Brain surgeon offers details of others' stories about Heaven

by Karen L. Willoughby |

PROVO, Utah (Christian Examiner) – Eben Alexander has penned a new account of the trip he says he took to heaven when he was in a coma for seven days and he shares stories of others' experience told to him after he published his bestseller two years ago.

Alexander and co-author Ptolemy Tompkins say they met and heard from thousands of individuals affected by his story, which includes meeting the sister he didn't know existed until after she had died.

The two authors also studied what the world's religious traditions, philosophers, and scientists have had to say about the soul's survival of death.

Alexander says he's the first person hooked up to machines that show no brain activity when he visited heaven.

"Scans showed no conscious activity whatever," Alexander said of the experience that took place in 2008 "My brain was not malfunctioning; it was completely unplugged. But my inner self still existed, in defiance of all the known laws of science.

"For seven days, as I lay in that unresponsive coma, my consciousness went on a voyage through a series of realms, each one more extraordinary than the last," the neurosurgeon continued in an article last week in the Daily Mail, a British newspaper. "[It was] a journey beyond the physical world and one that, until then, I would certainly have dismissed as impossible."

His first book remains among the top 20 on the New York Times bestseller list, more than 100 weeks after hitting press stands. Excerpts from his second book are being released this month in a three-part series by the Daily Mail.

His claims have brought intense media coverage, including an article that started with a cover photo on Newsweek magazine, a television interview on Oprah, and a year later, an "investigative report" into Alexander's past by Esquire magazine (for $2.99).

But Alexander points to official reports of his ordeal to make his point.

"There are medical records for every minute of my [meningitis-induced] coma, and none of them show any indication of brain activity," Alexander said. "In other words, as far as neuroscience can say, my journey was not something happening inside my head. ... My experience undermines [scientists'] whole belief system, but the one place I have found ready acceptance is in church, where my story often tallies with people's expectations."

The Map of Heaven: How Science, Religion and Ordinary People are Proving the Afterlife is, according to Amazon.com, "part metaphysical and scientific detective story, part manual for living.

"The Map of Heaven explores humankind's spiritual history and the progression of modern science from its birth in the seventeenth century, showing how we forgot, and are now at last remembering, who we really are and what our destiny truly is."

Alexander said he has been deeply surprised at how often those voices from the past sync up with what he hears from people today. In his new book, he shares some of the stories that people have told him and links them to what the world's spiritual traditions and its latest scientific insights have to say about the journey of the soul.

Alexander is not alone in exploring this topic; Heaven has become a discussion of intense public interest in recent years.

The Map of Heaven follows the spring 2014 release of the box office success Heaven is for Real, based on the 2010 book written by Todd Burpo, a pastor amazed by what his 4-year-old son Colton told him about his experience in heaven. There, Colton too met a sister he did not know he had, a miscarried child his parents hadn't named, so she didn't have a name in heaven.

Alexander's new release also joins a continually-expanding list of Heaven-themed titles, including Heaven by Randy Alcorn, released in December 2011; To Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of her Death, Heaven, Angels and Life Again, a True Story, in May 2012 by Mary C. Neal M.D.; and Glimpsing Heaven: The Stories and Science of Life After Death in September 2014 by Judy Bachrach.

In November, Billy Graham will release a new film titled "Heaven."