The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

“Proof of Heaven” Author Has Proof Called Into Question

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 11, 2013

Awhile back, there was a big book craze about a book titled “Proof of Heaven”, which supposedly chronicled the author’s journey via a near-death experience (NDE).  The author, Eben Alexander, has claimed that his experience as a neurosurgeon gives his claims of seeing “the other side” some validity; and this has, to no one’s surprise, helped to boost his book sales.


“Journey into the light… but buy my book first.”  Image Source

Well, it seems that some of Alexander’s key claims regarding his supposed NDE simply don’t jibe with the facts.  The following article in The Atlantic brings up some pretty sticky questions for Alexander…

The ‘Proof of Heaven’ Author Has Now Been Thoroughly Debunked by Science

… In his book, Alexander claims that when he was in a coma caused by E. coli bacterial meningitis, he went to heaven. Of course, Dittrich’s piece is not the first time that Alexander’s text has come into question. In April, Michael Shermer at Scientific American explained how the author’s “evidence is proof of hallucination, not heaven.” But Dittrich calls into question not what Alexander experienced so much howhe did. While Dittrich looks at legal troubles Alexander had during his time practicing neurosurgery, perhaps the most damning piece of testimony comes from a doctor who was on duty in the ER when Alexander arrived in 2008. Dr. Laura Potter explains that she “had to make the decision to just place him in a chemically induced coma.” But that’s not how Alexander tells it, according to the Esquire investigation:

In Proof of Heaven, Alexander writes that he spent seven days in “a coma caused by a rare case of E. coli bacterial meningitis.” There is no indication in the book that it was Laura Potter, and not bacterial meningitis, that induced his coma, or that the physicians in the ICU maintained his coma in the days that followed through the use of anesthetics. Alexander also writes that during his week in the ICU he was present “in body alone,” that the bacterial assault had left him with an “all-but-destroyed brain.” He notes that by conventional scientific understanding, “if you don’t have a working brain, you can’t be conscious,” and a key point of his argument for the reality of the realms he claims to have visited is that his memories could not have been hallucinations, since he didn’t possess a brain capable of creating even a hallucinatory conscious experience.

I ask Potter whether the manic, agitated state that Alexander exhibited whenever they weaned him off his anesthetics during his first days of coma would meet her definition of conscious.

“Yes,” she says. “Conscious but delirious.”

In interviews in the piece, Alexander asks Esquire‘s Dittrich not to bring up the discrepancies in his story. The neurosurgeon-turned-author’s Twitter account has been silent this morning, but he told the Todayshow that he stood by “every word” in the book and denounced the magazine story as “cynical” and “cherry-picked.” …

Ouch.  That’s pretty damning, when the actual doctor who took care of you in the ER completely contradicts your account.  I wonder if Alexander will do some actual science and revise his views in light of this new information, or will he continue to hawk his book?

6 Responses to ““Proof of Heaven” Author Has Proof Called Into Question”

  1. bobh said

    Author Sam Harris was on to this guy’s nonsense from the beginning.

  2. I vaguely remember this guy. I assumed he was a fraud. Didn’t know weather he believed what he said or not. The “stupid or evil” question.

    What Dr. Potter describes is very much in line when I went into the hospital on Christmas Eve 2011 with viral spinal meningitis. The last thing I remember was telling my Mom (I was 28 and living at home because of other debilitating illnesses) I thought I should lay down. I actually felt better that day just tired suddenly. Next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital trying to catch the oxygen monitor attached to my right index finger. I couldn’t figure out it was attached to my body. I caught it once and pulled it off. After that when I started to try to catch it (I thought the red light was something flying) Mom got my hand under a blanket and I went back to sleep.

    So I don’t remember what happened between. The hospital let Mom stay in my room. I was never alone for more than a few minutes for almost a week. When Mom went home to change clothes and shower Dad came. Once my uncle came (he was at our house for Christmas and he and Dad were barely able to wrestle my deadweight body into the car, when I relapsed in mid January Dad called 911 while Mom held me head up while I vomited so I didn’t choke, the first ER nurse thought I was faking and I rolled over and vomited and aspirated, got pneumonia when I woke up I could still feel a unique but lessening pain in the bottom of my right lung closer to my back than front) to spell them. Early on Dad was with Mom. When I was conscious and when the doctors visited Dad tried to be there. I preferred Mom there. Dad’s more restless. Mom is able to be or appear to be calm but have an eagle eye at the same time.

    I was put in a drug induced coma. Then kept under and slowly brought out of the coma over a few days. Both times. I hallucinated just once. When I was given a double dose of Percocet by a doctor for my brain seizures that were caused by the meningitis and which were totally missed the first time I was admitted. I was sure I saw my brother walk by the front of my bed, from my left to right. Several times. I later asked Mom if he had been in to see me at that time. He hadn’t.

    I’m not a neurosurgeon but having a similar experience with meningitis in a similar medical era (’08 vs ’11-’12) I think I can comment here. I asked every question I could think of in the months afterwards of my Mom who witnessed everything and each doctor I saw in the hospital and on follow up. And other doctors that were unrelated to my hospital stays.

    As an aside I often have vivid dreams and often remember parts. As far as I can tell I never dreamed while in my comas. Like my brain was just in neutral or standby is my personal uneducated feeling.

  3. Ron Murphy said

    There are so many more things wrong with his account. I posted on his Psychology Today piece some time ago:

    Psychology Today is the pits when it comes to supporting woo. Another regular contributor is Robert Lanza:

  4. […] Awhile back, there was a big book craze about a book titled "Proof of Heaven", which supposedly chronicled the author's journey via a near-death experience (NDE). The author, Eben Alexander, has c…  […]

  5. Todd Saddler said

    “Thoroughly debunked” is a bit of an overstatement. Maybe the higher standard of proof is warranted by Alexander’s use of the word “proof”. However the fact that he was in a medically induced coma, not “flatlined” for the entire duration of his illness, does not mean that something didn’t happen. His experience is not thoroughly debunked.

    In our time of high tech medicine, which has blurred the line betwen life and death, there are a LOT of people who have had near death experiences. Some of them have reported falsifiable information. Some of them were as skeptical as you…before they had the experience.

    They seem to come back with the conviction that we are here to love one another and to learn. Has your skeptical method come up with something better?

    • Ron Murphy said


      Not fully debunked as in fairies are not fully debunked?

      There’s no disputing people have very vivid experiences. But what are they experiences of? A brain in partial shut down is going to produce delusional experiences. Sleeping dreams, sleep deprivation, drugs, injuries, all can cause delusional experiences. And final death seems, well, final. But this guy’s story has other holes in it too. Even if there was some afterlife this guy would still seem fake.

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