Facing my own pancreatic cancer, I have read a few books recently recommended by friends who are lovingly trying to comfort me. A book written by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, MD has been one of those stories that talks about a “near death experience” (NDE). Alexander developed bacterial meningitis and, during a seven-day coma experienced a NDE like others. He found himself drawn to a warm light while sensing tremendous reassuring comfort. A former skeptic of these stories, he has become a fervent advocate that these experiences (NDE) are evidence for God and Heaven. His final chapters discuss how inadequate science is in explaining consciousness and suggests that each of us is “more than our physical body.”
Throughout the ages, some of the greatest minds in the universe have addressed the question “what is consciousness?” From what source does our awareness come? Where does God fit into that question? Alexander states that “. . . the greatest clue to the reality of the spiritual realm is the profound mystery of our conscious existence.”
As a physician who has practiced for many years, I have tried my best to use evidence-based science to guide me in choosing the best diagnostic and therapeutic options for my patients. I define medical science as a search for truth using double-blinded studies that avoid the placebo effect and preconceived biases. As science advances, we are continuously improving what we can do for people. For example, we can now cure certain cancers that twenty years ago would have killed those affected. We can now relieve suffering from severe heartburn, from shortness of breath, from a heart that races, and from unrelenting depression. I am forever enthused and amazed by the continuous improvements in medicine that keep unrolling with proper use of the scientific method.
However, with all of our “method”, science has not been able to answer the consciousness question, the spiritual connectedness we can feel toward each other, the question about life after death, and the love and acceptance that many of us sense coming from God or another higher power. I agree with the neurosurgeon: answers to these questions must come, not from science, but from another place.