Sunday, October 28, 2012

Finished 'Proof Of Heaven'

I think that the NDE aspect of Dr. Alexander's book is secondary... What his book really does is offer evidence that consciousness can thrive outside the physical body. This is both more important than--and not as easy as--concocting an elaborate narrative of "heaven," because it flies in the face of mainstream scientific thought of the past century or so.

That's probably why there has been such a visceral reaction to the book among the mainstream. The mainstream will allow the kooks in the paranormal gallery to channel various non-physical entities that say this, but it's quite another thing for an established scientist to promote it. It's a very subversive concept that, if carried to its logical extreme, undermines much of our current power structure.

I hope that Eben Alexander continues to expound on the information that he received during his seven days out of body. In the meantime, I plan to read the book carefully several more times. I think that his book can serve as a touchstone of sorts to what I am leaning toward... a physics of non-physical state.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wow

So I was one of maybe a million people who downloaded what one skeptic called the "imaginatively titled" 'Proof Of Heaven' by Dr. Eben Alexander, and as I'm reading it, I'm also perusing the critical reaction to it online--and finding it mostly hostile. Just a sampling... "Heaven Does Exist & Dr. Eben Alexander Has The PROOF! (DETAILS)" in something called "globalgrind.com"... "Heaven Help Us: Another 'Harvard brain scientist' finds faith and tells the world" in Slate... I think that the negative response is due to two factors. Predominantly, the NDE genre is followed by a relatively small core of seekers. While cabootles of books are published on the subject, they rarely make it into the mainstream. Dr. Alexander's book did, however, and this is probably most critics' exposure to the subject. Those who read NDE accounts will, like me, find it a fairly run-of-the mill account of an NDE; we aren't surprised with the descriptive hyperbole of fantastic realms, and we aren't bothered when the narrator defaults to using religious imagery. We've heard it all before. Our culture lacks the vocabulary to translate what is, essentially, an untranslatable experience, in any other way except through the rough approximation of religious symbolism. For the normally skeptical critic who reads such an account for the first time, however, the the mishmash of archaic religious imagery grafted onto what reads as a first-experiencer's bad-DMT narrative, will likely generate bemusement.

Second, I believe that there is a blanket skepticism of paranormal accounts by some digerati who conflate genuine accounts of contemporary "edge" experiences with the all-too-common charlatanism that drives much of the paranormal "field." In other words... If most of it is a fraud, then all of it is. Others assume the mantle of "paranormal skeptic" because they see it (not unreasonably) as a badge of intellectual superiority--without bothering to inform themselves not only with what science actually has to say about the subject, but also what the paranormal experiencer has actually said.

Personally, I'm a paranormal skeptic also-with the distinction of having studied the subject extensively enough to know that the phenomenon is both real and objective. But I tread carefully... A lot of paranormal proponents *are* frauds (or, at best, suffering from a delusional psychosis). Still, I'm able to find enough white crows in my search to keep me searching. And at this stage of my search, I have decided that NDE accounts offer the best hope of giving us a glimpse of reality outside the matrix.

So what's Dr. Alexander's account like? Well, I'm a quarter through the book and I am finding it quite run-of-the mill. Normal, actually, well within the norms of such an experience. Which is why I am surprised at the opprobrium heaped on the good doctor. You'd think that he was channelling Ramtha or something. There seems to be some daemon built into our matrix that forcefully slaps down "important" people--pillars of the establishment--when they question the consensus reality. You may be able to go so far as to say that one way of identifying valid paranormal accounts is by taking note of the skeptics--if they are attacking an experiencer a bit too forcefully and irrationally, the experiencer is probably onto something.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Victor Stenger's post in today's HuffPo

It did not take long for a skeptical critique of Dr. Eben Alexander's "Newsweek" article promoting "Proof Of Heaven" to manifest... Victor Stenger lays out the classical scientific / materialistic rebuttal in today's "Weird News" section of Huffington Post.

What Stenger takes issue with--and he's probably right--is Dr. Alexander's characterization of his NDE as being proof of "Heaven," and particularly, of "God." Any Christian fundamentalist will tell you that there's no room for God in science--not because science doesn't believe in God, but because the existence (or non-existence) of God will never be proven by the current scientific method.

I noticed Dr. Alexander's rush to explain his NDE in religious terms, knowing that critics would attack his religious interpretation, rather than the experience itself, although I don't think that it should skew his narrative, and it personally did not bother me. (For an example of a book along this theme that *did* bother me, take a glance at Dr. John Lerma's "Into the Light: Real Life Stories About Angelic Visits, Visions of the Afterlife, and Other Pre-Death Experiences." This book is so demagogically Christian as to be offensive, to the point that I doubted whether any of it was true.)

Stenger's critique is important, however, because it shows how difficult it will be for science to examine NDEs. In Stenger's weltanschauung, reality is defined as what our physical senses, and what our physical instruments, can perceive. We absolutely cannot measure what we cannot perceive. We can infer the existence of an "afterlife" by collecting accounts of individual experiencers, and we may be able to mathematically theorize it, but that's all we can do--at this stage, anyway.

Dr. Alexander's account, however, is not really about validating his NDE to the scientific community; it's about describing a remarkable experience involving an expansion of consciousness, where nonphysical realms *were* perceived. And I think that this is where science will eventually go. At some point, a light will go off over a scientist's head, and he will realize that the goal of science should not necessarily be to study what we already can see--but to see where we currently can't.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Some back-of-a-napkin speculations about the non-physical

While listening to some interviews with Natalie Sudman (whose "Application of Impossible Things - My Near Death Experience in Iraq" I have not yet read) recently, I decided to compile a restaurant-napkin list of some general observations of common themes linking NDEs, OOBEs, as well as some "channeled" accounts. Basically, I'm groping toward some ideas of the physics of the non-physical state. Since I'm not a physicist, I doubt that I will come up with much, but I still enjoy the mental exercise of trying.

The Seth books have been helpful here... Some of his more esoteric ruminations (especially "his" descriptions of the "inner senses") seem relevant. According to Seth, our physical world is "camouflage," which we experience with physical senses specially adapted to perceiving within the narrow physical range. These physical senses (in a greatly diminished way) mirror our "inner senses." Thus, when we are not focussed in the physical form, we can "see" and "hear" just as we can when physically focussed... But the "inner senses" are arguably more powerful than our physical ones.

Seth argues that any attempt to understand the "greater" reality by observing it physically will result in "distortion"; we use "camouflage" instruments to measure our camouflage environment, which we process through a brain that is also "camouflage." And while these measurements *usually* result in very consistent picture of reality, it really isn't reflective of the "true" reality. To observe and measure this, we must use our "inner senses."

Is this practical or even provable? As my camouflage brain scribbles this onto a camouflage computer, the camouflage part of me says "no." Yet, even the most materially-focussed part of me wonders, "Can the concept of 'inner senses' elucidate NDE accounts?"

After all, these accounts, while appearing to violate physical laws, are remarkably consistent, internally. This consistency suggests that they are "real," on some level. Can we gain some insight into the "greater" reality by observing the consistencies? It's worth a try.

So here is my back-of-a-napkin list of commonalities that I've noticed, which run through the majority of accounts:

*Synesthesia, with accelerated sensory perception and hyper-reality ("realer than real"). Music is felt; thoughts are seen; colors are understood.

*Lack of sense of separation between self and the perceived external environment; or, a sense of meaningful "connection" between the self and the external environment, or with beings that are perceived.

*Malleability and flexibility of time perception; instead of consciousness being confined to a fixed and linear procession of time, it can rapidly and easily be focussed in multiple directions--events can be accelerated, reversed, or examined in granular detail.

*"Cause-and-effect" is perceived as being only one slice of an event; effects can reach "back" in time and create a cause, and probable timelines resulting from choices not materialized can be followed.

*A sort of "thought transference" can occur that results in complex symbolic gestalts being instantly and non verbally "received," and intuitively understood, without needing to be "thought about."

*Experiencers are conscious of having a body that seems to be physical, but they are often unable to describe the nature of it.

*Experiencers or communicants usually cannot explain "where" they are, suggesting that "physical" concepts of space and location do not apply to the non-physical environment.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The metaphysical equivalent of Nixon going to China

In today's online grazing I stumbled upon an account of a classic near-death experience that hit all of the salient points: a patient is suddenly stricken by a potentially fatal bout of meningitis; he is quickly rushed to the ER but rapidly loses consciousness. Within hours, his frontal cortex shuts down and he is placed on a ventilator. After several days, with no hope of recovery in sight, the physicians prepare to remove the patient from life support when he makes a miraculous recovery. Over the subsequent weeks of rehabilitation he assembles the narrative of his experience while comatose... writes a book about it and publishes it on Amazon.com.

So what's so unusual about it all (as if we could be blasé to NDEs in the first place)? The account was written by a neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander, and the account was published in "Newsweek" under the very NDEish title "Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife."

What makes Dr. Alexander's account significant is that, if true, his NDE memories were generated during a period when there is clear medical documentation of zero brain activity lasting several days. One of the main critical arguments against the late Pam Reynolds' NDE (experienced when the blood was drained from her body and she was placed in an artificial coma to repair an aneurysm) was that it didn't really occur when he had flatlined, but moments before; and that she confabulated the bulk of her account. It will be more difficult to make this charge in Dr. Alexander's case. And the doctrinaire materialists will have to argue with a credentialed neuroscientist who, presumably, knows what he's talking about when he says that he had "no brain activity."

But what interests me most about Dr. Alexander's account is that it will likely be a critical scientific observation of the out-of-body state. Dr. Alexander was a committed materialist prior to his NDE. So what he has to say about the near-death realm--and what he thinks it means--could be significant. If consciousness can function outside the body, it has to function "somewhere." This "somewhere," I believe, a "real" place, with its own physical laws. Who better to describe this realm than someone immersed in classical materialist beliefs and trained in the scientific method? Much like Nixon going to China, Dr. Alexander went to "heaven," and I predict that what he brings back will more than a few ping-pong players.