The rapid onset of gram-negative meningitis in 2008 precipitated an extraordinary near-death experience for Eben Alexander. Uniquely, Alexander had been a neurosurgeon for more than twenty-five years and thus had extensive knowledge of brain functioning. Despite the fact that he had been in a coma for a week, he had recollections of activities that should not have occurred. The state of his brain during that period simply would not have facilitated those events, yet they seem to have happened. Inspired by the visions and information received during his life-threatening illness, Alexander wrote Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey in the Afterlife, a best-selling book that catapulted him into fame in October 2012.
The success of the book and various public appearances brought Alexander a vast collection of letters from people who also reported near-death experiences (NDEs). While there have been many books and studies written about NDEs (including some by SSE members), Alexander's professional background clearly set him apart from most of those authors and people sought his expertise and attention.
In The Map of Heaven Alexander has conveniently titled each chapter by the gifts he included therein. While his experience is fairly recent, he discusses relevant philosophical positions, such as those of Plato and Aristotle, considered the progenitors of Western thought. He notes that Plato conveyed one of the earliest recorded near-death experiences; that of a critically wounded soldier named Er, who revived consciousness just before his funeral pyre was ignited. Er's description of his trip to a "realm beyond earth" profoundly impacted Plato's thinking and imparts details similar to those Alexander experienced nearly two and a half millennia later.
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