Heaven does exist and former Harvard University neurosurgeon Eben Alexander has seen it, he argues in his bestselling—and controversial—book Proof of Heaven.
The neurosurgeon says that his otherworldly experience began in 2008 with a bacterial meningitis-induced coma that consequently shut down much of his brain.
"My entire neocortex — the outer surface of the brain, the part that makes us human — was entirely shut down, inoperative," Alexander says.
Despite the lack of brain activity, the surgeon says during a week-long coma he experienced vivid images of being reborn and guided by a beautiful girl on the wings of a butterfly. They ventured into an "immense void" that was both "pitch black" and "brimming with light" coming from an all-loving God, Alexander says.
"I didn't just believe in God; I knew God," he writes.
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The near-death experience so changed the surgeon that he stopped practicing medicine and began a crusade to persuade skeptics in the medical field that an afterlife does exist. After deciding not to attempt to write a scientific paper to explain his experience, Alexander spent two years consulting colleagues and literature in order to write his book.
However, Alexander's claim has attracted many skeptics in health care. Martin Samuels—chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Alexander's former colleague—says that "my own experience is that we all live in virtual reality, and the brain is the final arbiter. The fact that he is a neurosurgeon is no more relevant than if he was a plumber."
Samuels adds, that "there is no way to know, in fact, that his neocortex was shut down. It sounds scientific, but it is an interpretation made after the fact" (Kaufman, New York Times, 11/25, Martin, Salon, 11/26).