Skip

Heaven is Real: A Doctor's Experience of the Afterlife
October 12, 2012 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Heaven is Real: A Doctor's Experience of the Afterlife. As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences...In the fall of 2008, however, after seven days in a coma during which the human part of my brain, the neocortex, was inactivated, I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.
posted by shivohum (196 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, I'm glad that's settled!
posted by mr_roboto at 11:53 AM on October 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


Cool. He saw machine elves.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:55 AM on October 12, 2012 [28 favorites]


In 2000, I had a deja vu experience that was so strong, so accurate. I could even distinctly remember that the dream I had experienced was in 1994 while I was living in a specific apartment at college. To this day, I recall it was an absolutely compelling, distinctively real experience.

Not only do I not take my experience as scientific evidence of precognition via dreams, I know enough about how unlikely such a thing to be that I know myself to have fallen prey to a misunderstanding, an error in my memory.
posted by chimaera at 11:56 AM on October 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Sam Harris responds. Generally, rather well.
posted by Decani at 11:57 AM on October 12, 2012 [43 favorites]


Sometimes when I drink too much I think the bed is spinning.

It isn't.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:57 AM on October 12, 2012 [129 favorites]


According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.

I suspect our medical understanding is incomplete on this point.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:57 AM on October 12, 2012 [32 favorites]


So his idea of the afterlife is consistent with his previously held beliefs.

I don't understand why he wouldn't take into account all of the research that's been done into the process of dying/brain shutting down, the powerful drugs that are released, so on and so forth. I mean, I know it's powerful, what he felt.. but so is an acid trip.
posted by Malice at 11:58 AM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


You took a trip and climbed a tree
At Robert Sledge's party
And there you stayed 'till morning came
And you were not the same after that

You gave your life to Jesus Christ
And after all your friends went home
You came down, you looked around
And you were not the same after that
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:00 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


PZ Myers: Newsweek panders to the deluded again
posted by univac at 12:01 PM on October 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Since when are doctors scientists? Don't scientists do things like wash their hands?
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:01 PM on October 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


Brain trauma is a hell of a drug.
posted by glhaynes at 12:01 PM on October 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


Cool. He saw machine elves.

Newsweek Cover Story or Internet Posting About Drugs? A Quiz
posted by muddgirl at 12:02 PM on October 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Although I considered myself a faithful Christian

Well yeah. He says he doesn't believe but lets just say he is predisposed to certain imagery. I'm sure if i had some kind of strange experience while bacterial meningitis was chomping on my brain I would most likely wake up shouting the matrix is real.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:04 PM on October 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Newsweek must really be hurting.
posted by telstar at 12:04 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Proof? I don't think so.

My father was a metallurgical engineer, not given to flights of fancy or imagination. One day in 1988 the car he was working on started his home on fire and in the midst of it all he went into full arrest. An EMT and a former marine neighbor got him restarted again.

Prior to this event he had always avoided talk of mortality and would not even let me bring certain plants into the house as he said they were "graveyard plants."

After this event, his attitude had changed.

"Bright colored lights shone out of my body," he related quietly. "It was beautiful and I was not afraid, I felt wonderful." He further added that he no longer feared death.

No mention of angels, or clouds, or beings.

It's the lack of consistency that I find unconvincing about these stories. Every brain is unique and, I suspect, every death.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:04 PM on October 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


Sam Harris: Whether you read it online or hold the physical object in your hands, this issue of Newsweek is best viewed as an archaeological artifact that is certain to embarrass us in the eyes of future generations. Its existence surely says more about our time than the editors at the magazine meant to say—for the cover alone reveals the abasement and desperation of our journalism, the intellectual bankruptcy and resultant tenacity of faith-based religion, and our ubiquitous confusion about the nature of scientific authority. The article is the modern equivalent of a 14th-century woodcut depicting the work of alchemists, inquisitors, Crusaders, and fortune-tellers. I hope our descendants understand that at least some of us were blushing.

Ouch!
posted by brain_drain at 12:04 PM on October 12, 2012 [35 favorites]


So much silliness that I'm wondering why this was even posted. One thing though: why does this only "prove" that the Christian afterlife exists and not the neopaganistic, Hindu or Buddhist equivalent?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:04 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Heaven is Real

That's a Pulitzer prize right there!
posted by octobersurprise at 12:04 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.

Nope.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 12:05 PM on October 12, 2012 [90 favorites]


My cynical mind generates the notion that he's selling a book to an already established market. Nice when you can alert the world to unconditional love of God and make a metric shitload of money in the process.
posted by mojohand at 12:06 PM on October 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


I’m not the first person to have discovered evidence that consciousness exists beyond the body.

I missed the part where he presents that evidence, which in science is not simply "I experienced." That's only part of it.
posted by rtha at 12:07 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am reminded of Tom Cruise's character in Eyes Wide Shut, who constantly tells people "I'm a doctor" and flashes his ID to claim authority in situations he has absolutely none.
posted by griphus at 12:08 PM on October 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


Do we all get a heaven that conforms to our cultural/ethnic heritage? I'm just wondering if Africans are also assigned a celestial escort with long flowing brunette locks. I'd be much more interested in the near death experience of a combat vet who juuuuust about makes it to Valhalla, rather than this Yankee WASP cheese.
posted by availablelight at 12:08 PM on October 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


I loved that he used the word "evidence".
posted by HuronBob at 12:09 PM on October 12, 2012


However, this paper does seem to contradict the earlier work done on this topic, specifically B. Carlisle, et al., "Heaven Is a Place on Earth."
posted by octobersurprise at 12:09 PM on October 12, 2012 [104 favorites]


Well here I am

Drunk in Heaven

Kinda seems redundant
posted by griphus at 12:10 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Good for him. I hope the afterlife is an eternal DMT trip at a chill out rave. I doubt it but hey, it would be nice.
posted by Ululator at 12:10 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


OK so is the cortex actually necessary to some form of consciousness as he claims (I think that's the most compelling part of his claim, if it's true)? I don't know. Here's what I found in a quick search on PubMed, and people with a better biology background than me can comment:

"Recent theoretical advances describing consciousness ...have highlighted the unique role of the thalamocortical system in leading to integrated information and thus, consciousness." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21078562

"The brainstem ...serves as the connection between the cerebral hemispheres with the medulla and the cerebellum and is responsible for basic vital functions, such as breathing, heartbeat blood pressure, control of consciousness, and sleep." (emphasis mine) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20483389
posted by joannemerriam at 12:10 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Newsweek must really be hurting.

Maybe they should take some DMT and talk to God?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:11 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fyi, Satan is real too.
posted by freakazoid at 12:13 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Heaven is obviously not real. The idea of Heaven (and Hell) is a childish fantasy. People who persist in bearing those tools of infantile acculturation into adulthood should not be treated like they're saying something true or interesting, they've merely failed to mentally grow into maturity.
posted by clockzero at 12:14 PM on October 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


dammit, freakazoid, you beat me by like 20 seconds.
posted by COBRA! at 12:15 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


One thing though: why does this only "prove" that the Christian afterlife exists and not the neopaganistic, Hindu or Buddhist equivalent?

Given the emphasis on unconditional love and the fact that one of the messages he claims to received is "There is nothing you can do wrong," it sounds less like mainstream American Christianity and more like some sort of universalism, either Christian or otherwise (the first thing I thought was the Buddhist universalism of Jodo Shinshu, but the guy who taught me about Jodo Shinshu theology is a former liberal Christian minister who converted, so there you go).
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:16 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


OK so is the cortex actually necessary to some form of consciousness as he claims (I think that's the most compelling part of his claim, if it's true)? I don't know. Here's what I found in a quick search on PubMed, and people with a better biology background than me can comment:

The thing is, even if the cortex is 100% necessary to consciousness and was totally shut down (and Harris does a great job of explaining why it wasn't), Dr. Alexander clearly recovered... and given what we know about DMT trips in particular, it is entirely possible that he experienced the whole thing during his recovery, in the space of just a couple of minutes. There's no reason to assume that this experience happened in the depth of the coma -- it could just as easily have happened at the beginning or end, when there was plenty of activity in the cortex.
posted by vorfeed at 12:18 PM on October 12, 2012 [39 favorites]


According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind

We're in the fucking banging-two-rocks-together stage of understanding the brain. Was he this obtuse and/or arrogant before the brain trauma?
posted by uncleozzy at 12:20 PM on October 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well...something is there. I've been to the light, and it was...bliss.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:20 PM on October 12, 2012


Yeah, when I read that the message of heaven is that "There is nothing you can do wrong", my thought was that it didn't sound much like the Christianity I hear so much in America. If the man had the courage of his convictions he'd say "Heaven exists and almost all of you Christians are wrong". I predict he will never say anything even close to that.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:21 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sometimes when I drink too much I think the bed is spinning.

I used to think that. Careful experimentation has led me to conclude that it is the room spinning around the bed.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:22 PM on October 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


There's no reason to assume that this experience happened in the depth of the coma -- it could just as easily have happened at the beginning or end, when there was plenty of activity in the cortex.

Agreed. My mind will obediently create a memory of me picking my socks off the floor, even when faced with the fact that my socks are still on the floor, and damn that dog and her fetish for sweaty socks.
posted by Mooski at 12:23 PM on October 12, 2012


One time I poured syrup on a waffle and it formed the face of Bertrand Russell.

That never really happened, but it sure would be fun if it had.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:23 PM on October 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


There is nothing you can do wrong

Not too far off from "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Maybe he went somewhere else and didn't realize?
posted by Falconetti at 12:25 PM on October 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


The utter decrepitude of the American fourth estate aside, if he's reporting the medical facts correctly, that raises some really important and interesting questions about memory and conscious experience in various brain states that are very difficult to explore.
posted by cthuljew at 12:25 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, who'd'a thunk it? Turns out having your brain eaten alive by E. coli can fuck up your memories and time perception in interesting ways.
posted by fifthrider at 12:26 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh you guys.
Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on; 'tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton's Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.
I do hope that there is something beyond this suffering world, personally, though I won't go any farther than "hope".
posted by jokeefe at 12:26 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


PZ Myers: Here’s a deep message for you: brain damage can persuade you of the truth of some real bullshit.
posted by arcticseal at 12:27 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well...something is there. I've been to the light, and it was...bliss.

There's been in depth research into this and we now understand that this, including the 'light' (aka tunnel vision) is just the brain shutting down. It's a natural process. And it makes sense that our brains would make death easier. It also makes breast feeding easier, it eases pain, and does all sorts of things for the mental and emotional well-being of the body.

My mother also died a couple of times (she was in a terrible car accident that crushed every bone in her face, so she 'died' there, and then during brain surgery, and once later in a suicide attempt after the wreck) and had conflicting reports of what happened when she died. The first time was hovering, light, floating, seeing everything, then getting 'slammed' back into the body.

Another was a light.

Another was burning, like the flames of hell.

I believe she believes this happened. I believe when it comes to be my time, 'I' will believe it's happening. I also believe that this is all a natural process and unique to each person in some way or another, and not actually proof of something, or anything.

Even as an Atheist, I would love there to be. But there's just no evidence to support it.
posted by Malice at 12:31 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


OK so is the cortex actually necessary to some form of consciousness as he claims (I think that's the most compelling part of his claim, if it's true)?

There is no single brain area responsible for consciousness, as far as anyone can tell. It's a global, emergent phenomenon. In fact, there's only one area of the brain where a lesion will cause total loss (as opposed to impairment) of conscious, and that's the reticular activating system (RAS) in the brainstem. That's not because the RAS is the seat of consciousness in the brain, but because it's the part of the brain responsible for telling the other parts when to be awake.

Is the cortex necessary for consciousness? This is not an easy question. One of the papers you quoted mentions the thalamocortical system. That's a series of activation loops that run between the cortex and the thalamus—one of the better mechanisms proposed for how consciousness arises in the brain. The cortex is certainly a part of that.

What bugs me about this piece (well, okay, one of the many things that bug me about this piece) is that he doesn't mention how he knows his cortex was wholly inactive. There is no such thing as inactive, living brain tissue. Living neurons maintain membrane polarization and a basal level of regular depolarization, even in the complete absence of stimuli. The only completely inactive neurons are dead ones, and dead neurons don't come back to life.

I assume he means his EEG readings were flat. But EEGs are pretty limited in terms of spacial resolution and depth. What they detect is sort of a local average of electrical activity, and mostly only the activity of the outermost layers of the brain. fMRI studies have shown purposeful brain activity and even responsiveness in people diagnosed as being in permenant vegetative states, for whom EEGs showed no activity. The bottom line is that we don't know how consciousness works, we can't readily define or detect it, and as a neurosurgeon, these are all things that he knows (or should know).
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:33 PM on October 12, 2012 [39 favorites]


COBRA!, that's why the call me Quickdraw McMetafilter.
posted by freakazoid at 12:34 PM on October 12, 2012


I wonder why the brain evolved this way, to send these powerful chemicals to make everything seem okay and blissful at the end. Under natural selection you'd think the brain of a dying animal would be all "no, no, no dammit don't give up hey there are angry dinosaurs waiting for you there stay here!" but maybe our brains know when it's just too late and are just trying to comfort us (aw, thanks brain!) or maybe the chemicals are just a happy byproduct of some necessary physical process. it's just weird to think about in terms of how we got here.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:37 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


In another note, I always wondered if people who believe in the afterlife also believe that dogs, tigers, mice, worms, spiders, those weird plants that are half animal half plant, and bacteria all also pass away into an afterlife? Where does it end? Do atoms have souls? Are we actually a trillion trillion souls?

And really when you break it down that far, we're just all energy.

posted by Malice at 12:38 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not too far off from "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Maybe he went somewhere else and didn't realize?

No kidding. Why assume that "an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting. Pitch-black as it was, it was also brimming over with light: a light that seemed to come from a brilliant orb that I now sensed near me [...] an inky darkness that was also full to brimming with light" refers to God, when it could be Lucifer, the Light-bringer, greatest Morning Star?

Love to see that on the cover of Newsweek.
posted by vorfeed at 12:39 PM on October 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I had a bad--bad enough to be nearly fatal--drug reaction when I was 23. I was unconscious for around an hour? 45 minutes? while my boyfriend and our friends drove me to the hospital, and it was complete lost time for me. No visions, no angels, no nothing. One minute I was falling over onto my boyfriend's bed, the next I was surrounded by voices which I quickly realized were doctors and nurses, all of whom couldn't wait to tell me what an idiot I was (in this instance, they were right). For years I was a bit wistful about this experience, because I felt shortchanged. Was this oblivion a foretaste of death? Why didn't I get some kind of near-death experience? I had nearly died, after all, gone past the brain-damage limit of oxygen deprivation, as blue as my hospital gown, as I was told, when I was finally shoveled into the ER. But I remembered nothing, and as far as I can tell, that's death right there. I still hope there's something better, but from my peek over to the other side, it's nothing and more nothing.
posted by jokeefe at 12:39 PM on October 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


I'll be honest, I wasn't quite sure where this story was going. In this four page introduction, the author builds an interesting framework for his upcoming science-fiction novel and it becomes clear that the rest of his novel will involve the protagonist journeying through both this alternate universe (which we can call "Cloudworld" for lack of a better term) and the real one (in this regard the novel seems similar to Stephen King's Gunslinger series). However, I feel like a good novel needs some conflict for the protagonist to overcome. From what little we can glean from these pages, it sounds like his real-world conflict will be convincing his loved ones that Cloudworld really does exist, but it remains very unclear what the Cloudworld conflict will be. I do sense a lot of possibility here though. Perhaps if the author incorporates an antagonist who can also jump between alternate realities (and confronts the protagonist in both), this would be a good way to anchor the two halves of the plotline together more effectively.

Despite my mild criticisms above, I acknowledge that it would be unreasonable for us to expect to understand too much of the story from simply the first four opening pages, and the author actually does a remarkable job of introducing what will undoubtedly be the main plotline in only four pages - it really helps draw the reader in. I was also pleased to see that the protagonist of the story was a neuroscientist, rather than the stereotypical hard-boiled detective or police investigator. This is a very interesting fantasy work and I look forward to reading the book when it is finally completed. I'm also very pleased that Newsweek has started published limited samples of upcoming sci-fi novels - it's an innovative approach that seems intended to help them draw a wider audience.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:39 PM on October 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


Clever people are better at lying to themselves than stupid people.
posted by rhymer at 12:42 PM on October 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


Overconfident person is overconfident of their senses.
posted by odinsdream at 12:43 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


As addressed by the blog Neurologica:
While his experience is certainly interesting, his entire premise is flimsily based on a single word in the above paragraph – “while.” He assumes that the experiences he remembers after waking from the coma occurred while his cortex was completely inactive. He does not even seem aware of the fact that he is making that assumption or that it is the central premise of his claim, as he does not address it in his article.

Of course his brain did not go instantly from completely inactive to normal or near normal waking consciousness. That transition must have taken at least hours, if not a day or more. During that time his neurological exam would not have changed significantly, if at all. The coma exam looks mainly at basic brainstem function and reflexes, and can only dimly examine cortical function (through response to pain) and cannot examine higher cortical functions at all. His recovery would have become apparent, then, when his brain recovered sufficiently for him to show signs of consciousness.

Alexander claims there is no scientific explanation for his experiences, but I just gave one. They occurred while his brain function was either on the way down or on the way back up, or both, not while there was little to no brain activity. During this time he would have been in an altered state of consciousness, with different parts of his cortex functioning to different degrees. This state is analogous to certain drug-induced mental states, or those induced by hypoxia and well documented, and there is even some overlap with the normal dream state. All of these are states in which the brain’s construction of reality is significantly different from the normal waking state.
So ... yeah.
posted by moonbiter at 12:45 PM on October 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


His reasoning starts on page 2: "All the chief arguments against near-death experiences suggest that these experiences are the results of minimal, transient, or partial malfunctioning of the cortex." So he is relying on a complete and understandable scientific explanation of how brain activity can produce his experiences. Or else he will believe that he experienced a supernatural visit to the afterlife. (Naturally, he ignores the real argument against, which is that there isn't evidence supporting the supernatural conclusion.) This is a form of argument from ignorance.
posted by yath at 12:48 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


“There is nothing you can do wrong.”

Doesn't sound like the Christian God to me. I think he took a left turn at Albuquerque.
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:48 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Shouldn't it be Metafilter's own cortex?
posted by ShutterBun at 12:54 PM on October 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


A little off topic. One of the weakest arguments for strong dualism, but one which you hear pretty often, goes like this: science or physical naturalism is unable to explain consciousness. So, consciousness must be non-physical.

One reason that I think that this is such a bad argument is that, at the end, we are left with no increase in explanatory power, but it was the inability of physicalism to explain consciousness that the dualist used as reason to reject it.

How does being non-physical explain consciousness? Are there non-physical things that aren't conscious, as well as some (like us) that are? If so, then the burden of explaining what consciousness is has not been lessened in the least. If not, then only circular progress has been made - consciousness is explained as the condition of being made out of consciousness-stuff.
posted by thelonius at 12:58 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Where is this place?

Who am I?

Why am I here?

Each time I silently put one of these questions out, the answer came instantly in an explosion of light"

I's a shame that they came in such a language that could not be transcribed in the article. Or maybe we'll have to buy the book.
posted by radiobishop at 1:02 PM on October 12, 2012


When I cancelled my subscription to Newsweek after Tina Brown took over, it was because I felt that it was becoming nothing more than a tabloid (like the Star or National Enquirer) in content if not format--I see this as confirmation that the tabloidization of Newsweek is complete. Next we'll be seeing "Bat Boy" cover stories.
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:03 PM on October 12, 2012


Newsweek can only dream of being as entertaining as the Weekly World News was.
posted by griphus at 1:04 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Next we'll be seeing "Bat Boy" cover stories.

I KNEW there was a reason I kept renewing my subscription!*fingers crossed*
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:07 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I went into a deep coma and my cortex was completely shut off and I experienced heaven - basically Lisa Frank was right, so right.
posted by naju at 1:07 PM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


As an agnostic liberal with zero concept of the afterlife, I still wanted to be open to this guy. The tiny, shriveled part of my brain that embraces child-like wonder was begging me to chastize everyone here for being so harsh. Then I read the article. Reads like amateur fiction. I couldn't even finish it. Quick! Someone amaze me so the inner child doesn't die!
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 1:08 PM on October 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


“There is nothing you can do wrong.”
Doesn't sound like the Christian God to me.


Me either. I can't help thinking of the headline I saw earlier about it being Alastair Crowley's birthday.
posted by aught at 1:09 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jane Roberts had a lot more compelling things to say about it and she didn't even have to die first. Her 'Seth' thing was totally internal, IMO- fabulously intricate, but not metaphysical.
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 1:09 PM on October 12, 2012


Once again the atheists are here to tilt against windmills and try to prove a negative. Oh so charming.

The human race has believed it has the universe figured out and then been surprised at the depth of its ignorance over and over through history. You would think by this time we give up our cock-surety for an open mind and the consideration of possibility.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:09 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


> ‘You have nothing to fear.’ ‘There is nothing you can do wrong.’ The message flooded me with a vast and crazy sensation of relief.

Well, shit, who wouldn't be relieved by that message? See y'all later...I'm gonna go out, eat ten big macs, cheat on my wife and then kill someone.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:10 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


an open mind and the consideration of possibility

The author is not arguing that it is possible that his otherworldly visions show us the real, spiritual universe; he is claiming that they prove its reality. They don't, and belief in afterlives and immortal souls and Supreme Wise beings remains a matter of faith.
posted by thelonius at 1:13 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


My own burning-bush moments have left me agog at the universe, and utterly skeptical when it comes to mainstream theism.

Once again the atheists are here to tilt against windmills and try to prove a negative. Oh so charming.

Oh goody, I was wondering when I could start my drinking game of dumb arguments about atheists.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:14 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


You would think by this time we give up our cock-surety for an open mind and the consideration of possibility.
posted by psycho-alchemy


Can I get an eponysterical?
posted by ShutterBun at 1:14 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Once again the atheists are here to tilt against windmills and try to prove a negative. Oh so charming.

The human race has believed it has the universe figured out and then been surprised at the depth of its ignorance over and over through history. You would think by this time we give up our cock-surety for an open mind and the consideration of possibility.


So you're an agnostic I take it
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:15 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


You would think by this time we give up our cock-surety for an open mind and the consideration of possibility.

By asking for an open mind, you're actually asking for people to believe something simply because someone else says it's true.

The science of death is fascinating, and I do have an open mind. If there were some real evidence to suggest the afterlife exists, then I would be open to that. There's not.
posted by Malice at 1:15 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm still kind of hoping this is the afterlife.
posted by chavenet at 1:15 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Using the brain to self-reflexively deconstruct what the brain is saying (or said) it experienced is pretty dodgy, and is hardly "science."

Dude had a profound experience. I get that. But it cannot be remotely representational.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:16 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Neurons are people too, my friends.
posted by Danf at 1:16 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think if he were a real scientist, he'd try some DMT and compare and contrast the experience.
posted by empath at 1:17 PM on October 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


I looked back through the thread and don't see anyone trying to prove a negative. I concede that they may be here, but there doesn't seem to be evidence for the claim.
posted by jhc at 1:17 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”
“You have nothing to fear.”
“There is nothing you can do wrong.”


It is interesting to me that this message was delivered by a beautiful woman.
posted by space_cookie at 1:18 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Once again the atheists are here to tilt against windmills and try to prove a negative. Oh so charming.

The human race has believed it has the universe figured out and then been surprised at the depth of its ignorance over and over through history. You would think by this time we give up our cock-surety for an open mind and the consideration of possibility.


Do, please, continue your polemic against straw-atheists in a thread full of people detailing the boundaries of what science knows and does not know about the physical form of the brain and its effect on consciousness. It speaks volumes, both to your willingness to consider new ideas, and your general inability and/or unwillingness to participate in a good-faith discussion.
posted by Mayor West at 1:19 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is a story about someone who starts off being a faithful Christian, and now, after some astounding revelations, he says that he is certain of the truth of Christianity.

The cover headline should be "SOME GUY IS A CHRISTIAN"
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:20 PM on October 12, 2012 [37 favorites]


Newsweek I woke up this morning with solid evidence that shoes can talk and my teeth have all fallen out. Call me.
posted by Legomancer at 1:21 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Like others I'm pretty struck by how Western-centric this vision was - winged angels chanting, Aryan goddess, New Age psychedelia, Einstein and Jesus, time still functions linearly, senses more or less intact human senses, etc... if there is 'consciousness' after death it's going to so fully and carelessly explode everything we thought we knew that there's no possible way to write about it, relate it or remember it in terms of human consciousness. It's going to make a mockery of our current belief systems.
posted by naju at 1:22 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


There is something sublime and utterly beyond our grasp about the world. You don't have to be dead to see it.
posted by deo rei at 1:23 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


In fact, you have to not be dead to see it
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:24 PM on October 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


I had a medical condition when I was a kid that caused my blood pressure to briefly zero out, which would result in me blacking out and usually lots of drama. The interesting thing about it, and I have maybe mentioned this elsewhere, is that after awhile, I came to be almost drawn to the experiences because of how it would feel. I saw the lights, felt the euphoria, etc. and never was truly dead.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:25 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm quite comfortable with the notion that there may be a profound and meaningful experience beyond random hallucination as our brains lose their electrical activity. The anecdata is compelling and people create meaning from whatever their experience is. But I'm also quite comfortable that there is simply no way we will ever "prove" using the tools of logic and science, in language that we can comprehend, the existence of an afterlife.

This guy is not a scientist, in fact he doesn't seem to understand the definition of science. He is a quack and a charlatan. Newsweek is officially on par with Weekly World News and The National Enquirer.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:26 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


People saying they visited heaven are like those that say they've met Jesus/Mary/are Jesus/etc.

We'd all believe it if it happened to us but rarely believe others.
posted by EJXD2 at 1:29 PM on October 12, 2012


‘You have nothing to fear.’ ‘There is nothing you can do wrong.’

In Heaven, everything is fine.
posted by homunculus at 1:29 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's worth keeping in mind what happened to Newsweek recently. They were sold for $1 and the assumption of like $20 million in debt. Large portions of their staff, which had already been dribbling away during years of buyouts and reductions, ran for the hills. They lost several of their big name columnists and they lost their institutional ties to the Washington Post. I think what's happening is that their new owner is milking whatever goodwill remains in the brand, sort of like how Time treats (treated? unsure on the current state) Life Magazine.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:30 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


So Newsweek died and is currently experiencing its afterlife?
posted by naju at 1:33 PM on October 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


Yeah, this article is basically the shit that The Sun used to publish all the time. It's supermarket tabloid horseshit.
posted by empath at 1:36 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are we actually a trillion trillion souls?

Be careful you're getting into Scientologist territory and they come down like a ton of bricks on copyright infringers.
posted by Talez at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think what's happening is that their new owner is milking whatever goodwill remains in the brand, sort of like how Time treats (treated? unsure on the current state) Life Magazine.

Life Magazine stopped being printed in 2007.

So yes.

We are all in The After-Life.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


In Heaven, everything is fine.
" ... But remember, it’s what YOU’RE doing, it’s what it’s all saying to YOU. The message is, “Morty Ginkel, wake up or it’s glow in the dark time… yesterday."
posted by octobersurprise at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2012


I personally got a kick out of how the only other anthropomorphized being – with supernatural attributes – he saw during his experience, the one who answered all his questions and accompanied him, is someone he clearly identified as a gorgeous woman, and yet he speaks of the masculine "God". Hel-looooo mister neurosurgeon, your cultural conditioning clearly withstood something...
posted by fraula at 1:47 PM on October 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


I am not trying to prove anything. I admit to being a little sick of internet atheists and may be a little defensive.

I am pretty agnostic about most things. I tend to lean towards the idea that consciousness is a universal characteristic of the universe, not something restricted to the brains of certain upright mammals, or even larger collections of cells.

What I was reacting to were the plethora of curt dismissals of his experience as an illusion and his experience being explainable as some sort of time compressed dream or false memory. These are usually the first salvo of the atheist chorus and I thought we should just jump straight to the heart of the argument. I may have been premature.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:53 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Heaven is Real: A Doctor's Experience of the Afterlife.

Doctors don't get to experience the afterlife; they just regenerate back on the TARDIS.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:55 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Be careful you're getting into Scientologist territory and they come down like a ton of bricks on copyright infringers.

That made me laugh out loud. Thanks.
posted by Malice at 1:55 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I tend to lean towards the idea that consciousness is a universal characteristic of the universe, not something restricted to the brains of certain upright mammals, or even larger collections of cells.

Wha? Seriously, what does this even mean? I hear this sort of thing a lot from the spiritual-but-not-religious and I have no idea what it's intended to convey.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:57 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


He thinks consciousness is magic.
posted by empath at 1:59 PM on October 12, 2012


What I was reacting to were the plethora of curt dismissals of his experience as an illusion and his experience being explainable as some sort of time compressed dream or false memory. These are usually the first salvo of the atheist chorus and I thought we should just jump straight to the heart of the argument. I may have been premature.

Some of us atheists are tired of extraordinary claims with no evidence, and the whole thing being declared "scientific." You may need to forgive us for being defensive.
posted by grubi at 2:01 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


and I thought we should just jump straight to the heart of the argument

The heart of it is that this man had "an illusion and his experience [is] explainable as some sort of time compressed dream or false memory".

That's what happened. Most dreams we have are really time compressed anyway, and take place within a few short minutes or seconds even if they feel like hours.

In fact, there are many non-atheists who could tell you the same thing. I am positive there must be some religious people in this thread who also believe that what this man experienced was not supernatural.
posted by Malice at 2:01 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


death is not the end

In the immortal (heh) words of Ernest Hemingway: "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

Whenever I read or hear about something like this man's experience, whenever I think about my own upbringing in a devout mormon family, not to mention the thousands and thousands of years of religious tradition, myth and lore throughout our entire planet, I'm amazed at the capacity of the human mind. We have such a knack for explaining things, for knowing things even when it's quite obvious we don't possess a fraction of the necessary data.

We have such a precarious hold on life. Even the smallest change in our environment could destroy us. Tweak the atmosphere just enough and we're all dead. Introduce an organism so small nobody can even see it and yet it would still defeat our strongest members. And we're bright enough and self-aware enough to realize our own existential peril in this great chaotic mess. To find a way through it and gain control over it would indeed be divine.

We create models, rules. It's what humans do. Magic. Ritual. Alchemy. Science. Each time and with each model we step a little bit closer (or a little bit further away) toward an actual understanding. Our current scientific method of hypothesis and repeatable experimentation seems, at least to me, to be the most consistent shot we have at gaining real knowledge about our world. The old models were fine in their day, but it's time to move on.

There is an significant amount of information conveyed in this man's story. What that information means about our world? Too early to say, not enough data. He has already assigned meaning to it, clearly. But aren't we skipping some steps? Again, based on our current best model for genuine human learning.

So: if this guy has an actual hypothesis and an experiment that can be repeated, great. Otherwise he's another shaman in the wilderness.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:05 PM on October 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why did Belinda Carlisle have to come up? Now I have to go an reorganize my pop-star crush list again.
posted by maxwelton at 2:05 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am positive there must be some religious people in this thread who also believe that what this man experienced was not supernatural.

FWIW, when I was a very very devout Mormon I would have said exactly that. Not supernatural. And Mormons have no problem with supernatural stuff, so.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:07 PM on October 12, 2012


doing the math:

Jesus = Magic, Magic = Consciousness, Consciousness = Jesus.

seriously I'm kinda appalled but not suprised to see this as a cover story.
posted by djrock3k at 2:08 PM on October 12, 2012


I guess Andrew Sullivan had nothing for Newsweek this week?
posted by LarryC at 2:12 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Goodness me Wolfsdreams01 that was my absolutely favorite episode of Quantum Leap: Evil Leaper. It was a two-parter and had lots of delicious irony/role reversals. Unlike this Heaven is Real narrative.
posted by glasseyes at 2:12 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am not trying to prove anything. I admit to being a little sick of internet atheists and may be a little defensive.

Your defensiveness is blinding you, since not all of the people dismissing this guy's claim that his experience is scientific evidence are atheists. If he'd stuck to writing an interesting essay about his experience without claiming it as EVIDENCE the discussion would likely be different.
posted by rtha at 2:13 PM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


... internet atheists ... plethora of curt dismissals ... atheist chorus .... I may have been premature.

Perhaps you could try it again with an open mind and less nasty stereotyping?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:19 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. Um, that was shitty "proof". I'm pretty dissappointed.

I had trouble reading the whole description, though I did. I found it really annoying, though I'm not sure why.

I'm gonna read the comments before I go any further with this, but something seems... off... about this account.
posted by windykites at 2:23 PM on October 12, 2012


"this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go"

Billy Collins, The Afterlife
posted by ottereroticist at 2:29 PM on October 12, 2012


The bottom line is that we don't know how consciousness works

Huh. Room enough in the gaps for both theism and atheism, apparently.

In Heaven, everything is fine.
posted by homunculus at 2:29 PM


Is this eponysterical? I can't tell if radiators count.
posted by weston at 2:29 PM on October 12, 2012


I believe in an afterlife, and in a spiritual reality past what we can see and hear with our physical senses.


I really don't care what this doctor experienced-I don't need proof, and even if I did, his experience, well, can't be made into proof.


These are the sorts of things one has to grok on one's own, or not at all.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:33 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


On the internet I'm an atheist, but on gopher I'm a deist, and on this one bbs I'm a weak agnostic, but I think that's because Larry ate my clif bar, the bastard.
posted by Divine_Wino at 2:34 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


My perspective is that each of us is less than in insect in the grand scheme of things. I'm not suggesting there is or isn't an afterlife, but given our status, why all the certainty? How about a little humility, people?
posted by elf27 at 2:34 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think this is annoying because it gives believers a bad name. I've had deep spiritual expriences that convinced me of certain beliefs, but I would never try to claim them as "proof". They're totally subjective. They're also deeply precious and personal, enough so that selling them to a magazine seems... well, tacky at best.

Besides, faith denies proof right? God don't need no proof.
posted by windykites at 2:44 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


People have been having out of body experiences and undertaking astral journeys for millennia. What's sad about this fellow's version is that, rather than writing poetry, speaking moral truths, creating art or philosophy, the best he can come up with is a blog post, a Newsweek article, and a mass-market book destined to be remaindered in 6 months.

He basically leveled up and wants everyone to know about it.

Keep aiming for the stars, early 21st century America! Surely future generations will gaze upon your strip malls, landfills, reality television and morbid obesity and think: "Oh to have been alive in that golden era. When there was still an atmosphere capable of regulating temperatures and food was not grown in underground vats." Hell, Eben Alexander might even be recognized as this era's prophet.
posted by R. Schlock at 2:47 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent, or at least not publish in Newsweek of all places -Wittgenstein
posted by naju at 2:48 PM on October 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


availablelight, you should check out the Saga of Biorn
posted by bashos_frog at 2:55 PM on October 12, 2012


Out of all MeFi posts, this may be the most unanimously-agreed thread. Ever.

That article must truly stink beyond all belief.

[multiple grammar fails]
posted by five fresh fish at 2:58 PM on October 12, 2012


This is just one of things that you have to believe to see.
posted by she's not there at 3:01 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


our defensiveness is blinding you, since not all of the people dismissing this guy's claim that his experience is scientific evidence are atheists. If he'd stuck to writing an interesting essay about his experience without claiming it as EVIDENCE the discussion would likely be different.

Yes this happens. I don't think it is evidence for anyone but himself. I agree it isn't scientific, but neither are own guesses as to what he experienced.

I tend to lean towards the idea that consciousness is a universal characteristic of the universe, not something restricted to the brains of certain upright mammals, or even larger collections of cells.

Wha? Seriously, what does this even mean? I hear this sort of thing a lot from the spiritual-but-not-religious and I have no idea what it's intended to convey.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:57 PM on October 12 [+] [!]


He thinks consciousness is magic.-empath


I expected better from you empath. I will just point you towards the extensive literature regarding panpsychism and let you draw your own conclusions.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 3:11 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the internet I'm an atheist...

On the internet, no one knows you're a god.
posted by griphus at 3:13 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


However, this paper does seem to contradict the earlier work done on this topic, specifically B. Carlisle, et al., "Heaven Is a Place on Earth."

Hah, I was just thinking about the ol' cite-song-lyrics-as-if-it-were-an-academic-study joke earlier today. Heaven is real!
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 3:16 PM on October 12, 2012


I agree it isn't scientific, but neither are own guesses as to what he experienced.

Except that no one is really claiming that our guesses are scientific. That's not how skepticism works. The burden isn't on me, for example, to disprove that heaven exists. I don't particularly care. Contrarily, I do think that a modicum of scientific thoroughness is necessary to declare "Heaven is Real."

If I were to write a book called, "Heaven is Not Real," then you could ask me for some scientific evidence.
posted by muddgirl at 3:18 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I expected better from you empath.

You pretty much came out swinging in this thread, I don't think you can judge now.
posted by Malice at 3:18 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ever heard about neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman's "Possibilian" concept? He posits that in fact we don't have evidence enough to claim anything in the 'spiritual realm' with certainty. He suggested adopting a stance that recognizes that reality: 'Possibilian.' He is interested in thinking outside of the box. In this way he points out that without certainty, there's no actual true motivation for people to make religious war upon others.

Personally, I cannot imagine that any primates, us included, have the intellectual or emotional ability or capacity to understand what created the known universe, why it was created (if there is a 'why'), and whether it has a purpose, or what its purpose is. As a species, we haven't even reached the point of assuring sanitary disposal and treatment of poop and pee for all the fellow-members of our own species yet! Gimme a break! If we do survive as a species long enough to evolve further, our present-day 'position' in the hominid family-tree will be seen as derisively archaic. In other words, I personally think that we have as much understanding of our known cosmos as a garden slug has of a trolleycar.
posted by Galadhwen at 3:20 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Last night, an angel came to me in my sleep and told me that Vice President Biden is a lizard person. We all have to admit that's at least a possibility, unless someone proves it otherwise.

Lizard People are Real.
posted by muddgirl at 3:25 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Except that no one is really claiming that our guesses are scientific. That's not how skepticism works. The burden isn't on me, for example, to disprove that heaven exists. I don't particularly care. Contrarily, I do think that a modicum of scientific thoroughness is necessary to declare "Heaven is Real."

Exactly this. The problem with his guess is not that he thinks it could be evidence of the afterlife, it's that he claims that it couldn't have been anything but. "Some sort of time compressed dream or false memory" may not be the only explanation, on the other hand, but it's an entirely reasonable one, and his refusal to accept this possibility is built on nothing more than assumptions. To fail to point out that these assumptions may not hold would be to surrender "an open mind and the consideration of possibility" in favor of jumping to the same unfounded conclusion.
posted by vorfeed at 3:26 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why would a being of cosmic power and intelligence spend so much time on a place for us to go to when we die and so little on the place where we spend our entire lives?
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 3:37 PM on October 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Personally, I cannot imagine that any primates, us included, have the intellectual or emotional ability or capacity to understand what created the known universe

It's funny when people say this, as if the last 500 years of scientific advancement hadn't happened. We have essentially found incontrovertible proof (the CMB among other evidence) that the Universe began in a Big Bang circa 14 billion years ago. I'm not so silly as to say that that's the end of the story, but humans have been pushing our knowledge of the Universe further and further for thousands of years now and mysticism has equally been on the retreat. I see no reason to believe that we won't continue to push the limits of our knowledge.

Not to use an already overused metaphor, but this sounds an awful like someone saying "Copernicus has some awfully interesting ideas, but it's terribly presumptuous of us to think that mere humans can know whether or not the Earth orbits the sun or vice versa".
posted by no regrets, coyote at 3:41 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why would a being of cosmic power and intelligence spend so much time on a place for us to go to when we die and so little on the place where we spend our entire lives?

Because (s)he's an asshole, that's why. Misotheism is like the Unified Field Theory for religion.
posted by vorfeed at 3:43 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having had very similar experience, I believe that this is clearly a DMT trip, as are ordinary dreams. Having a DMT trip while conscious is the difference. In dreams, those fractal structures are turned into things and events, much as the brain turns clouds in the sky into pictures and scribbles on a page into faces, by the same process and for the same reason. It is an effect of pareidolia. I suspect, but have been unable to find a relevant study, that people with low (or notably high) pareidolic capability have less vivid dreams and would likely have different reactions to DMT.

I used to be a strong atheist, a believer in the universe as a Cartesian machine, nothing more than an engine made up of infinitely tiny state points which operate upon each other in a self-modifying manner, like cellular automata.

After a series of DMT trips, I am now persuaded primarily that time is part of that clockwork, and secondarily that there are connections between the cogs that are not bound by locational proximity. The upshot of this is that there are sensory and informational connections between us, and other animals, and life, and the unliving universe, that are too subtle to be directly perceived in the ordinary state of mind, yet influence our thoughts and actions.

The difference is analogous to, say, believing that the world were made of Lego blocks and voids where blocks were absent (assuming for the moment that this were actually the case, and not a mere analogy), and thinking of physics in those terms only, and then discovering that the colours and temperatures of the blocks held meaning as well. It does not invalidate the idea that the blocks and voids are important. They continue to be important. There is however more information available, and that can be used.

Another analogy might be to have read a book, and enjoyed it, and thought the book made many good points in its text, and then to discover that the author had encoded further information into the font choice, font size, and colour of printing. The old book becomes a new and fascinating puzzle.

I would now describe myself as something more of a fractal-structure pantheist, in that I suspect--but have yet to devise a falsifiable test for, or even much in the way of practical consequences to truth or falsity of this--that our minds are linked in subtle ways, there are some to whom we have much closer links than others (our Jungian archetypes), and all of humanity are part of a kind of "oversoul", which I suspect, but again cannot yet prove, has a self-similar structure over our brains, that neurons have within our brains.

The sensation of religious experience is real, and is provoked by neurochemistry and most interestingly, can be induced by magnets. The brain is in fact full of magnets, millions of tiny magnetite crystals. Perhaps the grid of these has meaning within the mind/body dichotomy; perhaps the "mind" is the aggregate magnetic field of these. This would, prima facie, account for the ability of physical and chemical alteration to the brain to affect the mind, in a way that advocates for a distinct mind, or "separable soul", have not been able to philosophically resolve.

Putting names and faces to it, calling it "God", is however rather too much of a stretch. I am in no sense a Christian, although I can fully empathize with their perception of IT as the "God" that their parents told them about in voices of certainty. I can also fully empathize with H P Lovecraft, and suspect he was a strong conscious DMT-tripper; the entity I saw, bears a strong resemblance to Azathoth, fractal structures akin to tentacles abound, and if one were inclined to be afraid of it, perhaps prompted by childhood inculcation of a fear of scrutiny, one could easily perceive it as very frightening. You can give it whatever interpretation you wish; personally, I wish(ed) to merely perceive what it is, unfiltered by my biases, and I am aware that this may be as contradictory as looking at something without the use of eyes. What I wish to establish in that process is the shape of my mental distortions, much as an optometrist might measure distortions affecting eyesight, and having been so informed, the patient now knows that the world itself is not a fuzzy blur, it is a specific distortion in their eyes that makes it appear so.

"Real" would be the wrong word for it; I think it is an emergent phenomenon of minds, and looking for it in the physical world would be much like taking a book apart, cutting it up word by word, looking for the specific word that holds the book's meaning.

Calling it "you and me"--the underlying philosophy of the New Thought Movement--seems unsatisfactory in that this philosophy is accompanied by a strong element of "tail wagging the dog", ie the notion that as part of God you are entitled to have all of God, or larger parts of God, fulfil your whims. My investigations continue. I will say that during these trips I expressed a strong desire to know the truth, the actual truth, as to how this all works, and not for the sake of idle curiosity, rather so that it may be put to practical use, and that activity remains a work in progress. Even if it is only a whim, I am entitled to have whims, as is this neurosurgeon; what he is not entitled to, are his own facts, and neither am I.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:47 PM on October 12, 2012 [23 favorites]


Why would a being of cosmic power and intelligence spend so much time on a place for us to go to when we die and so little on the place where we spend our entire lives?

Because that's how expansion packs work. Didn't you play Operation: Anchorage? That totally rocked FO3.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:49 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Panpsychism? Thank you, psycho-alchemy. That does look interesting.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:49 PM on October 12, 2012


I would now describe myself as something more of a fractal-structure pantheist

Man, I read your whole long post and halfway through it I was already positive it was going to turn out to have been posted by loquacious.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:51 PM on October 12, 2012


I am kind of surprised how few of you have had the experience of perfection an understanding that reality is being. The only reality we know is simply how our consciousness reacts to the stimulus and accrued memories of experience and fantasy. I have certainly been aware of being part of the all. The euphoria is unforgettable if fleeting, not that it would be useful to be blissed out all the time actually you would be incapable of caring for yourself.

My first experience of this altered consciousness was drug induced but I am not discounting it because I have experienced this perfection while sober and meditating and once again running through the forest in a bliss induced trance. I have always put it down to chemistry never assumed I was being anything more than part of the whole and a certainty that I was the only place I could be.

I can't produce this experience at will , believe me I have tried. I am always grateful though when it has occurred. Anyway I certainly can vouch for the doctors feelings about his experience having had them myself but I never thought it was supernatural just an insight into how it is supposed to be.

So no heaven for me just an understanding a satiation no questions or thoughts just hanging out with my fellow atoms and molecules feeling as good as I ever felt.

As I said not a very productive activity but a nice vacation. Doc just needs some more experience and a different vocabulary.
posted by pdxpogo at 3:58 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


In an effort to be conciliatory and friendly I'm afraid my previous statement may be misconstrued as supporting a spiritual worldview*. To be absolutely clear: I think this guy is full of shit. He is jumping on the bandwagon of selling pretty thoughts to lonely people. Not only is it possible that he is lying and knows he's lying, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's highly probable.

You wanna believe in this guy's story? Go nuts. Just remember that facts are stubborn things and this article (or book, or profitable lecture circuit opportunity) doesn't contribute anything of substance to the realm of science. Except perhaps for scientists who are studying causal links between brain trauma and intellectual dishonesty or something.

*To be clear I was attempting to state that I empathize with a spiritual worldview. Like, I get it guys! Death is scary! The other day my kid got really sick and even the smart kid-doctor wasn't 100% sure how to make him well. It would have been AWESOME if there was a reliable, actual way to call down real supernatural powers and make him whole again. I would be all over that. Sadly, the most reliable thing I had was rest and frequent hydration. Took a little longer but it did work. Odds were good this time around. Yay!
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:22 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. This whole discussion, including the stupid Newsweek article, is a real bummer.
posted by The World Famous at 4:56 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will investigate the existence of an afterlife once I've proven to my satisfaction that I'm alive and conscious at the moment.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:58 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Was he this obtuse and/or arrogant before the brain trauma?

He was a surgeon. Surely that goes without saying.

I once was in a very serious car crash when I was twelve. I was thrown about fifty feet from the vehicle. I don't remember much of the actual crash, just the car and my mother screaming together, but I remember when I must have been flying through the air. I was sinking through a warm deep grey void, and I remember thinking 'Well, I am going to hell' in a resigned way.

I guess I'm not enough of an optimist to see the pearly gates.
posted by winna at 5:12 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I am not trying to prove anything. I admit to being a little sick of internet atheists and may be a little defensive. "

Dude, I've gone swinging against MeFi atheists before, but this article and this discussion are not the provocations you see them as. I mean, c'mon, even Sam Harris, whose business cards must say "atheist/asshole," was about exactly the proper level of dismissive.

Now, I can grant the wistful longing for the conversation we might have had — I'd love a medievalist to tie this back to the myriad afterlife narratives that were so popular before the Enlightenment — but this story is so much fecal foam; offensive but lightly blown away.
posted by klangklangston at 5:25 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've seen Sam Harris' business cards and they make no mention of atheism.
posted by The World Famous at 5:31 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My parents died years ago. I was very close to them. I still miss them terribly. I know I always will. I long to believe that their essence, their personalities, what I loved so much about them, are--really and truly--still in existence somewhere. I wouldn't ask very much, just five or ten minutes a year, say, to tell them about their grandchildren, to catch them up on the latest news, to remind them that I love them. There's a part of me--no matter how childish it sounds--that wonders how they are. "Is everything all right?" I want to ask. The last words I found myself saying to my father, at the moment of his death, were "Take care."....

So I don't guffaw at the woman who visits her husband's grave and chats him up every now and then, maybe on the anniversary of his death. It's not hard to understand. And if I have difficulties with the ontological status of who she's talking to, that's all right. That's not what this is about. This is about humans being human. More than a third of American adults believe that on some level they've made contact with the dead. The number seems to have jumped by 15 percent between 1977 and 1988. A quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation....

If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy.
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, pp. 203-204
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:08 PM on October 12, 2012 [23 favorites]


I expect my experience of the next ten thousand years will closely resemble my experience of the previous ten thousand.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:38 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well, I can eliminate one neurosurgeon from the list if I ever need one. The last thing I need is some unscientific dude with a scalpel who wants me to experience the after-life operating on my brain.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:20 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The message had three parts, and if I had to translate them into earthly language, I’d say they ran something like this:
“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”
“You have nothing to fear.”
“There is nothing you can do wrong.”


Unconditional love? No fear? No sin?!

Finally, a Christian comes back from the dead to tell us that practically everything their religion is currently based upon doesn't exist!

"Sometimes when I drink too much I think the bed is spinning.

It isn't."


Is too!
posted by markkraft at 8:29 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes when I drink too much I think the bed is spinning.

It isn't.


Yeeees. That's true.
But it's different in the ER with a major head injury.
Nurses like to spin the gurney around just to fuck with you.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:30 PM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


David Byrne explained it all years ago

Case closed.
posted by freakazoid at 9:21 PM on October 12, 2012


The science of death need not be the death of science.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:24 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me, the most disappointing par of thus ariticle isn't the experience-as-evidence nonsense, it is the completely unscientific and subjective language used. Absolutely nothing described can be construed as evidence, and indeed, the parts that must by necessity include a medical explanation use dumbed down, simplifiedterms not to impress peers, but to give easy-to-digest science lite to ensure laypeople of all reading levels can comprehend it.

Half way though I thought myself "he must have a book coming out." Still, I was sure he'd have something he could offer as evidence, even if extremely controversial. But no, nothing but dreams and an entirely unquantifiable, subjective experience.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:12 AM on October 13, 2012


That's what happened. Most dreams we have are really time compressed anyway, and take place within a few short minutes or seconds even if they feel like hours.

why do you believe that time is compressed in dreams? as far as i know, the only scientific study into that showed just the opposite.
posted by feets at 12:54 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am a religious person, and I thought the whole article was a load of badly executed hog-wash.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:08 AM on October 13, 2012


onlyconnect: That's an interesting question, as to why there would be a program for graceful death. The brain may be trying for something different like loss of pain during shock. Considering how few bytes there are in our genomes, not all scenarios have to have matching subroutines.

Even for a cut and dry situation like the rat swimming test where they swim until they give up, where you think they'd swim the max their bodies can handle, the time can be extended with an antidepressant, buproprion.

I think it's due to the inclusive fitness angle. Who wants to see your fellow antelope suffer in the jaws of a lion. Nature, make it gentle. But that's probably not the right answer.
posted by saber_taylor at 2:11 AM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder why it is that we don't look at these profound experiences (voluntary or otherwise) and instead reflect that their very profundity might be the greatest evidence we have for consciousness as physical process.

Surely it is the brain which is an isolated and discrete source of complete experience — not the brain influenced by, and conversant with, external forces — which would be the more 'total' in character, the more all convincing: and wouldn't it be the ultimate cosmic joke if in these final moments of the brain's triumphant collapse, rendered so stark by its physicality, the little voice in our head we call 'me' witnessed it all agog and cried 'God'!.

That's not to discredit how anyone feels about their experience, it's just an angle that doesn't seem to be explored at times. Anyway, too dark an ould alley to wander down on this beautiful morning. I'll let Nick Cave et al take it away.
posted by nfg at 2:50 AM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Feets, we dream during REM. REM is very little of our overall sleep. That's what I'm basing it on.
posted by Malice at 3:27 AM on October 13, 2012


Yikes! I couldn't read it all, the horrible language. He's lying and he knows it. Maybe his sense of morality has disappeared?
My gran was in a coma once, and as she was waking up, she had hallucinations that were very real to her. Nothing religious, just friends coming to visit. She was an atheist.
posted by mumimor at 3:33 AM on October 13, 2012


Colin Blakemore, neuroscientist, responds: Is The Afterlife Full Of Fluffy Clouds And Angles?
His, and the multitude of other memories reported by people who have been close to death, have to be seen first through the prism of hard science. The crucial question is not whether such astounding experiences should lead us to abandon materialist accounts of brain function, but whether materialist accounts can possibly explain them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:08 AM on October 13, 2012


I'm a little late to this discussion, but wanted to relay my own experience. Had a 105 deg. fever in my mid twenties. Ended up having a long discussion with God and a personified Death. A very, very disturbing conversation in the sense of "Holy F- S-, I'm speaking with God...". Woke up the next day, realized it was essentially a very interesting hallucination, which i can remember in detail now 20+ years later. My next guess was that everyone who "speaks with God" may have had a similar experience. Was leaning atheist beforehand as a severely lapsed Catholic, totally atheist since then.

Do we understand everything about the universe? No. Does my 75+ yr. old mortician father believe in the god of his youth? No. There is just the unknown which we will all discover.

Unless Kurzweil is right about the singularity *crosses fingers*.
posted by Farce_First at 6:58 AM on October 13, 2012


Reminds me of (i.e. people who like this, may like this:) TED Talk: Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight
posted by Dub at 7:17 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks Dub, I was wondering if anyone was going to mention her.
posted by condesita at 8:37 AM on October 13, 2012


Is there a legal, safe way to get a DMT experience (given that it's already produced in the body)?
posted by desjardins at 8:41 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've used DMT. I've used acid. I've eaten shrooms. I've been psychotic. I've been psychotic under heavy sedation. I've meditated. I've given and received Reiki treatment. And somewhere at the core of each of these experiences, the same ineffable sense of profundity and absolute unquestioned certainty lurks.

My conclusion, on reflection, is that this feeling is basically what's left over when the fact-checkers are all sent off on a little holiday.

It's truly excellent. And, knowing that, I don't fear dying; I fully expect that the actual point of death, if approached with acceptance and calm or even joy, is likely to feel quite wonderful. I shall not rage, rage against the dying of the light - I can't think of a stupider waste of my last remaining seconds than using them to feel cranky.

But since I also expect that it's the last experience I'll ever have, then if it's all the same to the rest of you, I'll do my level best to put off having it for as long as possible, and I recommend that you do likewise.
posted by flabdablet at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I remember thinking 'Well, I am going to hell' in a resigned way

The fact that religious training can actually cause kids to think like that is my main beef with religious training. That's such an unkind thought to provide for a kid to use in extremis.
posted by flabdablet at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2012


I've heard that in heaven there is no beer, and that's why we drink it down here.
posted by dantsea at 10:01 AM on October 13, 2012


I think there are a huge number of people imposing the word "Christian" on an experience which, as the doctor described it, made reference to a library of primarily psychedelic imagery - almost none of it was specifically Christian. I agree he should play (and is) to that crowd for the sake of book sales (cha-ching), but the experience as described is pretty un-Christian if you ask me.

I know my experience with non-christian-inspired visions, and its creepily the EXACT SAME PLACE that this straight laced doctor went to. But to many people that really just adds support for the idea that there is a common, scientifically based explanation for what happened - something about how we both are humans with brains of similar structure.

"is there a legal way to get a DMT experience"
well, if you're in a state of the union that allows it, you could just go with Salvia ;) Super fucking profound. Don't go in with any expectations or demands. Give yourself to her, and she will show you things. Beautiful things.
posted by cbecker333 at 10:12 AM on October 13, 2012




Even as an Atheist, I would love there to be. But there's just no evidence to support it.

There will never be evidence either way. At least, that's what I believe. One of those conditions of human experience. So if you pursue an atheist POV, well you're always sort of right. Afterlife, heaven, whatever CANNOT be proved. And if you're a theist, well it's a different dynamic, something to do with that being the whole point of FAITH. If there's proof of afterlife, heaven, etc, then it's no longer faith to believe -- just common sense, backed up by science.
posted by philip-random at 10:42 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If nothing else, this guy's writeup makes me want to go reread Connie Willis' Passage.
posted by rtha at 11:02 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


... and um, psycho-alchemy, I'm far more with you than agin you in terms of what you're positing (Panpsychism to give it name, thanks for that), but I wonder if this is the place to have that discussion.

That said (because it's Saturday and it's raining), here's a great documentary about Albert Hoffman, the man of science who discovered LSD by mistake ... and so on. One of the truly great stories of the 20th Century.

1943, war rages across Europe. In the neutral confines of Switzerland, at the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company's Basel laboratory, Hoffman accidentally ingests a minute amount of an experiment substance that would change both his life and the world ...
posted by philip-random at 11:11 AM on October 13, 2012


There will never be evidence either way. At least, that's what I believe. One of those conditions of human experience. So if you pursue an atheist POV, well you're always sort of right. Afterlife, heaven, whatever CANNOT be proved. And if you're a theist, well it's a different dynamic, something to do with that being the whole point of FAITH. If there's proof of afterlife, heaven, etc, then it's no longer faith to believe -- just common sense, backed up by science.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that I can apply it to an imaginary monster living under my bed that likes to eat socks and kittens.
posted by Malice at 12:07 PM on October 13, 2012


We're pretty sure that there's a wormhole under our bed that the cats use to get from one place to another - like to the other wormhole that we're pretty sure is behind the couch in the living room. Only cats can sense them and use them.
posted by rtha at 12:09 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Over 3 million copies sold in 2 years, 55 weeks at #1 on the NYT bestseller list, and a movie deal in the works.

Oh, and that book's title was Heaven is for Real. The doctor's book--coming out next month, just in time for Christmas--is called Heaven is Real.

This is a hoax. I'm not saying the doctor's story is a whole fabircation, but let's just say that any doubts he once may have had about what his experience "meant" from a cosmic standpoint have since been ossified into the unwavering testimony we now see in Newsweek, thanks to the the cajoling words and moneyholding hands of publishers and publicists.

Allowing this chicanery to sit within the ultimate existential discourse inadvertently awards it legitimacy, no less absurd than were we to debate the veracity of the Harry Potter series.
posted by jeremy b at 12:25 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ewww. That's essentially preying on the gullible and desperate.

But I was posting to suggest that rtha check if she's got ROUS living in her walls. Those ratholes can lead all over the place!
posted by five fresh fish at 12:38 PM on October 13, 2012


You know how cats will sometimes gaze fixedly at what looks like nothing on a wall, or in a corner? It's because a ROUS is behind the lathe and plaster (YwallconstructionMaterialsMayVary).
posted by rtha at 1:05 PM on October 13, 2012


The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact. I feel that, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, it is critical that we allow the question to remain open, and not conflate our assumptions with empirical fact. … At least in my view, so long as the subjective experience of consciousness cannot be fully accounted for, the explanatory gap between the physical processes that occur in the brain and the processes of consciousness will remain as wide as ever.

-- The Dalai Lama
posted by ecourbanist at 1:06 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


With all due respect, the Dalai Lama is not a scientist.
posted by Malice at 3:01 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact. I feel that, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, it is critical that we allow the question to remain open, and not conflate our assumptions with empirical fact. … At least in my view, so long as the subjective experience of consciousness cannot be fully accounted for, the explanatory gap between the physical processes that occur in the brain and the processes of consciousness will remain as wide as ever.

-- Carl Sagan
posted by foot at 4:44 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


It just occurred to me. Both the Dalai Lama and Carl Sagan have three "a"s in their names (except the Dalai Lama actually has four, but that's still a lot of "a"s). And if we called Carl Sagan, The Carl Sagan they would both have the same number of syllables.
posted by philip-random at 6:14 PM on October 13, 2012


That's deep, man. And you know, most of the DNA letters are in their names, too. So, like, their names are kind of like life itself! They're gods, man!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:22 PM on October 13, 2012


space_cookie: "It is interesting to me that this message was delivered by a beautiful woman."

Clearly it means that ugly people don't get into heaven.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:11 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


He thinks consciousness is magic.

Roger Penrose, anyone?
posted by Apocryphon at 11:10 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sam Harris: This Must Be Heaven
Well, I intend to spend the rest of the morning sparing him the effort. Whether you read it online or hold the physical object in your hands, this issue of Newsweek is best viewed as an archaeological artifact that is certain to embarrass us in the eyes of future generations. Its existence surely says more about our time than the editors at the magazine meant to say—for the cover alone reveals the abasement and desperation of our journalism, the intellectual bankruptcy and resultant tenacity of faith-based religion, and our ubiquitous confusion about the nature of scientific authority. The article is the modern equivalent of a 14th-century woodcut depicting the work of alchemists, inquisitors, Crusaders, and fortune-tellers. I hope our descendants understand that at least some of us were blushing.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:50 AM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is God An Accident? The Atlantic, 2005
Despite the vast number of religions, nearly everyone in the world believes in the same things: the existence of a soul, an afterlife, miracles, and the divine creation of the universe. Recently psychologists doing research on the minds of infants have discovered two related facts that may account for this phenomenon. One: human beings come into the world with a predisposition to believe in supernatural phenomena. And two: this predisposition is an incidental by-product of cognitive functioning gone awry
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:11 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Possibly in support of Harris's point, Newsweek to End Print Edition.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:24 AM on October 18, 2012


Or perhaps Newsweek's announcement that it will cease its print edition is an argument against Harris' point. Though Newsweek is dying, its consciousness (such as it is, heh) will live on in an ethereal, non-corporeal form. Death of the print edition has no sting, for Newsweek's spirit - yea, its very soul - shall pass on to immortal glory or whatever.
posted by The World Famous at 9:30 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am a Christian. I believe there will be life after death (although what little the Scriptures actually have to say about it seems to involve God actively resurrecting the dead to a new, embodied life rather than an immortal, immaterial soul simply surviving and floating off to heaven).

I don't think this man's experience is evidence of life after death.

The heart of it is that this man had "an illusion and his experience [is] explainable as some sort of time compressed dream or false memory".

I have several times experienced a long, involved dream that culminates in a loud noise which turns out to be my alarm clock. And on reflection it seems clear that a dream that seemed to take ten minutes must've actually only lasted a few seconds.
posted by straight at 3:17 PM on October 19, 2012


why do you believe that time is compressed in dreams? as far as i know, the only scientific study into that showed just the opposite.

Even if that study's method of measuring the subjective length of a dream is valid, it only demonstrates that subjective dream time is proportional to the objective length of the dream state. Maybe 9/10ths of the REM state is prep time and the actual subjective experience is compressed into a few seconds. Maybe some dreams aren't experienced at all and what the brain does is create a memory of the dream. (The behavior of sleepwalkers and other more active dreamers suggest that at least some dreams happen in something like real time.)
posted by straight at 3:26 PM on October 19, 2012


(Scratch that last bit. People actually don't dream and sleepwalk at the same time.)
posted by straight at 3:29 PM on October 19, 2012


I think people do! Mike Birbiglia does!
posted by onlyconnect at 6:06 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]




What Happens To Us When We Die?
posted by homunculus at 1:15 AM on November 4, 2012


« Older House of Music   |   "...everything can go ‘Bonk!’" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post