Newsweek, October 7, 2012
Edited by Andy Ross
I am a Christian neurosurgeon. After seven days in a coma, I experienced
something that made me believe in life after death.
Early one morning
four years ago, I awoke with an intense headache. Within hours, my entire
cortex had shut down. Doctors determined that bacteria were eating my brain.
For seven days I lay in a deep coma. Then my eyes popped open.
my body lay in coma, my consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension
of the universe. As far as I know, no one before me has ever traveled to
this dimension both while their cortex was completely shut down and while
their body was under minute medical observation. Given the severity and
duration of my meningitis, and the global cortical involvement documented by
CT scans and neurological examinations, there is no way I could have been
conscious in the coma.
It took me months to come to terms with what
happened during that time. At first I was in a place of clouds. Above the
clouds, flocks of shimmering beings arced across the sky. They were higher
forms. I could hear their visual beauty and see the perfection of their
song. Everything was distinct, yet also part of everything else.
woman was with me. We rode along together on the wing of a butterfly.
Millions of butterflies flew all around us. She looked at me with love and
told me without words that I was loved and cherished, dearly and forever,
that I had nothing to fear and there was nothing I could do wrong.
The message flooded me with relief, and a warm wind blew around me. I asked
where I was, who I was, and why I was there. The answers came instantly in
an explosion of light, color, love, and beauty, bypassing language, and I
understood them instantly and effortlessly. I entered an immense dark void
filled with light. It seemed like the universe was a womb and I was being
born into a larger world.
Modern physics tells us that the universe
is undivided. Every object and event in the universe is completely woven up
with every other object and event. Now I understand. The universe is defined
by love. The theory that the brain generates consciousness and that we live
in a universe devoid of emotion is destroyed by what happened to me.
The first time I entered a church after my coma, I saw everything with fresh
eyes. A painting of Jesus evoked the message that we are loved and accepted
unconditionally by God.
AR This is similar in its autophenomenology to
many other such reports. New is the medical frame that excludes a
conventional neuroscientific story of the physical correlates of the
experiences. My guess is that Alexander's "reptile brain" (under the
neocortex) and cerebellum took up the load of sustaining a remembered analog
of consciousness. The reported experiences are clearly confabulated attempts
to bring some coherence to illogical thoughts and uncontrolled feelings. All
this is consistent with an account within a lightly extended neuroscience.
The religious gloss is a reflection of Alexander's cultural conditioning.
But it is interesting to see how well Christian imagery fits the feelings he
No Proof Of Heaven
By Colin Blakemore
The Telegraph, October 10, 2012
Edited by Andy Ross
Proof of Heaven, by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, reports a near-death
experience. In 2008, he contracted bacterial meningitis and his brain shut
down. His conscious self journeyed into another world. There was wonderful
music and light. There were clouds and angels.
There are deep
problems in interpreting first-person memories of experiences that are
supposed to have happened when the brain was out of action. Since the lucky
survivor can only tell you about them after the event, how can we be sure
that these things were perceived and felt at the time that their brains were
messed up, rather than being invented afterwards?
Memory is fallible
and easily misled by expectation. The way we appreciate the world around us
is as much dependent on our expectations and inferences as it is on the
evidence of our senses. When there is no evidence except the word of the
beholder, a scientist's accounts are no better than those of anyone else.
Nobleman: "What happens to the
enlightened man at death?"
Zen master Hakuin: "Why ask me?"
"Because you're a Zen master."
Zen master Hakuin: "Yes, but not a dead
This Must Be Heaven
Edited by Andy Ross
Eben Alexander experienced visions that changed everything for him.
He assert that his visions of heaven occurred while his cerebral cortex was
shut down. The evidence he provides for this claim suggests that he doesn't
know anything about the relevant brain science. CT scans and neurological
examinations can't determine neuronal inactivity. Alexander makes no
reference to functional data that might have been acquired by fMRI, PET, or
EEG, nor does he seem to realize that only this sort of evidence could
support his case. Coma is not associated with the complete cessation of
cortical activity, in any case.
Alexander's experience sounds like a
DMT trip. Everything that he describes has been reported by DMT users. DMT
alters consciousness for merely a few minutes, but he would have had more
than enough time to experience a visionary ecstasy as he was coming out of
his coma. DMT already exists in the brain as a neurotransmitter. And similar
experiences can be had with ketamine, which is a surgical anesthetic that is
occasionally used to protect a traumatized brain. Did Alexander by any
chance receive ketamine while in the hospital?
know what he is talking about.
AR Sam is right. Case closed.
Life After Death
Sam Harris Forum, October 14, 2012
Edited by Andy Ross
Materialists claim that thought is no more than a state of the brain. For
materialists, intentionality is either an illusion or an inherent property
of certain material structures such as nervous systems. Ideas and minds only
exist in physical systems such as brains and cannot exist outside such
systems. An afterlife is compatible with materialism only if our minds can
continue after death in a material vehicle other than an organic body.
We need a functioning brain to experience ourselves and our
personalities. If the brain is damaged, experience will be compromised. But
it does not follow that physical brain functions are the ultimate source of
our personal experiences. No matter how well we correlate brain states with
mental states, we cannot prove causation from correlation.
mind-matter dualists have definite ideas about the nature of the soul.
Reports of near-death experiences (NDE) often echo religious scriptures. But
no one has yet applied these ideas to prove or disprove the reality of souls
or out-of-body experience (OBE).
Medical Evidence For NDEs
Pim van Lommel
Edited by Andy Ross
A near-death experience (NDE) is a reported memory of impressions during a
special state of consciousness, including out-of-body experience (OBE),
pleasant feelings, and seeing a tunnel, a light, deceased relatives, or a
We performed a study of 344 survivors of cardiac arrest
in which 282 (82%) had no NDE and 62 patients (18%) reported NDE. All the
patients were clinically dead, unconscious, due to insufficient blood supply
to the brain.
The physiological explanation is that NDE is a result
of anoxia in the brain, possibly also caused by release of endorphins, or
NMDA receptor blockade. A psychological explanation is that NDE is caused by
fear of death.
Patients with cardiac arrest are unconscious within
seconds. Complete cessation of cerebral circulation is found in cardiac
arrest due to ventricular fibrillation (VF). Cerebral ischemia follows
anoxia in the brain.
Cerebral function is severely compromised during
cardiac arrest and electric activity in both cerebral cortex and the deeper
structures of the brain is absent after a very short period of time. EEG
monitoring shows ischemic changes consisting of a decrease of fast high
amplitude waves and an increase of slow delta waves, and sometimes also an
increase in amplitude of theta activity, declining to a flat line.
Attenuation of the EEG waves is often the first sign of cerebral ischemia,
with the first changes an average of 6.5 s after circulatory arrest. The
cerebral ischemia always progresses to a flat line 10-20 s after onset.
In case of a cardiac arrest of more than 37 s, the EEG activity may not
return for minutes to hours after the heartbeat is restored, depending on
the duration of cardiac arrest, despite maintenance of adequate blood
pressure during the recovery phase. Cerebral oxygen uptake may be depressed
for a considerable time after restoration of circulation.
causes loss of function of our cell systems. In prolonged anoxia, cell death
occurs with permanent functional loss. During an embolic event, a small clot
obstructs the blood flow in a small vessel of the cortex, resulting in
anoxia of that part of the brain with loss of electrical activity. This
results in a functional loss of the cortex. If the clot is resolved or
broken down within a few minutes, the lost cortical function is restored. If
the clot obstructs the cerebral vessel for longer, it can result in neuronal
cell death and permanent loss of function of this part of the brain.
In cardiac arrest, global anoxia of the brain occurs within seconds. Timely
and adequate CPR reverses this functional loss of the brain by preventing
permanent damage to the brain cells. Long lasting anoxia, caused by
cessation of blood flow to the brain for more than 5-10 minutes, results in
irreversible damage and extensive cell death in the brain. This is called
In our study, the patients had EEG flat lines and loss
of brain stem activity. Yet the NDE patients reported a clear consciousness,
in which cognitive functioning, emotion, sense of identity, and memory from
early childhood was possible, as well as an OBE. Evidence suggests that the
NDE must happen during the period of unconsciousness, and not in the first
or last second of this period.
The current medical consensus is that
consciousness is the product of the brain. But this concept has never been
scientifically proven. Research on NDE pushes us to the limits of our
For decades, researchers have aimed to localize
memories inside the brain, so far without success. At least we know that
different mental activities give rise to changing patterns of activity in
different parts of the brain. Neurophysiologists show this using EEG, MEG,
MRI, and PET technologies. An increase in cerebral blood flow is observed
Most body cells, and especially all neurons, show an
electrical potential across cell membranes, formed by the presence of a
metabolic Na/K pump. Information is transported along neurons by means of
action potentials, which are differences in membrane potential caused by
synaptic polarization and depolarization. The changing potentials cause
transient electromagnetic (EM) fields along the dendrites. The transient EM
fields generated along the dendrites are crucial. They are shaped into
briefly meaningful patterns that fluctuate over the neurons and over the
entire cortical neuronet. This process can be considered as a biological
quantum coherence phenomenon.
The influence of external localized EM
fields on these constant changing EM fields during normal function of the
brain is well explored. Researchers use TMS, which uses a localized EM
field, to excite or inhibit different parts of the brain. They investigate
the function in focal brain regions on a millisecond scale to study the
contribution of cortical networks to specific cognitive functions. TMS can
interfere with visual and motion perception by interrupting cortical
processing with an interval of 80-100 ms. TMS can also alter the functioning
of the brain beyond the time of stimulation. So localized artificial EM
stimulation disturbs and inhibits the constantly changing EM fields of
neural networks, and can even induce an OBE.
To understand this
interaction, consider telecommunications. We live in a smog of EM fields
broadcast to transmit information to electronic devices. We only become
aware of these EM fields when we use those devices. The devices convert the
information from the EM fields to a form we can observe. If we switch off
the device, the information disappears from our consciousness but the
transmission continues. The information remains coded within the EM fields
and can still be received through another device.
Perhaps our brain
are also devices for converting EM waves into images and sound. The
information fields of our consciousness and of our memories may be present
around us as EM fields, which only become available to our consciousness
through our functioning brain and other cells of our body. We need a
functioning brain to receive information into our waking consciousness. As
soon as brain function is lost, our reception is lost. But the memories and
consciousness still exist in the EM fields.
Our study shows that
patients with EEG flatlines can have an NDE or an OBE.
AR The EM story is exactly in line with "the
Ross hypothesis" I worked out in the early years of the century and
presented at various conferences: see
just point out that people with an OBE have extracorporeal excursion
Even when we die, we can still have 3ex.