Thursday, October 4, 2018

Interview with bestseller author Eben Alexander III MD



In my series of learning from people with wisdom and professional experience, I interviewed academic neurosurgeon Eben Alexander about his understanding of consciousness and his hopes for the future of this science. Dr. Alexander worked at the Brigham Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. He is the author of the New York Times #1 bestseller Proof of Heaven, The Map of Heaven and Living in a Mindful Universe. Here is the transcript of the interview.

Is near-death experience (NDE) related to experiences by people with spiritual powers, such as shamans? 

I believe that NDEs involve encounters in a realm that overlaps some experiences that occur in dreams, profound meditative states, visions supported in prayer and in spontaneous epiphanies, psychedelic drug experiences, shamanic journeys, psychic medium readings, etc. More than half of NDEers report the spiritual vision to be more real and detailed and meaningful than the “consensus waking reality.” 

In your opinion what could be the reason that only a small portion of coma patients have transcendent experience?

I believe there is a well-developed system of “programmed forgetting,” similar to the normal forgetting of childhood. Thus, only those who are open-minded and willing to make an effort to access these more profound truths have a shot at gaining profound insights. As we become more awakened as a group, the number gaining these transcendental insights will increase.

You say that NDE experiences leave more vivid memories than life events. Is there a study that looked at differences in brain activation pattern between regular and NDE memory?

There are several studies, two of which are utilized in our book, Living in a Mindful Universe (pp 16-17), from Belgian neurologist Steven Laureys *, and Italian investigator Arianna Palmieri **. Bruce Greyson has also provided a similar study.

* M. Thonnard, et al., “Characteristics of Near-Death Experiences Memories as Compared to Real and Imagined Events Memories,” PLOS ONE 8 (2013), 3, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057620.
** A. Palmieri et al., “‘Reality’ of Near-Death-Experience Memories: Evidence from a Psychodynamic and Electrophysiological Integrated Study,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8 (2014), doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00429.

During an NDE, the mind must exist independent from the brain. How can disconnect (between the mind and brain) occur and how can it be reversed?

The main question is a metaphysical/philosophical one – how do the brain and mind interact? What is causative? Our consciousness seems to be localized in our brains, yet there is a tremendous amount of scientific evidence for non-local consciousness (e.g., telepathy, precognition, remote viewing, out-of-body experiences, etc.). The emerging scientific model is one accepting the primordial existence of consciousness (mind-at-large or primordial consciousness), with the brain serving as a filter that allows in that primordial consciousness as a very limited trickle of awareness. The disconnect can happen under extreme physiological stress (as in NDEs), but can also be manifested through powerful psychic sources, such as when a soul leaving the physical realm interacts with the soul(s) of loved ones in sharing that extraordinary transition (shared-death experiences). The disconnect can also happen as the result of intentional meditative efforts, such as out-of-body experiences and remote viewing. Telepathic communication can be accomplished through the Ganzfeld technique of diminished sensory input to consciousness, allowing broader input from “mind-at-large.”


What is the connection during normal life function between consciousness, the mind and the brain? 

I tend to lump “mind” and “consciousness” together, although that lumped concept also admits that mind/consciousness includes 1) “conscious mind,” 2) “subconscious mind,” and 3) “collective mind.” Information in 2 and 3 can be obscured from 1, but 1 ultimately grows to assimilate much of what is in 2 and 3 through the process of learning and teaching, ultimately the evolution of all of the consciousness itself. Note that 1 is not merely the thoughts of the ego/linguistic brain, but can be expanded, primarily through prayer, meditation, or STEs in general, acknowledging the observer of awareness as a more expanded version of our consciousness. 

Is there a possibility to form a scientific hypothesis of consciousness that is coherent with the spiritual account of so many people?  

Yes – that is precisely our goal in our presentations, and in our book Living in a Mindful Universe. The Primordial Mind Hypothesis in that book uses the concepts of the primordial mind, the filter theory relating brain and consciousness, and appropriate interpretation of the measurement paradox in quantum physics--all to propose a metaphysics that is consistent with vast swaths of human spiritual experience that are inexplicable from the simplistic materialist (or physicalist) model.

I am also interested in whether your conclusions have changed in any way over the years about your original NDE. 

The NDE provides an extraordinary catalyst promoting changes in the worldview of the individual, who then spends the rest of her/his life assimilating and making sense of the events of the NDE. The ultimate result is to “know thyself” which of course includes richer knowing of one’s oneness with the universe at large. My overall worldview has been steadily shifting as I have learned more about the grand nature of conscious experience – this is definitely a work in progress (as is all of the human investigations into the fundamental nature of reality). 

End of life electric spikes can be measured at about 60 to 120 ms after the patient becomes pulseless. Similar activity can also be observed in the decapitation of rats. Does your experience give you any suggestion of what these surges signify? Could they be related to NDE?


They present an interesting observation that needs to be assimilated with all the other facets of an NDE, but I strongly doubt the surges provide any significant overall explanation, given the extraordinary and complex landscape that is emerging around the phenomenon of consciousness. Also is the accepted conclusion among scientific investigators that increasingly show the brain is not the producer, as much as a filter of primordial consciousness. Especially as one realizes the depth of the scientific evidence for reincarnation (over 2,700 cases of past-life memories in children where the best explanation is of actual reincarnation, and 35% of whom have birthmarks corresponding with the mortal wound of a previous lifetime–see uvadops.org).

To read more about Dr. Eben Alexander and his long professional career in medicine and science please visit his website: www.ebenalexander.com

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