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Is Dr. Eben Alexander Putting Science Back on the Right Track?

Posted on 26 November 2012, 21:30

When Dr. Eben Alexander took the speaker’s platform at the Forever Family Foundation conference in Phoenix on November 10, he looked very much like that meek, mild-mannered reporter known as Clark Kent.  At the conclusion of his talk, for which he received a standing ovation, Alexander appeared to have been transformed into a Superman, of sorts.

There was no indication that Alexander, a renowned academic neurosurgeon, was faster than a speeding bullet or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but the audience of some 200 appeared to have seen him as more powerful than a locomotive, the locomotive in this case called Materialism or Scientism – a belief system propelling mankind toward an abyss of nothingness.  It was as if a bridge high above the abyss was out and Alexander had firmly planted himself in front of the locomotive, offering enough resistance to at least slow its “progress” as it approached the bridge for its fatal plunge into the abyss.

Four years ago and some miles earlier, when the locomotive was steaming down the tracks, Alexander was one of its passengers, more or less subscribing to the philosophy of materialism.  “I thought I knew how we are all put together,” he explained his attitude at the time, adding that he had since come to realize that the boundaries of science need to be greatly extended.

“I was on an express train out of here,” Alexander told of his personal derailment, referring to November 10, 2008, exactly four years to the day before his Phoenix talk, when he contracted a case of severe E. coli bacterial meningitis, a condition that put him in a coma for seven days.  “I should have died, should not have come back,” he said, mentioning that he had a disease that was virtually impossible for him to have. . 

It was what he experienced during his coma that converted Alexander to a belief in life after death – “a beautiful, incredible dream world,” as he describes it in his recently released book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, published by Simon and Schuster and now number 2 among all books at Amazon.com. “Except it wasn’t a dream.  Though I didn’t know where I was or even what I was, I was absolutely sure of one thing: this place I’d suddenly found myself in was completely real.”

I’ll leave the details of Alexander’s experience to his book, but will dwell here more on the reaction to his experience by those stuck in the muck and mire of scientism.(I know I overuse that metaphor, but I can think of nothing better to describe it.)  One of the first to attack Alexander’s conclusions regarding his near-death experience was Dr. Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and popular author, including a best-seller titled The End of Faith.
In his blog of October 12, before Alexander’s book was even released, Harris called a Newsweek magazine story about Alexander’s experience as something which “is best viewed as an archaeological artifact that is certain to embarrass us in the eyes of future generations.”

As of this writing, there have been 422 reviews of Alexander’s book at Amazon, the majority giving it the highest rating, five stars.  However, the fundamentalists of both religion and science have done their best to bring down the overall rating by giving it only one star, the lowest rating possible.  The religious fundamentalists are disappointed and skeptical because Alexander didn’t see Jesus, while the scientific fundamentalists scoff, commenting that there is no scientific “proof.”

Dr. Richard Brannon, a retired biologist who heard Alexander’s talk in Phoenix, was very much impressed and referred to Alexander as a “white crow,” a term coined by Professor William James of Harvard during the 1880s and applied to Leonora Piper, probably the most-tested medium of all time.  She was studied for some 25 years by a number of esteemed scientists, including James, Dr. Richard Hodgson, Sir Oliver Lodge, and Dr. James Hyslop, all of them initially skeptical but concluding that she was not a charlatan, and that she possessed supernormal powers of some kind.  There was a belief among the uninformed of that time that all mediums were tricksters and the white crow label pinned on Mrs. Piper by James was intended to clearly indicate that a true medium existed

Brannon was not suggesting that all other near-death experiencers are “black crows.” He has studied numerous NDE accounts and believes that NDE research has provided strong evidence that we are more than a physical body – that our spirit body, soul body, etheric body, whatever name is attached to it, separates from the physical body at death and enters into another realm of existence.  What Brannon was saying is that the circumstances of Alexander’s NDE – the fact that his cortex was completely shut down and that his body was under close medical observation during the seven days he was in a coma – make it especially evidential.  According to Alexander, who should know, there is no way he should have experienced any type of consciousness during the time he was in a coma.  And yet, he experienced something so profound that there in now no doubt in his mind that we are more than our brains and bodies and that consciousness does not end in death.

To those already believing in an afterlife, Dr. Alexander’s story helps them move from blind faith to true faith, or conviction.  To the open-minded skeptic – the true skeptic – it gives them something to ponder while providing hope that death is not the end.  Unfortunately, however, there are the closed-minded individuals who are not moved by any evidence, no matter how impressive.  They call it all “unscientific,” without even understanding the scope of science. They have a will to disbelieve.  I think Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution, summed it up best when he said, “The antagonism which it excites seems to be mainly due to the fact that [a spirit world] is, and has long been in some form or other, the belief of the religious world, and of the ignorant and superstitious of all ages, while a total disbelief in spiritual existence has been the distinctive badge of modern scientific skepticism.” 

It has been my observations that many, if not most, of the pseudoskeptics do not take the time to distinguish between the superstitions and follies of religion and the findings of valid psychical research and parapsychology.  Brannon mentions discussing the subject with another retired biologist, a confirmed materialist whose mind was made up and who had absolutely no interest in hearing about the evidence for the survival of consciousness. 

In another recently-released book, Science Set Free, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, a world-renowned scientist and a clear exception to the more fundamentalist scientist, points out that many scientists are unaware that materialism is an assumption. “They simply think of it as science,” Sheldrake states, “or the scientific view of reality, or the scientific worldview.  They are not actually taught about it, or given a chance to discuss it.  They absorb it by a kind of intellectual osmosis.”  Sheldrake adds that “Despite all the achievement of science and technology, materialism is now facing a credibility crunch that was unimaginable in the twentieth century.”

It is people like Dr. Eben Alexander who are contributing to this credibility crunch.  Clearly, it takes courage to place oneself in front of a locomotive, even if that locomotive is losing steam from other forces, but truth is a strong motivator.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die, Transcending the Titanic, and The Afterlife Explorers Volume 1., published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online bookstores. His latest book Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is published by White Crow and will be available in January 2013.

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Next blog:  December 10


Comments

It is sometimes claimed, and I believe was even sometimes in the ancient world, that the afterlife is for some, not for everybody.  Modern individuals who believed that would probably link it to alleged spiritual development.  I only cite this, Howard, as illustrating that what applies to the physical just might also apply to the mental/spiritual.
    Coyd

coyd, Tue 11 Dec, 09:32

Mike, I totally agree with you about skeptics: no one will ever change their mind, also because their brains have a different architecture. I’ve learned, after 13 years of reserach on ESP, that it’s better to ignore them. In a restrict sense of the word, both you and I are Sceptics (note the “C”) because we use to “inquire” not dismissing “a priori” each possible explanation and we know for sure that an ESP cab e real or fake or only a self-deceiving story. Skeptics, instead, don’t bother looking for any explanation and are sure that everything that’s out of the official scientific world is fake.

Claudio, Mon 10 Dec, 21:24

To Claudio and others who don’t know; Kyle Hill who wrote the Scientific American article about Eben Alexander is a research fellow for the James Randi Educational Foundation.  And Scientific American employs a regular columnist, notorious skeptic, Michael Schermer to write an article published in each issue.  Draw your own conclusions about the “magazine”.

Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 10 Dec, 21:01

Claudio, you’re right, so I would give more importance to other NDE cases where there are extrasensory veridical elements, time markers to set when it happened the NDE, etc.

Juan, Mon 10 Dec, 16:45

Claudio and Juan,

The so-called “skeptics” will never be convinced.  It is people who are on the fence and with open minds that might be influenced to at least make a move to get off the fence when they read Alexander’s book.  My latest blog about the “skeptics” just went up.  Do you have any thoughts on that subject?

Thanks again.

Michael Tymn, Mon 10 Dec, 16:00

Juan, I agree with you that it’s important that this NDE happened to a Neurosurgeon, but you know that in the world of skeptics, it’s required an incredible proof for an incredible event!

Claudio

Claudio, Sun 9 Dec, 04:07

<meeting with his dead sister>
Nope! For those skeptics this is an anecdotal argument, no one can assure them that Eben knew in advance the story…sorry!
:-(((
Claudio

Claudio, Sun 9 Dec, 04:02

I think that the Alexander’s NDE should not receive such importance, because it is only important because Alexander is a neurosurgeon who has gone from not believing in the afterlife to believing the afterlife, but his NDE lacks those elements that strongly suggests that NDEs are evidence of the afterlife, as extracorporeal veridical experiences, capturing events that occurred when brain activity was flat or meet loved ones dead but had believed live. Although there is an element that might be veridical in the Alexander’s NDE, that is meeting with his dead sister, this data is often not mentioned.

Juan, Sat 8 Dec, 21:02

Claudio and Mike,
The Scientific America is a known skeptical resourse, but look, even though, there are enough critical comments of original post

Alexander Zlotnik, Sat 8 Dec, 06:07

Claudio,

Thank you for your comments.  I had seen the Scientific American article and have seen many others critizing Alexander. In fact, they prompted me to write my next blog, up next Monday, about the attacks by the pseudoskeptics on Alexander.

I also wondered about the lack of detail as to what he had experienced during his NDE, but perhaps there wasn’t that much to it or he was unable to put it into words.  Clearly, however, it was meaningful to him and I think that is what makes it so impressive, i.e., that a man of his profession and scientific mindset could be so impacted by the experience.  In other words, he is so certain that he was not hallucinating or dreaming that he is willing to put his reputation on the line. That is what makes it impressive to me.   

No matter what the detail, however, the attack dogs will always be ready to pounce.

Michael Tymn, Thu 6 Dec, 11:58

P.S.
For example, read this skeptic’s blog:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/12/03/the-death-of-near-death-even-if-heaven-is-real-you-arent-seeing-it/

Claudio Pisani (from Italy), Wed 5 Dec, 04:28

Mike.
As an MD i don’t agree at all with Eben’s story. He’s piling up a lot of skeptical comments that are not helping our “cause” for the benefit of the Afterlife! If I was him, I would have told of my story, without biases, telling what I’d have seen during (or after?) my coma. His story lacks of the fundamental (and impossible to explain)singular topic of many NDErs’ account:
VERIFIED FACTS!!! And you well know that skeptics avoid from finding explantions to OBE’s verified accounts!
My 2€cent worth
Claudio

Claudio Pisani (from Italy), Wed 5 Dec, 04:25

Ron,

Thank you for your comments and for your interest in The Articulate Dead.  It is still available from Galde Press, the publisher for $19.95. See
http://www.galdepress.com/?field_1=136&field_2=0&s=Enter+search+keywords&submit=Search+Site

Michael Tymn, Sat 1 Dec, 01:08

Great as always, Mike.

I was pleased to see I’m in good company with guys like Wallace and Sheldrake as on my own I also reached those same insights and have numerous times uttered almost identical laments. (It’s amazing how many people cannot grasp the simple idea that the notion, whether true or false, that consciousness survives physical death need *not* have anything to do with organized religion.  They just don’t get it…)

But still we battle on…

Dr. Alexander is doing a great job holding up to the scrutiny. I think a lot of the negative scrutiny he’s getting is due to the unfortunate title of his book picked by the publisher.  Granted, the fundamentalist pseudoskeptics would have attacked him regardless (and here I pause to chuckle ‘cause I used to be one of those guys…).  And it irks me that most of said skeptics are published authors, so they, too, should know he almost certainly didn’t pick that title.  Nevertheless, we’ll continue to have to endure the protests about his experience not “proving” anything - which of course it doesn’t, etc, etc.  Obviously his recounting his experience does not constitute scientific proof, yada yada, but I don’t think anyone should waste any more time on these bozos when these folks literally have next to no knowledge about NDEs and NDE research and still default to “experts” like James Randi (who I one time admired…) and Susan freakin’ Blackmore.  (I refer you to any one of Alex Tskaris’ Skeptiko interviews.)

(Ok, I’ll stop my usual verbosity before I again get myself all worked up…)

To switch gears:

I think I once asked you how I can get a copy of _The Articulate Dead_.  It’s not available anywhere.  (I’m not counting the $400 used copy I currently see on Amazon…)  Is there any way to get it through White Crow?  I have _The Afterlife Revealed_, but I want to grab all the rest of your books.

Thanks.

Ron

RonC, Fri 30 Nov, 06:41

I was one of those who reviewed Alexander’s book as 5* for Amazon. Although spiritual insight is indeed personal, all human experience is - including reporting results of a scientific experiment. Such experiments are held to represent ‘truth’ for two reasons: (1) because the results can be replicated; (2) because they can be interpreted within a theoretical framework or paradigm. So it is with spiritual insights. They too are replicated by others and they too fit a theoretical framework. I think your analogy with hurdlers is inappropriate Coyd. Hurdling is a physical activity and is certainly not generally reproducible!! Dr Howard Jones

Dr Howard A. Jones, Tue 27 Nov, 17:08

I do not dispute Alexander’s testimony, but let me provide an analogy to illustrate why I am not “moved by the evidence.”

Let’s say somebody urges that I can jump a certain hurdle if only I try, and the evidence is that Joe did it, and Ed did it, and Bob did it.  Therefore, supposedly, I can.  Obviously the argument isn’t convincing.

Why is belief in afterlife the same sort of thing?  Because, I believe, spiritual belief is deeply personal.  It is not to be decided by evidence “external” to oneself.  We are all “pioneers” in this regard, traversing a path not carved by others, but each on our own unique journey.

coyd, Tue 27 Nov, 09:01


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