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Newsweek panders to the deluded again

I’ve got to wonder who is responsible for this nonsense, and how it gets past the staff at Newsweek. Every once in a while, they’ve just got to put up a garish cover story touting the reality of Christian doctrine, and invariably, the whole story is garbage. This time around, the claim is proof of life after death, in Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife. This time, we have a real-live doctor who has worked at many prestigious institutions, as we are reminded several times in the story, whose brain was shut down and who then recites an elaborate fantasy of visiting heaven.

Very early one morning four years ago, I awoke with an extremely intense headache. Within hours, my entire cortex—the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion and that in essence makes us human—had shut down. Doctors at Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia, a hospital where I myself worked as a neurosurgeon, determined that I had somehow contracted a very rare bacterial meningitis that mostly attacks newborns. E. coli bacteria had penetrated my cerebrospinal fluid and were eating my brain.

When I entered the emergency room that morning, my chances of survival in anything beyond a vegetative state were already low. They soon sank to near nonexistent. For seven days I lay in a deep coma, my body unresponsive, my higher-order brain functions totally offline.

Those are the last true words stated in the story. I believe that part; yes, there are catastrophically dangerous diseases that can so disrupt brain function that the victim loses all higher brain function. I don’t have reason to doubt that this Dr Eben Alexander suffered from such a debilitating problem.

But then it gets weird. After he regains consciousness a week later, he starts assembling an elaborate account of visiting heaven.

Toward the beginning of my adventure, 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, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamerlike lines behind them.

Birds? Angels? These words registered later, 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 forms.

Notice that key phrase: “words registered later”. He was not writing this stuff down while he was in a brain-dead state; I would argue that he was also not experiencing them at that time. These were stories that he built later, as he was coming to grips with that past trauma, and they were a means of coping with a huge painful gap in his memory. We know that this is what our brains do; it fills gaps in our knowledge with imaginary events to maintain continuity, a process called confabulation. This is all Alexander is doing, is making up fairy tales to comfort himself after a serious shock.

It took me months to come to terms with what happened to me. Not just the medical impossibility that I had been conscious during my coma, but—more importantly—the things that happened during that time.

Isn’t that telling enough? It took him months to build his story. He hadn’t been conscious during his coma, but he sure was afterwards.

Now why would he invent a Christian afterlife, though?

Although I considered myself a faithful Christian, I was so more in name than in actual belief. I didn’t begrudge those who wanted to believe that Jesus was more than simply a good man who had suffered at the hands of the world. I sympathized deeply with those who wanted to believe that there was a God somewhere out there who loved us unconditionally. In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided. But as a scientist, I simply knew better than to believe them myself.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that line of crap before. “I’m a serious, hard-nosed scientist, I wouldn’t believe in that Christian stuff unless it was really true!” It’s a common trope. This guy was soaking in Christianity, wanted to believe in Christianity, and I don’t care if he was a Harvard neuroscientist, he was still vulnerable to self-delusion.

But here’s the real killer for me. People who go through these fantasies often tell of awe-inspiring insights that they receive and are quick to tell us how brilliant they were in Heaven. Alexander is no exception.

Each time I silently put one of these questions out, 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 blasts 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.

What were these concepts, you might wonder. He’s a neuroscientist; shouldn’t we expect some great “A-ha!” moments, some new powerful revelations about how the brain works that would revolutionize his field of study?

But of course not. He returns from his mind-expanding experience and does not sit down to write a revolutionary new paper on the science of the mind, but instead, as usual, writes a bunch of banal drivel about angels. This is the deep message that he shares with us that would have taken years to fully grasp, he claims.

“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”

“You have nothing to fear.”

“There is nothing you can do wrong.”

Here’s a deep message for you: brain damage can persuade you of the truth of some real bullshit.

Comments

  1. davidmc says

    Jerry Coyne was on BBC3 9pm last night explaining to a group of creationists why Noahs Ark couldnt work. I think PZ you may be on next weeks episode which is about alien conspiracy theorists. Or did i dream that?

  2. unbound says

    When the primary incentive is money, whatever the editor thinks will sell more copies is what is going to make it to print. If Newsweek doesn’t print this junk, someone else will print it and make the money instead. Isn’t capitalism great?

  3. scottmange says

    Do you suppose him having this experience in Lynchburg, VA – home of Liberty University; Jerry Falwell’s outfit – had anything to do with it?

    Also his picture shows him wearing a bow tie so you know he’s a “serious scientist”.

  4. jamessweet says

    Dunc beat me to it…

    Each time I silently put one of these questions out, 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 blasts 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.

    Yep, I know that feeling! I was lying in the floor, in the doorway between the kitchen and my small bedroom in the little dorm/apartment I shared with two friends, tripping my balls off on mushrooms for the first time. Yeah, it pretty much felt exactly like that.

    TBH, I pity people who never have an experience like this in their life, whether from drugs or meditation or what have you. But I think I even more pity the people who take it seriously.

  5. says

    They seem to forget that it’s merely a ‘near-death experience’.
    That it’s not death, even if various bits stop for a while, it’s not.
    Really that’s the end of the argument.

  6. Moggie says

    Somehow, I’m reminded of the beautiful flying sequence near the end of the PS3 game Journey. Mind you, the benevolent flying creatures in that heaven resemble cephaolopods, rather than your boring Christian dudes with wings.

  7. Beatrice says

    One of the few places I didn’t have trouble getting my story across was a place I’d seen fairly little of before my experience: church.

    No shit.
    Pope should send a thank you card to poor deluded suckers like this.

  8. davidw says

    It’s amazing that his dream (which is all it was, really) conformed his Xtian bias of what “heaven” would be like. Amazing he didn’t meet Allah, or Cthulhu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but reaffirmed his own previous brainwashing – despite his claim of minimal religiosity at the beginning of the article. A clear case of confirmation bias.

  9. Quodlibet says

    Within hours, my entire cortex—the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion and that in essence makes us human—had shut down. …For seven days I lay in a deep coma, … my higher-order brain functions totally offline.

    Seems to me that this shut-down would make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to have perceived, understood, and remembered any of the events, ideas, and feelings if they occurred during a true comatose period.

    I don’t know anything about the biology of coma, but I can imagine that as one emerges from coma, one passes through something like sleep, and that as the brain re-wakens, one might experience dreaming similar to that of normal sleep. We generally remember the dreams that occur nearest to our waking. Perhaps this is what happened to him – his dream-fantasy occurred (and was perhaps developed a bit) as he was waking, and he “expanded” it to cover his whole comatose period.

    Yesterday on the Daily Dish, there was an interesting item reflecting on false memory and its role in personal biography:

    http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/10/people-kill-themselves-over-false-memories.html

    PZ:

    People who go through these fantasies often tell of awe-inspiring insights that they receive and are quick to tell us how brilliant they were in Heaven.

    In my sleeping dreams, I sometimes sing effortlessly with THE most beautiful voice, and hear music that is more beautiful than ANY ever composed, and I’m sure that if I just had the means to write it down, I’d be the next Mozart. I’m sure that most people have had a similar, extra-self experience in dreams; I can’t see how what he describes is much diffferent than that.

    Cuttlefish:

    A brain in pain strains vainly to explain.

    Perfect, as always.

  10. DonDueed says

    “There is nothing you can do wrong.”

    Funny, I thought it was us atheists who were the amoral ones.

  11. leepicton says

    Remember when Newsweek was a serious magazine and actually pretty good? I was a subscriber for nearly 50 years. Not any more.

  12. dianepatyjewicz says

    I read that article and thought, either there is an after life because almost everybody describes it the same way or everybody has heard the story and relives it when in these severe medical crisis

  13. briane says

    I would argue that he was also not experiencing them at that time.

    To even have to argue that point is exasperating….When you’re not conscious, but not dead, then you’re not conscious, and not dead. Therefore, all ‘recollections’ about your fucking NOT conscious period, but not dead period, are not recollections….

  14. anteprepro says

    I think the real alarming thing is that a neuroscientist (!) is the one saying that his coma allowed him to visit Real True Reality, where Thoughts are physical things and with the implication that this Place would still be there if when a person actually dies. A neuroscientist unaware of hallucinations (or even dreams!). A neuroscientist unaware that a coma is quite distinct from actual death. A neuroscientist who doesn’t notice how his Christian upbringing might have influenced his “experience”.

    I mean, really. Compartmentalization is a hell of a drug.

  15. joed says

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyyjU8fzEYU

    http://www.ted.com Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

  16. Beatrice says

    either there is an after life because almost everybodyChristians describes it the same way or…

  17. carlie says

    So if he really thinks he went to Heaven, that means he thinks he really died, all physical evidence to the contrary.

    So if he thinks people in comas are dead, then it’s ok to discontinue life support from people in comas, correct?

    Something tells me his supporters would have a brain freeze somewhere in the middle of the second sentence.

  18. Beatrice says

    re: Everyone has the same near-death experiences

    A Systematic Survey of Near-Death Experiences in South India

    All the respondents were Hindus.

    One of the cases:

    “I was dragged ‘up’ by four yamadoots (messengers of the god of death, Yamaraj). I saw one door, and went inside. I saw my mother and father there. I also saw the Yama who was fat and had books in front of him. The Yama started beating the yamadoots for having taken me there instead of another person. (The name of the ‘other’ person was not mentioned.) While the yamadoots were being beaten up, I was accidentally hit on the back. As a result, I felt a severe pain and developed a mark on my back. The pain was more severe there (in the other realm) than it was after I returned back. I was asked by my parents and the Yama to be sent back. I was scared to be there because there were so many people, and I was happy to be back so I could see my children.”

  19. carlie says

    A literal fluffy cloud heaven? What is he two?

    Matthew 18:
    At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
    2 And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them,
    3 and said, “Verily I say unto you, unless ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
    4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

  20. kreativekaos says

    I may be splitting hairs,.. but according to the post, the doctor refers to himself as a neurosurgeon

    where I myself worked as a neurosurgeon,

    rather than a
    neuroscientist, (such as Sam Harris)

    He’s a neuroscientist; shouldn’t we expect some great “A-ha!” moments, some new powerful revelations about how the brain works that would revolutionize his field of study? –PZ Myers

    I don’t think they exactly equate.

    Generally, I don’t think the average neurosurgeon is deeply trained to interpret more esoteric elements of brain function from a larger scientific overview, but instead (no disrespect intended to neurosurgeons) tend to be more concerned with it’s relation to physiological function of other bodily systems. So to expect a neurosurgeon to comment with any special insights into this experience of disruptive brain function may be an overreaching expectation on the part of Myers.

    A neurosurgeon does not a neuroscientist (necessarily) make, in the same way a mechanic does not an engineer (necessarily) make.

  21. =8)-DX says

    Um, I think I’ll make do with my dreams. Lately I’ve had some really kick ass ones flying over alien planets, Investigating huge ancient building complexes, building skyscrapers with my mind, having instantaneous mega-super-hyper-rainbow-coloured orgasms, etc. It all feels totally real, awesome and I’m much stronger and clever in them.

    Does this qualify me to start my own religion?

  22. grumpyoldfart says

    There should be a rule: Those who get to heaven should be obliged to ask god for answers to the Millenium Prize Problems
    http://www.claymath.org/millennium/

    We might still doubt the “trip to heaven” story, but there will be no disputing the correctness of the answers (and each answer is worth a million dollars!).

  23. Q.E.D says

    Beatrice @ 25

    Excellent point but the abstract leads one to believe the author comes to a different conclusion [1]

    The author suggests the possibility of a genuine phenomenon underlying the similarities of features among cases in two different cultures.

    [1] Admitedly only read abstract tl:dnr as really really must get back to work

  24. John Horstman says

    @18: Yeah, I think somebody’s degree program is due for an accreditation review.

  25. says

    Research has shown that there is a part of the brain that serves as a story-teller. It’s primary function is to interpret the vast amount of data coming in from our senses, and organize it into the coherent narrative that we see as “reality.”

    Dreams occur when the brain is… well, “defragging” is a good analogy. Integrating the day’s experiences into long-term memory, reindexing data pointers that had become corrupt, that sort of thing (I work in IT, does it show?) Memory is stored in the parts of the brain that process the particular signal: your memory of the taste of bacon is stored across the parts of the brain that process taste, texture, crunch, chewiness, smell and so on. As far as the brain is concerned, there is no significant difference between the act of eating a piece of bacon — or chatting with a friend, or walking on the beach, or being in love — with the memor of that act.

    So, when the defragging is in process, a state called REM sleep, the brain shuts effectively disconnects itself from voluntary activities. That way, it can fire off the parts of the brain involved in running or jumping or talking without making you actually run or jump or talk. This disconnect is imperfect, which is where we get things like talking in your sleep, sleep walking, and so on.

    The brain also shuts down the story-teller, in an effort to preserve its sanity. This disconnect is also imperfect, which is where we get dreams: the story-teller sees, imperfectly, the random noise that is going on and tries to impose order on it, to make sense of what presumably is happening. Dreams can be a useful psychiatric tool, because the story-teller will feed it its own perceptions and emotions. If it is feeling scared, it will likely see the randomness as scarey, leading to nightmares. If it is troubled, the things troubling it will loom large. If it is generally content, it will see contented things.

    So, near-death experiences: exactly the same thing as dreams. The brain starts firing randomly, and the story-teller is fully engaged. It sees random noise, and tries to interpret it into order. The person revives, and remembers those interpretations, tries to make sense of them. He is told that he died. If the person is a religious believer, then the story-teller has its hook: “Aha!” it cries. “That’s what happened. I saw the afterlife!”

    Most Christians expect to go to Heaven, so that is the narrative their story-teller gives. The few people who have a NDE and claim to have seen Hell inevitably expect that they will end up in Hell when they die. What is very interesting is that Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, neo-Pagans, followers of thousands of indigenous religious also have NDEs, and all end up with narratives that relate to their particular religious beliefs. Funny how that happens.

  26. John Horstman says

    @30: Yup, and that phenomenon is the death of cerebral neurons. Similar experiences resulting from the process of brain damage interpreted as a narrative specific to cultural context. Compare that to the existence of a logically-self-negating ‘spiritual realm’ that somehow only intersects reality in specific anthropocentric cases, has physical impacts without any physical evidence, and can somehow be consciously experienced even when the mechanisms that we know are responsible for the phenomenon of consciousness (unless one thinks that e.g. a railroad spike through the head damages the ‘soul’ as well as the brain) are non-functional. One of those scenarios is both much simpler and much more likely. :-P

  27. Beatrice says

    Q.E.D

    I didn’t read the end of the abstract. *blush*

    Skimming through the article, it seems like these common features are a bit far fetched. Similarities between experiences of people from North and South India can be seen in the given table, but Americans are just mentioned; there is no actual data to be seen (and I’m not going to dig through the references).

    Not to mention that these features are put in general terms like “seeing a religious figure”.

  28. iknklast says

    “TBH, I pity people who never have an experience like this in their life, whether from drugs or meditation or what have you. But I think I even more pity the people who take it seriously”

    I had an experience like this – a bad reaction to a prescription drug. It was scary. I envy people who have never had experiences like this.

  29. Beatrice says

    Sorry, found more details in the article.

    In any case, these common features between Indians and Americans are “saw deceased relatives”, “saw beings of light or religious figures”, and “revived through thought of loved living persons or for other reasons and own volition”.

    Hardly proves anything, unless one of the Hindus accidentally got saddled talking to Julie’s annoying uncle Bob, while Julie encountered a strange fat man servants called Yamaraj.

  30. raven says

    Doctors at Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia, a hospital where I myself worked as a neurosurgeon,…

    Isn’t Lynchburg, Virginia the home of Liberty NoUniversity, a place saturated beyond all reason with fundie death cult xianity?

    I don’t find his I used to be a scientist but am now a fundie claims very realistic. A fundie living in Lynchburg, Virginia discovers that god is real and a Southern Baptist. Yeah, sure.

    PS Newsweek, like a lot of print media, is in major financial trouble. It’s no secret why they run these sorts of stories. It’s money.

  31. says

    Good thing “There is nothing you can do wrong.” I was starting to think we might actually have to spend money to battle violent crime.

    It should be noted that this guy was from Lynchburg. Not exactly an atheist community. Soaking in Christianity is right.

  32. raven says

    This isn’t fundie death cult xianity at all.

    “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”

    Fundie-sim: Jesus loves us and hates you.

    “You have nothing to fear.”

    Fundie-ism: The vast majority of people will go to hell and be tortured forever. Most of those because they were born in the wrong place to the wrong religion. Only 28% of the world’s population are xians, the large majority of those are Fake xians.

    “There is nothing you can do wrong.”

    Fundie-ism: Everything you do is wrong. You are born as evil, defective creatures because some woman ate an apple 6,000 years ago.

  33. chigau (悲しい) says

    joed
    and Jill Bolte Taylor managed to recover from her stroke and to write her book without referring to any gods or souls.

  34. Beatrice says

    nms,

    Obviously, no one leaves hell alive, since we haven’t heard many near-death experiences that include lakes of fire or being spanked by the devil.

  35. Sastra says

    I used to read a lot of books on ‘pop’ neurology, by such writers as Oliver Sacks and Ramachandran. They like to figure out and then illustrate how the brain works by looking at case studies of situations where the brain doesn’t work: diseases, accidents, strokes, deformities, and other things which mess with the mind — thereby giving us insight into the construction of minds that aren’t messed with.

    Iirc, there is a section or portion of the brain which has to do with the sense of certainty, or the feeling that what is being considered is significant. When it has become damaged, this can lead to the conviction that familiar things are not what they seem to be, that they are artificial or imposters. When it is stimulated or enhanced, the opposite occurs. Thoughts and experiences suddenly appear clear, authentic, amazing, and deeply insightful. One feels as if, for the first time, one is experiencing reality — and the self has blended into not-self in one harmonious whole, directly. You just KNOW.

    The neurophysiology of mystical experiences is a fascinating topic. Too bad the neurosurgeon didn’t feel like delving into it. But not unexpected, given what his brain underwent. It takes an enormous amount of discipline to be able to distance yourself from your subjective states enough to recognize that the person having an experience is not necessarily the best person to interpret the experience — even when it is you.

    The mathematician John Nash, about whom the film A Beautiful Mind was made, suffered from a schizophrenia which involved him in vivid hallucinations. I read that he carefully taught himself to tell apart the times he was hallucinating from times when he was not by flagging the feelings of certainty and significance. Whenever he saw something unusual (or even something common) which stood out to him, seeming very, very real — realer than real — it was probably a hallucination. Check with others and avoid the desire to think of yourself as “special.” Being both extraordinary and extraordinarily ‘convincing’ was a warning. You didn’t have to surrender to it. You could fight.

    The opposite of faith, which externalizes the internal and considers that one of the virtues of being selfless.

    These wide-eyed stories of people who have seen Heaven don’t fall under sophisticated theology — but they will still be used to bash New Atheists. Awww… look at how the Little People need to believe in cute nonsense. Aren’t they precious? Aren’t they needy? How mean someone must be to try to take this away from them. We are all a bit like children: we must give ourselves permission to relax a bit on the intellectualizing, and grant this permission to others.

  36. nms says

    Obviously, no one leaves hell alive, since we haven’t heard many near-death experiences that include lakes of fire or being spanked by the devil.

    True enough, but I’m still pretty sure this guy’s tale is at the very least a breach of NDA. If he really was in heaven, I don’t think he’s going to get back in.

  37. watry says

    My coma only resulted in a week-long blank. I like to ask these people if that proves there isn’t an afterlife.

  38. tbp1 says

    I sort of remember when the big news magazines had at least a little integrity. But no more. I think the last straw for me was the huge cover hagiography of Mother Teresa a few months ago in Time. Anyone with the slightest bit of concern for the truth, can, given Internet access and maybe five minutes time, completely debunk the myths surrounding her.

    Similarly, in this case it is almost trivially easy to poke holes in the narrative and provide explanations that are WAY more likely.

  39. mythbri says

    I pity people who never have an experience like this in their life, whether from drugs or meditation or what have you. But I think I even more pity the people who take it seriously.

    Keep your pity. I prefer reality, at all times.

  40. Amphiox says

    Generally, I don’t think the average neurosurgeon is deeply trained to interpret more esoteric elements of brain function from a larger scientific overview, but instead (no disrespect intended to neurosurgeons) tend to be more concerned with it’s relation to physiological function of other bodily systems.

    Quite true. And remember that the scale of neurosurgical work, at least at the moment, even an operating microscopes, is in the mm’s to cm’s range.

    Neurosurgeons do not actually need to know, and are not actually formally trained to any significant degree, in anything below that macroscopic scale. Not even the functional neurosurgeons who need to know more about brain connectivity than their general colleagues.

    It is not in fact necessary for a neurosurgeon to even learn what an action potential is, except for personal interest.

  41. says

    So Dr. Alexander joins Dr. Egnor as another brain surgeon who doesn’t really understand the machine he’s tinkering with.

    Lynchburg: Jerry Falwell, yeah — and also the place where Sheldon Van Auken transitioned from a reasonably progressive, enlightened form of Christianity to reactionary Catholicism.

  42. wherearemybeets says

    Lynchburg was the first thing I noticed in the story as well. I’d wager vital portions of my anatomy if the Newsweek cover doesn’t cause a spike in book sales, that he’ll be hawking his crap in Falwell’s show, assuming that is still on the air to fleece gullible oldsters.

    Why do people never really hear “Give me some more, I’ll shout when it measures eleven.”?

  43. stevebowen says

    As I understand Christian theology, heaven isn’t a place anyone is expected to go when they are dead. They just wind up “dead” until Christ appears (still waiting….)when they are resurrected. Then after lots of nasty stuff earth gets all peachy sweet and heavenly for the survivors.

  44. grumpy1942 says

    Back in Feb of 2010 I stopped breathing and passed out. I woke up 8 days later in the hospital. They had induced coma to prevent me from pulling out all the tubes, wires, IVs and shit they had me connected to.

    I’m an atheist, so I didn’t get to go to heaven. Instead, as I was coming out of coma, I was Captain and Pilot of a submarine that had a huge earth-shaping blade attached to the front, and I was remodeling the Pacific Northwest coast to provide more sandy beaches.

    For nearly a week I was delirious and had a lot of fun experiences, including a prolonged cuddling session (no sex, unfortunately) with a beautiful Maya princess.

    I think that week was the most fun I’ve had in my life. At the time I was having these delusions, I was sure they were real, but since recovering my faculties I have known all along that they were not.

  45. andyo says

    Obviously, no one leaves hell alive, since we haven’t heard many near-death experiences that include lakes of fire or being spanked by the devil.

    Beat me to it. It’s surprising how few people will go to hell, even more so considering the state of this horrible world. Someone thinks of themselves too highly. Or proof that god is just a sadistic bastard, which would actually fit much better with the evidence.

  46. puppygod says

    “There is nothing you can do wrong.”

    Umm… can I have another neurosurgeon, prettyplease? One that is aware that he can fuck-up big time and is doing his/her damnedest to avoid that?

    Though, after reading his relations and taking into account how cartoonish they seem I can’t shake the feeling that his great “A-ha!” moment after experiencing NDE was more along the lines of: “Life is short, I just almost kicked the bucket, yet I’m here and I can still make the better living selling the stories about pink fluffy clouds than I’d ever had a chance as a second-rate neurosurgeon”.

  47. says

    Gawker posted a great review (or set of reviews) of the slushy, squishy, druggy Newsweek story.

    …it sounds suspiciously like a DMT trip as described on internet drug forums….

    Mushrooms! Cosmic Wombs! Lathes! Space-Time Warps! Butterflies! Women whose hair is not hair but “tresses.”

    Psychedelic, man. With vocabulary straight from I-write-one-a-year romantic novels.

  48. thegoodman says

    As a man of science I am sure the doctor would volunteer to retest this “proof”. We can introduce his brain to the same bacteria and sit back and wait for it all to happen again. Glory be to God!

  49. andyo says

    Like David Mitchell’s character in Peep Show said about past-life regression:

    Come on guys, where are all the Chinese peasants? Where are the German toilet cleaners?

  50. says

    Synchronicity! ;) An energy healing quack troll cited this guy not too long ago at Respectful Insolence.

    Somehow, I’m reminded of the beautiful flying sequence near the end of the PS3 game Journey. Mind you, the benevolent flying creatures in that heaven resemble cephaolopods, rather than your boring Christian dudes with wings.

    I played that game. It’s very short, but very sweet.

  51. nms says

    As I understand Christian theology, heaven isn’t a place anyone is expected to go when they are dead. They just wind up “dead” until Christ appears

    That’s certainly the case for early Christianity, but Catholic doctrine has been that souls recieve their reward or punishment immediately after death since 1336. I get the impression that Eastern Orthodox doctrine is that only saints go directly to heaven, but it seems to be left intentionally vague.

    Protestants, predictably, believe all sorts of different things.

  52. says

    When I was a teenager, I was hospitalized for ten days with status asthmaticus and pneumonia, and nearly died. The last thing I remember (ironically) was the woman in registration asking about my religion, and being annoyed because I just wanted to lie down somewhere.

    Then I passed out (lack of oxygen does that) and there was…nothing.
    During the entire time I was sick and on a ventilator, I had no experience of heaven, hell, purgatory, anything. No tunnel, no god, no lights, no fluffy clouds, not even a single angel. There was just…nothing.

    It is really strangely comforting.

    But I never have understood why no one interviews people who nearly died and report no NDE. Other than, it wouldn’t be very interesting, I suppose.

  53. says

    I like the part where he tells how he and the beautiful young woman were “riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, which after a moment I recognized as the wing of a butterfly.”

    Somehow, I don’t imagine riding (or trying to ride) on the wing of a giant butterfly in flight would be all that serene and beautiful an experience. But perhaps heavenly butterflies don’t move their wings.

  54. b. says

    @ SnowyBiscuit

    First, glad there was a happy outcome! To make N=2 (or 3, depending on how you’re counting), my Dad died twice from heart failure. He was successfully jump-started both times. His description was that he got tunnel-vision and then everything faded to black both times. No heaven, no hell, no choirs of angels. He was baptized a Methodist, but was never a church-goer or a big believer; too much of a realist. His comment when someone called his surviving a “miracle” was to say, “No miracle, just damn good doctors.”

  55. says

    b.

    His comment when someone called his surviving a “miracle” was to say, “No miracle, just damn good doctors.”

    Yeah. This.

    One of the things I despise about much religion: credit goes to God, blame goes to us. It’s a “Heads God wins, tails God wins” kind of situation.

    We lose sight of the actual miracles: the miracle that we’ve progressed to the point where damn good doctors can save a life, and then do it again. This, in spite of the fact a majority of folks still believe superstitions nonsense.

  56. says

    My ex-BF spent 7 weeks in a drug-induced coma while being treated for/almost dying from ARDS. He often would try to describe the vivid, realistic-yet-surreal, amazingly weird dreams he had while under. This guy just took those dreams, flavored by his Christian culture-soaking, and re-remembered them into (profitable and status raising) book form later.

  57. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    Why do people give any importance whatsover to the gibberish their brains came up with while offline ?

    A damn neuroscientist should fucking know better.

    And I just love this “I was a big skeptic/unbeliever” shtick.

    All the people who use that phrase before starting to spout their favorite brand of nonsense invariably proceed to demonstrate a hilarious level of gullibility.

  58. Q.E.D says

    I know times are hard for print media but are there no journalists left at Newsweek *at all*?

    grumpy1942 @ 56:

    Wait, wait, Post-death Captaincy of my own submarine AND Maya princesses? All Hail Grumpy1942, for he is the messiah.

    and Glen Davidson @ 67

    for the thread win.

  59. Tapetum, Raddled Harridan says

    Yeah, speaking as the daughter of a neurologist, neurosurgeon /= neuroscientist, at all. There are some people who are both, but the required skill sets are completely different. My favorite description of neurosurgery (from a surgeon) was “really detailed, vacuuming”

    Surgeons in general (in my experience) tend to be much like engineers – a good chunk more credulous and less skeptical than their more research-oriented colleagues.

  60. says

    Tapetum:

    Surgeons in general (in my experience) tend to be much like engineers – a good chunk more credulous and less skeptical than their more research-oriented colleagues.

    Perhaps that’s because they are given their knowledge from authority, rather than wrestling with reality to get new knowledge.

    /speculation

  61. tangovelocity says

    Although I do not have the excuse of having been at death’s door, the whole “…I silently put one of these questions out, 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 blasts 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…”, certainly has a compelling resonance for me.
    Although my teen experimentation with hallucinogens certainly allowed me to sample significantly altered perspectives on reality, I never had the experience of the “Other”, outside of myself.
    For that, I had to achieve a personal nadir of suicidal intensity. In utter abject despair I found that you can also have magical entities show up. Flooded with overwhelming peace, silent communication to my innermost conciousness, ecstatic joy, … blah, blah. Sound tedious and florid? I agree. My misfortune was to fall in with some religious types coincident to that event. Oh well. It only took me 16 years to shake off my event from the co-opting of it that the god botherers undertook.
    I trust Dr. Alexander is not as slow on the uptake as I was.

  62. d.f.manno says

    PZ:

    yes, there are catastrophically dangerous diseases that can so disrupt brain function that the victim loses all higher brain function. I don’t have reason to doubt that this Dr Eben Alexander suffered from such a debilitating problem.

    And I have no reason to doubt that the doctor still suffers from a debilitating loss of brain function.

  63. Dhorvath, OM says

    I have no reason to doubt that the doctor still suffers from a debilitating loss of brain function.

    If only. This is merely an indication that the Dr has a brain following the same pattern of function found in most of the populace. Belief is not brain damage.

  64. stonyground says

    The part that really made me laugh was where he reported having these startling insights beamed directly into his brain. What then emerges are three startling insights that don’t even qualify as trite platitudes.

  65. says

    He’s a neuroscientist; shouldn’t we expect some great “A-ha!” moments, some new powerful revelations about how the brain works that would revolutionize his field of study?

    Well, let’s face it…

    What he does isn’t exactly rocket science, is it?

    (/Oh. Wait. The discipline-waving thread is next door, isn’t it? My bad.)

  66. truthspeaker says

    Q.E.D
    9 October 2012 at 12:12 pm

    I know times are hard for print media but are there no journalists left at Newsweek *at all*?

    Probably, but journalists report to editors, editors report to publishers, and publishers report to owners. The reporters at Newsweek have about as much control over the content of the magazine as the Domino’s delivery driver has over the quality of pizza ingredients.

  67. cardinalsmurf says

    “I know how pronouncements like mine sound to skeptics, so I will tell my story with the logic and language of the scientist I am.”

    I’m confused. Is he a neuro-scientist or a neuro-surgeon? Is he a scientist or a medical practitioner? Are they the same thing?

    I thought he was a surgeon, so I was confused when he kept claiming to be a scientist.

    Also, is there some page missing from the article? He promised to “tell my story with the logic and language of the scientist I am” but I’ve looked cover to cover (I think) and I can’t find that part anywhere!

  68. says

    Hold the phone….

    The man said: “e coli had invaded by cerebral spinal fluid and were eating my brain…”

    And anything that he says after that is totally believable?

    Reminds me of that anti-drug egg-in-a-frying pan commercial: “This is your brain. This is your brain on e-coli. Any questions?”

  69. Amphiox says

    Like David Mitchell’s character in Peep Show said about past-life regression:

    Just how many past-life regressers have claimed to have been Napoleon?

    Unless Napoleon was some mutant multi-souled lich-king abomination of the nine hells, at most only one of them can possibly be right, no?

  70. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    I frequently write the GREATEST SONG EVER in my dreams and then forget them upon waking. Once in a while a snippet of a melody might carry over into waking life, but the feeling of near-grasp-of-profundity seems a pretty common element of altered brain states.

    I would love to see, just once, one of these people have an experience like seeing Ganesha and realizing that Christianity is wrong!! Funny how these tales always seem to reinforce their existing religious leanings.

    Also, mushrooms and acid have put me in places where EVERYTHING MAKES SENSE while tripping. Then I come down and realize that that fantastical realm should not be confused with sober reality.

  71. Amphiox says

    Surgeons in general (in my experience) tend to be much like engineers – a good chunk more credulous and less skeptical than their more research-oriented colleagues.

    You can say the same for all medical doctors, really. Even the ones who do a fair amount of research.

    Unless you have zero clinical work, MDs who are clinician-scientists will typically at most have a 70/30 research/clinical split, and many will skew less.

    In other words, compared to full-time basic science researchers, we are part-time amateurs in the field of properly applying scientific method to the solving of problems.

    Having submitted papers to both clinical and basic science journals for peer review, I can tell you that, at least in my experience, the clinical peer reviewers were much more generous and much less skeptical. The basic scientists are merciless, and will hammer you on smallest methodological shortcomings. The clinicians are much less likely to be so stringent.

  72. cardinalsmurf says

    Can anyone find any evidence of this MD ever having anything published in a reputable journal? Or any journal for that matter?

    The most I can find about this guy regards his damnable book!

  73. rork says

    In defense of neurosurgeons.
    While it’s true that not every surgeon is a genius, my experience (at a research university) is that neurosurgeons are some of the very best, on average. I figure it’s cause getting a residency is very competitive compared to say, pediatrics. The ones I know even care about molecular research, even though they make their living cutting heads. They know their knives aren’t killing glioblastomas with any regularity.
    That’s just on average.

  74. Amphiox says

    What he does isn’t exactly rocket science, is it?

    Neurosurgery is carpentry and jello-sculpture, with only the caveat that you are advised to avoid actions that kill your subject material. You don’t even need to be as precise as a carpenter sometimes because, unlike with the carpenter, your subject material is capable of healing around your imprecision. You can be perfectly competent (though not exceptional) on rote memorization and muscle memory.

    And rocket science, so far as you stay beyond the orbit of Mercury and within the local group of stars, is all Newton and Classical physics – you don’t actually even need 20th Century science.

    The old saying about brain surgery and rocket science is all backwards. The REALLY hard fields of human accomplishment are things like psychology, sociology, and politics. (This may be why true masters of these fields are so very rare….)

  75. Amphiox says

    Now of course you do have to memorize A LOT, so you need a good working brain. But the parts of your brain that you have to really hone to master the craft are not the same parts of the brain you have to hone to be a good scientist or critical thinker.

  76. raven says

    Belief is not brain damage.

    That is not at all clear.

    Fundie religions seem to cause cognitive impairment.

    1. Look at Michele Bachmann. Two degrees, one in law, passed the bar. These days she shouldn’t cross a street without her minder.

    2. Where do you think internet trolls come from?

    When I came up with this theory, it was half a joke. Then the data started piling up. There is lots in plain sight, make your own determination.

    FWIW, I doubt toxic religions cause organic brain damage. That is why the term used is cognitive impairment. As to what the mechanism is, who knows? It could be that keeping their cognitive dissonance under control doesn’t leave enough mental space for real thoughts.

    Or maybe when you adopt blatantly false versions of reality, you have to shut your mind down to believe them.

  77. Randomfactor says

    This just reinforces my standard answer when asked what it would take for me to be a believer.

    “Brain damage.”

  78. says

    Since some people are relating experiences, my previously mentioned troll tried the radio/transmission trope, for context:

    There was a time I was talking with my anesthesiologist (Wow, I spelled that right without correction this time!) with the IV in my arm, about to undergo surgery. Suddenly I woke up in pain as a female voice called my name. I was missing hours worth of time, either unconscious, or at such a low level of consciousness my brain hadn’t transcribed any memories for my later self to refer to.

    If consciousness comes from a soul and the brain is just a receiver, why didn’t I have an experience of floating in the ether, waiting for my body to pick up the phone? Why is it that I remember it like a jump cut that edited out the part where there was a drug preventing normal brain function?

    The simple answer is that I was unconscious because my brain activity was heavily suppressed, and when the drug cleared out of my system, my consciousness was able to restart. I have a blank spot in part thanks to my lack of desire to fill in that void with unnecessary things: Knowing that I was unconscious and that the surgeons were operating on me during that time was satisfactory as a narrative, so I had no emotional need to confabulate false memories for the void. All I needed was a still mental image labeled as an artist’s interpretation of the event. It’s kind of Impressionist, since I don’t know fine details aside from my body on a surgical table, surrounded by people wearing green and is accompanied by a partial memory of constructing that mental image specifically to serve as a placeholder.

  79. cicely says

    Come on guys, where are all the Chinese peasants? Where are the German toilet cleaners?

    Meanwhile, Cleopatra is seriously over-booked.
    -

    One of the things I despise about much religion: credit goes to God, blame goes to us. It’s a “Heads God wins, tails God wins” kind of situation.

    This.
    -

  80. says

    He is told that he died. If the person is a religious believer, then the story-teller has its hook: “Aha!” it cries. “That’s what happened. I saw the afterlife!”

    Most Christians expect to go to Heaven, so that is the narrative their story-teller gives.

    It would probably be highly unethical, but this gives me an idea for an experiment; when a person is revived, instead of telling them that they died, tell them that the doctors had to give them a powerful drug that might cause hallucinations. See if they still interpret the experience as Heaven or if they change to a more mundane “It was a mess of random noise. Probably just the drug.”

  81. Randomfactor says

    Meanwhile, Cleopatra is seriously over-booked.

    Souls split to enter the next generation, just like chromosome pairs. Thousands of us have Cleo’s soul (just not that 900-number one).

  82. didgen says

    E.coli huh? After working for 25 years as an RN in ICU and transplant and having known many neurosurgeons, a few were really nice people many not so much, allow me to make a bad joke about shit for brains.

  83. cicely says

    Souls split to enter the next generation, just like chromosome pairs. Thousands of us have Cleo’s soul (just not that 900-number one).

    …until, finally, everyone is Cleopatra—homeopathically speaking.
    -

  84. robro says

    rave @ #41 — I agree with your sentiment, but I’m sure you realize that Fundie’s, and indeed religious people of all stripes, can hold self-contradictory notions without batting an eye. The god of wrath and the god of love can easily be one and the same. Just think of the centuries of ink and the rivers of blood poured out over the “nature of Jesus” discussion in the early church. Given that it’s all make-believe, they can come up with any combination they like. It doesn’t have to make sense.

  85. daniellavine says

    mythbri@51:

    Keep your pity. I prefer reality, at all times.

    I’ve never experienced anything on LSD that wasn’t entirely a part of this world. I’ve experienced things differently than I normally would have, but then again there’s no real “normal” way to experience things. Even walking down the same street every day is a new experience every time, heavily colored by mood and memory — both of which are ultimately functions of chemicals in your brain.

    The big exception is that you can see stuff moving that’s not really moving, but interestingly I suspect this is actually closer to how we really see — eyes saccade and microsaccade, scanning over the same part of the scene all the time — the impression of a static 3D world you run around in like an FPS is an illusion constructed by your brain. The reality is more like raw ones and zeros running through wires. LSD gives you more access to the raw data — it lets your conscious mind bypass a lot of the processing your brain does and gives you a less inhibited look at reality, not a look at something other than reality.

    People talk about these senses of profundity that they realize later are stupid. I don’t understand those comments. I’ve experienced the same feelings but usually they don’t seem stupid to me afterwards. I’ve used the phrase “bringing something back” a lot to describe these experiences — I can’t convey the full importance of my drug-fueled realizations in the cold light of morning but I usually find myself a little bit wiser with some insight on reality to share. One time I found myself experiencing what I believed to be the mindset of a fundamentalist and at another point the mindset of a sociopath. I think I came out on the other side with a much better understanding of the religious worldview and of nihilism. It got me thinking about reasons to live and to find a better answer than either of these. (Also had a lot of insights about social construction of reality, some aspects of the mind-brain problem, the relation between “truth” and “reality”, etc.)

    So TL;DR, “hallucinogens” rarely conjure up anything “not-of-this-world” at low and moderate doses; if anything, they break down the illusions imposed by your brain that prevent you from seeing reality.

  86. says

    if anything, they break down the illusions imposed by your brain that prevent you from seeing reality.

    For roughly 10-12 hours.

    Seriously, do you really think your brain constructs a more accurate model of “reality” under the influence of hallucinogens than it does without such aids? That a drug discovered by accident in the 1940′s really improves upon millions of years of brain evolution with regard to reconstructing a model of external reality?
    My takeaway from LSD experiences was that my perceptions are a model constructed in my brain from a sampling of data coming from the outside, and that messing with the modeling software creates some odd reconstructions. The brain ain’t perfect, and there are any number of ways it can mess up when performing this task.
    Another good reason to approach things with the scientific mindset; test ideas, compare perceptions, and look for repeatable, consistent results before we decide what is objectively real.

  87. says

    feralboy12:

    Another good reason to approach things with the scientific mindset; test ideas, compare perceptions, and look for repeatable, consistent results before we decide what is objectively real.

    That’s a difficult proposition. How can you tell if anything is real, if all you have is an internal model created from potentially imperfect input devices? All I see about any of y’all here are words on a screen. How can I be sure you’re not some evil demon typing all this from hell, just to trick me in believing in your science? Or maybe the inputs are all faked, and I don’t even really exist except as a mind in a jar on a shelf in an evil mad scientist’s evil lair, and everything I perceive is really just output from a model running on a Woz Edition Apple //gs?

    I mean, the only things I can be certain truly exist are me, and all these spiders.

    The spiders! Get them off of me and out from under my skin!

  88. Bjarni says

    @Moggie #10

    Yeah, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

    Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

  89. daniellavine says

    @feralboy12:

    Seriously, do you really think your brain constructs a more accurate model of “reality” under the influence of hallucinogens than it does without such aids?

    I don’t think that and I’m pretty sure it’s not what I said.

    That a drug discovered by accident in the 1940′s really improves upon millions of years of brain evolution with regard to reconstructing a model of external reality?

    Evolution gave us a brain that makes us effective at eating and fucking — that is, in fact, all it could ever do except by accident. To the extent that our brain accurately models the world it is only in service to eating and fucking. LSD has in my case helped me to see where the models that the brain constructs break down around the edges. It doesn’t provide a “better model”, it just breaks the old model in interesting ways — letting me see its shortcomings. Seeing “more of the raw data” — what I was claiming LSD causes one to do — is pretty much the opposite of having a “better model”.

    My takeaway from LSD experiences was that my perceptions are a model constructed in my brain from a sampling of data coming from the outside, and that messing with the modeling software creates some odd reconstructions.

    Wow, that’s like exactly what I was talking about…and yet you take a tone as if you’re arguing with me.

  90. annetaylor says

    Here’s an experiment for the religious of any stripe–I think the outcomes can be quite telling:

    Ask them to think about all the enemies they’ve had in life; then to concentrate on those that they know have died. How many of their enemies are in heaven/paradise/Valhalla/etc., and why or why not?

    I’ve asked this of a couple of family members (born Catholic) and the answers were very interesting and uncomfortable.

  91. Amphiox says

    To the extent that our brain accurately models the world it is only in service to eating and fucking.

    Those requirements, however, a surprisingly POWERFUL constraints on ensuring that our brains do in fact accurately model external reality, at least within the various scales in which our normal lives find us to be in.

    Outside those scales, not so much.

    Souls split to enter the next generation, just like chromosome pairs. Thousands of us have Cleo’s soul (just not that 900-number one).

    So, somewhere back in the past, there’s a Last Universal Common Soul?

  92. daniellavine says

    @Amphiox:

    I agree completely. In fact, it’s such a useful, consistent, and complete model of the stuff that matters to us that it’s easy to forget it’s constructed entirely within the brain. It’s too easy to lapse into a sort of default realism (in philosophical sense of “realism”). That’s exactly why I think psychedelics are useful.

  93. ChasCPeterson says

    Out brains are good at whatever modelling of reality has tended to favor survival and successful reproduction. In a social omnivore that involves quite a bit more than ‘eating and fucking’.

  94. says

    Wow, that’s like exactly what I was talking about…and yet you take a tone as if you’re arguing with me.

    Well, this last line in your post:

    if anything, they break down the illusions imposed by your brain that prevent you from seeing reality.

    Came off a bit Doors of Perception for my tastes; I think it at least implies the idea that what you perceive under the influence of hallucinogens is somehow closer to “reality” than what we might normally perceive. I don’t think that’s the case; again, the usefulness of LSD and its cousins is to show you that what you might otherwise think of as “reality” is a reconstruction inside your brain.
    I agreed with much of your post, though; visual hallucinations were never part of my experience, other than seeing motion in intricate patterns. If I sound argumentative, it might be because my fucking leg still bothers me and I’ve been barely able to walk for the last two weeks due to muscle spasms. Incidentally, at this point in my life I’ll take Oxycodone over LSD any day.

    I mean, the only things I can be certain truly exist are me, and all these spiders.

    I can’t vouch for you, but one thing I learned early in life: the spiders are always real.

  95. says

    While he was up there chattin’ with the Big G, did he happen to ask any serious questions, the answers to which would have made a real difference down here? Like, you know, what is the cure for cancer, how do we make room-temperature superconductors, what is the meaning of suffering, what is the current location of Elvis, or what is the argument from evidence that proves any religion even slightly true?

    No?

    Nothing?

    Just a fluffy cloud sightseeing tour?

  96. joed says

    Hope it be ok to repost this:
    @19 joed

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyyjU8fzEYU

    http://www.ted.com Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

    @43
    “joed
    and Jill Bolte Taylor managed to recover from her stroke and to write her book without referring to any gods or souls.”

  97. says

    Eh, not surprising. As I’ve said before, don’t trust anything doctors say that’s outside their fields. He’s a neurosurgeon, not a neuroscientist. He’s good at memorizing things to pass a test and maybe how to use a scalpel. He knows very little about brain networks, cellular and molecular neuroscience, etc. He says he’s a man of science, but apparently, he doesn’t know what science is or hasn’t bothered to look the scientific explanations of near death experiences. A huge pet peeve of mine is when doctors pretend they are scientists. Of course, may he has looked up the science, but decided that saying Heaven exists would get him more book sales.

  98. says

    I’m fine people doing drugs, its the tell us about drug trips and how unaware we all are that should be outlawed.

    This.

    (And t-shirt material again, I might add.)

    Just say no to bloviating chemical ‘mystics’, people. Just say no.

    What I also like about this is: imagine trying to frisk people for trouble like this at the border. I mean, what are the customs people to do? Lead ‘em on with some line like: ‘Say, man, you figure any of the rest of these squares really know where it’s at?’

    … I mean, I think about this, and I get to thinking: if nothing else, this would at least make the whole airport experience a little more entertaining. So I guess I’m behind this thing.

  99. otrame says

    Quodlibet @12

    In my sleeping dreams, I sometimes sing effortlessly with THE most beautiful voice, and hear music that is more beautiful than ANY ever composed, and I’m sure that if I just had the means to write it down, I’d be the next Mozart.

    Ah, yes. My favorite episode of similar experiences resulting in me waking from a highly adventurous dream that had become the Best Movie Evaaarrr, as the final notes of the immensely moving sound track ended, leaving me breathless with awe at how cool that dream had been.

    Until I realized the song I had been hearing was “It’s Not Easy Being Green”, after which I hurt myself laughing.

  100. says

    LykeX

    That would be a great experiment. I’m sure there must be some way of setting it up so it’d get past the ethics committee.

  101. siobhan256 says

    I realize I am likely preaching to the choir in such a forum and I rarely post here, but this one is just so offensive to me personally that I feel compelled to vent, so please, bear with me. When someone posts about being miraculously saved from something like e coli meningitis for example, that occurs most often in newborns, and say someone (ME) has been through this and that newborn is not here anymore, to hear someone go on about how Jesus saved them from the meningitis, it’s just so hurtful to a mother like myself. Where was Jesus for my baby? Was this man more important than her? I wish people would just shut up sometimes. I’ve had people tell me to my face about miracles that have happened for babies that were sick like mine too, and I want to punch them. That is all, thanks for listening.

  102. andyo says

    Souls split to enter the next generation, just like chromosome pairs.

    Well, that actually solves the population growth problem with past-life regressionists. I think it’s starting to make sense now.

  103. fredericksparks says

    I saw the article first and knew that you would cover it, PZ. Thanks

    Siohban, so sorry for you loss. In my charitable moments I believe they don’t realize how hurtful and inconsiderate their actions are. They wrap a veneer of goodness and reverence around such conversations. Like believing God specifically approved your mortgage application while innocent people suffer horribly all the time with no relief.

  104. Ichthyic says

    I agree with your sentiment, but I’m sure you realize that Fundie’s, and indeed religious people of all stripes, can hold self-contradictory notions without batting an eye.

    this actually is a key characteristic of RWAs; it’s mentioned several times in Altemeyer’s book.

  105. curtcameron says

    One time my computer crashed, and when I finally recovered it, I found that there was some strange data written on the hard drive. Over the course of weeks and months, I went through this data looking for patterns, and I’ve become convinced that when my computer crashed, it visited computer heaven and saw perfect, beautiful computers there and it was very very happy.

    This is proof that computers have an afterlife.

  106. Eric R says

    Ive been to heaven , at least after reading that article Im sure it was heaven, there were big fluffy clouds scintillating beings , i could hear beauty and see music it was awesome. And when I got back let me tell you pizza tasted awesome. I’m glad ive been to heaven, I always assumed it was the mushrooms i took

  107. Tigger_the_Wing says

    Siobhan, I’m so sorry for your loss. *More hugs*.
    I wish there were something I could say or do that would instantly stop all those people who are exacerbating the grief of others.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I’ve never taken any drugs that enhanced my perceptions of the world (for which I am truly grateful; apparently lacking the usual filters, input has been pretty overwhelming most of my life) but I have sometimes been prescribed medications in the past that have had the opposite effect. It is really weird when the usual roar, bustle and brilliance of the world subsides; it’s like wearing ear defenders and a sleep mask.

    Also, I used to get the weirdest dreams for a few nights whenever I had a general anæsthetic (not to mention nausea, vertigo etc.). This last time, however, I got to discuss drug options with the anæsthesiologist beforehand and told him which classes of drugs I react badly to, and which are OK. This time, I had no ill-effects whatsoever. No nausea, no weird dreams or hallucinations. Just “I think I’m going now…” and waking up in my bed some hours later, desperate for a pee. =^_^=

  108. says

    It seems what we have here is an example of PZ’s unacknowledged metaphysical assumptions about consciousness interfering with his ability to consider, in a scientific way, the experiential data of a credible neurologist (not to mention the huge collection of other NDEs and OBEs. PZ is not being scientific. He is a materialist who avoids turning to the facts themselves for his evidence and instead inserts an a priori explanation based on the (unproven and philosophically incoherent) theory that mental processes are secreted by brain activity, when in this case, such a causal vector is clearly impossible (Alexander’s cortex was not functioning).

    http://footnotes2plato.com/2012/01/07/disambiguating-spirit-and-matter-reflections-on-scientific-materialism/

  109. Sastra says

    matthew segall #132 wrote:

    …when in this case, such a causal vector is clearly impossible (Alexander’s cortex was not functioning).

    That is not true.

    Everything—absolutely everything—in Alexander’s account rests on repeated assertions that his visions of heaven occurred while his cerebral cortex was “shut down,” “inactivated,” “completely shut down,” “totally offline,” and “stunned to complete inactivity.” The evidence he provides for this claim is not only inadequate—it suggests that he doesn’t know anything about the relevant brain science.

  110. consciousness razor says

    He is a materialist who avoids turning to the facts themselves for his evidence and instead inserts an a priori explanation based on the (unproven and philosophically incoherent) theory that mental processes are secreted by brain activity

    Why do you say “secreted,” as if we’re claiming they’re bodily fluids or something? Have you ever taken the idea seriously at all?

    Sastra notes a key fact that you’re not acknowledging: that Alexander’s account is nothing but assertions we have no reason to believe. It’s a story, and it’s less likely to be true than materialism. So you’d have to do better than that or admit you can’t.

    But thanks for checking in and shamelessly plugging your blog. I was almost starting to miss your word salad.