Monday, July 8, 2013

A Review of the Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey Into The Afterlife by Eben Alexander

Every now and then someone will come along and attempt to convince the rest of the population that the existence of the afterlife, heaven or God is true, based on some out of the world experience that he/she had like visions or near death experiences and every now and then there will be believers who see it as a validation for their faith and there are those who dismiss it as pure hogwash even before laying eyes on it.

Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander is just that, another attempt at convincing people that the there's more to life than just what we know here on Earth, although this time he attempts to add weight to the argument through his neurosurgeon training and the miracle of his recovery. While the arguments put forth by the book is alarmingly tempting for believers to just pick up and say, "Look, even an atheist believes now! What more proof do we still need?", I cannot help but feel as if something is missing as I read the book, that what Eeben said does not entirely reflect the truth, and I attempt to outline it here in this post.

I must say first though, that I have not yet read any criticisms about Eben and the book up to this point so all the views expressed here are solely mine. Criticisms and opinions from other skeptics will be included near the end of the post, just so to give you all an overview of other perspectives in regards to this book.




"The unexamined life is not worth living", - Socrates.

“But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good,” 1 Thess. 5:21 (NASB).


To be honest, I would really want to believe the Eben's book. His descent into an unprecedented illness and subsequent miraculous recovery is more than a proof that miracles still happen and that perhaps there's some legitimacy to his claims. And like him, I do believe that our consciousness, or soul/spirit in the layman term, is not merely a byproduct of of neurons firing despite being told otherwise during my studies in psychology.

You may not be aware of this if you're not studying anything related to the human brain or behavior, but a majority of scientists in the field believes that the feature that we all hold dear to our existence, which be believes to be unique to our species, our soul and spirit, is nothing more than a by product of the workings of our brain. It's an illusion created by our neurons firing, that it does not really exist and like the software in the computer, once we turn the power off, it ceases to exist. In essence, rather than our soul directing the brain to work, the brain works on itself and in the process gives rise to this phenomena that we call consciousness.

I know it's hard to believe but that's what the scientific community believes, for valid reasons too, of which most of it are too complicated for my feeble mind to grasp and fully understand, and I would not attempt to to address the problem of consciousness here. To fully understand the extent of this debate requires years of research and study but it's suffice to say that unless we crack open our brain and some spirit flies out, this will essentially remain an unsolved debate.




I do however, agree with what Dr Eben has to say about consciousness, that it doesn't stop after death and it certainly is no byproduct of our biological functions in brain. Of course, if you take that view, there's also other questions such as when do our soul or consciousness really begin and how does it really work to be answered. Does it mature together with our brain, or does it remain constant only to be limited by our brain? 

Dr Eben claims in his book that the brain is like filter, or a limiter to our conscious experience, that in actual sense, our soul and spirit are much more capable to perform great things only that our hardware limits it. The closest analogy that I can think of is of computer games, for example you can have the craziest and most awesome effect in the game, only that you can't because your hardware, the graphic card does not allow it. Like a bottleneck, if you must.




Consciousness is not the only topic that Dr Eben tries to tackle in his book, but I think out of everything that he tries to address in the book, it's the consciousness part that struck me the most. As with his other claims, that he really visited heaven and experienced the afterlife himself, it's really no different from other people's claims saying that they too received visions or visited the afterlife; you cannot prove that it's true nor false. It's really his words against your doubts and how much you want to believe because ultimately, there's no way for you to measure or to observe it. Essentially, the whole book is about him saying, "Hey, look I just recovered from this terrible illness that I was surely to die from so you have to believe what I said!". Of course, he also throws in his expertise as a neurosurgeon to lend weight to his claims.

Like I said, I would really want to believe. But on the other hand, I also believe in what university taught me, that for an information or theory to be true, it must have the ability to be falsified, to be proven wrong and that's the essence of science. I mean it's okay to have a little faith sometimes but imagine if 10 people all say that they have received visions from God or underwent NDE themselves, with all of their accounts different and asking you to believe different things, for example one saying that Jesus is the way but another saying that he saw Buddha, which are you going to trust? Without the ability to prove any of them wrong (or right, if that's possible), it's really up to ourselves what we want to believe at the end of the day, and we don't know if that's right until we ourselves experience. 

Not only that, history have proven time and time again that more often than not, people who claims that they receive visions and stuff don't always use them for good, some even asking the believers to commit crimes and atrocities. Which is why the act of claiming to receive something special must always be treated with caution. I'm not saying that it's not okay to believe, I'm just saying that the effects of blindly accepting whatever "truths" that may come into our way, based merely on the words of a person may sometimes end up with unintended consequences. Using it to reaffirm our beliefs and to do more good and live happily is one thing, but using it to legitimize our superiority over other groups who do not share the same beliefs with us is another thing.


the story of jim jones and jonestown is one example of the dangers of blind beliefs


Speaking of other groups, another reason why I was initially hesitant to believe Eben's heaven was how Christian it sounded. How he mentioned about church, how his church members responded and how it helped him. Sure no problem if you're a Christian, but what if you're a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Jew? Would heaven be any different then? Or would people from other faiths be doomed to hell? There's no mention about it though, maybe because he has yet to put all his knowledge out or maybe because he simply didn't ask but from the description of his experience, the God he encountered, or Om, in his words, is one God and not many, meaning that the faiths with many deities have reason to be afraid already. The whole Christian outlook of heaven itself feels ethnocentric to me, that it is merely from his perspective and the entire book is only catered to a specific population and if God really wanted to spread the word, why such a specific view?

For all that I know, this is where I feel that something is missing most from here. Not a slight mention of other religions or how the world has been doing. Everything in the book as been his and only his experience. That he is exclusive, that we need to believe in him because he is "chosen", in other sense. I mean if your purpose is really to bring people together, to encourage more love, shouldn't you be coming back with knowledge that is not of this world? To enlighten us? For all the knowledge that he claimed to have absorbed during the trip there, there's not a mention of it so far and until then, I will still continue to hold my judgment.





In regards to him saying that his job is to convince the scientific community of his message, I would say that his efforts fall incredibly short. I mean he couldn't even convince a bachelor degree holder. To be able to allow information exchange, to encourage healthy discussion as in to which are the facts, the two people discussing the item must share a common framework, a common language for example, in order for them to understand each other. When one of them says that what he has is beyond understanding, that only he who went through it knows the true extent of his experience and that is beyond language, how do you expect the other side to buy in to his arguments without being able to debate it?

"Either you believe in what I said or you don't believe at all". That's the general feeling that I got from the book.

I'm not discounting the ordeal that Dr Eben Alexander went through and the magnitude of it. I'm just merely saying that for someone to want to make such a grand claim, you've gotta have more than just "I've been through it so that's the best proof". At least that's where I think the book falls sort of.





I would not elaborate on what others think of him, there are critics abound of his book, from the ones who uses science to try and understand his claims to those who simply dismiss it. As for me, well, I'm not convinced. I believe that there's an afterlife, only that Alexander's version might not be the version that I'm looking for.


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