Saturday, October 13, 2012

Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven?

Proof of Heaven?

Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who had an unexpected near-death experience that has convinced him of the afterlife, or what in Newsweek he calls "My Proof of Heaven" (October 15, 2012), the title of an article in which he describes his extremely vivid experiences undergone while lying unconscious in a coma for seven days, and not a near-death experience in just any coma:
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.
He then expands upon this point:
All the chief arguments against near-death experiences suggest that these experiences are the results of minimal, transient, or partial malfunctioning of the cortex. My near-death experience, however, took place not while my cortex was malfunctioning, but while it was simply off. This is clear from the severity and duration of my meningitis, and from the global cortical involvement documented by CT scans and neurological examinations. According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.

It took me months to come to terms with what happened to me. Not just the medical impossibility that I had been conscious during my coma, but -- more importantly -- the things that happened during that time.
Dr. Alexander describes an intriguing experience, one worth reading about, but two things strike me from his words above, that he was "under minute medical observation" and "[a]ccording to current medical understanding of the brain and mind," no scientific theory exists to explain his experience, for these strong points that direct us to a mystery -- namely, how could his brain have generated such vivid mental activity that went unrecorded by the finest scientific instruments -- are also simultaneously weak points, for they depend on current medical technology, which is imperfect, and current science, which is incomplete, leaving open the possibility that this 'proof' is no better than what is called "the God of the gaps," an expression referring to the gaps in our techniques and our knowledge that are used by some as evidence for God's intervention in the world and thereby for God's existence.

In other words, Dr. Alexander is saying that because science and technology cannot currently account for his experience, then his experience must be real. Granted, it seemed real enough to convince him, and I can't exclude the possibility that a similar firsthand experience would convince me -- nor can I exclude the possibility that the book, with its "hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey," might convince me as well if I were to read it.

But I have to maintain a sensible skepticism, reflecting both creatively and critically . . .

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At 4:36 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Thanks for this post. I'm reading Sam Harris's skeptical response to Alexander right now.

At 4:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Kevin.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:45 PM, Blogger Katherine Koba said...

HTML fail. Let's try again.

One of my favorite SF authors wrote a much lauded book about just this sort of thing: Passage

At 2:17 PM, Blogger dhr said...

There was this old, wicked joke (my father told it to me: it was a problem in country villages, many decades ago): "Oh, yes, meningitis: that illness that either kills you or makes you dumb. I also had it."

Anyway, my further objection to Alexander's experience is that we do not think only through the brain.

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, KK.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Maybe the bacteria ate Alexander's brain -- he said that's what they were doing . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Medical technology will remain imperfect and science incomplete, and I doubt we'll ever be able to explain this phenomenon. There are several theories trying to explain NDE, but all of them are easily debunked which means that scientists, philosopher and all sorts of "thinkers" don't even know how to approach the problem. So far their attempts are as awkward and laughable as elephants' attempts to lift a cumbersome 10 ton concrete block - all of the animals have their theories how to move the block, but fail to notice that it's simply beyond their capability. At least for now.
I also like to take sometimes a closer look at scientists themselves, and generally observe people. Their non-verbal communication tells so much more than most of their theories. They are at times no different from arguing preschool children. Harris accuses Alexander of lack of knowledge in neuroscience, but he himself multiple times had been accused of lack of philosophical competence even though he graduated from philosophy from Stanford Univ. Harris claims that Alexander sounds how a scientist should not sound, but he himself as usual must resort to multiple logical fallacies, starting his article with appeal to ridicule, which is no new as his books are literally full of them. Just like thieves lack confidence in their own abilities and must resort to crime, so many scientists and philosophers must resort to lie and sophism to persuade and deceive readers.


At 8:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Jacek. This is a topic I've had various attitudes about over the past 35 years, ever since I first learned of the phenomenon.

Jeffery Hodges

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