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Eben Alexander to Skeptiko. Alexander has been an academic neurosurgeon for more than 25 years, including 15 years at Harvard Medical School in Boston. In November of , he had a near-death experience that changed his life and caused him to rethink everything he thought he knew about the human brain and consciousness. Alexander, welcome to Skeptiko. Eben Alexander: Thank you. Alex Tsakiris: Well, your story is really quite amazing. Eben Alexander: Yes.
It really struck out of the blue. In fact, I was in reasonably good shape because my older son had been putting me through a big workout, anticipating a climb of a 20, foot volcano in South America. Alex Tsakiris: Wow. Eben Alexander: Luckily I was in pretty good shape. At in the morning, November 10, , I got out of bed. I was getting ready to go up to work. I was working in Charlottesville at the time and I had severe sudden back pain, much worse than I had ever experienced.
Literally within 10 or 15 minutes, it got me to a point where I could not even take a step. I was really in tremendous agony. My wife, Holly, was rubbing my back. Then my younger son, Bond, came in and saw I was in a lot of distress and he started rubbing my temples.
I realized when he did that that I had a severe headache. It was like he took a railroad spike and put it through my head. But I was already really going down very quickly.
I found out much later that I had acute bacterial meningitis and it was a very unusual bacteria. One that the incidence of spontaneous E.
We never found out where it came from. I was very sick during that time as I heard later. In fact, I was so sick that I was on a ventilator the whole week. They did several lumbar punctures trying to guide therapy. I was on triple antibiotics very early on, due to a very good medical team. They did a lumbar puncture about the second or third day into this and my cerebral spinal fluid glucose, which is normally around 60 to 80 and in a bad case of meningitis might drop down to about 20, well my glucose went down to 1.
So I was really sick. Alex Tsakiris: So at this point, nothing should be going on in your brain and yet something was happening in your conscious awareness. I mean, it was extraordinary. But I figured I needed to give it a chance and look at the microanatomy in the cortex and the different connections with the thalamus and basal ganglia and see if I could come up with some way that one might have an illusion of hyper-reality.
But it would basically outrun any of those kind of theories. That was something I was looking for. In fact, I never found an anatomic distribution that would support that over-activity of excitatory pathways. Alex Tsakiris: Great. Thanks for doing that. Eben Alexander: Okay. Occasionally there were exceptions to that. I had no language, no words. All of my experience in life, knowledge of humans, Earth, the universe, all of that was gone. The only thing I had was this very kind of crude existence.
I have a vivid memory of dark roots above me and there was a kind of monotonous pounding, a dull sound in the background pounding away eternally. It was just murky and gross. Every now and then a face, an animal or something would boil up out of the muck and there might be some chant or roar or something.
I think that that was the best consciousness that my brain could muster when it was soaking in pus. It turns out that that seemed to last for a very long time.
Given that it was my first awareness of anything, it actually seemed to be years or eternity. It seemed like a very, very long time. Then there was a spinning melody, this bright melody that just started spinning in front of me. It spun and as it spun around, it cleared everything away. This was the part that was so shocking and so hard to explain.
For me, I was a speck on a butterfly wing. I had no body awareness at all. In fact, I had no body awareness through this entire kind of deep coma experience. I was a speck on a beautiful butterfly wing; millions of other butterflies around us. We were flying through blooming flowers, blossoms on trees, and they were all coming out as we flew through them. Beside me on the butterfly wing was a beautiful girl.
I remember her face to this day. Absolutely beautiful girl, blue eyes, and she was dressed in—what I was trying to write all this up in the months after I came back—I described as a kind of peasant garb.
I can remember the colors very well. She never said a word to me and she was looking at me and her thoughts would just come into my awareness. You are cherished forever. You have nothing to worry about.
You will be taken care of. So those particular words were words I had to put on it when I came back out. But a lot of this flowed perfectly when I came back out. Just write everything down you can remember. It came out to about pages of memories from this deep experience within the coma. I think from that beautiful valley scene on the butterfly wing, waterfalls, pools of water, indescribable colors, and above there were these arks of silver and gold light and beautiful hymns coming down from them.
Indescribably gorgeous hymns. I think that word is probably fairly accurate. On this butterfly wing, the first time I was there, I remember having this sensation. It was as if there was a warm summer breeze that just blew by. Then everything changed and the scene stayed the same but I became aware.
Again in looking back on it, that was my awareness of a Divine presence of incredibly indescribable, kind of a superpower of divinity. Then we went out of this universe. I remember just seeing everything receding and initially I felt as if my awareness was in an infinite black void.
It was very comforting but I could feel the extent of the infinity and that it was, as you would expect, impossible to put into words. I was there with that Divine presence that was not anything that I could visibly see and describe, and with a brilliant orb of light.
There was a distinct sensation from me, a memory, that they were not one and the same. I was far beyond that point, way beyond any kind of human consciousness, and really just one consciousness. They said there were many things that they would show me, and they continued to do that. In fact, the whole higher-dimensional multiverse was that this incredibly complex corrugated ball and all these lessons coming into me about it.
Part of the lessons involved becoming all of what I was being shown. It was indescribable. But then I would find myself—and time out there I can say is totally different from what we call time. But suffice it to say that I would find myself back at the earthworm eye-view.
What I learned was that if I could recall the notes of that melody, the spinning melody, that would start the melody spinning again and that would take me back into that beautiful, crisp, clear hyper-real valley on the butterfly wing. My guardian angel was always there and she was always very comforting. Again, they would show lessons and often those lessons would involve becoming a tremendous part of what they were demonstrating. So much of it is just indescribable and so much of it there are reasons why we cannot bring a lot of that back.
To me that makes a lot more sense. I go into detail about all that in my book, but it turns out that I would oscillate from this beautiful, idyllic place in the core, coming back down into earthworm eye-view, and it seems it was three or four times.
Like I said, sequencing was so strange because when I was in the earthworm eye-view, everything seemed to be one kind of soup of just mixed foam. It was very hard to put sequence on it but it was very clear to me that several times I would use the memory of those notes and spin that melody and go back in. Alexander, a couple of questions.
First, what is the title of your book?
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
If youre looking for proof of heaven or just an insightful and critical exploration of NDEs, you are better off moving on. Alexander offers a montage of his experiences in the afterlife and the ordeal his friends and family endured, waiting and praying for seven days as he seemed to be all but surely slipping away under a prolonged coma brought on by E. Coli meningitis. Many readers are taken by the seeming improbability of Alexander surviving what he did, and even more by his experience when his brain was apparently turned off. A regular reader of topics in neurology and consciousness, I am open to the possibility of Near Death Experiences, or NDEs, provided they are buttressed with some evidence.
Dr. Eben Alexander – NDE
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