This book is a first person account of the phenomenon called near death experience, NDE. In 2008, Eben Alexander, a Harvard University Neurosurgeon apparently contracted bacterial meningitis (from E. coli) and his brain was severely attacked and he went into coma. He was in coma for seven days and was treated at Lynchburg, Virginia General Hospital.
The book is an account of what he claimed transpired during those seven days when his mind, as he said, checked out of his body and journeyed to heaven. He provided descriptions of the heavenly realms he journeyed to and those descriptions are in sync with similar descriptions offered by those who also claim to have had near death experience (going through a dark environment or tunnel, emerging in a place of light, a very beautiful place where people and things take on radiant quality; interacting with those people and eventually moving on to other realms that we might call the formless kingdom of God).
It is not so much the description of the spiritual realms provided by Dr. Alexander as it is who did the describing. Eben Alexander, MD is a highly trained neuroscientist who understands the intricacies of the human brain and has operated on numerous brains. He is trained in the scientific method and understands that according to science only phenomenon that all of us can observe and verify is considered scientific.
In fact, he showed a level of understanding of science not usually seen in medical doctors (strictly speaking, medical doctors are technicians of the body, not pure scientists, such as physicists, chemists, biologists, astronomers and geologists). He reviewed aspects of quantum physics and seem to know what he is talking about. He talked about Einstein’s Special and General Relativity, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Emil Schrodinger, Pauli, Paul Dirac, Jean, Born, Broglie and other giants of quantum physics. He grasped the developments in science since 1543 when Copernicus posited that the Sun is the center of our world, and in 1610 when Galileo proved Copernicus’ thesis with his telescopes. In 1687 Isaac Newton posited his three laws of motion and the law of gravity and gave birth to physics (Greeks such as Democritus had some sort of physics but not as we now understand the subject).
In the eighteenth century we had Lavoisier, Laplace and Boyle (those gave birth to Chemistry); in the nineteenth century we had Dalton, Thomas Young, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Charles Darwin, Ludwig Boltzmann, and J.J. Thompson. In the twentieth century we had (apart from the already mentioned quantum physicists) Max Planck, Pierre and Maria Curie, Ernest Rutherford, James Chadwick, Lise Meitner, Enrico Fermi, Strassman, Otto Hahn, Pauline, James Watson and Francis Crick, Wheeler, Murray Gell-Mann, Alan Aspect, Alan Goth.
Dr. Alexander understood how science succeeded in marginalizing people, presenting them as insignificant part of the universe, whereas our ancestors used to fancy that they were the center of the universe and, indeed, believed in a God who had nothing better to do with his time but to protect them. Because science has belittled man he is striving to rehabilitate his diminished self-esteem and often grasps on vacuous spirituality to make him seem to have existential value.
Alas, he has no apparent worth for he lives on an insignificant planet, in an ordinary solar system that is placed at the tail end of a spiral galaxy, a galaxy that is one of billions of galaxies. We live on a planet, along with its star that came into being four and half billion years ago, and would in five billion years die with that star. Indeed, the entire universe is scheduled to die a cold death in a few trillion years when its expansion leads to heat loss.
We seem nothing and are apparently looking for something to make us seem to have worth; belief in God seems to serve that purpose for some persons hence folks blindly latch unto talks about spirit and its alleged worth and immortality.
Talk about the spiritual realms generally are subjective; other persons , for example, seem unable to observe what NDE folks claim to have experienced hence many of us see them as sort of like dreams that are associated with death and dying.
Perhaps, as we are about to die certain biophysical and biochemical reactions in our brains provide us with spectacular dreams to bid us Farwell from the material universe?
Simply stated, those trained in scientific reductionism tend to disregard what NDE folks talk about. Perhaps, we are amused by talk of visiting the spiritual world and leave it at that but do not take it seriously.
In the past, mankind deluded itself with loads of spiritual talk that turned out as mere superstition. As far as we know, only the scientific method has enabled us to understand the world we live in and enabled us to devise technologies to control the physical environment hence make our lives pleasant. Just imagine the world of yesteryears when our ancestors prayed to what they called gods but were killed by assorted bacteria and virus, lived pained and suffering existence and their so-called gods did not help them one bit.
Science has offered us the only help we have so far obtained in this seeming meaningless existence of ours. We are born, live, age, feel pain and then die. What a bummer! But such is the fate of all those living in flesh and there is no need crying over spilled milk. Hold your head high; chin out, march forward and take whatever life throws at you without complaint.
Try to understand physical phenomena, develop technology and make the most of our seeming pointless existence in space, time and matter and hopefully live to age 100 and then die. When you die the body you had enslaved yourself laboring to provide for decays, rots and smells worse than feces (our bodies are made of the various elements, especially Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, CHON, and traces of other elements such as iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, etc.). Upon death the elements that hitherto composed ones body decay to particles (such as electrons, protons and neutrons) that they are made of. Particles are made of quarks and quarks are made of photons (radiation) and those are made of (nothingness, the nothingness from which energy and matter emanated during the Big bang 13.7 billion years ago)?
Simply stated, most scientifically educated persons embrace materialism, the philosophy that we came from matter and return to matter. In so far that we have thinking, aka mind and consciousness most scientists seem to believe that it is epiphenomenal; that is, a throw up of the processes of the neurons in our brains. Certain biochemical and biophysical processes in our brains seem to produce consciousness. Consciousness is of the body and when we die dies with our bodies, and that is all there is to us.
All talk of consciousness being outside the human body seems to beg the question since none of us has seen consciousness outside our bodies. If spirits exist let them come and at the same time show themselves to many people. As long as they seem to express their existence only through certain individuals, such as NDE folk, we are prone to suspect that it is such individuals that produce the phenomenon (Kant’s numenon?) that they call spirit?
Dr. Alexander is aware of the arguments against belief in spirit and indeed seemed to have been skeptical about the existence of spirit although he nominally attended an Episcopal (Anglican) Church. But despite his sophistication his experience during his week in coma convinced him that spirits exist and that we live after we die.
He described the after death existence which other writers have provided us (there is no need to rehash them here, if you are not aware of this literature please read Raymond Moody’s writings and personal accounts of out of body experience such as the one provided by Betty Eadie...I wrote a lengthy review of Eadie’s book, Embraced by the light).
Is what Dr. Alexander wrote true or just an unusual dream, a fantasy produced by his brain? Honestly, I don’t know. Until I have had similar experience I am not in a position to state that it is true or false. I have an open mind and in the meantime operate from the perspective of the scientific method.
If heaven is real we shall get to it when we die; in the meantime, I have no need to believe in heaven and its supposed God.
What I have need to accept is love. Dr. Alexander says that heaven is a place of unconditional love. I hope that he is correct. Be that as it may, I have no need to posit heaven and God before I accept the utility of love.
As I see it, love is the only thing that gives our lives on earth whatever meaning there is in it. We must love each other regardless of whether there is God and life after death or not. If, indeed, heaven is real and is a place of perfect love that is fantastic and welcome news.
Dr. Alexander, as a child was given up by his teenager parents and was adopted by Dr. Alexander, another neurosurgeon. He was apparently loved by his adoptive parents but most of his life felt like an orphan. He searched for his biological parents and after been put off by state authorities eventually connected with them. That seemed to have given him a modicum of satisfaction regarding his biological origin. Nevertheless, he had the psychology of an orphan and tried to create a loving family, apparently, to make up for what was lacking in his life. From his extensive description of his wife, two sons and his immediate relatives it seems that he had a loving circle around him. His family life actually made me envious since I do not have such family experience. I did not know that some people have such close and loving families?
The man still felt like an orphan who was abandoned in this material universe. His journey to the spiritual realm, apparently, gave him a sense of connection to the universe; his existential sense of separation and aloneness was temporarily eliminated and he felt one with all things, unified with the universe and that gave him peace and joy. Lucky him!
The message of his book is that we are all part of the universe and that we are loved by all people and by God.
We are loved by all people and God? This seems like wishful thinking since in the here and now world many of us do not experience the universal love he is talking about.
Dr. Alexander is a white southern gentleman. We all know how loving southern white folks are, don’t we? These folks are rabid racists who treat black folks like shit, literally. Therefore, all that love that Dr. Alexander and his alleged God claim to represent does not seem real (it seems make belief, fantasy).
We just went through a presidential election where “Christian” Republicans who call themselves believers in civil rights and civil liberties did everything in their powers to disenfranchise black folks; they made it almost impossible for them to vote; black folks had to stand in line for up to twelve hours to exercise their constitutional right to vote; and they were asked to provide evidence of their American citizenship (they had to produce IDs; many southern blacks were not born in hospitals hence do not have birth certificates, do not have drivers licenses or US passports hence had a difficult time proving their citizenship).
As we talk, these disingenuous Southern white folk are at work trying to redo the electoral college; at present the winner of each state takes the entire state’s electors; but white Republican governors and Republican controlled state legislatures have Gerrymandered how representatives are apportioned so that they guarantee that mostly white folks are elected to the US Congress, and, more importantly if electors are divided in accordance with the gerrymandered Congressional districts the presidential candidate that won most votes in a state could end up winning less electors in it. For example, Barack Obama won the popular vote in Virginia, but if electors were apportioned according to the gerrymandered districts he would have had fewer electors than the Mitt Romney he defeated in that state! Thus, despite winning the popular vote Romney would have won more electors (273) than Obama (268) hence became President despite receiving fewer votes!
In the 2012 election Obama won 332 electors and Romney won 206 electors; white southerners want to make sure that a black man never again win the presidency hence plan on rigging future elections via changing how electors are allotted.
Hello Apartheid South Africa, here comes white southerners replicating your system where a minority ruled the majority!
Would America still have the guts to preach to the world that it is democratic? Wouldn’t people see through its hypocrisy and laugh it away?
As the on-white population rise white folks will do desperate things to stay in power. At present whites are 72% of the US populations hence still the majority population but Latinos breed children at an amazing rate, and sneak across the border from Mexico and Latin America and in a few decades would probably surpass the white population. African Americans are 12% of the US population; Asians are about 5% of the US population.
I tell you, these white folks are an interesting bunch. Are they really Christians, if by Christians we mean those who love people? I often wonder! My philosophical mentor, Arthur Schopenhauer (World as Will and Idea) in the early 1800s wrote about Southern USA whites, who claimed to be Christians, and claimed to love God and people and yet treated their African slaves worse than most people treat the mosquitoes that suck their blood! That is correct; they maltreated their fellow human beings who did them no harm while talking about God and love!
Get these hypocrites out of my face, would you; they make me conclude with my beloved Schopenhauer that man is a mistake that should not have been made; the universe ought not to have produced human beings; people are a plague unto people; they are eyesore, they blight nature with their evil behaviors.
Dr. Alexander and his God of love did not persuade me one bit. I only see a world of pain, not the loving world he described as part of his earthly family and heavenly home.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book; it is easy reading; I read it, today, in less than five hours (and wrote this review of it in an hour). Perhaps, it could help those who need such first person accounts of the reality of heaven to convince themselves that God exists and that there is life after death. However, if one is a diehard materialist I doubt that the book would sway one towards belief in God.
To me, if God exists the question is: how come he allows too much suffering in this damn world? Theologians rationalize human evil and suffering by saying that God gave us freedom of choice and we chose what we experience? Great!
Here is a little question for theologians: does a loving father stand by as his children stick their hands into fire knowing that they would be burned? If such a father existed wouldn’t we see him as culpable in his children sustaining burns on their hands?
Give me a break, will you; let us please leave God out of human affairs. I am not interested in being told about a loving God; I am interested in how we can make our lives loving.
If Dr. Alexander’s book helps you to become a loving person, to realize that people live in suffering and you do whatever you can to reduce that suffering your behavior is welcome. Theology without practicing love is a bunch of scholastic rubbish. Gautama Buddha remains my ideal religious philosopher for he asked people to have compassion for people, not because of God or desire for life after death but because they understand that people suffer and they want to reduce that suffering.
Love and the rest are details; love connects us to each other and to the universe and reduces our sense of alienation from the universe.
Love makes this strange universe our home whereas lovelesness estranges us from the universe. Our true self is love; the rest is noise.
PS: You could read Dr. Osuji’s books such as: (1) What exactly is love, (2) Living from the loving self, (3) the forthcoming monumental work on human nature, The Self versus the Self Concept.
January 30, 2013