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I still have a few pages left to read of Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, but I will post my thoughts on this book now as I have a bit of time. The title alone would normally be enough to put me off reading this material. It sounds so gimmicky but it turns out to be a great read. Discounting any surprises in the remaining pages, it has not provided any type of conclusive proof of the afterlife, but it does contain some proof (as I would define it).
Skeptical Response to Eben Alexander
The only reason for why Proof of Heaven ended up on my radar was that it received such bad press from the skeptical community. People like prominent atheist Sam Harris have written editorials lambasting Eben Alexander. Like true modern skeptics most of them provided their negative reviews even before they read the book. Of course, there are good reasons for why the debunkers are in such an uproar. They must feel that they are being betrayed by one of their own. Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon and not the type of person who should be having near death experiences. I suppose the publishers of Proof of Heaven, and indeed Eben Alexander, should be grateful to the debunkers for getting the word out. I would probably not have paid much attention to the book otherwise.
Truth about the Near Death Experience
I once avoided any material discussing the near death experience (NDE) like the plague because I considered it to be a type of wishful thinking. My own ignorance meant that I just accepted the claims that science had explained these events away by hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the brain), or that it was simply the reaction of a dying brain. The truth is that NDEs have not been adequately explained at all. The best theories rely on promissory notes or “science of the gaps” type arguments – we don’t know now but science will be able to tell us soon. The truth is that NDEs remain a mystery, and for me the best source of information about them would be the people who actually have them.
It is estimated that there are up to 774 people who will experience an NDE each day in the US – that’s 275,544 individuals a year in just one country! The near death experience is not an oddity that is limited to a few humans who are mentally unbalanced to begin with. These are people who come from every walk of life – including individuals who were nonbelievers prior to the event. The details of the NDE vary between cultures (as might be expected), but humans have this type of experience in every country – they are even reported here in Thailand.
Does Eben Alexander Provide Proof of Heaven?
Eben Alexander was a successful neurosurgeon until he contracted a severe case of meningitis. He ended up in a coma, and his brain suffered so much damage as a result of the infection that it was practically at a standstill. Eben’s medical team had given up all hope of him having any chance of recovery. I found this part of the book particularly difficult to read because it so resembled what happened to my father after he fell into a coma following a heart attack. Eben remained in a coma for seven days, and it was during this time that he enjoyed a near death experience.
Any of the other accounts I’ve read about NDEs provide whirlwind visits to the afterlife but Proof of Heaven offers a longer description. I must admit, it felt to me that there was something lacking in his details of the afterlife (I wanted more wondrous events), but this probably boils down to a case of “you had to be there”.
Once Eben was sufficiently recovered from his ordeal he began looking for explanations. His profession as a neurosurgeon meant that he was ideally suited to sift through the available data (ironically many of the debunkers are challenging his ability to assess the data – after all what would a neurosurgeon know about the brain?) to find a solution that would fit in with the current scientific materialist worldview. In the second half of the book he considers the various explanations, and he provides compelling reasons for why they are not adequate. In the end he concludes that that the best explanation for what happened to him was that he visited the afterlife.
I didn’t find any knock out proofs for the afterlife in Eben Alexander’s story, but it certainly makes survival of consciousness appear more likely. My own view is that the only way to be fully convinced of such proofs would be to experience them ourselves. Trying to deliberately induce a NDE would be extremely reckless (anyone who has seen the movie Flatliners will appreciate this), but we can get close to it with the out of body experience.
Here are some talks that Eben gave at the Monroe Institute: