Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s account of a near-death experience “Proof of Heaven” is atop the New York Times bestseller’s list. On Sunday, Alexander will appear in a new episode of “Super Soul Sunday” on Oprah Winfrey’s network.
A strain of bacterial meningitis that soaked his brain forced the 54-year-old into a coma. He said, at the time, his consciousness was alive, enabling him to connect with the divine. He chronicled his experiences in “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.”
He said the experience “absolutely changed the way I look at everything,” Alexander said in an interview with The Washington Post.
“I look at the hardships, difficulties and hurdles in life as opportunities of growth,” said Alexander, who is in private practice in Lynchburg, Va.
He said among the things he experience was confirmation that “at the core of it, we are eternal spiritual beings.”
Alexander and colleague John Audette established Eternea, a non-profit research, educational and outreach organization focused on the convergence of consciousness and physical reality, the nexus between spirituality and science.
When asked what he thought was the most important information he learned from researching near-death experiences, Alexander said: “It showed me very clearly that our consciousness has a huge component that’s not dependent on the brain. … Our consciousness, spirit and soul don’t depend on the brain.”
“Our spirit and soul are eternal. For the skeptics out there, they have to study the hard problem of consciousness, and realize that there’s not a soul on earth, not a scientist or philosopher who could give you a sentence to describe how the brain creates consciousness. Consciousness is primary and generates all the rest.”
Some critics have questioned Alexander’s story including whether cortex was shut down during his coma.
On his blog, neurosurgeon and rationalist Sam Harris critiqued Alexander’s perspective, saying he ‘s an agnostic about “how consciousness is related to the physical world”while noting that “although I am an atheist who can be expected to be unforgiving of religious dogma, I am not reflexively hostile to claims of the sort Alexander has made. In principle, my mind is open. (It really is.)”
“Going from symptom onset to coma within three hours is a very dire prognostic sign, conferring 90 percent mortality at the very beginning, which only worsened over the week. No physician who knows anything about meningitis will just ‘blow off’ the fact that I was deathly ill in every sense of the word, and that my neocortex was absolutely hammered. Anyone who simply concludes that ‘since I did so well I could not have been that sick’ is begging the question, and knows nothing whatsoever about severe bacterial meningitis,” Alexander said during Alex Tsakiris’ Skeptiko podcast in October.
The “Super Soul Sunday” episode premieres at 11 a.m. ET on OWN. He said he didn’t watch the program regularly before he was approached to appear on it, but he appreciates Winfrey’s role in expanding the conversation across religious or philosophical traditions.
“I think Oprah is so totally connected and knowing of all this truth. What she’s doing, this is a gift to the world, sharing what she’s learned in her own journey.”