14 January 2014

Review of Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Near-Death Experience and Journey into the AfterlifeProof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Near-Death Experience and Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can understand where Dr. Alexander is coming from in this book. He was a materialist science-based doctor, who occasionally attending church, but had no real belief in a deity or an afterlife. Then, after his coma, he believes his experiences while in coma to be "real." He believes that he met God/the creator, and was given many "answers" to questions, etc.

My problem with this is: all of what he says sounds very much like a mixture of several of the world's religions: Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, mostly. This does not discount his experience, but like all experience, it is subjective and if he (along with anyone else who "believes" his words) gets caught by those words or becomes attached to those experiences, he is then in essence following a new religion.

Some of the things he said "felt" true to me, in other words, I didn't get a definite "NO! That's a lie and that can't be true." For example: he said something along the lines that all the universe is based on love and compassion.  That is a Buddhist idea with which I agree.  But, that does not validate Alexander's experiences. Who am I? Other things in his experiences were just too convenient; I won't say what they are because I don't what to spoil the book for anyone else.

What it really comes down to for me is that if you need this kind of "proof" you probably won't accept it, in much the same way that Dr. Alexander did not accept the ideas and experiences of others who had had NDEs before he did. Any experience that CANNOT be replicated, tested, and ultimately be disproved, is NOT scientific; Dr. Alexander, a self-proclaimed scientist, should have known this and that he seems to overlook that gives me pause. He also claims that his NDE was not like others, which then, negates the idea that it indeed had been replicated. There does not seem to be enough knowledge of the causes of these experiences, and given that they are often similar is not enough to prove them outright.

The author states that science is not giving enough attention to this area, i.e. consciousness. The problem is that which I mentioned above: the experience cannot be duplicated and so there is nothing for science to do. True science is based on hypotheses that can be tested; how can I (if I were a scientist) test, i.e. replicate Eben Alexander's experience? How can anyone do that without being in exactly the same situation? The answer is, they can't. Each of those factors: the problem that caused the coma, the coma itself, the exact drugs that were used to treat the problem, the environment, etc.: all those have to be duplicated and get the same result (his experience). Given that what caused his coma is extremely rare, it is unlikely that anyone will have the same or even a similar experience anytime soon. There is no way to test and thus, no way to prove the experience was, as Eben Alexander says, "real."

That being said, they cannot be disproved, either, at least not at our current ability. So, the best stance for me is agnostic, as it was before I read this book. I'm not convinced by his story. You may be, and that is your prerogative. You will have to read it and make up your own mind.

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