As a neurosurgeon, Eben Alexander used to have a materialist view of the physical realm. After a near-death experience, however, Alexander believes the brain does not produce consciousness.
Alexander, author of 2012’s Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, will give a lecture at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy titled “Consciousness and the Near-Death Experience.” Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture theme is “From Here to Hereafter: Facing Death with Hope and Courage.”
In Proof of Heaven, Alexander chronicles his encounters with mystical figures after bacterial meningitis left him in a coma.
This experience transformed Alexander’s understanding of consciousness from strictly scientific to spiritual.
The only thing anyone truly knows is that his or her consciousness exists, but the “hard problem of consciousness” illuminates how neuroscience is far from being able to explain how the brain can give rise to consciousness, Alexander said.
It’s a revelation that came to him after his coma.
“You cannot explain anything about the nature of reality independent of consciousness itself,” he said. “Consciousness is absolutely crucial to any understanding about reality.”
The scientific, materialist view of the physical realm eludes the enigma of consciousness, Alexander said. And the most important implication of the fact that, in his view, science cannot explain consciousness is that when the physical brain and body die, conscious awareness is released and liberated to a far higher level of knowing — a concept near-death experiencers have long argued.
The brain does not create consciousness, Alexander said, but rather serves as a reducing valve or filter that allows a certain amount of consciousness to come through. One can eliminate that filter not only through death or near-death experiences, but also through meditation, he said.
“This is all about love and serving as conduits for the infinite healing power of unconditional power of the Creator,” Alexander said.
Alexander said he is not the first one to come up with these ideas; rather, more research has led to greater realizations of the scope of consciousness and how modern science has failed to grasp it.
“The hard problem is there not because we haven’t done enough research … but because, in fact, the more we study the physical brain, the more we realize that it does not create consciousness,” he said. “It’s just now all coming together, that [the] very simplistic kindergarten-level reductive materialism of modern science fails miserably.”
Some doctors have claimed Alexander’s near-death experience was a hallucination. Alexander, however, said that his neocortex was not functioning, rendering it impossible for him to have such visions.
Alexander’s book The Map of Heaven: How Science, Religion, and Ordinary People Are Proving the Afterlife, which comes out in October, looks back to ancient Greek and Eastern philosophy and religious thinking, and will examine the history of scientific materialism and the roadblocks it hit with regard to the study of consciousness.
Alexander, the son of a surgeon who was “very science-minded but also very religious,” grew up in the Methodist Church in North Carolina. He said near-death experiences allow science and spirituality to come together, and allow for the expanding of one’s limited linguistic brain.
“I came to see science as the pathway to truth,” he said. “I think that now more than ever, but I also realize the very simplistic and kindergarten level that I worshiped before my coma … I came to realize that that is woefully and pathetically inadequate and simplistic, and it’s incredibly wrong.”