Pharyngula

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. #1 andre
    October 9, 2012

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

    What else is in Lynchburg, VA? Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Coincidence?

  2. #2 Flo
    October 9, 2012

    Good rant, but one thing that I disagree with is the phrasing here…

    “This is all Alexander is doing, is making up fairy tales to comfort himself after a serious shock.”

    …that makes it sound like confabulation was an active, conscious process; probably not your intention. But from my understanding, people who confabulate (such as sufferers from Korsakoff’s syndrome) basically have their brains fill the voids in their memory. It’s not them consciously deciding to make things up, it’s their brain making stuff up for them with little to no control of the patient in question. Regardless, Dr. Alexander should be aware of the phenomenon. I guess it’s harder to dismiss your own confabulations, though.

  3. #3 Emily Holmes
    October 9, 2012

    I think if you were somewhere else, heaven perhaps, and someone told you a story like this:

    There is a place where life exists and there is a group of beings referred to as people. They have rational thought and have built a society, economic systems, countries and complicated political systems. They have built structures to live and work in. They have created many things for leisure and send messages through air. They travel through the air in metal vehicles that move at great speed…

    You wouldn’t believe that either, would you?

  4. #4 Saavykas
    October 9, 2012

    Not without evidence, Emily. I would demand a level of evidence consistent with how extraordinary a claim it was relative to the things I had evidence for. I would not accept anecdotal evidence.

    On an unrelated note, it’s curious indeed that the good Doctor notes having questions “answered” via a sublime understanding arriving upon him like a wave. How a Neuroscientist doesn’t know about experiences of “sublime wisdom” suddenly breaking upon a person’s mind has either not looked into Psychology much or doesn’t know anybody who uses drugs. Altered states of consciousness have a tendency to make sense of things that defy description and impart sublime knowledge.

  5. #5 paleotectonics
    MN
    October 9, 2012

    @Emily,

    I would question the “They have rational thought” part of your statement.

  6. #6 Scott
    Palo Alto
    October 9, 2012

    Don’t believe him……but you really should consider using psychedelics. Then, circle back with us. Believe no one but your own experience. We all go through the holier-than-thou stage. It will pass…….eventually. Good luck!

  7. #7 GMpilot
    somewhere out West
    October 9, 2012

    Lynchburg, Virginia? Home of Jerry Falwell’s Christian empire?
    It’s no real surprise, then, that in such a God-drenched zone Dr. Alexander would have such…encounters. He must have encountered many similar people at his time at the hospital there. So, as Mr. Spock said, “Constant exposure does amount to a certain degree of contamination.”

  8. #8 Garth Jenkins
    England
    October 9, 2012

    Many years ago I had what is known as an astral projection. In the middle of a dream I was suddenly flung to what felt like the far reaches of the galaxy. I looked behind me and saw my cord stretch into the distance, immeasurable. I looked below me and saw an elemental, which then seemed to sense me, which was terrifying and enough to throw me back into my body.
    I am an atheist, but the ‘hypersensitivity’ I experienced was unlike anything I have ever felt. Not even close. Whilst I personally can rationalize it as a mental construct I can see why people find such experiences profoundly beguiling and seek supernatural explanations.

  9. #9 Garth Jenkins
    England
    October 9, 2012

    In addition, isn’t it infinitely more likely that a Somalian refugee would wake up one day and say ‘America’s rubbish I want to go back to my war torn homeland’ than a man who had spent a week in a utopia devoid of karma and any earthly egoic attachments would say ‘ok cool, nice as this is I’m going back, see you in a bit’.

  10. #10 jimvj
    October 9, 2012

    Even if one accepts his description of what happened and the cause he presumes, questions remain: Why would a “god” not give this experience to all humans? Why play favorites?

    That is the main problem with religions that require “witnessing”. Why should some – very, very few, actually – have the “real” experience, and the rest of us have to accept their narrative?

  11. #11 Dorkman
    United States
    October 9, 2012

    This reminds me of that TED Talk by the neurologist who experienced her own stroke. First part of the talk was cool, second part was all about how she came out of it with a sense of religiosity.

    I don’t understand why people seem to think “I used to be an atheist, but then I got brain damage” is a persuasive argument.

  12. #12 jimvj
    October 9, 2012

    PS: By “this experience” I meant the “clouds, etc”. Without the going into coma part.

  13. #13 bad Jim
    October 10, 2012

    Good line, Dorkman. I wish it was only a joke. My mother was a lifelong agnostic, but as her Alzheimer’s progressed she became more religious, perhaps regressing to her childhood.

  14. #14 John McDonagh, PhD
    Cold Spring Harbor, NY
    October 10, 2012

    Myers’ rant and many of these comments reflect a total ignorance of empirical veridical (i.e., reports independently corroborated by medical monitors and eye witnesses) reports of events in operating rooms which near-death survivors reported. The events they reported (visual and auditory) occurred in the ER or OR while they were clinically dead (as verified by medical instruments). Conventional science cannot explain these phenomena. Visit http://www.iands.org. (International Assn. of Near-Death Studies is made up of scientists, medical professionals and experiencers) from a broad spectrum of cultures and degrees of skepticism. If you haven’t read the empirical studies, don’t waste our time pontificating your pre-conceived unexamined biases. Empiricism has been the hallmark of the Enlightenment. Too bad Myers is either too narrow-minded or lazy to look into empirical results and critique them before mouthing off.

  15. #15 Dorkman
    October 10, 2012

    You keep using the word empirical. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  16. #16 Bumbles
    USA
    October 10, 2012

    The title of this piece is somewhat ironic. You need to understand the nature of archetypes. You close yourself off to new input, because you’ve formed beliefs. If data conflicts with your beliefs, you make irrational arguments. Belief is illogical. Materialism is full of this kind of irrationality. The Christian fundamentalists an the “scientific” materialist skeptics are one in the same.

  17. #17 Chris
    October 10, 2012

    You had me at “E. coli bacteria had penetrated my cerebrospinal fluid and were eating my brain.” Every time I suffer brain damage (5 concussions later…) I see weird things. And I dismiss them about a seek later when I have recovered.

  18. #18 Sara
    October 10, 2012

    Truly embaressing…I still have to wonder…where is the PROOF for Christianity for christian God? Where? There could be some alien God running the place actually…. None of these stories, even if we say they are NOT brain hallucinations which they obviously are, prove ANY God of ANY religion or ALL Gods of EVERY religion….equal to even the God I am going to make up now..out of my behind, the green purple alien God…

  19. #19 Bumbles
    October 10, 2012

    The commenters here don’t seem to understand, or didn’t read the article. His neocortex was non-functional. He should not have even been capable of any perception- dreams hallucinations, nothing, much less hyper-reality with coherent experience. It’s interesting to say the least.

    This is what holds science back. This dumb, ignorant dismissal of the not-yet-understood. You do know the nature of dogma, correct? Close-mindedness is particulary interesting pathology for people who often claim to be curious.

  20. #20 Bumbles
    October 10, 2012

    And what is it about evolutionary biologists? Many of them seem to think they have some sort of monopoly on truth. The self-appointed high priests of our modern cultural paradigm.

  21. #21 Steven Earl Salmony
    Chapel Hill, NC
    October 10, 2012

    A Colossal Misunderstanding of the most Important Thing…..

    For too long a time human population growth has been comfortably and pseudoscientifically viewed by politicians, economists and demographers as somehow outside the course of nature, somehow disconnected from the population dynamics of other evolved species on Earth. The possible causes of human population growth have seemed to them so complex, obscure and numerous, so they have said for many too many years, that an adequate understanding of the cause of human population growth, much less a strategy to address the emerging and converging ecological problems posed by the unbridled growth of the human species, has been assumed to be unapproachable. Their preternatural grasp of human population dynamics has lead to widely varied forecasts of human population growth. Some forecasting data indicate the end to human population growth soon. Other data suggest the rapid and continuous increase of human numbers ad infinitum, and like the endless expansion of the global economy, without adverse impacts. The dogmatic adherence of these politically correct experts to erroneous, unscientific theory regarding automatic population stabilization around the midpoint of Century XXI and a benign demographic transition to a good life for the human community at large cannot be accepted any longer as if it is based upon the best available evidence.
    Recent scientific evidence appears to indicate that the governing dynamics of absolute global human population numbers is knowable as a natural phenomenon. Despite all the misleading, intellectually dishonest and deliberately deceptive ‘scientific research’ to the contrary, Homo sapiens can be shown to be, and now seen, as a species that is a part of and definitely not separate from the natural world we inhabit. Experts in politics, economics and demography have consciously fostered and continue obdurately to countenance a perilous disconnect between ecological science and political economy. Perhaps politics, economics and demography are themselves disciplines that are fundamentally disconnected from science. They appear to have more in common with ideology rather than science. To suggest as many too many politicians, economists and demographers have been conveniently doing that understanding the dynamics of human population numbers does not matter, that the human population problem is not about numbers, or that human population dynamics has so dizzying an array of variables as not to be suitable for scientific investigation, seems wrongheaded and dangerous.
    According to research of Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D., and David Pimentel, Ph.D., global population growth of the human species is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop in which food availability drives population growth and the recent, skyrocketing growth in absolute global human numbers gives rise to the misconception or mistaken impression that food production needs to be increased even more. Data indicate that the world’s human population grows by approximately 2% per year. All segments of it grow by about two percent. Every year there are more people with brown eyes and more people with blue ones; more people who are tall as well as more short people. It also means that there are more people growing up well fed and more people growing up hungry. The hungry segment of the global population goes up just like the well-fed segment of the population. We may or may not be reducing hunger by increasing food production; however, we are most certainly producing more and more hungry people.
    Hopfenberg’s and Pimentel’s research suggests that the spectacularly successful efforts of humankind to increase food production in order to feed a growing population has resulted and continues to result in even greater human population numbers worldwide. The perceived need to increase food production to feed a growing population is a widely shared and consensually validated misperception, a denial both of the physical reality and the space-time dimension, a colossal misunderstanding. If people are starving at a given moment of time, increasing food production and then distributing it cannot help them. Are these starving people supposed to be waiting for sowing, growing and reaping to be completed? Are they supposed to wait for surpluses to reach them? Without food they would die. In such circumstances, increasing food production for people who are starving is like tossing parachutes to people who have already fallen out of the airplane. The produced food arrives too late. Even so, this realization does not mean human starvation is inevitable.
    Consider that the population dynamics of humankind is not biologically different from, but essentially common to the population dynamics of other species. Human organisms, non-human organisms and even microorganisms have similar population dynamics. In all cases the governing relationship between food supply and population numbers of any living thing is this: food is independent variable and population numbers is the dependent variable. We do not find hoards of starving roaches, birds, squirrels, alligators, or chimpanzees in the absence of food as we do in many “civilized” human communities today because non-human species and what we call “primitive” human communities are not engaged in food production. Please note that among tribes of people in remote original habitats, we do not find people starving. Like non-human species, “primitive” human beings live within the carrying capacity of their environment. History is replete with examples of early humans and more remote ancestors of “civilized” people not increasing their food production and distribution capabilities annually, but rather living successfully off the land for thousands upon thousands of years as hunters and gatherers of food. Prior to the Agricultural Revolution and the production of more food than was needed for immediate survival, human numbers supposedly could not grow beyond their environment’s physical capacity to sustain them because human population growth or decline is primarily determined by food availability. Looked at from a global population perspective, more food equals more human organisms; less food equals less human beings; and no food equals no people. The idea that food production must be increased to meet the needs of growing human population has been actually giving rise to skyrocketing human population numbers, not only since the Industrial Revolution but even more recently and intensively with the onset of the Green Revolution that began sixty years ago.

  22. #22 Flo
    October 10, 2012

    Bumbles,
    it’s simple. If one is aware of processes such as confabulation, then that (a natural, oft-described process) is simply enormously more likely than any supernatural explanation. Especially because nothing supernatural that was falsifiable and could be investigated stood up to the tests so far. The best the supernatural can do, is not be explainable by natural means yet and thus always remains based on ignorance, on gaps in knowledge. Until that ignorance is lifted with the ACTUAL answer, of course. Then, the supernatural retreats just a little bit further.
    Cheers,
    Flo.

  23. #23 Bumbles
    October 10, 2012

    Well Flo, you’re making assumptions. Not wise. You don’t know what natural is yet. Everything outside of that you call supernatural. We shouldn’t be presumptuous. The definition of natural evolves, and thus will never be absolutely defined. Understand history. Understand paradigms. And like the antisocial person who wrote this “banal drivel” (C. Hitchens wannabe perhaps?), understand humility in the face of uncertainty.

  24. #24 Bumbles
    October 10, 2012

    And to think this PZ Meyers is actually a teacher. This is how pathological our society has become. Good, intelligent people who claim to have experiences outside the realm of current explanations– you’d expect: “That’s interesting, let’s explore this thing further, or wait for more data,” but instead Dr. Alexander has himself, his ideas and his experience ridiculed before being completely dismissed. I mean, this is show business. It has nothing to do with seeking knowledge. Meyers should be absolutely ashamed of himself. But sinking to this level is all to ordinary.

  25. #25 Thomas Ferraro
    October 10, 2012

    Bumbles, it has been investigated. Many times. Go to PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed) and serch for “near death”.

    You read a pretty story and thought it should be investigated because it makes you feel good. And assumed those mean-spirited, close-minded scientists are ignoring what happens in your head while you are unconscious. Meanwhile, thousands of scientists and doctors are doing the real, hard work of figuring out what happens in your head. Please crack an article or book or two on how the brain works — how we perceive things around us and how it is not a direct copy of the world, but a sloppy reconstruction — for a simple example, why optical illusions work. It’s actually very interesting what we are learning. To me, much more interesting than having the hubris to think oneself was flying around heaven.

    One question: do you honestly feel it is more likely the author was really in heaven or that he had a gap in his memory and later filled in details and convinced himself he saw it? (Hint: you may want to look up the work of Elizabeth Loftus — for one example — to guide you.)

  26. #26 Flo
    October 10, 2012

    There’s a big difference between not disregarding the mere possibility of something and considering something largely improbable a valid hypothesis. You’re technically right in that we cannot disprove the unfalsifiable. But ACCEPTING the unfalsifiable is anathema to a scientific approach of understanding the world. That’s essentially what I mean when I say the supernatural retreats: Its bastion is the unfalsifiable. And when, say, through a change in technology, something becomes falsifiable and gets falsified, the claim must adapt.
    There’s no value in the supernatural as an explanation because it is nothing but a placeholder.

  27. #27 Bumbles
    October 10, 2012

    Ferraro, I’m not talking about neuroscience nor my personal insights on the nature of consciousness. I’m talking about the idea that one should at least attempt to be decent towards his fellow human brings. I understand that occasionally insulated academics want to play tough guys, but this is not the best arena for that.
    Flo, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  28. #28 Bumbles
    October 10, 2012

    Damn iPhone auto-correction…

  29. #29 Anna E Wooten
    The astro plane of Long Beach, Ca
    October 10, 2012

    I never believed in the after life stuff either until I had my own near death experience. It was very tramatic for me. It was so real, people in my family who passed on came to greet me. They told me it was not my time yet that I had to go back to the hospital and wake up .
    I saw myself go through the hospital roof and through all the floors and into my recovery room were the doctors were trying to get me to come to. They were very shuck up them selves. I am in higher consciousness when I want to be. And I love it. Meet me some time in the astro plain, when you sleep at night.

  30. #30 Matthew Piette
    Milwaukee
    October 10, 2012

    On a different religious note, there is a poll on whether or ot a Milwaukee area public school should remove a Christian cross from its football helmets.

    It’s running over 2;1 to keep the cross.

    Let’s change that!

    http://www.jsonline.com/newswatch/school-board-wants-religious-symbol-off-helmets-l0760gt-173424541.html#

  31. #31 texasdoc
    North Texas
    October 11, 2012

    I got my copy of Newsweek today and read the cover article. I had the same instant reaction as P.Z. It is fascinating that the good doctor didn’t even go off script with his description of heaven. I suppose he could have mentioned harps along with the clouds and music, but it was pretty standard blue eyed Jesus otherwise. Physicians are no less prone to religious swooning than the general public. I had so many concerns with his article that I can barely begin to comment. Let me tell you about patients that came out of anesthesia remembering everything said in the OR when there was “no possible way” that their cortex should have been working. I like the comments comparing his experience to people who have taken LSD,etc. I think this offers much insight into what happened to him.

  32. #32 Adam
    Seattle
    October 11, 2012

    I have often wondered how many people who claim to have visions of this nature were religious before their experiences and are simply seeing what they wished to see. Obviously it’s an extremely small sample, but I myself was resuscitated several times in the NICU when I was born, and I didn’t turn out religious, and an atheist family friend was in a head-on collision and said there was nothing but blackness that he could remember. I find it extremely suspicious when “afterlife” reports match the person’s preconceptions.

  33. #33 Adam
    October 11, 2012

    That is, suspicious about the truth of such afterlife claims.

  34. #34 Hank G.
    October 11, 2012

    Has anyone ever documented what people of other cultures and religions “experience” in near-death experiences?

  35. #35 Harvey
    October 11, 2012

    I am willing to bet that if other religious persuasions/cultures have documented such “near-death” experiences, they7 will report same using their cultural traditional descriptions of an afterlife.
    I am a surgeon who has been present during such alleged experiences, as later reported by the patient, and, invariably, their description follows one or another of their religious backgrounds and/or the “light at the end of the tunnel” that has been popularized by media reports. Does this mean that htey are all having the same “real” experience? Probably so, but only because whatever physiological events are taking place (if any) produce similar “gaps” in conscious memory, which are then “filled in” on the bases described above.

  36. #36 SV
    October 11, 2012

    What may be clear from personal experience does not necessarily map onto objective reality — and vice-versa.

    But if we all lived our lives based only on what was real in objective reality we would not love our significant others and probably be lacking in the curiosity necessary to explore what the limits of this “objective reality” reasonably are.

    It is when the two modes of understanding incur into each other’s territory too far that arguments occur. But when each one respects it’s own border things are fine.

    Did the neurosurgeon’s account trespass?
    Probably so as he used his profession credentials to try and bolster the veracity of what can have only been a personal experience.

  37. #37 oksijen medikal
    http://www.hastakaryolasifiyatlari.com
    October 11, 2012

    hasta karyolası, hasta karyolası kiralama, hasta yatakları, hasta yatağı kiralama, hasta yatağı, http://www.hastakaryolasifiyatlari.com

  38. [...] may lie beyond atoms and the void, Myers wipes his ass with Newsweek on his famous science blog Pharyngula: I’ve got to wonder who is responsible for this nonsense, and how it gets past the staff at [...]

  39. #39 rus
    dreams
    October 12, 2012

    both sides of the argument miss it
    just because you have a weird experience (partially brain damaged or not) doesn’t mean it’s REAL or evidence of something else
    but the fact that people HAVE had these experiences for millenia, and continue to at least tells us something about ourselves
    the current scientific inability to describe or understand some things does NOT make them supernatural, it merely makes them unexplained
    try some dmt or acid or psilocybin or amanita
    hell, just try meditating for 20 minutes
    get back to me
    the experience = real
    what it means?

  40. #40 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    October 12, 2012
    Birds? Angels?

    It’s a bird!
    It’s an angel!
    It’s Superman!!!

    In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided.

    False beliefs provide false security. It’s stupid to want that.

    wetter than water

    Honey?

    Believe no one but your own experience.

    But why would I believe my own experience unquestioningly? Am I somehow infallible???

    one in the same

    One and the same.

    The commenters here don’t seem to understand, or didn’t read the article. His neocortex was non-functional. He should not have even been capable of any perception- dreams hallucinations, nothing, much less hyper-reality with coherent experience.

    He didn’t. He had that while waking up.

    Doesn’t that sound like the most plausible option?

    Meyers

    Tsk, tsk.

    Good, intelligent people who claim to have experiences outside the realm of current explanations– you’d expect: “That’s interesting, let’s explore this thing further, or wait for more data,”

    Why on the planet do you assume that this Dr. Alexander is the first human to ever report such an experience???

    It’s been explored for decades now, and found completely wanting.

    But if we all lived our lives based only on what was real in objective reality we would not love our significant others

    Love results in easily observable actions. How is it not objectively real?

    and probably be lacking in the curiosity necessary to explore what the limits of this “objective reality” reasonably are.

    It’s an empirical fact that feeding my curiosity makes me happy and not feeding it makes me unhappy.

  41. #41 Josh Thompson
    Lewisville , TX.
    October 12, 2012

    I think that given the circumstance’s, a person with the near death account is capable of sharing his experience without someone who never has gone through it “Bullshit” . Its like this – can an atheist emphatically prove that there is no life after death?
    No more than the the Christian can prove of heaven or hell . But to even admit that everyone on this page woke up this morning and got on to they’re computers to write comments emphatically proves the impossible has become possible . The miracle of consciousness is just the beginning . As for your article – it’s bullshit that you cant see the obvious . :) have a great day.

  42. #42 Gideon S.
    October 12, 2012

    If anything, I think it’s rather unfortunate that Dr. Alexander had to nearly die to experience what there’s already a vast vocabulary and method for.

    Further, I think he’s doing a disservice by focusing on trying to explain the “scientific truth” of what is MOST DEFINITELY a subjective experience while missing the point, that there are already VAST bodies of work in religion, magic and shamanism that deal with this exact subjective experience.

    Hank G. Yes, there are MANY MANY different accounts (The Tibetan book of the Dead being probably the most famous) and manuals for what one may encounter, and they all have some commonality. What’s interesting is that with repetition these experiences can be “programmed” to be different.

  43. #43 Justin_Khase
    Alta California
    October 12, 2012

    Seems to me PZ that you, and all those who are likeminded, are the deluded ones. It’s people like you that said the Titanic is “unsinkable”, and in the same breath the Wright Brothers were “delusional” for thinking that manned flight is an impossibility. You and your intellectual ilk probably believe in Santa Claus because you can go to a mall at christmas and see one. Which of course makes him real right ?

  44. #44 Tim
    South Korea
    October 12, 2012

    I would argue that Mr. Meyers would be singing quite a different tune if such an experience happened to him. It’s easy to say, “It’s all bullshit.” when it’s never happened to you.

  45. #45 flux
    Anchorage
    October 12, 2012

    Aside from the tendency of those fortunate enough to have an mystical experience often clothe them in the religious symbolism of their culture, I think PZ Myers is doing nothing more than being an opportunist. From someone who purports to engage in the scientific method this is despicable. It makes we wonder if in his field of scientific inquiry he isn’t rather religious.

  46. #46 Vera
    October 12, 2012

    “those fortunate enough to have an mystical experience” – well, Carlos Castaneda had himself a whole bunch of those (hell, everybody’s who’s ever used a psychedelic drug has had those), yet I somehow don’t see many people believing that if he has witnessed it, there must exist turkey-turning naguals… By that measure, every delusion, suffered by every unfortunate person with mental problems, must be valid and thoroughly true… Or how do we distinguish between hallucinations/illusions and “real” mystical experiences?

    What is an even scarier message, though, is: “There is nothing you can do wrong.”

  47. #47 Leigh K.
    New York
    October 12, 2012

    I love accounts like Dr. Alexander’s, and it’s particularly disturbing to me that closed minded people, especially those in the physical sciences, are always quick to denounce accounts like these as some sort of sacrilege against logic and reason. What interests me more than anything is the true nature of consciousness, which is of course, one of the great unsolved conundrums of modern science! I’m guessing around 99% of neuroscientists will argue emergentism and that consciousness is the result of overlapping processes occurring within the brain, and yet it fails to explain the epistemic gap (the failure to explain how something immaterial, such as conscious experience, arises from something material, such as the brain). Not only that, but we have yet to find a known neural correlate to consciousness. Altered states of consciousness are interesting conduits into studying the nature of consciousness, whether they be induced through near-death experiences or psychedelic drugs like DMT. Most argue that these experiences are simply hallucinations, but the commonalities amongst them are nearly universal and very fascinating. The experience of ego-death, the feelings of infinite love and oneness with the Universe, the feeling that the experience is “more real than real,” are all common experiences in such states. Could these be mere fantasies? Certainly, but if they are, why are our brains wired in such a way that we would experience such things and interpret them in such similar ways? Conversely, if they are not mere fantasies, then one can seriously consider theories like “non-local consciousness” (immaterial consciousness) and the possibility of consciousness surviving the death of the brain. Considering the fact that we have a far from perfect understanding of the true nature of consciousness, I find it very disturbing that people like PZ Myers feel it necessary to publicly berate someone for expressing their opinion on a subject that is, even if you refuse to accept it, still very much open to debate. I personally feel that the physical sciences will one day fully explain the nature of consciousness and altered states of consciousness, but until such time perhaps we can keep an open mind and not be dogmatic in either direction?

  48. #48 rus
    October 12, 2012

    this guy addressed it much more eloquently

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven

  49. #49 Vera
    October 12, 2012

    If I may turn a quote by Orwell (“Being in a minority, even a minority of one, doesn’t make you insane.”) on its head – being in a majority, doesn’t make you sane… or even right for that matter – hell, they even burnt Bruno, cause they were in the majority… so, were they right and was he the close-minded one?

    So just because a delusion is shared by more than one person (and those are usually people who already have lots of similar ideas to begin with; and, after all, our brains are all wired the same, aren’t they?), it somehow makes it true?

    I myself love fairy-tales, yet I do not honestly believe that there are wish-granting genies hidden in lamps….

  50. #50 Leigh K.
    New York
    October 12, 2012

    The Sam Harris article was excellent, and I’ve enjoyed his thoughts in the past on altered states of consciousness. Thank you for sharing that. The guy has integrity.

  51. #51 Leigh K.
    New York
    October 12, 2012

    I am by no means arguing under the guise of the arbiter of truth. I am simply stating that the question remains unsolved, and that there are certainly logical and rational arguments to be considering by both sides. I view this question in much the same way that there can be competing theories attempting to explain the same phenomenon in physics. It is an open question, and as such, is open to scientific debate.

  52. #52 Vera
    October 12, 2012

    So, something “seen” when your brain is suffering severe distress and is by no means functioning even remotely properly is logical and rational?

    Competing theories in physics try to explain an existing, physical (pun intended) phenomenon and when one succeeds, the other is discarded.

    Hallucinations have already been explained pretty well (and convincingly), no matter what their content might be. Including so called near-death experiences.

  53. #53 Leigh K.
    October 12, 2012

    Something that is experienced subjectively, in which there is a statistically significant common experience, seems subject to reason to me.

    And as far as NDE’s go, there are certainly many different theories attempting to explain them, but no consensus to my knowledge.

    A recent study by Sam Parnia, studying the reports of NDE’s in patients under cardiac arrest, suggests that such patients are “effectively dead”, having no neural activity of those necessary for dreaming or hallucination; additionally, to rule out the possibility that near-death experiences resulted from lack of oxygen, Parnia rigorously monitored the concentrations thereof in the patients’ blood, and found that none of those who underwent the experiences had low levels of oxygen. He was also able to rule out claims that unusual combinations of drugs were to blame because the resuscitation procedure was the same in every case, regardless of whether they had a near-death experience or not. According to Parnia, “Arch sceptics will always attack our work. I’m content with that. That’s how science progresses. What is clear is that something profound is happening. The mind – the thing that is ‘you’ – your ‘soul’ if you will – carries on after conventional science says it should have drifted into nothingness.”

    I’m not going to argue that Parnia’s study is the end-all-be-all, but unlike yourself, I am not convinced this question has been sufficiently answered to this point.

  54. #54 Ryan
    Chicago
    October 12, 2012

    It’s been almost 3 years since I’ve visited this site, redirected here from another site, decided to give this one a read, made it halfway through the first paragraph:

    “This time, we have a real-live doctor who has worked at many prestigious institutions, as we are reminded several times in the story”

    I see someone is still very upset about being a second rate prof stuck in michigan. Poor baby, maybe you should, I don’t know, do some “bleeping” science instead of whining about newsweek articles. Who the hell reads that trash anyway, jeebus, why not post a rant about a national enquirer article next time? straw man much? Also, I would love to hear an “inspiring” tale from your life, rather than hear you rip apart others. Methinks your life is noticeably devoid of inspiration however.

    /trashbin

  55. #55 Vera
    October 12, 2012

    No, I won’t. There is no such thing as a soul. The moment my brain dies, completely and irrevocably, that’s that.

    Not an easy thing to accept for a lot of people, though, so go ahead, delude yourselves with fairy-tales about puffy clouds, angels and an all-loving entity (that’s perfectly happy to watch his beloved “creations” suffer unimaginably).

    Just stop trying to force it upon the rest of us (you’ve been doing it for millenia) and dress it up as science.

  56. #56 Leigh K.
    New York
    October 12, 2012

    Wow. I didn’t think I’d have to bring my personal beliefs into the conversation, but for the record, I am an atheist and I most certainly do not believe in a personal god. I consider myself a spiritual atheist/pantheist, and I find the theory of non-local consciousness interesting. Entertaining the idea that maybe, just maybe, consciousness is not emergent from the brain in no way correlates to the belief of angels, or a personal god.

  57. #57 Vera
    October 12, 2012

    Atheist and pantheist are mutually exclusive. And if consciousness is not emergent from the brain, where does it come from? And even if it’s not the brain, but some other part, what happens when that part is dead? Or is it immortal? Where was it before I was born?

  58. #58 Vera
    October 12, 2012

    PS. And if consciousness doesn’t spring from the brain, why is its place of origin the only unidentified part (in the vagues sense of the word, obviously) of the body?

  59. #59 Leigh K.
    New York
    October 12, 2012
  60. #60 Vera
    October 12, 2012

    Wow! Now I have seen everything.

    Well, you go ahead and live your life as a TV set receiving signals from who knows where and whom. I’ll stick with the good old brain.

  61. #61 Smash & Grab
    October 12, 2012

    You are a sad, sad, little man PZ Myers… get laid once in a blue moon will ya?

  62. #62 rus
    October 12, 2012

    there are dudes arguing in my computer!

  63. #63 Manny F
    October 12, 2012

    Still waiting for your next (and hopefully FINAL) heart attack.
    People like you make the world a slimier place.

  64. #64 DemBones
    October 12, 2012

    How about a challenge, PZ – the ultimate pseudo-skeptic test, if you will. How about you put your money where your keyboard is, take a trip down to South America, and undergo an Ayahuasca ceremony? It’s perfectly legal in places like Brazil, with plenty of well-practiced non-profit organizations providing safe and secure ceremonies (here’s one, with just a cursory search – http://www.know-thyself.org/index.html).

    You might not experience the exact same thing as Dr. Alexander. But at least it might make you second-guess your over-confident, confined, absolutist attitude. In the words of Aldous Huxley (in regards to this exact topic), it’s “an experience of inestimable value to everyone, especially the intellectual” which, if nothing else, will make you “lose a little of the confident insolence.”

    Graham Hancock even put this question to Richard Dawkins recently, to which Dawkins was slightly open but already predetermined that anything he experienced would be easily explainable and just some mismashings of brain chemistry. You know, real Science!-like:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UwvaSLbIgc

    So, here we have a very safe, secure, and, above all, concrete way for you to prove your worldview is right. If you have the courage to put your prejudices to the test, that is. But you’re not gonna be able to measure in a lab or view it on a screen. You have to sack up and give it a go yourself (rather than stand on your soapbox and tell other people what it is they’ve experienced). In other words, put up or shut up, PZ. Otherwise, you’re just pissing in the wind.

  65. #65 matthew meier
    kcmo
    October 13, 2012

    i read dr alexander,s accout of being monitoted medially during his seven day coma and he stated that ct scans and clinical neurology exams. ct scans cannot regesiter brain physiology. clinical neurolgy exams could include ecg (brain wave)recordings these are not the gold standard for brain acctivity. brain resurchers use pet scans to moniter parts of the brain”switched on”. there is a area deep in the brain called the “God Spot” that can be activated external stimuli. people describe similar experinces in lab settings. without a pet scan while dr alexander was in coma,no one
    say his God spot was or was not physiolgtica activel

  66. #66 matthew meier
    October 13, 2012

    please excuse bad spelling and syntax,i should have done better edit

  67. #67 Jason Firestone
    Rancho Santa Fe, CA
    October 13, 2012

    This episode, as reported, is actually a very good argument AGAINST these sorts of experiences as evidence for anything. They may not realize it, but it severely hurts their case, even further. First of all, there is no evidence that a medical professional, (which is VERY suspicious for this supposed MD ?) would consider valid. Was there an EEG, with no activity? An MRI with no activity ? A PET Scan with no activity ? No information was offered. His “cortex had shut down” is a very odd turn of phrase. I have NEVER seen a progress note, an op note, a consult, an H and P, or a Discharge Summary EVER use that phrase, without some further EEG or MRI reference. Obviously if he were clinically dead, the vent and the other support devices would be turned off. They were not. SO it’s not even a “near death” experience, just an hallucination.

    Next, and MOST important, is the content, of the “experience”.
    Every image he reported was “temporally” and “spatially” dependent, (both actually on spcae-time, but also dependent on ONLY modern Western cultural themes and music, and ideas, (and insects) which he ALREADY knew about. NOT ONE image, or sound or any of the content was “unknown” to his brain before the coma. Surely heaven would offer at least ONE novel item to his past experience. (When I go to heaven, I want disco music !) Then he said the music was “coming from ‘above’ “. So obviously he was not “up” there, actually IN heaven. No theologian would use “temporal/spatial” references in describing “heaven”. The “eternal” heaven, (in theology), is not “endless”, but “timeless”. He doesn’t even know enough about his own cult, to get that.

    This actually does MORE to debunk this sort of “near death” crap, than support it. He just doesn’t understand why.

    Happy Halloween kids. ;)

  68. #68 Jim Wells
    Hillsborough, NC
    October 13, 2012

    I am on the clinical faculty in Psychiatry at Duke University and have practiced psychiatry for 35 years. It has been my experience that many people who otherwise seem to me entirely sane have described to me personal experiences that as yet, at least to my knowledge, do not have absolutely certain explanations that can be based entirely on what is now known about brain function.

    As a younger man, I was definitely agnostic. Now I lean strongly toward there being some organizing force that is aware of itself and every aspect of itself, including every energy system associated with every individual aspect of what we are able to detect with our senses and extensions of our senses (PET scans included).

    I have written about a few of my personal experiences that have contributed to my current perspectives on human consciousness and our possible connection to an aware source of all that is: http://www.peacetalking.org.

    The only thing, however, that I think I know for sure is that I cannot count on anything I call real being entirely real in all the ways I think of as real.

    A recent book entitled “First Sense,” by psychologist James Carpenter, PhD, long associated with the Rhine Center, explores the possibility of a new way of thinking about a number of usually considered “paranormal events.” I think it is very well written and worthy of serious consideration by scientists who want to remain open to every intellectually honest exploration of human perceptions.

  69. #69 Vivienne K.
    Arizona
    October 13, 2012

    Pink, fluffy clouds? Angels telling him he is loved? Good grief, this is like the dullest drivel you can hear from the pulpit on any given Sunday in a thousand churches around the world! Why is it that these supernatural beings never give anyone any useful information? You know, it would be very nice to know the cures for cancer, multiple sclerosis, malaria, influenza, leukemia, and the many other diseases that plague humanity. Instead, the fairies that live in the sky can’t think of anything more profound to say than “You are loved.”

    What are these beings good for? What do they do all day, other than drift around in pink clouds, waiting for the gullible to lapse into comas? The day that someone goes to heaven and comes back with information that actually improves the lot of humanity, is the day I will be mighty impressed by these alleged “near death” experiences. (And, btw, being near death isn’t the same as being dead. If you are dead, chances are slim that you are experiencing much of anything.)

  70. #70 Haystack
    October 13, 2012

    He may be wrongheaded, but why not show some empathy for a guy who almost died, and had what was, for him, a profound experience? Can you be sure that if some sort of brain trauma caused you to experience something that felt absolutely real and moving to you, that you would simply shrug it off as a “fantasy?”

    You’re fully entitled to disagree with him, and to air your reasons why, but when your arguments are couched in ridicule it only reinforces the image of skeptics as smug, intellectual bullies.

  71. #71 Jason Firestone
    Bucky Ball @ The Thinking Atheist
    October 13, 2012

    There is not a shred of evidence that consciousness of any form arises from anything other than complex molecular systems. In fact, this past week, one of the Nobel winners, (in Chemistry), was given the prize for his work in how cells are able to interact, and obtain, and react to information in their environment.

    We know exactly when and where in human history the concepts of angels and demons arose, and how they developed. (see Pagels/Princeton “The Origins of Satan”)

    If he were a real scientist, instead of slapping a “supernatural” explanation onto the events, he would use it as the LAST POSSIBLE one, (that’s what “miracles” are, …. THE least probable explanation), and instead look for a natural one, and do some testing. He describes no testing process and no reason why a natural explanation would be embraced, ahead of the LEAST probable one. It’s simply “god of the gaps”.

    He admits he considered himself a “faithful Christian”, then says “in name only”. That is actually a meaningless statement. Either he honestly assents to the belief system, or he doesn’t. he may not have done everything he thought he should, but he fully assented, intellectually, to the system. It’s a distinction, without a difference. That means a priori, he actually intellectually fully assented to angels and demons, and virgin births, and the notion that an ancient pissed-off deity, actually HAD, (ie a creator who was SUBJECT to a system in Reality, which it created and which required him) to send his son to die, (a human sacrifice), to appease himself. This is not disrespect. It’s just the system. Then a being, who supposedly exists in a timeless environment, CHANGED, and AFTER the sacrifice, said, “oh, ok, I feel better now”. Yeah right. Sorry. 10,000 years from now, Christianity will be a sorry blip on the history of human ideas, just like every other god system we no longer believe in.

    All of Christianity is built on the “salvation” paradigm. THAT is not what Yeshua ben Joseph preached. Paul and Augustine hijacked the Hebrew notion of “chaos vs order”, (which they got from the Sumerian myth systems), and turned it into “sin” and “disobedience”. (see Martin Buber’s “Good and Evil). It’s all built on a “goof”, and ignorance of cultural history.

  72. [...] El Dr Eben Alexander sufrió una meningitis que le tuvo cerca de la muerte. De aquella experiencia ha escrito un libro Prueba del Cielo y ha sido portada de la revista Newsweek. El propio Dr hace un resumen de su libro. Como es lógico, ha recibido un aluvión de críticas escépticas (1), (2), (3). [...]

  73. #73 Jason Firestone
    Bucky Ball @ The Thinking ATheist
    October 13, 2012

    Unfortunately the title of the book , “proof of heaven’ betrays his ignorance of what “proof” is, (in scientific terms). The title should be “Yet another non-scientific unexplained anecdote for heaven”. It appears he suffered brain damage.

  74. [...] Neurocirujano tiene supuestas experiencias después de la muerte Posted by Bender – October 13, 2012 – Cultura Geek El Dr Eben Alexander sufrió una meningitis que le tuvo cerca de la muerte. De aquella experiencia ha escrito un libro Prueba del Cielo y ha sido portada de la revista Newsweek. El propio Dr hace un resumen de su libro. Como es lógico, ha recibido un aluvión de críticas escépticas (1), (2), (3). [...]

  75. #75 harold
    October 13, 2012

    Haystack –

    Since Haystack’s comment is highly characteristic of a group of comments, I will reply to i.

    He may be wrongheaded, but why not show some empathy for a guy who almost died, and had what was, for him, a profound experience?

    1) False dichotomy – it is perfectly possible to have empathy for him while being skeptical of his claim.

    2) If he were a Muslim and reported “proof” of Islam in the form of a brain damage induced vision of Islamic heaven – something I’m willing to bet happens every day – you would be condemning him. It is the culturally self-serving nature of his “vision” that causes you to rush to its defense.

    Can you be sure that if some sort of brain trauma caused you to experience something that felt absolutely real and moving to you, that you would simply shrug it off as a “fantasy?”

    On the contrary, I can be sure of the exact opposite – either I or you could experience radical changes in personality, convincing hallucinations, etc, transiently or permanently, due to brain damage. The fact that I could experience a delusion or hallucination does not oblige me to uncritically “believe” delusions or hallucinations when others experience them.

    You’re fully entitled to disagree with him, and to air your reasons why,

    I suspect that you do not mean this very sincerely.

    In many countries, it is permitted to scorn and ridicule most religions, but harshly forbidden to criticize the dominant religion (often Islam). This is a popular system, and many Americans wish for it, albeit with fundamentalist Protestant Christianity rather than Islam as the privileged religion.

    Plausibly, you may fell that way yourself. “If he had claimed to go to Islamic heaven I would ridicule him, but I think it should be forbidden to criticize my preferred version of Christianity”. Is is possible that this (very common) sensation is what is actually motivating your argument here?

    but when your arguments are couched in ridicule it only reinforces the image of skeptics as smug, intellectual bullies.

    You and a number of others seem to suggest that it is not the critique, but merely the rude tone of the critique, that you object to.

    Can you write a brief example of a critique that is strongly skeptical of the claims made by this physician, yet uses language you do not object to?

    If you cannot, can you honestly admit that feel that his claims should be privileged and protected from criticism, because they are Christian, but that if similar claims, couched in non-Christian cultural language, were made, you would probably aggressively ridicule them?

  76. #76 b
    October 13, 2012

    What jumps out from reading your review is contempt prior to investigation. Your mind was made up before you ever cracked that book. Why? and why the anger dripping from your words? I dont believe that it was a trip to heaven either. I makes no sense that God would bring people to heaven by error. However, it doesn’t make me angry nor does it demonstrate anything negative about religion that you see to want to confirm. I am thankful that I dont have to deal with those emotions that you obviously struggle with.

  77. #77 J.R.
    Canada
    October 13, 2012

    13.7 billion years ago all of the matter and energy in the universe exploded from a point the size of an electron,for no apparent reason. It all coalesced into the hundreds of billions of galaxies each containing hundreds of billions of stars apiece.Magically,single cell life appeared.Over billions of years it evolved into an angry ,obnoxious atheist. Who really believes in fairy tales? Don’t bother citing some new age hack ,alleged researchers.

  78. #78 JP
    Chicago
    October 14, 2012

    Wasn’t it Crowley who said: “Never take any belief system too seriously. Especially not your favorite one”?

    Just like the Buddhists who warned that ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him’, Crowley knew that there was no external reality to the visions one might experience during any particular magical ritual. But that didn’t matter! What was important was training ones mind in the ability to ‘tune in’ the sort of deep spiritual events that people crave.

    So while Dr. Alexander may not have actually hung out with the heavenly host, there are indeed real questions to be asked about how to incorporate these sort of experiences, which we so obviously need, in an effort to make us better humans.

  79. #79 Ulrich
    Los Angeles, CA
    October 14, 2012

    I read Mr. Myers review after reading Dr. Alexander’s Newsweek article: I was searching for more commentary. I believe that Dr. Alexander’s text is very powerful, with the caveat described by Mr. Myers: the description of the beyond-universe seems a bit … standard, so to speak. And I agree that the imagery is likely influenced by Dr. Alexanders upbringing. However, an open minded person must see beyond that: this time the witness is a man with a certain reputation and armed precisely with the scientific training to be able to judge his experience as remarkable. And here lies the difference between Dr. Alexander and Mr. Myers: the former takes the risk to compromise his reputation of academic neurosurgeon in order to tell his side, whereas Mr. Myers does his day-to-day job of rejecting something that he believes is not scientifically true. On my end, I want to know more about what Dr. Alexander has to say. Mr. Myers view is clear enough.

  80. [...] a neurosurgeon? Clearly not as much as someone that can sell bullcrap to gullible godzombies. Newsweek panders to the deluded again – Pharyngula Jesus is UNBELIEVABLE! To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or [...]

  81. #81 Jim Wells
    Hillsborough, NC
    October 14, 2012

    Thanks, J.R. It also seems to me that all current explanations for how it is that we came into being are deficient when it comes to scientific proof. It also makes sense to me that many of us who are inclined to approach an attempt at understanding our place in the scheme of all things through the scientific method would be skeptical of Dr. Alexander’s acceptance of a dream-like experience while in a coma as proof of the existence of heaven. I think we are still stuck in the realm of not knowing anything for sure and left with choosing what we want to believe may be true from the current choices that make the most sense to us. I have really enjoyed reading all the comments and think that each one in some way contributes to a potentially clearer perception of our current state of knowledge about the nature of human consciousness, particularly with regard to how we hold and defend our personal biases.

    I have really enjoyed reading the recent book by Jonathan Haidt called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. I think many of the rest of you who have contributed comments may also find it useful in sorting out some of the issues raised by Dr. Alexander and the reactions to his book.

  82. #82 Leo MacDonald
    October 14, 2012

    I think it was the fear of being labelled crazy that is why he didn’t write down on paper what he experienced right after being in a coma. But as time move on he got confidence to share the experience.

  83. #83 SSmith
    USA
    October 14, 2012

    I’ll preface by saying I haven’t read the article, just a few paragraphs and your critique of it. Certainly there are those fundamentalists that pit their belief in the Bible against scientific proof (how silly). This polarization of either/or is a major problem and is the expression of an inability to think outside our own constructions. The New Testament cites love as the healing force of life which, I happen to believe even if I don’t believe in the literal truth of what is in the Bible…i.e. Jesus walking on water or that Mary was a literal virgin. For many people, especially more simple-minded folks, their religion becomes a template for becoming a more loving person. This is important for civilization to function and yet, it is when this positive force claims to have an understanding of one way way of seeing life that we have a problem in which an understanding of love disintegrates into a divisive function that becomes un-love.
    I believe that Eben Alexander had the experience that he had. How he understands it in this world seems to be to put it in a Christian context. I was raised by a science professor, am well-read in religion (many not just Christianity) and philosophy and practiced meditation many years ago. I had the experience that Alexander is describing in one meditation and two dreams at this time. I was accessing my brain in ways that we normally don’t do…OR, I was experiencing something spiritual outside of myself. Yet, there was a great sense of clarity, color, music, peace…it was an experience just as Alexander described. I never saw a being like Jesus or any other religious and iconic figure but had the sense of a conscious presence that was loving. I hope that science can explain this phenomenon one day…for me it just was what it was…yet for 15 years, I have a great sense of peace and the ability to let go of difficulties easily and am a healthier, happier person for it.

  84. #84 Harald
    Chicago
    October 14, 2012

    Brilliantly written!!! I laughed so hard — congrats!

    You nailed it exactly. Of course, a priori, one should try to take the agnostic position that Eben Alexander’s story could be true not just as a subjective experience but literally. The burden of proof for that ought to be high! There would have to be an element somewhere in the story that then cannot be explained with the conventional perspective that his brain made this stuff up as he awoke. Examples would be some extraordinary new and brilliant scientific insight, or predicting the New York Times headline on the upcoming Dec 31st or something else that he couldn’t have possibly known otherwise. Instead, as you beautifully point out we only get some trivial bull about music and angels and unconditional love. Oh my. What is particularly appalling us that Alexander NEVER puts on the hat of a skeptical scientist in evaluating his own experience.

    My guess is, Alexander just wants to get rich and he will per selling his BS book. Pitty the naive grandmas that buy it and lap it up. I hope they at least revoke his title — or is there now a PhD for bullshitting?

  85. #85 Breen
    PA
    October 14, 2012

    I find it incredibly foolish that PZ, who hasn’t studied the brain, has the foolish arrogance to dictate to this top neurosurgeon, “No, HERE’s how the brain REALLY works, and this is what you were REALLY experiencing.” Is Alexander’s story some sort of “proof” of the afterlife ? No. But why can’t we respect this man as the brain scientist that he is and consider his story without resorting to personal attacks and nauseating arrogance? I know, you’ll say some cliche atheist line that your beloved Dawkins taught you like, “Anything that religious people say is stupid so therefore nothing they say is worth even considering, oh, and by the way, atheists are the uber-smartest people in the world.” But maybe if you close your eyes, calm down, and say to yourself, “Okay, let’s REALLY try to be reasonable and think critically about this,” I think you’ll at least withhold the incredible vitriol and disgusting arrogance that is characterizing the conversation.

  86. #86 Jim Wells
    Hillsborough, NC
    October 14, 2012

    I especially appreciate the comments of SSmith, Breen, and Leigh K. You may find interesting an experience I described a few years ago: http://www.peacetalking.org/2009/10/o-peacock-feathered-dreams-story-of.html.

    In essence, while meditating, I saw two words I had no awareness of ever having seen before that appeared in the blackness like credits on a movie screen. The words were “jaba” and “kuba.” I did a Google search to see if it would turn up anything, and the top entry at the time was the only one that had the words next to each other and spelled just that way. Clicking on that Google entry took me to a web site in India and a story written in Hindi. The website also had portions in English, had a forum in English, and in one part featured the poetry of Kabir. Through the forum I requested a translation of the words and instead got got a translation of the entire story found at the link I gave above. I eventually found out the meaning of the two words, “when” and “completely.” That story about cloud fantasies that saved the sanity of a woman with a difficult childhood, the poetry of Kabir (a poet who helped bridge Sufism and Hinduism in the 15th century), and the entire web site (http://www.boloji.com/) seemed like an unsolicited gift from some unknown and unknowable source.

    Never having been to India or having any known exposure to transliterated Hindi, seeing “jaba” and “kuba” in the way that I did and discovering the associated content that was very relevant to my work certainly has seemed to me to suggest some kind of connection with a locus of consciousness outside of my own brain. About the nature of that consciousness and how I was connected to it have been the subject of much contemplation.

    Again, the only thing that I think I know for sure is that I cannot count on anything I call real being entirely real in all the ways I think of as real. I like to believe, however, that there is an ultimate, organizing force that is aware of itself and of all aspects of creation that exist within it and that it provides individualized guidance in some fashion to all its innumerable parts. Wishful thinking? Perhaps or maybe even probably, but I think there is as much proof available for my hoped-for reality as there is for the big bang theory being the certain explanation for creation of the universe as we think we know it.

  87. #87 Jim Wells
    Hillsborough, NC
    October 14, 2012

    The story I described above can be found in Hindi at http://www.hindinest.com/visheshank/01stri/10a.htm. It is no longer the top entry in a Google search for “jaba” and “kuba,” but it is still on the first page of results.

  88. #88 Eric Vinyl
    October 14, 2012

    A surgeon is not the same as a neuroscientist.

  89. #89 Leigh K.
    New York
    October 15, 2012

    Good stuff Jim Wells. Thank you for sharing.

  90. #90 ESL jobs
    canada
    October 15, 2012

    You nailed it exactly. Of course, a priori, one should try to take the agnostic position that Eben Alexander’s story could be true not just as a subjective experience but literally. The burden of proof for that ought to be high! There would have to be an element somewhere in the story that then cannot be explained with the conventional perspective that his brain made this stuff up as he awoke. Examples would be some extraordinary new and brilliant scientific insight, or predicting the New York Times headline on the upcoming Dec 31st or something else that he couldn’t have possibly known otherwise. Instead, as you beautifully point out we only get some trivial bull about music and angels and unconditional love. Oh my. What is particularly appalling us that Alexander NEVER puts on the hat of a skeptical scientist in evaluating his own experience.

  91. #91 edb3803
    earth
    October 15, 2012

    Sounds like an acid trip to me! With some Jesus thrown in for good measure.

  92. #92 Jim Wells
    Hillsborough, NC
    October 16, 2012

    Thanks, Leigh K. I have just read your reference
    http://www.thebigview.com/mind/nonlocal.html and found it very interesting. I used a similar analogy this afternoon when I was talking with my son about this “discussion.” We agreed that fundamentalists can come in many forms, including some of those who say they are atheists based on their perspective of science. I find absolute certainty rather frightening, no matter the variety.

    While Freud in “Future of an Illusion” was quite skeptical of all religions, many of my friends in the psychoanalytic realm of psychiatry are quite religious. I’m not sure what, if anything, that means; other than perhaps that an atheistic indoctrination may not always lead to a thoughtless acceptance of the guru’s perspectives.

    Another personal experience that most, including a part of myself, may chalk up to coincidence seemed to me rather unusual. It began when I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail in 2008. One night at Double Springs Shelter in the Smokies while sitting around a campfire, I was asked by a group of high school seniors from Wisconsin if I knew any ghost stories. I said that I did but had not told them recently and would, if they were interested, share some other stories of unusual phenomena I had encountered along my journey. The next morning one of the girls said that I reminded her of the protagonist in the book “The Alchemist” and said she thought I would like reading it. When I again had access to a computer, I ordered a used copy and, indeed, did find it interesting. I was reminded of a similar story I had read in “Hasidic Tales” annotated by Rami Shapiro. What seemed most interesting to me, though, was a folded sheet of paper in the book that described another book, “Voyage To The Unknown” by P. Wayne Kittelle. While it was no longer in print, I found a single used copy on Amazon and ordered it. It purports to be an account of three friends who had shared a lot of time in the NC Mountains prior to the death of one of the three who after death was supposedly being channeled by one of the two living friends and through her sharing what it was like being in heaven. She was reported to have said that the initial experience of heaven varied according to what someone expected it to be. For instance, if you expect heaven to be a book-lined study with a fireplace and leather armchairs, then that’s what it will be for you until it becomes something else consistent with what you need it to be. She also said that there are jobs that are done very much like those experienced while living in an earthly body. Who knows what to make of such a book, but it came into my possession in an interesting, unexpected way at a time when I was thinking about such things.

    Previous to reading “Voyage To The Unknown,” I had been told by a patient about a another book that was written by Robert Monroe of the Monroe Institute entitled “Ultimate Journey.” I found both these books to be quite interesting, even though I have no way of validating or invalidating either of them.

    Since I think there is no way to know about these kinds of things for sure, I tend to think about a wide range of possibilities for reality and at the same time keep on doing my best in the present moment to live with as much integrity as I can muster, believing that my life is most likely to be satisfying through taking this approach. The integrity part for me mostly means not doing to others what I wouldn’t want done to me.

  93. #93 oicur12
    October 16, 2012

    If astral projection actually allowed people to see the real world while absent from their body, there would be no need for Intelligence Communities or any of the elaborate spy technology we have now. If astral projection were common we would not even have the concept of privacy as it exists in our culture. Because we would know that disembodied neighbors and strangers could floating through our bedrooms, unseen, at any given moment.

  94. #95 Tim Church
    United States
    October 17, 2012

    He didn’t necessarily make this stuff up after the fact. Powerful neuroleptics and other chemicals can be released when the brain is stressed and these memories or visions could have occurred as he was going into failure or as he was coming out. I had a vision of heaven when I overdosed on nitrous oxide in a dentist’s chair. And, no, the dental assistant was not an angel and heaven does not consist of a sphere that is entirely chrome on the inside and brightly lit.

  95. #96 Leo MacDonald
    October 20, 2012

    Ya are your vision was probably hallucinatory unlike Eben Alexander near death experience.

    ESL jobs, he did put on a skeptical hat but found that purely brain based arguments didn’t fit his experience at all. Maybe you should actually read his account more closely. There are certainly elements of his experience that cannot be explained by conventional means such as the fact that he has very clear lucid experience when his cortex was shut down completely and the brain activity from that upper part of his brain was shut down.

  96. #97 warron
    October 20, 2012

    Some pretty angry people around here. I can’t really understand why this story should provoke such rancor.

  97. #98 warron
    October 20, 2012

    Oh. Just noticed PZ Myers wrote this. For atheists who enjoy a little bitterness and condescension with their morning coffee so they can spend the day feeling cleverer than everyone else. Good reason never to drop by ScienceBlogs again.

  98. #99 Col Bat Guano
    October 21, 2012

    Some folks don’t like their mythology mocked it appears.

  99. #100 Eric McCann
    Manhattan, Kansas
    October 22, 2012

    Whether you believe what he is saying is true, or whether you believe what he is saying is false. But to those who say he isn’t a scientist, you’re all a group of complete morons. And I’d like you to cite all of the important work you have done for the scientific community in the last two decades? All of the important research, and lectures you have provided. Merely being an Atheist doesn’t qualify you as a science wizard, nor does it invoke some notion that you have a higher intellectual prowess than theists, or anyone else. I want to ask you if you have done this much for research.

    Biography

    Education:

    1975 A.B. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    1980 M.D. Duke University School of Medicine

    Postdoctoral Training

    Internship and Residencies:

    1980-1981 Intern in General Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina

    1981-1983 Resident in Neurological Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina

    1985 Acting Resident in Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts

    1985-1987 Resident in Neurological Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina

    1987 Senior Registrar and Cerebrovascular Fellow, Neurosurgical Service, Newcastle General Hospital, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, U.K.

    1988-1990 Instructor in Surgery, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    Research Fellowships:

    1983-1985 Research Fellow in Neurosurgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    1987 Research Fellow in Neurosurgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    Licensure and Certification:

    1980 Residents Training License, North Carolina

    1987 30888 North Carolina [Expires December 2011]

    1987 58762 Massachusetts License [Expires Dec 2011]

    2004 12520 New Hampshire License [inactive]

    2005 0101239440 Virginia License [Expires December 2012]

    1991 91066 Diplomat, American Board of Neurological Surgery, November, 1991 [Voluntarily involved in the Maintenance of Certification Program 29301, Recertification due 12/31/2019]

    1996 Inducted as a Fellow, American College of Surgeons (F.A.C.S.)

    Academic Appointments:

    1978-1979 Research Assistant, Neuroendocrinology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina

    1988-1990 Instructor in Surgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    1990-1994 Assistant Professor in Surgery (Neurosurgery), Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    1990-2001 Assistant Professor in Radiation Therapy, Joint Center for Radiation Therapy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    1994-2001 Associate Professor in Surgery (Neurosurgery), Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    2001-2003 Associate Professor in Surgery (Neurosurgery), UMass Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts

    2004-2006 Consultant, Gerson Lehman, New York, NY

    2008-present Assistant Professor of Research in Neurological Surgery, University of Virginia Medical School, Charlottesville, Virginia

    Recent Appointments:

    2008-2010 Clinical Director of the Brain Program, Focused Ultrasound Surgery Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia

    Hospital Appointments:

    1988-2003 Associate Surgeon, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    1988-2003 Associate Surgeon, The Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    1988-2003 Associate Surgeon, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    1994-2001 Director of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, Brigham & Women’s Hospital Boston, Massachusetts

    1998-2003 Clinical Associate in Neurosurgery, Massachusetts General Hospital Boston, Massachusetts

    2001-2003 Active Staff, Department of Surgery, Division of Neurosurgery, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, Massachusetts

    2004-2005 Sabbatical

    2005-2006 Corporate Consulting: Gerson Lehrman Group, New York, NY

    2006-2007 Active Staff, Department of Surgery, Division of Neurosurgery, Lynchburg General Hospital-CentraHealth, Lynchburg, Virginia

    Other Professional Positions and Major Visiting Appointments:

    1978 Research Assistant in Neurosurgery, University of Minnesota School of Medicine

    1980 Research Assistant in Pathology, Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Wake Forest University

    1989 Visiting Lecturer and Panelist, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Virginia School of Medicine International Symposium on Stereotactic Radiosurgery

    1989 Invited Lecturer, Neurology/Neurosurgery Grand Rounds, Harvard-Longwood Medical Area.

    1989 Invited Faculty, Stereotactic Radiosurgery, Radionics Course in Stereotactic Techniques, Congress of Neurological Surgeons Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia

    1989 Invited Lecturer, Nursing Grand Rounds, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

    1989 Invited Faculty, Luncheon Discussion Group on Stereotactic Radiosurgery, Congress of Neurological Surgeons Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia

    1990 Co-Director, Panelist, Lecturer, Moderator, Harvard Medical School Continuing Education Course, Radiosurgery Update.

    1990 Invited Lecturer and Consultant, Varian Corporation, Palo Alto, CA

    1990 Invited Lecturer and panelist, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, “Neurosurgery Update”, post-graduate course

    1990 Invited Lecturer, 14th annual New York Neurosurgery Symposium

    1990 Invited Lecturer, Skull base tumor Workshop, Hannover, Germany

    1990 Invited Lecturer, Framingham Union Hospital Medical Grand Rounds

    1991 Invited Lecturer, Neurology/Neurosurgery Grand Rounds, Harvard-Longwood Medical Area.

    1991 Invited Consultant, General Electric Medical Imaging Systems, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    1991 Invited Lecturer, First International Symposium on MR-Guided Laser Interventions, Harvard Medical School.

    1991 Invited Lecturer, Providence Medical Center, Portland, Oregon.

    1991 International Organizing Committee, Invited Lecturer, Moderator, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Symposium, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

    1991 Invited Lecturer, Panelist, 9th European Congress on Neurosurgery, Moscow, USSR.

    1991 Invited Lecturer, German-Austrian Stereotactic Workshop, Finkenberg, Austria.

    1991 Invited Lecturer, Medical Grand Rounds, St. Anne’s Hospital, New Bedford, Massachusetts

    1991 Invited Lecturer, General Scientific Session, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Orlando, Florida.

    1991 Invited Lecturer, Boston Society of Neurology and Psychiatry.

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Methodist Hospital Neurosurgical Grand Rounds, Indianapolis, Indiana

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Pennsylvania State Neurosurgical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Practical Course, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, San Francisco, California

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Breakfast Seminar, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, San Francisco, California

    1992 Invited Consultant, General Electric Medical Imaging Systems, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Neurology/Neurosurgery Grand Rounds, University of Massachusetts, Worcester, Massachusetts

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Workshop on Stereotactic Techniques, European Society of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, Stockholm, Sweden

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Symposium on Neuro-Radio-Surgery, Vienna, Austria

    1992 Invited Lecturer and Panelist, Joint Section on Tumors Session, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Washington, D.C.

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Practical Course on Radiosurgery, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Washington, D.C.

    1992 Invited Lecturer and Panelist, Radiosurgery Course, American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, San Diego, California

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Western Medical Center, Santa Ana, California

    1992 Invited Lecturer, Tumors of the Central Nervous System, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston, MA.

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Practical Clinic, American Association of Neurological Surgeons Annual Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Breakfast Seminars, American Association of Neurological Surgeons Annual Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Adelaide, Australia

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Stereotactic Radiosurgery/Brachytherapy Workshop, Adelaide, Australia

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Auckland Hospital Neurosurgery, Auckland, New Zealand

    1993 Invited Lecturer, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society, 1st Congress Meeting, Stockholm, Sweden

    1993 Invited Speaker, Santorini Radiosurgery Workshop, Santorini, Greece

    1993 Invited Consultant, General Electric Medical Imaging Systems, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    1993 Invited Lecturer, UCLA Stereotactic Neurosurgery/Radiosurgery Course, Los Angeles, California

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Practical Course, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Luncheon Discussion Group, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

    1993 Panelist and Moderator, XI th Meeting of the World Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, Ixtapa, Mexico

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Tumors of the Central Nervous System, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston, MA

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Intensive Review in Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston, MA

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Grand Rounds, Neurology and Neurosurgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC

    1994 Fischer-Leibinger Visiting Professor in Stereotactic Neurosurgery, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Asia-Pacific Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery Conference, Singapore General Hospital, Singapore

    1994 Visiting Professor, Ministry of Health, Government of Singapore, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore

    1994 Visiting Professor, Pramongkutklao Medical School, Bangkok, Thailand

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

    1994 Invited Lecturer, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Beijing, China

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Zhong Shan Hospital, Shanghai, China

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Guangxhou, China

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Australian Stereotactic Workshop, Saint Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Australia

    1994 Director and Speaker, Practical Course, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, San Diego, CA

    1994 Invited Speaker, Breakfast Seminars, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, San Diego, CA

    1994 Invited Speaker, Harvard Longwood Oncology Group Spring Symposium, Boston, MA

    1994 Invited Speaker, Interactive Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School Continuing Education, Boston, MA (6/23/94)

    1994 Invited Lecturer, UCLA Course on Minimally Invasive Therapy of the Brain, Los Angeles, CA (8/25-27/94)

    1994 Invited Lecturer and Panelist, First Brazilian Workshop of Stereotactic Radiotherapy and Radiosurgery, San Paulo, Brazil (9/1-3/94)

    1994 Invited Lecturer and Panelist, XX Congresso Brasileiro de Neurocirurgia, Belo Horizonte, Brazil (9/4-8/94)

    1994 Invited Speaker, Grand Rounds, The Brockton Hospital Symposium, Brockton, MA (9/16/94)

    1994 Invited Speaker, The Preuss Foundation Symposium on Stereotactic Radiation Treatments for Brain Tumors, Boston, MA (9/28-30/94)

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Breakfast Seminar, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Chicago, Illinois (10/1-6)

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Interventional MRI Symposium, Society for Magnetic Resonance, Boston, MA (10/8-9)

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Stereotactic Neurosurgery – Hands On, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, New Orleans, LA (10/28-29)

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Radiosurgery for Brain Tumors, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, IL (11/4-5)

    1994 Invited Lecturer, Intensive Review in Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston, MA

    1995 Invited Lecturer, Medical Grand Rounds, Brigham & Women’s Hospital

    1995 Invited Lecturer, Practical Course, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Orlando, FL (4/22)

    1995 Invited Lecturer, Tumor Section Symposium, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Orlando, FL (4/26)

    1995 Invited Speaker, Breakfast Seminars, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Orlando, FL (4/22-27)

    1995 Invited Lecturer and Panelist, 2nd Congress of the Spanish Radiosurgery Society, Madrid, Spain (4/28)

    1995 Invited Special Lecturer, Panelist, 10th European Congress on Neurosurgery, Berlin, Germany (5/9).

    1995 Invited Lecturer and Panelist, Virtual Reality in Medicine and Developer’s Expo, Boston, MA

    1995 Invited Lecturer, X-knife Consortium Meeting, Boston (6/13/95)

    1995 Program Chairman, Lecturer, Moderator, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society 2nd Congress Meeting, Boston, MA 6/14-17/95)

    1995 Invited Lecturer, Joint International Congress on Minimally Invasive Techniques in Neurosurgery and Otolaryngology, Pittsburgh, PA (6/19)

    1995 Invited Panelist, Practical Course, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, San Francisco, California (10/15)

    1995 Invited Lecturer, Luncheon Discussion Groups, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, San Francisco, California (10/16,18)

    1995 Invited Speaker, General Electric Intraoperative MR Symposium, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, San Francisco, California (10/18)

    1995 Invited Lecturer, General Scientific Plenary Session, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, San Francisco, California (10/19)

    1995 Invited Panelist and Consultant, Center for Health Care, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, San Francisco, California (10/20)

    1995 Invited Professor, Overlook Hospital, Summit, New Jersey (10/27)

    1995 Invited Lecturer, New Jersey State Neurosurgical Society, New Brunswick, New Jersey (10/27)

    1995 Invited Lecturer, Tumors of the Central Nervous System, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston (11/14-15)

    1995 Invited Lecturer, Stereotactic Neurosurgery – Hands On, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, New Orleans, LA (11/17-18)

    1995 Invited Lecturer, XKnife Consortium, Orlando, FL (12/5)

    1995 Invited Lecturer, LINAC Radiosurgery, 1995, University of Florida, Orlando, FL (12/6-10)

    1996 Visiting Professor, Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch, Chicago, IL (12/22)

    1996 Invited Lecturer and Panelist, 2nd International Skull Base Congress, VII Annual Meeting North American Skull Base Society, San Diego, CA, (6/29-7/4)

    1996 Invited Lecturer and Panelist, Conference on Stereotactic Target Localization Techniques, Boston, MA, (7/20-7/21)

    1996 Invited Lecturer, LINAC Stereotactic Radiosurgery/Radiotherapy Symposium, Samsung Medical Center, Seoul, Korea (9/7)

    1996 Invited Lecturer, Stereotactic Radiosurgery Workshop, Tokyo University, Tokyo, Japan (9/8)

    1996 Invited Lecturer, Stereotactic Radiosurgery and Radiotherapy Workshop, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Hong Kong (9/10)

    1996 Invited Lecturer, Symposium on Stereotactic Radiosurgery and Computer-Assisted Neurosurgery, Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, India (9/12)

    1996 Special Guest Lecturer, Oregon Neurosurgical Society, Salishan Lodge, Oregon (10/18)

    1996 Special Guest Lecturer, Oregon Neurosciences: Cost Effectiveness

    1996, Salishan Lodge, Oregon (10/18)

    1996 Visiting Professor, New Jersey Medical School, Newark NJ (10/22-23)

    1996 Neurosurgery Grand Rounds, Hackensack Medical Center, Hackensack, NJ (10/23)

    1996 Invited Lecturer, UCLA – XKnife User Group, Los Angeles, CA (10/26)

    1996 Invited Lecturer, Tumors of the Central Nervous System, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston (11/26)

    1996 Anesthesia Grand Rounds, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA (11/27)

    1997 Pain Service Grand Rounds, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA (2/24)

    1997 Invited Lecturer, MRI Basic to Advanced, General Electric Meeting, Breckenridge, CO (3/16)

    1997 Visiting Professor, Maine Neurosurgical Society Meeting, Sugarloaf, ME (4/4-6)

    1997 Invited Lecturer, Practical Course, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Denver, CO (4/14)

    1997 Invited Lecturer, General Electric Intraoperative MR Symposium, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Denver, CO (4/16)

    1997 Invited Speaker, Breakfast Seminars, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Denver, CO (4/15,18)

    1997 Invited Lecturer, Anesthesia/Critical Care Grand Rounds, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, MA (5/21)

    1997 Invited Lecturer and Moderator, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society 2nd Congress Meeting, Madrid, Spain (6/25-28/97)

    1997 Speaker, Panelist and Moderator, XII th Meeting of the World Society of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, Lyon, France (7/1-4/97)

    1997 Invited Speaker and Moderator, 11th International Congress of Neurological Surgery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (7/6-11/97)

    1997 Visiting Professor, Tulsa Neurosciences Society, Tulsa, OK (9/11-12)

    1997 Invited Panelist, Practical Course, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, New Orleans, LA (9/27-10/1)

    1997 Invited Lecturer, Luncheon Discussion Groups, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, New Orleans, LA (9/27-10/1)

    1997 Invited Speaker, General Electric Intraoperative MR Symposium, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, New Orleans, LA (9/27-10/1)

    1997 Invited Lecturer, General Scientific Plenary Session, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, New Orleans, LA (9/27-10/1)

    1997 Invited Lecturer, Brain Tumor Society, Boston, MA (11/1)

    1997 Invited Lecturer, Tumors of the Central Nervous System, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston (11/25)

    1998 Invited Speaker and Moderator, XKnife Radiosurgery Society Meeting, Philadelphia, PA (4/25)

    1998 Invited Speaker, “Meet the Professor Session”, American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA (5/16)

    1998 Invited Speaker, General Electric Intraoperative MR Symposium, UHUHS: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Washington, DC (6/3)

    1998 Invited Lecturer, Pain Management Seminar, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston (6/13)

    1998 Invited Lecturer, Tumors of the Central Nervous System, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston (9/28)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, “Entering the Mind Zone: A Comprehensive Neuroscience Program”, Brigham & Women’s Hospital Nurse Education (1/13)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, West Virginia Medical Society, Charleston, WV (1/22)

    1999 Invited Speaker, AANS Joint Section on Cerebrovascular Surgery, Nashville, TN (2/2)

    1999 Invited Speaker and Moderator, XKnife Radiosurgery Society Meeting, Sydney, Australia (2/23)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, Panelist and Moderator, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society 3rd Congress Meeting, Sydney, Australia (2/24-2/27)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, Panelist and Moderator, 50th Anniversary of Neurosurgery in Egypt, Cairo, Egypt (3/9-3/12)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, Panelist and Moderator, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society 3rd Congress Meeting, Sydney, Australia (2/24-2/27)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, Panelist and Moderator, Japanese Society of Skull Base Surgery / Conference on Neurosurgical Techniques and Tools, Osaka, Japan (3/22-25)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, Practical Course, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, New Orleans, LA (4/24)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, General Electric Intraoperative MR Symposium, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, New Orleans, LA (4/26)

    1999 Invited Speaker, Breakfast Seminars, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, New Orleans, LA (4/27)

    1999 Invited Lecturer and Moderator, New England Neurosurgical Society, Dedham, MA (6/11)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, Panelist and Moderator, American Society of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, Snowbird, UT (7/7-11)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, Tumors of the Central Nervous System, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston (9/14)

    1999 Visiting Professor, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA (10/1)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, Neuroradiology, Head & Neck Radiology and Clinical Functional MRI and Spectroscopy, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston (10/4)

    1999 Invited Panelist, Practical Course, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Boston, MA (10/30-11/4)

    1999 Invited Lecturer, Luncheon Discussion Groups, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Boston, MA (10/30-11/4)

    1999 Invited Examiner, AANS Professional Development Course: Mock Oral Board Examination, Houston, TX (11/15-16)

    2000 Invited Speaker, North American Skull Base Society, Phoenix, AZ (3/17-19)

    2000 Invited Speaker, Practical Course, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, San Francisco, CA (4/9)

    2000 Invited Speaker, Breakfast Seminars, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, San Francisco, CA (4/11)

    2000 Invited Speaker, Society of University Neurosurgeons, Boston, MA (6/14-17)

    2000 Invited Panelist, Practical Course, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, San Antonio, TX (9/23-28)

    2000 Invited Lecturer, Luncheon Discussion Groups, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, San Antonio, TX (9/23-28)

    2000 Invited Lecturer, Tumors of the Central Nervous System, Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education, Boston (12/4)

    2001 Invited Lecturer and Panelist, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society 4th Congress Meeting, Las Vegas, Nevada (6/10-13)

    2004 Medical Grand Rounds, Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, Melrose, MA (10/20)

    Awards and Honors:

    1977 The Engel Society

    1980 Alpha Omega Alpha

    1982 Brody Scholar in the History of Neuroscience

    1983 American College of Surgeons Scholarship

    1985 R.M.P. Donaghy Prize in Neurosurgery, Quebec and New England Neurosurgical Societies

    1985 Award for Best Resident Paper, New England Neurosurgical Society

    1993 Elected to “Ten Outstanding Young Leaders” (TOYL) by Greater Boston Jaycees

    1995-96 Who’s Who Among Outstanding Americans

    1997-99 Listed in “Best Doctors in America — Northeast Region” Grant Support:

    1996 Investigator, Brigham Surgical Group Research Grant, Rapid Rate Magnetic Cortical Stimulation for MR Cortical Mapping. $42,000 direct costs

    Memberships, Offices and Committee Assignments in Professional Societies:

    1980-present American Medical Association

    1980-1987 North Carolina Medical Society

    1980-1987 Durham-Orange Counties Medical Society

    1983-2005 Massachusetts Medical Society

    1983-2001 Suffolk County Medical Society

    1988 Congress of Neurological Surgeons:

    1987 General Scientific Session Committee

    1988 Joint Committee on Education Self-assessment and Sponsorship SANS IV Committee

    1989 Luncheon Seminars Committee, Poster Sessions Co-chairman, Sergeant-At-Arms Committee

    1989-present American Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery (ASSFN )

    1993-1995 ASSFN Board of Directors

    1989-present World Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery

    1989-present Joint Section on Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons

    1991-1992 Chairman, Resources Committee, Joint Section on Tumors, American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons

    1991-1993 Self-Assessment for Neurological Surgery SANS V Committee

    1991-1995 Stereotactic Radiosurgery Task Force Member, American Association of Neurological Surgeons

    1991-1992 Chairman, Registration Committee, Congress of Neurological Surgeons

    1992-1993 Chairman, Registration Committee, American Association of Neurological Surgeons

    1992-1994 Joint Committee on Self-Assessment, AANS/CNS

    1983-1987 Joint Committee on Continuing Medical Education, AANS/CNS

    1992-1997 Chairman, Subcommittee on Education, Joint Section on Tumors, American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons

    1992-1997 Executive Council, Joint Section on Tumors, American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons

    1992-1995 Editor, World Directory of Neurological Surgeons (North American Edition), Congress of Neurological Surgeons

    1993-2001 Affiliate Member, American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology

    1994-1996 Executive Council, Joint Section on Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons

    1994-1995 Program Chairman, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society Meeting, Boston 1995

    1994-1996 Chairman, Membership Committee, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society

    1994-1998 Member, Board of Directors, American Association of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery

    1994 Scientific Program Committee, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, San Francisco, CA 1995

    1997-1999 Chairman, Scientific Program Committee, International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society Meeting, Sydney 1999

    1997-1998 President, XKnife Radiosurgery Society

    Editorial Boards:

    1987-1993 Congress of Neurological Surgeons: Clinical Neurosurgery

    1994-2003 Journal of Image Guided Surgery

    1994-1999 Journal of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery

    1994-2003 Ad Hoc Reviewer, Neurosurgery

    1999-2000 Methods in Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Spectroscopy

    Major Research Interests:

    1) Advances in 3-dimensional imaging capabilities for enhancement of intraoperative management of intracranial tumors and vascular lesions, including image fusion between CT, MRI and SPECT, magnetic stimulation preoperative cortical mapping, and the Intraoperative MRI (MR/T) Project with the General Electric Corporation

    2) Development of technical advances in the use of stereotactic radiosurgery using a modified linear accelerator and the proton beam in the treatment of neoplastic, vascular and functional lesions in the central nervous system

    3) MR-guided Focused Ultrasound Surgery for the treatment of tumors (benign and malignant), clot dissolution in stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage, neuromodulation, creation of focal brain lesions, and precise targeted delivery of drugs and genes within the brain.

    Principal Clinical and Hospital Service Responsibilities:

    1988-2003 Attending neurosurgeon

    2006-2007 Attending neurosurgeon

    Teaching Experience:

    1988-89 Neurobiology Course, Tutorial Leader, New Pathway, Harvard Medical School.

    1988-93 Clinical Instructor, Physical Diagnosis Course, Second Year Medical Students, Harvard Medical School.

    1988-93 Surgery Elective, Neurosurgery Didactic Sessions, Harvard Medical School.

    1990 Invited Lecturer, Postgraduate Medical Series Neurosurgery Session, Brigham & Women’s Hospital

    1993 Thesis Review, Graduation with Honors Program, Harvard Medical School

    1993 Invited Lecturer, Human Nervous System and Behavior, Harvard Medical School

  100. #101 Eric McCann
    Manhattan, Kansas
    October 22, 2012

    Obviously it doesn’t prove what he says is true, but I am quite certain, he qualifies as someone who has done more for science than most of you will dream of.

  101. #102 Eric McCann
    October 22, 2012

    It’s easy to say mean things over the internet, but I bet if you stood in front of me in person, and tried to speak to me the way you put your comments about DR. Alexander. I would retaliate in a very evolutionary way. You internet bullies are all idiots. If evolution is true, who could blame me? What morality could you stand by, to tell me I was wrong? Do you base your consensus of how morality works by the norms of society? Does science verify that theory? Or is it the white matter of my brain that tells me you are a threat to me, if so, I MUST do something. You follow science blindly, it is the curiosity of the Unknown that drives us to want to look beyond what we see, it was religion that caused us to want to know what was out there. Most of the founding fathers of the greatest discovery’s were people of faith. Atheism never produced such questions until recently, because you atheists don’t want to see beyond what you already believe. Go out and do some research, and then comment on science.