Skip to comments.Near-Death Experiences: 30 Years of Research - A neurosurgeonís perspective
Posted on 10/16/2011 1:19:00 PM PDT by NYer
DURHAM, N.C.—Eben Alexander was your typical neurosurgeon. A firm believer of scientific reductionism, he thought that all thoughts originate from the brain. But this changed in 2008 when he encountered a case of near-death experience (NDE).
As much as it was the complete opposite of his previous views, he couldn’t dismiss or avoid the case—it was none other than his own experience, and he had to face it and search for an explanation.
Having contracted acute bacterial meningitis, which damages the neocortex—the part of the brain that is thought to involve complex cognitive functions like conscious thought—Alexander went into a coma and spent six days on a ventilator. The chance of survival was very slim, and less so was the possibility of recovering fully.
The normal glucose levels in a human’s cerebrospinal fluid are between 60 and 80 mg/dl (milligram per one-tenth of a liter), and the meningitis infection is considered severe when the level drops to 20 mg/dl. But the glucose level of Alexander’s cerebrospinal fluid was at 1 mg/dl, making it impossible for his brain to function.
However, during the time when he was in coma, Alexander encountered vivid experiences involving multiple senses, such as vision, hearing, and smell. He said that he couldn’t describe how amazing it was.
“What happened deep in coma was absolutely stunning,” Alexander said during an interview.
“The whole situation seems to be much more real than our earthly life, and the sensory modalities were very strange because they were, you know, when I was remembering all this and trying to write it down, a lot of the kind of auditory and visual things that we would normally think of as things that we see or hear, were all kind of blended together.”
For example, he “saw” a beautiful melody appearing as colors in front of him, and he remembered gold and silver arcs of lights as transparent arcs of energy that he perceived as sounds.
“To compare it with sitting here and talking on the phone or working on my computer, it was much, much more real, very rich, and as if I were truly being alive for the first time,” Alexander said. “It was really amazing.”
“My brain right now—I think it recovered pretty well—could not do anything close to what my brain was doing deep in coma,” Alexander said in this year’s International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) conference.
“How does a dying brain end up getting far, far more powerful and able to handle these tremendous loads of information instantaneously and put it altogether?”
“For me the problem was how to explain the hyper-reality. How do I explain such a rich experience, such an interactive experience, one with so much very vivid, and auditory and visual components when the parts of my human brain that normally handle all that were infected with meningitis and were not working. And especially how was it that the mind would experience consciousness, and handling very complex tasks?” Alexander said during the interview.
For months after the coma, Alexander thought about his NDE and tried to explain it from a neuroscientific standpoint. He came up with about seven hypotheses, but later found that none were able to explain fully what happened.
“The standard neuroscientific explanation […] absolutely does not address the real powerful elements of the experience,” he said.
“My conclusion is that the experience was very real and had to happen outside of my brain, and it had to happen outside of this physical universe. […] There is an element of our consciousness that is not dependent on the brain and that is what was set free, for me, and went on that journey.”
“Any scientists who doubt the reality of such extraordinary near-death experiences should begin by explaining the fundamental mechanism of conscious awareness. The evidence for the reality of many related phenomena, such as remote viewing and influence, and out-of-body phenomena, is overwhelming. The reductive materialist view of physical reality, as it currently stands, is not going to fully explain consciousness,” he said.
Alexander has since looked into quantum mechanics as it seems to offer some insights into the phenomenon of consciousness, and thus to NDEs.
"When the enigma of the interpretation of their experiments first came to light more than 80 years ago to the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, and Max Planck, they knew their experiments revealed a deep mystery. It was such a mystery because it dealt with the intersection of reality and consciousness. It is even more of a mystery today, as revealed by ever more refined experiments,” he said.
Experiments in quantum mechanics have found that it is impossible to precisely measure a photon or electron’s (or other subatomic particle’s) position and momentum at the same time. These entities would behave like waves or particles, depending on the choice of a conscious observer about how to measure them. The exact measurement result seemed to be arbitrarily chosen from a range of possibilities, but was not exact until the measurement was consciously observed.
An experiment done in 2000 even found that an observation made in the future of a particle could affect the behavior of an entangled particle (one that was generated in the same single process) in the past. The experiment was set up for particles to pass through a double-slit apparatus and end up in four different locations, and the researchers found that just by observing which location the particles arrive at, their behavior back at the double-slit apparatus would be affected.
“I’m worried that some of the physics community today doesn’t sense the same deep mystery behind it all, as did the brilliant founding fathers of the field. The experimental results have gotten even more bizarre with more refined experiments, but many who work with quantum physics overlook the extreme mystery at its most basic level. Quantum mechanics is such a basic part of our lives that a third of our economy (cell phones, GPS, television, computers, all the semiconductor technology, etc.) is based in the physics and mathematics of quantum mechanics. It’s been proven to work very well, but they got away from the deep mystery that is there when you look at the basic experimental results. They indicate that consciousness is crucial in the determination of physical reality,” Alexander said.
It has recently been discovered that quantum phenomena also happen in biological processes such as human olfaction, bird migration, and photosynthesis. Alexander thinks that quantum processes might also be involved with human consciousness.
“The main role in my view for quantum mechanics is that it provides the ‘smoking gun,’ that shows us there’s something special about consciousness in making reality,” he said.
“It suggests that we’re missing a big point about our consciousness and exactly how it interacts with reality. […] I don’t think that by chasing quantum mechanical phenomena to a certain degree that we will come up with the answer about mind and consciousness, although I think it will be very helpful at elucidating the mind-brain interface.”
“I see science and spirituality going forward, together—science and spirituality as being one, and complementing each other beautifully. Both the religious side and the science side will have to let go of some of the more simplistic dogmatic assumptions and statements, but then science and spirituality and this deeper knowledge of the profound nature of our individual consciousness can move forward. The world will be an enormously better place when we do that,” he concluded.
That is interesting; made from mushrooms. I wonder what it would have done for my dad. Thank you for sending me this.
My uncle wasn't a religious man, but wherever he went to was pretty nice.
And my experience with many of the Jesus-praising religious nuts who attack everybody else for not being quite in their league leads me to conclude they can HAVE their damned heaven all to themselves.
What a bunch of miserable, narrow-minded, self-righteous snobs.
That seems true in the case of savants. It is certainly true in the case of those who have experienced altered wiring due to trauma or disease.
I think of the rest of us as being burdened with “governors” much like those for vehicles.
Synaesthesia. It’s more common than you think, most cases are lifelong. It’s particularly notable in creative fields. Start looking at the language to describe music and color, you’ll begin to notice the crossed senses of the words and themes. Color has sound and vice versa, many more differing examples than that as well.
That said, I suspect the byline of Durham, NC is due to the presence of The Rhine Institute there. I’ve become uncomfortable with the intentions of that place in the past decade or so, after having something of an association with it prior.
That’s not to cast doubt upon the validity of their research, just the purpose of it. Friendly to orthodox Christianity are words I would not use to describe them.
I know I’m going to get slammed probably, but when the brain mixes senses so you can hear what you see, isn’t that what LSD is described as?
I wonder if certain brain diseases push this beyond a dose of drugs to the point it puts the brain into a mode where all the syntaxes are actually working so well together we can’t yet understand.
I wish I understood some of the science this man knows so I’d love to read his work. I bet he has some insights into the massive syntax connections working to make you see music as colors. Or to instantly know how to play an instrument.
Kind of reminds me of that movie with Albert Brooks where when you die they send you on or back in another life. The only way you move on is if your brain usage has increased enough. Pretty funny too.
“I am but a poor soul, burdened with a lifeless body.”
Yep. Me too. Put me on the “not going to heaven list”.
Whereever it is, I hope I get a table near the John. It looks like it is going to be very crowded.
I can remember being offered Psilocybin from the popsicle man when I was a kid. The 60’s was quite a decade.
When my time comes, and if I am anxious, I am reaching for the morphine and a good cigar.
Thanks, I was having a brain block myself on the name of the movie.
I attended this Rhine Inst. lecture and heard him when he presented at IANDS,(International Assoc. for Near Death Studies) annual conference last month. It’s a great experience he describes. My experience was similar to his, meningitis to a coma.
He was a neurosurgeon at Harvard Hospital for 17 yrs. Did Med School and Residency here at Duke.
He was put up for adoption by his parents who had him while they were in high school. He had no idea that they went on to marry and have several children. He met his birth parents for the first time after his NDE and had them at the IANDS lecture. Funny thing, during his NDE he met this beautiful woman. Ends up it was his birth sister whom he had never met and died a few years earlier. He recognized her by a picture provided by the family.
Mankind as a whole percieves objective reality in the manner that it does because the senses we possess provide the perception. There are those who don’t quite perceive objective reality in quite the same manner. Some deal with it constructively, even creatively. Some don’t, and some descend into dysfunction to the point that sanity is suspect. This can be a lifelong condition or it can be induced, by trauma, psychoactives or other forms of intervention. What it means, well, I’ll have to say I don’t know, but religion has it right that there is as much or more unseen than there is seen, imho.
Ahhhhh my friend, I must tell you that you are SO wrong here. Of course we know it. It isn't just that the Bible tells us that we are spiritual beings first and foremost (and of course, I believe the Bible unswervingly), but there have been countless thousands of NDE's documented over many years. I've read several books on the topic; the experiences bear striking similarities no matter the person's race, age, ethnic background, country of origin, etc.
Yes, there is definitely life after death, and it is incumbent upon us to follow God's law but not "just in case"; we do it because our spirit beings long to be with Him and long to commune with Him. Those who either ignore this or claim not to know it seek that fulfillment in many destructive ways, never seeming to realize what they are really missing in this life. This life, the next.....inextricably intertwined.
Yes it will be crowded, but you may not like the company very much.
C.S. Lewis said something similar. He said we have a body, we are a soul.
I’m a Christian and by no means perfect. Evidently you are though.
Did your father suffer long
Did your father suffer long
Wow .... what an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing.
Yes, I heard of NDE experiences where a single person watched the goings on and described them accurately to the surprise of medical personal, et al.
I made a statement of fact that if there is no life / consciousness / awareness / whatever after death then we will never know it. Period.