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 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 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.