I’ve always been interested in phenomena at the borders of what we know, where there’s some evidence but not enough to be truly convincing, such as UFOs and near death experiences. These are the kinds of things that, if found to be objectively real, would completely upend our perspective on the universe.
I always like having my perspective completely upended. So I keep a weather eye on such things, hoping someday for better evidence.
I’ve just read Eben Alexander’s recently published book Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into The Afterlife. Dr. Alexander tells a vivid story of nearly dying of meningitis, during which, he says, he experienced a full-blown near-death experience (NDE) in which he visited a divine realm filled with love and knowledge.
I have no doubt that Alexander sincerely believes that he had the experience; a neurosurgeon who worked at Harvard Medical School isn’t going to be a charlatan. He offers what is, within the story, evidence that it really happened: he met a woman whom he later found was his birth sister, now deceased.
The problem with such claims is that there’s no way to verify them externally. We have only Alexander’s word to go on. Here’s what would do it for me: a person having an NDE coming back with an equation, and an explanation of it, that could not possibly be known by science at the time. If, for example, an NDE in 1900 returned speaking of an equation where energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, that would be impressive. Or if one returned today with an equation unifying quantum mechanics with relativity, or explaining why the fine-structure constants of the universe are they are, or why the universe has only three large-scale spatial dimensions, that would impress me.
Let’s look at this idea a little more closely… Read more .