You must be living on another planet if you haven’t heard of neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s 2012 book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife, which recounts his goddy experience while in a coma after a bout of bacterial meningitis. It’s sold over two million copies, has been translated into dozens of languages, and has topped the New York Times bestseller list for over a year (here’s today’s listing):
This post will, I hope, show that Alexander’s book doesn’t belong in the “nonfiction” category.
Why is the book so popular? The answer is obvious: it gives people confidence that there really is a heaven. For during Alexander’s “coma,” he claims he visited that heaven: a place of angels, lost relatives, beautiful music, butterflies, and eternal happiness. And he is a neurosurgeon who argued that his “near death experience” (NDE) could not have been a dream or hallucination since his coma made his cortex nonfunctional; that is, his brain wasn’t working. His credentials thus give the book special cachet.
Perhaps this is old news, but Alexander’s claims have not only been seriously questioned in the past year (how, for example, does he know that his NDE didn’t occur during the period when his brain was rebooting while he was waking up?), but an article in the August Esquire by Luke Dittrich,”The Prophet,” suggests that Alexander has been duplicitous about his story, and in fact made much of it up.
The article is long (10,000 words) but is well worth reading as an example of investigative journalism at its best: it manages to shred Alexander’s story not in a vindictive way, but by simply quoting the facts. Here are some of those facts:
- Alexander was let go from at least two of his jobs as a neurosurgeon after repeated malpractice lawsuits. For example, Dittrich notes that “In August 2003, UMass Memorial suspended Alexander’s surgical privileges ‘on the basis or allegation of improper performance of surgery.'”
- In two of those lawsuits, Alexander appears to have altered or falsified medical records to cover his incompetence. He settled those suits, and still retains his medical license, but no longer practices as a doctor.
- Alexander appears to have made up the story that begins the book: how he managed to avoid a collision while parachute-jumping by some mechanism that was too quick to have been activated by his brain. This was, in effect, his first NDE: his first “proof of heaven.” As Alexander notes:
“This book is about the events that changed my mind on the matter. They convinced me that, as marvelous a mechanism as the brain is, it was not my brain that saved my life that day at all. What sprang into action the second Chuck’s chute started to open was another, much deeper part of me. A part that could move so fast because it was not stuck in time at all, the way the brain and body are.”
Dittrich could find no record of this happening, and the only “Chuck” in Alexander’s parachute club denies that this happened. In response, Alexander says he changed “Chuck’s” name for legal reasons, though there are no legal reasons to change the name.
- Alexander appears to have falsified even the weather that occurred at the time of his coma. Dittrich notes:
“As he [Alexander] nears the end of his tale, every part of his story seems to be connected to every other part in mysterious ways. For instance, his coma began on Monday, November 10, and by Saturday, ‘it had been raining for five days straight, ever since the afternoon of my entrance into the ICU.’ Then, on Sunday, after six days of torrents, just before he woke up, the rain stopped:
To the east, the sun was shooting its rays through a chink in the cloud cover, lighting up the lovely ancient mountains to the west and the layer of cloud above as well, giving the gray clouds a golden tinge.
Then, looking toward the distant peaks, opposite to where the mid-November sun was starting its ascent, there it was.
A perfect rainbow.”
But a meteorologist consulted by Dittrich asserts vehemently that there was no rain on the 10th or 11th of November, and there could have been no rainbow on the 16th, the day Alexander “woke up.”
- The coma that Alexander experienced was not caused by bacterial meningitis, but, according to Alexander’s doctors (whom he unwisely gave permission to talk!), was medically induced. That undermines his key claim that his brain was not working during his coma. Alexander does not mention this in his book. Here is a passage from Dittrich’s article:
“In Proof of Heaven, Alexander writes that he spent seven days in ‘a coma caused by a rare case of E. coli bacterial meningitis.’ There is no indication in the book that it was Laura Potter, and not bacterial meningitis, that induced his coma, or that the physicians in the ICU maintained his coma in the days that followed through the use of anesthetics. Alexander also writes that during his week in the ICU he was present ‘in body alone,’ that the bacterial assault had left him with an ‘all-but-destroyed brain.’ He notes that by conventional scientific understanding, ‘if you don’t have a working brain, you can’t be conscious,’ and a key point of his argument for the reality of the realms he claims to have visited is that his memories could not have been hallucinations, since he didn’t possess a brain capable of creating even a hallucinatory conscious experience.
I ask Potter whether the manic, agitated state that Alexander exhibited whenever they weaned him off his anesthetics during his first days of coma would meet her definition of conscious.
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘Conscious but delirious.'”
- Finally, Alexander appears to have made up an important part in his tale, one in which he calls upon God for help before he goes under. As Dittrich reports:
“One of the book’s most dramatic scenes takes place just before she sends him from the ER to the ICU:
In the final moments before leaving the emergency room, and after two straight hours of guttural animal wails and groaning, I became quiet. Then, out of nowhere, I shouted three words. They were crystal clear, and heard by all the doctors and nurses present, as well as by Holley, who stood a few paces away, just on the other side of the curtain.
‘God, help me!’
Everyone rushed over to the stretcher. By the time they got to me, I was completely unresponsive.
Potter [Alexander’s physician] has no recollection of this incident, or of that shouted plea. What she does remember is that she had intubated Alexander more than an hour prior to his departure from the emergency room, snaking a plastic tube down his throat, through his vocal cords, and into his trachea. Could she imagine her intubated patient being able to speak at all, let alone in a crystal-clear way?
‘No,’ she says.”
In sum, the story looks like a sham, confected by a once-brilliant but now failed neurosurgeon who reclaims his time in the spotlight by pretending that he saw heaven. He may indeed have had such visions, but the story around them—about his parachute episode, the weather, his call to God, and the fact that his brain wasn’t working—are crucial to his story, and they don’t stand up to Dittrich’s examination.
When Dittrich confronted Alexander with what he found, and why the neurosurgeon omitted his professional mistakes and vagaries, Alexander waffles and then begs the journalist for mercy:
We talk about rainstorms and intubations and chemically induced comas, and I can see it in his face, the moment he knows for sure that the story I’ve been working on is not the one he wanted me to tell.
“What I’m worried about,” he says, “is that you’re going to be so busy trying to smash out these little tiny fires that you’re going to miss the big point of the book.”
I ask whether an account of his professional struggles should have been included in a book that rests its authority on his professional credentials.
He says no, because medical boards in various states investigated the malpractice allegations and concluded he could retain his license. And besides, that’s all in the past. “The fact of the matter,” he says of the suits, “is they don’t matter at all to me…. You cannot imagine how minuscule they appear in comparison to what I saw, where I went, and the message that I bring back.”
. . . By focusing on the inconsistencies in his story, on recollections that don’t seem to add up, on a court-documented history of revising facts, on the distinctions between natural and medically induced comas, he says, is to miss the forest for the trees. That’s all misleading stuff, irrelevant to his journey and story.
Toward the end, there’s a note of pleading in his voice.
“I just think that you’re doing a grave disservice to your readers to lead them down a pathway of thinking that any of that is, is relevant. And I just, I really ask, as a friend, don’t…”
That’s pathetic. For one thing, never assume that a journalist is your “friend.” Their job is to tell a story, not to be your pal.
Now Dittrich’s piece was published last August, but I think it’s been behind a paywall until recently, and, even so, it’s important to highlight the inconsistencies of Alexander’s story, for people have been buying this book in droves as “proof of heaven.” (You can see other criticisms of Alexander’s tale on his Wikipedia page.) It is no such thing, for the “proof of heaven” depends critically not only on Alexander’s probity, which is not high, and especially on his contention that his brain was “shut down” when he had his NDE, for which there’s no proof at all.
But of course none of that matters. If the public were thinking critically and scientifically about his story, and were aware of its problems, the book would be just another fairy tale. But so eager are people to get confirmation of God and heaven that they’ll believe anything, no matter how dubious. Alexander may no longer be practicing as a doctor, but he’s raking it in on the lecture circuit, and his book has made him a millionaire.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s being made into a major motion picture? Do you suppose the producers might halt production given all the questions about Alexander’s story? Not a chance.
131 thoughts on “Eben Alexander’s bogus trip to heaven”
The believers crowd have already attacked Dittrichs work but they have not succeeded. Here is the link to the criticism of Dittrichs work:
However the criticism is pathetic to me. It was done by IANDS a believer crowd who believes that NDEs are proof of a afterlife.
Here is the pdf where Eben Alexander received some punishment for his lies as a doctor:
What is shocking to me that Eben Alexander had a NDE where he met god and he became a believer according to his words. So why does he want all that money? Why is he greedy? For the sake of the argument if I went to heaven and knew it is 100 percent real I would abandon all material things and live like a monk and not earn millions out of it. This just shows more that its just a hoax and lies on a top.
As great as Dittrich’s piece is in asking the right questions and getting to the bottom of the deceptions, it won’t change the mind of most people who already decided to suspend disbelief. These folks believe what they want to believe.
I’m glad he did it though because now the rest of us have something we can forward those who oppose any criticism of Alexander’s experience.
Sam Harris also does an excellent take-down on Alexander, which you posted here.
He has also posted a more thorough take-down on NDEs here
It’s like when you point out inconsistencies in the Bible to someone who is determined to believe in it. It’s inerrant until you ask why there are three different empty tomb stories, then the witnesses are fallible but the book isn’t, and the big picture is what’s important anyway.
ALL of the inconsistencies aside, since when is one person’s anecdote “proof” of anything at all?
When you’re dealing with a strong need to believe, no evidence is too weak.
As Mark Twain said “If it’s a miracle, any sort of evidence will answer. But, if it’s a fact, proof is necessary” So,this story sounds more like a miracle than a fact!
The title of the book was his publishers idea. Eben Alexander, himself, acknowledged that he experiences weren’t proof, in the sense of scientific proof. He described that idea as “hubris”, “laughable”, and “ridiculous”. But he wanted his book published and went along with the title.
There is gambling going on in this casino?
And what’s with the Pope shitting in the woods?
By divine decree, his smells sweet.
Sure. I can even go along with that.
…it’s the decrees that smell like shit. The divinity, too….
And when Jesus squatted over a hole to shit, did it have it own, unique ‘Son of God’ smell?
Or did it stink like us regular sinners?
Christianity. Serious questions for a serious religion.
Squatted over a hole?!?
He stood on his head and His wonderfulness ascended into the heavens to the sound of celestial trumpets.
Sound effects by Himself, of course.
Really lucky for him that he doesn’t live in Chicago.
Yes, he would’ve been brought inside for his bowel movement. 🙂
And then how do you know that he’s the Poop if he’s not shitting in the woods? Could lead to an ecclesiastical crisis!
NDE. No discernable evidence.
I smell a Southpark episode in the works.
NDE = Not Dead, Evidently.
As extra-convincing as sifting through the embers of this thoroughly destroyed account is, right on its face we are given the testimony of a dying brain and nothing more. Nobody that is isn’t belief motivated could buy this story, not even for a moment.
Even if we were to grant the very dubious idea that a dying brain could accurately time stamp experiences in a non-functional period, it would still be quite a leap to invoke an afterlife to explain such a thing. All careful skeptics could walk right past this book from the get go.
It was not a “dying brain”. He was in an induced coma (because he was agitated, shouting out, and thrashing around and this was the only way they could control him)
I would prefer a educated comment on the clinical picture of Mr. Alexander during coma by a pool of doctors. Cana a brain with a glucosium concentration at 1.0 compatible with some advanced neural activity?
The clinical cartel is there, and they are public, so should not be so difficult to say if the neocortex was working or not during coma.
It is said that the explanation was that Mr Alexander was experiencing his trip during the “recover from coma”. At first, it is as saying that the neocortex was off, at least for six days or maybe more. Then somehow it “recovered”.
So, as a confrontation it will suffice to study the “awakening” statistics after induced-coma in a large number of people.
There are a LOT of induced coma cases to study. If the “supernatural trip” is a natural behavior of brains after a coma induced therapy, there sould be ample references in medical literature.
More appropriate should be a study around clinical pictures compatible with Mr. Alexander’s one.
As a parachutist myself, I can say that a near-collision incident would be well-remembered by members of any parachute club, especially the supposed “Chuck” who was involved.
Near-collisions are not common during skydiving and if they happen they make great fuel for conversation at any drop zone.
It’s hard for an incident like that to go unnoticed.
If something like that happens here in Denmark with an airplane/glider, it is logged and researched by the Air Accidents Commission (Havarikommission). Fat chance you’ll forget having to report to them.
“…you’re going to be so busy trying to smash out these little tiny fires that you’re going to miss the big point of the book.”
The big point of the book is to make money using what I call the “Oprah Winfrey strategy”, which is to tell people what they want to hear.
This reminds me of the reaction to Jim Schnabel’s book Round in Circles. When the authors of the crop circles are revealed, masses of people who believe in aliens scream and yell and spew nasty stuff at him, but nobody can discredit his account, which is detailed and massively well researched.
You don’t ever want to confuse the faithful with facts. L
Indeed, Alexander seems to have the gift of sociopathic cunning.
Personally, I love the latest (latest that I’ve heard about) crop circle in the news; it’s in Braille! Gotta love those crazy cynical aliens.
I had to go look that up — hadn’t heard about it.
Turns out that, despite the early insistence by “cereologists” that this just had to be the work of aliens, it was a publicity stunt by chipmaker NVIDIA as part of the announcement at the consumer electronics show of a new product line.
Out-of-network billing for anesthesiology is more “proof” against heaven than any bogus NDE manufactured by a neurofraud who is purposefully oblivious to professional or factual liability.
A major motion picture?
Hey…maybe they can title it “Eben Alexander’s Bogus Journey” and have Keanu Reeves star in it.
heh. Universal Pictures bought the rights back in February 2013, and that seems to be it. I would suspect that the whole idea of this potential movie has been tossed thanks to lovely liar for Christ.
IANAL but I thought that a contract made under fraudulent pretences was not valid. Universal Pictures should be able to get their money back.
Or they may change the message of the film as the producers of “The Armstrong Lie” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1638364/) did. I live in hope…
we can only hope 🙂
Obviously it will be like any other based-on-fact picture – 5 parts fact, 15 parts director’s artistic vision, and 80 parts producer’s bottom line. Except, maybe not so many facts.
We had to preemptively strike to protect ourselves from attack by Hussein’s stockpile of WMD’s. That’s what I was told, that’s what I believed then, and the fact that no WMD’s have been located in Iraq totally proves my belief is justified and the invasion goal was accomplished: our enemy feared the aftermath of being caught with his WMD stockpile, and had them destroyed so completely not a trace remains to be found. You naysayers are so skeptical, you hate so much. You look for anything possible to criticize while you choose to be willfully blind to the actual significant facts. And a lot of the little details aren’t at all important any more, anyway. Why do you need to keep harping on them? We were kept safe from attack with WMD’s. End of story.
End of story? That’s not even the story. The WMDs were REAL! Then JESUS!! made them disappear so as to protect our invading boys and lesbians.
Richard Olson, did you mean to post your comment under a different article? Or is it supposed to be a commentary on the Eben Alexander story? I honestly don’t know, and if it is supposed to pertain to the Alexander article, I sure don’t know what point you’re making with it.
The WMD/Iraq invasion is offered as real world recent history of motivated reasoning and its effect on comprehension.
It should be just as obvious, if not more so, that Alexander’s claims of a celestial sabbatical are invented, as it is that the presence of WMDs in Iraq was an invention of the Bush administration.
But that doesn’t stop those who’ve drunk the koolaid from engaging in heavy-duty rationalization.
Well, first, thankfully, this isn’t the end of the story. Second, I do believe Iraq had WMD’s. Just because we didn’t find them doesn’t mean they weren’t or aren’t somewhere available to Hussein or his followers. Secondly, how can you think that THESE people “hate so much” while you are discussing manic radical Muslim terrorist who think god (Allah) not only approves of but strongly encourages (as in ‘do this or go to hell’) their random destruction and killing totally innocent people (at least innocent of the ‘crime’ for which they died) and/or people whose main form of entertainment was torturing people?!!! And lastly, I cannot see how any of our intervention in these wars that have been going on for more than four centuries is protecting our American homeland. Why are our children still dying in droves for someone else’s war? The people we’re defending are far from grateful to us or any more tolerant of each other or anyone who deviates at all from the least significant of what they hold as ‘true.’ We have not brought them peace nor justice nor democracy. Obviously we learned nothing from Korea or Viet Nam. And obviously those in the military machine and their contractors have learned how very profitable war can be for some.
Did anyone else hear the execrable piece yesterday morning on NPR’s Weekend Edition–the interview with the UVa professor on “The Science Behind Reincarnation”? Truly awful.
Gah. I try to support NPR, and I do declare that many of their programs are very good. Unique even, in the quality of intelligent, informative conversation. Diane Rehm for example is a national treasure, IMO. But then they lay these big stinky piles of crap. Regularly.
I have to wonder if his numerous ascensions and experiences of “heaven” corresponded to the periods of “conscious but delirious” episodes he had when his physicians intermittently brought him out of his medically-induced coma?
Absent any external reference, I have to wonder how anyone (including him) could even tell (when he had his experiences). Its not like your dreams come with a little GPS-linked clock in the corner of your mental field of vision.
Sorry if you misunderstood the purpose of my post. I did not mean to imply that there was any way in which such a correlation could be demonstrated, just suggesting a possible mechanism for explaining his “trips” between the two “realms”.
I wish someone would dig into “Heaven Is for Real” like this.
Someone just gave this book to my wife for Xmas. What a pile of cr@p.
Shamelessly making money of your child this way ought to be criminal!
I have a 3 year old son, and there is NO WAY you can take the stuff they say literally. He heard us talk about “Great Grandma” a year ago and now constantly talks about meeting her, visiting her house etc… She has been dead for 5 years. I guess if my son had been in hospital I could make a movie bout it !
I hope this kid realizes what scumbags his parents are at some point in his life and is not sucked down the black hole his father is digging for his family.
I meant to include this:
Another book erroneously labeled non-fiction…
Thank you for this excellent and detailed post on the latest NDE myth. The Dittrich article, and other articles including this one, should be broadly disseminated to inform the public at large about the likely falseness of NDE. These dubious claims are not as damaging as those of the anti-vaxxers or the anti-GMO crowd, but they are nevertheless part of the great ‘axis of stupidity’.
Reasonably dense reportage can only help to get most people to wise up about the duplicity of NDE claims.
“did I mention that it’s being made into a major motion picture?”
Sounds really boring.
I haven’t read the (long) linked article yet nor all the other articles, so I haven’t seen any direct response to a claim which was recently made to me regarding Alexander’s story.
A friend of mine wants to show a group of her friends (including me!) some sort of video on Alexander — an interview iirc — which makes an extraordinary claim which she finds very compelling. She wants my skeptic take on it. Surprising, but gratifying. I know she’s only doing it because she believes this one is good.
Apparently Ebon Alexander says that during his “Trip to Heaven” he met and conversed with an angelic being of some sort who told him she was his older sister (?) (or maybe told him he had an older sister.) Alexander has no older sister. But, when he woke up, he mentioned this to his mother (or some other relative) who immediately cried out in shock.
There HAD been an older sister, a baby who had died early and nobody in the family had ever mentioned it or talked about it in front of Eben. It was impossible that he could know this important secret. Not unless …. his story is true!
Yes, this one smells to high heaven (see what I did there?) Right off the bat I’m skeptical about how it was just ‘impossible’ that Eben could have ever overheard or been told such information. It’s possible he heard — and possible he forgot he heard but remembered it while dreaming as someone he would expect to see. This is more likely than leaping to proof of the supernatural.
Also, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the neurosurgeon didn’t wake up from the coma and immediately start babbling about his experience to startled people standing around his bedside, taking notes and filming him with a video device. No, he brooded and ruminated and kept it all back and then started dribbling information here and there, adding things. Anyone who has studied the vagaries of memory will immediately recognize the perfect situation for contamination. If Alexander came out with this story months after he started babbling about seeing people in heaven, it doesn’t merit any attention, let alone serious attention
So has anyone seen this dealt with? I may be watching this whatever-it-is on Wednesday. I’ll grant my friend that it is, after all, a reasonable sort of test in that it’s a purported example of someone finding something out during a mystical experience which could not otherwise have been known. I mean, it has that form. But it’s not a controlled situation (to put it mildly) and even if nobody has yet officially addressed it I don’t find it compelling.
Of course, dismissing THIS type of anecdote is exactly the sort of thing which brings down charges that jeez, even when skeptics are given their own kind of evidence they STILL won’t accept it so clearly they’re just being perverse and unalterably closed-minded. But if I’m actually going to have my opinion solicited, I’d like to do homework in advance.
“she was his older sister…baby who had died early ”
What sort of conversation could one have with a baby? Oh, of course, the baby spirit had grown up now. I wonder how a spirit would “grow up”, with no experiences to shape the personality? And could this sister, whom he had never known, be related in any meaningful way? Genetics is an earthly thing.
Bah, there are so many problems with claims of this sort without even looking at whether they happened.
Trouble is, once you grant the basic premise (okay, let’s agree you saw your sister) they can now go into full descriptive mode, making up a story about how heaven works and what it’s like. This is the part such people enjoy: the interesting details like “they grow up and can watch what happens through some mechanism I couldn’t understand” and “some people have pets but not all, it depends.” Letting them go on and on while you bring up objections and contradictions which they shoot away with additional “information” or disingenuously humble admissions of ignorance (“how it works I don’t know because it’s all on a different level which is hard for us to comprehend/explain/describe”) is like playing Calvinball and trying to keep score because you just might win.
I prefer to cut it off early.
One site mentions that Alexander did know if his dead sister well before his coma, and what happened during it was that he saw a picture of her
And my, that’s not exactly what I was told to expect, is it? The claim itself becomes a little less extraordinary or, as I prefer to think, banal.
Part of my ‘journey’ to atheism was through the skeptic community. I think it a valuable approach which applies to all extraordinary claims. This is the sort of thing which regularly happens with anecdotes which can be checked up on. Once the details start to emerge, it turns out that people have been playing a game of ‘Telephone.’ Or “Urban Legend.”
Please also read Sam Harris’s articles on this:
This Must Be Heaven [not]
Science on the Brink of Death
Jerry posted on the first a while back.
Your friend’s case does sound like an example of the telephone game: he/she heard from a friend that the video based on the book said…
However, Dittrich’s material makes Alexander look more like a standard con man than someone who had a wierd experience and then the details got blown out of proportion. While a lot of the errors could be sincerely believed mental mistakes (maybe as he was going under he tried to call out, and thought he did, but it was in his mind), taken all together, the pattern is pretty damning.
If, on the other hand the ‘prediction of previously unknown information’ story is not the result of a game of ‘Telephone’ on my friend’s part but actually a more or less accurate description of what Alexander says in this interview, then the case for his being a con man has just gotten stronger.
If so, it would be interesting to see if this would in any way, shape, or form change anyone’s view of Alexander and the wonderful amazing no bad very good coma.
I see what you did there.
In addition to the thrashing that this current NDE claim is getting here, PZ has some posts providing counter-evidence against other claims of NDE. See The NDE delusion.
The Alexander video did not make an appearance, but I asked about it. This is what I was told:
It’s an hour long interview with public radio’s Steve Paulson (who is Templeton funded btw.) In it, Eben Alexander says that while he was in the coma he found out for the first time that he had a sister he never knew he had.
Okay, this is interesting — and potentially damning. Not for us, of course, but for Alexander. Because the links below indicate he KNEW he had a sister, looks at a photograph of her, and then “recognizes” her as the girl on the butterfly. He didn’t find out about her. The best he could say was that he found out what she looked like before he saw her picture. Yeah, right.
AS far as I can tell without watching the online videos (they ‘do not exist’ — or so they say) Butterfly girl never told him she was his sister. He never told anyone it was his sister, nor did he describe Butterfly girl to anyone with any details which later turn out to apply specifically to his sister.
Did Paulson catch this guy in yet another lie? Because my friend was very sure that Alexander said that he only found out THAT there was a sister during his coma, and this was a fact which apparently defied skeptical explanation.
Sounds like Alexander has some ‘splainin’ to do. I’m wondering if I ought to watch the hour long interview, since we’d have to carefully consider his actual words. I’d rather not, but if Jerry can read theology who am I to balk?
Thank you for publicizing this refutation – I’d heard about the book but not the investigation.
I recently had a conversation with a believer who cited this book as ‘compelling’ evidence for god. This info should help in our next talk 😉
This reminds me of a session of Pat Robertson’s 700 Club I watched some years ago in which he introduced a doctor, whom he characterized as “a man of science” who claimed he had been to heaven. The doctor said he was walking on a second story staircase with a opening to the
outside on the flat part, and fell out, hitting his head on a dumpster.
He maintained that because he was carrying a
box of books when the incident happened, he
fell so much faster that he would have ordinarily, and so bonked his head even harder than if he wasn’t extra heavy, and was
clinically dead as a result. Isaac Newton, take heed!
Fortunately he came back to life to tell us that heaven was more beautiful than earth because the light spectrum in heaven was much wider than on earth. I can’t remember the other nonsense, but it may
have involved meeting some saints and stuff
Yes, I watched 700 club for the laughs, and sometimes the nonsense was truly hilarious.
LOL, that’s bad enough that I have trouble being upset about it. That’s a Weekly World News level of woo – beyond credible.
These type of books tend to follow the latest fad, whether it’s near death experiences, angels, miraculous appearances of angel feathers, gold dust, gem stones, etc.
These claims that coincide with the latest fad are always suspect in my eyes.
It seems that when a “professional” is about to lose his credibility in the real world, all he has to do is find refuge in religious spin. I can’t help but be impressed, sorry to say. He ought to take up politics.
Shhhh! We have enough problems already.
So, if his brain wasn’t working, is there any evidence that it has started up again?
Unfortunately, the fact that he has made an awful lot of money selling tripe to gullible people shows there is some sort of brain activity there.
Or perhaps a widespread lack of brain activity elsewhere…
LOL, good one!
Okay, here’s my guess as to where this idea that the journalist is his “friend” comes from (or comes from in part.) It’s based on my understanding that Ebon Alexander’s version of heaven is rather … spiritual. Ecumenical and friendly, rather than standard salvation boilerplate.
A lot of liberal believers — people who believe in God or ‘Spirit’ but are not fundamentalists — think that secular liberals are primarily focused on One Bad Thing about religion: Hell. The concept of eternal torture of the damned is not just a horrible thing — and a point against the value of religious belief — it’s one of the main reasons atheists and agnostics don’t believe in God. It’s so divisive! People argue over who is right and who is wrong — can’t we all just get along!
Religious liberals sometimes seem to think that if they can just eliminate this problem then the secular skeptics will simply melt into pools of delight. No hell and everyone goes to heaven? ALL the paths are valid?? Sweetness and light for virtually EVERYONE???
Sign me up!!!
Or, at least — “Good for you! If only ALL religion could be like this. Objections gone. Let’s spread it as fast as we can, and join together to fight fundamentalism!”
Greta Christina calls this seeking The Atheist Seal of Approval or “Surely you don’t mean MY religion.” If Alexander classed his interviewer as a fellow liberal, open-minded proponent of tolerance and harmony, he might be quite shocked that an ally — a friend — would not only cast doubt on a belief in Heaven which is comforting, but cast doubt on a belief in Heaven which is ecumenical and accepting and validating of liberal principles.
Because otherwise, it’s like you’re promoting not just death and despair, but fundamentalism and Hell. Why would anyone want to do both of those things?
Yes, liberal religion is often exactly like that. As an organist, I’ve had a lot of experience with that kind of theist.
But this just smells to me like a regular old nothing-to-do-with-religion pleading tactic: “you would do this to your friend, would you?”
This is rapidly turning into another “Million Little Pieces” story. Has he been on Oprah? Unfortunately, if he has, she won’t have him back to berate him even if she DOES get convinced of the criticisms and falsehoods; she’s not about to offend her woo-hoo believing followers!
The brain, by the way, is quite good at creating the illusion of the passage of time in dreams- although lucid dreaming experiments have shown that the passage of time in a dream is the same as that of the waking state, the mind can pull “tricks” that make it appear otherwise (kind of like the movie trick of showing pages falling off a calendar).
I think one way the mind does it is to concentrate on the key points and ignore the boring bits in between. Say I dream I’m walking along a path I know… I walk round the first corner and I can see the next corner 50 yards away (and of course, as soon as I ‘see’ it in my dream, I’m thinking about it and I’m instantly there. And the same for the next corner and the next…)
So without apparently moving any faster, my mind has condensed an hour’s walk into a couple of minutes of highlights.
‘Conscious but delirious’ is the key detail about NDE. I can accept that the perceptions are real, but there are real, down-to-earth explanations for how the semi-conscious mind can stretch reality. That, along with a tendency to embellish, and bingo we have another modern myth. The fully conscious mind can make up angel sightings, UFOs, bigfoot, and alien abductions. So no surprise that a state of delirium can produce fantastic stories.
by ‘the perceptions are real’ I of course mean they are as real as any hallucination.
Indeed. I once had a rather painful operation, and was given a lot of morphine for serveral days afterward. It seemed to me that I was floating in the air above the bed in the hospital room and there was someone in it who seemed a lot like me and was in a lot of pain, but for some reason the pain didn’t bother me at all.
The floating above the operating table is one of the common descriptions in NDE.
Butterflies in heaven? Are they taken up as caterpillars, farmed like the tropical swallowtails at a B&B near here? Did God provide nectar sources, or are they immortal and insubstantial? And just PRETTY butterflies, or are there blues and owlets also? How about Nabokov’s Blues.
Oh, I so do want to go to heaven. And take my butterfly guide with me.
And not Hell. God puts fire ants down there, just like Texas.
The thing that strikes me about all these accounts of heaven is how theologically unsound and stupid/childish the descriptions are. They are exactly what you would expect from a person with a very primitive notion of heaven compared to the less primitive notion that modern theologians have. They describe Hollywood versions of heaven. I mean, butterflies, stereotypical angels despite the traditions of angels not having real bodies, and freakin’ clouds? That people buy into these stories should be embarrassing for most Christians. It would have been embarrassing to most medieval Christian theologians. They at least believed that angels had no physical bodies and were purely spiritual.
Plus, he didn’t see any beer volcanos which advanced theology has proved to exist in heaven.
No mention of Skittles either. Fraud.
You mean that they are exactly what he knew the book buying public would expect.
That sounds right!
Is there really a distinction between “primitive” and “sophisticated” descriptions of heaven?
It’s all bullshit.
Sure there is a difference.
“Bullshit” vs. “Foutaise”
Or at least that’s what Google Translate tells me.
I hope if I ever have a near death experience, I come back & write a book about how it was full of cheese & chocolate that you could eat and eat without getting fat or migraines.
Heck, maybe I should just fake it all & write it. I can see the headlines now, “Woman Dies, Goes to Donut Heaven”.
If ever you fall upon hard times….
I wonder if books like Alexander’s or Why Heaven Is For Real are reactions to the actual or perceived stress of modern life — and satisfy some sort of craving people have to become a little child again. It’s almost self-consciously babyish, like a caricature of being simple and simple-minded in a simplistic reality where no hard demands are made, no difficult standards upheld. “I was riding on a Big Butterfly and there were fluffy pink clouds! And I saw lots of animals and they played with me!” And I suppose there were rainbow unicorn ponies with wings flying to Candy Mountain, too! How cute is too cute?
Seriously, are people trying to regress? Or are they trying to impress — in some bizarre, twisted, ‘I bet my faith can be even more pure and sweet than yours’ way?
Perhaps the rise of this type of literature is a deliberate attempt to get the skeptics to invoke a Little People Argument. They are feeling and fearing the rise of secularism and fighting back by throwing themselves on the ground and kicking their feet. “Leave our faith alone — it should be clear to even the meanest intelligence that people like us shouldn’t be expected to handle the truth or anything even halfway rational! Do we look and sound competent to you? Do we seem like capable adults? Angel puppies!!! No we don’t! We’re clearly tottering on the edge and close to losing it!”
Don’t hit me, I’m adorable. Unsophisticated theology. Aggressively unsophisticated.
I had an NDE several years ago that I discussed in an old post if there is any interest. It is interesting to me how a person’s perspective can affect one’s experience so dramatically. As a skeptic, the NDE all seemed rather explainable with straight forward physiology.
I have a very strong vesovegal response. I pass out any time my diaphragm/abdominal muscles work hard to evacuate either my stomach’s or my large intestine’s contents.
Did your experience have anything to do with the vegus nerve?
Cough syncope is probably a very strong vasovagal response, or at least that’s a component. One of the reasons pertussis is such a danger is that is associated with prolonged paroxysms of cough (the whooping in whooping cough). That can trigger a strong vasovagal response.
I’m just noticing all the “Es” that should’ve been “As”.
Come on, brain.
That was very interesting. Now, with a little embellishment and a book deal, you can clean up. Maybe Jim Carrey could play you in the movie.
Mark, I have to ask – did you by any chance read my little rhyme-
I ask because Jim Carey was specifically named 😉
No… It must be a sign!
It is always useful to consider the gestalt (thought experiment) that Alexander is telling the truth. What then?
He has provided no knowledge of anything other than his own fabrication. The internal coherence of it may have impunity from criticism, but he gives no solutions to any ontological or epistemological problems. We are no better off with his experience than we are with any other person’s experiences on the matter of an afterlife.
What an impudent sod too if he has not at least conceded that he could be wrong. Alexander has told a fable, from the perspective of any other human, and he provides no new knowledge.
Pardon me for being a pendulous pendant and a grandma not-see, but this is an excuse to flog one of my favorite movie quotes.
Great movie. Very funny quote.
Yes, I have never encountered the word ‘gestalt’ used in that way. Maybe you meant something else? Also, Ben, it took me about ten re-readings to figure out what a grandma not-see is. Did you just make that up?
Yeah, that one was on the spot. Definitely has room for improvement.
If Eben Alexander did have an experience like what he claims he had he could have written a fantastic book explaining the scientific basis for his experience and discussing why he felt that it was profound even though it was mundane. Unfortunately instead of exploring the fantastic properties of reality he seems to prefer the lesser confabulations of his mind. (Which is ineffably sad, seeking to understand reality does not require giving up the confabulations of our minds at all, it only requires recognizing that they are the confabulations of our minds.)
The Eben Alexander case is just one example of how EVERY critical investigation into paranormal claims go.
It starts with a story of amazing happenings, quotes and claims from various individuals describing unnatural events.
But, inevitably, as one investigates, not only does the “evidence” become ever less exceptional (never actually there once followed to the end) but the claims themselves tend to get less exceptional as you trace them backward to the purported event.
In other words, there’s usually a game-of-telephone expansion of the story. “Even the doctors at the scene stated it was miraculous and there was no natural explanation…so how do you explain THAT!”
But when you can talk to the ACTUAL people involved, the stories tend to change. You talk to the doctor who in the story made corroborating statements, but he says: “Wha? I didn’t say that!” And from others you get claims shifting, re-formulating, downgrading: “Well, I didn’t really say I SAW the ghost of the little boy steal the watch, like you’ve read, but I did sense a presence in the room and I couldn’t find my watch that day…”
Much like how people’s stories change in courtrooms under strict examination, even for mundane, everyday court cases.
These innumerable examples of the unreliability of “things people have claimed” show just how ludicrous the Christian appeals to the Resurrection Story are. It’s just mind-boggling to watch an otherwise intelligent man like W.L. Craig make his resurrection case on the “historical facts” of the claims made by Jesus’ followers: that is, since the beliefs about Jesus’ resurrection outlined in the Bible constitute FACTS about what his contemporary adherents claimed to see and believe, we MUST EXPLAIN THESE FACTS, THESE BELIEFS, and Jesus resurrecting is the best explanation for why those beliefs would have arisen.
This trick rests on simply ignoring all the evidence of how people’s stories don’t stay the same, or add up WHEN YOU CAN ACTUALLY INTERROGATE those purported witnesses.
We have no access to the purported witnesses to even check if the words attributed to them
are accurate, or how their story would hold up under interrogation/investigation. You wouldn’t put a guy in jail for stealing an iPhone on such flimsy “evidence” – on a written account from unnamed witnesses. And Christians like Craig expect we should conclude that, yeah, a guy rose from the dead thousands of years ago, on this type of evidence.
Whether to laugh or cry…
There used to be a popular apologetic argument which started out like this:
“Can you tell me what sort of evidence is legally considered the strongest kind of evidence?”
The answer, supplied by either the potential convert or evangelist is:
Like you, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, nor where to begin. Not only is ‘eye-witness’ testimony usually considered the weakest — but the gospel stories, as you point out, don’t even rise to that level. They don’t even get to ‘hearsay.’ Or the 4 standards below that one.
But it’s supposed to be the clincher. Seeing it yourself, or someone telling you what they saw and you know they’re trustworthy.
The gold standard for evidence in the LDS church seems to be, ime, “feeling the spirit”, a “burning in the bosom”, receiving a “prompting”, hearing a “still small voice” (ie, having a though pop into your head).
Talk about low standards.
Would any of them be content to stand trial for murder, wrongly accused, yet accept a conviction based on the “burning” a witness felt in his bosom? Of course they wouldn’t. So why do they consider it compelling when it comes to jebus?
I am muddy on the details, but I was reading how the Jesus myth did not really get started until a generation or two after his ‘death’. This is the way to create a myth since it is far easier to get a populace to believe a story from the past than in the present, when there would be witnesses.
That’s very easy to tell from even a modestly informed reading of the Gospels.
Mark, generally regarded as the earliest of the lot, makes reference to events that happened concurrently with the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 CE. But he places them during the reign of Pilate, who was about 40 years before that. And he makes all sorts of trivial errors of geography that nobody familiar with the region would ever make.
The only reasonable conclusion, therefore, is that Mark was quite distant in both time and space from the events he described — likely a Greek child of the 80s or so, writing early in the second century.
Note also that all four Gospels are written in stylized Greek such that some have identified the schools the authors attended…and they weren’t the types of schools that early first century Judean fishermen attended.
And then there’s Luke, which, in its very first verse, literally opens with the archetypal “I heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you been messin’ around.” No shit — go look up Luke 1:1 for yourself.
This is really interesting! I see what you mean about Luke 1:1, though the writing is slightly more formal ;).
Wish I had the time to study and recall details on biblical history like that! But like the song says, ‘We gotta move these ‘frigerators. We gotta move these color TV’s’
I hope Dittrich has alerted Universal Pictures on Alexander’s sham.
I hope someone brings it to the attention of Universal Pictures.
Universal Pictures knows full well criticism of Alexander’s book is more likely to boost box office than diminish it. As did his agent, the ghost writer, the publisher’s bean counter who calculated return on money invested in promo efforts, and probably other necessary parties to the whole sleazy enterprise. There probably are some people in the group above who actually sincerely and devoutly believe in this horse shit, too. It’s even possible each and every person in the chain does, and if so comments like the ones on this page are gasoline on their fire. Fuck it, though. If it takes tanker trucks of gasoline for the fire to burn itself out, then we just gotta keep pouring it on.
Web Link: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/05/05/what-is-motivated-reasoning-how-does-it-work-dan-kahan-answers/#.UstFMzS9KSM
It’s not surprising that Alexander’s story falls apart in “A Million Little Pieces”, another sham initially sold as a true story.
A neurosurgeon who writes a book about his near death experience saying that it can’t have been caused by his brain. Yeah, that book would sell a few million copies, however badly it was written.. So what are the odds that was the reason for the book being written, rather than it being true? What would Derren Brown think?
Alexander was given a gift horse by the doctors who induced his coma. The gift of a sure-fire bestseller. Post hoc someone has come and looked the horse in its mouth and seen it to be of the pantomime variety. His consciousness was being carefully controlled by doctors to safeguard his brain. It was far from being destroyed.
Excellent work by Dittrich.
Funny, my NDE was nothing like his. Maybe mine was a dream, but I don’t think so.
So the basic premise is that it could not have been a dream, since his brain wasn’t working, so it must have been real. Because you don’t need a working brain to see real things and remember them – you only need a working brain for dreams. Neuroscience 101, everyone knows that.
Not if you have a soul!
Now Africa is no longer a country, but a different planet! 😉
>________________________________ > From: Why Evolution Is True >To: firstname.lastname@example.org >Sent: Monday, 6 January 2014, 14:42 >Subject: [New post] Eben Alexander’s bogus trip to heaven > > > > WordPress.com >whyevolutionistrue posted: “You must be living on another planet if you haven’t heard of neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s 2012 book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife, which recounts his goddy experience while in a coma after a bout of bacterial meningitis. ” >
Maybe I could write a book like this?
I was in medically induced comma for 25 days.
I also have seen wonders. I was in Italy in 1968, later saw the atomic explosion on Bikini Islands while sitting on the beach on Cayman Islands (I know, America kinda should have block the view, well…), I met Russian fish-people and swam with them in Arctic sea.
I also know now, that Earth is ruled by big fat black man made of chocolate. He’s flying in a big jet around the world and never lands. He can see everything on a big wall full of tv monitors.
And than I was kidnapped by somebody and saved by Polish female special forces, than spend some time in something like luxury spa, except I was tied to bed all the time and nobody wanted to give me some water.
Well, I was high. That’s what MIC is for the brain.
I am a rational person. I know that my brain made a cocktail of all the books I read, movies I watched and my old memories plus some actual sensations from “the outside” world (like thirst and at least one CPR). I know it was all in my head.
Mr. Alexander, it seems, had the same kind of experience, only his brain was packed with different information. He saw heaven.
Well, still think that mine was better. There was more, I could make a really crazy book about it.
Anybody would like to read it?
Is Eben (as in Eben Alexander) short for Ebenezer? And if so, can we all start referring to him as Scrooge McDuck from now on? I say “Bah, humbug!” to his tales of heaven and the afterlife.
To good to be true. I immediately thought he was thinking of his time as a not braindead, a little function in the brain and all things can emerge… A good thought though, perhaps it makes some happier.
While I understand that Proof may be too strong a word to insert into the title, and cynicism is and always should exist, I choose to believe in the message conveyed by Dr. Alexander. Love. Thus is the same message conveyed by Jesus, Buddah and one I believe in.
I know someone else who had an NDE and before the experience they were agnostic, depressed and had attempted suicide several times. Now, despite losing a leg, they are aware that suicide is “cheating” so he is not suicidal and he is content with his life. If this is the result of hallucination and delusion then the end result is that it changed my friend’s life for the better.
Yes, and I can cite a thousand counter cases in which being religious hurt either an individual or other people. Is your point that we’re always better off being deluded by religion?