(本文經編譯者同意刊載於輔仁大學 iCAN 網)
西方主流科學向來認為意識、精神和靈性是由大腦物質所產生的現象，大腦和身體一旦死亡，意識就不能存在。哈佛大學醫學院的腦神經外科專家依班‧亞歷山大（Eben Alexander）過去也堅持這樣的看法，他一貫駁斥瀕死經驗者所感受的上帝之光和大愛，認為那只是大腦缺氧所造成的幻覺。然而他在2012年10月出版的新書《天堂的證明》（Proof of Heaven,台灣中譯版書名為《天堂際遇》）郤徹底推翻了他過去的看法，因為他自己因瀕死而體驗到一趟刻骨銘心的天堂之旅，看到一個「更大、更真實的世界」（a larger, more real world），感動之餘，覺得他有義務寫一本書來糾正科學界的錯誤看法。
2012年11月，紐約時報及其他西方媒體紛紛報導亞歷山大博士的新書和他的天堂之旅；11月18日的新聞週刊（Newsweek）以「天堂的科學」（The Science of Heaven）作為封面故事專題，大幅報導亞氏的故事，同時刊出亞氏所撰寫的〈天堂的科學〉一篇長文(見附錄一及二)。要點摘譯如下：
- 亞氏罹患嚴重腦膜炎，細菌入侵大腦神經組織，造成神經元交會點（synapses）完全停頓，不能傳輸神經傳導素（大腦的電流）。根據住院期間的檢驗報告，醫生們說他已不可能有任何感官知覺、思維、感情、記憶和語言作用。不可思議的是，在他昏迷七天期間，意識郤完全清醒（fully conscious），他旅行到一個令他非常驚奇的世界，那是一個「充滿美麗、和平和無條件之愛的世界」，他說這個世界是真實的存在於大腦知覺之外，他已不再懷疑瀕死經驗者、神秘學家、禪修者和其他無數人士所體驗的「擴大意識的世界」(a world of expanded consciousness)。
- 亞氏說他的案例跟一般瀕死經驗者的不同之處是，他們的大腦並沒有真正死亡（truly dead），而他的則已完全停擺，「死」得更徹底（deader），由此他確信意識是獨立存在於大腦和身體之外，而且是永恆的存在。他希望以他的親身經驗和腦神經專業知識來說服科學界的同僚以及數以百萬計受科學家影響的世人：過去科學界認為精神和意識是由大腦物質產生的說法是不正確的；其實科學並沒有提出任何證據，只不過當作一種「教條」（dogma）來信仰罷了，他本人過去也相信這種教條。他說意識與大腦確實有關聯，但這不等於說意識由大腦產生，科學界把這兩件事混為一談。
5西方其他媒體引述亞氏說：天堂的生命體比人類更「先進」（more advanced），使用「天使」（angels）一詞並不足以形容他（她）們。她們對他說：「你真實地被愛、被珍惜（you are truly loved and cherished）。」
The Science of Heaven
The author of this article, Dr. Eben Alexander, is a professor and doctor of the Medical School, Harvard University.
Nov 18, 2012 10:00 PM EST
Can consciousness exist when the body fails? One neurosurgeon says he has seen it firsthand—and takes on critics who vehemently disagree.
(Page 1 of 3)
At around five o’clock on the morning of Nov. 10, 2008, I awoke with the early symptoms of what proved to be an extremely severe case of bacterial meningitis. As I wrote here three weeks ago, and as I narrate in my book Proof of Heaven, over the next several hours my entire cerebral cortex shut down. The part of my brain responsible for all higher neurological function went every bit as dark as the lower portion of New York City did during Hurricane Sandy.
Dr. Eben Alexander’s book and article
in Newsweek kicked off a fierce debate
about the afterlife.
Yet in spite of the complete absence of neural activity in all but the deepest, most primitive portions of my brain, my identity—my sense of self—did not go dark. Instead, I underwent the most staggering experience of my life, my consciousness traveling to another level, or dimension, or world.
Since telling my story here, I’ve been amazed and profoundly gratified at how powerfully it has resonated with people all over the world. But I’ve also weathered considerable criticism—in large part from people who are appalled that I, a brain surgeon, could possibly make the claim that I experienced what I did.
I can’t say I’m surprised. As a scientist, I know that the consensus of my tribe is that the self is created through the electrochemical activity of the brain. For most neurosurgeons, and most doctors generally, the body produces the mind, and when the body stops functioning, the mind stops, just like a picture projected on a screen does if the projector is unplugged.
So when I announced to the world that during my seven days of coma I not only remained fully conscious but journeyed to a stunning world of beauty and peace and unconditional love, I knew I was stirring up a very volatile pot. Critics have maintained that my near-death experience, like similar experiences others before me have claimed, was a brain-based delusion cobbled together by my synapses only after they had somehow recovered from the blistering weeklong attack.
This is certainly the assessment I would have made myself—before my experience. When the higher-order thought processes overseen by the cortex are interrupted, there is inevitably a period, as the cortex gets slowly back online, when a patient can feel deeply disoriented, even outright insane. As I write in Proof of Heaven, I’d seen many of my own patients in this period of their recovery. It’s a harrowing sight from the outside.
I also experienced that transitional period, when my mind began to regain consciousness: I remember a vivid paranoid nightmare in which my wife and doctors were trying to kill me, and I was only saved from certain death by a ninja couple after being pushed from a 60-story cancer hospital in south Florida. But that period of disorientation and delusion had absolutely nothing to do with what happened to me before my cortex began to recover: the period, that is, when it was shut down and incapable of supporting consciousness at all. During that period, I experienced something very similar to what countless other people who have undergone near-death experiences have witnessed: the transition to a realm beyond the physical, and a vast broadening of my consciousness. The only real difference between my experience and those others is that my brain was, essentially, deader than theirs.
Most near-death experiences (NDE) are the result of momentary cardiac arrest. The heart stops pumping blood to the brain, and the brain, deprived of oxygen, ceases being able to support consciousness. But that—as I’d have been the first to point out before my own experience—doesn’t mean the brain is truly dead. That’s why many doctors feel that the term “near-death experience” is essentially a misnomer. Most people who had them were in bad shape, but they weren’t really near death.
But I was. My synapses—the spaces between the neurons of the brain that support the electrochemical activity that makes the brain function—were not simply compromised during my experience. They were stopped. Only isolated pockets of deep cortical neurons were still sputtering, but no broad networks capable of generating anything like what we call “consciousness.” The E. coli bacteria that flooded my brain during my illness made sure of that. My doctors have told me that according to all the brain tests they were doing, there was no way that any of the functions including vision, hearing, emotion, memory, language, or logic could possibly have been intact. That’s why, just as I now no longer doubt the existence of the world of expanded consciousness that NDE subjects, mystics, meditators, and countless other people have described for centuries, I also feel that my experience adds something new to those stories. It supplies a definitive new form of evidence that consciousness can exist beyond the body.
Initially, I’d planned on writing my experience up in a scientific paper. But as I struggled to place it within the context of everything I’d learned about the brain and consciousness up to that point, I realized that I needed to reach out beyond my fellow scientists. Specifically, I wanted to reach the public who listen most deeply and attentively to what scientists tell them. And I needed to reach those millions because for a long time now many scientists have been telling the public a story that is not quite true.
This not-quite-true story is that the brain produces consciousness. Most scientists accept this as dogma. I certainly did, and it’s why so many scientists still refuse to even consider that I really and truly experienced what I say I did. But we in fact have no real proof of this at all, other than our general distrust of anything we can’t put our hands on. But there are many established scientific facts that we haven’t placed our hands on either. No one has ever seen an electron, or touched the force of gravity. The fact is, most doctors, and most scientists today, are confusing the fact that consciousness and brain activity are related (which they certainly are) with the opinion that the brain actually produces that consciousness.
Ed Morris / Getty Images
The conundrum of how the brain relates to consciousness is often called by the nickname “the hard problem.” As Edward F. Kelly and Emily Williams Kelly, researchers in the Department of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, point out in their book Irreducible Mind, “In recent decades brain researchers have begun ‘opening up the black box,’ deploying a formidable array of increasingly sophisticated clinical, pharmacological, biochemical, genetic, neurosurgical, electrophysiological, and behavioral methodologies in efforts to understand what brains can do and how they do it.” Among the most recent and impressive of this new array of tools are high-resolution electroencephalography (or EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and positron emission tomography (or PET). Thanks to these technologies we can now map the regions and follow the activities of the brain on a level undreamed of just a few short decades ago.
So impressive are these advances in brain mapping and technology that they have persuaded many people—including most scientists—that we are closing in on solid proof that consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon. In an editorial published in Newsweek in 2004, the psychologist Steven Pinker stated straight out that what people think of as the soul is really “the information-processing activity of the brain,” and that we know this because “new imaging techniques have tied every thought and emotion to neural activity.”
It’s the word “tied” in the sentence above that’s the most troublesome. Brain activity and consciousness are indeed profoundly tied up with one another. But that does not mean that those bonds can’t be loosened, or even cut completely. The question of questions is whether the deep parallelism between brain function and human consciousness means that the brain actually produces consciousness. In the wake of my experiences during my week in a coma, my answer is a very confident “No.”
Many scientists who study consciousness would agree with me that, in fact, the hard problem of consciousness is probably the one question facing modern science that is arguably forever beyond our knowing, at least in terms of a physicalist model of how the brain might create consciousness. In fact, they would agree that the problem is so profound that we don’t even know how to phrase a scientific question addressing it. But if we must decide which produces which, modern physics is pushing us in precisely the opposite direction, suggesting that it is consciousness that is primary and matter secondary.
This may sound absurd to some, but it is really no less absurd than the facts—now solidly established by quantum mechanics—of how we see the world around us right now. Every moment of every day, we completely personalize the data coming in at us from the physical world, but we do it far too quickly and automatically to be aware that we are doing so. Physicists discovered just how completely consciousness is wedded to the physical environment at the beginning of the 20th century, when the fathers of quantum mechanics (physicists such as Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, and Albert Einstein) established that units of light, called photons, can appear either as waves or as particles, depending on how we choose to measure them. The implications of this seemingly minor curiosity are in fact enormous, for they demonstrate that at a subatomic level, perception itself (our inner consciousness) is so wedded to the world that our consciousness of a physical event—say, a moving photon—actually affects that event. The very nonlocal features of consciousness, so well supported in Irreducible Mind and in Pim van Lommel’s wonderful book Consciousness Beyond Life, are the resounding evidence that consciousness itself is a quantum phenomenon. Refinement in our understanding of this mystery proceeds even today, as the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for their innovative work in isolating the “collapse of the wave function,” or the exact process by which the conscious mind of the observer paints subatomic reality (hint: Einstein would still be frustrated!).
Totally objective observation remains a simple impossibility. And while in our ordinary earthly life we miss this fact completely, it becomes much more apparent in near-death experiences, when the body and brain cease to mediate our encounter with the larger reality and we encounter it directly.
Make no mistake: consciousness is a total mystery. As total a mystery now as it was 10, or 100, or 1,000 years ago. We simply do not know what it is. But consciousness is so familiar to all of us, so central to our identities, that we have learned to overlook this most obvious of facts.
It is a deep mistake to do so. Far from being a shadowy epiphenomenon or “ghost in the machine,” as the philosopher Gilbert Ryle famously called it, consciousness is and always has been our primary link to the larger universe. My seven-day odyssey beyond my physical body and brain convinced me that when the filter of the brain is removed, we see the universe clearly for the first time. And the multidimensional universe revealed by this trans-physical vision is not a cold, dead one, but alive with the force that, as the poet Dante wrote some 600 years ago, “moves the sun and other stars.”
I am as deep a believer in science, and the truth-respecting values that created it, as I ever was. As such, I want to affirm again—not just to my fellow scientists but to everyone—that there is a larger, more real world out there. Those who have experienced it are neither deluded nor dishonest, but they are hampered by the limits of language to convey the sheer exponential vastness of what they encountered. This world of consciousness beyond the body is the true new frontier, not just of science but of humankind itself, and it is my profound hope that what happened to me will bring the world one step closer to accepting it.
Dr. Eben Alexander has been a neurosurgeon for the past 25 years. His book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, will be published by Simon & Schuster on Oct. 23, 2012.
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Readers Join Doctor’s Journey to the Afterworld’s Gates
By LESLIE KAUFMAN
The New York Times
Published: November 25, 2012
For years Dr. Eben Alexander III had dismissed near-death revelations of God and heaven as explainable by the hard wiring of the human brain. He was, after all, a neurosurgeon with sophisticated medical training.
But then in 2008 Dr. Alexander contracted bacterial meningitis. The deadly infection soaked his brain and sent him into a deep coma.
During that week, as life slipped away, he now says, he was living intensely in his mind. He was reborn into a primitive mucky Jell-o-like substance and then guided by “a beautiful girl with high cheekbones and deep blue eyes” on the wings of a butterfly to an “immense void” that is both “pitch black” and “brimming with light” coming from an “orb” that interprets for an all-loving God.
Dr. Alexander, 58, was so changed by the experience that he felt compelled to write a book, “Proof of Heaven,” that recounts his experience. He knew full well that he was gambling his professional reputation by writing it, but his hope is that his expertise will be enough to persuade skeptics, particularly medical skeptics, as he used to be, to open their minds to an afterworld.
Dr. Alexander acknowledged that tales of near-death experiences that reveal a bright light leading to compassionate world beyond are as old as time and by now seem trite. He is aware that his version of heaven is even more psychedelic than most — the butterflies, he explained, were not his choice, and anyway that was his “gateway” and not heaven itself.
Still, he said, he has a trump card: Having trained at Duke University and taught and practiced as a surgeon at Harvard, he knows brain science as well as anyone. And science, he said, cannot explain his experience.
“During my coma my brain wasn’t working improperly,” he writes in his book. “It wasn’t working at all.”
Simon & Schuster, which released the book on Oct. 23, is betting that it can appeal to very different but potentially lucrative audiences: those interested in neuroscience and those interested in mystical experiences. Already Dr. Alexander has been a guest on “The Dr. Oz Show” and is scheduled to appear as the sole guest of an hourlong special with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday.
“This book covers topics that are of interest to a lot of people: consciousness, near death, and heaven,” said Priscilla Painton, the executive editor at Simon & Schuster, who acquired the book.
The company took the unusual step of releasing the book in hardcover, paperback and e-book format, so it could simultaneously sell to a wider range of readers — at Walmarts and grocery stores as well as independent bookstores and online. It rose instantly to No. 1 on The New York Times’s paperback best-seller list and is there again for next week.
Ms. Painton would not elaborate on what type of audience the book had attracted so far, but she did say she expected it to continue to be a big seller. The publisher has printed nearly one million copies, combined hardcover and paperback, to be snapped up at airports and as stocking stuffers at big retailers like Target. Another 78,000 digital copes have been sold.
In a recent interview at the Algonquin Hotel lobby in Manhattan, however, Dr. Alexander made it clear that he was less interested in appealing to religious “believers,” even though they had been a core audience for similar books.
He rejected the idea that readers of his book would be the same as those who bought “Heaven Is for Real,” a 2010 mega best-seller about a preacher’s son who sat on Jesus’ lap during a near-death experience.
“It is totally different,” he insisted. “Those who believed in heaven when they read the book were not happy. They didn’t like the title. They say, ‘This is not scientific proof.’ ”
In fact, he said, “Proof of Heaven” was not his idea for a title. He preferred “An N of One,” a reference to medical trials in which there is only a single patient.
Wearing a yellow bow tie, Dr. Alexander talked about his career and his years at Harvard, sounding every bit the part of a doctor one might trust to drill open skulls and manipulate their contents.
He left Harvard in 2001, he said, because he was tired of “medical politics.” In 2006 he moved to Lynchburg, Va., where he did research on less invasive forms of brain surgery through focused X-rays and digital scanners. Then the meningitis felled him.
After recovering, he originally planned to write a scientific paper that would explain his intensely vivid recollections. But after consulting the existing literature and talking extensively to other colleagues in the field he decided no scientific explanation existed.
“My entire neocortex — the outer surface of the brain, the part that makes us human — was entirely shut down, inoperative,” he said.
He hesitated nevertheless. It took him two years, he said, to even use the word God in discussing his experience. But then he felt an obligation to all those dealing with near-death experience, and particularly to his fellow doctors. He felt compelled to let them know.
So far he has spoken at the Lynchburg hospital, where he was treated, and said he has been invited to address a group of neurosurgeons at Stanford.
But these invitations, he acknowledged, do not mean that his theory is gaining ground among doctors. In private conversations, he said, very few of his colleagues offered counterarguments. Some agreed with his conclusion that science could not explain what he saw, but none of them were willing to be named in his book.
Other former colleagues reached for comment were not convinced. Dr. Martin Samuels, chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard teaching affiliate, remembered Dr. Alexander as a competent neurosurgeon. But he said: “There is no way to know, in fact, that his neocortex was shut down. It sounds scientific, but it is an interpretation made after the fact.”
“My own experience,” Dr. Samuels added, “is that we all live in virtual reality, and the brain is the final arbiter. The fact that he is a neurosurgeon is no more relevant than if he was a plumber.”
Dr. Alexander shrugs off such analysis. He still hopes to tour “major medical centers and hospices and nursing homes,” he said, to relate his experience in distinctly medical environments.
His messages to those who deal with dying is one of relief. “Our spirit is not dependent on the brain or body,” he said. “It is eternal, and no one has one sentence worth of hard evidence that it isn’t.”