Saturday, December 3, 2011

Materialism and Near Death Experiences

Reductive materialism is the hypothesis that all of our mental events can in principle be explained by physical processes occurring in the material brain. The reductive materialist does not believe that we possess a distinct mind or soul, but are simply and exclusively made of matter. Mental events, in this view, arise from the chemistry and physics of matter much like heat and light arise from the combustion of wood.

Well, a reductive materialist neuroscientist named Eben Alexander had a Near Death Experience a couple of years ago and was so overwhelmed by what he "saw" that he consequently abandoned reductive materialism. It's a fascinating story, one which, if true, is nothing short of breath-taking. Alexander recounts his experience in an interview at a blog called Skeptiko. Here's part of it:
[O]ne thing that has emerged from my experience and from very rigorous analysis of that experience over several years, talking it over with others that I respect in neuroscience, and really trying to come up with an answer, is that consciousness outside of the brain is a fact. It’s an established fact.

And of course, that was a hard place for me to get, coming from being a card-toting reductive materialist over decades. It was very difficult to get to knowing that consciousness, that there’s a soul [in] us that is not dependent on the brain. As much as I know all the reductive materialist arguments against that, I think part of the problem is it’s like the guy looking for his keys under the streetlight. Reductive materialists are under the streetlight because that’s where they can see things.

But in fact, if you’re keys are lost out in the darkness, the techniques there are no good. It is only by letting go of that reductive materialism and opening up to what is a far more profound understanding of consciousness. This is where I think for me as a scientist, I look at quantum mechanics and I go into this in great detail in my book, is a huge part of the smoking gun. It shows us that there’s something going on there about consciousness that our primitive models don’t get. It’s far more profound than I ever realized before.

That’s where I’m coming from because my experience showed me very clearly that incredibly powerful consciousness far beyond what I’m trapped in here in the earthly realm begins to emerge as you get rid of that filtering mechanism of the brain. It is really astonishing. And that is what we need to explain. Thousands or millions of near-death experiencers have talked about this.
Read his description of what he experienced and draw your own conclusions. One of mine is that it's one thing for someone disposed to theism or a spirit world to report having encountered the sorts of phenomena they may have expected to encounter, but quite another when they're reported by a neuroscientist who, up until he had the experience, was an arrant materialist. That Alexander was not in any way disposed or prepared to experience what he experienced confers upon his narrative an extra measure of credibility.