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Jul 04 2013

Here’s a useful word for you: confabulation

Eben Alexander, the doctor who claimed to have visited heaven, is slowly getting exposed as a guy who makes stuff up (sadly, most of the story is behind a paywall…you’ll have to get the details second-hand). I could have told you that. Wait, I did tell you that.

What’s really unfortunate is that even discovering that the entire story was a hallucination by a diseased mind is probably not going to matter a bit to producers of the planned Hollywood movie.

Hey, my colon was talking to me all day yesterday — it was a miracle. Can I get a movie deal?

34 comments

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  1. 1
    Dick the Damned

    And this guy was an atheist, you know. Then he had his revelation, & left that sterile atheism behind him. (I guess he just, always, wanted so much to BELIEVE).

  2. 2
    markhoney

    To read the article, just save the page to your desktop and open it from there – voila, paywall avoided.

  3. 3
    HappyNat

    “And this guy was an atheist, you know.”

    I’m betting money he was one of those “avowed” atheists even. Those are the hardest kind to become believers, although they always seem to have a conversion story.

  4. 4
    borax

    O.K. I’m gonna start writing the movie treatment of “PZ and the norovirus”. The first hour will be a complicated origin story, the second hour and thirty minutes is up to you.

  5. 5
    Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^=

    Dick the Damned

    And this guy was an atheist, you know. Then he had his revelation, & left that sterile atheism behind him. (I guess he just, always, wanted so much to BELIEVE).

    Well, it has to be tempting. Atheism pays zilch. But ‘converting’ and ‘going to heaven’? Mortgage worries over forever! =^_^=

  6. 6
    remuss

    @5 Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^=:

    “Well, it has to be tempting. Atheism pays zilch. But ‘converting’ and ‘going to heaven’? Mortgage worries over forever! =^_^=”

    Waitasecond! Are you saying….god (gods?) provide for wayward conmen?

  7. 7
    sigurd jorsalfar

    Eben Alexander has a bright future ahead of him.

  8. 8
    Nemo

    I’ve been amazed at the level of credulity over this story. Ooh, he’s a neurosurgeon, we has to take him srs. No.

    Evidence = things that can be independently verified
    Not evidence = things that happen only in someone’s head

    Even if you believe this guy, he falls squarely into category 2.

  9. 9
    Owlmirror

    Paywall? I saw no paywall.

    Clearly God, in his infinite wisdom, power, and benevolence, wafted me past it.
    *choir of angels singing*

    Oh, wait, I have Noscript installed, and maybe their “paywall” is just a script saying “please pay to read more” even though the entire story is loaded on the page, and is only being blocked by the script. Test: enable esquire.com — no, that’s not it. Ah, enable “tinypass.com”, and now the story is invisible, and there’s a note and a charge request.

    Hypothesis: confirmed!

  10. 10
    Glen Davidson

    In Proof of Heaven, Alexander writes that he spent seven days in “a coma caused by a rare case of E. coli bacterial meningitis.” There is no indication in the book that it was [ER doctor] Laura Potter, and not bacterial meningitis, that induced his coma, or that the physicians in the ICU maintained his coma in the days that followed through the use of anesthetics. Alexander also writes that during his week in the ICU he was present “in body alone,” that the bacterial assault had left him with an “all-but-destroyed brain.” He notes that by conventional scientific understanding, “if you don’t have a working brain, you can’t be conscious,” and a key point of his argument for the reality of the realms he claims to have visited is that his memories could not have been hallucinations, since he didn’t possess a brain capable of creating even a hallucinatory conscious experience.

    I ask Potter whether the manic, agitated state that Alexander exhibited whenever they weaned him off his anesthetics during his first days of coma would meet her definition of conscious.

    “Yes,” she says. “Conscious but delirious.”

    Delirium = proof of heaven

    Or at least millions in book sales.

    Glen Davidson

  11. 11
    sigurd jorsalfar

    Oh, wait, I have Noscript installed, and maybe their “paywall” is just a script saying “please pay to read more” even though the entire story is loaded on the page, and is only being blocked by the script. Test: enable esquire.com

    Worst. Paywall. Ever.

    I too use noscript and waltzed right past the ‘paywall’ (more like a ‘velvet payrope’). Who knew I had such hacking skillz?

    Even though I’d already dismissed Alexander’s story as rubbish I found the article a very interesting explanation of how that rubbish came to be in the first place, and at how good Alexander is at deceiving himself along with his fans, and how he’s fallen prey to the blowback. Indeed he has a vested interest in this deception and in buying the blowback given his career pitfalls.

  12. 12
    Ing

    Seriously Newsweek, no one went to look if there was any paper in discourses of medicine about the “spontaneous regeneration of dead brain tissue?” or the like

  13. 13
    Randomfactor

    As Sam Harris pointed out, there’s more of Ketamine than Kingdom Come in Alexander’s story.

  14. 14
    ah58

    To read the article, just save the page to your desktop and open it from there – voila, paywall avoided.

    It’s even simpler than that. The whole article is loaded by your browser, then the paywall pops up. All you have to do is stop the pageload before the popup.

  15. 15
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    Once, when I was horrendously ill, (Those who know me: this was also while Bad Things were being done to me.) I had vivid, detailed visions of what could be described as Hell. Well, in that I was seeing Hieronymus Bosch via Rotten.com or Eli Roth for hours on end. Because I am neither a gullible dipshit nor a religious con artist, I recognized this as “Man, being violently assaulted while seriously ill does some messed-up things to your mind!”. It never occurred to me that I could have proclaimed myself converted and made fat bank off of it.

    Remuss @ #6: Televangelists. That is all.

  16. 16
    silomowbray, sans frottage pour la douche

    I know of confabulations. I have an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s, so at least xe has an excuse.

  17. 17
    unclefrogy

    I have a friend that thinks about money way more than I do he might have thought of writing something like that up for the money but not I. I could say that I have had some what similar experiences though of different causes and though I even had similar insights not gods and angles per say the great unity and humbling love of everything I never once thought of trying to write any of it up to carry any message or for the money there for I am still juggling bills and making do with what I have. I must have done it wrong I see that now.
    As for a Hollywood Movie, if I had a nickle for every Hollywood movie that was planed and never made I would not have any money problems at all ever again. Even the successful big names plan way more than are ever actually produced . When I read that about a “Hollywood movie planed” I take it as meaningless padding, a little hype, to make what ever it is sound more important as if Hollywood’s approval actually had any significance in the first place.
    uncle frogy

  18. 18
    David Marjanović

    It’s even simpler than that. The whole article is loaded by your browser, then the paywall pops up. All you have to do is stop the pageload before the popup.

    Wow. I haven’t seen that since a few scientific journals based in China in the early 2000s!

  19. 19
    michaelbusch

    I had hoped that a neurosurgeon would understand confabulation and the hallucinations common when the brain is exposed to any of a large number of drugs and/or temporarily deprived of oxygen – aren’t those rather important effects when evaluating patients?

    But clearly this hope was overly optimistic.

  20. 20
    shockna

    Oh, wait, I have Noscript installed, and maybe their “paywall” is just a script saying “please pay to read more” even though the entire story is loaded on the page, and is only being blocked by the script. Test: enable esquire.com — no, that’s not it. Ah, enable “tinypass.com”, and now the story is invisible, and there’s a note and a charge request.

    Hypothesis: confirmed!

    Ahh, the wonders of Noscript. It’s really quite surprising how many paywalls this will bypass (totally makes the pain in finding which random script will enable the comments on random news sites worth it).

    A bit of a shame that the site attempts to paywall it. That article was a work of art, in tearing down this fraud. I hadn’t heard of him until a few weeks ago, when some of the more credulous people in my family started trying to sell me on this book.

  21. 21
    mond

    The human brain is such an unreliable piece of equipment that even in a normal state it can mess up big style.My personal favourite is the Mcgurk Effect. This is a nice demo of the effect from a BBC documentory.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-lN8vWm3m0

    Add to that, some trauma and medication, and it becomes even more unreliable.

  22. 22
    tacitus

    That article was a work of art

    I guess people’s mileage will vary. My eyes started to glaze over before his description of the layout of the TV screen for the F&F interview ended (I’m mean, seriously…). There is definitely some good reporting in there, but the tale the author he spins around it is way too overwrought (if that’s the right word) for my tastes. I’ve read and enjoyed similarly-stylized pieces, like the one about the interview with an ex-Scientologist from a few months back (in the Atlantic?), but I quickly lost patience with this one. Perhaps if it had been better written…

  23. 23
    carolw

    The rounder of books by the prescription pickup at my local grocery store is lousy with books (mostly “by” kids) about their visits to heaven. I’d pick one up to thumb through while in line, but I’m afraid they’d make me buy it.

  24. 24
    machintelligence

    Look on the bright side. With all of the money he is making he won’t have to go back to being a sometimes incompetent neurosurgeon.

  25. 25
    Amphiox

    I had hoped that a neurosurgeon would understand confabulation and the hallucinations common when the brain is exposed to any of a large number of drugs and/or temporarily deprived of oxygen – aren’t those rather important effects when evaluating patients?

    Meh, that’s stuff’s all for the neurologists.

  26. 26
    Richard Smith

    What’s really unfortunate is that even discovering that the entire story was a hallucination by a diseased mind is probably not going to matter a bit to producers of the planned Hollywood movie.

    What do you expect from an industry that’s bringing out a movie about Ed & Lorraine Warren’s scariest… case… evar? Talk about confabulators.

  27. 27
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Until I read the article I had no idea he was from My home town of Winston-Salem, NC.

    I’m at my parents place in the Mtns of NC right now and asked my mother if she knows him. She does, but knows his parents better.

    Apparently people in town think he’s some kind of saint. My mother wasn’t so impressed.

    She read the article and now will be letting it known.

  28. 28
    DLC

    remuss @6,Happiestsadist @15 : I see any Priest, Parson or Witch-Doctor as being a con-man, going all the way back to (the theoretical) Yeshua ben Joseph, and as that individual was not the first of his kind, going back as far through known history as you wish. This Eben Alexander may be deluded or perhaps he’s just another con-man.

  29. 29
    Usernames are smart

    You don’t need noscript or fancy fast fingers or printing the article to see it.

    Just go to the page, then copy the following into your address bar:

    javascript:e=document.getElementsByClassName('tp-overlay')[0];e.parentNode.removeChild(e);

    (make sure the line starts with javascript:)

    The overlay will disappear and you can read the whole thing.

  30. 30
    ButchKitties

    I’ve said it here before: Since realizing that the aura phase of my migraines includes sensory disturbances, said disturbances have become much less detailed. Where before I thought I saw distinctly person-shaped shimmers and heard human voices saying identifiable words, now I just have visual and aural static. My hypothesis is that now that I no longer believe in supernatural phenomena (I was really into psychics as a teenager) and am aware of the root cause of these sensory disturbances, I’m no longer subconsciously adding details to make sense of them. I can just accept them for what they are.

    The only exception is the olfactory hallucinations. They smelled exactly like burning grease before, and they still smell exactly like burning grease now.

  31. 31
    Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^=

    ButchKitties,

    Even though I am also well aware that my hallucinations are migraine induced, I still clearly hear people talking to me and, yes, the smells… not so bad when it is freshly-baked bread, or frying bacon or lilies, but dog muck? Yeuch!

  32. 32
    coffeehound

    michaelbusch @ 19,

    I had hoped that a neurosurgeon would understand confabulation and the hallucinations common when the brain is exposed to any of a large number of drugs and/or temporarily deprived of oxygen – aren’t those rather important effects when evaluating patients?

    This is precisely the problem. He conflates the term coma due to meningitis, with it’s terrible prognosis, and implied structural damage(particularly from E. Coli) with medically induced coma, with is a common term in medical circles, but doesn’t carry the same poor prognosis, sequelae, and is not, in and of itself, associated with brain death. The fact that he is a physician(and left such an important distinction out of the book) leads me to believe he is a lying scammer; it would take medical incompetence of epic proportions to not get the difference between the two states.

  33. 33
    birgerjohansson

    20 years ago I watched the animated TV series Dinosaurs, where the mother-in-law had a near-death experience. She described heaven as suspiciously like Disneyland, with a monorai going all through it.
    And hell was an infinity of son-in-law clones.

  34. 34
    davem

    Hey, my colon was talking to me all day yesterday — it was a miracle. Can I get a movie deal?
    Free popcorn while you watch the movie?

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