Proof of Heaven: A neurosurgeon’s journey into the afterlife, by Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster)
- Reviewed by Peter Stanford
Heaven has an edge over every other construct of the human imagination because, built into the design, alongside the fabulous promise that we can, after all, live forever, is a catch. We can never try it out and report back.
There are no return tickets. And, before Richard Dawkins points it out, yes, of course, that means that even if every single one of us is ultimately disappointed when we catapult into oblivion, we have no way of warning those who come after us.
That, at least, is the theory. But when we are told that sneak previews are impossible, we instinctively try to find a way round the restriction. So on the cover of (a recent) Newsweek, neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander, who has taught at Harvard Medical School, boldly announces to the world that he has cheated death, visited Shakespeare's ‘undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns’, and come back to tell us all in his imaginatively titled book, Proof of Heaven.
In 2008, Alexander was struck down by meningitis and spent seven days in a coma. Science says that, during this ordeal, everything should have gone blank since his neocortex wasn't functioning.
But this celestial Columbus claims that, while apparently flat out, he was actually on ‘a hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey’ to the final frontier. He floated over fluffy clouds, met ‘transparent … shimmering beings’ and was guided through this timeless world by a beguiling female. It was all, he writes reassuringly, ‘an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting’.
At least he didn't mention a bright white light, but in every other way his account contains just about heavenly cliché known to humankind. Proof of Heaven may have a certain cachet because its author is, by profession, ‘a man of science’, and therefore, by the crude logic of our secular, sceptical 21st-century society, better placed than most to see through the ultimate claim of religion, but this book sounds like pretty run-of-the-mill near-death experience literature.
Full review in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/11/dr-eben-alexander-proves-need-heaven
Comment in The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9598971/Is-the-afterlife-full-of-fluffy-clouds-and-angels.html
Eben Alexander website: http://www.lifebeyonddeath.net/
A conversation with Eben Alexander: http://www.btci.org/bioethics/2012/videos2012/vid3.html
Buy this book: http://garrattpublishing.com.au/index.php/affiliatelist?id=70&affiliateid=29.