Previously, on Meat Mutant...
[pertinent clips of Wormhole episode mixed with random risible movie quotes]
And now, back to life.
Yes, ages ago, on one of the many fine occasions we were on the air with the implacable superscientist Tort, we deigned to criticize a couple of episodes of a science documentary series named Through the Wormhole starring Morgan Freeman. The episode on the afterlife featured a hokey-looking bowtied neurosurgeon whose conviction that he saw butterflies when he should have been braindead has led him to confidently declare that heaven is absolutely real. In fact, the book he's come out with since then, PROOF OF HEAVEN, is so chock full of smarmy self-importance that we must revisit him and deliver a second salvo of mockery. You see, while he was sojourning through THE BEYOND, he was infused with all of the universe's answers, and now that he's snapped back to his puny mortal brain, some of that knowledge might leak out some day. Or "unfold," as he puts it. But before that, we must ease our way to that dazzling wisdom with
A JIS of Tort's ChoiceEdit
It need not have anything to do with Dr. Braindead.
Part 1: Statistics allows for an idiot brain surgeon.Edit
Basically, the dude claims that his neocortex was temporarily shut down by a rare illness, thereby canceling out his consciousness completely as well. So then why should he have been able to see visions if his consciousness was totally gone? Isn't that proof of the soul? Of GOD!?
He hasn't returned to the field of neurosurgery since then, putatively because after his epiphany he can but evangelize his newfound certainty... but probably just because patients are afraid he'll stuff butterflies in their heads while operating. All that's well and good, he's just a goober, right? Nope--from reading his book, he is quite ripe for ridicule. You have only to listen to this story in the preface:
[skydiving incident in which his reaction speed was so fast as to be actual evidence that our souls reside outside the body.]
Yes. He is Kirk Hastings's Superman. WOOOOOOOOOOOSH
It takes a special ego indeed to think one is being blown by God... with the winds of specialness.
Anyway, it's funny how alike Kirk Hastings and Braindead are. Both derive their claims for God's existence from an inactive neocortex, it's just that Kirk's has yet to become active in the first place. Any scientific hypothesis attempting to explain the man's flowery acid trip is rejected with "but it was too vivid." But, obviously, we have only his word for this. What if he's just misremembering, let alone outright lying? Like... duh, dude.
Oh but of course how could anyone have invented the following (sample from a Salon article:)
- He travels through three distinct planes of the afterlife: First, the “worm’s-eye view,” a realm of “pulsing, pounding darkness,” where “grotesque animal faces bubbled out of the muck.” From there, he moves to a more congenial world of lush countryside nestled beneath “puffy, pink-white” clouds and here rides the aforementioned giant butterfly. Last, comes the Core, a place of velvety blackness where he meets God and is granted the ultimate truth: “Love is, without a doubt, the basis of everything.” “Not much of a scientific insight?” he writes, genuflecting at the altar of modesty. “Well, I beg to differ.”
It's quite uncouth of you to describe the animal faces bubbling out of the muck as "grotesque." No wonder they're pulsing with darkness if you keep putting them down like that. LOVE IS THE BASIS OF EVERYTHING, EXCEPT THOSE UGLY FUCKING WORMS UUUGGGGGGHHHHHH
How does "love is the basis of everything" make any sense when love presupposes entities that love each other? To be the foundation of the universe, it has to exist independently from it, right? But there's no such thing as intransitive "love." No matter how puffy and pink-white you want to paint it. What does love as the atom even mean? When something is EVERYTHING, doesn't it lose all meaning? Love needs hatred for either to mean anything. It's all subjective. What Braindead perceived as LOVE could very well be interpreted as PSYCHIC BUTTERFLY SPORES by someone experiencing the very same landscape. Actually, he has that covered--there are small particles of "evil" floating around in the higher plane of existence, but it's like 99.9999999% luuurv. Yeah, like that matters. Look, unless I can make an apple pie out of love, you can stick your heaven someplace else.
But of course, he vilifies scientists who maintain that the material world is all there is; when here he is, having scientifically eye-groped God in his velvety blackness! With his excellent super brain that knows all about what's really important in both this life and the next, and that definitely remembers what it experienced while it was dead, because ghosts! How dare they doubt him!!
The Salon article also makes mention of how Braindead changes his tune when faced with different audiences.
- Dr. Alexander is determined to cast mainstream scientists as villains. On the other hand, the long religious tradition that recoils from any claim that God is knowable, he wants on side. If he is talking about science, the doctor has met and buddied up to God no end (“I didn’t just believe in God; I knew God”). Approached from the religious angle, he talks of the Almighty as an unfathomable mystery. But either he knows God or he doesn’t. It can’t depend on his audience. Nor should the questioning stop the moment a subject is deemed outside of empirical inquiry.
Let's take a moment to thank God for allowing the proof of his cosmic tapestry of immortality to be held hostage by a goddamn bow tie.
Part 2: His description of heaven.Edit
I honestly did skim through the book, and I can tell you that the chapters describing his NDE are interspersed with who-cares autographical padding that tie in with the thesis of the book vaguely at best. Dude, the name of your book is PROOF OF HEAVEN. Nobody gives a shit about how many journals you're in or where you met your wife. No one cares if your awesome war surgeon dad is now excellent at squash. Nobody cares if you found out your biological father is ALSO amazing (When she reported that my birth father had been a naval aviator in Vietnam, it just blew me away: no wonder I had always loved to jump out of airplanes and fly sailplanes. My birth dad was also, I was further stunned to learn, an astronaut trainee with NASA during the Apollo missions in the mid-1960s (I myself had considered training as a mission specialist on the space shuttle in 1983). My birth dad later worked as an airline pilot for Pan Am and Delta.)
MY FAMILY IS GREAT AND I AM SO SO SPECIAL. Even his goddamn meningitis is special (It was Thursday when my doctors determined that my particular strain of E. coli didn’t match the ultraresistant strain that, unaccountably, had shown up in Israel just at the time I’d been there. But the fact that it didn’t match only made my case more confounding. While it was certainly good news that I was not harboring a strain of bacteria that could wipe out a third of the country, in terms of my own, individual recovery, it just underscored what my doctors were already suspecting all too clearly: that my case was essentially without precedent.). Don't worry, with a personality like that we all think you're a plague already.
Of course, occasionally he adds something in that'll be perfect for the inevitable screenplay, like how in his first day at the hospital he said only three words clearly while unconsciously gibbering: "God, help me." That's when the camera exits the bird's-eye view of his hospital bed and zooms up towards the clouds while the orchestra swells. To be fair, he's only recounting what he was told actually happened, and his description of what he saw is "difficult to put to words" and therefore difficult to put on film. But let's just say that when your heaven includes a beautiful girl with high cheekbones and deep blue eyes who waxes philosophicaｌ about how unconditionally she loves you--c'mon, that shit just screams CINEMATIC ADAPTATION, doesn't it? Even more so how the book ends... it turns out that Girl on the Butterfly Wing looked just like his long lost sister!! PLAY EVERY VIOLIN. I am not joking when I say that his weeklong coma was attended by endless rain and his miraculous recovery was heralded by a fucking rainbow. Dead serious, that is in the book. But what you really want is his description of what he saw, his NDE.
Here's the full text from the book:
Darkness, but a visible darkness—like being submerged in mud yet also being able to see through it. Or maybe dirty Jell-O describes it better. Transparent, but in a bleary, blurry, claustrophobic, suffocating kind of way. Consciousness, but consciousness without memory or identity—like a dream where you know what’s going on around you, but have no real idea of who, or what, you are. Sound, too: a deep, rhythmic pounding, distant yet strong, so that each pulse of it goes right through you. Like a heartbeat? A little, but darker, more mechanical—like the sound of metal against metal, as if a giant, subterranean blacksmith is pounding an anvil somewhere off in the distance: pounding it so hard that the sound vibrates through the earth, or the mud, or wherever it is that you are. I didn’t have a body—not one that I was aware of anyway. I was simply . . . there, in this place of pulsing, pounding darkness. At the time, I might have called it “primordial.” But at the time it was going on, I didn’t know this word. In fact, I didn’t know any words at all. The words used here registered much later, when, back in the world, I was writing down my recollections. Language, emotion, logic: these were all gone, as if I had regressed back to some state of being from the very beginnings of life, as far back, perhaps, as the primitive bacteria that, unbeknownst to me, had taken over my brain and shut it down. How long did I reside in this world? I have no idea. When you go to a place where there’s no sense of time as we experience it in the ordinary world, accurately describing the way it feels is next to impossible. When it was happening, when I was there, I felt like I (whatever “I” was) had always been there and would always continue to be. Nor, initially at least, did I mind this. Why would I, after all, since
this state of being was the only one I’d ever known? Having no memory of anything better, I was not particularly bothered by where I was. I do recall conceptualizing that I might or might not survive, but my indifference as to whether I did or not only gave me a greater feeling of invulnerability. I was clueless as to the rules that governed this world I was in, but I was in no hurry to learn them. After all, why bother? I can’t say exactly when it happened, but at a certain point I became aware of some objects around me. They were a little like roots, and a little like blood vessels in a vast, muddy womb. Glowing a dark, dirty red, they reached down from some place far above to some other place equally far below. In retrospect, looking at them was like being a mole or earthworm, buried deep in the ground yet somehow able to see the tangled matrixes of roots and trees surrounding it. That’s why, thinking back to this place later, I came to call it the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View. For a long time, I suspected it might have been some kind of memory of what my brain felt like during the period when the bacteria were originally overrunning it. But the more I thought about this explanation (and again, this was all much, much later), the less sense it made. Because—hard as this is to picture if you haven’t been to this place yourself—my consciousness wasn’t foggy or distorted when I was there. It was just . . . limited. I wasn’t human while I was in this place. I wasn’t even animal. I was something before, and below, all that. I was simply a lone point of awareness in a timeless red-brown sea. The longer I stayed in this place, the less comfortable I became. At first I was so deeply immersed in it that there was no difference between “me” and the half-creepy, half-familiar element that surrounded me. But gradually this sense of deep, timeless, and boundaryless immersion gave way to something else: a feeling like I wasn’t really part of this subterranean world at all, but trapped in it. Grotesque animal faces bubbled out of the muck, groaned or screeched, and then were gone again. I heard an occasional dull roar.
Sometimes these roars changed to dim, rhythmic chants, chants that were both terrifying and weirdly familiar—as if at some point I’d known and uttered them all myself. As I had no memory of prior existence, my time in this realm stretched way, way out. Months? Years? Eternity? Regardless of the answer, I eventually got to a point where the creepy-crawly feeling totally outweighed the homey, familiar feeling. The more I began to feel like a me—like something separate from the cold and wet and dark around me—the more the faces that bubbled up out of that darkness became ugly and threatening. The rhythmic pounding off in the distance sharpened and intensified as well—became the work- beat for some army of troll-like underground laborers, performing some endless, brutally monotonous task. The movement around me became less visual and more tactile, as if reptilian, wormlike creatures were crowding past, occasionally rubbing up against me with their smooth or spiky skins. Then I became aware of a smell: a little like feces, a little like blood, and a little like vomit. A biological smell, in other words, but of biological death, not of biological life. As my awareness sharpened more and more, I edged ever closer to panic. Whoever or whatever I was, I did not belong here. I needed to get out. But where would I go? Even as I asked that question, something new emerged from the darkness above: something that wasn’t cold, or dead, or dark, but the exact opposite of all those things. If I tried for the rest of my life, I would never be able to do justice to this entity that now approached me . . . to come anywhere close to describing how beautiful it was. But I’m going to try.
Something had appeared in the darkness. Turning slowly, it radiated fine filaments of white-gold light, and as it did so the darkness around me began to splinter and break apart. Then I heard a new sound: a living sound, like the richest, most complex, most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard. Growing in volume as a pure white light descended, it obliterated the monotonous mechanical pounding that, seemingly for eons, had been my only company up until then. The light got closer and closer, spinning around and around and generating those filaments of pure white light that I now saw were tinged, here and there, with hints of gold. Then, at the very center of the light, something else appeared. I focused my awareness, hard, trying to figure out what it was. An opening. I was no longer looking at the slowly spinning light at all, but through it. The moment I understood this, I began to move up. Fast. There was a whooshing sound, and in a flash I went through the opening and found myself in a completely new world. The strangest, most beautiful world I’d ever seen. Brilliant, vibrant, ecstatic, stunning . . . I could heap on one adjective after another to describe what this world looked and felt like, but they’d all fall short. I felt like I was being born. Not reborn, or born again. Just . . . born. Below me there was countryside. It was green, lush, and earthlike. It was earth . . . but at the same time it wasn’t. It was like when your parents take you back to a place where you spent some years as a very young child. You don’t know the place. Or at least you think you don’t. But as you look around, something pulls at you, and you realize that a part of yourself—a part way, deep down—does remember the
place after all, and is rejoicing at being back there again. I was flying, passing over trees and fields, streams and waterfalls, and here and there, people. There were children, too, laughing and playing. The people sang and danced around in circles, and sometimes I’d see a dog, running and jumping among them, as full of joy as the people were. They wore simple yet beautiful clothes, and it seemed to me that the colors of these clothes had the same kind of living warmth as the trees and the flowers that bloomed and blossomed in the countryside around them. A beautiful, incredible dream world . . . 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. The word real expresses something abstract, and it’s frustratingly ineffective at conveying what I’m trying to describe. Imagine being a kid and going to a movie on a summer day. Maybe the movie was good, and you were entertained as you sat through it. But then the show ended, and you filed out of the theater and back into the deep, vibrant, welcoming warmth of the summer afternoon. And as the air and the sunlight hit you, you wondered why on earth you’d wasted this gorgeous day sitting in a dark theater. Multiply that feeling a thousand times, and you still won’t be anywhere close to what it felt like where I was. I don’t know how long, exactly, I flew along. (Time in this place was different from the simple linear time we experience on earth and is as hopelessly difficult to describe as every other aspect of it.) But at some point, I realized that I wasn’t alone up there. Someone was next to me: a beautiful girl with high cheekbones and deep blue eyes. She was wearing the same kind of peasant-like clothes that the people in the village down below wore. Golden-brown tresses framed her lovely face. We were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, alive with indescribable and vivid colors —the wing of a butterfly. In fact, millions of butterflies were all around
us—vast fluttering waves of them, dipping down into the greenery and coming back up around us again. It wasn’t any single, discrete butterfly that appeared, but all of them together, as if they were a river of life and color, moving through the air. We flew in lazy looped formations past blossoming flowers and buds on trees that opened as we flew near. The girl’s outfit was simple, but its colors—powder blue, indigo, and pastel orange-peach—had the same overwhelming, super-vivid aliveness that everything else in the surroundings had. She looked at me with a look that, if you saw it for a few moments, would make your whole life up to that point worth living, no matter what had happened in it so far. It was not a romantic look. It was not a look of friendship. It was a look that was somehow beyond all these . . . beyond all the different types of love we have down here on earth. It was something higher, holding all those other kinds of love within itself while at the same time being more genuine and pure than all of them. Without using any words, she spoke to me. The message went through me like a wind, and I instantly understood that it was true. I knew so in the same way that I knew that the world around us was real—was not some fantasy, passing and insubstantial. The message had three parts, and if I had to translate them into earthly language, I’d say they ran something like this: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.” “You have nothing to fear.” “There is nothing you can do wrong.” The message flooded me with a vast and crazy sensation of relief. It was like being handed the rules to a game I’d been playing all my life without ever fully understanding it. “We will show you many things here,” the girl said—again, without actually using these words but by driving their conceptual essence directly into me. “But eventually, you will go back.” To this, I had only one question.
Back where? Remember who’s talking to you right now. I’m not a softheaded sentimentalist. I know what death looks like. I know what it feels like to have a living person, whom you spoke to and joked with in better days, become a lifeless object on an operating table after you’ve struggled for hours to keep the machine of their body working. I know what suffering looks like, and the answerless grief on the faces of loved ones who have lost someone they never dreamed they could lose. I know my biology, and while I’m not a physicist, I’m no slouch at that, either. I know the difference between fantasy and reality, and I know that the experience I’m struggling to give you the vaguest, most completely unsatisfactory picture of, was the single most real experience of my life. In fact, the only competition for it in the reality department was what came next
I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky. Higher than the clouds—immeasurably higher—flocks of transparent orbs, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamer- like lines behind them. Birds? Angels? These words registered when I was writing down my recollections. But neither of these words do justice to the beings themselves, which were quite simply different from anything I have known on this planet. They were more advanced. Higher. A sound, huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above, and I wondered if the winged beings were producing it. Again thinking about it later, it occurred to me that the joy of these creatures, as they soared along, was such that they had to make this noise—that if the joy didn’t come out of them this way then they would simply not otherwise be able to contain it. The sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but that doesn’t get you wet. Seeing and hearing were not separate in this place where I now was. I could hear the visual beauty of the silvery bodies of those scintillating beings above, and I could see the surging, joyful perfection of what they sang. It seemed that you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming a part of it—without joining with it in some mysterious way. Again, from my present perspective, I would suggest that you couldn’t look at anything in that world at all, for the word at itself implies a separation that did not exist there. Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else, like the rich and intermingled designs on a Persian carpet . . . or a butterfly’s wing.
A warm wind blew through, like the kind that spring up on the most perfect summer days, tossing the leaves of the trees and flowing past like heavenly water. A divine breeze. It changed everything, shifting the world around me into an even higher octave, a higher vibration. Although I still had little language function, at least as we think of it on earth, I began wordlessly putting questions to this wind—and to the divine being that I sensed at work behind or within it. Where is this place? Who am I? Why am I here? Each time I silently posed one of these questions, the answer came instantly in an explosion of light, color, love, and beauty that blew through me like a crashing wave. What was important about these bursts was that they didn’t simply silence my questions by overwhelming them. They answered them, but in a way that bypassed language. Thoughts entered me directly. But it wasn’t thought like we experience on earth. It wasn’t vague, immaterial, or abstract. These thoughts were solid and immediate—hotter than fire and wetter than water—and as I received them I was able to instantly and effortlessly understand concepts that would have taken me years to fully grasp in my earthly life. I continued moving forward and found myself entering an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting. Pitch black as it was, it was also brimming over with light: a light that seemed to come from a brilliant orb that I now sensed near me. An orb that was living and almost solid, as the songs of the angel beings had been. My situation was, strangely enough, something akin to that of a fetus in a womb. The fetus floats in the womb with the silent partner of the placenta, which nourishes it and mediates its relationship to the everywhere present yet at the same time invisible mother. In this case, the “mother” was God, the Creator, the Source who is responsible for making the universe and all in it. This Being was so
close that there seemed to be no distance at all between God and myself. Yet at the same time, I could sense the infinite vastness of the Creator, could see how completely minuscule I was by comparison. I will occasionally use Om as the pronoun for God because I originally used that name in my writings after my coma. “Om” was the sound I remembered hearing associated with that omniscient, omnipotent, and unconditionally loving God, but any descriptive word falls short. The pure vastness separating Om and me was, I realized, why I had the Orb as my companion. In some manner I couldn’t completely comprehend but was sure of nonetheless, the Orb was a kind of “interpreter” between me and this extraordinary presence surrounding me. It was as if I were being born into a larger world, and the universe itself was like a giant cosmic womb, and the Orb (who remained in some way connected to the Girl on the Butterfly Wing, who in fact was she) was guiding me through this process. Later, when I was back here in the world, I found a quotation by the seventeenth-century Christian poet Henry Vaughan that came close to describing this place—this vast, inky-black core that was the home of the Divine itself. “There is, some say, in God a deep but dazzling darkness . . .” That was it, exactly: an inky darkness that was also full to brimming with light. The questions, and the answers, continued. Though they still didn’t come in the form of language as we know it, the “voice” of this Being was warm and—odd as I know this may sound—personal. It understood humans, and it possessed the qualities we possess, only in infinitely greater measure. It knew me deeply and overflowed with qualities that all my life I’ve always associated with human beings, and human beings alone: warmth, compassion, pathos . . . even irony and humor. Through the Orb, Om told me that there is not one universe but
many—in fact, more than I could conceive—but that love lay at the center of them all. Evil was present in all the other universes as well, but only in the tiniest trace amounts. Evil was necessary because without it free will was impossible, and without free will there could be no growth—no forward movement, no chance for us to become what God longed for us to be. Horrible and all-powerful as evil sometimes seemed to be in a world like ours, in the larger picture love was overwhelmingly dominant, and it would ultimately be triumphant. I saw the abundance of life throughout the countless universes, including some whose intelligence was advanced far beyond that of humanity. I saw that there are countless higher dimensions, but that the only way to know these dimensions is to enter and experience them directly. They cannot be known, or understood, from lower dimensional space. Cause and effect exist in these higher realms, but outside of our earthly conception of them. The world of time and space in which we move in this terrestrial realm is tightly and intricately meshed within these higher worlds. In other words, these worlds aren’t totally apart from us, because all worlds are part of the same overarching divine Reality. From those higher worlds one could access any time or place in our world. It will take me the rest of my life, and then some, to unpack what I learned up there. The knowledge given me was not “taught” in the way that a history lesson or math theorem would be. Insights happened directly, rather than needing to be coaxed and absorbed. Knowledge was stored without memorization, instantly and for good. It didn’t fade, like ordinary information does, and to this day I still possess all of it, much more clearly than I possess the information that I gained over all of my years in school. That’s not to say that I can get to this knowledge just like that. Because now that I’m back here in the earthly realm, I have to process it through my limited physical body and brain. But it’s there. I feel it, laid into my very being. For a person like me who had spent his whole life working hard to accumulate knowledge and understanding the old-fashioned way, the discovery of this more advanced level of learning was, alone, enough to give me food for thought for ages to come .
Something pulled at me. Not like someone grabbing my arm, but something subtler, less physical. It was a little like when the sun dips behind a cloud and you feel your mood change instantly in response. I was going back, away from the Core. Its inky-bright darkness faded into the green landscape of the Gateway, with all of its dazzling landscape. Looking down, I saw the villagers again, the trees and sparkling streams and the waterfalls, as well as the arcing angel- beings above. My companion was there, too. She had been there the whole time, of course, all through my journey into the Core, in the form of that orblike ball of light. But now she was, once again, in human form. She wore the same beautiful dress, and seeing her again made me feel like a child lost in a huge and alien city who suddenly comes upon a familiar face. What a gift she was! “We will show you many things, but you will be going back.” That message, delivered wordlessly to me at the entrance to the trackless darkness of the Core, came back to me now. I also now understood where “back” was. The Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View where I had started this odyssey. But it was different this time. Moving down into the darkness with the full knowledge of what lay above it, I no longer experienced the trepidation that I had when I was originally there. As the glorious music of the Gateway faded out and the pulse-like pounding of the lower realm returned, I heard and saw these things as an adult sees a place where he or she had once been frightened but is no longer afraid. The murk and darkness, the faces that bubbled up and faded away, the artery-like roots that came down from above, held no terror for me now, because I understood—in the wordless way I understood everything then—that I was no longer of this place, but only visiting it.
But why was I visiting it again? The answer came to me in the same instantaneous, nonverbal way that the answers in the brilliant world above had been delivered. This whole adventure, it began to occur to me, was some kind of tour— some kind of grand overview of the invisible, spiritual side of existence. And like all good tours, it included all floors and all levels. Once I was back in the lower realm, the vagaries of time in these worlds beyond what I knew of this earth continued to hold. To get a little—if only a very little—idea of what this feels like, ponder how time lays itself out in dreams. In a dream, “before” and “after” become tricky designations. You can be in one part of the dream and know what’s coming, even if you haven’t experienced it yet. My “time” out beyond was something like that—though I should also underline that what happened to me had none of the murky confusion of our earthbound dreams, except at the very earliest stages, when I was still in the underworld. How long was I there this time? Again I have no real idea—no way to gauge it. But I do know that after returning to the lower realm, it took a long time to discover that I actually had some control over my course—that I was no longer trapped in this lower world. With concerted effort, I could move back up to the higher planes. At a certain point in the murky depths, I found myself wishing for the Spinning Melody to return. After an initial struggle to recall the notes, the gorgeous music, and the spinning ball of light emitting it blossomed into my awareness. They cut, once again, through the jellied muck, and I began to rise. In the worlds above, I slowly discovered, to know and be able to think of something is all one needs in order to move toward it. To think of the Spinning Melody was to make it appear, and to long for the higher worlds was to bring myself there. The more familiar I became with the world above, the easier it was to return to it. During my time out of my body, I accomplished this back-and-forth movement from the muddy darkness of the Realm of the Earthworm’s-
Eye View to the green brilliance of the Gateway and into the black but holy darkness of the Core any number of times. How many I can’t say exactly—again because time as it was there just doesn’t translate to our conception of time here on earth. But each time I reached the Core, I went deeper than before, and was taught more, in the wordless, more-than-verbal way that all things are communicated in the worlds above this one. That doesn’t mean that I saw anything like the whole universe, either in my original journey from the Earthworm’s-Eye View up to the Core, or in the ones that came afterward. In fact, one of the truths driven home to me in the Core each time I returned to it was how impossible it would be to understand all that exists—either its physical/visible side or its (much, much larger) spiritual/invisible side, not to mention the countless other universes that exist or have ever existed. But none of that mattered, because I had already been taught the one thing—the only thing—that, in the last analysis, truly matters. I had initially received this piece of knowledge from my lovely companion on the butterfly wing upon my first entrance into the Gateway. It came in three parts, and to take one more shot at putting it into words (because of course it was initially delivered wordlessly), it would run something like this: You are loved and cherished. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong. If I had to boil this entire message down to one sentence, it would run this way: You are loved. And if I had to boil it down further, to just one word, it would (of course) be, simply: Love. Love is, without a doubt, the basis of everything. Not some abstract, hard-to-fathom kind of love but the day-to-day kind that everyone
knows—the kind of love we feel when we look at our spouse and our children, or even our animals. In its purest and most powerful form, this love is not jealous or selfish, but unconditional. This is the reality of realities, the incomprehensibly glorious truth of truths that lives and breathes at the core of everything that exists or that ever will exist, and no remotely accurate understanding of who and what we are can be achieved by anyone who does not know it, and embody it in all of their actions. Not much of a scientific insight? Well, I beg to differ. I’m back from that place, and nothing could convince me that this is not only the single most important emotional truth in the universe, but also the single most important scientific truth as well. I’ve been talking about my experience, as well as meeting other people who study or have undergone near-death experiences, for several years now. I know that the term unconditional love gets bandied around a lot in those circles. How many of us can grasp what that truly means? I know, of course, why the term comes up as much as it does. It’s because many, many other people have seen and experienced what I did. But like me, when these people come back to the earthly level, they’re stuck with words, and words alone, to convey experiences and insights that lie completely beyond the power of words. It’s like trying to write a novel with only half the alphabet. The primary hurdle that most NDE subjects must jump is not how to reacclimate to the limitations of the earthly world—though this can certainly be a challenge—but how to convey what the love they experienced out there actually feels like. Deep down, we already know. Just as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz always had the capability to return home, we have the ability to recover our connection with that idyllic realm. We just forget that we do, because during the brain-based, physical portion of our existence, our brain blocks out, or veils, that larger cosmic background, just as the sun’s light blocks the stars from view each morning. Imagine how
limited our view of the universe would be if we never saw the star- spangled nighttime sky. We can only see what our brain’s filter allows through. The brain—in particular its left-side linguistic/logical part, that which generates our sense of rationality and the feeling of being a sharply defined ego or self—is a barrier to our higher knowledge and experience. It is my belief that we are now facing a crucial time in our existence. We need to recover more of that larger knowledge while living here on earth, while our brains (including its left-side analytical parts) are fully functioning. Science—the science to which I’ve devoted so much of my life—doesn’t contradict what I learned up there. But far, far too many people believe it does, because certain members of the scientific community, who are pledged to the materialist worldview, have insisted again and again that science and spirituality cannot coexist. They are mistaken. Making this ancient but ultimately basic fact more widely known is why I have written this book, and it renders all the other aspects of my story—the mystery of how I contracted my illness, of how I managed to be conscious in another dimension for the week of my coma, and how I somehow recovered so completely— entirely secondary. The unconditional love and acceptance that I experienced on my journey is the single most important discovery I have ever made, or will ever make, and as hard as I know it’s going to be to unpack the other lessons I learned while there, I also know in my heart that sharing this very basic message—one so simple that most children readily accept it—is the most important task I have
hen I was initially in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View, I had no real center of consciousness. I didn’t know who or what I was, or even if I was. I was simply . . . there, a singular awareness in the midst of a soupy, dark, muddy nothingness that had no beginning and, seemingly, no end. Now, however, I knew. I understood that I was part of the Divine and that nothing—absolutely nothing—could ever take that away. The (false) suspicion that we can somehow be separated from God is the root of every form of anxiety in the universe, and the cure for it— which I received partially within the Gateway and completely within the Core—was the knowledge that nothing can tear us from God, ever. This knowledge—and it remains the single most important thing I’ve ever learned—robbed the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View of its terror and allowed me to see it for what it really was: a not entirely pleasant, but no doubt necessary, part of the cosmos. Many people have traveled to the realms I did, but, strangely enough, most remembered their earthly identities while away from their earthly forms. They knew that they were John Smith or George Johnson or Sarah Brown. They never lost sight of the fact that they lived on earth. They were aware that their living relatives were still there, waiting and hoping they would come back. They also, in many cases, met friends and relatives who had died before them, and in these cases, too, they recognized those people instantly.
Many NDE subjects have reported engaging in life reviews, in which they saw their interactions with various people and their good or bad actions during the course of their lives. I experienced none of these events, and taken all together they demonstrate the single most unusual aspect of my NDE. I was completely free of my bodily identity for all of it, so that any classic NDE occurrence that might have involved my remembering who I was on earth was rigorously missing. To say that at that point in the proceedings I still had no idea who I was or where I’d come from sounds somewhat perplexing, I know. After all, how could I be learning all these stunningly complex and beautiful things, how could I see the girl next to me, and the blossoming trees and waterfalls and villagers, and still not know that it was I, Eben Alexander, who was the one experiencing them? How could I understand all that I did, yet not realize that on earth I was a doctor, husband, and father? A person who was not seeing trees and rivers and clouds for the first time when I entered the Gateway, but one who had seen more than his share of them as a child growing up in the very concrete and earthly locale of Winston-Salem, North Carolina? My best shot at an answer is to suggest that I was in a position similar to that of someone with partial but beneficial amnesia. That is, a person who has forgotten some key aspect about him or herself, but who benefits through having forgotten it, even if for only a short while. How did I gain from not remembering my earthly self? It allowed me to go deep into realms beyond the worldly without having to worry about what I was leaving behind. Throughout my entire time in those worlds, I was a soul with nothing to lose. No places to miss, no people to mourn. I had come from nowhere and had no history, so I fully accepted my circumstances—even the initial murk and mess of the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View—with equanimity. And because I so completely forgot my mortal identity, I was
granted full access to the true cosmic being I really am (and we all are). Once again, in some ways my experience was analogous to a dream, in which you remember some things about yourself while forgetting other things completely. But again this is only a partially useful analogy, because, as I keep stressing, the Gateway and the Core were not remotely dreamlike but ultra-real—as far from illusory as one can be. To use the word removed makes it sound as if the absence of my earthly memories while in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View, the Gateway, and the Core was in some manner intentional. I now suspect that this was the case. At the risk of oversimplifying, I was allowed to die harder, and travel deeper, than almost all NDE subjects before me. As arrogant as that might sound, my intentions are not. The rich literature on NDEs has proved crucial to understanding my own journey in coma. I can’t claim to know why I had the experience I had, but I do know now (three years later), from reading other NDE literature, that the penetration of the higher worlds tends to be a gradual process and requires that the individual release his or her attachments to whatever level he or she is on before going higher or deeper. That was not a problem for me, because throughout my experience I had no earthly memories whatsoever, and the only pain and heartache I felt was when I had to return to earth, where I’d begun.
ach time I found myself stuck again in the coarse Earthworm’s-Eye View, I was able to remember the brilliant Spinning Melody, which opened the portal back to the Gateway and the Core. I spent great stretches of time—which paradoxically felt like no time at all—in the presence of my guardian angel on the butterfly’s wing and an eternity learning lessons from the Creator and the Orb of light deep in the Core. At some point, I came up to the edge of the Gateway and found that I could not reenter it. The Spinning Melody—up to then my ticket into those higher regions—would no longer take me there. The gates of Heaven were closed. Once again, describing what this felt like is challenging in the extreme, thanks to the bottleneck of linear language that we have to force everything through here on earth, and the general flattening of experience that happens when we’re in the body. Think of every time you’ve ever experienced disappointment. There is a sense in which all the losses that we undergo here on earth are in truth variations of one absolutely central loss: the loss of Heaven. On the day that the doors of Heaven were closed to me, I felt a sense of sadness unlike any I’d ever known. Emotions are different up there. All the human emotions are present, but they’re deeper, more spacious—they’re not just inside but outside as well. Imagine that every time your mood changed here on earth, the weather changed instantly along with it. That your tears would bring on a torrential downpour and your joy would make the clouds instantly disappear. That gives a hint of how much more vast and consequential changes of mood feel like up there, how strangely and powerfully what we think of as “inside” and “outside” don’t really exist at all. So it was that I, heartbroken, now sank into a world of ever-
increasing sorrow, a gloom that was at the same time an actual sinking. I moved down through great walls of clouds. There was murmuring all around me, but I couldn’t understand the words. Then I realized that countless beings were surrounding me, kneeling in arcs that spread into the distance. Looking back on it now, I realize what these half-seen, half-sensed hierarchies of beings, stretching out into the dark above and below, were doing. They were praying for me. Two of the faces I remembered later were those of Michael Sullivan and his wife, Page. I recall seeing them in profile only, but I clearly identified them after my return when language came back. Michael had physically been in the ICU room leading prayers numerous times, but Page was never physically there (although she had said prayers for me too). These prayers gave me energy. That’s probably why, profoundly sad as I was, something in me felt a strange confidence that everything would be all right. These beings knew I was undergoing a transition, and they were singing and praying to help me keep my spirits up. I was headed into the unknown, but by that point I had complete faith and trust that I would be taken care of, as my companion on the butterfly wing and the infinitely loving Deity had promised—that wherever I went, Heaven would come with me. It would come in the form of the Creator, of Om, and it would come in the form of the angel—my angel—the Girl on the Butterfly Wing. I was on the way back, but I was not alone—and I knew I’d never feel alone again.
s I descended, more faces bubbled out of the muck, just as they always did when I was moving down into the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View. But there was something different about the faces this time. They were human now, not animal. And they were very clearly saying things. Not that I could make out what they were saying. It was a bit like the old Charlie Brown cartoons, when the adults speak and all you hear are indecipherable sounds. Later, upon looking back on it, I realized I could actually identify six of the faces that I saw. There was Sylvia, there was Holley, and her sister Peggy. There was Scott Wade, and there was Susan Reintjes. Of these, the only one who was not actually physically present at my bedside in those final hours was Susan. But in her way, she had, of course, been by my bedside, too, because that night, as the night before, she had sat down in her home in Chapel Hill and willed herself into my presence. Later, learning about this, I was puzzled that my mother Betty and my sisters, who had been there all week, holding my hand lovingly for endless hours, were absent from this array of faces I’d seen. Mom had been suffering from a stress fracture in her foot, using a walker to ambulate, but she had faithfully taken her turn in the vigil. Phyllis, Betsy, and Jean had all been there. Then I learned that they had not been present that final night. The faces I remembered were those who were physically there the seventh morning of my coma, or the evening before. Again, though, at the time, as I made the descent, I had no names or identities to attach to any of these faces. I only knew, or sensed, that they were important to me in some way. One more in particular drew me toward it with special power. It began to tug at me. With a jolt that seemed to echo up and down the
whole vast well of clouds and praying angelic beings through which I was descending, I suddenly realized that the beings of the Gateway and the Core—beings I had known and loved, seemingly, forever— were not the only beings I knew. I knew, and loved, beings down below me, too—down in the realm I was fast approaching. Beings I had, until now, completely forgotten. This knowledge focused on all six faces, but in particular on the sixth one. It was so familiar. I realized with a feeling of shock bordering on absolute fear that whoever it was, it was the face of someone who needed me. Someone who would never recover if I left. If I abandoned it, the loss would be unbearable—like the feeling I’d gotten when the gates to Heaven had closed. It would be a betrayal I simply couldn’t commit. Up to that point, I had been free. I had journeyed through worlds in the way that adventurers most effectively can: without any real concern about their fate. The outcome didn’t ultimately matter, because even when I was in the Core, there was never any worry or guilt about letting anyone down. That had, of course, been one of the first things that I’d learned when I was with the Girl on the Butterfly Wing and she’d told me: “There is nothing you can do that is wrong.” But now it was different. So different that, for the first time in my entire voyage, I felt remarkable terror. It was a terror not for myself, but for these faces—in particular for that sixth face. A face that I still couldn’t identify, but that I knew was crucially important to me. This face took on ever greater detail, until at last I saw that it—that he—was actually pleading for me to return: to risk the terrible descent into the world below to be with him again. I still could not understand his words, but somehow they conveyed that I had a stake in this world below—that I had, as they say, “skin in the game.” It mattered that I returned. I had ties here—ties that I had to honor. The clearer the face became, the more I realized this. And the closer I came to recognizing the face. The face of a young boy.
Part 3: The concept of heaven doesn't really make sense.Edit
Let's say there really is an afterlife. So far so good. Now let's plug in that afterlife into a religious worldview, wherein it is perfect joy with a total lack of impurity and bad feelings.
Now, when you enter heaven and are subsequently stripped of imperfections... in what sense are you, you? The you that you have lived as since birth would jettisoned in an instant, your mind replaced wholesale by the sky. You are now empty-headed, a robot incapable of independent thought. The "love" you experience is all you ever will, with no fluctuation and no end, ever. Are you--the you you know--not, in fact, dead? Where is the immortality in this vision? You've essentially become one with the cosmos... which is death in all but name.
Now let's remove the whole instant perfection aspect as to keep you immortal, but still fundamentally you. Let's make heaven a second, substantially better earth where you don't ever die. Is that not the worst fate of all? You'd be begging on your hands and knees atop your giant butterfly steed for death to come eventually.
Part 4: The dirt Edit
a) He's been slapped with malpractice suits, at least two of which involve cooking medical records to cover up error. According to the expose in Esquire, he operated on the wrong place in a patient's spine more than once. It's okay though, everything's made of love! Now mightn't this be the sort of situation one might find oneself needing a sudden influx of money for? May the furious sarcastic chin stroking commence
"He also settled with a woman who sued him for leaving a small piece of plastic in her neck."
The horrible hilarity of that aside, malpractice suits are actually apparently very common in the world of high-stakes surgery, but on the other hand Dr. Braindead does nothing but portray himself as a spotless, well-respected neuroscientist. The only trouble at work he describes in the book is when he got all mentally distraught after finding out his biological parents kept all three kids that came after putting him up for adoption. But, naturally "I knew they too forgave it"
"I opened up their brains and altered their brain-records so that they forgave me!"
b) He's been suspended and outright fired from multiple hospital positions, fined by the Virginia Board of Medicine, and ordered to take classes on ethics and professionalism.
“He’d come rushing into the OR, talking to the nurses and the residents and anyone else who’d listen, rambling about near-earth asteroids or dark matter or whatever other topic in astrophysics he’d been reading about in his spare time. It would take him a while to get down to business, to focus on the matter at hand.”
c) His doctor said he hadn't even been braindead in the first place. His coma was medically induced and he had been "conscious, though hallucinating." I think he saw butterflies with giant dollar signs for wings.
In his book, Alexander writes that in the final moments before leaving the emergency room, after two straight hours of guttural animal wails and groaning, he became quiet. Then he shouted three words that were heard by all the doctors and nurses present. The three words?'
“God, help me!”
Dr. Potter, according to Dittrich, has no recollection of this. After intubating Alexander more than an hour before he left the emergency room, which included putting a plastic tube down his throat, through hisvocal cords, and into his trachea, she told Dittrich that she couldn’t imagine him speaking at all.
Of course, there might be extenuating circumstances. He might have said it while the doctor was out of the room, or the meningitis might have been speaking for him.
Part 4: Possibilities Dr. Braindead rejectsEdit
Neuroscientific Hypotheses I Considered to Explain My Experience
In reviewing my recollections with several other neurosurgeons and scientists, I entertained several hypotheses that might explain my memories. Cutting right to the chase, they all failed to explain the rich, robust, intricate interactivity of the Gateway and Core experiences (the “ultra-reality”).
Ems: OK, I can tell from that first sentence that this is gonna shit me.
This so fucked up. How does one "review recollections" with others on a scientific basis? What "scientists" did he review these with: a geologist? Maybe a dermatologist?
Dr Brain Dead is the only one that can agree to accept or reject the hypotheses that were put to him. He's obviously incredibly biased in terms of already having his mind made up (pardon the pun) re his NDE, that there is really no point in asking others what they think. A touch of confirmation bias perhaps?
It's sort of akin to this:
Ems: Hey guys, I've got this pink, itchy spot on my hand. I think I was bitten by a white tailed spider and I'm gonna get flesh eating disease and die.
Tort: Maybe it's just a mozzie bite, they're bad this time of year.
Joe: Or maybe it's a flea bite. You have been giving Herschel lots of snuggles.
Ems: Thanks for your input, but both of those hypotheses fail to explain how vividly pink and intensely itchy the spot is and my subsequent fear of imminent death. Next....
Ems: I just - uuugggghhh. This next bit is like a game of "Cards Against Humanity", except I don't think Dr Brain Dead's goal was to make me laugh.
On a side note, I do find this whole fiasco interesting from a paranormal point of view. In terms of George Hansen's "Trickster Theory", this seems to be a classic example of how a paranormal event is experienced while the person is in a liminal state (in this case between life and death), and how a subsequent compromise in the ability to critically evaluate information is evident. It may also be an example of how a paranormal event is related to a person who could be considered "on the margins" of his profession (if the info. on Wikipedia re how Dr Brain Dead had been terminated or suspended from multiple hospital positions, and had been the subject of several malpractice lawsuits, including at least two involving the alteration of medical records to cover up a medical error) is to be believed. I'm not saying any of that is true, I'm just pointing out that this guy may have been a bit "marginal" before this happened.
Anyway, back to the (cough cough) "real" science.
Here are some of the alternative hypotheses that Dr Brain Dead rejected, and his reasons for doing so:
1. A primitive brainstem program to ease terminal pain and suffering (“evolutionary argument”—possibly as a remnant of “feigned-death” strategies from lower mammals?). This did not explain the robust, richly interactive nature of the recollections.
Ems: Now I don't know about the evolutionary science behind this kind of "response", but it is a possibility. The brainstem is a very primitive part of the brain - but that does not mean it is not complex. It is really fucking complex. Every mm in every direction contains different nuclei and nerve fibre tracts. It is the interface between the brain and the rest of the body (broadly speaking). It contains centres that control breathing, levels of cosshushess, heart beat, and nuclei related to perceptions of sound, pain and visual stimuli. So, maybe if the majority of your brain wasn't functioning, signals from the brainstem may not be inhibited and you might experience some weird shit. I honestly don't know. But, I do know that brainstem reflexes (such as swallowing) can still happen when the cerebral cortex isn't doing much, so take from that what you will.
2. The distorted recall of memories from deeper parts of the limbic system (for example, the lateral amygdala) that have enough overlying brain to be relatively protected from the meningitic inflammation, which occurs mainly at the brain’s surface. This did not explain the robust, richly interactive nature of the recollections.
Ems: Can I hit this mother fucker? The amygdala is the emotional/primitive visceral reaction centre of the brain. If there is one thing I remember from my uni anatomy lectures it is this. The amygdala plays a huge role in the 4 F's: fight, flight, feeding and fucking. I also vividly remember the photo of a cat (that had had its amygdalas lesioned) trying to fuck a dog. So, if your amygdala is affected by some kind of disease process like, say, meningitis), then you might feel all kinds of peaceful, horny and emotions that seem "out of this world". The amygdala is also involved in memory, so yeah, highly unlikely it might be involved in the perceived reunion with a loved one in heaven...... And I know the meninges are on the outside surface of the brain, but if your brain is swollen and you only have "a few" synapses working (lol), then sorry, the functioning of your amygdala might just be compromised.
3. Endogenous glutamate blockade with excitotoxicity, mimicking the hallucinatory anesthetic, ketamine (occasionally used to explain NDEs in general). I occasionally saw the effects of ketamine used as an anesthetic during the earlier part of my neurosurgical career at Harvard Medical School. The hallucinatory state it induced was most chaotic and unpleasant, and bore no resemblance whatsoever to my experience in coma.
Ems: don't know much about glutamate, except that it is an excitatory neurotransmitter. So, I won't comment on that further. But, I am wondering how one can relate watching someone hallucinate to what it's like to experience the hallucination. Unless someone is screaming out shit like "Get this 8 legged 'squatchantula off me!!!" while flailing around like a drunk samurai, then I'm not sure how much you can infer. Also, ketamine is sought after as a recreational drug, as it can cause feelings of euphoria and relaxation, being detached from the body, hallucinations and distorted perception, including visual, auditory, physical, time and space. Nope, doesn't sound like a NDE AT ALL.
4. DMT “dump”. DMT, is naturally occurring and causes vivid hallucinations and a dreamlike state. I have had no personal experience with DMT but have seen patients under its influence. The rich ultra-reality would still require fairly intact auditory and visual neocortex as target regions in which to generate such a rich audiovisual experience as I had in coma. But my cortex was off, and the DMT would have had no place in the brain to act. The DMT hypothesis failed on the basis of the ultra-reality of the audiovisual experience, and lack of cortex on which to act.
Ems: yes, your cortex might have been "off", but somewhere along the line it obviously came back on again (well, at least some parts of it did). So, why couldn't this have happened then? If it did, his experiences do sound similar to what people have reported to what happens when under the influence of DMT. DMT is produced in the brain, but is also present in plants and is an active ingredient in ayahuasca, which is used in shamanic practices in South America. It also apparently has similar effects to psylocibin (what makes magic mushrooms magic). I don't know that enough is known about DMT that is naturally produced by the brain to comment much on this hypothesis. However, I do know that DMT is mentioned in an episode of AT, so that's as good a reason as any to talk about it. http://www.dosenation.com/listing.php?id=8252
5. Isolated preservation of cortical regions might have explained some of my experience, but were most unlikely, given the severity of my meningitis and its refractoriness to therapy for a week. Neurological exams showed severe alterations in cortical function and dysfunction of extra ocular motility, indicative of brainstem damage.
Ems: If it's possible, it's possible. He says himself that neuro. exams showed "alterations" to cortical function - not a lack of cortical function. I'd love to know what those examinations were (just out of curiosity).
6. In an effort to explain the “ultra-reality” of the experience, I examined this hypothesis: Was it possible that networks of inhibitory neurons might have been predominantly affected, allowing for unusually high levels of activity among the excitatory neuronal networks to generate the apparent “ultra-reality” of my experience? One would expect meningitis to preferentially disturb the superficial cortex, possibly leaving deeper layers partially functional. The computing unit of the neocortex is the six-layered “functional column,” each with a lateral diameter of 0.2–0.3 mm.
There is significant interwiring laterally to immediately adjacent columns in response to modulatory control signals that originate largely from subcortical regions (the thalamus, basal ganglia, and brainstem). Each functional column has a component at the surface (layers 1–3), so that meningitis effectively disrupts the function of each column just by damaging the surface layers of the cortex. The anatomical distribution of inhibitory and excitatory cells, which have a fairly balanced distribution within the six layers, does not support this hypothesis. Diffuse meningitis over the brain’s surface effectively disables the entire neocortex due to this columnar architecture. Full-thickness destruction is unnecessary for total functional disruption. Given the prolonged course of my poor neurological function (seven days) and the severity of my infection, it is unlikely that even deeper layers of the cortex were still functioning.
Ems: I don't have a good understanding of the minutiae of the cellular architecture of the brain, and how this functions at a microscopic level. But I do know there are layers of different kinds of neurons that interact. So, I can't really comment on this. So, I'll just posit a couple of questions and comments instead. First question: if Dr Brain Dead's brain was "shut down" when all of this happened, how did his brain form very detailed memories of it that he could recall for some time after he "woke up"? Also, this sounds a bit like "I can't explain this with my knowledge of how the brain works, therefore it was Heaven" (non-sequiter).
7. The thalamus, basal ganglia, and brainstem are deeper brain structures (“subcortical regions”) that some colleagues postulated might have contributed to the processing of such hyperreal experiences. In fact, none of those structures could play any such role without having at least some regions of the neocortex still intact. All agreed in the end that such subcortical structures alone could not have handled the intense neural calculations required for such a richly interactive experiential tapestry.
Ems: so you, as a vascular neurosurgeon, can confidently state that subcortical structures such as the thalamus and basal ganglia are INCAPABLE of producing experiences that are percieved as "hyperreal". On what basis does he make this assertion? Once again I am not a neurosurgeon, but I do know that many subcortical structures are very complex in their functioning and impairment in their functioning can lead to disturbances in language, cognition and mood (as well as movement and sensation). Therefore, I wouldn't be so black and white about this.
I also find it VERY interesting that Dr Brain Dead describes his experience as "realler than real". I have heard paranormal/alien contact/ayhauasca/magic mushroom experiences described in exactly the same way. There may be some connection/underlying mechanism or contributing factor that is shared between these experiences that would be fascinating to investigate.
8. A “reboot phenomenon”—a random dump of bizarre disjointed memories due to old memories in the damaged neocortex, which might occur on restarting the cortex into consciousness after a prolonged system-wide failure, as in my diffuse meningitis. Especially given the intricacies of my elaborate recollections, this seems most unlikely.
Ems: "This seems most unlikely". That's good enough rebuttal for me. Move on.
9. Unusual memory generation through an archaic visual pathway through the midbrain, prominently used in birds but only rarely identifiable in humans. It can be demonstrated in humans who are cortically blind, due to damaged occipital cortex. It provided no clue as to the ultra-reality I witnessed, and failed to explain the auditory-visual interleaving.
Ems: I do know that "cortically blind" people can do weird things like catch balls that are thrown at them, but I'm not sure how this relates to Dr. Brain Dead's experience. Once again, I think he is making huge assumptions about how the brain (or indeed the impaired brain) functions, without citing any empirical evidence to support his assertions. In closing, I wonder how he would have categorised his experience if he was unaware of the cultural concept of "Heaven"? Obviously his brain is functioning very well now, so how much "damage" could there have been? Also, all these hypotheses (or combinations thereof) are plausible, as opposed to the one he has chosen (which is mutually exclusive of all others).
His latest book, a "Map of Heaven" Edit
The NDE community has latched onto him, and in this slim tome--which came out this month--he attempts to carve out a sort of middle ground between science and spirituality. He "maps" heaven by taking other NDE people's experiences into account, but always couches the descriptions by saying that they can only hint at what's ultimately ineffable. We should, according to him, quit taking a purely naturalist view whereby NDEs are purely the "chemical whirl of a dying brain" and reclaim the Platonic along with the Aristotelian. And more and more researchers are taking it seriously. That's his thesis anyway, and it honestly doesn't sound like complete flying horseshit, but I stand by my assertion that the guy himself was a hilarious douchebag--the community he purports to be active in might be a different story.
Interestingly, most NDEs describe heaven as having water, trees, wildlife, etc., only they all feel more real. The so-called Map of Heaven is like a many-layered array of lenses of different skies, only they're all far more vibrant and amazing than Earth's. And we should be like the great early explorers and map out more of heaven through personal meditation and the like. That makes me ask why the fuck we got stuck in the shitty reality, but who knows, maybe heaven-rabbits think of Earth as their equivalent of heaven.
For all we know, the guy really did fart out a rainbow when he awoke from his totally bogus journey. In my eyes, he's still a smarmy douchebag.
From his website Edit
He offers an online 4-part lecture course on his thoughts about consciousness, along with some heaven-inducing SACRED ACOUSTICS, and also some guided meditation videos. I never knew I wanted a very rich white elite surgeon dude to be guiding my meditation!
Dr. Alexander has identified brain state-changing audio technology as an excellent way of accessing the experiences he had during his NDE. Partnering with brainwave entrainment pioneers Sacred Acoustics, he created an unprecedented program to guide you to a blissful brain state where you can seek out your own connection to source. Each session includes a live talk from Dr. Alexander on the insights he gained through his NDE, meditation instructions from Karen Newell, co-founder of Sacred Acoustics, and an exclusive download of a Sacred Acoustics audio meditation designed in collaboration with Dr. Alexander and enhanced by acoustic brainwave entrainment technology. Each audio meditation focuses on a different aspect of Dr. Alexander’s NDE experience: connection to our source, quieting of the ego voice, entering the gateway to higher consciousness, and experiencing the force of complete unconditional love. Dr. Alexander had to come close to death before he could wake up to the truth of his existence. All that is required for you to take this journey is a pair of headphones and a willingness to be guided to the place of belonging and connection that is at the core of our being.
The sacred acoustics sounds suspiciously like golden coins clinking into a massive vault of money
“Everything is a Vibration,” “Thinning the Veil,” “Shift Your Perspective,” and “Connecting with Source.”
Funnily enough, Everything Is a Vibration, Thinning the Veil, and Connecting with Source are all also the names of my best-selling sex memoirs