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: