Near-death experiences, or NDEs, are controversial. Thousands of people have had them, but many in the scientific community have argued that they are impossible. Dr. Eben Alexander was one of those people.
A highly trained neurosurgeon who had operated on thousands of brains in the course of his career, Dr. Alexander knew that what people of faith call the “soul” is really a product of brain chemistry. NDEs, he would have been the first to explain, might feel real to the people having them, but in truth, they are simply fantasies produced by brains under extreme stress.
Then came the day when Dr. Alexander’s own brain was attacked by an extremely rare illness. One morning in 2008 he fell into a coma after suffering a rare form of bacterial meningitis. Scans of his brain revealed massive damage. Death was deemed the most likely outcome. As his family prepared themselves for the worst, something miraculous happened. Dr. Alexander’s brain went from near total inactivity to awakening. He had come back.He made a full recovery but he was never the same. He woke certain of the infinite reach of the soul, he was certain of a life beyond death.
Alexander’s recovery is by all accounts a medical miracle. But the real miracle of his story lies elsewhere. While his body lay in a coma, Alexander journeyed beyond this world and encountered an angelic being who guided him into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. There he met, and spoke with, the Divine source of the universe itself.
This story sounds like the wild and wonderful imaginings of a skilled fantasy writer. But it is not fantasy. Before Alexander underwent his journey, he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul. That difficulty with belief created an empty space that no professional triumph could erase. Today he is a doctor who believes that true health can be achieved only when we realize that God and the soul are real and that death is not the end of personal existence but only a transition.
This story would be remarkable no matter who it happened to. That it happened to Dr. Alexander makes it revolutionary. No scientist or person of faith will be able to ignore it.
In this astonishing book, “Proof of Heaven” Dr. Alexander shares his experience, pieced together from the notes he made as soon as he was able to write again. Unlike other accounts of near-death experiences, he is able to explain in depth why his brain was incapable of fabricating the journey he experienced.
Inevitably, skeptics wonder if Alexander, who teaches at Harvard Medical School, is going out on a paranormal limb.
“It sounds like he had nothing more than an intense lucid dream,” wrote one reader on Newsweek’s website. “A personal anecdote is not evidence or proof, as moving as it may be,” added another.
The sarcastic New York blog Gawker challenged its readers to spot the difference, if any, between Alexander’s portrayal of paradise with published accounts of LSD trips.
But others stood firmly by Alexander, who has previously spoken of his near-death experience on science TV programs and in a lengthy interview last year with Skeptico.com, a science and spirituality blog.
“If there is evidence and proof of an afterlife, this is probably as good as it gets,” Catholic Online, a Web-based Roman Catholic news service, wrote approvingly.