In November 2013 Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis presented a talk by Eben Alexander. He called it The Nature of Consciousness. Five years earlier almost to the day Alexander, an eminent neurosurgeon, contracted an intensely vicious variety of meningitis which put him into a coma for a week. His doctors gave him less than 2% chance of surviving, and even if he did survive he was sure to be a helpless invalid. They even gave up on the antibiotics, and at that point he began to pull back.
During that coma he had a Near Death Experience which he later recounted in his book, Proof of Heaven. He is now returned to complete health. As an eager seeker-after-truth, I read the book last year. I also read a review which scornfully dismissed the word ‘proof’. The reviewer was probably a mathematician; he certainly wasn’t a rhetorician. In rhetoric ‘proof’ means merely an offering of evidence. Alexander, as befits a neurosurgeon, offers a great deal of evidence along with a range of scientific arguments and suggested explanations.
If asked whether he convinced me, I would heroically retreat behind the mantra that Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev gives the seeker-after-truth. I do not know. I am sure that he himself is sincerely convinced; and he gave me quite enough food for thought to make me interested to hear him speak.
That still picture is not Eben Alexander but Tim Hart-Anderson who introduced him. Alexander begins at 2:00 and ends at 32:00. The rest is essentially questions. Gold star for precision of timing!
Till I saw this speech I had only the account in his book as evidence for his return to health. Now I can confirm that he looks pretty damn chipper!
For a minute I detect quite severe hump symptoms, so I am pleased when he asks the audience for a show of hands from anyone who has not read his book. Little devices like that are very good hump-busters, and I rather suspect this is there for that and no other reason. He doesn’t appear to do much with the information.
Once into his flow he is good. He is relaxed, fluent, personable, audible, and he shoots almost entirely from the hip.
Nevertheless, if he consulted me, I should like to do some work on his material. There are some very good bits and a few rather loose bits. The overall message is strong and, I was pleased to find, devoid of airy-fairy mumbo-jumbo; but principally it’s the overall shape that I feel needs pulling about for added coherence.
There’s an excellent hanging thread at 6:00, but a curiously messy section when at 7:55 he refers back to “those three erroneous thoughts…” I had to replay the previous half minute twice before I began to see what he was getting at, and even then had to play it a couple of times more before I could find three distinct thoughts in the jumble of words. It merely needs a tightening up of the words, and perhaps enumerating with fingers, but that section needs something.
He says that he has not time to recount in detail his actual near death experience, but clearly he has to say something about it. At 11:30 he reaches the part where he became “a speck of awareness on a butterfly wing”. Only two paragraphs ago I absolved him of airy-fairy mumbo-jumbo, and now that phrase…? I can only excuse him and me by stressing that it is something in the matter of fact way he recounts it both here and in the book that makes it not seem at the time like airy-fairy mumbo-jumbo. Nevertheless he makes the point very strongly in the book that the experience he had was more real than reality yet so blindingly bizarre that words become inadequate. He met God, though he dislikes using the word. (If you think this is all getting a little crazy, I have to tell you that it seems to make perfect matter-of-fact sense in the book and to a lesser extent in this speech.) For two or three minutes, at any rate, the speech does become less coherent and the remedy would not be easy to find.
Explanations for his experience are absurdly easy to conceive, but as a brain surgeon he is very well placed to counter them. In his book he swats them like mosquitoes, but seems to sense that this audience does not need that. Back to his speech …
It hardens up immeasurably when he quotes two distinguished men of science, Sir James Jeans and more particularly Wilder Penfield. The latter having conducted thousands of neurological experiments over very many years had firmly concluded that –
The mind is not in the brain.
In my opinion that sentence would have made a far stronger title (Face) for the speech than the rather mundane and prosaic The Nature of Consciousness. It is so provocative! It provokes an inevitable and deafening question. Where the […] is it then?
I do not know.