Heavens above, that sounds like hell to me
YOU MAY not have noticed, but earlier this week scientists proved the existence of God. Okay, that’s not quite right. One boffin has, however, claimed to have recently visited a wearingly traditional class of afterlife, writes DONALD CLARKE
You know the sort of thing. Beautiful women with blue eyes fan your brow while fat clouds drift about the celestial architecture. Dr Eben Alexander, an actual neurosurgeon with a degree from Harvard, has, to date, said little about the administration of this prog-rock gatefold sleeve. Perhaps, a committee of deities runs the place in the Scandinavian style. Maybe, some sort of two-headed elephant is in charge. At any rate, it seems a safe bet that some number of gods are involved.
Alexander – whose bowtie suggests somebody auditioning for the role of neurosurgeon in a bad soap – went through his near-death experience after dropping into a coma caused by meningitis. He remembers seeing winged creatures and hearing music that “was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but doesn’t get you wet”. (So not like rain at all then.)
Now, more than a few cynics have pointed out that the good doctor has a book to sell. In Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, he explains his passage from scepticism to willing, enthusiastic acceptance. “What happened to me was, far from being delusional, as real or more real than any event in my life,” he says.
Those sceptics unkindly suggest that Alexander made it all up to help distinguish his volume from other ludicrous screeds in the “mind, body and spirit” section of your local bookshop.
I think this is most unfair. I believe there is every possibility that Alexander may have been sick enough to go temporarily insane. Having long ago realised that thunder doesn’t come from God’s bottom, we can, of course, dismiss the possibility that the book tells genuine truths about the afterlife.
If that were the case then this would be among the most important books in the history of human civilisation. Such a volume would surely be handed to some bearded elder on a mountaintop. Proof of Heaven, by way of contrast, is available for $21.99 from the best online retailers.
This is not to suggest that Alexander’s tome fails to scare up some interesting questions. In particular, it encourages us to ponder the difficulty various religions have in describing paradise.
Imagining the other place is a doddle. Bruce Robinson, writer of the classic film comedy Withnail I, began his script thus: “Dostoyevsky described hell as perhaps nothing more than a room with a chair in it. This room has several chairs.”