Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, who has spoken at (for example) the Rhine Research Center, writes in the current issue of Newsweek about his personal discovery and conviction that consciousness exists beyond the body. His argument is especially intriguing because, although it is based on his own personal experience, it goes beyond the limp and lame argument that “I experienced it so I know it’s real!” to invoke his medical knowledge and expertise. Specifically, he points out that his otherworldly experiences occurred while he was in a coma, when his neocortex was shut down — at a time when, therefore, according to the brain-based model of consciousness, no experiences at all should have been possible.
Here’s the gist:
As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences. I grew up in a scientific world, the son of a neurosurgeon. I followed my father’s path and became an academic neurosurgeon, teaching at Harvard Medical School and other universities. I understand what happens to the brain when people are near death, and I had always believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death … In the fall of 2008, after seven days in a coma during which the human part of my brain, the neocortex, was inactivated, I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.
… I’m not the first person to have discovered evidence that consciousness exists beyond the body. Brief, wonderful glimpses of this realm are as old as human history. But as far as I know, no one before me has ever traveled to this dimension (a) while their cortex was completely shut down, and (b) while their body was under minute medical observation, as mine was for the full seven days of my coma.
… There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind — my conscious, inner self — was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.
… Today many believe that the living spiritual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth. Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself. But I now understand that such a view is far too simple. The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed. In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already. This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth.
— Dr. Eben Alexander, “Proof of Heaven: A Doctor’s Experience with the Afterlife,” The Daily Beast (and Newsweek), October 8, 2012
For obvious reasons, this piece is being widely circulated around the Internet, and is eliciting comments and reactions galore. This is entirely appropriate, since it injects a truly fascinating perspective into the conversation on consciousness, the brain, the afterlife, and related matters.
Here’s a segment about Dr. Alexander and his experience and ideas on the Science Channel program Through the Wormhole: