“More recently, I’ve heard some truly mind-blowing hypotheses about the nature of consciousness. I recently encountered the ideas of Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who had a near-death experience (NDE) in 2008 which was the subject of his New York Times number one bestselling book, Proof of Heaven. He described familiar NDE elements from his days in a meningitis-related coma: traveling through a tunnel, encountering a being of light, connecting with profound, all-embracing love.
I recently spoke with Alexander on the Think Act Be podcast, and he described a relationship between consciousness and the brain that turns conventional scientific thinking on its head. Alexander suggests that rather than creating consciousness, the brain actually limits it.
“I often say that we are conscious in spite of our brain, not because of it,” said Alexander. “It really has to do with the fact that consciousness is fundamental.” He continued, “Consciousness is not something you can get behind. You can’t see it as a derivative from the matter of the brain.” (This notion is captured in the title of the article, “What If Consciousness Comes First?”)
So if our experience of consciousness doesn’t arise from the brain—where the heck does it come from? According to Alexander, “We truly live in a mindful universe, with top-down causal principles that are very powerful in determining the events of human lives.” He posits that these causal principles “are not the simple, predicted result of a kind of bottom-up causation looking at the subatomic particles and cells.” Instead, consciousness is the building block of the universe and gives rise to everything we experience—including ourselves.”