Near-death experiences, or NDEs, remain a controversial topic, with many not taking such events seriously. Thousands of people have reported having them, but many in the scientific community have argued that they are nothing more than neuro-biological events, a consequence of chemical reactions – and are therefore not ‘psycho-spiritual’ events.
Dr. Eben Alexander was one of those people who dismissed NDEs, as either a biochemical occurance, the product of imagination or even fiction. A highly trained neurosurgeon who had operated on thousands of brains in the course of his career, Alexander believed, based on his experience, that what people of faith called the ‘soul’ is really a consequence of brain chemistry. NDEs, as he explained, “might feel real to the people having them, but in truth they are simply fantasies produced by brains under extreme stress.”
Then in 2008 Dr. Alexander’s own brain was attacked by meningitis – the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion (cerebral cortex) shut down completely. For seven days he lay in a hospital bed in a deep coma. Then, as his doctors weighed up the possibility of stopping treatment, he unexpectedly regained consciousness.
Alexander’s recovery is by all accounts a medical miracle, but the real miracle lies in his account of what happened to him. While his body lay in a coma, Alexander claimed to have 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. As a result of this spiritual excursion, his world was turned upside down and what he had previously believed, was discarded. He has, since this life-changing event, gone on to write a book about his experiences (Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife) and travelled the world sharing the message that there is life after death – that consciousness never in fact dies. He now believes that science will eventually ‘prove’ the existence of God and heaven.
There are some in the scientific community who have suggested that his account is no different from any other NDE, and have questioned his account and indeed his integrity. 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 his own belief created an empty space that he claims “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, but the fact it happened to a skeptical scientist, a person of no prior faith or belief in such matters makes his claims much more interesting and many say more credible.