Friday, January 24, 2014

Near Death Experiences

I tend to avoid books about near death experiences, yet was fascinated today by a best-seller by Evan Alexander, M.D., The Proof of Heaven.

The title, however, bothered me as much as the credentials of the author impressed me: he is a neurosurgeon at Harvard whose coma led him to a transcendent experience of God, convincing him that God, the soul and the afterlife are real.  All this is fine, but can one prove in a scientific way a matter of belief?

Perhaps the author meant "personally convincing evidence," rather than "proof," though I know about the proofs advanced by Thomas Aquinas about God and what that great medieval philosopher finally thought of them: they are finally useless in the face of an unfathomable mystery. Faith goes beyond reason and scientific-philosophical proofs.

But Alexander's book is nonetheless of value as a personal testament to what many countless people we call mystics have experienced in pre-scientific ages: that the non-physical universe is immediately around us; it is not, as he says, far away but "simply exists on a different frequency."  If we could tune in to the ultimate consciousness of God in and around us, we would see, as Thomas Merton said, that the door of heaven is everywhere.

Near death experiences should not be treated as fantasies produced by an overheated brain; like the visions of mystics, they can provide glimpses of that other world.

I welcome a man of science like Dr. Alexander realizing that he has no idea what consciousness is, that the mystery of the human person will always remain a mystery. The behaviorist B. F. Skinner was wrong in asserting that the goal of science is the destruction of mystery since neuroscience and quantum physics, among other fields, keep reminding us of the limits of what we can know--and prove--and of the wonder of reality.

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