Frequent readers of this blog know I believe in near-death experiences (NDEs). To me they confirm the existence of an immaterial essence—call it the self, spirit or soul–that survives the destruction of the body.
This can never be proved (or disproved) scientifically since science is the study of the material and measurable. The very useful “scientific method” doesn’t apply to what lies outside the empirical. We encounter this realm in other ways, e.g. spiritual disciplines, meditation, prayer, drugs, and, infrequently, NDEs.
Thousands of NDEs have been reported and written about but none has caused more commotion than that of Dr. Eben Alexander, author of Proof of Heaven. That’s because he’s a respected neurosurgeon who has worked at leading hospitals and taught at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Alexander didn’t believe in NDEs until he had one during a week-long coma in 2008. As he told Newsweek:
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.
Science can explain the causes of death but its instruments can’t go beyond the veil. For that we have the testimony of countless eyewitnesses. Their experiences don’t all agree, nor should we expect them to. But some carry more weight than others.
You couldn’t find a more qualified test subject for an NDE than Dr. Alexander, yet many of his peers dismiss his observations because of their a priori assumptions. On the other side, many religious people discount him because some details of his experience don’t match their doctrine.
I applaud his professionalism and courage and recommend his book.
“NDEs are border incidents where travelers are turned back
for whatever reason but not before glimpsing
the Elysian Fields.” –Mike Hamel