Near Death Experiences: Proof of Consciousness Outside of the Brain … Or Byproduct of a Dying Mind?

Does a Harvard Neuroscientist’s Experience Prove that the Soul Is Real?  Or that Even a Scientist Can Fool Himself?

Preface:  Around two-thirds of American scientists believe in God if you count the social sciences. About 40% of physical scientists believe in God, and that number has stayed constant for almost 100 years.

Does that mean that atheists shouldn’t assume that all people of faith are idiots?  Or that religion can cloud the thinking ability even of trained scientists?

BBC reports this week that a man classified as being in a total and persistent vegetative state can still answer questions put to him using certain technology.  BBC notes:

His doctor says the discovery means medical textbooks will need rewriting.

In other words, medicine needs to fine-tune its understanding about people’s ability to think even when in a vegetative state.

Some scientists go much further … arguing that consciousness can operate independently from the brain.

For example, the University of Virginia School of Medicine has published numerous studies by medical doctors on near death experiences which argue that consciousness survives death of the brain.

Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel systematically studied near-death experiences for over 20 years in a wide variety of hospital patients who survived cardiac arrest, and published his research on near death experiences in Lancet, the prestigious medical journal.  He also wrote a book on the subject.  Van Lommel argues that consciousness survives the death of the brain.

And an academic neurosurgeon at Harvard Medical School – Dr. Eben Alexander – believed that consciousness was just generated by the brain … and turned off when the brain dies.

Then Alexander contacted severe bacterial meningitis. His doctors expected him to die quickly or – if he didn’t die – to be a vegetable for the rest of his life.

The disease not only put him into a coma, but it destroyed all of his higher thinking centers.

Alexander had a very vivid near death experience involving things spiritual.

As an academic neurosurgeon, he set out to explain his own experience using potential explanations from neuroscience, medicine, physiology and chemistry. Specifically, Dr. Alexander considered 9 potential medical explanations:

1. Primitive brainstem program

2. Distorted recall of memories from the limbic system

3. Endogenous glutamate blockade with excitotoxicity

4. DMT dump (a hypothetical phenomenon which has not been proven to occur)

5. Isolated preservation of cortical regions of the brain

6. Loss of inhibitory neurons leading to highly levels of activity among excitatory neuronal networks to generate an apparent “ultra-reality”

7. Activation of thalamus, basal ganglia and brainstorm to create a hyper-reality experience

8. Reboot phenomenon

9. Unusual memory generation through archaic visual pathways

He concluded that none of these potential scientific theories could explain his near death experiences.

Does this prove that consciousness exists outside of the brain? Or is there a scientific explanation?

Judge for yourself:

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  • Tanya

    There is another book that digs even deeper. Not easy to read, a lot of hard science, but if you can plow your way through it, you will see how right Dr Alexander is.
    “Consciousness Beyond Life” by Pim van Lommel – available on Amazon. Van Lommel is a Dutch cardiologist who undertook a very comprehensive and methodical scientific study of near death experiences.

  • I had a near-death experience in 1973. I was comatose for 3 days and my recovery was questionable. I experienced nothing. That period is a complete void.

    There are too many unknowns as yet when it comes to what Life and Consciousness are.

    Energy is Life; Life is energy.

    “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed”.The law of conservation of energy.

    It can, however, be converted from one form to another.

    • Mahmood Isbad

      Your recovery was questionable? You mean you may still be in a coma?

    • Stuart

      If you experiened the nothing, or the void, emptiness, mental blankness, etc then I have some bad news for you – you still have a long way to truly understand what life is. The void itself is who you are, when the ego is removed, so why would you be able to experience it if you have no identify or ‘self’ to identify with?

  • The confusion arises because medical science still can’t distinguish between mostly dead and all dead.

  • John G.

    Dr. Alexander’s account of the afterlife/other dimensions squares in all details with descriptions from ETs via channels (Seth Speaks, The Law of One), friendly UFO abductions (The Secrets of the Saucers), and folks who use meditation or psychedelic drugs to shut down the brain’s screening and integration functions (Acid Dreams, The Doors of Perception, Heaven and Hell, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead).

    Aldous Huxley’s two books — TDoP and HaH — do a great job showing the ties between psychedelic experiences and religious experiences, including visions while fasting and altered consciousness when listening to organ music and viewing stained glass.

    Dr. Alexander’s book also ties in important details with accounts from children who report reincarnation and remember details from the period between lives (Life Before Life).

    I am convinced that Dr. Alexander’s account speaks the truth of what lies ahead for us after our current mortal life.

  • A. Richtoffen

    It’s really great to see science catching up with this aspect of the human experience. He’s right — it will change people to have proof that consciousness is more than physical, that the mind is still present when the brain is gone, when the body is medically dead. For those of us who’ve been over there and then come back here life can only be described as inside out — it’s so easy to see that there isn’t anything wrong with anything out here, that it’s all driven by infinite love.

  • gozounlimited

    Explained by Universal Consciousness ….

  • Richard Ryckoff

    I’m afraid Dr. Alexander is not practicing the scientific method rigorously.

    ‘Egret’ says “The confusion arises because medical science still can’t distinguish between mostly dead and all dead.” That makes sense.

    Since there is NO scientifically validated evidence of this thesis – nor of an afterlife; nor of any supernatural realm; nor of a ‘god’ (and indeed, the concept of a supernatural realm and a ‘god’ violates the laws of physics, reality, logic and common sense – unclouded by primitive ‘father figure’ emotional longing) – rationally, one should obviously be an atheist.
    I certainly believe we have much to learn about the brain and the mind — and energy is a key element here.
    But that doesn’t mean we should go into superstition and fabricate other realities and ‘supernatural beings.’

  • Björn Lindgren

    Washington’ s blog,

    Well let´s put projection, spirit, god, and trolls aside.

    If we check – this very moment, this very body, this very consciousness, this very content of mind, this very depth and limits of mind – without thought constructs, memory, preconceived ideas, projections, past, present and future; only what we truly percieve, in this very moment, what do we really perceive?


    No inside, no outside, no consciousness – i.e. no subject-object relations or borders between them – no spirit, no self, no other, no time, no space, no past-present-future, no life, no death, and so on….

    These are some of the features all “mystics” in all religions have realized, often through long and exacting practice of, for example, meditation, and orther practices, and embody. In a way, recognizing the “facts”.

    Unfortunately, our present culture and civilization, don´t condition us to explore these very natural vistas, but has spent its time and energy to look at things, (outer) objects.

    The scientific project – to falsify what is not the case (scientific positivism has been dead ever since the 30s) – is not wrong, but is not, and cannot, show the whole scene, the whole truth. It is always, like all other things, provisional and changing.

    Knowledge is something you kan find in a book; wisdom – a total view – is something without a cause that you embody. In other words, joy, intimacy, sharing!

    Cheers, Björn Lindgren

  • FrankJAiello

    When you’re dead, you’re dead.