Near-Death Experiences – Fact or Fiction?
Have you ever heard of a near-death experience (NDE) where a person saw hell? No? Me either. Colin Blakemore from the Canberra Times in Australia uses that exact question to attempt to destabilize the validity of Dr. Eben Alexander’s recent book, Proof of Heaven, which I wrote about recently.
Nearly all NDEs describe seemingly spiritual images, full of bright lights, beautiful landscapes, and often celestial sounding music. There are reports of some NDEs which don’t go as well. Maurice Rawlings Jr., MD, from Chattanooga, Tennessee describes NDEs where patients heard booming noises, flames, and other hellish sights. These stories are still by far in the minority, however.
Indeed, Colin Blakemore is not the first to question reports of heavenly near-death experiences. Scientists have time-and-again tried to discredit the sights people report from NDEs as chemical changes in the body during the events, and other biophysical reactions to the amazing stress your body undergoes in an NDE.
This is what made Dr. Alexander’s story so special. His medical training ensures his knowledge of these theories surrounding near-death experiences, and he considered himself a Christian, though skeptical about the afterlife until his coma. The biophysical theories surrounding NDEs also don’t explain the amazing consistencies of the stories.
Instead, researchers, like Peter Fenwick, consultant at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London, cite the deep issues of interpreting first-person memories that were made when the brain was seemingly non-working.
The same problems with understanding visions such as Dr. Alexander’s are associated with understanding dreams, as well as memory in general. Memory is extraordinarily fallible, and can be molded by the pre-existing ideas of the person.
Maybe then, if Dr. Eben Alexander were another religion he would have seen images reflecting another religious tradition. It is impossible to know, but it is interesting to note that his visions from his comatose experience were not overtly Christian. There was no Jesus in his vision, nor traditional pearly gates.
His experience was that of something so serene and astoundingly fantastic it reaffirmed his belief in an afterlife, and thus reaffirmed his Christian beliefs.
All we have is his word to go on, but if Dr. Alexander’s memories from the period when his brain showed no activity are “correct,” he certainly had a special experience.