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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed Neuroscience of Mystical Experiences
As someone who has great interest in NDEs and mystical experiences, I was not disappointed by this book. Doctor Nelson gives us a thorough account of neurological correlates of mystical experiences. This may be daunting for some people who have no background in neuroanatomy, but it is not technically overwhelming. Some of his ideas are quite speculative. The good thing...
Published on February 20, 2011 by Dr. Wigglesworth

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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure what I believe anymore!
I have had epilepsy for 35 years, which is controlled by medication. I have had just about every kind of out of body, sleep paralysis, hearing voices, seeing tunnels, seeing faces, sitting up and lying down at the same time, sensing presence of others, being pulled out of my body, buzzing, etc. that are described in just about every NDE book there is, including this one...
Published on April 22, 2011 by V. Chapin


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed Neuroscience of Mystical Experiences, February 20, 2011
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This review is from: The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience (Hardcover)
As someone who has great interest in NDEs and mystical experiences, I was not disappointed by this book. Doctor Nelson gives us a thorough account of neurological correlates of mystical experiences. This may be daunting for some people who have no background in neuroanatomy, but it is not technically overwhelming. Some of his ideas are quite speculative. The good thing about Dr. Nelson's ideas is that they are mostly testable. I agree with him that soon our understanding of the brain will expand and multiple new "paradigms" will come along that fundamentally shift our understanding of what is going on. Ultimately, the relationship between neuronal action potentials with their accompanying chemical fluctuations to conscious experience is incomprehensible. Dr. Nelson doesn't really touch on this mystery of "the hard problem of consciousness", which seems to me to be fundamental to any discussion of consciousness and mystical experience. It's a bugaboo of neuroscience because nothing at all is understood about how neurons can create conscious awareness, and it opens up the possibility that nobody wants to address, that consciousness may be some fundamental template of nature that evolution designed itself around instead of generated through complexity. If spiritual experience is associated with more primitive elements of the brain which are shared with other mammals, the question arises about when this sort of consciousness arose in the evolutionary tree, and of course, for what evolutionary benefit?

People who have NDEs claim to have tremendously expanded levels of awareness and the capability of having multiple thought streams simultaneously, as well as detailed reviews of every moment of their lives recounted and relived not just from their own perspective, but from the perspectives of the people who were affected by their actions. They claim to have downloads of tremendous knowledge "in the light" that come in instantaneous blocks of understanding. It would seem that standard waking consciousness is a toned down level of awareness from what we are actually capable of in these altered states.

One serious problem I had with the book is where it is suggested that Pam Reynolds saw the tools as she was moved into the operating room. Watch the documentary "The day I died" on YouTube. Dr. Spetzler clearly says he doesn't believe she could have seen the tools as she was brought into the room and Pam says she never saw any of these tools at any time before the NDE. I don't know why Dr. Nelson wrote this. He also completely skips the fact that Pam had 100db clickers packed and taped in her ears monitoring her brainstem response, and was still capable of hearing someone say that her femoral artery was too small. Dr. Nelson makes no attempt at explaining or even discussing the many accounts of accurate veridical perception during OBEs, or NDEs of the congenitally blind. Despite the clear relationship between lucid dreams, OBEs and NDEs we have to remember that many people, including the famed dream researcher Stephen Laberge who Dr. Nelson cites actually believe in some psi component to these experiences. These claims are not addressed at all in this book.

The latest phenomenon being explored is called the "Shared Death Experience" where family members of the dying have OBEs, go through tunnels, see the light and share in the life reviews of the dying despite not being near death. Raymond Moody's latest book called "Glimpses of Eternity" showcase many accounts of these experiences. I would love to see these people tested for having a history of REM intrusion. Something tells me that Richard Dawkins is not going to have a shared death experience with anyone. However, if the shared death experience phenomenon is as it is reported by Moody and others, could it also be activated by profound emotional response in a crisis with subsequent NDE-like elements in the living? I am highly skeptical of "dying brain" explanations of NDEs, particularly of the light and the tunnel. This is because we have accounts of people having classic NDEs involving the tunnel and the light who are literally driving calmly down the road in their vehicle, nowhere near death. The REM intrusion hypothesis makes more sense to fit the data. As the entry on NDE says on the howstuffworks website- "For every aspect of an NDE, there is at least one scientific explanation for it. And for every scientific explanation, there seem to be five NDE cases that defy it."

Overall, a good book worth reading.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can advanced neuroscience validate or disprove profound spiritual experiences?, January 6, 2011
This review is from: The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience (Hardcover)
With major advancements in neurological science and our ability to understand the functioning of the human brain to minutest of details, have we reached a point where science can completely explain what for centuries have been deemed our most meaningful, spiritual experiences?

In The Spiritual Doorway In The Brain, Kevin Nelson, M.D. tackles this difficult question in an exploration that will suit medical professionals, mystics, and laypersons alike. Scientific understanding of the chemical exchanges and electrical impulses in the brain have provided a clear explanation of exactly what happens to us biologically when experiencing what could be deemed spiritual, religious, or mystical events. Basing his theories on extensive studies of patients who have described having both near-death and mystical experiences, Nelson explains the various brain functions that result in common symptoms like tunnel vision, bright or intensive light, out-of-body experiences, feelings of paralysis or being dead, one's life flashing before his eyes, blissfulness, and the meeting of religious figures or deceased friends and relatives. These symptoms can all be explained through chemical reaction or blood flow and oxygenation of the brain and heart.

Many of these same symptoms can be traced to the REM state of consciousness, the same state of consciousness that brings on dreams. In fact, Nelson points out the startling similarities between near-death or religious experiences and lucid dreams. He also scientifically explains that the brain chemistries of certain individuals are more susceptible to near-death or other spiritual experiences. The examples and experiments cited provide a compelling argument that what may have been deemed an experience of the divine may actually be normal brain functionality.

On the other hand, science offers little explanation for one of the primary symptoms of near-death and mystical experiences. The feeling of "oneness" with the universe or of losing a sense of self and becoming singular with cosmic consciousness typically becomes the life-changing experience for those who claim to have witnessed the divine. How does science explain the renewed sense of purpose and meaning that those who have come close to death or experienced spiritual transcendence claim to feel? Nelson offers his hypotheses but states that science has not advanced far enough to explain these phenomena as of yet. He is sure that these explanations are on the horizon.

The conclusion of the book is explained by the title itself. Although neuroscience has been able to explain exactly how the human brain functions as it relates to mystical, religious, or near-death experiences, science cannot explain exactly why humans (and possibly other mammals, according to Nelson) have spiritual experiences. Science and faith can co-exist in harmony as long as one remembers that the how and why of any situation are two independent concepts. Neuroscience's explanation of brain functionality does little to diminish faith in God or spiritual experience. This objective, well-researched book is a revolutionary balance between the mystical and scientific realms and can benefit those who study both ends of the spectrum.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mystics, Zen Masters & Neurologists, January 23, 2011
This review is from: The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience (Hardcover)
In his classic study, Mystics & Zen Masters, Thomas Merton wrote that he was driven by one central concern: "to understand various ways in which men of different traditions have conceived the meaning and method of the 'way' which leads to the highest levels of religious or of metaphysical awareness." Kevin Nelson, a practicing neurologist and scientist whose recent studies of Near Death Experience (NDE) have attracted worldwide attention, shares Merton's passion for understanding what has traditionally been seen as irrelevant or outside the scientist's territory. Yet, as Nelson shows, the contemporary tools of neuroscience now make it possible to pick up the work of pioneers like early twentieth century psychologist William James, who understood that religious and spiritual experiences were important to empirically investigate. James's work was limited by the skull's invulnerability against the brass instruments of his day, but as Nelson lucidly demonstrates in this book, it is now possible to visually explore the questions raised by philosophers and theologians about the human need and capacity for religious experience. Unlike many contemporaries who use neuroscience to reduce spiritual experiences as the epiphenomena of basic brain processes, Nelson avoids this category error and proceeds to explore the "how" of these experiences, rather than the "why". He demonstrates his fundamental premise is irrefutable: The brain is the primary organ for all spiritual experiences such as NDE and contemplative rapture--experiences which can be ultimately mapped through the brain's complex circuitry. Indeed, Nelson provides the lay reader with a compelling and lucid account of those brain processes crucial to such experiences. Many of the findings generated by his own studies and his generous rendering of classic investigations and cutting-edge scientific work, will surprise the reader. For example, he argues that religious experiences are not generated from the higher, cortical regions of the brain but are centered in the human brainstem. Thus we have inherited the capacity for such "highly evolved" experiences from our earliest human ancestors, such as the beings who inscribed their burgeoning understanding and wonder on cave walls 32,000 years ago. Nelson has also drawn on the recent science of sleep, and maps the borderlands intersecting REM and awakened states of human consciousness, which can create both troubling psychopathology and profound mystical experiences. (The reader familiar with contemplative writers will be struck by the non-accidental connections between Nelson's terminology and the traditional religious language of sleeping and awakening.) Fortunately, Nelson eschews determinism, which would claim that Gregorian chant is simply the product of neuronal firing. Instead, the author invokes his personal hope that brain science can help us understand the complexities of religious experience so that readers might freely consider the ultimate 'ways' and 'doorways' that writers like Merton, and now Kevin Nelson, compellingly reveal and unlock.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure what I believe anymore!, April 22, 2011
This review is from: The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience (Hardcover)
I have had epilepsy for 35 years, which is controlled by medication. I have had just about every kind of out of body, sleep paralysis, hearing voices, seeing tunnels, seeing faces, sitting up and lying down at the same time, sensing presence of others, being pulled out of my body, buzzing, etc. that are described in just about every NDE book there is, including this one. I have not, however, had a Near Death Experience, have not experienced the joy, have not seen dead relatives or experienced a life review. I was curious to see what would be a neurologist's explanation. I have to say, I did realize that I am one of those REM inbetweeners, and that could explain some of my experiences. Maybe my damaged brain is more easily able to find the inbetween state. But, I can't believe it explains it all. I have read so many accounts of people who saw things that they could not have seen, blind people who saw things in their NDE, who have never seen in their lives before and could not even know what they are seeing. So, here I am, wondering. Is my brain really malfunctioning that much? My experiences have felt so real. I have based so much of what I believe on my experiences, and that of my grandmother - who did have a classic NDE - told to me many years before I had ever heard of other accounts from other people. I understand his discussions of why we might have evolved that way, but don't understand why we all have similar experiences when push comes to shove. Why not some people fantasizing about the most incredible meal they've ever had? Why not some people fantasizing about making out with their favorite movie star? Why not floating in space or swimmign in crystal blue seas? But, instead, we all meet our dead relatives and experience love and joy. So, now I don't know any more. The book was well thought out, his arguments reasonable. I did see many of my experiences discussed and rationalized. So, it was excellent in that regard, although very disappointing. Just don't know what to believe about my own brain and my own experiences and where that leaves me with my spiritual beliefs!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Explains very little, February 25, 2013
This review is from: The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience (Hardcover)
Before completing this review, I have to admit that I did not read the entire book. I read about 2/3 of the book and decided to stop, because it didn't appear to be answering any questions I had. Having read a lot lately about NDEs, Out of Body Experiences, and after life studies, this book truly skirts what I have come to see are the real questions in this field. In many documented accounts, including that of Dr. Eben Alexander's book, some NDE patients have had complete stop of blood flow to the brain and rest of the body (i.e., in sustained heart attacks), the stopping of discernible brain activity all together, or have been on operating tables with their eyes taped shut with ear plugs under anethesia, and yet have had detailed visions of their surroundings. In cases where a patient had no avenue for material sensory input, or ability to process sensory information if it were even there in the first place, they have heard the doctor and nurses talking, saw who was in the room, saw what those people were doing, and have had complete memory of such in lucid detail. In no way does Nelson's theory of "in between REM" states of cosnciousness even come close to explaining those NDEs that I have just mentioned.

What was further upsetting to me in this book were the many references where Nelson states, "My own research has found..." and then there is no citation. At the beginning of the book Nelson brags about how he and a team of neuropsychologists gathered an immense amount of data in some study related to brain and spiritual experience; but there is no citation or reference to it. As many people who read these tyes of books know, not all "studies" are created equal. Hearing the results from a study and seeing the actual study can be two different things. In my mind it would have been helpful for Nelson to actually cite the studies he mentions where he was the investigator instead of just telling the reader that he conducted original research on a topic - and the study he conducted proved what he is saying now. At best, such writing is juvenile. At worst, it can be seen as deceptive.

There are other items in this book that I see as almost comical in some respects, but I'll keep from listing them here in this review. Suffice it to say that Nelson's theory in the book, which I found mildly interesting, still leaves the larger question about NDEs, OBEs, and other verifiable "spiritual" phenomena unanswered - at least with respect to its relationship with the brain/body.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Demystifies some of the mystic, but without denying the divinity, March 22, 2011
This review is from: The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience (Hardcover)
Have you ever wondered what happens in the brain during mystic, near death, or out-of-body experiences? Author Kevin Nelson, MD, is a world-renowned neurologist with more than three decades of experience examining the processes of spiritual sensation. His book goes into detail and de-mystifies much of the mystic. He explains that our spirituality arises from parts of the brain that evolved long before structures made the brain capable of language and reasoning, which is why people cannot put into words what they experience. One could argue that animals (also having these primitive brain structures) are also capable of mystical experiences.

The author says that atheists are irritated by his research to learn that spirituality is an integral part of being human and religious people are irked because it seems to downplay the significance of the mystic. But he concludes, "Do these cold, hard clinical facts suck the divine nectar from our spiritual lives? My answer is an empathic NO!" In other words, while such experiences as NDEs may not prove there is an afterlife, they certainly do not disprove it either. His work simply shows what is occurring in the brain at the time.

Interestingly, the author relates how the greatest hallucination we experience is the idea that we are a separate, unified "self," and this is something that any genuinely enlightened master will agree upon: "..the self is a synthetic process that pulls different components distributed throughout the brain into the illusion of a unified self." The book discusses a pathology in which a person is just sure that they don't exist, or that they are dead. Interestingly enlightened masters also claim that they do not exist (as a separate self).

I found the book to be full of surprises. For example, experiments found that the left brain and the right brain are like two separate entities, often in conflict. In one man, his right brain loved smoking pot. But his left brain hated it! Although there are many universal features in near death experiences, there are cultural differences. For example, the Japanese do not go through tunnels. An Indian will be sent back into life if his name doesn't appear on a roster of the dead. Mystical experiences from drugs are also discussed, and are considered as valid as any if the criteria is met that it changes the person's life. Fasting, meditation, and even a high altitude with oxygen deprivation can lead to mystical experiences.

A very interesting book for both the skeptic and the spiritual seeker! It is an easy read for the layman and is full of interesting case studies.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Instinctive consciousness from "before" our very beginning, April 29, 2012
A sleep paralysis experience when I was 21 and just married terrified me. There I lay trapped in my body unable to get help from my sleeping husband. I thought I was dying. Then there was the out of body experience when I was 27. A car crash so severe that it separated my "I" from my body. I floated up above it looking down at the screaming woman being thrashed about below me. Who was she I wondered? Whiteness and a serene peacefulness surrounded me I knew I had entered heavenly dimensions. Slowly, as I opened my eyes I realized that the whiteness had turned into snow and, no, that I was not in heaven. I was more than disappointed. The nightmare of pain and the struggle with years of paralysis was just beginning. But I had it made, nonetheless. No more fear of dying. I'd been there, done that. I could get on with my life. I had aced death. Knew what that was all about. Gone through it once--could do it again. No problem!

During the course of my life I had typical hallucinatory experiences--for example the old man dragging chains who tried to take my baby away while I nursed him. That experience and others like it have been part of my life from time to time. Now Dr. Nelson comes along and explains the biological origins of my experiences--I'm impressed. I can find very little wiggle room to get a wedge into his thesis. I agree with his conclusions that all these experiences can be explained biologically and I like the fact that he has pin-pointed the brain stem as housing the archaic origins of these experiences.

These near death, out of the body experiences--these mystical meetings with God, are almost identical for everyone who experiences them. That means that if "x" happens to you, you are genetically pre-programmed to respond to it with a particular set of "y" images. Such instinctual images, now part of our brain stems we are told, appear to me to be part of a greater pre-biotic cosmic experience. Could these spiritual experiences be embedded in an instinctive consciousness from "before" our very beginnings? Seems to me that from "before language" as Dr. Nelson would have it, is hardly "before" enough. But, alas, we are face to face again with the hard problem or mystery, if you like, of consciousness.

Laurie McRobert, Author
Appearances: Genetic Mythology and Cosmic Instincts
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eternity in our hearts instead of our brain., February 4, 2011
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While I expected something more, I'm glad I took the time to press through the more difficult parts. Up front, when author Kevin Nelson approaches the subject he does so with the assumption that our brains developed over years of evolution. Still, he goes into great detail - much of the book actually - about how amazingly our brains work.

One example: "You are not actually "seeing" Mona Lisa when you look at the painting. The light reflecting off the canvas gets only as far as the retina on the back of your eyeball. The retinal image is upside down. The eye and brain convert the image to nerve impulses that are transmitted to the occipital lobe, where they are fabricated into a mental image; turning the Dora Maar of brain activity into the Mona Lisa of experience."

The other significant part of the book is spent discussing Near Death Experiences, comparing them to dreams, and raising the questions about whether NDE's are actually dreams during a super-REM state or whether they are "spiritual experiences", citing lots of studies, some conducted near-by at UVA in Charlottesville.

Nelson makes this statement: "whether we think the brain creates an illusion of God or believe it is a receptacle for something untouchable and absolute, we should be able to agree the brain is the seat of spiritual experience." I was hoping for more "proof" from the book that we are born with a "God-shaped hole" that is part of the make-up of our brain but again much time was spent on NDE's and whether they are "proof" of a spiritual element in our brain. The Bible tells me that "eternity is written on the heart" of every man. That's where the God-shaped hole really is. One very interesting fact through testimony of those who "almost" died is that at that point, the body/mind relaxes and one does not feel pain but becomes calm and at peace. This must be a gift from God for each of us when the time comes to make that journey from this world to the next, His grace upon us as we leave.

Overall, I recommend this book, even if it is just out of curiosity that a neurosurgeon would be seeking evidence for "God" in our brains. Nelson concludes: "Whether to induce the experience of the divine is a decision too important for medicine to make alone. I can see these possibilities and so much more, glimmering ahead, still out of reach but getting closer. We are all of this world, and my experience optimistically compels me to believe that understanding the brain as a spiritual organ strengthens our quest for meaning and complements a mature spirituality. My deepest hope is that this quest will ultimately bring us to a new birth of wisdom."

Wisdom, we knew, comes from God, who gives it to all men who ask Him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good book for those interested in the brain., May 13, 2013
By 
Peter A. Twight (Siskiyou County CA) - See all my reviews
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Great book. Very clear, thorough and detailed [to my knowledge] about the location of parts of the brain that result in many thoughts and emotions. It described the source points in the brain that produce visions, and descriptions of various aspect of near-death experiences. Clearly the author is very familiar with his subject, and clearly he believes that the location of the experience explains the source of the experience is from the brain itself, and not simply the source of the brains reaction to some outside stimulus; i.e., the stimulus could be like the electrical probe by which Dr. Nelson's found the location of such actions. Dr. Neslon seems to believe that consciousness is somehow material, despite considerable evidence that it is not [ Kaufman, Radin Tiller, Institute for HeartMath, Hameroff,].
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neurology buff., January 22, 2013
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This review is from: The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience (Hardcover)
I approve of any non-Goddy explanation for subjective mental experiences. I have also been reading Paul Zak's "The Moral Molecule" (oxytocin), which is on a similar theme, and reinforces the materialistic and secular explanations for the "God-experience", revelations and so forth.
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