Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

Living in a Mindful Universe: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Heart of Consciousness

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
December 2017
Fred's Rating: 
Eben Alexander
Karen Newell
Total Pages: 

Eben Alexander was an academic neurosurgeon for more than 25 years. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.) Karen Newell is a lifelong seeker of esoteric wisdom with first-hand experience exploring realms of consciousness. This was a gift book.

I was given the paperback edition but here is the Kindle website

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this books' covers at the website above.]

The home page has a good summary (click on ‘Read more’). There is also a good summary: a different, more inclusive perspective, further down the home page in the Top Customer Reviews – the first one by ‘Just an Opinion’ – be sure to click on ‘Read more’.

Use Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ option to see the Contents and the 1-p Preface. The 4-pp Introduction is given in full in both the paperback and Kindle editions. But for the 12-pp Chapter 1 – Making Sense of It All – the paperback edit omits pages 7-8 but includes the other ten pages, whereas the Kindle edition ends with page 7. So you can read all except page 8 by reading pp-1-7 on the Kindle preview then go to the paperback edition to get pp 9-12. As for page 8, skipping it is not much of a loss.

I recommend reading the above sections as they make very clear Eben Alexander’s experiences while in a devastating coma state. From this he draws the conclusion that his experience involved what is called a ‘non-local’ state of consciousness. His experience is a special case of NDE (Near Death Experience) for his brain was still alive, although in a horrible state that he describes in detail in the earlier parts of this book.

There are other books I’ve read that study different types of NDE – a type in which the patient is brought back from death, not just an NDE but involving only patients that have had cardiac arrest (a ‘heart attack’) that kills by failures of heart movement, breathing lungs, and a ‘dead’ brain – a brain that is flat-lined in the EEG (electroencephalogram). Being in all three of these inactive states at the same time is the updated legal definition of death – some MDs call such dead patients as having an ADE (Actual Death Experience) that they were able to reverse rather than calling it any less-specific type of NDE. I’ve read some books in which the MDs therefore restrict their study of NDEs to cardiac-arrest patients: I was especially impressed by Consciousness Beyond Life by
Pim van Lowell (Book 602) and Erasing Death by Sam Parnia and Josh Young (Book 605). I’ve read several books about NDEs and OBEs (Out of Body Experiences). At the end of my review of Book 620, I appended a list of the books I’ve read about NDEs and OBEs. After I finish my review of this book I will add its number 732 to that list.

The importance of OBEs is that they can provide independent verification of the existence of an OBE that occurred during a NDE. More and more MDs and neuroscientists are now seriously considering the existence of NDEs, but the vast majority of them simply claim that they are pre-coma, coma, or post-coma experiences, thus these skeptics see no need to consider the possibility of a non-local consciousness. (The brain-based consciousness is the local part.) In short, they are firmly committed to stating that the only consciousness is that of the brain. This is for them a statement of faith – one of materialism or scientism. NDE experiences are for them a delusion, a brain state that happens when the brain is in an especially desperate and non-rational state. So they ignore such events, asking those who are studying NDEs and OBEs the question “Show me your evidence.” Since all patients having an NDE (both ADEs and other types) who report their experiences ‘return’ to life with only their memory of their (often life-changing) experiences but with no physical evidence to support their ‘claim’ of having had a NDE. Since these patients return with no evidence, one can understand these skeptics strong resistance to believe in a non-local part in human consciousness or awareness.

However, when the NDE also involves a OBE (whether in the operating room or elsewhere) the medical staff or others present during the OBE can refute or verify what OBE patients say they heard or saw. There are many cases where this has occurred, some of which involved blind patients who can somehow see what was happening around them. Also children who had a NDE can describe it when mature, when they have the words to do so. Very few people who have had a NDE forget what it was like – they can remember it well many years later. In short, the NDE skeptics have no answer for a verified OBE. Verified OBEs are the evidence that the skeptics refuse to confront with a viable explanation, since such verification tells them that local consciousness (within the brain) cannot explain verified OBEs when a patient is brain ‘dead.’

The preceding comments were not from the current book but is a conclusion I’ve made from reading the list of books that I’ve appended to book 620. I have found much more than his experience in Ch. 5 – The Primordial Mind Hypothesis – and select quotes from it here. It begins with “As I progressed in my search for answers, my challenge was to explain two profound mysteries: How could progressive infection of my neocortex have allowed for such a wildly expansive and ultra-real conscious awareness like the one that occurred deep in my coma? And what is the fundamental nature of that indescribably comforting force of knowing, trust, and pure unconditional love – that basic intelligence and creativity (that many have identified as God or Supreme Deity) – at the source of it all? My coma journey suggested that consciousness originated from the core essence of the universe. How might I connect it all?

“I began to review the many different models that explained the relationship between mind and brain. The entire scope of possible answers to the mind-body discussion can be envisioned as a linear spectrum anchored by two opposite poles, with materialism at one end (brain creates mind) and metaphysical idealism (mind creates brain, and all physical matter) at the other pole. Between the two poles lie many options of ‘dualism’ that accept some existence of mind that is not simply reducible or explained by the physical brain. …

“My subjective experience during coma was certainly a powerful piece of evidence that showed me the reality of the spiritual realm.” …”I began to realize subjective experience was ‘the’ critical piece to our comprehension of the world, despite its anecdotal nature.” …”I came to realize that even accepting any dualist theory, where mind is accepted as a separate entity from brain, was not going far enough. What if quantum physics experiments are telling us that ‘mind’ actually ‘creates’ all of the events witnessed in the material world? What if our personal choices are integrally influencing our unfolding reality?

“Here is where I began to seriously ponder the philosophical position called metaphysical idealism. Metaphysics concerns the most fundamental assumptions about existence, such as the notion that the universe is comprehensible, or that the only stuff that exists is physical or material matter. Idealism is the notion that realism (our entire universe) is fundamentally a form of thought in which the human mind participates. Existence thus emerges from the realm of ideas, or from the mental (out of consciousness itself). Metaphysical idealism is also called ontological idealism – ontological simply refers to ‘all that is.’

“… one assumes that consciousness exists primarily, which generates all particular minds, brains, and bodies. … There are rules that govern the stage setting (i.e., the façade of the physical world) for this drama (broadly, the laws of physics, or laws of illusion), but the theme and plot of actual events (especially from a human perspective) are not so limited. There is still a powerful principle of sufficient reason – the notion that all effects must have sufficient causes or that nothing can occur as a chaotic or random event.” [Here I object – chaos theory and random events do exist in our observed physical world, but not in the macroscopic human-sized world of sentient beings.]

Later on he introduces the concept of a “filter theory” in which the human brain can reduce or filter which universal consciousness of the Collective Mind is allowed to enter a human mind. He postulates that “the neocortex is the dominant influence on how much and what specific conscious awareness is allowed in from the Collective Mind. Its filtering function is to limit and reduce, thus only allowing in the trickle of consciousness awareness that becomes our perceptions of the world around us.” [It makes more sense to me to have the Collective Mind do the filtering of input to each neocortex, where that which passes the filter is received as permissible input, different for each individual’s ability to deal with it.]

His version of each human’s neocortex doing the filtering “takes us much further in explaining a wide variety of exotic human experiences, such as near-death and shared-death experiences, precognition, after-death communications, out-of-body experiences, and remote writing. This hypothesis explains my own personal ultra-real NDE in coma, when my neocortex was so thoroughly dismantled. Without a properly functioning filter, I experienced a much broader contact with universal consciousness, as have millions of others who witnessed the ultra-reality of such transcendent experiences in consciousness.” His theory works well for him, as one should have expected.

Chapter 13 – Learning Our Soul Lessons – is based upon the concept that each soul passes along in a linear time manner from generation to generation. Eben Alexander is into the reincarnation scene in a different way that has occurred for hundreds of years in Asian religions, for they talk of reincarnation being a measure of how one’s life was led. In India, living wisely means reincarnation to a higher class, but living selfishly (not wisely) means reincarnation to a lower class or even into an animal. Alexander’s soul reincarnation doesn’t mention class but is determined by the goodness of your life. While alive he invokes a medium who can connect you with deceased parents or relatives who give you advice for improving yourself. This surprising (at least to me!) soul-to-soul communication and judgement from the past is something I had never heard or read about before this book. I am very skeptical about it. I have met some people who claim to have been connected with a deceased spouse, relative or friend, for whom the medium’s voice seemed to sound like that of the deceased person. The thing I’ve learned upon hearing stories of such experiences is to say as little as possible but to listen carefully to what I’m being told. I usually ask if they had done this more than once, how many different deceased persons had the medium contacted for them, had there been cases where the medium could not ‘reach” the person asked for, and when the answer was yes, then 'Was the medium able to explain this failure in a satisfactory way to you?' As I recall, the responses I got were quite variable. They had in common no reason for me to seek out a medium, and, in reference to what Eben Alexander said about this topic, I have questioned more skeptically other things he said in this book.

In terms of thought provoking, this book did a lot of that, but his talk of soul-communication cost him a couple of stars, so overall I rate this book at three stars.