A very important story appeared in several newspapers and popular media websites yesterday, taken from a recent Newsweek article. The article is about Dr Eben Alexander, a Harvard neuroscientist who had an extended near death experience while in a coma. Dr Alexander became seriously ill after contracting bacterial meningitis in 2008 and his entire neocortex shut down. This is the part of the brain that is usually considered the home of ‘thought’ as popularly understood. Dr Alexander has been openly speaking about his experience for at least a year now.
Dr Alexander’s was a classic unity experience, where he experienced “God” as unconditional love, and communicated with spiritual beings, including what may have been a host (group) of angels. Dr Alexander came to see that what he had previously considered the pinnacle of consciousness and intelligence – the rational/linguistic functions of the neo-cortex – is but a tiny and delimited aspect of human consciousness. Alexander’s experience forced him to conclude that the foundations of contemporary neuroscience are dead wrong, and cannot even begin to explain the full complexity of consciousness. The entire mechanistic/reductionist foundations of science have to be ditched if we are to understand the fullness of consciousness, he now believes.
This mirrors precisely my own conclusions about the nature of mind. It is very difficult for those embedded within a self-limiting culture or paradigmatic map of reality to see beyond it. This is one of the main reasons why so many of those working within modern science and psychology have become so deeply deluded about the human condition.
After he came out of his coma Dr Alexander spent some time at the Monroe Institute, the late Robert Monroe’s organisation which has programmes to assist people have transcendental and out-of-body experiences. He was able to reproduce vital aspects of his NDE. In the audio link below you will hear Dr Alexander stating that it is only when the verbal-linguistic functions of mind are silenced that the full magnificence of consciousness can be experienced. Again, this is very similar to what I have been writing and speaking about for years.
I find it extremely heartening that a Harvard neuroscientist has had the courage to come out and talk about a mystical experience, given the ‘psi taboo’. The sandstone universities are typically the most hostile to such discussions. Perhaps the most heartening thing of all is that Dr Alexander has spoken of his interaction with spiritual beings during his mystical experiences. I can personally vouch that this is one of the most difficult aspects of mystical experience to try to communicate to academic audiences (as I have personally done for a decade or so now, though in a cautious way).
There is now a body of knowledge about the extended mind. It represents a fairly consistent picture. I have written previously about many modern mystics, including those who have had transcendent spiritual experiences such as near death experiences. Just a few are Anita Moorjani, Leonard Jacobson, Jill Bolte Taylor and David R Hawkins. These people have discovered that consciousness is not confined to the brain, that our deepest essence is unconditionally loving and forgiving, that there is no sin or judgment from “God”. We human beings are magnificent in ways that modern science and culture has almost completely forgotten. We must begin to develop models of consciousness and mind that are not restricted by the assumption that the brain generates consciousness and that all spiritual experiences are delusional. The current dominant computer-metaphor models have outlived their usefulness and must go, because they are holding back the human species. We cannot embrace our true magnificence when we remain fundamentally deluded about who we are – like a bunch of caterpillars insisting that they are nothing but earthbound grubs and that butterflies do not exist.
If humanity is to truly flourish on this planet, and if we are to develop deeply meaningful human futures, we must acknowledge the limitations of mechanistic biology. We must shed light on what I call “the Deckard confusion”. In the movie Bladerunner the lead character is confused about whether he is a human or a machine. It is time to move beyond the confusion. Like Dr Alexander, I see science and spirituality as two sides of th same coin. There is no need to get rid of either, merely the false beliefs and assumptions that many currently hold.
It is people like Dr Eben Alexander who are helping us find the truth.
Note: Dr Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven is out on October 23rd.
Skeptico audio interview on youtube