Newsweek ‘hits new low' with ‘Heaven is real' cover

Oct 10, 2012

Neurosurgeon's account of the after-life he experienced during a coma reads like a stoner's diary, say critics


US MAGAZINE Newsweek has sparked praise and howls of derision in equal measure for its cover story this week, which states: ‘Heaven is real'. The story inside is written by a top neurosurgeon who fell into a coma and says he experienced the after-life. It has prompted one commentator to ask, "Is Newsweek real?"

Dr Eben Alexander is an academic neurosurgeon who taught at Harvard Medical School. Four years ago he caught a rare bacterial meningitis which attacked his brain. He soon sank into a coma, his entire cortex having shut down. This is the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion, which is why it is surprising that during the seven days in which he lay in a coma, his consciousness "journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe... the same one described by countless subjects of near-death experiences and other mystical states".

Dr Alexander's journey must be read in full to be appreciated, but the highlight is possibly this:

"For most of my journey, someone else was with me. A woman. She was young, and I remember what she looked like in complete detail. She had high cheekbones and deep-blue eyes. Golden brown tresses framed her lovely face.

"When first I saw her, we were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, which after a moment I recognised as the wing of a butterfly. In fact, millions of butterflies were all around us - vast fluttering waves of them, dipping down into the woods and coming back up around us again. It was a river of life and colour, moving through the air."

The woman then spoke – well, she didn't actually use words, says Dr Alexander, she "drove their conceptual essence directly into me". She revealed: "You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever... You have nothing to fear... There is nothing you can do wrong. We will show you many things here. But eventually, you will go back."

Presumably, the woman showed Dr Alexander enough to fill a book, because he is currently publicising one called Proof of Heaven, which lays out his experiences of the after-life.

The blissed-out neurosurgeon says he is used to being mocked by his fellow doctors since returning from heaven, so he won't be overly upset by the reaction to his article in some sections of the media.

Gawker leads the sceptics by suggesting Dr Alexander's journey was more of a ‘trip'. The blog sets a fun quiz in which readers are presented with an excerpt and asked to decide whether it is from Dr Alexander's article or from a website called, where drug-users post their accounts of chemically induced trips. "Alexander's account of his experience is exactly as well-written, exactly as scientific, and exactly as interesting as most of the stories in Erowid's ‘Experience Vault'," says Gawker.

Reuters deputy editor Ryan McCarthy, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to ask: "Is Newsweek Real?" The magazine, which is now part of Tina Brown's Daily Beast website, is facing an existential struggle, with chairman Barry Diller suggesting it could be about to publish online only.

"If Newsweek has had trouble figuring out what it is, it's also had difficulty determining what is," writes McCarthy. He goes on to refer to a series of controversial stories in the magazine recently, including an essay by Niall Ferguson on Barack Obama, which Paul Krugman labelled as "deliberately misleading", an article on the 10 best presidents in history, in which Newsweek printed "an entirely different version of the list than the one historians submitted", and a cover story on Muslim rage, which was mocked by people on Twitter.

Twitter has also been quick to judge the latest Newsweek cover story. One user said the magazine had struck a "NEW LOW pandering to the delusional". Another imagined Tina Brown at the Newsweek editorial meeting: "Point-by-point policy comparison of Obama and Romney or 'Dr Smith Goes To Heaven?' Hmmm..."

Not everyone was sceptical, however. One believer called the story "one of the most thought-provoking articles I have ever read... Beautifully articulated and completely comforting", while another called it an "incredible testimony of truth".

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Read more:

Disqus - noscript

If the doctor's brain was shut down for seven days, when it finally rebooted, what was preventing it from immediately coming up with this concept of heaven and inaccurately imprinting it on his brain as something he'd experienced when he was comatose?

Thing is escrowid covers things like salvia and salvia provides a very similiar experience. Going into void of darkness, merging with other things ( butterfly ) seeing other beings. I guess the upside at least he didnt say he saw muhammad or jesus. That would have been a clear giveaway of promoting his book and religion.

Near death experiences are both real and imaginary. This is because what we call the "afterlife" is an imaginal form of existence where mind is everything. Communication occurs through immediate fully formulated concepts, images, symbols, and crystal clear thought transfer. People are shown what best suits their current frame of reference. For those whose NDE lasts long enough, it becomes less and less human-like as the person is acclimated to the radically different form of existence which we can't currently comprehend.

Tina Brown? Niall Ferguson? What could possibly go wrong?

I'm gonna take a bet.

If President Obama gets reelected, then perhaps the guy said the right thing. And that his or my system are working.

Or, I will have to recreate a much more better system.

I don't understand why such a concept is so challenging for people. It's so simple.

Similar thing happened to me but they labelled it alcohol poisoning in those days!!!
Wonder if they'll pay . . naaah!!

Wow I think he is promoting religion from a scientific standpoint and ruling out the physical possibility of abnormal brain involvment. If you were a prof at harvard we mihht be more open to your salvia nonsense.

A brain at near death is oxygen deprived and highly prone to hallucinations, including the percpetion of light and other funky unreal things etc. It's like dreaming on acid... A neuro-scientist should know this... perhaps he is trying to get rich from this bogus story...

Amen Mindy

Dax. Read it again man. Don't be ridiculous. People like you will look for any excuse not to believe and in the process drag someone down. Simple. Just try to believe instead of wallowing in the mire in which you lie.

Oh please! Really?? ANY excuse, any reason we can possibly find to scramble for scrape to deny the existence of God. "The fool says in his heart there is no God". Repent, believe and be saved. End of story.

You think that a neuroscientist can't differentiate between hallucinations and NDE?! He's MORE qualified than ANYONE, especially armchair 1d1ots like you who know NOTHING but have an opinion about EVERYTHING!

"The fool says in his heart there is no Santa Claus".
Believe and get presents! End of story :P

Let's do all we can to encourage superstition and fantasy. We obviously haven't had enough of it yet. It's so sad.

And I had such high regard for THE WEEK. I'm sorry to see your caption gleaned from a "Twit-ter": Newsweek 'hits new low' with 'Heaven is real' cover. I don't belong to a particular religion, but I am spiritual. Many will be amazed at the neurosurgeon's accuracy in the Newsweek article. I'm awaiting his in-depth account in the soon-to-be-released Simon & Schuster book. Also, Newsweek's October 15, 2012 cover photograph is powerful and certainly grabbed my attention at the newsstand. Thank goodness it did as It was well worth my paying $4.99 + tax for an incredibly inspiring article.

It will be nice to see all bow down to the almighty. Quick he's coming make your lame excuses, or believe and you will be saved! Read the new testament! Forgive US all for we don't understand a true loving God who gives and only expects glory! What an amazing concept.Nobody loves, but God loves, and through him we may receive love and reflect it unto the world. If we could only obey one commandment, Love thy neighbors (everone)!

Ever hear of Galileo? Remember what the Catholic Church did when their belief structure was threatened by his theories? They threw him in prison. These "scientists" are behaving in the same panicky way. "Don't threaten me with new information!!!" Very unscientific of them. Yes maybe it was a dream or meds. Or maybe it was something else we don't yet understand. But it never will be understood if these terrified scientists don't do what a true scientist does. Acknowledge that our understanding of the universe is far from complete. OPEN UP YOUR MINDS AND INVESTIGATE!!!

Why does the subject of someone reporting a connection to the creator of the Universe rattle narcissists so much?