Friday, October 16, 2015

Without tunnel vision, but on a new path

Eben Alexander didn't see a tunnel either.
One of the complaints I've heard most often from near-death experience true-believers is that my NDE wasn't one because I didn't see Heaven. Needless to say, that's about as circular an argument as is possible without passing out from the centrifugal force. They also complain that I didn't have a life review or see dead relatives. Or, that I didn't die.

Eben Alexander didn't experience any of these either, except for the first (unless you count the iffy identification of the girl on the butterfly, and she wasn't waiting for him in the tunnel, as in classic NDEs). He writes that he would've liked to have seen his father, but Dad was MIA. Maybe he something better to do instead.

Indeed, when you read Proof of Heaven, it becomes clear that it's only his later interpretation of his NDE that categorized it as Heaven in the first place. He saw butterflies, an idyllic landscape, and an orb that emitted an "om" sound. That's more like what you might expect from a New Age guru, not a Judeo-Christian God. And have any of those true-believers ever wondered why other NDErs haven't flown on butterflies or languished in the Earthworm's-Eye View? If this is the afterlife, shouldn't all NDErs see these realms too?

He claims that his NDE was typical, but was it really?

Of course, I've viewed my NDE through my own filter, but as a skeptic, I not only didn't see anything with a spiritual quality, I didn't search for any larger meaning in what I experienced. I think we both had elaborate coma-dreams. End of story.

The back matter of the book is filled with thanks to the flakey New Age and near-death experience groups he's joined since his NDE. There are acknowledgements to NDE researchers and his fellow experiencers. He's obviously drunk deeply from the New Age Kool-Aid cup. In Proof of Heaven, Alexander repeatedly claims that he was a skeptic before his NDE, but he also refers to his wife's supposedly psychic and "intuitive" friends. Yes, spouses can have completely different views on these subjects. Indeed, there are many atheists with religious spouses.

And speaking of which, I will soon be a regular contributor to The Secular Spectrum, a group blog on the Patheos site's Atheist Channel, home of the Friendly Atheist. My editor is Dale McGowan, author of Atheism for Dummies. Do they have a Religion for Dummies or is that redundant? Sorry, I had to make that joke. At any rate, Dale wrote a cogent post about his wife, who was an evangelical when they married. So, of course it's possible that Holley Alexander could've been associated with beliefs Eben doubted before his NDE. But I can't help wondering how firm his skepticism could've been if he so readily rejected the more scientifically sound explanations for his NDE. I mean, come on, the neurosurgeon in him must surely know that his brain couldn't have been offline during his NDE. After all, how could he remember his experience if it had been?

At any rate, as I mentioned, I am now a blogger for The Secular Spectrum, nicknamed SecSpec. I'm also still in recovery, and I have to devote hours every day to rehab. I therefore have no choice but to reduce my blog rate here at Coma Chameleon: My Recovery Chronicles. After all, it wouldn't make sense to have my recovery blog cut into my rehab time.

I will continue to post at least one full blog a week, plus links to my SecSpec posts, with behind-the-scenes content. I'm not abandoning my first love just because it's now an open marriage. ;-)

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Coma Girl

Coma Girl

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In July of 2013, I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died. When I awoke from the coma, I could barely lift my head. It has been a hard road to recovery. The doctors advised my loved ones to give up all hope for my full recovery, but while they were shining lights in my eyes to gauge my level of consciousness, I was telling them grumpily to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep...in my coma-dream. I was experiencing covert cognition, and the coma-dream was my version of a near-death experience. I'm a skeptic, so I saw surreal images instead of spirits or dead loved ones. According to my research, as many as one in five people with consciousness disorders have covert cognition.

Not a miracle recovery, but a miracle of modern medicine

In 2013 I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died after I contracted legionella. The Legionnaire's disease was in turn triggered by immunosuppression caused by the prednisone I was taking for my rare autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis.

I suffered a series of strokes on both sides of my brain when the sepsis caused my blood pressure to plummet. I fell into a deep coma. My kidneys and lungs began to fail, as my body was began dying one organ at a time. My doctors told my loved ones to give up hope for my full recovery. They expected me to die, and even if I somehow lived, I would remain a vegetable or at best left so hopelessly brain-damaged that I would never be same. But unbeknownst to them, while they were shining lights in my eyes and shaking their heads, I was telling them in my coma-dream--my secular version of a near-death experience--to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep. I was experiencing what is known as covert cognition, the subject of my Skeptical Inquirer article "Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience," which appeared in their July/August issue.

But it wasn't a miracle--despite what so many continue to believe--that I recovered so fully. I owe my life not to God, but the miracles of modern medicine, as well as the nature of the watershed-area brain damage I suffered, as I detailed in my article and in this blog.