More to the point, however, while he was comatose he had a vision of a dark, miserable place that gradually morphed into an orb of light that played the most glorious music he'd ever heard. When he passed through the orb, he found himself sitting on the wing of a butterfly, accompanied by a beautiful woman, who turned out to be his birth sister, long dead and previously unknown to him. They flew over a storybook landscape, and beyond, into the presence of God, where Alexander finally understood all the mysteries of the universe. He felt utterly happy and at peace. It seemed more real than waking life.

When he awoke he remembered the vision with utter clarity and hastened to write it down before he forgot it. He read all the medical literature he could find about near-death experiences and the nature of consciousness. Though he paints himself as the worst of skeptics, his reading convinced him that the vision had not only been real, but that he had been privileged with a rare glimpse of something beyond life, something that proved that the soul was eternal and independent of the strictures of the brain, and that he should share it with the rest of the world. "I needed to die," he tells the crowd, "but others don't."

(Did he, in fact, die? Alexander's doctor tells Esquire that his coma was medically induced and intermittent, and that she would describe his state at times during that week as "conscious but delirious.")

RFT Photo-illustration. Illustrated elements by Mark Andresen.

Originally he wanted to call his book An N of OneN being a variable for the size of a scientific sample. His publisher changed the title to Proof of Heaven, even though it wasn't a proof in the scientific sense.

"It's a singular case," he admits in a phone interview in advance of the conference, "except that it's a case that proves the rule. Conventional science is clueless at explaining how consciousness emerges from the physical brain. You have to let go of the restrictions of science. It cannot explain this."

Naturally, after Alexander's book came out, scientists came forward to claim that it can. In an article for the Atlantic, Oliver Sacks, who recently published his own book about hallucinations, described various physiological explanations for visions during a near-death experience. (The "tunnel," for instance, is caused by the narrowing of blood vessels in the eyes.)

"The one most plausible hypothesis in Dr. Alexander's case, then, is that his NDE [near-death experience] occurred not during his coma, but as he was surfacing from the coma and his cortex was returning to full function," Sacks writes. "It is curious that he does not allow this obvious and natural explanation, but instead insists on a supernatural one. To deny the possibility of any natural explanation for an NDE, as Dr. Alexander does, is more than unscientific — it is antiscientific. It precludes the scientific investigation of such states."

Sam Harris, a professional skeptic with a PhD in neuroscience, attacked Proof of Heaven on his website and suggested that anyone can have an experience like Alexander's by tripping on psychedelic drugs.

Alexander doesn't pay the naysayers much mind.

"They point out that I'm not a neuroscientist, I'm a neurosurgeon," he tells the crowd at the conference, to appreciative laughter. "I had to learn a lot. I had to learn more than people like that know about consciousness. The only thing science doesn't explain is the one thing we all know, and that's consciousness. The brain does not create consciousness at all. Human beings are much more real than being here. This world is the dream. There's no reason to fear. With His infinite power, our Creator is always with us."

At this point you — the skeptic who has already read Alexander's book and who refuses to accept that the singular experience of this one (arrogant) man is irrevocable proof for everyone that Heaven does exist, plus his absolute certainty about his vision and his refusal even to consider other explanations for it, plus the fact that his speech about the Creator sounds remarkably close the Christian proselytizing (and will be the only mention of a Creator you will hear all day; the afterlife, after all, is for everyone, even non-Christians and atheists) — are thoroughly tired of scientific proof of Heaven.

It's time to go learn how to do astral projection.


Come Fly with Me

Astral projection, the art of a controlled out-of-body experience, sounds almost magical. You can go anywhere and see anyone, even if they're dead, because death is the ultimate out-of-body experience. Plus, you get to fly!

Flying, by the way, is workshop leader William Buhlman's favorite part.

Buhlman has written several books about out-of-body experiences and has come up with 40 different techniques to develop the ability to do it. It's a complicated process, involving mantras and raised energy levels and spiritual vibrations, but Buhlman swears that once you learn, it's immensely rewarding.

"To overcome fear," he instructs, "fly into the sun. Your fear burns away. You're like an onion being peeled. You feel all your crap and id issues being peeled off. It's liberating." (He means the spiritual sun, not the literal one.)

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