Life After Death?

butterflybowlOn this snowy day in Maryland, trapped in the house, what better time for blog updating?  …and tackling the weighty issue of whether there is life after death, and if not, what?  If you search on “life after death” in Amazon or any other search engine, you will find a host of books written on the topic, ranging from personal Near Death Experience (NDE) accounts and physicians’ testimonies,  to religious tracts, to downright fanciful frauds (my opinion).  Two books which I recently read on this phenomenon are worth mentioning.  The first is called Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, M.D.  It is a short book in which Dr. Alexander recounts his experience of falling into a coma for seven days after contracting a rare brain infection,  a description of what he experienced during the coma, and his miraculous recovery.  He described a low-level world of nothingness, and then seeing a musical light which brought him to a higher plane.  When he described sitting on a butterfly’s wing and talking to a beautiful female guide, I started thinking, “Uh, oh, this is a bunch of bunk…”  But the compelling twist to this story is the fact that his brain was in such a non-functioning state that he should not have been able to experience these visions, so it brings up the question of what is consciousness, if it is not coupled with, or is an off-shoot of brain function?  It is a very compelling story for skeptics, seekers, or outright atheists just on the face of it: the trials of a mysterious, deadly illness and miraculous recovery.  But beyond the surface, it is a fascinating exploration of the human mind, the concept of “spirit,” and the nature of consciousness.  In order to make it a more balanced story, Dr. Alexander proposed nine neuroscientific hypotheses to explain his experience, and why each one of them was not sufficient to explain it.  Much of the book is taken up with the story of his illness and the background his own personal struggles, but in the chapter entitled “The Enigma of Consciousness” he steps into the role of a more objective researcher to examine what he underwent in the face of what we know about consciousness (not much, it seems).  Whether you believe he “saw” heaven or not, this book opens up fascinating questions for further debate on the role of the brain in determining personality, soul, and whether it is a necessary component of what we call our consciousness.  It spurred me to pick up several books on neuroscience and how the brain works.   In my follow-on reading, I came across the opposite of Alexander’s experiential proof of heaven, in a work which takes the purely reasoned approach: Dinesh D’Souza’s Life After Death: The Evidence.   If you have never read D’Souza, you are in for a treat, because whether you agree with him or not on any given topic, he is a brilliant writer and pure logician.  How can you logically prove that there is life after death, you ask? D’Souza walks the reader through a rebuttal of the atheist argument, and examines the evidence from philosophy, neuroscience, physics, and history all in a readable, accessible style. In his introductory chapters, he puts forth his goal of making a reasonable argument that it is perfectly reasonable to accept that the immaterial consciousness does survive the material body, and that we (believers) should not relinquish science and reason to the enemy (atheists).  And, he achieves his goal brilliantly.   greenbackgroundbutter

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