A book called Proof of Heaven is bound to provoke eye rolls, but its author, Eben Alexander, had space in a Newsweek story and on shows like of Fox & Friends to detail his claims. Read into those endorsements — and nearly 15 million copies sold — whatever you will, but in a big new Esquire feature, Luke Dittrich pokes large holes in Alexander's story, bringing into question the author's qualification as a neurosurgeon (which is supposed to legitimize his claim) and the accuracy of his best-selling journey.
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 how he 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 Today show that he stood by "every word" in the book and denounced the magazine story as "cynical" and "cherry-picked."
Read the rest of Dittrich's story, which is behind a small paywall, here.