Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander: Heaven is real and consciousness is not produced by the brain.

The neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander, has a book coming out soon about his near death experience, Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife. The book describes the near death experience Dr. Alexander had while he was hospitalized and in a coma caused by meningitis. Dr. Alexander's near death experience is of particular importance because he was medically monitored during his illness and his brain is known to have been inactive. His near death experience occurred in the absence of any brain function. During the near death experience, he received a message that is important to everyone, and he learned from direct experience about God's love for each of us.

Alexander gave an interview on skeptkio podcast last fall. In that interview he explained why, as a neurosurgeon, because of the way the brain is wired, he is sure that his experience can only be explained if consciousness is independent of the brain. He also explained that biological explanations like abnormal CO2 and oxygen levels or abnormal brain chemicals like DMT or ketamine cannot explain his experience. He says that before his NDE he believed neuroscience could explain how the brain produced consciousness, but after the NDE he understood that "mind and consciousness are independent of the brain". This is extremely significant coming from a neurosurgeon who combines what he knows about neuroscience and what he learned from his own near death experience. Dr. Alexander states, "consciousness outside of the brain is a fact. It’s an established fact."

You can read an excerpt from his book at the

Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife
When a neurosurgeon found himself in a coma, he experienced things he never thought possible—a journey to the afterlife.

Dr. Alexander was medically monitored during the time he had his near death experience and his brain is known to have been inactive. His experience occurred in the absence of any brain function. This shows that we survive the death of our bodies.

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.


For seven days I lay in a deep coma, my body unresponsive, my higher-order brain functions totally offline.


There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.


But as far as I know, no one before me has ever traveled to this dimension (a) while their cortex was completely shut down, and (b) while their body was under minute medical observation, as mine was for the full seven days of my coma.

During the experience he received a message that is important to everyone:

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.”

The message flooded me with a vast and crazy sensation of relief. It was like being handed the rules to a game I’d been playing all my life without ever fully understanding it.

Dr. Alexander's experience renewed his belief in God and he learned from direct experience of God's love for all of us:

In fact, reality is too vast, too complex, and too irreducibly mysterious for a full picture of it ever to be absolutely complete. But in essence, it will show the universe as evolving, multi-dimensional, and known down to its every last atom by a God who cares for us even more deeply and fiercely than any parent ever loved their child.

The book will be published on October 23.

Here are an mp3 and transcript of an interview with Dr. Eben Alexander from

In this interview, Alexander explains that his experience could not have occurred if consciousness was produced by the brain because the brain does not have the necessary structure to produce what he experienced.

In fact, one of the hypotheses that I entertained about all this was because the experience that I’ll describe to you seemed very hyper-real and extremely crisp and vivid, much more real and interactive than sitting here and talking with you right now. I mean, it was extraordinary. That is something that is often described in near-death experiences and of course one of my early hypotheses was well, maybe there’s some differential effect against inhibitory neuronal networks that allowed over-expression of excitatory neural networks and gave this illusion of kind of a hyper-real situation.

I can tell you from having lived through it that it was so powerful and so beyond that kind of explanation that I wasn’t very hopeful that that would work out in the end. But I figured I needed to give it a chance and look at the microanatomy in the cortex and the different connections with the thalamus and basal ganglia and see if I could come up with some way that one might have an illusion of hyper-reality.

I can tell you because of the kind of content of the experience and the powerful, overwhelming nature of it and the fact that it was so complex, I think much of what I remembered from that experience, I don’t think my brain and mind could possibly manage that even now.

I mean, the kind of mental function that occurs when you’re in that hyper-real state, the way that information comes in from spiritual beings and kind of the interaction with them is so intense and extraordinary, it’s really inexplicable in earthly terms. But it would basically outrun any of those kind of theories. That was something I was looking for. In fact, I never found an anatomic distribution that would support that over-activity of excitatory pathways.

He explains a little bit about what time is like in the spirit world. They have time but it is different than what we experience.

But then I would find myself—and time out there I can say is totally different from what we call time. There was access from out there to any part of our space/time and that made it difficult to understand a lot of these memories because we always try to sequence things and put them in linear form and description. That just really doesn’t work.

Alexander rejects the explanation that NDEs are caused by abnormal CO2 and oxygen levels.

Initially I thought, “Gosh, it was almost too real to be real.” That hyper-reality that people describe, I just wish we could bottle that up and give it to people so they could see what it’s like because it is not something that is going to be explained by these little simplistic kind of talking about CO2 and oxygen levels. That just won’t work. I promise you that won’t work.

He also rejects the explanation that NDEs are caused by chemicals like DMT or ketamine.

I guess one could always argue, “Well, your brain was probably just barely able to ignite real consciousness and then it would flip back into a very diseased state,” which doesn’t make any sense to me. Especially because that hyper-real state is so indescribable and so crisp. It’s totally unlike any drug experience. A lot of people have come up to me and said, “Oh that sounds like a DMT experience, ”or“ That sounds like ketamine.” Not at all. That is not even in the right ballpark.

Those things do not explain the kind of clarity, the rich interactivity, the layer upon layer of understanding and of lessons taught by deceased loved ones and spiritual beings. Of course, they’re all deceased loved ones. I’ve kind of wondered where it is that these people are coming from. They say, “The brain was very sick but it was very selective and made sure it only remembered deceased loved ones.” They’re just not hearing something.

Alexander explains how his belief about the origin of consciousness was changed by his NDE. Before the NDE he believed the brain produced consciousness but after the NDE he knew consciousness was independent of the brain.

Coming from a neurosurgeon who, before my coma, thought I was quite certain how the brain and the mind interacted and it was clear to me that there were many things I could do or see done on my patients and it would eliminate consciousness. It was very clear in that realm that the brain gives you consciousness and everything else and when the brain dies there goes consciousness, soul, mind—it’s all gone. And it was clear.

Now, having been through my coma, I can tell you that’s exactly wrong and that in fact the mind and consciousness are independent of the brain. It’s very hard to explain that, certainly if you’re limiting yourself to that reductive materialist view.

He says:

... consciousness outside of the brain is a fact. It’s an established fact.

If you found this article interesting you may also want to read my article about the skeptiko interview of near death experience researcher Melvin Morse.

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