At Wired Science, Christian Jarrett, a science writer with a neuroscience background, offers,
Last year Eben Alexander told the world about an unusual experience he’d had in 2008, one that involved flying on the wings of a butterfly alongside a beautiful woman. The world took notice. His tale was a Newsweek cover feature, and his book about the fantasy Proof of Heaven has now sold over two million copies. Alexander grabbed our attention because he’s a neurosurgeon – or used to be – and because his fantasy, which also involved pink fluffy clouds and “flocks of transparent shimmering beings”, took place while he was effectively brain dead – or so he claimed.
Well, two million copies later, the story turns out to be more complex. He had not practised in a year and was dogged by malpractice cases when the experience he describes happened.
I researched this area years ago for a book. Generally speaking, near-death experiences often have life-changing effects. They cause the experiencer to focus much less on power, money, and status, and much more on relationships.
That is, it turns out that the trite saying is true: On their deathbeds, people really don’t wish they had spent more time at the office. And if they come back to tell us about it, they are quite likely to act on that insight.
People did this stuff smarter in the Middle Ages. Visits to hell, purgatory, and heaven were typically presented as a dream or vision or account of someone else’s experience. Thus they were evaluated for teaching value, not verification of details.
Note: The link takes you to a discussion of such works, a page of which is reproduced above. This one was written centuries before Dante’s Divine Comedy just plain ran away with the genre.
– O’Leary for News
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose