Physicians should understand physiology

I am a skeptic when it comes to ghosts, aliens and near-death out of body experiences. That does not mean that I have a complete alternative explanation for what people have said happened to them. It just means that I find their explanation to be unconvincing.

My mother told me that she talked with my father after he died. I do not think she told anyone else for fear of being thought to believe in ghosts. She found it impossible to believe in ghosts. What she thought, and what I find found a reasonable explanation, was that there were times when she desperately need my father’s advice. She knew him so well that she actually could make a good guess at what he would tell her but it was hard to find that good guess. But after trying to solve a problem she had, before/as she fell asleep, she would hear my father’s voice and could discuss the problem with him. Over time this voice faded and she never thought that it was anything more than a conversation with herself.

Long ago in early societies there was often a believe that people actually traveled as spirits when they dreamed. We now believe that dreams are not actually happening but are an effect of brain maintenance processes. I would not expect anyone to believe that I was actually on a liner last night just because I dreamed about an old fashion ocean crossing. The dreams are real but not their narratives.

Nor do we believe, as early societies did that hallucinations (from drugs, starvation, illness etc.) were real happenings rather than weird products of an affected brain. Also there are explanations for being paralysed but awake from a dream – no need for demons or aliens sitting on your chest.

So why do some take near-death effects as real in a real sense of having happened outside the brain. I would expect someone who was aware of brain physiology and who had a near-death experience to explain it as what happens when the brain is lacking oxygen and/or undergoing many other unusual stresses. When the brain is in real trouble it registers – a tunnel, a bright light, a memory dump, a floating feeling (and, of course, some things that may be expected by the person’s religion/philosophy). Christian Jarrett gives a good post of how such things happen (here). So, I wonder, why is this treated differently to dreams and the like?

How can a neurophysician give us an explanation for his near-death experience involving the afterlife and consciousness that does not require the brain? (Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife – Eben Alexander) With his medical knowledge, I would not want him treating any brain disease I might get.

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