO2 in the blood cause various disorders such as Blunt judgment,false confidence in your abilities and a false sense that your thinking is really acute…….Some scientists claim that it has been discovered that NDE recollections grow more vivid with age and NDEs tend to be embellished with time…………..Finally,and there could lie the most challenging weak link in NDEs being a window on an afterlife..Skeptics stress the fact that the vast majority of cardiac arrest survivors,report nothing at all!..Why would there be only a small number having a glimpse of an afterlife?…….A nd the same skeptic ironically adds that if NDEs are to be understood as glimpses of an afterlife,are we to conclude that 80% of individuals cease to exist when they die while the remaining 20% survive bodily death!…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….I haven t been particularly pondering this question.I think Sam Parnia makes some suggestions………Personally ,I would make a comparison with dreams.Some people can t remember their dreams.This,could be a simple but real explanation………………….Another challenge seems to be scary NDEs…..What purpose do they serve ?……….Obviously,the sparring over what NDEs can be,has just begun.

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  5. Great post Michel. I agree that for many skeptics if an NDE came up and slapped them in the face with a wet kipper, they still wouldn’t believe in them. However, for me, it is the others…neither skeptic nor believer…that the AWARE study has the most potential.

    As for all your other points, I encourage you to read the book after which this site is named…Aware of Aware…I attempt to address many of these tough questions, such as why not everyone has NDEs…memory is only one explanation.

    Scary NDEs are a very real phenomonen and perhaps under reported…I discuss those too. I also spend the last bit of the book discussing religious implications in the context of the founders of the major faiths. I think that’s where I lose a lot people, although I respect all faiths, I do not believe all the founders are equally representative of the Being Of Light as described by so many NDEers. That offends some people.

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  6. Boghos L. Artinian MD on said:

    Wait for the thawing

    I would like to bring to a halt the ongoing debate regarding the mind
    -body duality, ‘near death’ and ‘out of body’ experiences, pending the
    first successful thawing of a frozen person who had been enrolled in a
    cryonics program.

    Should this first revived person, and the others that would follow,
    be able to provide us with detailed itineraries of their souls during the
    deep-freezing of their bodies, I would be convinced of the duality of the
    mind and body, and believe in the possibility of an afterlife.

    If, on the other hand, a hundred years of frozen ‘solitude’ have
    passed like a few seconds (containing only the ‘near death’ and the ‘out
    of body’ experiences) for the revived persons, I could then be sure that
    the soul cannot exist independent of a living body

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