Exploring all aspects of near-death experiences (and related phenomena).
For a comprehensive look at the controversy that erupted from Esquire's hard-hitting expose' of Dr. Eben Alexander, including an NBC news report, a summary of the Esquire article, a video of the Dalai Lama and Dr. Alexander, a list of NDE-related networks that hosted conversations, comments from these networks, and a short list of take-aways for how to view this emotionally charged situation (and others like them), go here:
A Teachable Moment: Esquire Versus Dr. Eben Alexander
By David Sunfellow
July 12, 2013
July 8, 2013 Update
This page originally included Esquire's article. A letter from Debra S. Weaver, a lawyer representing Esquire magazine, asked us to remove this information (see below). If you would like to read the complete article (and pay Esquire 1.99 to do so), go here. You can find a comprehensive overview here. I will also publish links to other places you can read all or portions of Esquire's article after this letter.
Notice of Copyright Infringement
I am writing on behalf of Esquire magazine, a publication of Hearst Communications, Inc. It has been brought to my attention that your website is posting large portions of an article that was published in the August 2013 issue of Esquire authored by Luke Dittrich entitled The Prophet. The article appears on your site at nhne-puls.org/esquire-challenges-dr-eben-alexanders-credibility-story/. This use was never authorized by Esquire or Mr. Dittrich and we therefore demand that you immediately remove the posting.
The material that appears in the Esquire magazine and website, including Mr.Dittrich’s article, is copyrighted. That article was licensed by Mr. Dittrich exclusively to Esquire. Your use of the material without permission therefore constitutes an infringement. The fact that you may not have published the totality of the article does not change the infringing nature of your posting, because the substantial portions that you have published go far beyond any amount that could be considered protected fair use. We trust that you may have been unaware of the infringing nature of your use, and that now that we have brought these concerns to your attention, you will immediately cease and desist as requested.
Therefore, I expect your immediate response to this email confirming that you have deleted Mr. Dittrich’s article from your website, and confirming that you will make no unauthorized postings of material from Esquire magazine. Your failure to comply with this demand will cause Esquire to consider pursuit of all available legal options. This letter is written without prejudice to the rights of Hearst Communications, Inc. and Esquire, all of which are expressly reserved.
Debra S. Weaver, Esq.
Hearst Communications, Inc.
300 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
Places You Can Read All Or Portions Of Esquire's Article
If you know of any additional links, please send them in. Thanks!
By Luke Dittrich
July 2, 2013
A Teachable Moment: Esquire Versus Dr. Eben Alexander
By David Sunfellow
July 12, 2013
Esquire Exposé on Proof of Heaven Author Eben Alexander
July 4, 2013
The 'Proof of Heaven' Author Has Now Been Thoroughly Debunked by Sc...
July 2, 2013
Esquire’s Flimsy Wall
July 2, 2013
Esquire’s Micropayment Experiment
By Josh Sternberg
July 8, 2013
July 5th, 2013 Update
The Dalai Lama and Dr. Eben Alexander participated in a symposium entitled "Life and After Life" that took place at Maitripa College in Portland, Oregon, USA on May 10, 2013. This is the gathering that reporter Luke Dittrich referred to in the article below. The pertinent comments begin around 0:46:05 in this video. Dittrich's comment about this event appears at the end of his article.
July 2nd, 2013 Update
Alexander has issued a statement to NBC News in response to the Esquire article:
"I stand by every word in this book and have made its message the purpose of my life,’’ he said. “Esquire's cynical article distorts the facts of my 25-year career as a neurosurgeon and is a textbook example of how unsupported assertions and cherry-picked information can be assembled at the expense of the truth."
Statement from Alexander via a Simon & Schuster spokesman:
"I wrote a truthful account of my experiences in PROOF OF HEAVEN and have acknowledged in the book both my professional and personal accomplishments and my setbacks. I stand by every word in this book and have made its message the purpose of my life. Esquire’s cynical article distorts the facts of my 25-year career as a neurosurgeon and is a textbook example of how unsupported assertions and cherry-picked information can be assembled at the expense of the truth."
David, thanks for posting this article, which, at least to me, reveals once again that relying on the word of anyone who is earning really big money with a best-selling and self-proclaimed "true story" of personal enlightenment, alien visitation, life after death, or "You can eat free cheeseburgers from major fast food outlets if you only know the secret phrase in my book," all too often opens the door to potential disappointment.
One fact in the Esquire article calling into question the veracity of Alexander and his story, at least for me, was the part where we learned that the title of the book was decided in a meeting between the publisher and news media outlets that would soon promote it. I can just see all the high level marketing experts visualizing millions and millions of dollars, thinking "Wow, we have a new book on a topic that the rubes will buy into hook, line, and sinker because the author is a medical doctor and his story proves there's life after death."
Another fact I found quite telling came with the Dali Lama's comments when both he and Alexander were part of a graduation ceremony and the Dali Lama says of Alexander:
Forgive my cynicism, but from personal and business experiences since 1993 with various gurus in the natural health and self-improvement fields, I no longer believe anything that I haven't experienced personally for myself... and in a couple of instances I don't fully trust the "truth" of my own experiences. If money is involved, especially BIG money, all too often the person earning that money, in my experience at least, has been unreliable, untruthful, and with many reasons to lie. And each of those reasons has a nice $ on them.
In closing, thanks again for pointing out this important article. Some will no doubt call it a hatchet job on Dr. Alexander, but for me the piece contained more than enough factual information to call into question Alexander's overall veracity. Dr. Alexander's Proof of Heaven may well end up being the Near Death Experience equivalent of the Kumaré DVD, though I doubt that we'll ever have an admission from the good doctor as clear or as true as that which came from film maker and faux guru Vikram Gandhi.
Hey Brother Chet,
You are one of my favorite "straight-shooters" on the planet. You not only have the ability to call a spade a spade when it comes to the behavior of others, but you are also self-aware enough to admit that you don't always trust "the truth" of your own experiences. More of us need to follow your example.
For me, the Esquire expose' on Eben is a wake-up call for the near-death experience movement (and everybody else, for that matter). One of the take home lessons is that it is important to know about and deal with the darker, unseen, unhealed, shadowy sides of our nature. Spiritual experiences DO NOT erase or magically heal the human sides of our natures that we have not dealt with. In other words, if the wounds we carry encourage us to cheat, take short cuts, play fast and loose with facts on the before side of a spiritual experience, there is a strong possibility that these same behaviors will surface on the after side of our experience as well -- until they have been seen for what they are, exposed to the light of truth, and healed.
Another take home lesson is that telling the truth is super important. This shows up repeatedly, and often very dramatically in life reviews. Again and again and again people are astonished to discover that their every thought, word and deed has been HONESTLY and ACCURATELY recorded. While lying about everything is a fundamental way of being in this world; we can't lie about anything on the other side and get away with it. And that includes everything we've said and done in our earthly lives. If we have lived lies, those lies, along with all the consequences that arose from them, become painfully obvious.
What we are supposed to learn from this, I think, is that telling the truth -- first to ourselves and then to others -- is a supremely important value. One might even say that we can measure the degree to which we have entered higher states of consciousness to the degree that we are able to see, speak, and live the truth.
Bottom line: I think we are supposed to learn to live as truthfully in this world as we do on the other side. If that's the case, then it really behooves us to pay attention to stories like the one Esquire published. While I think we should all have love and compassion for Eben and the wild adventure he has been on, I also think we must insist on truthful accounts and encourage him to come clean if he has been less than honest. This will not only help clean things up for Eben, and his story, but it will also set a good example, and carve some helpful grooves, for other NDErs to follow when they come forth with their stories.
While "lies will keep us captive," "the truth," as Jesus reportedly said, "will set us free."
Very well said. I agree in full.
A sad and troubling article. Alexander might have told his full story in all of its painful detail and it would only have added to the strength of his account if it had included acknowledgment and apology. Stories of repentance and renewal are part of all accounts of profound spiritual transformation. Now it will be quite difficult for him to continue as before.
I recall hearing his account on a talk show and was impressed and interested. That was in 2011. Then his book was published with a title that made it clear that it was intended to be a popular best seller rather than a serious book with clinical data comparable to the works of Parnia, Sabom and van Lommel. I read it quickly and was moved again by the account, but I was surprised and disappointed by the lack of serious content.
Since the experience he has become a media 'name' without taking the time to develop the wisdom and depth that only comes from silence and waiting and listening. I do not question the experience itself. But there are obviously very serious ethical and character issues regarding other aspects of his life that could have been addressed honestly in the book. I am now completely confused by the account of the coma; there are clearly discrepancies in the account but I am not clear as to what is true and what is not. That is the one part of the article itself that is not clear.
Some of the details of his legal and ethical troubles have been available on the internet. I had seen them before. They are public knowledge. But the full story is far more disturbing.
This saddens me very much. I was so disappointed in what Dr. Melvin Morse did which brought a dark cloud over experiencers simply because Dr. Morse was considered a respectable doctor who lectured on the NDE phenomena. Even though what he did wrong had nothing to do with NDEs, just his association with us connects us all together to some degree. It didn't help experiencers to have him in the news about wrongdoing.
And now the controversy with Dr. Eben Alexander really emphasizes my disappointment in their behavior. We look up to professionals in their field and we expect them to be honest and professionally sound. I know that there are always at least two sides to a story, and I don't know if we are getting all of the facts straight in this article either. I do believe as you do, David, that it is very, very important that when we share our experiences, that we do NOT exaggerate the events. We're supposed to be sharing in truth! It's our responsibility and duty to all people that we be honest and as accurate as we can possibly be. If any one of us changes the truth of what happened so that they can make a financial gain, not only is it perpetrating a lie, but it's deceiving in the name of truth. I have a problem with that and I don't understand why any experiencer would even think to lie about what really happened.
But on the other side, I also know how difficult it is to publish a book where the editors don't want to tweak it with a little fabrication that may help it to sell more. I know that many authors had been disappointed in how much their books were altered to get published.
I've considered publishing some books about my experiences too, but I've had a hard time finding a publisher who would not add their own twist for the purpose to entertain the readers and make more sales. The book publishers that I've had contact with were focused on sales, and not really the truth. I was adamant that my experiences will NOT be manipulated for entertainment and sales. My experiences are my own, and I feel responsible for sticking with the truth.
So, going back to Eben's book, any of the changes in his book may not be entirely his decision. Once he agreed to let them publish his book, many publishers will take liberties to alter things by adding or removing a lot of what Eben told them. He signed a contract with the publishers, so he agreed to whatever the publishers wanted to print.
Thanks Barbara. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts about this. As I said, there are always at least two sides to a story. I think from this article, that Luke Dittrich was deliberately looking for things to discredit Eben. For him to name this article "Prophet", so big and bold gold lettering, really struck me with a negative feeling before I even read it. I just automatically felt that the writer was going to smack him, and he did.
I'm not saying that what he wrote wasn't true, and if it is, then I feel disappointed in Eben's decisions, but I also am aware of some of the tactics that the media plays to stir up controversy. I have met Eben, but I don't know him. I felt that he was a gentleman with a serious disposition. I have no idea what his character is about, but I can't take every word that Luke wrote either. We have to take into consideration Luke's motives. He hadn't stepped in Eben's shoes to get to know Eben.
None of us are perfect, so people shouldn't expect experiencers to be perfect examples of exemplary character. We are human just like everybody else. Even though we've experienced the other side, this world plays by another set of rules. It's very difficult to balance ourselves between the two realms. If we come across as "prophets", there is sure to follow those who want to discredit and attack our character, even if they have to make up lies about us. I've been there too. People have made up lies about me and it really hurts when people choose to believe the lies instead of the real me. Those people don't know me!
Because I have been a target of verbal assaults of harassment for sharing my experiences on public forums in the past, I put myself out there to be at their mercy. I have to say that I did not expect people to be so closed-minded and cruel. It was a traumatizing experience for me and it has taken me years to put all of that behind me. Because I know that some people judge us in ignorance, and spread their cunning lies, I'm not going to swallow everything that any writer writes about experiencers. They may be right or they may be wrong, but I suspect that it's a little of both.
The article really hit me. I don't know Alexander's side of the story, and I very much wish he would comment in detail. The comment quoted above about cherry-picked and unsupported assertions has for me the opposite effect than intended.
Two things seem clear and supported enough. He has been in an unsual amount of malpractice trouble and his attending physician, who says she herself induced his coma, has a very different story of how his coma came about.
Those things, especially the second, are very serious, for they have the effect of undermining two of the main pillars of the book. Why did we treat his story as being so important? Well, two of the main reasons were, first, that he was presented as having impressive credentials as a neurosurgeon, and hence as someone in an expert position to judge the neurological issues in question. And, second, that his rare strain of bacterial meningitis provided an almost perfect case of mimicking actual brain death, making conscious experience impossible, and making recovery extremely unlikely.
Now I personally do not doubt that he had the NDE that he shares. But if the sources quoted in this article are even halfway reliable, then I would have preferred the more modest, warts-and-all story that fits their testimony. I would have preferred to hear that he has struggled in his practice as a physician, what those struggles were, and how he views them now, post-NDE. I would have preferred to hear that he was in a standard medically induced coma, along with any extra evidence he has that supports the idea that his brain was incapable of conscious experience due to meningitis.
I'm not saying I know what the truth is here. I'm just saying that I always prefer the more complicated, less sensational truth to a cracking good story. If the point of the story is its truth, as a window onto the truth, then all other priorities come after the all-important one of pure factuality.
I really do hope he comes out and addresses this story in detail. I lost faith in that standard "deny all charges" response a long time ago. When the charges have weight--and quoting his attending physician certainly has weight from my standpoint--then waving away the accusations as ridiculous does not do. Until he does address these issues, I'll continue to think of him as having a profound and life-changing NDE, in circumstances that remain unknown to me.
You've articulated my concerns perfectly, Robert. I would also add that since Eben has admitted publicly that the publishers chose the title of his book and that portions of his original story were edited out of the book, I would like to know what, exactly, the publishers changed in Eben's book. Here's a related comment from PMH Atwater about this:
From PMH Atwater’s E-Newsletter
November 13, 2012
“There is one factual error in the book on page 78, where he states that he was allowed to die harder, and travel deeper, than almost all other NDE subjects. Almost all? Well, not exactly true, but sort-of. Come to find out his editor insisted that this line be in the book, even though Eben did not agree and felt it was a stretch. Seems to be the way of publishing these days — when in doubt, exaggerate. There are several who evidenced medical conditions similar to Eben’s…”
In this interview with AfterLifeTV's Bob Olson, Eben mentions that some of his original story was edited out of the book. These comments begin at 0:36:20 in the interview below. Was any of the substance of his experience changed? Eben indicates in this interview that he stuck to the facts and avoided changing things that certain people might want him to. He didn't say he saw Jesus, for example, when he didn't. And he DID talk about riding on the wings of butterflies even though he knew such imagery would probably be ridiculed.
There you go! His book has been altered by the publisher. I agree with what PMH said about the factual error on page 78. I've read many accounts where people have been clinically dead for longer than Eben was, and also many accounts where they traveled deeper than Eben did. In my own experiences, I feel that I've gone deeper than Eben did, even though I did not experience the "death process".
Eben's experience seems to me to be just the tip of the iceburg! (mine as well). There's always so much more to learn and experience!
Robert, I really do agree with what you said. I hope that you didn't think that I "deny all charges". I want the truth to come out, but I don't know either of these men enough to make any judgment of what the truth is in this case. I've learned a long time ago to keep an open mind before jumping onboard anyone's word. Unless I've been there, seen it, witnessed it for myself, I cannot conclude in favor of Eben nor Luke.
Hard Times on the Prophet Front
By Nancy Evans Bush
Author of Dancing Past the Dark
Ex-President, The International Association for Near-Death Studies, Inc. (IANDS)
July 4, 2013
Over three-plus decades, a starry-eyed media, mostly secular, has done with near-death and similar experience exactly what fundamentalists have done with religion: They have literalized it, presented it journalistically as they would a new archeological find, turned experiences of the indescribable into the prose of factual reporting. And because NDEs so often sound very like traditional teachings about heaven and occasionally hell, not only the experiencers but religious and secular audiences alike take them as literal truth.
Proof of Heaven! they cry. Evidence of Afterlife!
They make for great media. And great media creates stars of the experiencers:
She was right there, at the gates! He was actually in heaven, saw all this stuff! Wow. Special. “Ooooo!” You have been to the light; tell us what we are to do!
The problem is that NDEs and their kin are experiences, not of the material world, but of the human psyche, and the psyche is not public domain but private. A whole psyche goes into an NDE -- ego, shadow, temperament, concepts and all -- so when the individual comes out with a brand new world view, a whole transformed sense of reality, that psyche is still grounded in the old ego, shadow, temperament, and all.
What is needed is a few years of living quietly to process the event and integrate it into a reshaped wholeness that can survive daily life. (Not by accident did Jesus retreat to the wilderness, and the Buddha to sit under his tree, Teresa to her cell in Avila.)
But the media wants stories and stars now. There is no time to reflect. Producers and editors, managers, directors, and handlers all have ideas about how personal stories can be polished just a bit to create a particular effect, how details can be shifted for greater impact, how inconvenient information can be overlooked and titles made to sound more salable. And soon hustlers are saying, we want to build a new organization around you, hooking the experiencer further to the great “You are so special” machine, and the person finds himself on the tightrope walk between a genuine passion to share the new understandings and the almost certain distortion of being managed, balancing old and new, private and public, all in the glare of adulation, which is narcotic. It is an impossible do-it-yourself task.
Eben Alexander is not the first near-death experiencer or person of note to find himself trapped between his humanness, his NDE, and an unforgiving publicity machine. He began at an elevated social level (“He’s a neurosurgeon!”) and was very quickly marketed to the skies by media attention, public appearances, and astronomical book sales. He shares with most other NDErs a conviction of having privileged information of value to humankind. It is only inevitable that while he would come to believe at least part of that adulation, others would be looking for the clay in his feet. It is equally inevitable that the materialist culture would look for ways to discredit his non-materialist NDE and his conclusions about it.
Esquire and author Luke Dittrich have produced a carefully researched, skillfully written article focusing on weak spots in Alexander’s professional life and character. The article is so well done, it quietly manages to throw a heavy veil of distrust over him, his book, and even his published NDE account. The article’s fallacy, however, is basic: its author’s inability to see the real issue.
What the article points out is that in the face of the media’s grandiose depictions of individuals for whatever reason, including exalted spiritual visions, they hold their treasure in earthen vessels (St. Paul said it, I didn’t). We do well to keep our expectations of experiencers in check. Everyone has shadow. Everyone has secrets. Hubris may be hubris; but it is our own doing if we buy it without thoughtful reflection. No NDEr is perfect and no interpretation of an NDE is the only one possible. The cynical responses of commenters reflect less on Alexander and more on their own credulity and lack of realistic perceptions, not to mention their absence of compassion for dragging someone else’s shadow issues through the public square.
Does Alexander’s history of shifting facts into his favor weigh against him? Of course. That is a personal message to him from his NDE; the Dalai Lama instantly spotted his need to deal with it. But does that destroy the value of his insights? No, though it suggests we haul out our old discernment kit. The great spiritual leaders, the founders of the world’s enduring traditions, have always been flawed in one sense or another; yet the message flows despite human failings.
Does that flawed personal history say anything about the far larger question of what NDEs may be saying about the limits of materialism and the existence of a spiritual dimension to human consciousness? Not a thing. Eben Alexander is discovering the price of spiritual enlightenment.