By Eben Alexander
Newsweek, October 7, 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

I am a Christian neurosurgeon. After seven days in a coma, I experienced something that made me believe in life after death.

Early one morning four years ago, I awoke with an intense headache. Within hours, my entire cortex had shut down. Doctors determined that bacteria were eating my brain. For seven days I lay in a deep coma. Then my eyes popped open.

While my body lay in coma, my consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe. As far as I know, no one before me has ever traveled to this dimension both while their cortex was completely shut down and while their body was under minute medical observation. Given the severity and duration of my meningitis, and the global cortical involvement documented by CT scans and neurological examinations, there is no way I could have been conscious in the coma.

It took me months to come to terms with what happened during that time. At first I was in a place of clouds. Above the clouds, flocks of shimmering beings arced across the sky. They were higher forms. I could hear their visual beauty and see the perfection of their song. Everything was distinct, yet also part of everything else.

A woman was with me. We rode along together on the wing of a butterfly. Millions of butterflies flew all around us. She looked at me with love and told me without words that I was loved and cherished, dearly and forever, that I had nothing to fear and there was nothing I could do wrong.

The message flooded me with relief, and a warm wind blew around me. I asked where I was, who I was, and why I was there. The answers came instantly in an explosion of light, color, love, and beauty, bypassing language, and I understood them instantly and effortlessly. I entered an immense dark void filled with light. It seemed like the universe was a womb and I was being born into a larger world.

Modern physics tells us that the universe is undivided. Every object and event in the universe is completely woven up with every other object and event. Now I understand. The universe is defined by love. The theory that the brain generates consciousness and that we live in a universe devoid of emotion is destroyed by what happened to me.

The first time I entered a church after my coma, I saw everything with fresh eyes. A painting of Jesus evoked the message that we are loved and accepted unconditionally by God.

AR This is similar in its autophenomenology to many other such reports. New is the medical frame that excludes a conventional neuroscientific story of the physical correlates of the experiences. My guess is that Alexander's "reptile brain" (under the neocortex) and cerebellum took up the load of sustaining a remembered analog of consciousness. The reported experiences are clearly confabulated attempts to bring some coherence to illogical thoughts and uncontrolled feelings. All this is consistent with an account within a lightly extended neuroscience. The religious gloss is a reflection of Alexander's cultural conditioning. But it is interesting to see how well Christian imagery fits the feelings he reports.

No Proof Of Heaven

By Colin Blakemore
The Telegraph, October 10, 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

Proof of Heaven, by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, reports a near-death experience. In 2008, he contracted bacterial meningitis and his brain shut down. His conscious self journeyed into another world. There was wonderful music and light. There were clouds and angels.

There are deep problems in interpreting first-person memories of experiences that are supposed to have happened when the brain was out of action. Since the lucky survivor can only tell you about them after the event, how can we be sure that these things were perceived and felt at the time that their brains were messed up, rather than being invented afterwards?

Memory is fallible and easily misled by expectation. The way we appreciate the world around us is as much dependent on our expectations and inferences as it is on the evidence of our senses. When there is no evidence except the word of the beholder, a scientist's accounts are no better than those of anyone else.

Nobleman: "What happens to the enlightened man at death?"
Zen master Hakuin: "Why ask me?"
Nobleman: "Because you're a Zen master."
Zen master Hakuin: "Yes, but not a dead one."

This Must Be Heaven

Sam Harris

Edited by Andy Ross

Eben Alexander experienced visions that changed everything for him.

He assert that his visions of heaven occurred while his cerebral cortex was shut down. The evidence he provides for this claim suggests that he doesn't know anything about the relevant brain science. CT scans and neurological examinations can't determine neuronal inactivity. Alexander makes no reference to functional data that might have been acquired by fMRI, PET, or EEG, nor does he seem to realize that only this sort of evidence could support his case. Coma is not associated with the complete cessation of cortical activity, in any case.

Alexander's experience sounds like a DMT trip. Everything that he describes has been reported by DMT users. DMT alters consciousness for merely a few minutes, but he would have had more than enough time to experience a visionary ecstasy as he was coming out of his coma. DMT already exists in the brain as a neurotransmitter. And similar experiences can be had with ketamine, which is a surgical anesthetic that is occasionally used to protect a traumatized brain. Did Alexander by any chance receive ketamine while in the hospital?

Alexander doesn't know what he is talking about.

AR Sam is right. Case closed.

Life After Death

Sam Harris Forum, October 14, 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

Materialists claim that thought is no more than a state of the brain. For materialists, intentionality is either an illusion or an inherent property of certain material structures such as nervous systems. Ideas and minds only exist in physical systems such as brains and cannot exist outside such systems. An afterlife is compatible with materialism only if our minds can continue after death in a material vehicle other than an organic body.

We need a functioning brain to experience ourselves and our personalities. If the brain is damaged, experience will be compromised. But it does not follow that physical brain functions are the ultimate source of our personal experiences. No matter how well we correlate brain states with mental states, we cannot prove causation from correlation.

Many mind-matter dualists have definite ideas about the nature of the soul. Reports of near-death experiences (NDE) often echo religious scriptures. But no one has yet applied these ideas to prove or disprove the reality of souls or out-of-body experience (OBE).

Medical Evidence For NDEs

Pim van Lommel

Edited by Andy Ross

A near-death experience (NDE) is a reported memory of impressions during a special state of consciousness, including out-of-body experience (OBE), pleasant feelings, and seeing a tunnel, a light, deceased relatives, or a life review.

We performed a study of 344 survivors of cardiac arrest in which 282 (82%) had no NDE and 62 patients (18%) reported NDE. All the patients were clinically dead, unconscious, due to insufficient blood supply to the brain.

The physiological explanation is that NDE is a result of anoxia in the brain, possibly also caused by release of endorphins, or NMDA receptor blockade. A psychological explanation is that NDE is caused by fear of death.

Patients with cardiac arrest are unconscious within seconds. Complete cessation of cerebral circulation is found in cardiac arrest due to ventricular fibrillation (VF). Cerebral ischemia follows anoxia in the brain.

Cerebral function is severely compromised during cardiac arrest and electric activity in both cerebral cortex and the deeper structures of the brain is absent after a very short period of time. EEG monitoring shows ischemic changes consisting of a decrease of fast high amplitude waves and an increase of slow delta waves, and sometimes also an increase in amplitude of theta activity, declining to a flat line. Attenuation of the EEG waves is often the first sign of cerebral ischemia, with the first changes an average of 6.5 s after circulatory arrest. The cerebral ischemia always progresses to a flat line 10-20 s after onset.

In case of a cardiac arrest of more than 37 s, the EEG activity may not return for minutes to hours after the heartbeat is restored, depending on the duration of cardiac arrest, despite maintenance of adequate blood pressure during the recovery phase. Cerebral oxygen uptake may be depressed for a considerable time after restoration of circulation.

Anoxia causes loss of function of our cell systems. In prolonged anoxia, cell death occurs with permanent functional loss. During an embolic event, a small clot obstructs the blood flow in a small vessel of the cortex, resulting in anoxia of that part of the brain with loss of electrical activity. This results in a functional loss of the cortex. If the clot is resolved or broken down within a few minutes, the lost cortical function is restored. If the clot obstructs the cerebral vessel for longer, it can result in neuronal cell death and permanent loss of function of this part of the brain.

In cardiac arrest, global anoxia of the brain occurs within seconds. Timely and adequate CPR reverses this functional loss of the brain by preventing permanent damage to the brain cells. Long lasting anoxia, caused by cessation of blood flow to the brain for more than 5-10 minutes, results in irreversible damage and extensive cell death in the brain. This is called brain death.

In our study, the patients had EEG flat lines and loss of brain stem activity. Yet the NDE patients reported a clear consciousness, in which cognitive functioning, emotion, sense of identity, and memory from early childhood was possible, as well as an OBE. Evidence suggests that the NDE must happen during the period of unconsciousness, and not in the first or last second of this period.

The current medical consensus is that consciousness is the product of the brain. But this concept has never been scientifically proven. Research on NDE pushes us to the limits of our medical concepts.

For decades, researchers have aimed to localize memories inside the brain, so far without success. At least we know that different mental activities give rise to changing patterns of activity in different parts of the brain. Neurophysiologists show this using EEG, MEG, MRI, and PET technologies. An increase in cerebral blood flow is observed during thinking.

Most body cells, and especially all neurons, show an electrical potential across cell membranes, formed by the presence of a metabolic Na/K pump. Information is transported along neurons by means of action potentials, which are differences in membrane potential caused by synaptic polarization and depolarization. The changing potentials cause transient electromagnetic (EM) fields along the dendrites. The transient EM fields generated along the dendrites are crucial. They are shaped into briefly meaningful patterns that fluctuate over the neurons and over the entire cortical neuronet. This process can be considered as a biological quantum coherence phenomenon.

The influence of external localized EM fields on these constant changing EM fields during normal function of the brain is well explored. Researchers use TMS, which uses a localized EM field, to excite or inhibit different parts of the brain. They investigate the function in focal brain regions on a millisecond scale to study the contribution of cortical networks to specific cognitive functions. TMS can interfere with visual and motion perception by interrupting cortical processing with an interval of 80-100 ms. TMS can also alter the functioning of the brain beyond the time of stimulation. So localized artificial EM stimulation disturbs and inhibits the constantly changing EM fields of neural networks, and can even induce an OBE.

To understand this interaction, consider telecommunications. We live in a smog of EM fields broadcast to transmit information to electronic devices. We only become aware of these EM fields when we use those devices. The devices convert the information from the EM fields to a form we can observe. If we switch off the device, the information disappears from our consciousness but the transmission continues. The information remains coded within the EM fields and can still be received through another device.

Perhaps our brain are also devices for converting EM waves into images and sound. The information fields of our consciousness and of our memories may be present around us as EM fields, which only become available to our consciousness through our functioning brain and other cells of our body. We need a functioning brain to receive information into our waking consciousness. As soon as brain function is lost, our reception is lost. But the memories and consciousness still exist in the EM fields.

Our study shows that patients with EEG flatlines can have an NDE or an OBE.

AR The EM story is exactly in line with "the Ross hypothesis" I worked out in the early years of the century and presented at various conferences: see Mindworlds.

Let me just point out that people with an OBE have extracorporeal excursion experience (3ex).
Even when we die, we can still have 3ex.