Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who had a near death experience (NDE) in 2008. I am reading his book, “Proof of Heaven” because of my own spiritual journey that I continue to write extensively about at Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. However, in reading Alexander’s book, it is his use of the word “worldview” that has my attention. It literally leapt off the page when I came across the first reference because I am immersed in the work of Worldview Intelligence these days and I am curious to see what he means by it. The word worldview is showing up in many different contexts these days without any explanation of what people mean when they use it. As I read on, I realize he is describing many aspects of worldview as Jerry Nagel and I know, experience and teach it.
Our worldviews are socially and locally constructed. They influence how we interact with the world around us, including and especially other people. Worldviews operate 80% in our unawareness. As individuals, not only do we hold personal worldviews, but we may also have a distinct professional worldview.
Our worldviews are filters for what gets into our conscious awareness and what doesn’t, for what we believe, what we accept and what we dismiss. They influence our relationships, our communication and our decision-making. Eben Alexander, as a physician, surgeon and scientist, believed that consciousness was part of brain function, end of story. In his interactions with patients who tried to describe their near death experiences or their experiences of intuitive knowing or messages from the world of spirit, he was sympathetic and supportive to the patient but he dismissed the stories with physical explanations – they were confused because of brain trauma, because of medication. There was a neuroscientific hypothesis to explain away every story.
That is, until he had his own near death experience caused by an inexplicable set of circumstances where there were no precedents, in a coma for 7 days with no higher brain function from which he never should have walked away, let alone walk away fully recovered although forever changed. Now he was ready to explore alternative explanations as his belief systems and his worldviews expanded beyond what he previously knew to be true.
What he accepted as ‘fact’ before was changing. He writes, “The more I read ‘scientific’ explanations of what NDEs are, the more I was shocked by their transparent flimsiness. And yet I also knew with chagrin that they were exactly the ones that the ‘old’ me would have pointed to vaguely if someone had asked me to ‘explain’ what an NDE is. But people who weren’t doctors couldn’t be expected to know this.”
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” –Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
Because of his scientific background, Alexander thought he knew what was real and true and he dismissed information pointing to different explanations. He writes, “Never, before my coma, had I realized just how deceptive a word can be. The way I had been taught to think about it, both in medical school and in the school of common sense called life, is that something is either real (a car accident, a football game, a sandwich on the table in front of you) or it’s not.” P. 129
He shares that he had been aware of the new scientific research from the fields of quantum mechanics and quantum physics and refused to even review the data because the notion of consciousness emanating from something other than the human brain was beyond his comprehension. It did not fit with his medical worldview.
After his coma, he reviewed his own medical records, he wrote about his experience while he was in the coma and he faced the ‘medical impossibility’ of the situation. His medical and scientific worldviews were inadequate to explaining his experience.
“I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.” – Albert Einstein (1879-2955)
When our worldviews, when our identity is threatened, it is like our very life is being threatened and we respond accordingly. It can take a dramatic life experience to cause us to grow and to shift our perspectives, to begin to understand ourselves and our experiences in new ways, to be open to alternatives.
Now, Alexander’s work is in sharing his story, inviting others to entertain the idea of expanding their own worldview. It is in the intersection of a multiplicity of worldviews that new ideas emerge, that innovation thrives and that the very essence of who we are as human beings is invited to show up in the fullness of our humanity. Whether you believe Alexander’s story or not is not the point. In his story, it is in the intersection of science, medicine and spirituality that he is inviting a deeper exploration. In your story, it might be different. In your workplace, your community, your social system, what intersection of worldviews, even competing worldviews, might expand your sense of what is real and what is not? What is possible and what is not?