The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience Hardcover – Dec 30 2010
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"Nelson (Neurology/Univ. of Kentucky) has spent decades exploring what underlies spiritual experiences, so there is more to this book than physiological probing. In particular, the author is sensitive to the intensity of a transcendent moment, how it 'deeply moves us or transports us and connects us in one way or another with something larger than ourselves.' As a neurologist, however, he seeks an explanation based on well-established brain mechanisms. Nelson is humble and balanced, wary of our perception of consciousness and infectiously fascinated by how the brain shapes it."
"This book is a bold, provocative and highly readable account of the author's journey into the world of religious experience and its possible biological basis."
-V.S. Ramachandran, author of Phantoms in the Brain and A Brief History of Human Consciousness
About the Author
Kevin Nelson is the author of fifteen books, including The Golden Game, The Greatest Stories Ever Told (About Baseball), and Baseball's Greatest Quotes. He has also written articles for a variety of local and national publications such as Men's Fitness, Ski, Sport, Women's Sports and Fitness, San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Jose Mercury News.See all Product Description
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People who have NDEs claim to have tremendously expanded levels of awareness and the capability of having multiple thought streams simultaneously, as well as detailed reviews of every moment of their lives recounted and relived not just from their own perspective, but from the perspectives of the people who were affected by their actions. They claim to have downloads of tremendous knowledge "in the light" that come in instantaneous blocks of understanding. It would seem that standard waking consciousness is a toned down level of awareness from what we are actually capable of in these altered states.
One serious problem I had with the book is where it is suggested that Pam Reynolds saw the tools as she was moved into the operating room. Watch the documentary "The day I died" on YouTube. Dr. Spetzler clearly says he doesn't believe she could have seen the tools as she was brought into the room and Pam says she never saw any of these tools at any time before the NDE. I don't know why Dr. Nelson wrote this. He also completely skips the fact that Pam had 100db clickers packed and taped in her ears monitoring her brainstem response, and was still capable of hearing someone say that her femoral artery was too small. Dr. Nelson makes no attempt at explaining or even discussing the many accounts of accurate veridical perception during OBEs, or NDEs of the congenitally blind. Despite the clear relationship between lucid dreams, OBEs and NDEs we have to remember that many people, including the famed dream researcher Stephen Laberge who Dr. Nelson cites actually believe in some psi component to these experiences. These claims are not addressed at all in this book.
The latest phenomenon being explored is called the "Shared Death Experience" where family members of the dying have OBEs, go through tunnels, see the light and share in the life reviews of the dying despite not being near death. Raymond Moody's latest book called "Glimpses of Eternity" showcase many accounts of these experiences. I would love to see these people tested for having a history of REM intrusion. Something tells me that Richard Dawkins is not going to have a shared death experience with anyone. However, if the shared death experience phenomenon is as it is reported by Moody and others, could it also be activated by profound emotional response in a crisis with subsequent NDE-like elements in the living? I am highly skeptical of "dying brain" explanations of NDEs, particularly of the light and the tunnel. This is because we have accounts of people having classic NDEs involving the tunnel and the light who are literally driving calmly down the road in their vehicle, nowhere near death. The REM intrusion hypothesis makes more sense to fit the data. As the entry on NDE says on the howstuffworks website- "For every aspect of an NDE, there is at least one scientific explanation for it. And for every scientific explanation, there seem to be five NDE cases that defy it."
Overall, a good book worth reading.
What was further upsetting to me in this book were the many references where Nelson states, "My own research has found..." and then there is no citation. At the beginning of the book Nelson brags about how he and a team of neuropsychologists gathered an immense amount of data in some study related to brain and spiritual experience; but there is no citation or reference to it. As many people who read these tyes of books know, not all "studies" are created equal. Hearing the results from a study and seeing the actual study can be two different things. In my mind it would have been helpful for Nelson to actually cite the studies he mentions where he was the investigator instead of just telling the reader that he conducted original research on a topic - and the study he conducted proved what he is saying now. At best, such writing is juvenile. At worst, it can be seen as deceptive.
There are other items in this book that I see as almost comical in some respects, but I'll keep from listing them here in this review. Suffice it to say that Nelson's theory in the book, which I found mildly interesting, still leaves the larger question about NDEs, OBEs, and other verifiable "spiritual" phenomena unanswered - at least with respect to its relationship with the brain/body.
The author says that atheists are irritated by his research to learn that spirituality is an integral part of being human and religious people are irked because it seems to downplay the significance of the mystic. But he concludes, "Do these cold, hard clinical facts suck the divine nectar from our spiritual lives? My answer is an empathic NO!" In other words, while such experiences as NDEs may not prove there is an afterlife, they certainly do not disprove it either. His work simply shows what is occurring in the brain at the time.
Interestingly, the author relates how the greatest hallucination we experience is the idea that we are a separate, unified "self," and this is something that any genuinely enlightened master will agree upon: "..the self is a synthetic process that pulls different components distributed throughout the brain into the illusion of a unified self." The book discusses a pathology in which a person is just sure that they don't exist, or that they are dead. Interestingly enlightened masters also claim that they do not exist (as a separate self).
I found the book to be full of surprises. For example, experiments found that the left brain and the right brain are like two separate entities, often in conflict. In one man, his right brain loved smoking pot. But his left brain hated it! Although there are many universal features in near death experiences, there are cultural differences. For example, the Japanese do not go through tunnels. An Indian will be sent back into life if his name doesn't appear on a roster of the dead. Mystical experiences from drugs are also discussed, and are considered as valid as any if the criteria is met that it changes the person's life. Fasting, meditation, and even a high altitude with oxygen deprivation can lead to mystical experiences.
A very interesting book for both the skeptic and the spiritual seeker! It is an easy read for the layman and is full of interesting case studies.
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