There's been quite a hub-bub of late around the release and promotion of Dr. Eben Alexander's excellent new book Proof of Heaven, in which he recounts his own Near Death Experience, and ventures to defend the existence of life after death – even scientifically – supported by his own impressive credentials as a Harvard-educated neurosurgeon. It's much less surprising that a man of science may personally discover our underlying spiritual reality in a transpersonal experience, than that he'd immediately attract a swarm of agnostic skeptics when he speaks out about his discovery.
Notable among the skeptics is Sam Harris; philosopher, neuroscientist and renowned man of reason. His arguments disputing the authenticity of Dr. Alexander's afterlife experience are intellectually cogent and compelling, but undermined somewhat by a mildly pejorative tone – a tone that may suggest his own personal conflicts.
There simply seems to be two distinct kinds of people when it comes to issues of transcendent or "extra-dimensional" awareness – those who have had profoundly transformative spiritual experiences, and those who haven't.
For those who have, like Dr. Alexander, there's no longer any need for argument; it's made redundant by the expanded awareness of an intuitive, universal intelligence beyond the limitations of their own thought, beyond their own personal powers of "reason." Those who have not had such a transformative experience simply lack the essential evidence necessary to credibly comment on the authenticity of such realizations by others. They are subject to the limitations of linear, serial (left brain) thinking, and it's tangential, unidimensional conclusions. The "God Part" of their brain hasn't been fully activated, you might say, and so (scientifically) all spiritual experience remains anecdotal.
Denial is the acceptance of ignorance as truth, through force of will, and that force usually issues from two rather self-centered mis-apprehensions in the case of NDE skeptics, one being the old Descartes before des horse, that "I think, therefore I am" assertion that the rational thought process is the medium of all profound truth, and that in it's absence there is only delusional imagination and self-serving ignorance of a sort determined by the mechanical nature of the brain.
That very aspect of human thought betrays it's own presumption, though. It's in the nature of the egoic intellect to reject what it has had no experience of – as well as to often reject even what it has experienced, if it fails to conveniently fit it's egocentric story of self. The reasoning in such cases is not really based on what's empirical or not, but on underlying issues, and obstacles, of a psychic nature. Like all of us, I'm sure some of the worst decisions Mr. Harris has ever made were very well thought out, while some of the most elegantly effective issued from a source completely outside (even opposite to) the limitations of his dogma and intellect. Keep this in mind: Thought requires consciousness, but consciousness does not require thought. I am, therefore I think is really closer to the underlying truth.
The idea that we can only rely on what investigative science can prove is as archaic as a flat earth, as all major scientific conclusions have only been reliable in that they reliably change, being solely determinable by our capabilities for observation as of today. That's (arguably) where the greatest weakness is in Dr. Alexander's rationale – in his effort to substantiate his experiences in a smaller context that's not equipped to support them. Stringent scientific observations and theoretical analysis of quantum physics indicates relationships between consciousness, matter, and dimensionality that are at odds with concepts of non-faith-based empiricism. Nevertheless, your smartphone and microwave still work pretty well. Which leads to the second misapprehension:
The presumption that the brain is [not-so] simply an electro-chemical cellular conglomeration whose various states of activity indicate it's capacity for intelligence on different levels – the generator, not the receiver, of consciousness. The observation and benchmarking of where those points of activation are, and what therefore becomes possible within those boundaries of "life" and "death" have to be questioned at least as much as the mass testimony of thousands of NDE survivors through the ages, perhaps justifiably moreso.
For example, Mr. Harris questions whether or not NDE survivors brains (specifically Dr. Alexander's) are actually dead – entirely devoid of any activity whatsoever – which is a good question all right, but can he demonstrate when that NDE "magical imagination" might begin in subjects who do not survive; and how long it continues in the absence of brain activity? Where exactly is the tipping point of death – especially when it's not entirely known exactly what the brain (or mind) does, and can do? Where is the range of the control group? Can he reliably postulate the moment that an authentic experience of death occurs or doesn't, without resorting to traditional standards of "when they're really dead"? And most importantly here, can the objective observation of a possibly biased observer completely invalidate another individuals personal experience of a different state of being? As has become the establishment norm, 'scientific reason' refutes spiritual experience without any actual evidence whatsoever to support its claims.
This establishment 'scientific' presumption also describes con-sciousness as being the product of billions of individual cerebral generators, rather than the (scientifically) more likely definition of it as a shared transpersonal field of energetic, evolutionary intelligence; related to the observable quantum or "zero-point" fields.
There are children who begin writing music at age two, and go on to compose symphonies by five or six. Do their little brains just "snap-to" extra quick, and process all that information at a phenomenal speed, or do they tap into a profound, existing intelligence that informs, enlivens, and animates the consciousness we are unavoidably all a part of?
Documented beyond apocyrphy are cases of people who have such remarkably specialized intelligence that they undergo study to determine the neurological nature or source of it, only to discover that their brain physiology indicates that they should be absolutely incapable of such intelligence; or of much intelligence at all, for that matter (literally). Then there are people who have perfectly fine brains, but their egoic self-definitions insist that they are intellectually superior in a way that entitles them to judge all varieties of mysterious, "non-intellectual" experiences. These are often the same people that overlook evidence of transpersonal communication, but are still willing to accept quantum uncertainty and entanglement...And then there are questions of animal consciousness – don't get me started.
All of it is clearly a mystery, and so why shouldn't it require experience of a mysterious, mystical nature to better understand the underlying truth of it? After all, I might remind the skeptics that everything we think and know is the result of this little layer of consciousness wrapped around a little planet, floating though limitless outer space. The original ground of that unimaginably "magical" context needs to inform all of our subsequent intellectual tolerance for what and what is not possible. In fact, it seems far more reliable to assume that Love and Magic are the mediums for this adventure of life than coincidence, reason and intellectual rigor.
In the blog refuting Dr. Alexander's experience, Mr. Harris seems to concede to the necessity for such a mystical experience in order to support his dogmatic criticisms. He tells a story about a psychically revealing dream he had, before he went to Nepal. I am interested by his approach to conscious realization here. My personal transformational experience came about as a result of years of meditation and study, following my having survived three NDEs. I have no doubt that, given the spiritual depth of the land and its people, a trip to Nepal may inspire significant transpersonal realization. In fact, I think I would have much rather gone to Nepal myself than where I had to go, believe me.
Equating one particular type of alternate consciousness to another to support an argument seems a bit non-scientific for a man of reason, but using some reason may help describe the difference that I, Dr. Alexander, and millions of other human have realized in our "extra-life" experiences from what Mr. Harris (or any of us) get from dreams. In dreams, I'd suggest our psyches create an entire imaginary world featuring our selves at the center, and so I believe them to be the product of a constrained personal subconsciousness. The suggestion that Mr. Harris was not the center of his dream was his near-transformational moment – a moment of brief realization of the larger consciousness enjoined in NDEs.
My near death experience realizations were of that also, times ten – that I am a part of a larger unified consciousness and intelligence that exists outside (or within... or without...or throughout) my fragile, expendable human body. I had no body, per se. I did not sense the passage of time, or even think sequentially, but instead simply coexisted with knowledge and being. I experienced profound and continuing Love as the medium of continuing Life. Mr. Harris would insist, I'm sure, that I was not dead, and I'd agree completely.
Mr. Harris, for one reason or another, is compelled to define the transformative experiences of others. Dr. Alexander is spontaneously, intuitively, compelled to share an essential truth that he was surprised to discover for himself, precipitated by one major, transformative spiritual experience in his life – his "death," and subsequent travel into the "afterlife" potential of consciousness. By the expression of their needs you can recognize the degree to which they experience these different levels of consciousness. Either contained by the harsh demands of their own intellect, or alive in a kind of heaven, guided and inspired by the intelligence of that larger mind, and liberated by the grace of their spiritual source.
How to Survive Life (and Death) is available now on Amazon.com, and will be released this April by Conari Press.