Saturday, March 30, 2013

Eben Alexander: "Proof of Heaven": The afterlife, when the brain cortex completely stops

Author: Eben Alexander. M.D.
Title: “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife

Publication:  2012, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-1-4516-9518-2,196 pages, paper.
Amazon link is here
No, don’t get me wrong.  I may be approaching my seventieth (at least not “eleventieth”) birthday, but I didn’t read this book out of a belief that Im going to die myself soon.  No, the topic of the afterlife has always been interesting, and recent articles on cosmology have the persistence of consciousness seem inevitable and needing exploration.  I will soon read Mary Neal’s comparable account and compare it.
Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon himself.  His story is unique.  He had moved to Lynchburg, VA with his family, and developed a sudden case of bacterial meningitis early on a Monday morning in November 2010 at home.

Bacterial meningitis sometimes spreads in college dorm (which is why vaccinations are often required), and sometimes results in amputations because of the unusual way the bacterial toxins destroy blood vessels.  But in Eben’s case, the bacteria, non-responsive to antibiotics, caused his cortex to stop functioning completely.  Miraculously, he recovered.  He also recovered his memories and function, very much the way a computer slowly brings up its services when it has been turned off a long time.

It is very unusual for meningitis to appear in a middle-aged adult, and normally bacteria cannot get to the brain from other parts of the body.  His strain did not match one found in Israel, where he had just visited.  Conceivably, the strain could cause a pandemic if contagious, but no one else in his family got it.  There is no explanation of the disease.

Part of his life story concerns his own adoption, and effort to meet birth parents and biological siblings.
During his coma, he had a Near-Death Experience.  The experience started in a kind of permanent darkness and void that he calls the Core.  He was drawn into a world of dazzling beauty, similar to other descriptions of a kind of garden heaven.  There was also a Gateway to the cosmos.  He says he saw people and angels. He believes he met his biological sister there.  It seems as though some of the people were “reflections” of people still alive on earth, and others had past.  There were people of varying ages, including children.
An NDE during a coma from meningitis, he argues, may constitute more “proof” of the afterlife because the cerebral cortex, compared to deeper parts of the brain, is so completely shut down that normal physiological explanations of NDE’s could not possibly apply. 

My own  take on this goes something like this:  The universe is built in little blocks down to subatomic particles.  There is a hierarchy of matter, from physical, to chemical to biological.  Consciousness and free will become a way to counter entropy.  Normally, biological systems must reproduce in order to counter entropy (although how “angels” get around this is an interesting question for thermodynamics).  Also free will, and the possibility of wrongdoing which comes with the territory, is essential to countering natural entropy.  It would seem as though consciousness is as much a part of physics as more familiar concepts of matter and energy.   All of this seems to come together at the quantum level, where there is so much uncertainty. 
It would seem to me that consciousness cannot be destroyed.  It would make sense that after physical death, you remain aware of yourself and everyone who has passed is aware of you; all of you are aware of the deepest motives of others.  It is the ultimate connectivity, the ultimate astral social network. But you can only deal with your issues by living again, starting over on another planet, maybe in a different universe.  Perhaps your consciousness travels to some repository through a black hole.

Eben says that when you’re alive on this Earth, your brain doesn’t “remember” your trans-cosmic consciousness.  It has enough to do just to adapt to a real planet.  But when the cortex is shut down completely, the universal consciousness can take over.

What Eben seems to have seen is more a template for a place than a real “planet” with a geography, although some of the people (his sister) seem specific.  Even discusses time as a mutable dimension, and suggests that experience of the afterlife could involve other universes built among other dimensions (up to eleven in string theory).  If time is mutable, you could imagine at a person’s timeline could be available at all possible ages in the afterlife, just as it is in memory.  When I stand in a disco, I may envy the body of a 25-year-old and wish I could have it back.  But in a sense, in the afterlife, maybe I could.

Interview with Dr. Alexander on Afterlife TV.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Media Sources book "Secret Societies: The Truth Revealed" provides some more info on Rosicrucians (as in a TV minieries), and on secret society initiations

ABC cancelled its miniseries “Zero Hour” after just three episodes, and the plot of the serieseemed to hinge on the role of the Rosicrucian Order in history.

There is a coffee-table paperback from Media Sources, “Secret Societies: The Truth Revealed”, by Devra Newberger Speregen and Debra Mostow Zakarin, “Secret Socieites: The Truth Revealed”.  One of the chapters, on p. 58, tells the story of the Rose and Cross Movement, as founded by Christian Rosenkreuz.
The original rules requires that each group consist of no more than eight members, and that every man be unmarried and a doctor.  Each member was to find a replacement for himself before his passing.

I see that I covered some of H. Spencer Lewis’s books for AMORC  on April 7, 2007. There was a book on mysticism in the 1970s that spoke of "The Invisible Empire of the Rosicrucians". 
I also recall attending a “Rosicrucian Feast” myself at a hotel in midtown Manhattan in March 1977, on a cold, dreary day of the vernal equinox.  The three hour ceremony was, for the most part, quiet if ceremonial. 
The book covers the whole concept of a secret society or fellowship.  The best known of these is probably the Masons.  My own father was a Mason.

The most infamous or notorious among "collegiate" secret societies is probably Skull and Bones at Yale.  The book describes some of the initiation rituals, including the possible forced nudity and physical humiliation, and the idea that the candidate share his deepest feelings and motives.  The sharing is supposed to be protected by the absolute secrecy of the group. It reminds me of a college student who told me one time he was “sworn to secrecy” about a housemate’s novel manuscript about the concept of a stock market in the value of souls.

Perhaps this works its way down to college fraternities.  It used to sift down to ordinary freshman classes at college.  During my lost semester at the College of William and Mary in the fall of 1961, I heard about a session, the last Friday night in September, in some dorm basement, called “Tribunals”, where selected boys were humiliated (hazed), even by having their legs shaved.  I  skipped out on this – perhaps helping precipitate a sequence of events that led eventually to my expulsion.   I remember one guy saying later at a student dinner, “Mine grew back.”

Friday, March 01, 2013

Novel "The Blood Doctrine" depicts a dark side of Mormon fundamentalism

Author: Ross Poore and Ryan Poore
Title: “The Blood Doctrine
Publication: 2012, Patterson Crossroads (Salt Lake City, UT), ISBN 978-0-9858421-0-9, 277 pages, paper.
Amazon Link
This novel tells, in rather didactic fashion, the story of a “blood doctrine: murder by an apparently demented Mormon missionary. It traces the young man’s background, sometimes through letters and diaries, and takes us through the steps of how the criminal justice system in a somewhat “theocratic” state court  handles an apparently religiously motivated killing.
The title of the book refers to a former fundamentalist Mormon belief of “blood atonement”, which maintains that some sins cannot be forgiven by Christ’s sacrifice, but must be atoned by the violent death of the sinner at the hand of the righteous.  Such a belief may have been in force in the 19th Century, as with the Mountain Meadow massacre in 1857 (and the film “September Dawn” in 2007).  Like polygamy, it is a doctrine that the mainstream LDS church has dropped to comply with modern law.
In the novel, the young missionary. Aaron Lee, has grown up in a radical fundamentalist home. After traumatic family breakup, he migrates toward the mainstream church, but had become very attached to absolutist religious beliefs.  In an accident in the mountains when he was 16, another young man accused him of homosexuality, and in the ensuing scuffle the man died.
Perhaps in denial, Aaron becomes lost in his own belief system (as shown in a diary that makes up the book epilogue).  On the mission, he encounters a 34-year-old gay man,  He returns to he home and murders the gay man, out of a belief that the murder will cause the gay man to atone for his sins and be saved.
The book portrays quite well the troubling value system of fundamentalist religious cults.  (The modern day sect  in Colorado City, AZ, and Warren Jeffs, is related to this cult.)  Aaron has come to believe that homosexuals, even when living completely in private or even fantasy, can destroy society or at least destroy the Church.  Other than literal obedience to someone’s idea of scriptural teaching (in this case, handed down supposedly from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young), how can such an idea even make sense?  It contradicts all the modern ideas of personal responsibility, avoiding harm,  and “cause and effect” in a modern, liberal and individualistic society.

The books says that Mormonism claims that God would never create a person who won't reproduce, and therefore that homosexuality must be a chosen sin.  From the viewpoint of science, this sounds ridiculous.  In nature, many individuals of many species don't reproduce, but they are often relegated to supporting those who do.  
People in more closed-knit  or “tribal” cultures, especially religious ones, see the parameters of "harm" differently than those of an open western society.  They tend to believe that the survival of the entire family, tribe or larger community is at risk unless every person toes the line.  They may see other groups as “enemies”, or they may try to persuade or even force external societal groups to accept their values.  Of particular importance in some religious groups, including (often) the LDS church (an especially its mode radical offshoots) is procreation, or the responsibility to create more life.  Homosexuality is seen as refusal to do so, and as threatening to the future of the tribe.  The dialogue in the book minces no words on this point.  Logically, this would seem to contradict polygamy, which would imply that most men would not get the chance to have children even if they want to might be relegated to inferior social status.
Religious and cultural groups do have some valid reason to be concerned that individuals can distract others from loyalty to the group, and that idea tends to translate into more general notions of the “common good” in society at large (as when religious groups like the LDS or Catholic churches try to proselytize anti-gay views.  The book gives a lot of detail on the disproportionate amount of support for California Proposition 8 came from the LDS church.
In a general way, I see conflict between two basic drives:  there is a tendency for those in power to become corrupt and restrict freedom to protect their power.  On the other hand, what individual people do, and their ability to work for ends beyond themselves, really does matter.  A general moral principle like “pay if forward” seems appropriate to bridge this gap.
The book is presented in many short unnumbered chapters with interesting titles.  The typesetting is unusual, with spaces between paragraphs, and blank pages between chapters. The book, despite its crude appearance, is a real page-turner. 

There are certain shocking statements in the book.  In Aaron's diary, it states that before 1990 Mormon temple initiation into the priesthood involved intimate body washing by others, including that of "loins" to encourage future procreation. Another disturbing notion, rationalizing inequality (and previously justifying racism) is the notion that people are born into earthly life based on pre-conception "performance" by their souls.  What could this "performance" comprise?
I received a review copy of this book.