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.
Next blog: December 10
Read comments or post one of your own
“The Last Frontier”: An Interview with author Julia Assante, Ph.D.
Posted on 07 November 2012, 14:17
My personal library consists of around 500 books dealing with spiritual, metaphysical, paranormal, and philosophical matters. I’ve given away another thousand or so because of space problems. If I had to choose just five of those 1,500 or more books to be given to every hospice in the world, The Last Frontier by Julia Assante, Ph.D. (below) would definitely be one of them. Recently released by New World Library, this book, as the subtitle states, is about “exploring the afterlife and transforming our fear of death.”
In addition to being an academic, having taught at Columbia, Bryn Mawr, and the University of Münster in Germany, the author is a professional intuitive, medium, and past-life therapist. She explores the whole area from inside out and outside in, discussing every conceivable subject related to dying, death, and the afterlife, including after-death communication, angels, deathbed visions, dreams, karma, life reviews, spirits, near-death experiences, reincarnation, suicide, telepathy, thought forms, xenoglossy, what-have-you. Included are a number of personal experiences with the dying and the dead.
“There is so much fear around illness and death that it is literally killing us,” Assante explains her motivation for writing the book, going on to say that it has made our society schizophrenic. “On the one hand, the topic of death is scrupulously avoided; on the other hand, it is a cultural obsession.”
Since writing the book, Assante has given up teaching to give workshops and talks on afterlife phenomena, psi-development, conscious death, and related topics.
I recently put some questions to her by e-mail.
Dr. Assante, many people say we shouldn’t concern ourselves with what happens after death, but should live for today. How do you respond to them?
“Knowing something real about what awaits us after death takes the fear out of living and dying and replaces it with wonder. It makes dying immeasurably easier and opens up the pathways for communication. If we were to truly understand the nature of our immortality, we would let go of petty stresses. We would be freer to be ourselves, to be creative and playful, and not grab so hard at life. We would know that the good things in life are not things and immediate gratification does not in the end bring great reward but rather destructive exploitation of nature and a population problem that is threatening to devour the earth.
“Knowing that what awaits us is ineffable love, understanding, and forgiveness restores our innate morality. It creates a safe, positive framework of reality that fosters honest evaluations of our lives now—where our fears are blocking self-expression, creativity, and love. And it fosters forgiveness. Knowledge of the afterlife is known for sharpening a sense of life purpose, while expanding our definition of the self. As it is now, we impose enormous limitations on humanity, which would be immediately lifted if we better understood the self that survives the body. Knowledge of the afterlife includes knowledge about reincarnation and how it works. Realizing that our soul histories include different races, different sexes and social categories would break down prejudice. Lastly, I have worked with a great many people who died confused about the afterlife or with false expectations and it caused a lot of unnecessary trouble after their deaths.”
How did you become interested in the subject of life after death?
“I think I was set up for it. From my conception through the prenatal period, my mother was in powerful mourning from the recent deaths of her infant son and father. My absorption of her grief later led to this interest, no doubt urged by my late grandfather who believed he was channeling Tolstoy while alive. As a professional intuitive, working with the dead is an every-day occurrence. But in 1983, when my husband died only 11 days after our wedding, my dog, my only living brother, and my father, all within 6 months, I began to have strong personal afterdeath communication. My husband, who lay dying for days in quarantine—with no phone, left a thank-you message on my answering machine after he died. Events like these are bound to generate high interest in the afterlife. Soon after, I started working with those deceased, sometimes for days at a time, who were having serious adjustment problems on the other side. This was a turning point in my understanding of life after death.”
Have you always been a believer in an afterlife?
“I would say yes, although I had doubts about the existence of anything outside my own perception in my teens. At that time, I wanted to be a scientist. Three extraordinarily influential experiences from my childhood made it impossible to forget that there is an eternity. My first came at seven, as what I call an infinity moment. While I was hugging a big old maple tree, I felt swept up in a kind of vortex. As I was whirling upward, I instantaneously understood everything and felt the indescribable love that is at the foundation of reality. The second occurred while I was sitting in a cherry tree in full bloom, staring up into a crystal-blue sky. I became overwhelmed with a sense of a luminous Presence around me and through me that lovingly knows and cares for absolutely every little thing that exists. Later, at 16, I had an NDE in which that luminous Presence returned.”
I understand that you are an intuitive and a medium. Could you explain how you acquired these gifts?
“First let me say that without exception everyone has these gifts. It’s simply a matter of awakening them. In my case, the abilities never had a chance to go underground. I needed them in my childhood for defense. For instance, in order to protect myself from emotional or physical harm, I had to know what my parents were thinking. The results are telepathic and remote viewing abilities that according to clinical tests are off the charts. Childhood stress or trauma usually leads to heightened abilities and plays a decisive role in who has a near-death experience and who doesn’t. It also explains why intuitive abilities often go hand-in-hand with psychological problems. In fact, traditional societies frequently induce stress in rituals as a way of provoking sacred visions. Think of the forty days and forty nights in the desert. Obviously, stress is what triggers sacred visions of the NDE type. Nonetheless, there are far better ways to keep those inborn abilities in working order. Parents should encourage creativity in children and allow them full use of their imaginations, reincarnation recall, and intuition without censorship.”
In your book, you discuss reincarnation in simultaneous time. I realize it is difficult to explain this in a few hundred words, but please give it a try.
“Reincarnations operate outside of time because they originate in the non-spacetime of inner dimensions. Our incarnations all burst out at once in simultaneous time, going in different trajectories of experience we interpret as different time zones. Time is only the way our nervous systems order data, including solar data, a perception influenced by our biology and cultures. Many scientists already know that time doesn’t exist. The Block Theory claims that all past and future zones still exist now but can’t be perceived.
“The notion of a sequence of lives, one replacing the other, is not true. The idea of reincarnations proceeding from a lower to higher vibration or lower to higher spiritual advancement along a timeline is also not possible in the non-time reality in which our incarnations are anchored. The individual personality never dies, even after death. Individual reincarnations co-exist in the afterlife. And they can co-exist in this life too. I know a woman who is a reincarnation of me. We both have the same past-life memories and share one future-life memory, even the name of the man we are going to be, a man named Bernerd, who lives about 200 years from now. Our other-life memories were already known to us before we ever met. She and I simply split up into two bodies. After death, the individual personality expands enormously. Part of that expansion is absorbing the knowledge and experiences of other lives, until we reach the state of awareness equivalent to that of our oversouls, which spawns and contains all of our incarnations.”
The way I see it, the civilized world is becoming more and more materialistic and hedonistic, but a number of my friends believe we are becoming more spiritual. What are your thoughts on this?
“There is no doubt that the ego’s view of reality — that only what is perceived through the physical senses is real — has led to an insane focus on materialism and greatly hampered our intuitive faculties. Ironically, however, the very pressure of repressed intuition has led to a creative explosion in communication technologies that are training us to develop unprecedented abilities. It all began with the invention of the telephone, really. We are now accustomed to communicating with disembodied voices even from outer space. Still today, afterlife encounters and other communication phenomena involve the humble telephone, either as a physical instrument or as a symbol of telepathy, more than any other object or concept. The internet has primed us to deal with multiple inner dimensions in which time and distance play little or no role. You are never more than one page away from where you want to be. Because of technology, we can imagine crossing the cosmos. The picture taken from outer space of our tiny planet has served as a powerful reminder that we are one family with one home. Perhaps more than anything is family upbringing in which the intuitive faculties are not beaten out of us as children as they were generations ago. The change during my lifetime is quite noticeable. More and more people are easily accessing their intuitive selves. I believe the change will be globally fixed in mass consciousness by the end of this century. Abilities like telepathy, for instance, and afterlife communication, will be considered normal. Our awareness of the nonphysical, of immortality, and the benign universe will be far greater than it is now. Hence, our values will change.”
Many writers feel that knowing with absolute certainty, or at least with something close to it, that we do live on after death would deprive us of those challenges uncertainty brings that spur spiritual evolution. Do you agree?
“You might already have guessed that I’m not much of a supporter of spiritual evolution in which we progress sequentially. I know I have had past incarnations in which I was more advanced than I am now. And nearly everyone is more “spiritually evolved” as children than as adults. The notion that discomfort makes us grow is to a large extent the nineteenth-century thinking that produced the conflict theories of Darwin, Freud and Marx. In all these theories, change or growth is inextricable from pain, fear, or conflict. My question is, Would we be more spiritually evolved if we didn’t know for certain that we could keep a roof over our heads? Would we grow more enlightened or just grow differently, wasting energy in worry and strife?
“A better way to answer this is to look at what happens to people when they are certain of a life to come. An inner awareness of what is important for the planet and its residents resurfaces. Dying is no longer an enemy or an end but a miraculous turning point in the life of the eternal self. Creative, intellectual, and psychic capacities measurably increase. People become more reflective, more altruistic, and more sensitive to nature and the environment.
Prejudice and a “them-versus-us” mentality give way to compassion for others. The desire for material success wanes, as does the need to compete. People feel instead a sharpened sense of life purpose, usually involving service. That’s a lot to gain from certainty.”
How do we know that afterdeath communication is not just wishful thinking or fantasy?
“Statistical studies show that people are not wishing for an encounter when they happen spontaneously. In encounters when people do not know of the death of the discarnate visitor — and I have in mind here a mother’s encounter with her teenage daughter before the police informed her of her daughter’s fatal car accident — wishful thinking can be ruled out. What the dead do and say almost always takes us by surprise anyway, which shows that they are independent of our thoughts. Wishful thinking does not save lives, but warnings from the dead do. Fantasy won’t instantly heal a person of post-traumatic stress disorder, but a visit from the dead can. Something else that cannot be attributed to wishful thinking is the all-over body sensation of tingling that people often feel when the dead are present.”
One last question – What do you see as the benefits of after-death communication?
“The instant alleviation of grief is number one. Knowing that relationships between the living and the dead continue to grow and contact is normal transforms the way we die and the way we live. Contact also brings us face-to-face with immortality, a life-changing event. More specifically are the messages we get from the dead, the reassurances, encouragement, warnings, asking for forgiveness or giving it — the list is long. If allowed, the dead will help us reset our values to build a better world. As communication develops we will be able to tap into the greatest resource of knowledge imaginable about anything you can name, science, the arts, history, including the nature of reality itself.”
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die,
href="http://whitecrowbooks.com/books/page/transcending_the_titanic_beyond_deaths_door_/" title="Transcending the Titanic">Transcending the Titanic, and The Afterlife Explorers Volume 1., published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online bookstores.
Next blog: November 26
Read comments or post one of your own