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One neurosurgeon recently claimed that he witnessed heaven while enduring a coma from meningitis. He asserts that there was no way he was hallucinating such a vivid experience (as the bacterial disease basically shut down most of his brain). As further proof, he was able to recognize someone he had never met but saw in that "heaven" experience.

asked Dec 27 '12 at 18:21

user890's gravatar image


If he was in cpm then his heart was beating...not dead.leonard peikoff answered this question...Peikoff.com

(Dec 27 '12 at 22:54) Twilightseed Twilightseed's gravatar image

But his cognition was essentially dead.

(Dec 28 '12 at 00:21) user890 user890's gravatar image

The question links to an "NBC12" on-line article summarizing a new book. The article reads basically like a marketing exercise to promote the book. To review the claims of the book's author more definitively, one would need to read the book.

One of the comments on the question mentions a past answer on "life after death" by Leonard Peikoff, but does not provide a complete link to Dr. Peikoff's answer. In reviewing my own notes, the best match that I found is question #3 in episode #97 (2/1/10). Dr. Peikoff stresses the need for evidence in proving a claim, and the classification of a claim as merely arbitrary if there is no evidence. The arbitrary is neither true nor false, neither possible nor impossible. It has no cognitive standing, and it merits no cognitive consideration unless or until there is evidence supporting it. Dr. Peikoff's answer goes on to note that in the case of life after death, the whole idea of it is so contrary to everything that we know about life as to be properly regarded as impossible and even incomprehensible. How can a body be dead yet still live somehow? If the issue is only man's consciousness continuing to "exist" in some way, without a body, that, too, contradicts what we know about consciousness. Consciousness can't exist without a means of consciousness. (There was an earlier episode in which Dr. Peikoff discussed the issue of disembodied consciousness: #47, 2/2/09, if my notes are accurate.)

In the case of the neurosurgeon described in the question, the neurosurgen reportedly offers a complete book describing his experience. One would certainly expect to find evidence in such a book. The question remains, however, evidence of what? The book's author doesn't think it is evidence of hallucination, but I wonder how carefully the book analyzes the following:

  • How much time does it take to hallucinate?

  • How much actual brain activity does it take to hallucinate?

  • How closely does the perceived passage of time that one might experience while hallucinating in a coma correspond to the actual passage of time outside one's body? Perhaps the hallucination was occurring at a greatly speeded up timing rate.

  • How would someone in such a state be able to perform time correlations in general between his mental experiences and events happening externally to him and around him, i.e., how does he know for sure exactly when his mental experience occurred during his coma, assuming that the coma lasted for a non-trivial length of time? Maybe the mental experience actually happened at a time when his brain scans were showing greater brain activity.

The article mentions seeing a person during the coma who later turned out to be a deceased, not-previously-known sister of the neurosurgeon. But the article also mentions that he apparently knew he was adopted. This means he might have wondered about his birth parents and any possible siblings over the years. Perhaps that personal history merely became part of his hallucination (assuming that's what he was experiencing), and he merely believes (or wants to believe) that the girl in the photo is the same one he allegedly saw in his dream. The article also doesn't mention how the photo turned up. Perhaps the neurosurgeon actually had glimpsed the photo at sometime in the past but simply forgot about it, and the memory of the image came back unexpectedly during the coma. These are some of the points I would want to check if I were to read the book.

The kind of experience which the NBC12 article describes is an apparently common occurrence known as a "Near-death experience" (NDE). Cases of this type have been reported many times over the centuries, apparently going all the way back to one description that appears in the works of none other than the philosopher Plato. For a broad overview of "Near-death experience," refer to the Wikipedia article on that topic. In dismissing "life after death," we do not (and should not) dismiss NDE as a valid phenomenon for systematic, rational study, as long as we are rigorous about recognizing it for what it is, whatever that proves to be. That is a far higher standard of inquiry, however, than reading a brief article promoting a book and immediately wondering if maybe there is life after death.

answered Dec 28 '12 at 20:11

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Dec 27 '12 at 18:21

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Last updated: Dec 28 '12 at 20:11