Andrey (azangru) wrote,

I read Raymond Moody's Life after Life when I was a kid. It impressed me as a well-researched book (although what did I, at that age, know of research?), written, unlike many esoterical books, in a clear, approachable style that suggested that the author was a reasonable rational person (although what could I know of the style; I read the book in the Russian translation). I was fascinated that an actual MD was writing about such a seemingly outlandish topic. The author's ethos, pathos and logos, it felt, were in the right place (although I certainly knew nothing about Aristotelian rhetoric either). The book, or at least the idea, the mental model of that book, became for me a gold standard of how one can approach topics that lie outside of modern scientific discourse.

Guided by these childhoold recollections, I recently listened to two audiobooks that surfaced in the tracker: one was Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, and the other is Surviving Death by Leslie Kean.

The first one is pretty atrocious; the second exceeds my expectations set by Moody’s text. Eben Alexander’s book is a personal account of his experience while he was in a deep coma caused by severe meningitis. His case is peculiar in several respects: first, he is a neurosurgeon; so he is knowledgeable enough to give a clinical account of his condition. His thesis (if I recall it correctly) is that his brain was essentially shut down throughout the worst of the infection, because the bacteria that caused the meningitis (Escherichia coli in his case) effectively starved his brain of glucose. Yet, despite the suppressed brain activity (I do not remember whether he presses the point with discussion of his EEG recordings), he had a long, rich and vivid experience that he then elaborately relates. So his point is, how can one remain an experiencing subject while one's brain is non-functioning, as was his. If the book had focused only on that single point (and as far as I could bear to listen to it that was the only substantial part to his argument), it would have been ok (though there probably wouldn't have been enough material for a book), but he goes on to embellish his account with numerous extraneous details about his family, and his parents, and his upbringing, and his son, and their grief, and the medium his wife (or was it his sister?) contacted, and so on — something that he does not even claim to witness (as could have been if he were reporting an out-of-the-body experience), but that he still coudn't resist putting in the book. He is even attempting to correlate the timeline of his recalled experience with the timeline of his family's actions while he was in a coma — an entirely meaningless exercise in the absense of any anchoring points that would support the relative positioning of the two timelines.

Leslie Kean’s book, on the other hand, is completely different and is actually pretty interesting, if in nothing else then at least in showing that there is actually some ongoing research into the topic. From it I learned that there is a whole Department of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, which is quite involved in this topic. There are several Dutch researchers working on the topic, including Pim van Lommel, who published the results of their study in The Lancet. Leslie herself is a journalist, but certain chapters are authored by the researchers themselves; so there is a chapter by Jim Tucker, a child psychiatrist and the director of the Department of Perceptual Studies. There is a chapter by Pim van Lommel, a cardiologist, and a chapter by a nurse. And so on. All this is pretty wild, and the eagerness with which Leslie herself or her co-authors would suggest telepathy or extrasensory perception as a possible alternative explanation of the phenomena they describe (as if those were a given) is a bit offputting, but still the book is very readable (or, in my case, listenable), and gives an impression of being a solid piece of research and editorship. At least of journalistic research, if not academic.

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