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. 

As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences. I grew up in a scientific world, the son of a neurosurgeon. I followed my father’s path and became an academic neurosurgeon, teaching at Harvard Medical School and other universities. I understand what happens to the brain when people are near death, and I had always believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death.

newsweek-oct-15-cover-teaseThe brain is an astonishingly sophisticated but extremely delicate mechanism. Reduce the amount of oxygen it receives by the smallest amount and it will react. It was no big surprise that people who had undergone severe trauma would return from their experiences with strange stories. But that didn’t mean they had journeyed anywhere real.

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.

I know how pronouncements like mine sound to skeptics, so I will tell my story with the logic and language of the scientist I am.

Very early one morning four years ago, I awoke with an extremely intense headache. Within hours, my entire cortex—the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion and that in essence makes us human—had shut down. Doctors at Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia, a hospital where I myself worked as a neurosurgeon, determined that I had somehow contracted a very rare bacterial meningitis that mostly attacks newborns. E. coli bacteria had penetrated my cerebrospinal fluid and were eating my brain.

When I entered the emergency room that morning, my chances of survival in anything beyond a vegetative state were already low. They soon sank to near nonexistent. For seven days I lay in a deep coma, my body unresponsive, my higher-order brain functions totally offline.

More: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/10/07/proof-of-heaven-a-doctor-s-experience-with-the-afterlife.html

Comment.

Previous experience and childhood dreams:  “I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky. A sound, huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above. For most of my journey, someone else was with me. A woman. She was young, and I remember what she looked like in complete detail. She had high cheekbones and deep-blue eyes. Golden brown tresses framed her lovely face. When first I saw her, we were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, which after a moment I recognized as the wing of a butterfly. She looked at me with a look that, if you saw it for five seconds, would make your whole life up to that point worth living, no matter what had happened in it so far. It was not a romantic look. It was not a look of friendship. It was a look that was somehow beyond all these, beyond all the different compartments of love we have down here on earth. Without using any words, she spoke to me. The message went through me like a wind, and I instantly understood that it was true. I knew so in the same way that I knew that the world around us was real—was not some fantasy, passing and insubstantial.”

Reality: The looks of polite disbelief, especially among my medical friends, soon made me realize what a task I would have getting people to understand the enormity of what I had seen and experienced that week while my brain was down.

Previous experience: “One of the few places I didn’t have trouble getting my story across was a place I’d seen fairly little of before my experience: church. The first time I entered a church after my coma, I saw everything with fresh eyes. The colors of the stained-glass windows recalled the luminous beauty of the landscapes I’d seen in the world above. The deep bass notes of the organ reminded me of how thoughts and emotions in that world are like waves that move through you. And, most important, a painting of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples evoked the message that lay at the very heart of my journey: that we are loved and accepted unconditionally by a God even more grand and unfathomably glorious than the one I’d learned of as a child in Sunday school.”

Summary: Brain mirrors only what has been recorded in lifetime. Received medicine during the coma makes the rest. I.V.

Comment from ScienceBlogs Channel:  Here’s a deep message for you: brain damage can persuade you of the truth of some real bullshit.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/10/09/newsweek-panders-to-the-deluded-again/

As you are well aware the brain is an interpretation machine, and without heavy conscious metabolic activity we are constantly constructing interpretations and coherency via unconscious processing.  Some 90-95% of activity is unconscious processing.  I don’t think the delusion question is a matter of localization of some region of the brain, but the feeling of certainty that an experience is NOT a delusion is likely mediated by the mid-brain reward system, which is mediated predominantly by dopamine in the basal ganglia with projections to the PFC from the Ventral Tegmentum and other areas of the cortex via the thalamus.  What is interesting here is that some of the efferent connections project through the thalamus while others are direct to the PFC.  If the PFC is turned “off” then presumably only a portion of the information from efferent projections gets to the thalamus, which can be thought of as a relay station.  How is the brain then to construct an experience and an interpretation of it?  The thalamus is receiving sensory input as well, so all kinds of things are going on under the level of conscious cortical processing.  The reward system comes into play by providing that feeling of certainty or conviction one has about the experience.  Rather than being of divine origin, this feeling is of dopaminergic origin.

Brian

Not being able to recognize a delusion as a result of brain damage– sure, although I do not believe anyone has specifically localized the site of damage in all cases, probably multiple mechanisms. Called “anosognosia”.  Can be right hemisphere in some neurologic damage.  BIg, big problem in mental illnesses leading to refusal to take medication http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/problem/anosognosia

It is too bad he is apparently stuck taking this literally, because an odd experience like that can still feel meaningful without the literalism, just by reminding us we are capable of experiencing certain emotional states.  I had a weird experience many years ago during a lightening storm– I would guess maybe I was almost struck, since I’ve never had anything seizure-like before or since.  My two young children wanted to sleep in their sleeping bags in our room because of the storm– I was kneeling between them with a hand on each of their backs, after giving them a goodnight back rub (any parents on here know how lovely it is to savor the relative peacefulness of sleeping children– no more “mom, he’s making faces at me” for a little while). I felt the change in their breathing and relaxing back muscles that let me know they had both fallen asleep.

Suddenly I had this intense sensation of connection between the 3 of us that felt both electrical and emotionally powerful– my brain sort of instantly converted it into an image of “love” circulating between us, and I had the thought that this was really happening all the time but we didn’t pay attention enough.  Was brief but ecstatic, so strong that I also had the thought that if the sensation continued my heart might stop– that it was more current than my body could manage.  It left me with a simultaneous sense of “WTH just happened– was I struck by lightening?” and a kind of dumbstruck wonder/ joy.

If I were superstitious, I guess I could have maintained that as a religious vision of some sort, but I knew it was neurologically generated and likely related to the storm.  However, even though it wasn’t “God” communicating with me or an event of me “tuning in” to some spiritual energy outside of physics, the emotional experience remains meaningful to me even to this day.  It’s a memory I draw on when I feel disconnected or frustrated, a lingering resonant warmth and sense of connection, minus the overpowering intensity of the initial event.  I found it a very helpful memory when my two were teenagers– in the middle of all their adolescent turmoil and eye-rolling twit behavior, I could take a breath and remember I loved them.

If this fellow could realize his NDE was generated by his own brain and that he can enjoy the benefits of the residual peacefulness and happiness it left him without being superstitious, he could use it as a reminder not to get too caught up in frustrating trivialities and focus on living in a personally meaningful way. He could use “afterlife” as a metaphor for new options of living his current life.  Our brains can create such amazing experiences, even without nearly dying/ lightening/ drugs.  I especially think that is important, as an atheist, since we only get one shot at living.  No re-do, no later compensation for missing out on happiness.
Pippa

I picked up his note of “pining to believe” right away. It’s fascinating how childlike he sounds when describing the “butterflies” and “silvery creatures” and the feeling of being loved. His inner child comes out, just like the Christian geneticist who used to head the genome sequencing project and whose name eludes me. He’s a scientist one minute and then he talks about God and immediately regresses several decades, sounding like a star-struck nine year old.
I was wondering if the experiences he described could have actually occurred within the space of a few minutes — maybe even under a minute — and occurred just as his brain connections snapped back on and he was returning to consciousness. After all, if he was in “Heaven” for four full days, he should have piles of adventures to report about.
I guess he felt like an Orphan of the Universe and now he feels like a Child of God.
Anne

I always argue that if the experiencer comes back with information she could not possibly have known that would have evidence. This hasn’t happened once in 30 years of research, as the host’s experts admitted!

See my essay on Life After Death at http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/RelSci/LAD.pdf

Vic

More  grasping at any straws  to save the immortal soul. Notice how strong evidence refuting a magic ghost in  the brain is completely ignored by NDE enthusiasts.
For example, where does the soul go when a person is unconscious,  the NDE enthusiasts never seem to want to engage this important question. What about people who suffer alzheimer’s, is their soul entering heaven ( or Hell) a little at a time?  Kind of like oozing into the after life. The evidence that what we call mind (and the religionist call soul)  is a result of the purely physical brain process is overwhelming.
 Altered states of consciousness under extreme condition serve as very poor evidence for an after life based on our improved scientific understanding of the brain.
Bob Zannelli
Kaut arī Sam Harris raksta, ka apziņa ir mistērija un kaut kas specifisks, komplicētība, kas nav reducējama uz sastāvdaļām,  un ka zinātnieki nezina, kas tas ir un nekad to neuztaisīs, šajā rakstā viņš misticismu neatbalsta. IV.

This is nothing more than the classic argument from ignorance, which forms the basis of almost all ostensibly scientific arguments for the existence of the supernatural. The argument from ignorance is a less polite but more descriptive name for the God-of-the-gaps argument. This argument often appears in dialogues on the existence of God or anything supernatural. Basically, it says: “I can’t see how this [observed phenomenon] can be explained naturally; therefore it must be supernatural.”

The flaw in the argument should be obvious. Just because someone–or even all of science–currently cannot provide a natural explanation for something, it does not follow that a natural explanation does not exist or will never be found. Indeed, the history of science is nothing more than the story of humanity filling in the gaps in its knowledge about the world of our senses. In the case of NDEs, plausible natural explanations do exist.

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About basicrulesoflife

77 years. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence. Artificial Intelligence Foundation Latvia, http://www.artificialintelligence.lv Editor.
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