So, this guy:
was interviewed for the Science channel’s “Though the Wormhole2” series with Morgan Freeman. His name is Eben Alexander, and he claims to have had a near death experience, in which, while he was locked deep in the recesses of a coma, he said he could feel himself traveling outside of his body and into the far reaches of the universe. At that point, he could feel himself drawing closer to a light and a kind of all-encompassing warmth and love that he described as God.
OK. Back up. Before he started feeling himself flying off into the outer realms of the universe, he had the sensation of flying as a “speck” on the wing of a butterfly through what he described as a meadow. It was after a period of flying with the butterfly that he then was carried out into the cosmos:
I was there with that beautiful, warm awareness of the divine, which was clearly what we would call God in this place outside the universe. Basically, I recall the whole multiverse being out in front of me. It was very clear that love was a huge part of the constituent of that whole multiverse.
He is now a believer in some type of existence for humans after the body has died and is apparently attempting research along those lines, whatever that might look like.
Now, in assessing the validity of a tale such as this, obviously whatever “spiritual” or extraordinary experiences someone has in a lucid state isn’t proof enough for the claim to be 100 percent true because of our flawed senses, memories and recollection power, much less what someone claims to have experienced while in a comatose state. Nonetheless, it would have been instructive to know whether Alexander was a believer or not before going into the coma.
Luckily, Alexander was interviewed by the BBS Radio in 2011. Here is the transcript and the relevant question (with my italics):
Now how strong was your faith before your coma, I mean what was your religious beliefs your basic idea, you said that you saw patients at a variety of levels of consciousness and you had an interest in it. Did you have a strong faith?
Dr. Eben Alexander
Well I grew up in a fairly religious household, my father as I said was a academic neurosurgeon and in fact he had trained right at the beginning of ww2 and he was a combat surgeon in the pacific in ww2. so he had a fairly strong faith I think that was the only thing that brought him back from that experience and in as good of shape as he was in. that kind of filtered down to me through the years and I grew up going to church and believing at some level that prayers were answered but I had a series of events that occurred especially about 10-11 years ago that really interfered with my faith and in fact I ended up on something of a downward spiral and was loosing my faith really beginning the year 2000 and ended up thinking that at best maybe Einstein was right maybe there was a creative god but one that was far to busy to be listening to individual prayers and I had pretty much given up on that concept of an individual god of love and one that had time for individual prayers by the time I was stricken with my illness in November of 2008 so I had some faith that I think was a reasonable amount certainly being in a very scientific culture and in the medical world I was a firm believer in kind of the reductionism of scientific view specifically of the nervous system and of the brain and mine (sic) didnt even though I continued to go to church and wanted to believe in god and wanted to believe that there was life after death. I must say that because of my scientific leaning I was very hard pressed to explain how our sole (sic) could exist once our brain dies but now I feel like I have a much clearer view of exactly how that works.
That’s a rather confused and muddied reliogosity to say the least, but nonetheless, he seems to have said that while he mostly had lost his faith, he continued to go to church and wanted to believe in a god and the afterlife at the time of his coma. Thus, a near death experience such as he described is more likely in a person who wanted the afterlife to be true than in a person who thinks it would be a ghastly thing if it were. This fellow seems to be of the former persuasion, and thus, his brain granted his preference and, perhaps, invented an afterlife experience for him. Even under the strain of his meningitis, his brain would have still no doubt have been capable of some complex processes, including visions of butterflies and soaring through the cosmos. Most credible scientists think that when someone experiences a near death experience, the body’s blast of endorphin in the brain accounts for the warm and tranquil feelings Alexander referenced. That he is was a quasi-believer in the first place makes it highly probable that his brain took his life experiences and created an otherworld, much like the all-too-real feelings we get in dreamlike states.
I have been asked about near death experiences from believers before because frankly in past conversations when they had no other course of argument, that’s one of the final things that they tend to bring up. “Well,” they say. “You don’t trust the Bible. You don’t believe in prayer. You don’t believe that Jesus is who the New Testament claims he is. But what about the 1,000s of people who say they have memories after they were supposedly dead and were later revived to tell their story?” I’ve already stated why such stories are highly suspect, especially given the immense strain that death-bed patients are under and given the fact that they are usually oxygen starved.
If believers can just introduce some part of spiritualism, you see, then the gates can be opened for other spiritual elements. Thus, when the last of their arguments have been laid to rest, they point to NDE’s. And that’s where we again must shut the door. The brain is an organ, no doubt a powerful one, but one that will nonetheless stop functioning like every other organ in our body. And when the cerebral cortex dies — sorry to be the party pooper — consciousness dies with it.