A skeptical scientist who had spent his career studying the mechanics of the brain and dismissing patient tales of journeys to heavenly realms has revealed his extraordinary conversion after his own encounter with the afterlife during a near-death experience.
Dr Eben Alexander spent 15 years as an academic neurosurgeon at Harvard but he was struck with a nearly fatal bout of bacterial meningitis in 2008 and had no brain activity when he lay comatose for seven days at a Virginia hospital.
Though he was unconscious and unresponsive during that period, he is now describing a 'hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey' to a place beyond, filled with butterflies and resounding music that has shaken his scientific viewpoint on human consciousness.
He says he entered a place filled with clouds and the sound of chanting, and was met by a beautiful blue-eyed woman.
Dr Alexander describes his paradigm shift from focusing solely on the scientific make up of the brain to considering the spiritual realm of the mind, in a deeply reflective essay in Newsweek in advance of the release of his book, Proof of Heaven.
'As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences,' he writes in his article, explaining how he had previously relied on 'good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death.'
Though he considered himself a nominal Christian he said he lacked the faith to believe in eternal life.
When his patients would tell tales of going to heaven during near death experiences, he relied on 'current medical understanding of the brain and mind' and disregarded them as wishful thinking.