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Proof of Hallucination

Did a neurosurgeon go to heaven?
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In Eben Alexander’s best-selling book Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (Simon & Schuster), he recounts his near-death experience (NDE) during a meningitis-induced coma. When I first read that Alexander’s heaven includes “a beautiful girl with high cheekbones and deep blue eyes” who offered him unconditional love, I thought, “Yeah, sure, dude. I’ve had that fantasy, too.” Yet when I met him on the set of Larry King’s new streaming-live talk show on Hulu, I realized that he genuinely believes he went to heaven. Did he?

Not likely. First, Alexander claims that his “cortex was completely shut down” and that his “near-death experience … took place not while [his] cortex was malfunctioning, but while it was simply off.” In King’s green room, I asked him how, if his brain was really nonfunctional, he could have any memory of these experiences, given that memories are a product of neural activity? He responded that he believes the mind can exist separately from the brain. How, where, I inquired? That we don’t yet know, he rejoined. The fact that mind and consciousness are not fully explained by natural forces, however, is not proof of the supernatural. In any case, there is a reason they are called near-death experiences: the people who have them are not actually dead. (continue reading…)

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Surviving Death on Larry King Live

Obscurantism and obfuscation on national television
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Have you ever died and come back to life? Me neither. No one has. But plenty of people say that they have, and their experiences were the subject of an episode of Larry King Live last December on which I appeared as the token skeptic among a tableful of believers, including CNN’s medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, New Age author Deepak Chopra, a football referee who “died” on the playing field, and an 11-year-old boy named James Leininger who believes he is the reincarnation of a World War II fighter pilot.

Dr. Gupta started us off by recalling that when he was in medical school the residents were taught to mark the time of death to the minute, when death can often take anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours to occur, depending on the conditions. As Gupta noted, people who have fallen into frozen lakes and “died” were not quite dead, and their core body temperatures dropped so rapidly that their vital tissues were preserved long enough for subsequent resuscitation. In other words, people who have near-death experiences (NDEs) are not actually dead! (continue reading…)

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Demon-Haunted Brain

If the brain mediates all experience, then paranormal phenomena are nothing more than neuronal events
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Five centuries ago demons haunted our world, with incubi and succubi tormenting victims as they lay asleep. Two centuries ago spirits haunted our world, with ghosts and ghouls harassing sufferers during all hours of the night. This past century aliens haunted our world, with grays and greens abducting captives and whisking them away for probing and prodding. Nowadays people are reporting out-of-body experiences, floating above their beds. What is going on here? Are these elusive creatures and mysterious phenomena in our world or in our minds? New evidence adds weight to the notion that they are, in fact, products of the brain. Neuroscientist Michael Persinger, in his laboratory at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, for example, can induce all these perceptions in subjects by subjecting their temporal lobes to patterns of magnetic fields. (I tried it myself and had a mild out-of-body experience.) (continue reading…)

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