on October 26, 2012
As someone who has experienced an NDE, and struggled with many of the same things that Eben discusses here, I am not surprised at the response that many are having to this book. To say "people who have NDE experiences often find the telling of their story, while trying to impart the information they receive during their experience, a difficult task," would be an understatement as vast as the universe.
The clinical aspects of Dr. Alexander's experience are what make this story unique, along with his outright conversion from a "Scientific Reductionist" to someone who sees clearly that consciousness and the vast majority of "what is," are found outside of our space/time universe and current medical or science books.
To get the most out of any book on NDEs, and especially one that intertwines a very personal journey to find family and self, you must start with an open mind and heart. Unfortunately, those who have already hardened their views on both sides of the spectrums of Science and Religion, will dismiss much of what anyone writes on this topic, because it doesn't fit their narrow, dogmatic view of the world.
Even worse, it forces them to look outside of their safe little boxes, and take the effort to learn, while being open to the possibility that current models of both science and faith are a good starting point, but not the ENTIRE answer.
Einstein's quote at the beginning of the chapter "A Final Dilemma" says it best...
"I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be."
Whether you begin as a Christian, a Buddhist, Quantum Physicist or a simple seeker of knowledge beyond current understanding, moving outside of the constructs of your current ways of thinking is imperative to discovery.
Fundamentalism, whether it be religious or scientific, is really no different than intellectual bigotry, closed to expanded thoughts, or encompassing new ways of looking for expanded information. Eben's book embraces both worlds, and does so gracefully, without discounting any specific ideology.
Eben's experience was certainly deeper, and far more expansive than most I have read (including my own NDE). I do agree that the lack of detail about his time in "heaven" (a term that I find limiting) is frustrating to a point. And yet, the need to spend much of this book on the technical side of his coma, his quest and victory regarding his family (past and present), as well as touching on the scientific aspects of the current science regarding external consciousness, make this short book an excellent jumping-off point for deeper study and discussion.
And there's the rub...
After experiencing my own NDE (in 1996), I spent almost two obsessive years trying in vain to "connect the dots of knowledge imparted to me," before putting it all back "in a box" so that I could get on with living my life. Through a series of events over the past two years, I find myself very much back into "telling the story." I now realize that no book, video, or movie is able to even scratch the surface of answering the great questions of life after death, consciousness, and how they all relate to quantum theory. Expecting "the answers" from a book of this size and configuration is naïve and lazy at best.
There is a reason that the section in this book called "Reading List" is expansive. Much has been written on this topic from both the spiritual and scientific approach. If you are a true seeker of the truth, you will not start or end your journey for knowledge with Eben's book. Instead, you will appreciate the facts of his experience, the unique medical reality of his coma, and the amazing revelations about family, love and the eternal nature of consciousness, as the BEGINNING of the journey to true understanding.
While this book in not an expansive, all-inclusive answer to the melding of Science and Religion, I give it 5 stars for being an important, unique story, bringing focus to the need for a global change in the perception and understanding of reality, consciousness and the interconnectedness of everything in creation.
on October 23, 2012
Many of the points the Dr makes were theories that I have personally had for years but couldn't put words to...he puts another's voice to it that is far more technically knowledgeable about the brains function than I.
How time differs from what we understand, how we aren't separate from God or heaven but in our human "suit"(my words not his) we have filters in place which don't allow us to see the glory and miracle all around us...not immediately visible until you understand them for what they are.
It helps explain on a deeper level why it was so painful for Jesus to be separated from God even if only for a short while. That once you have been there you realize that while life in this realm(earthly)is precious, what is ahead is so much better. That we realize the fear of this new place or what happens next is completely unfounded. Sort of like a childs first day of school....by the afternoon most love what they initially feared and never look back to the time before as "better".
I am not sure why but I am certain there is a deep truth to what this Dr experienced. Once I got started I literally stayed up all night reading it.
I come from 25yrs of a very technical background myself where everything has to have an answer, a reason why it works or fails...we don't allow shades of gray or the unexplained in my work. I am the ultimate doubting Thomas and need proof and then documented observational testing/PROOF of it working before I am sold on it and put it into production. Perhaps that is why this Dr's approach...the measuring, going analytical AGAINST what your natural thoughts tell you, making certain to measure in great deal the opposing hypothesis to your thoughts/beliefs ....really works for me. The world is full of crackpots and those easily fooled with emotional tales....but this guy isn't a crackpot and I am no emotional fool. While I don't know him personally I know plenty like him.
Doc if you read these reviews, don't be concerned if you find some haters/doubters/non-believers...in the end it won't matter as we all will experience it and KNOW for certain. I commend you talking about your experience and wish you all the best.
on October 23, 2012
Dr. Eben Alexander, a prominent neurosurgeon at Harvard University, has written a fascinating book about his near-death experience. At the age of 54, he contracted a severe form of E. Coli meningitis, which aggressively attacked his cortex, or the portion of the brain that supplies conscious, rational thought. He slipped into a coma, but instead of experiencing nothing, like in deep sleep, Dr. Alexander describes a journey to heaven.
His experience began in a place of fluffy clouds. Then he visualized beings soaring through the sky, beings that he describes as `higher forms.' These beings made a joyful sound: one that he could feel, even more than hear. He was then joined by millions of butterflies and a woman. This woman gave him the following three messages: You are loved and cherished; You have nothing to fear; and There is nothing you can do wrong. Her words are comforting and reassuring.
What sets this book apart is the fact that Dr. Alexander is a neurosurgeon with great knowledge of what makes up consciousness. The parts of his brain that would create experiences like he underwent (such as in a dream state) were not functional at the time he experienced them. He is also a man of science and a skeptic, who changed his views completely after experiencing this. This transformation is interesting and notable. His descriptions of heaven are vivid, uplifting, and fascinating.
If you enjoy this book, there are two books from physicians which I would highly recommend. In Stitches by Dr. Anthony Youn is a lighter but highly entertaining coming-of-age story about one young man's struggles with parents, romance, medicine, God, and finding your place in the world. It's especially recommended for people who struggle with who they are and why they're here. Dr. Youn's book is fun, uplifting, and an absolute joy to read.
Dr. Francis Collins' The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief is an easy-to-read book about integrating Christian beliefs with modern science. Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, describes how belief in God and the Bible doesn't have to be in conflict with science and its findings. As a physician, I've struggled with these conflicts ever since my college biology courses. His book helped me immensely.
on January 31, 2013
I read this book at the behest of a friend who knows I'm a deeply committed Christian. Because the book is a testimonial and makes truth claims, the credibility of the author is critical in evaluating what he says.
The first thing I noticed in reading it is signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder on page after page; Alexander asserts his exceptionalism from beginning to end, sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously. I decided to check out his background on healthgrade.com, a website which helps prospective patients find a qualified doctor. The opening page on Dr. Eben Alexander III warns "It's important to do your research before making an appointment with this provider."
His background includes two malpractice suits in 2007 after performing surgery on the wrong sites, and in both cases he attempted to conceal what happened -- in one case retroactively altering the original diagnosis to make it appear he hadn't erred. He faced medical board sanctions and reprimands in 2009 and 2010 in three states (MA, VA and NC), and was ordered to attend classes in professionalism and medical ethics. He never mentions any of this in the book -- published in 2012, so it wasn't ancient history while he was writing it.
Further evidence of his lack of credibility is his assertion that his experience is scientific `proof` of an afterlife. Not even a bad scientist would make this claim: Scientific proof requires that a hypothesis can be tested, and the results can be replicated by other scientists -- that's Science 101. What his experience, if we can believe it, proves is that the brain is a mystery we are only beginning to understand.
If Alexander had said, "This is true for me, I can't prove it, but I believe it completely," I would be inclined to put more faith in what he says in spite of my reservations.
on October 29, 2012
As a researcher who has been studying the nature of consciousness and trying to build bridges between the best of science and the best of spirituality for more than 50 years, I was fascinated by Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Near-Death Experience and Journey Into the Afterlife.
One of the ways we get new knowledge and refine our knowledge about the spiritual is by listening closely to and working with the accounts of people who have what I will loosely call "spiritual experiences." In recent decades our culture, e.g., has been strongly affected by previously unheard of familiarity with Near-Death Experiences, NDEs. When I first began working in psychology 50 years ago, I knew about NDEs because I had read a lot of very esoteric psychical research literature, but aside from knowing that NDEs happened and a few of their characteristics, very little was known by anyone, and the average person had never heard of them. When Raymond Moody published his Life After Life book on NDEs in 1976 and it hit the bestseller lists (more than 13 million copies sold to 2012!), it resonated with people's spiritual needs, and now there is widespread knowledge about qualities of NDEs.
One of the things that most impressed me about people's accounts of their NDEs back then was that people with very different backgrounds and religious beliefs, including people with no formal religious beliefs to speak of, described the qualities of NDEs in a similar way. But if NDEs were nothing but the distorted functioning of a distressed brain, you would think that, like most hallucinations resulting from brain malfunctions, the content of those hallucinations would be very much affected by a person's life experiences, cultural background, and individual beliefs. That there was so much commonality immediately made a case that people were telling you about something that might be real in some sense. By analogy, I have never been to Rome, but accounts I have heard of what Rome looks like by people who claim to have been there show so much commonality that I have high confidence that there really is a place called Rome.
From my perspective as a researcher, however, there is a major drawback to collecting more accounts of NDEs today that didn't apply when they were first collected. Back then, almost everyone who finally came forth with an account noted that they had never heard of such things before they had their own NDE. Indeed they usually had never talked to anyone about what they had experienced, or had tried to talk to others and been so severely rejected (you must have been hallucinating, that's crazy, the work of the devil, etc., etc.) that they remained silent about it, and so there was very little obvious influence from cultural background or others' opinions creating the similarity in their accounts. Now there have been so many articles, books, TV specials, etc., about NDEs that when you hear about someone's recent NDE, you have to wonder how much is this an accurate report of something that is "real" and how much their experience has been colored by all their previous knowledge about what NDEs are supposed to be about.
I am particularly concerned with the potentially biasing effects of previous knowledge because a lot of my early research was on hypnosis, and I had it constantly demonstrated in my research that about a quarter or so of the population could have profoundly real-seeming experiences of any arbitrary nature whatsoever suggested to them by a hypnotist. I doubt that most NDEs are in this category of the purely arbitrary, all a product of suggestion, even the ones occurring today, but even if a major part of what a person experiences is "real" in the sense of belonging to some reality external to their belief system, still the way they perceive it may be influenced to some unknown degree by the now widespread cultural knowledge of what NDEs are supposed to be about. This doesn't mean there's no point in studying most people's NDEs, just that we have to be careful about this possible biasing factor. There's nothing particularly novel about this, of course, people's descriptions of ordinary reality are often biased by what they believe, emotions of the moment, etc.
So one way of getting a less biased picture of what NDEs are like might be to simply give more weight to experiences collected in the early days of research, when most accounts were from people who had never heard anything about what NDEs were supposed to be about. Another way of trying to get beyond such a biasing factor is to study more extreme types of NDEs, NDEs with characteristics that are not all that common or known in our culture, and this is a major reason why I find Doctor Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven book of great value. One of the most common features of NDEs established in the early research, for example, was that at some point the person having the NDE, the NDEr, reaches some kind of "border," or "barrier," or "bridge" or "gateway," and although they want to go on to what seem even more wonderful heavenly reaches of the experience, they are not allowed to go cross this border or go through this gateway, because if they did, there would be no chance of them returning to physical life. Sometimes, knowing this, the NDEr chooses to come back to physical life, sometimes he or she is forced to come back to physical life even though they desperately want to go on.
What lies beyond this gateway?
Doctor Alexander is a neurosurgeon, and he describes a seven days long NDE caused by a usually fatal brain infection that, given our current medical knowledge, we would say totally knocks out all the higher functioning of the brain, everything that makes us conscious human beings. From the outside medical perspective, he's in a totally unresponsive coma. Inside, at first he experiences his NDE almost like a vegetative state, with no real thoughts occurring in it, and going on "forever," although no ordinary concept of time or duration meant anything to him in that condition. And yet eventually he rose above this, with assistance that he perceived in a most interesting way - - I won't give away this very thought-provoking aspect of the book - - and eventually went through a gateway, and reported an exceptionally profound experience.
Because his experience was exceptionally "positive," a word that hardly begin to convey its power, as a human being I want to believe that his was a true glimpse of the reality of the universe, that we're all under the care of a loving, alive, intelligent universe, like physician Richard M. Bucke reported in his Cosmic Consciousness experience, described in my The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together.
That's my personal reaction, but as a scientist, I have to bracket that reaction. That is I don't deny it or suppress it, but I recognize that this is something with strong emotions underlying it and it has a possibility of biasing an otherwise relatively objective attempt of mine to understand the experience. So as a scholar and scientific investigator of NDEs, I look at the content of Doctor Alexander's experience, in so far as he can convey it, note the similarities and differences between some other reports of profound experiences by different people in different times and places (like the Bucke Cosmic Consciousness experience mentioned above, or the Darkness of God experience reported by John Wren-Lewis reported on my TASTE (The Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences) site (go to [...] Collected Archives, and select account number 0051, The Darkness of God), and - - - Here's where I'd like to say I understand it's clearly connected to such-and-such phenomena in ways that are very interesting - - - but I can't yet say much more than that this is really interesting, and I want us to learn a lot more about this kind of thing! I know, this is the traditional scientific conclusion to almost all reports, "More research is needed," but it's true! Indeed I would say the implications of NDEs are infinitely more important than 99 percent of what we study in science, so research on NDEs should have an enormous priority in life, but that's not the political reality we live in. ;-(
I also give some extra credence to Doctor Alexander's account because he wasn't a "believer," he wasn't heavily invested in some religious belief system that he had a desperate need to prove. He had a certain, shallow, conventional religiosity from his family background: going to church on Christmas and Easter, otherwise not really giving religion and spirituality any thought. He had heard of reports of NDEs, but, like too many physicians, who are closed minded rather than scientific about this area, he dismissed them as nothing but the hallucinations of a malfunctioning brain. He wouldn't tell a patient they were crazy if they reported unusual experiences to him: in his role as a doctor, as a healer, he would always be nice to them. But accounts of NDEs were just noise to him, damaged brain hallucinations. When he had his own NDE, though, that was something else again!
So, moving into book review mode, am I recommending Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife? Absolutely! Who am I recommending it to? Anyone seriously interested in the meaning of life, and anyone willing to try to bracket their own previous beliefs and preconceptions and be very, very stimulated...
on October 29, 2012
I applaud the author for telling his story to the world in the hopes that it will help others. The author clearly had an incredible and life changing experience and instead of keeping it to himself he chose to share it to benefit others. He delves deeply into what his family went through during his coma experience in a very real and vulnerable way, which adds richness to the story. However, I found the title misleading as I purchased the book in the hopes that it would go deeply into his near death experience, but it did not. The author spends most of the time discussing how his family handled his coma and life threatening situation and very little time discussing what he experienced. I do believe that it is probably impossible to put a near death experience into words, but since I am someone who believes in the after life already and am not concerned about what the scientific community thinks, I was expecting a book that discussed much more about the actual NDE.
on March 9, 2013
I just finished Eban Alexander's book Power of Heaven. Do yourselves a favor and do not buy it. I had heard him interviewed on Terry Gross's Fresh Air Program about his Near Death Experience, surviving a coma for 7 days after flat-lining medically. His brain died. He is an MD and a neurosurgeon who has taught at Harvard, among other places, so he seemed legitimate. Poor Terry Gross never got around to or mentioned the malpractice suits against Dr. Alexander, so we were never told about his checkered background. The interview led me to believe that Alexander is serious about researching NDE experiences now that more people than ever survive heart attacks, comas, lightning strikes, etc, where the brain has died. In fact, he went on at length about how he is designing experiments to test commonalities of these experiences. In the interview, Dr. Alexander was most impressive.
Unfortunately, aside from the description of his experiences while brain dead (?), there is nothing else to be found in this book except a lot of maudlin sentimentality and narcissism. The book is all about the author's "unique" knowledge of the afterlife, and how very fortunate we are to have him alive to show us the way. The author has such a bump on himself it is hard to read his book. I kept waiting for him to describe his scientific research, but there is nothing there! Shirley Maclaine was writing the same stuff 30 years ago, but she never pretended to be a scientist!
Don't buy this book. It is being hyped as the missing link to scientific validation of the spiritual realm, but truly, as they say in Texas, this book is all hat and no cattle.
on June 3, 2013
Since there are already more than 4,600 reviews it would seem hardly necessary to add another one. But since the vast majority of reviewers simply believe what Dr. Alexander wrote to be true in all its aspects and informed critical voices are relatively few, the public needs to be aware of some crucial medical facts.
It is correct that Dr. Alexander was for a week comatose as a result of E. coli meningoencephalitis. It is also correct that had the condition not responded to antibiotic treatment and had prophylactic artificial respiration been discontinued he would have died. It is not correct, however, to state as was repeatedly done in the book, that his brain had been "dead" and any time and that his book provides scientific proof for an afterlife.
His coma was not only due to the meningoencephalitis but also in part medically induced, and sustained, in order to prevent further epileptic seizures which had occurred as part of the illness. When anticonvulsant medication was reduced his level of consciousness had, as far as his wife's report is concerned, improved (p.106).
From a medical point of view I don't doubt that Dr. Alexander had a subjective experience of heaven at some time during his coma and most probably while it had started to change into sleep. NDEs are real phenomena about which I have written in the medical literature in 1980 and 1981 (reprints available on request) when they first came to public attention as a result of Dr. Moody's book, Life after Life. Then as now, it was claimed that these subjective experiences are proof of an afterlife, but this rests on belief rather than scientifically established fact. In my opinion NDEs fall into the group of subjective experiences which have been called Cosmic Consciousness in 1901 by Maurice Richard Bucke and discussed by William James in his Gifford Lectures (1901-1902) under the title: The Variety of Religious Experiences.
These experiences exist, but at present we don't know how to interpret let alone measure them. Yet science requires measurement and this makes Dr. Alexander's statements unscientific in spite of his claim to the contrary. Furthermore, as a neurologist and electroencephalographer who is interested in the NDE phenomenon, I have previously asked Dr. Alexander to make his complete medical chart available to qualified physicians so that we can judge how "near death" he actually was. One or more EEG's were undoubtedly obtained and these would provide objective evidence in regard to the state of his brain at that time. Since EEGs are likewise "interpreted" the raw data, which nowadays exist in digital form, could be put on CDs and sent to past and/or current officers of the American Clinical Neurophysiology Society who could render their opinions. The same applies to the MRI(s) where neuroradiologists would serve in that role. This is the normal scientific way to assess claims, especially ones that are so unusual and potentially important as Dr. Alexander's.
Since he has so far not seen fit to honor my requests I am now making them public. The scientific community does not merely consist of nay-saying "reductionist materialists" but it does insist on being shown objective data before a given claim can be accepted as scientifically valid. Up to now Dr. Alexander has provided only unsubstantiated and in part exaggerated claims. His book should,therefore, be regarded as an account of a subjectively real unusual experience, which has led him to recover his previously lost religious faith, rather than as scientifically valid proof that consciousness can exist without a brain and for an afterlife.
on October 11, 2013
I read this book as a Catholic and as a physician. For many of the faithful, our faith does not require proof in the scientific sense. But as a physician, I am interested in how others approach faith.
I'm afraid I find Dr. Alexander's book disappointing. I would expect a neurosurgeon to write more knowledgeably about his own condition, and it makes me suspicious that he either is not very knowledgeable or he sustained a cognitive deficit from this infection from which he has not recovered.
For instance, when he writes of his initial presentation, he states he was in "status epilepticus." From his report of what other physicians said about his behavior, however, he was clearly delirious and not in status epilepticus. These are two totally different medical conditions. And he describes his brain as being destroyed based on a head CT showing what sounds like meningitis. Well, a head CT is not a very good study for diagnosing meningitis and it is not very good at showing irreversible brain injury. You need a brain MRI for that. It is really a stretch to think a physician would make far-reaching predictions about a patient's outcome based on a head CT. And it makes me wonder. A competent neurosurgeon would know these things. Was he just counting on readers taking him on faith and not checking that he really knows what he is talking about? In my case, I can't help it, but I recognized that he did not report his true medical condition accurately in the book. I lost faith in Dr. Alexander at that point and then did not finish the book.
But I'm glad he recovered.
on October 24, 2012
I find this book by Eben Alexander to be both provocative and dissatisfying. It will, I am certain, provoke a lot of discourse but it leaves me, at least, with a lot of unanswered questions. Dr. Alexander tells us that his brain was infected with E. Coli and that his cerebral cortex was rapidly being destroyed, so that if he did survive, he would be a vegetable. And yet on day seven he wakes up and starts speaking. Was Broca's area of his brain destroyed or was it not? If it was destroyed, did it miraculously recover? We are not provided with any evidence (MRI, EEG, etc) one way or the other. I am not opposed to miracles. I just want to see the evidence, so that I can make my own judgment.
Dr. Alexander describes some of his experiences in the spirit world, somewhat vaguely, I might say. In other words, he tells of all the knowledge that he received and yet he fails to share any of his new-gained knowledge with us, other than God is Love. While this is important, I am thinking of Tom Sawyer's description of his NDE and the specific knowledge that he purportedly received. He shared some of that with us and thereby we can make our own determination of its validity. Is Dr. Alexander waiting to share some of the knowledge he gained in some future book?
Dr. Alexander gives a list of possible physical explanations for his experience, rejecting all of them primarily because his cerebral cortex was purportedly non-functional. Again, no supportive evidence for this. But I would have found it interesting if he had reported in detail some of the responses he received from his fellow scientists when he described his experience to them. How do they explain it? Do they just reject it out of hand, because such experiences are impossible, or do they give some valid alternative explanations for what happened?
I am bothered by the extensive Reading List and, especially, Index. I do not see this as a reference book in which I will want to look a lot of things up in the Index. Furthermore, there is only limited discussion of NDEs, such that this does not, in my judgment, warrant such an extensive Reading List. A few seminal references would have been fine, as well as a few links. No index.
Dr. Alexander is to be commended for his willingness to share his experience. I just wish that he, as a scientist, had provided us with more concrete medical information of what happened to him in this physical world, and more details on the information he purportedly received in the spirit world.