The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology
Long-time NDE researcher Dr. Penny Sartori has an excellent discussion of many features of Dr. Alexander's story.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 02:24 PM
WMRA Interview Discussion Thread
Rachel Bowman Did the guest consider himself a religious man prior to his NDE? Is he one now?
Eben Alexander III Thanks for your question, Rachel. I grew up in a religious home in Winston-Salem, went to a Methodist Church, prayed, believed in God (a healthy skepticism as a teen), but starting losing my faith in 2000 due to a severe psychic blow. 2000-2008 at best I agreed with Einstein that there might be a creative God, but he absolutely cared not a whit for the likes of puny individuals on earth. Absolutely lost all faith in prayer. That all changed completely when I went into coma for a week, and I assure you I will never doubt an omnipotent God with unconditional love for the individual, the eternity of our souls, the profound mystery of our consciousness and being, and the power of prayer, again. This will all be greatly clarified in my book.
Barry Williams Could we get some of the guests to comment on dymethyltryptamine and its role in both the sleep cycle and the likelihood that most NDE's are just the result of a DMT dump?
I think it was disingenuous of the guest to refer to DMT as a "drug" when it's a naturally-occurring compound that's found throughout nature, most notably within the human brain. Yes, it can be developed into a form which can then be taken as a "drug," but the way most of us are familiar with it is as the catalyst for our dreams.
And the NDE of the guest sure sounded like a DMT trip to me, especially the parts having to do with vivid light and a warming all-encompassing God that's unlike anything we're familiar with and doesn't even seem to be of this universe. He sounded very much like a lot of other smart people who have purposefully boosted their active DMT levels in the way he couldn't quite describe what he had experienced other than he was in a place where he belonged and was loved and saw great geometric light shapes and felt/heard a deep rhythm. He's right in that the details of some of his story don't correlate completely with the idea that NDE's are mostly a DMT trip/experience/overload, but what it does sound like to me is that his NDE -like most- seems to be a mixture of a "normal" dream and a full-on DMT overload.
Ron Gaykema I would like to point out several flaws in Alexander's assumptions: the neocortex is not shut down all the way, even if EEG measures do not show any waveforms. Also the thoughts, experiences and perceptions are not exclusively the domain of the neocortex but the basal ganglia and thalamus are equally involved: these structures are intensely interconnected and functionally linked.
Ron Gaykema I also have an issue with the religious beliefs that color the perceptions of the near-death experiencer. The way he experiences his sensations (real or brain-mediated) are interpreted though the lens of his preconceived beliefs. Also the near death situation will likely lead to the release of endorphins or "happy neurotransmitters". This chemical process leads to that beautiful experience in visual, tactile and auditory realms of his experiences. My take is: ask Oliver Sacks!
Thank you Tom, and I wish I had posted this sooner, but I hope my "insights" will be passed onto your guest. My "pet-peeve" is the apparent difference in rigorous knowledge of modern neuroscience that seem to be lacking among the MDs, even neurosurgeons. The problem often is that Medical Schools teach "med-neuro" classes with outdated content. Having being involved in teaching neuro lab to undergraduates as a PhD (not MD) myself, we sometimes noticed that if these students have taken "med-neuro" classes, they get taught outdated and sometimes discounted information.
I would like to modify my previous statement to "some MDs" and do not wish to count Dr. Alexander among those with concepts of how the brain works that are wrong per se. But some of his statements made me cringe. I do recall one comment by an MD involved in MS research who claimed we only use 10% of our brain, which is nothing short of a myth without any evidence.
Eben Alexander III Ron and Barry, thanks so much for your interest. My CSF glucose, normally 60-80, occasionally 20 in a bad meningitis, went all the way down to 1; my CT showed some blurring of the gray white junction, my exams showed severe cortical damage with some brainstem signs - I can't tell you how close to death I came, due to the entire neocortex being trashed. I am very familiar with drug experiences related to serotonin agonist/antagonists and the hypotheses I covered with other neuroscientists to explain my experience included DMT dump. All agreed that that doesn't cut it because prolonged coma due to bacterial meningitis had done such huge damage to my neocortex, which is where all of that 5-HT from the raphe nucleus would have effects on visual/auditory experience etc. My cortex was off. Thalamus, Basal Ganglia etc could not possibly handle the intense neural calculations to support such a rich interactive experiential extravaganza. The odyssey was actually 'hyper-real,' that is more real than I experience now sitting here with an intact cortex and brain. THAT really flummoxed me, until I realized that it is a common experience in deep transcendental NDEs and 'Beyond Death Experiences.' The fact that I went in and out of the 'earthworm's eye view' (EEV) to the hyper-real spiritual realm also is most revealing - I think the EEV was the best my very damaged cortex could muster, the hyper-real part not dependent on my cortex - or my brain. I hope all of you will keep in touch with your comments and questions - there are easily issues I haven't thought of yet, and I really need to get to the bottom of this. Please keep in touch! Best wishes, Eben
Eben Alexander III I wanted to clarify some important points about NDEs and meningitis for the non-medical members of the audience.
Of note, I fear there may have been a bit of confusion about the variable power of near-death experiences based on the medical situation (ie, how close to death do various people actually get).
I feel that any brush with death is important, and any alteration of consciousness (whether NDE, prayer, meditation, 'gift of desperation,' etc) can be of great value in assessing the 'spiritual realm.' You asked if I 'actually died,' and I am not sure the answer you received matched what I would have wanted you to get.
In discussing medical aspects of near-death experiences resulting in altered levels of consciousness, one is concerned with what happens to the brain, not the heart. Many laypersons without a medical background think that the gold standard for death involves having the heart stop beating. That is their interpretation of death, and if someone comes back from that, then they have “died” and “come back to life.” Cardiac arrest for a few minutes is relevant as a “near-death” phenomenon only in terms of its effect on the brain. Patients reported to be “clinically dead” often have a “flat-line” electrocardiogram (EKG) for several minutes, which in the past (before Brain Death Criteria emerged in the early 1980s) was considered a “gold standard” of death.
In fact, stopping the heart is a poor indicator of coming close to death. Surgeons have routinely stopped the heart for minutes to hours in cardiac surgery and some cases of neurosurgery for over half a century. They take steps to protect the brain, either using cardiopulmonary bypass pumps that continue to provide oxygenated blood flow to the brain, or cooling the brain if they need to interrupt its blood flow for any significant period of time. Outside of the operative setting, stopping the heart (cardiac arrest) for a few seconds is enough to result in loss of consciousness, which will reverse in seconds to minutes if blood flow is quickly restored.
A patient who is “clinically dead” with a flat line electrocardiogram for several minutes can emerge with virtually no damage whatsoever to brain cells if flow is restored within four minutes or so.
After many minutes up to tens of minutes or so of no blood flow, flow might then be restored and what remained of the brain would begin to heal. Permanent damage to brain cells begins after four minutes of zero blood flow. Often, neurons in that situation go into an idling mode from which they may be rescued to start functioning again, at least partially, depending on their reserves and on the time they are without blood flow. Longer periods of cardiac arrest lead to more diffuse brain damage, and under most conditions are not survivable after tens of minutes.
It is crucial to understand the importance of my illness being acute bacterial meningitis. Those lacking a medical background need to understand why that is so critical. “Dying” of a cardiac arrest, then being brought back to life can do very little damage to the brain, compared with spending a week in deep coma due to bacterial meningitis. To borrow an analogy from Annie Dillard, comparing the two is like comparing "kissing a man, to marrying him." Not even in the same ballpark!
Medical situations leading to loss of consciousness for many hours or days (head trauma, stroke, brain hemorrhage, meningitis, etc.) bring a patient much closer to death than transient cardiac events leading to unconsciousness due to decreased blood flow (which includes most cases of patients declared “dead” during cardiac arrest, then resuscitated). Most of these conditions, except for meningitis, tend to involve only part of the neocortex, often with deeper, more primitive parts of the brain involved.
Meningitis is unique in its diffuse destruction of the outer surface of the brain, the neocortex (eg. the ‘human’ brain). It thus has the greatest efficiency in mimicking human death, and still allowing for possible recovery to tell the tale (due to relative preservation of deeper 'housekeeping' structures common to most higher animals). That is why my particular case is having such a dramatic effect on the medical community.
No one knowledgeable about my medical specifics doubts the miraculous nature of my full recovery. It is also a miracle that I remember so much from within coma. But there it is, and I must deal with it. It happened for a very big reason.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Barry Williams - Aww, sweet. Thanks for posting here, it's fascinating stuff.
Honestly, it's gonna take me a little while to digest this all and come up with better questions, but the only one I can come up with now is if you think it's possible for our consciousness to exist outside of a live physical body? Flatly, if your body had ceased to operate on any level, do you feel that your consciousness would have gone on?
Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 10:41 AM
Eben Alexander III MD Yes. I am absolutely convinced that very rich conscious experience can occur outside of our brain and body. I had always believed (before my coma) purely in the reductionist materialist world view that flatly denies that mind/consciousness can exist without the brain, and I am now certain that that is not true. I have been working non-stop to come up with an explanation that is consistent with our current physics and cosmology, which is why I am writing my book. Check out the reading list on my web page (priority items in each section have an * beside them). The most powerful book from the scientific community is Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, Edited by Ed Kelly et alia at the Department of Perceptual Studies at UVA. I am certain that neuroscientists and physicists are going to come around to acknowledge these phenomena in the next few years. A large segment of the non-scientific (traditional, at least) community is way out in front of them already. The skeptical scientist who is addicted to the simplistic dogmatic reductionist materialist world view will go the way of the Dodo bird. Once people open up to the possibilities, it is mind-blowing what is out there! I will explain why I think the science of the material realm has such difficulty demonstrating some Psi effects in my book. For now, read 'The Emperor's New Mind' and 'Quantum Enigma' (details on my list). Thanks for your interest Barry, and I hope to hear more from you.
Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 10:42 AM