Everyone knows what a religious epiphany is, and everyone also knows the usual expressions that come along with such epiphanies, like “I’ve seen the light”, or, “I have seen the Grace of God!”. There are times when these are actually serious – for example this notable blog poster, whose blog is aptly named “Religious Epiphany”. Other times, however, religious epiphanies are characterized in a comedic light, such as in this very famous film. In a world of Saturday Night Live, Comedy Central, and news broadcasting companies that are just as frivolous, Eben Alexander has put into the media a legitimate portrayal of a religious epiphany through his new book Proof of Heaven. (Yes, I just linked to a Wikipedia article. Get over it.) How is Eben Alexander qualified to portray a religious epiphany?
First off, let’s define what the real terms of his argument are. Essentially, Alexander is attempting to persuade his readers that heaven undeniably exists and that life does not end with the loss of consciousness (in other words, dying). In framing the terms of his debate, Alexander states taht “This book is about the events that changed my mind on the matter [of heaven]…” Alexander easily supports the scientific side of his argument – that memories and dreams can occur even when the brain shuts off – simply with his credentials. Most importantly, he’s a neurosurgeon. He’s been doing brain surgeries “for the last twenty five years, including fifteen years at the Brigham and Women’s and Children’s Hospitals and Harvard Medical School in Boston.” (back cover of Proof of Heaven). Additionally, many of Alexander’s patients had life-threatening injuries, so it can presumed he knows a substantial amount about the human brain’s neuroprocesses (of course, this is assuming he successfully operated on the majority of his patients).
Perhaps more importantly, Eben Alexander did not believe in the concept of heaven. He addresses this using emotion appeals and negation on page thirty-five:
“Not that I was opposed to supernatural beliefs. As a doctor who saw increidble physical and emotional suffering…the last thingI would have wanted to do was to deny anyone the comfort and hope that faith provided. In fact, I would have loved to have enjoyed some of it myself. The older I got however, the less likely that seemed. Like an ocean wearing away a beach, over the years my scientific worldview gently but steadily undermined my ability to believe in something larger. Science seemed to be providing a steady onslaught of evidence that pushed our signifiance in the universe ever closer to zero. Belief would have been nice. But science is not concerned with what would be nice. It’s concerned with what is.”
Emphasizing his affinity for analytics and knowledge, Alexander compares the human brain to a machine, such as a T.V. When the plug is pulled, the show is over. If the brain isn’t conscious, then dreams and memories can’t be created. Proof of Heaven articulates how this belief of Alexander’s changed throughout his personal near-death experience.