Have you ever noticed that more people come back from Heaven than from Hell? We have all read those astonishing reports of near-death experiences (NDEs, as the aficionados call them) – the things that people say have happened to them when they almost, but don’t quite, shuffle off the coil.
Predictably, the amazingly consistent, remarkably heaven-like experiences recounted by the majority of NDE-ers (yes, that really is what the experts call them) have been summarily dismissed by materialist sceptics – like me. Of course the brain does funny things when it’s running out of oxygen. The odd perceptions are just the consequences of confused activity in the temporal lobes.
But NDEs have taken on a new cloak of respectability with a book by a Harvard doctor.
Dr Peter Fenwick, senior lecturer at King’s College, London, consultant at the Institute of Psychiatry, and president of the British branch of The International Association for Near Death Studies, acknowledges that there are deep problems in interpreting first-person memories of experiences that are supposed to have happened when the brain was out of action. Since the lucky survivor can only tell you about them after the event, how can we be sure that these things were perceived and felt at the time that their brains were messed up, rather than being invented afterwards?
The same problem applies to dreams, indeed to any memory. Memory is notoriously fallible, and is treacherously easily misled by expectation.
This commentary outlines the reasons why there should be deep doubt and questioning of Eben Alexander’s “proof of heaven”. It is no such thing. It is his story, one that can not be confirmed. It’s disturbing when anyone says their story is more reliable just because of what they do for a living. It’s not about that. It has to be confirmed by external sources. We all are influenced by our worldview. We all make errors in interpretation.
Also, see the comments on the earlier story that bring up valid questions about the doctor’s account.
UPDATE: Sam Harris finds Alexander’s account “alarmingly unscientific” and checks it out with experts. He concludes:
Let me suggest that, whether or not heaven exists, Alexander sounds precisely how a scientist should not sound when he doesn’t know what he is talking about. And his article is not the sort of thing that the editors of a once-important magazine should publish if they hope to reclaim some measure of respect for their battered brand.