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26Nov 2012

Proof of Heaven: Neurosurgeon's mystical revelation climbs bestseller lists

Eben Alexander

On Oct. 11, I wrote that the book Proof of Heaven, an account of a near-death experience by a neurosurgeon, reflected badly on its author, Eben Alexander, and its publisher, Simon & Schuster, for allowing mystical belief, "visions," and religion to masquerade as science. 

I wrote then that I had no doubt that "all of the parties involved will make a large amount of money from this project--money that will not, I suspect, be accepted as legal tender in their glittering afterlives."

In an article today in The New York Times, Alexander continues to push the same story, saying that he hopes his medical expertise "will be enough to persuade skeptics, particularly medical skeptics, as he used to be, to open their minds to an afterworld."

Simon & Schuster says the book should appeal to readers interested in neuroscience. Are you kidding?

My prediction about the money seems on target, though, and it didn't come from a mystical vision. Oprah is doing a one-hour special on the book. And here are the book's current stats:

#1 in paperback nonfiction in The New York Times Sunday book review;

#2 in Times nonfiction e-books;

#2 in Times nonfiction "combined print and e-books;"

#6 in books at Amazon.

Alexander has made much of the supposed "fact" that his "entire neocortex — the outer surface of the brain, the part that makes us human — was entirely shut down, inoperative." Dr. Martin Samuels, chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the Times that "there is no way to know, in fact, that his neocortex was shut down." Samuels also dismissed the notion that Alexander's medical background gives him some authoritative edge on near-death experiences. "The fact that he is a neurosurgeon is no more relevant than if he was a plumber."

-Paul Raeburn



Atheists persist in their self worhsip despite considerable evidence of the truth; this is the modern 'Emperor's New Clothes'. No self, no 'I', and you are so sure there is no one far beyond yourself. May God sweep you up in his arms as he did Eben Alexander, CS Lewis, Paul the apostle and so many others far more intelligent and intellectual than you. And your atheist friends will still explain it away; more's the pity.

When I wrote about this book in October ( I cited a post by neurologist Steven Novella, who provided a sensible neurological explanation for the experiences Alexander claims to have had ( 

It's worth quoting, so I shall: "They occurred while his brain function was either on the way down or on the way back up, or both, not while there was little to no brain activity. During this time he would have been in an altered state of consciousness, with different parts of his cortex functioning to different degrees. This state is analogous to certain drug-induced mental states, or those induced by hypoxia and well documented, and there is even some overlap with the normal dream state. All of these are states in which the brain’s construction of reality is significantly different from the normal waking state."

It's worth reminding our readers (and ourselves!) that the brain isn't either all off or all on, like a lightbulb. It's an accretion off different kinds of cells all doing different kinds of stuff at different rates and different times. We have the impression that there's an "I" in there running the show, but apparently that's only a tale we tell ourselves.

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