I finished this book yesterday and found it enjoyable. Dr. Eben Alexander, III recounts the story of his bout with bacterial meningitis, which put him into a coma for a week, during which time he had amazing NDEs. I was just as impressed by his full recovery as by what he reports from his NDEs. From what my son, an M.D., tells me (and Dr. Eben notes this as well), such an extended comatose experience ensuing from bacteria feeding on the brain usually results in a permanent vegetative state, or death. Yet just at the moment when they were about to terminate extraordinary life support, he popped back into consciousness. Amazing!
The NDE is unusual in that he doesn't have much of a personal identity and is actually aware of such. He meets no family members nor anyone else he recognizes (at least at first; surprise ending about this part), but is nontheless "dualistically" engaged with "others" -- angelic orbs playing beautiful music, other humans, a beautiful female guide, and, of course, God, Whom he calls Om (from the sound surrounding the "Core" of all things). He absorbs deep truths non-conceptually and immediately, feels connected to all things, travels about by projecting himself via thoughts, and feels completely loved and accepted. It's not all pleasant, however, as he also comes into a dimension of "muck" that he calls Earthworm-eye view, an absorption into earthiness, but in a suffocating way. The gates of heaven open again and again to draw him out of this muck, which is "alive," but somewhat eerie. Eventually, he is told he must return to his body and his life on earth, but has no idea what this means in the absence of personal identity. Once returned, however, he re-integrates with his life as a husband, father and neuro-surgeon.
Dr. Eben's young adult son (in med school) is one of the first who is told about the NDE experiences, shortly after his dad returns, and he wisely suggests that his dad write out everything he could remember while it's still fresh and before he begins reading about NDEs and other spiritual literature. I think this lends even more credibility to what Dr. Eben reports.
Much of the book is spent ranting about how close-minded the medical profession is concerning these kinds of experiences. Dr. Eben notes that he himself was once a reductionistic, scientific materialist, who believed that the brain generated consciousness -- that consciousness was an epiphenomenon which basically evaporated with brain death. Yet his own comatose experience, during which time his cerebral cortex was inactive, has convinced him now that consciousness is primary, with the body a means of expressing and developing it. This view is close to what most Christians would affirm.
I had a couple of negative responses to the book, however. Dr. Eben seems so intent on "proving" that consciousness exists independently of the brain that he recommends James Monroe's Hemi-sync technology, which induces out-of-body experiences for many. He also likes it because it's not linked to any particular religious doctrine. Let the reader note, however, that OBEs do not always take one to heaven. Monroe himself fell among some pretty rough characters during some of his OBE forays. Heaven is filled with love and joy, but not all dimensions of reality outside the body are heavnely.
Another "problem," and one that most NDE people demonstrate, is that Dr. Eben seems to be convinced that his experience put him in touch with *THE TRUTH* about all sorts of metaphysical and theological issues. He doesn't critique religions much, and in fact seems to have found his way back to his own Christian roots, but the tendency to evaluate theology, philosophy and science in the light of his experience runs throughout the book. The problem is, here, that NDEs, taken as a whole, do not disclose a consistent message about the afterlife, if that's even what the phenomenon puts one in touch with at all.
Still, his NDE, as so many others, turned out to be a spiritually transformative experience, encouraging him to examine literature that he had previously ignored. He seems to be a better man for it, though he'd best be careful about his crusading spirit against scientific materialism. The doctrinnaire obstinacy he will find among such people will wear him out if he's not careful.
I read it last year and enjoyed it. Very vivid. A rather lovely, picturesque afterlife with a compelling sense of God. I liked the way the experience evoked deep, inter-penetrating connectedness to the extent of losing identity, but with that sense of otherness - the paradox of this, how oneness and relational spirituality are two sides of the same coin. It's not a problem to me that he draws metaphysical conclusions from his experience - I don't see how this can be avoided given the profundity of the experience - and the conclusions he does draw seem pretty much on the money. It wouldn't take much to compare and contrast with other NDEs.
(I mentioned his NDE here btw, before I went on to read the book. There are lots of interviews with him on YouTube, including one with Oprah)
Stphen, I didn't mean to imply that it was a problem that he draws metaphysical insights from his experience, but that he considers his experience to have revealed THE TRUTH. I'm struck by how most NDE recipients have this attitude.
In terms of Christian spirituality, these kinds of experiences belong to the genre called "private revelations," which may indeed be authentic, but which cannot be considered to trump biblical revelation. Generally, their purpose seems to be primarily the edification of the recipient. In his case, what he describes doesn't seem incompatible with Christian teaching. Some of the content from other NDE reports do, however.
Thanks for the link. I'll look him up on youtube.
Sure, Phil, I get what you're saying, and you're right here. I've read NDEs where the conclusions and "truths" that have been drawn just haven't made sense, or were somehow only part of the picture.
Yes, good review, Phil. Someone else mentioned that book to me, so I went out and bought it. I've only just started reading it, but I'm enjoying it so far.
I call that the ontological fallacy. "The experience seems more real; therefore it is more real." I had a near-death experience in 1988, so I know that sense of vividness. I just don't think it justifies the drawing of metaphysical conclusions. (Of course, neither does it negate the validity of those conclusions.)
This article, from Esquire magazine, suggests that the raw facts have been spiced up for dramatic effect. The coma wasn't due to E. Coli; it was intentionally induced by medication:
And then we have the response to that article, which tells us that it is the Esquire author who has distorted the facts in the interests of producing a good story:
Thanks for the affirming remarks about the book report, guys.
Wow, Derek, that's quite and contrast between the Esquire article and the NDE researcher. I wonder why Esquire was so invested in showing Dr. Eben to be a liar? It's not like his is the only compelling NDE in history? And the plain fact is that in every case, the DE is N -- which means they didn't really die, even if the brain was mostly shut down. People who truly die might have a very different kind of experience, though I suspect NDEs give us a clue as to what we might encounter.
I didn't know you had an NDE in 1988. It sounds like you experienced something. Care to elaborate?
Even though it was many years ago, it still feels too personal and too intimate to post publicly. I've posted it on my Google Plus page so that only you and those who actually know me can read it.
Thanks, Derek. A full day of work here, but I will check it out tonight or tomorrow.
Interesting experience, Derek.
I've had quite a few Out of Body experiences and some astral travel, all quite spontaneous. I wonder how these relate to NDEs like yours. Certain things seem common to both but the out of bodies I've had haven't led me too far.
Thanks for sharing, Derek. Very interesting indeed!
The only OBEs I might have had in my life were during dreams -- flying around, and aware that I was dreaming while doing so.
Ok, I've finished the book now. I really enjoyed it. What occurred to me several times as I was reading it was how the temporary cessation of activity in the neocortex is a common part of contemplative practice, whether Christian prayer or Eastern meditation. BR comes to mind as one who talks about remaining in inner silence for long periods, but of course we could name any number of others (St. Teresa of Avila's "prayer of quiet," St. John of the Cross, etc. etc. etc). And Eben Alexander involuntarily experienced the same thing, though perhaps to an unnaturally profound extent, when he entered a medically induced silence of the neocortex.
Derek, I suspect that's all part of what I call non-reflecting consciousness. I thought of that many times while reading the book -- he was "there," but non-reflectingly so. I suspect Monroe's hemi-sync program does something similar.
What was noteworthy in Dr. Eben's case is that this alone did not bring him into heavenly realms. In fact, his "natural" state of consciousness seemed to be quite low -- that of a soul mired in the muck of its union with the physical body and the physical universe -- probably an etheric realm, or something like that. The opening of the portal into heaven was completely beyond his control -- a special grace. Eventually, it became closed to him.
While it's difficult to offer a theological critique of Dr. Eben's report, one point that stands out to me is that he almost seems naive in his assumption that those portals into heaven open to everyone at death. Maybe they don't. Maybe he was given a glimpse of what might await him if he develops his faith and spirituality, and that if he doesn't, it's more of the muck.
Reading some thousends of NDEs already in www.NDERF.org (a database of nearly 4000 NDEs),
most of them only have an OBE, floating under the ceiling, over the area, etc.
Some go into the Black, into a tunnel, meeting some angels or relatives, going into a nice landscape, etc.
Some few (mb less than 10%) even go down, or fighting not to go down, try to avoid devils, or have lowlevel-purgatory or hell experiences.
Only some few go to the Light, to God, to Jesus or some other Avatar.
But almost all that do not go down feel a big emotional releave, are swimming in love and peace.
What makes me thinking is the following: Why do some remember their nde, why others not ? Is it their spiritual status to be able to remember that, or is it simply Gods Will. I m tending to the second option (especially at the more elevated ndes), because several times God, or an angel told them to tell their nde to the world. (Also God erases some of their memories from the eyond)
But if not everybody remembers their nde, then the nde stories cannot be representative. i remember one story where the person told that he saw from above that many, many persons, when they leave the body, are going down directly.
This also fits to what Mother Mary said in Medjugorje: most people go directly into the pergutory, to the higher levels of purgutory or to the lower levels. Some even go into hell. and a very few go directly to Heaven. This also fits to the teachings of neo hinduism , where it is said that one has to stay for a while into the vital worlds (the worlds associated to the lower chakras) Some people suffer there, some not.
Bliss, I think the question of why some people who were clinically "dead" remember NDEs and the others not is a hard one to answer. I don't even have a good hypothesis to offer about that one. It would take some research to correlate a whole bunch of other factors.
For example, we know that everyone dreams every night, but also that most people generally don't remember their dreams, unless they are very vivid, with a strong emotional charge. This situation can be changed with training. There was a time in my life when I trained myself to wake up after every dream, which I then recorded on tape, for later analysis. That went on for months, after which I decided that enough was enough, and asked to be awakened only after significant dreams I ought to pay attention to. Almost immediately, my sleep pattern changed, and I began to remember fewer dreams.
NDEs are not exactly dreams, but what if, for example, there's a correlation between people remembering dreams and people remembering NDEs. That's one angle I'd want to check out if I were doing research on this.
I m not so sure if one can compare NDEs with dreams.
NDEs are REAL ! very real, more real than this life here on earth. Compared to an NDE even this life here on earth with our normal ego consciousness appears like a deafened, benumbed dream (benumbed by the ego !!)
Here's a link to a 20 min. youtube with Dr. Eben giving a summary of his illness and NDE experience.
A lot of it was just a repetition of things we've already read in the book, but I enjoyed the last few minutes of it, even if I'm not fully convinced of his metaphysics.
Yep. I'm not sure where he's going with this, either. It sounds like he's become pretty focused on practices that enable one to have a wider, non-egoic experience, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. What's lacking is the recognition of what Christianity also affirms: that God is also to be found on this side of "the veil," as he called it. Matter, too, is God-stuff, iconic, and sacramental. So he's tending a bit toward gnostic-type spirituality at this time, very focused still on countering the biases of reductionistic materialists by inviting them to trans-egoic experience. I don't think such necessarily proves mind/brain duality, however, for anyone having those meditative experiences still has an active, functioning brain.
We saw "Heaven is for Real" this evening, which is a story about an NDE reported by a 4-year old boy (best-selling book a few years ago). One intriguing part was his encounter with a young girl who was introduced to him as his sister. She said she had died in their Mom's tummy. He mentioned this to his Mom days later and she confirmed that she had lost a child very early in pregnancy -- hadn't even known the gender. Good movie and story overall. The boy is now 14 and apparently a fairly normal teenager.
Also interesting was his encounter with Jesus, who showed him around. He said Jesus had "marker marks" on his hands and feet. He didn't look like any of the usual pictures we see of him, but one day he saw this picture and stated that this was what he looked like. You may recognize this as one of the paintings of Akiane Kramarik, child prodigy and mystical visionary.
Yes, I know the boy's story from YouTube videos. Very interesting. Akiane herself is something of a wonder. The whole topic of mystically gifted children is fascinating these days. There does seem to a spike. Again I'm taking this as indicative of some kind of new and intense spiritual activity on the planet.
I must say I like the painting. It does have a resemblance to the Turin shroud in some aspects...perhaps the nose? The haircut seems a bit modern though, or am I just used to the traditional portraits?
in NDEs usually Jesus shows up to the persons in a way they "understand" best. individually.
i remember one nde, where Jesus appeared with short hair and blue jeans ... hehehe.
Here an nde of a small girl, beeing strangulated, then safed miraculously by Jesus.
"the man carried me up"
Thanks, bliss. That's a really interesting nde report.
Here's Hank Hanegraaff's (The "Bible Answer Man" on Christian radio stations) critique of "Heaven is For Real." Many of his points relate to "Proof of Heaven" as well.
I don't agree with Hank and the CRI on many issues, but I think his critique of NDEs has merit.
I think where I'm coming out is to view the phenomena in terms of private revelations (as understood by Catholics) rather than objective evidence of what really happens when we die.
Good points, Bliss. To which I would add that the same could be said of religions: they can all be wrong, but they cannot all be right.
That's not very nuanced, however. For example:
They can all be partly right and partly wrong.
One can be more right than the others.
One can be completely right and the others completely wrong.
Same goes for NDEs, I suppose. There do seem to be some common themes that show up again and again, and it could be than an individual's particular destiny in the afterlife shapes what they experience. It might also be that differing degrees of "near-deathness" influence the experience. Lots of variables in play.
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