The guy had a genuine spiritual experience, and seems to have followed it through since his recovery from the illness that brought him to death’s door. Where his account fell down, for me, is in his assumption that ‘because I’m a neuroscientist then there’s something special about the experience I had’.
Mystics have been taking the same trip for centuries and reaching the same conclusions. Just because a scientist has taken the same trip – so what? It’s evidence that counts in science. So where is the evidence? Alexander argues that the data collected during his coma shows that his neocortex was effectively ‘shut down’, thus the rich, interactive experiences he had couldn’t have been generated from his brain. Except that other neuroscientists have already popped up on-line (including Oliver Sacks, for instance) to argue that the data does not support this interpretation. So it seems the evidence collected remains far from unambiguous.
To me, the experiences and the conclusions he draws from them bear all the hallmarks of a genuine, high-grade mystical insight. There were a lot of synchronicities involved as well, and it concerns me that (reading between the lines) Alexander may feel drawn towards the idea that God has given him a special mission to bring the Truth to mankind. All the ingredients for a massive messiah complex seem to be in place, and it will be crucial to see how he negotiates this in the immediate future. Many people have mystical experiences, but it’s how they deal with them which is often as interesting as the experiences themselves. I had the feeling at times that the author wasn’t quite being up-front with us as to how he regards his role. Is he still practising neurosurgery? If not, then has his mystical writing become, of necessity, his new career? And he has evidently been reading a lot of Rudolf Steiner – you can tell from the language he uses – although Steiner is nowhere mentioned in the bibliography or text. What’s that all about? (If anything.)
Definitely worth a read, I would say. And, in my opinion, a genuine mystical experience. But it’s where the author decides to take it next that might prove most interesting of all.