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Thread: Consciousness after death

  1. #1

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    Consciousness after death

    Just read this article.

    tl;dr: Neurosurgeon contracts rare bacteria that shut his neocortex completely down for 7 days. Deep coma as a result. No neocortex should mean no consciousness, yet he reports the opposite after waking up. His book is on amazon since a couple of days.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Eben Alexander
    Today many believe that the living spiritual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth. Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself.

    But I now understand that such a view is far too simple. The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed. In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already. This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth.
    Pretty much confirms my view gained after countless psychedelic sessions and years of meditation. I guess one can still argue that all of his experience happened in those split seconds while his neocortex turned on again. Thoughts?

  2. #2
    Donor Rudolf Miller's Avatar
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    When I read it, honestly what I think happened is he found consciousness in his subconscious. And it's not anything we can really interpret.

    But that was just my reaction.

  3. #3
    Synapse's Avatar
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    I don't really care what happened to some neurosurgeon. Without :science: this is just lecture circuit and book sales.

    If that's really how it works, science will get you there.

    Edit: read the article. Some lying, a lot of "I promise it happened!" and no goods.
    Last edited by Synapse; October 25 2012 at 08:55:07 AM.

  4. #4
    Smuggo
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    While that book looks like garbage, there was an interesting episode on death in Dawkins' latest TV series (should be able to catch it on 4od).

    A lot of stuff about how we struggle to think of our conciousness as an evolved, biological construct that aids our survival. Children come to believe this and in the presence of the soul from a very young age, and it's something even the most logical of people will find difficult because it is so thoroughly ingrained in so many aspects of our culture.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Synapse View Post
    I don't really care what happened to some neurosurgeon. Without :science: this is just lecture circuit and book sales.

    If that's really how it works, science will get you there.
    Usually i would agree on the book sales/lecture circuit part, in his case i don't see the motivation tho. Take a look at his CV, the guy is certainly in the upper echolon of academics. Publishing this kind of stuff is putting >25 years of academic success on the line.

    Quote Originally Posted by Synapse View Post
    Edit: read the article. Some lying, a lot of "I promise it happened!" and no goods.
    Care to elaborate on the lying part? The science goods are rather low yes, but then again it's not exactly a field we can measure yet. His point is that he should not have been able to experience anything because his neocortex was completely shutdown. Or in other words, consciousness is not created by the brain.

  6. #6
    Movember '12 Best Facial Hair Movember 2012Donor Lallante's Avatar
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    Seems incredibly dumb - is he claiming he died and went to heaven? If so why did he come back? Did he trick god?

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    Timaios's Avatar
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    Well meningitis and encephalitis aren't really particularly rare diseases. However, without the MRI's, it's hard to evaluate to what extent his cortex was infected. This happens, and on occasion, brief coma is a result.

    Now, it's very strange to claim that neocortex is somehow responsible for consciousness, as you can lose consciousness even without widespread damage to the neocortex - but of course we need to discuss on what the consciousness is in that case. There are studies in, e.g. cats, that have had their cortices removed prenatally, and that can still function somewhat adequately and, for example, learn to navigate a maze (e.g. Bjursten et al., PDF here). Since the studies show that learning can still occur even without the neocortex, and learning can be understood as the formation of long-term memory traces, it seems plausible that the events described by the doctor can perhaps be explained in an another manner. For example, language and conceptual information is generally seen to be stored cortically (e.g. broca's and wernice's areas for speech sounds and connections between words and their meanings), it could be argued that what the good doctor was missing was merely the ability to interpret his events using the memory traces associated with the linguistic or conceptual capacity. Furthermore, learning is not uncommon in minimally conscious state (e.g. Lancioni et al., PDF here), and even brain responses usually associated with cognitive processes often occur during comatose, when their elicitation can be interpreted as a predictor for waking up from the coma (e.g. Vanhaudenhuyse et al., PDF here).

    While the doctors' vivid memories cannot be completely discounted, I would like to point out that many of the experiences listed in the article are very emotional in nature; he talks of joy, beauty, being beyond all love and friendship, and so on; he even points out that the linguistic interpretations for his visions came later when he retrospectively analyzed his experiences. Now, it could be plausible that many of the memories he has are such in nature due to the thalamus and amygdala, structures which are, among other functions, associated with formation and interpretation of emotions (and emotional memories), and also not part of the neocortex.

    tl;dr: I'd say all that is just emotional processes in a comatose state that after waking up, are given conceptual and linguistic interpretation.
    Last edited by Timaios; October 25 2012 at 11:39:49 AM.

    Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point. - Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 277

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    Super Moderator DonorGlobal Moderator whispous's Avatar
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    Re: Consciousness after death

    Is this the same kind of thing as a lot of modern artists being the biggest trolls of the last hundred years?

    telephone

  9. #9
    Movember '12 Best Facial Hair Movember 2012Donor Lallante's Avatar
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    The more I read about this the more of an impression I get that this is a massive cash-in with decidely unscientific basis. He states early on in the book that his "neocortex was incapable of any activity and had been severely damaged" and then later on miraculously recovers. This makes no sense - damage to the neocortex should be permenant (and in any case, couldnt be repaired in a week). If his neocortex was damaged enough to completely eliminate consciousness, then he would have been a permenant vegetable - this physical damage would still be there REGARDLESS of the existance of heaven, his visits truth etc.

    Unless he is claiming that he not only went to heaven, but god miraculously healed the physical damage as well?


    Much more likely is that there wasn't any actual damage to the neocortex (or very limited damage), and instead, perhaps, some swelling that subsided after a week allowing him to regain consciousness.

  10. #10
    Movember '12 Best Facial Hair Movember 2012Donor Lallante's Avatar
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    PS: the same guy in interviews has been shilling for a "binaural beats" company known for aggressive marketting of its pseudo-scientific woo products. He is a disgrace to science.

  11. #11
    big diiiiiiiiick Movember 2012Donor Dark Flare's Avatar
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    Guy is an idiot or is very sure of what he's doing (making monis).

    If he's scientific in any way whatsoever he knows that first hand non-repeatable non-provable evidence is worth less than my poops. Also, let's not forget that he had a BRAIN PROBLEM and woke up THINKING DIFFERENTLY. Is that a surprise?
    Quote Originally Posted by Amantus
    whats tyhe appear of a shnitifuck cu nt eve onlio9ne corpotraTION DICKOLHEAD FUCKIN AS

  12. #12
    Timaios's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lallante View Post
    The more I read about this the more of an impression I get that this is a massive cash-in with decidely unscientific basis. He states early on in the book that his "neocortex was incapable of any activity and had been severely damaged" and then later on miraculously recovers. This makes no sense - damage to the neocortex should be permenant (and in any case, couldnt be repaired in a week). If his neocortex was damaged enough to completely eliminate consciousness, then he would have been a permenant vegetable - this physical damage would still be there REGARDLESS of the existance of heaven, his visits truth etc.
    While I agree with your assessment, this is not entirely true. There are several conditions, for example PRES (posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome) in which the neocortex is drastically damaged and cognitive functions deteriorate, while patients usually still make a full recovery (hence, reversible). Encephalitis and meningitis often work in a similar manner (of course meningitis should not even attack the neocortex, but the meninges of the brain, hence the name): while in the acute stage the damage may be extreme (e.g. complete inability to remember any linguistic information), in many cases much of the function may return.

    In any case, we can't really tell without the MRIs. But the cortical damage can be reversible, and such a thing is common in the condition he is claiming he had, so please do not discount that as a possibility.

    Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point. - Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 277

  13. #13
    Movember '12 Best Facial Hair Movember 2012Donor Lallante's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timaios View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Lallante View Post
    The more I read about this the more of an impression I get that this is a massive cash-in with decidely unscientific basis. He states early on in the book that his "neocortex was incapable of any activity and had been severely damaged" and then later on miraculously recovers. This makes no sense - damage to the neocortex should be permenant (and in any case, couldnt be repaired in a week). If his neocortex was damaged enough to completely eliminate consciousness, then he would have been a permenant vegetable - this physical damage would still be there REGARDLESS of the existance of heaven, his visits truth etc.

    While I agree with your assessment, this is not entirely true. There are several conditions, for example PRES (posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome) in which the neocortex is drastically damaged and cognitive functions deteriorate, while patients usually still make a full recovery (hence, reversible). Encephalitis and meningitis often work in a similar manner (of course meningitis should not even attack the neocortex, but the meninges of the brain, hence the name): while in the acute stage the damage may be extreme (e.g. complete inability to remember any linguistic information), in many cases much of the function may return.

    In any case, we can't really tell without the MRIs. But the cortical damage can be reversible, and such a thing is common in the condition he is claiming he had, so please do not discount that as a possibility.

    PRES involves swelling not damage - PRES sufferers don't lose consciousness afaik.

    What I can't get my head around is a condition that :
    - causes damage so severe that the subject not only loses consciousness but is absolutely physically incapable of consciousness (this is an incredibly high bar)
    - can recede completely in a week.

    I just dont think there is such an ailment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Timaios View Post
    Well meningitis and encephalitis aren't really particularly rare diseases. However, without the MRI's, it's hard to evaluate to what extent his cortex was infected. This happens, and on occasion, brief coma is a result.
    From what is said in the article the neocortex was completely shutdown:

    Quote Originally Posted by Eben
    Very early one morning four years ago, I awoke with an extremely intense headache. Within hours, my entire cortex—the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion and that in essence makes us human—had shut down. Doctors at Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia, a hospital where I myself worked as a neurosurgeon, determined that I had somehow contracted a very rare bacterial meningitis that mostly attacks newborns. E. coli bacteria had penetrated my cerebrospinal fluid and were eating my brain.

    When I entered the emergency room that morning, my chances of survival in anything beyond a vegetative state were already low. They soon sank to near nonexistent. For seven days I lay in a deep coma, my body unresponsive, my higher-order brain functions totally offline.

    All the chief arguments against near-death experiences suggest that these experiences are the results of minimal, transient, or partial malfunctioning of the cortex. My near-death experience, however, took place not while my cortex was malfunctioning, but while it was simply off. This is clear from the severity and duration of my meningitis, and from the global cortical involvement documented by CT scans and neurological examinations. According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.
    You seem to know quite a bit on the subject, would you say "there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma" is a false claim given his above description? It's pretty much all he has for "proof". The fact that he was treated by his own colleagues would suggest he got a bit of extra care in the monitoring department.

    Quote Originally Posted by Timaios View Post
    Now, it's very strange to claim that neocortex is somehow responsible for consciousness, as you can lose consciousness even without widespread damage to the neocortex - but of course we need to discuss on what the consciousness is in that case. There are studies in, e.g. cats, that have had their cortices removed prenatally, and that can still function somewhat adequately and, for example, learn to navigate a maze (e.g. Bjursten et al., PDF here). Since the studies show that learning can still occur even without the neocortex, and learning can be understood as the formation of long-term memory traces, it seems plausible that the events described by the doctor can perhaps be explained in an another manner. For example, language and conceptual information is generally seen to be stored cortically (e.g. broca's and wernice's areas for speech sounds and connections between words and their meanings), it could be argued that what the good doctor was missing was merely the ability to interpret his events using the memory traces associated with the linguistic or conceptual capacity. Furthermore, learning is not uncommon in minimally conscious state (e.g. Lancioni et al., PDF here), and even brain responses usually associated with cognitive processes often occur during comatose, when their elicitation can be interpreted as a predictor for waking up from the coma (e.g. Vanhaudenhuyse et al., PDF here).
    Well that cat pdf was a interesting read. They also find that the decorticated cats were essentially reduced to reflex animals. No signs of affection or social behaviour etc. To me it looks like they only showed Pavlov like conditioning can work without a neocortex.

    Quote Originally Posted by Timaios View Post
    While the doctors' vivid memories cannot be completely discounted, I would like to point out that many of the experiences listed in the article are very emotional in nature; he talks of joy, beauty, being beyond all love and friendship, and so on; he even points out that the linguistic interpretations for his visions came later when he retrospectively analyzed his experiences. Now, it could be plausible that many of the memories he has are such in nature due to the thalamus and amygdala, structures which are, among other functions, associated with formation and interpretation of emotions (and emotional memories), and also not part of the neocortex.

    tl;dr: I'd say all that is just emotional processes in a comatose state that after waking up, are given conceptual and linguistic interpretation.
    It's all very emotional for sure, he also acknowledges that he is fully aware of how delusional this all sounds. The thing is the guy has credentials in the field and despite the overly sensational book title, which very well could be publisher induced, he does sound like a rational guy to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by From his CV
    1993 Elected to "Ten Outstanding Young Leaders" (TOYL) by Greater Boston Jaycees
    1995-96 Who's Who Among Outstanding Americans
    1997-99 Listed in "Best Doctors in America -- Northeast Region"
    I know, doesn't mean jack if he went bonkers in 2008, but he was still working as clinical director after his coma.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lallante View Post
    PS: the same guy in interviews has been shilling for a "binaural beats" company known for aggressive marketting of its pseudo-scientific woo products. He is a disgrace to science.
    Source? My google fu appears to be weak. It's ofcourse welcome meat for new age freaks and hc christians, him endorsing that pseudo stuff would be a good hint.

  15. #15
    DevilDude's Avatar
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    the derp is strong with this one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Smuggo View Post
    A lot of stuff about how we struggle to think of our conciousness as an evolved, biological construct that aids our survival.
    You should read Blindsight:
    http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm

    It's available as a book and ebook published by Tor too. I won't post spoilers.

  17. #17
    Timaios's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lallante View Post
    What I can't get my head around is a condition that :
    - causes damage so severe that the subject not only loses consciousness but is absolutely physically incapable of consciousness (this is an incredibly high bar)
    - can recede completely in a week.

    I just dont think there is such an ailment.
    I get the impression that you consider there to be two distinct types of ailments that affect the neocortex: the swelling type of damage (e.g. PRES, most contusions) and "physical" damage in which I assume you mean neurons or connections between the neurons are damaged (e.g. strokes, DAI, neurodegenerative disorders - alzheimer, parkinsons' and so forth). But if we consider coma, then it can follow from a variety of causes which all "cause damage that the subject - - is absolutely physically incapable of consciousness"; it may be swelling-related (contusions), result from intracranial hemorrhage, or infections (meningoencephalitis). We must remember that consciousness is a function of the cortex and the reason why we are unable to retain consciousness can have a variety of causes; as an analogy, your game of XCOM may not start because you have insufficient memory, your graphic card may be outdated or you may not have the latest directX installed. Of course, we don't really know what consciousness is, and as such, doctors usually have a few classifications which don't use the consciousness as a term; there's the Glascow Coma Scale, there's the minimally conscious state, or permanent vegetative state.

    Here's some more stuff about coma/MCS/PVS.

    If we go towards philosophy, then, for example, Antonio Damasio has some case examples of people losing consciousness without neocortical damage while still continuing to do ~stuff~ (Damasio: the feeling of what happens). But let's not go there.

    As such, I don't discount the actual story of the doctor at all. I just think that he is, like many have said, after big money by talking about god, heaven and stuff while there are other plausible explanations for his experiences. But with the examinations done to him (neurological examinations, CT scans), we cannot really know what happens in the cortex during that time (no EEG/MEG/functional imaging); we just see it's state. All we know that he was in a coma.

    To go back to the issue "is consciousness possible without the cortex", we'd need to think what consciousness is. I wholly agree that consciousness is predominantly a neocortical thing (for example, google the locked-in condition), but some features of conscious state (ability to process external stimuli, form memories) can be present in the comatose state as well, and they predict waking up from coma. Also remember, that there are plenty of animals who do not possess a neocortex at all - only mammals do.

    Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point. - Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 277

  18. #18
    Movember '12 Best Facial Hair Movember 2012Donor Lallante's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Irrelephant View Post
    Well that cat pdf was a interesting read. They also find that the decorticated cats were essentially reduced to reflex animals. No signs of affection or social behaviour etc. To me it looks like they only showed Pavlov like conditioning can work without a neocortex.
    It shows a lot more than that - visualisation (walking in direct lines towards openings in walls, attempting to get through plexiglass covered openings) and abstract reasoning (using a paw to test a surface before climbing down). Its hard to argue the cats weren't capable of "imagination" given these facts.

    Source? My google fu appears to be weak. It's ofcourse welcome meat for new age freaks and hc christians, him endorsing that pseudo stuff would be a good hint.
    http://www.btci.org/bioethics/2012/videos2012/vid3.html Hemi-Sync is the company he is shilling for.

  19. #19
    Diicc Tater's Avatar
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    eyewitness testimony means fuck all in science as far as I know..

  20. #20
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    One commenter on the article has most of the truth of it, I think.

    This article is absolutely ridiculous, especially from a scientific perspective. It is an excerpt from Dr. Eben Alexander's new book "My Proof of Heaven," in which the neurosurgeon shares his near-death experience and how it proves there is a higher power and an afterlife. It is insulting on many levels, but let's highlight a couple:

    1. His "scientific" proof is based entirely on an empirical experience, which is unique to only him and cannot be replicated, or even properly explained, which goes against just about every tenant of the scientific method. He never believed that near-death experiences that offered an experience with the afterlife were valid, until he himself had one. How is that in any way scientific? Something is invalid until you yourself can claim to have experienced it, and because he happens to be a neurosurgeon yourself suddenly it becomes proof? He could not even properly describe his experience with "god" and kept saying over and over how powerful it was, but because it was so very powerful one could not understand how it felt without experiencing it yourself… seriously? If he wants to share his spiritual experience and chalk it up to a belief in a higher power, fine, go right ahead. But do not present it under a veil of scientific discovery just because you are a neurosurgeon. Unless you can offer real, concrete scientific proof that this was the doing of a higher power don't present it as such.

    2. His proof is predicated on the fact that he is a neurosurgeon, yet his validation for his evidence is based on scientific knowledge that isn't entirely complete. He argued that there is no way the mind could have been active in order to have experienced what he had, that he must have been in the afterlife. He claims that because his cortex had entirely shut down… according to the CT scans and neurological exams administered at the time of his coma. But as scientist, and a research one at that, shouldn't he recognize that current scientific technology cannot always accommodate and measure brain activity and that they may not accurately show what's really going on in the brain? Scientific technology is always advancing, what was immeasurable only a couple years ago is now graspable today, and thus what we cannot measure today may show up on newer tests tomorrow. He cannot say with certainty that the tests done on his brain prove without doubt that his brain had shut down to the point that he could not have had the capacity to have the dreams/experiences he described as undoubtedly the afterlife.

    3. Even if these experiences were the result of a higher power and not neurons firing off randomly, how can he say with absolute certainty that this was a result of a rendezvous with "God?" The leaps this man takes are pure delusion and made in order to prove his own religious agenda. They are all the more insulting because he insists in their validity because he himself is a scientist, and a scientist of the brain, at that. It is even insulting to other religious people because he's basically positing that the experiences of the afterlife of others was completely invalid, but because he is a scientist his experience is the proof required to legitimize claims of the afterlife and a higher power.
    It seems like a bit of a grand cosmic joke to give a neurosurgeon a week-long magical mystery coma tour tbh. Though I think his religious background colours things somewhat, that religious shit they pump into your head as a child has an awful way of showing up where you least expect it. Even if you're "lapsed", I suspect a traumatic event like a brain injury might easily be enough to allow your subconscious to conjure up fantasy worlds out of half-remembered religious imagery.

    I've certainly had some similar experiences to what he describes while in psychosis, though thank my country that i'm not in the kind of place where that could be turned into a religious experience and *pafoomf* me into a born-again Christian. I have to say that honestly, the concept of a scientist who is also a Christian completely baffles me. These people make closet cases look well adjusted, with the labyrinths of bullshit they create to justify their faith and claim it doesn't impinge on their work.

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