Lickerman is said to be a ‘secular Buddhist’: a category that escapes me completely. But I suspect that a new brand of phony buddhism is afoot to neutralize the whole issue of New Age spirituality. This may be unfair to Lickerman, so we shall see.
Buddhists have consistently been confused over the ‘anatta’ doctrine and the claims for reincarnation. There need be no contradiction since the discourses on the ‘self’ and its illusions never really contradicted the issues of ‘soul’ and rebirth. There is no real buddhism without this perspective so we should be wary of the effort to remake this great religion into some garbage compatible with scientism.
Alex Lickerman is a physician at the University of Chicago who, until recently, was in charge of all primary care doctors at the hospital (he’s now head of student health). He’s also a secular Buddhist who writes about medicine and matters “spiritual” at his website, “Happiness in this world.” (Alex also helped bring Sam Harris here for his recent talk on morality.)
This week, in “The neurology of near-death experiences“, Alex debunks the religious trappings that attach to the “out-of-body” and similar experiences that occur in conjunction with operations and medical episodes. In particular, he shows that experiencees such as dreamlike states, tunnel vision, and leaving and returning to one’s body are all phenomena that have well-understood medical causes. Some of them can even be reproduced by stimulating people’s brains.