Thursday, October 11, 2012

Eben Alexander, MD, "Proof of Heaven" (Newsweek)

Is the universe defined by love? Do we have nothing to fear? 

Dr. Eben Alexander III, a neurosurgeon, has a book coming out entitled Proof of Heaven (Simon and Schuster, Oct. 23). It's excerpted in Newsweek. Dr. Alexander himself was in a deep coma for a week, and the experiences that he remembers having during his coma have changed his life. "Not only is the universe defined by unity," he says, "it is also—I now know—defined by love." What he learned was that “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear.” And "there is nothing you can do wrong.”

It's unfortunate, though probably inevitable, that the book has been packaged as a "proof of heaven" and of "the afterlife"—that is, of a different place from the one that we normally inhabit. In the excerpt, Dr. Alexander in fact describes what he experienced not as "heaven" but as "the universe." "The universe as I experienced it in my coma is ... the same one that both Einstein and Jesus were speaking of in their (very) different ways." 

Conventional believers may be surprised to be told that the universe itself is "heaven." But this will be no surprise to mystics. Or to readers of Plato, Plotinus, and G.W.F. Hegel—the "philosophical mystics." 

Materialists will dismiss Dr. Alexander's story as a delusion, an exceptionally powerful product of the imagination. Sam Harris explains in a blog post that CAT scans don't in fact register all cortical function. Harris also points out that there are lots of parallels between Dr Alexander's experience and those reported by users of DMT. 

Scoffers can also make fun of the details of Dr. Alexander's story. Do you really mean to tell me that heaven or the universe is occupied by pink clouds and gorgeous butterflies?

In my opinion, the important question, regardless of what Dr. Alexander's experience was "produced by" and regardless of its wonderful poetic details, is this: Is it essentially true? Is the universe defined by love? Do we have nothing to fear? 

I have given reasons in my post, "What Is Philosophical Mysticism?" for thinking that the ultimate reality, which we can experience at any time, is, as Dr. Alexander says of the universe, defined by love. And I've given reasons in my post, "Philosophy Versus Science," for thinking that materialism can't be the last word on what's real. Dr. Alexander may not find many of his neurosurgeon colleagues embracing his interpretation of what he experienced. But an illustrious tradition in philosophy, as well as in literature (Henry Vaughan, Shelley, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman) and in religion, supports the central message that he has derived from his experience. 

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