The Science of Heaven: Scientific Debate Of Afterlife Goes Mainstream

Posted by on November 20, 2012 in Science with 2 Comments

Can consciousness exist when the body fails? One neurosurgeon says he has seen it firsthand—and takes on critics who vehemently disagree.


By Dr. Eben Alexander | Daily Beast

At around five o’clock on the morning of Nov. 10, 2008, I awoke with the early symptoms of what proved to be an extremely severe case of bacterial meningitis. As I wrote here three weeks ago, and as I narrate in my book Proof of Heaven, over the next several hours my entire cerebral cortex shut down. The part of my brain responsible for all higher neurological function went every bit as dark as the lower portion of New York City did during Hurricane Sandy.

Proof of Heaven

Yet in spite of the complete absence of neural activity in all but the deepest, most primitive portions of my brain, my identity—my sense of self—did not go dark. Instead, I underwent the most staggering experience of my life, my consciousness traveling to another level, or dimension, or world.

Since telling my story here, I’ve been amazed and profoundly gratified at how powerfully it has resonated with people all over the world. But I’ve also weathered considerable criticism—in large part from people who are appalled that I, a brain surgeon, could possibly make the claim that I experienced what I did.

I can’t say I’m surprised. As a scientist, I know that the consensus of my tribe is that the self is created through the electrochemical activity of the brain. For most neurosurgeons, and most doctors generally, the body produces the mind,and when the body stops functioning, the mind stops, just like a picture projected on a screen does if the projector is unplugged.

So when I announced to the world that during my seven days of coma I not only remained fully conscious but journeyed to a stunning world of beauty and peace and unconditional love, I knew I was stirring up a very volatile pot. Critics have maintained that my near-death experience, like similar experiences others before me have claimed, was a brain-based delusion cobbled together by my synapses only after they had somehow recovered from the blistering weeklong attack.

This is certainly the assessment I would have made myself—before my experience. When the higher-order thought processes overseen by the cortex are interrupted, there is inevitably a period, as the cortex gets slowly back online, when a patient can feel deeply disoriented, even outright insane. As I write in Proof of Heaven, I’d seen many of my own patients in this period of their recovery. It’s a harrowing sight from the outside.

I also experienced that transitional period, when my mind began to regain consciousness: I remember a vivid paranoid nightmare in which my wife and doctors were trying to kill me, and I was only saved from certain death by a ninja couple after being pushed from a 60-story cancer hospital in south Florida. But that period of disorientation and delusion had absolutely nothing to do with what happened to me before my cortex began to recover: the period, that is, when it was shut down and incapable of supporting consciousness at all. During that period, I experienced something very similar to what countless other people who have undergone near-death experiences have witnessed: the transition to a realm beyond the physical, and a vast broadening of my consciousness. The only real difference between my experience and those others is that my brain was, essentially, deader than theirs.

Most near-death experiences (NDE) are the result of momentary cardiac arrest. The heart stops pumping blood to the brain, and the brain, deprived of oxygen, ceases being able to support consciousness. But that—as I’d have been the first to point out before my own experience—doesn’t mean the brain is truly dead. That’s why many doctors feel that the term “near-death experience” is essentially a misnomer. Most people who had them were in bad shape, but they weren’t really near death.

But I was. My synapses—the spaces between the neurons of the brain that support the electrochemical activity that makes the brain function—were not simply compromised during my experience. They were stopped. Only isolated pockets of deep cortical neurons were still sputtering, but no broad networks capable of generating anything like what we call “consciousness.” The E. coli bacteria that flooded my brain during my illness made sure of that. My doctors have told me that according to all the brain tests they were doing, there was no way that any of the functions including vision, hearing, emotion, memory, language, or logic could possibly have been intact. That’s why, just as I now no longer doubt the existence of the world of expanded consciousness that NDE subjects, mystics, meditators, and countless other people have described for centuries, I also feel that my experience adds something new to those stories. It supplies a definitive new form of evidence that consciousness can exist beyond the bodyInitially, I’d planned on writing my experience up in a scientific paper. But as I struggled to place it within the context of everything I’d learned about the brain and consciousness up to that point, I realized that I needed to reach out beyond my fellow scientists. Specifically, I wanted to reach the public who listen most deeply and attentively to what scientists tell them. And I needed to reach those millions because for a long time now many scientists have been telling the public a story that is not quite true.

This not-quite-true story is that the brain produces consciousness. Most scientists accept this as dogma. I certainly did, and it’s why so many scientists still refuse to even consider that I really and truly experienced what I say I did. But we in fact have no real proof of this at all, other than our general distrust of anything we can’t put our hands on. But there are many established scientific facts that we haven’t placed our hands on either. No one has ever seen an electron, or touched the force of gravity. The fact is, most doctors, and most scientists today, are confusing the fact that consciousness and brain activity are related (which they certainly are) with the opinion that the brain actuallyproduces that consciousness.


Read the rest of the article at The Daily Beast

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  1. Consciousness is Awakening throughout society…

  2.' ezbuddy says:

    Many professional doctors & scientist have chalked up experiences of those who have had “near death experiences” as electrical impulses of the brain itself and only part of the imagination. Yet every one of us who has had that experience can’t be convinced it was nothing less than spiritual & what we experienced was real, not a misfiring electrical brain impulse. With so many folks who has had NDE’s, how can doctors & scientist be so doubtful, especially when they have less “proof” of their theory than what the NDE folks have to offer.

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