Let me state right off that I am quite impressed with the book Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (the book details neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s claims of visiting a dimension beyond earthly human existence during a coma state). So while it can be legitimately said that I am not entirely unbiased about Proof of Heaven or even Eben Alexander himself, I believe any slant I have is justifiable.
Eben Alexander’s background is itself a direct response to the most common criticism of experiences like Alexander’s, often referred to as Near Death Experiences or NDEs. This common criticism is that NDEs are a product of a brain under duress, something along the lines of a hallucination. But Alexander is a neurosurgeon of experience, and part of the expertise of a neurosurgeon is brain function.
When Alexander says then that brain function could not have explained his NDE, that his brain in fact was nonfunctional and could not have produced the type of experience he had, this carries significant weight — an expert on brain function stating that brain function doesn’t offer a valid explanation.
Alexander’s medical background is solid and even extraordinary. He also has a scientific background and so would, at the least, have an inclination to consider materialist reasoning versus spiritual to explain his experience. In fact Alexander does offer a number of medical and / or scientific explanations for his experience, and offers thorough rebuttals for each.
The circumstances that brought on Alexander’s coma state are extraordinary in their nature and also in how they contradict the notion that Alexander’s experience was the result of brain activity. Alexander’s coma was caused by an exceptionally rare form of meningitis, so rare that it occurs in one in ten million people at most. In case you’re not much for mathematics, one in ten million represents astronomical odds.
As Alexander states in Proof of Heaven, bacterial meningitis may be the perfect disease for eliminating brain function as the cause of NDEs because bacterial meningitis takes the part of the brain responsible for creating an experience similar to NDEs out of commission. Alexander points to medical testing performed during his ordeal as evidence that his brain was not functional enough to have created the type of experience he had. His brain was, essentially, shut down.
Alexander’s condition was so severe and prolonged — he was in a coma for seven days — that his chances for death were estimated at 97%, and in the unlikely event that he did survive he would certainly have profound brain damage. Alexander did not die nor suffer brain damage, and made a full recovery.
The full picture of Eben Alexander’s experience — his expertise in brain function, his medical and scientific background, his illness and the fact that he recovered completely — could be indicative of an NDE perfect storm: so much happening against such great odds and without adequate medical or scientific explanation for the NDE experience. Could it be a message from the dimension beyond human life, something to offer firm assurance about what happens after bodily death?
There is skepticism about Alexander’s story, and this is not a surprise. It seems to be a common human response to be skeptical of anything that points to a wonderful outcome (like eternal life lived within a glorious setting, or proof of Heaven as Alexander describes it). Skepticism is not an inherently bad thing as it can lead to reassurance about something or other being valid.
There is also however skepticism that is a function of ego identification and so is belligerent rather than constructive. There are skeptics of Proof of Heaven and Eben Alexander himself who are seeking to reaffirm their own beliefs rather than find truth. They perform the equivalent of plugging ears with their fingers and shouting ‘No, no, no!’ because they have become identified with a label such as atheist or Darwinist or materialist or whatever else.
If Alexander is right and there is a spiritual dimension, a Heaven, then these ego based critics would face a collapse. This is a big threat of course, or so the critics believe when their egos tell them this, and so they resist absolutely. This is not to say that there isn’t some genuine curiosity about the true nature of Alexander’s experiences, but the belligerent insistence that Alexander’s experience was not spiritual in nature is the loudest noise.
The most common rebuttal to Alexander’s claim of going to Heaven is that his brain hallucinated the experience. When Alexander counters that his brain was not functional enough to do this the response back is that the hallucination occurred when Alexander’s brain was either still online, or after it came back online. In other words, Alexander’s experiences happened at a point when his brain was functional.
This response is countered in different ways. First, as Alexander points out, his brain was under such duress that he shouldn’t have remembered anything about his experience at all. In fact there are many events during his medical emergency that Alexander has no recollection of: some of these are included in Proof of Heaven only as a result of someone telling Alexander about them.
The second counter is that experiences like Alexander’s have been reported by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people over time. Alexander’s experience is absolutely not unique and studies of the NDE phenomenon have been ongoing for decades. To believe that a distressed brain causes these experiences is to say that scores of people across multiples countries and cultures have had extremely similar experiences and many of them during a time when the brain was not supporting consciousness. Quite a coincidence.
If one wants to judge the validity of Alexander’s experience from an informed perspective, look beyond Proof of Heaven into the extensive data collected about NDEs. Then make an informed assessment about the validity of NDE experiences like Eben Alexander’s.