Nancy Evans Bush on the Controversy Surrounding Dr. Eben Alexander

Nancy Evans Bush on the Controversy Surrounding Dr. Eben Alexander

Jul 04


Nancy Evans Bush


This article is in response to the Esquire story about near-death experiencer and best-selling author, Dr. Eben Alexander.


Hard Times on the Prophet Front: Eben Alexander and His NDE
By Nancy Evans Bush
Author of Dancing Past the Dark
Former President, The International Association for Near-Death Studies, Inc. (IANDS)
July 4, 2013

Original Link

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.



• Esquire Challenges Dr. Eben Alexander’s Credibility & Story
NDE Stories on Nancy Evans Bush
Dancing Past the Dark Website
Dancing Past the Dark (Book)

• How Near-Death Experiences Are Changing The World
• The Formula for Creating Heaven on Earth
• Quick List of Prominent NDErs
• NDE Stories
• NHNE’s Collection of NDE Testimonials – Archive One
• NHNE’s Collection of NDE Testimonials – Archive Two
• NDEs NOT Caused by Malfunctioning Brains
• NDE Take-Aways
• Pulse on NDEs
• NHNE NDE Social Network
• NHNE NDE on Facebook
• NHNE NDE on Google+

• NHNE NDE Bookstore



  1. Thank you Nancy, for writing this brilliant response. As you may know, I am the founder of the Afterlife Awareness Conference. Our third annual event was held just last week, and Eben was one of our featured presenters (along with Raymond Moody and other notables). Your first sentence sums this up beautifully… “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.”

    It is so frustrating to deal with these small-minded attacks on spirituality and metaphysics, two topics that have NOTHING to do with science or religion. As a hospice chaplain and death-awareness educator, I feel it is my mission to help people see the difference. Thanks so much for this piece Nancy! Perhaps you would consider sending me your email address so I can add you to our list and send you updates about next year’s conference (we have invited Eben back).

    • Ellen Brown

      Interesting to read Nancy Evans Bush stance on Dr. E. Alexander’s NDR. We discussed this book in our book club and it was a hot debated subject. I defended Dr. Alexander because only a few of us in our group believe in in NDR, after-life etc., saying that not any one NDR is alike, although many do have similar experiences but all are unique in how they process the experience and what the message has to say to them in what they need to know and learn. Thanks for sharing.
      Ellen Brown,

      • John W. Price

        Some books your club should read to inspect facts instead of wallow in opinions would begin with “Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences” by Jeffrey Long, M.D.
        A fascinating sidelight to it would be “Mindsight” by Kenneth Ring, M.D., who explores accounts of blind people being able to see perfectly during their NDE while floating up in the room. And my book, “Revealing Heaven: the Christian Case for Near-Death Experiences” Harper’s, 2013.

    • Thank you, Terri. I’d love to be on your mailing list. My website is
      You’ll find contact information on the Author tab. Feel free to browse around the blog, too.

  2. It should be apparent to anyone that the variety of experience relating to NDEs – as well as after-death contact, reincarnation experiences, and all the other manifestations in this field – requires a complex answer. Even in everyday matters (such as witness statements), people interpret events according to pre-existing experience, and truly believe they have seen things that did not happen. How much more will this be evident in such unique events as NDE? More important still is the need to define, before we examine ‘survival’, what we mean by ‘identity’. Some (perhaps most, or all) ‘ghosts’ seem to be almost automata; Poltergeist activity seems to combine behaviour and limited discernment; Some ‘departed’ seem to be fully human in every respect except the possession of a living body; Reincarnation seems to (at least occasionally) bring memories with it; But what, in all this variety, is the ‘I’? Without an answer to that, all survival experience lacks the central constituent. As our knowledge grows, everything from the bicameral brain to Multiple Personality increasingly suggests that the idea of a single, identifiable ‘I’ is an illusion, and each manifestation of this ‘I’ is a complex of perceptions, abilities, and limitations. Expecting a simple answer to any of this is hopeless (but the journey of exploration is the most interesting in the Universe!).

    • Cloe

      I had a nde over forty years ago. I was an atheist then and remain an atheist today (following much searching) The “I” is certainly an illusion of sorts, but I tend to think of these selves as realities of selves. What I got from my death was that this is infinitely connected. It’s a simple message.

  3. michael

    Eben has made a lot of money on his story, and I think it would be wrong to turn him into the victim of an industry that wants to twist truths and sell at any cost.

    Frankly, from day one, Eben’s entire argument which seperated himself from other NDE’s which less sales and publicity, has been his credentials and the fact that the E.Coli “shut down his brain”, making any hallucinations, experiences or memories impossible.

    Just from one simple statement that Eben was “delirious”, invalidates his ENTIRE argument as stated above. Delirious people’s brain isnt “shut down”, and they can certainly hallucinate, in fact it becomes probable.

    I think Eben did see things he saw, but many things he did willfully lie about, including the rainbow, weather, unconciousness/brain shut down.

    And frankly, his sister on the butterfuly wing, and his younger son “reaching” to him, sound far too convienent to be true to me.

    I dont label Eben the victim, he has become immensly wealthy on the back of, at least partially, willful lies.

    And his entire argument that his brain was shut down and unable to experience anything or hallucinate is now proven to be false. Deliriousness people are conscious and likely hallucinating.

  4. Joseph Dillard

    Remember the famous, ancient Indian story of the Blind Men and the Elephant? It is timeless because it presents the reality of polyperspectivalism – the fact that human development is the story of unfolding perspectives, each transcending, yet including the previous ones. Those at the more limited perspectives hold authentic perspectives, only more circumscribed, than those held by broader, more inclusive ones. The conceit of humanness is that everyone thinks that their worldview is the broadest and most accurate, right up to the point where people grok polyperspectivalism and get that all perspectives are real and authentic, but that some really are superior to others. Why are some really superior to others? Because they are more inclusive. A lot of people hate this idea, because it creates a hierarchy of truth; they need to affirm egalitarianism and pluralism (which in itself is one more legitimate and vital developmental perspective). Once you learn the road map, it becomes easier to recognize and respect the developmental bias of the speaker. And make no mistake about it – everyone has one. I have one. You have one. The problem is, when we do not see, understand and own our own developmental bias, or when we confuse an understanding of polyperspectivalism for the developmental attainment of that level (the common error of fans of Ken Wilber’s integral developmental model), we project all sorts of embarrassing conclusions onto other people and their experiences. This is evident in Esquire’s “report” and in the controversy about it. Let’s remember that whatever we conclude about all this says much more about who we are and where we are upon our own particular developmental journey than it does about this author, the general public, Eban Alexander, or NDEs.

  5. Good points, Joseph. And well said, too.

  6. Well said, Nancy

  7. “That is a personal message to him from his NDE; the Dalai Lama instantly spotted his need to deal with it.”

    I think you’ve gone way too far with this. do you really trust Luke’s (Esquire article’s author) wild/unsubstantiated interpretation of the Dalai Lama’s general remark to the panel. You’ve added a stamp of approval to one of the most outrageous of Luke’s claims.

  8. Birgitta Kovalenko

    I get a little tired reading words like “polyperspectivalism” etc.. It’s really quite simple. For decades, I have known that one cannot have any other viewpoint than one has. So, everyone is right from his/her viewpoint. I’ve had many out-of-body expriences, OBEs, where I was able to verify that my awareness (I), including ALL my senses, was in a specific physical place at a particular time, apart from my physical body, which remained, still, unanimated, miles from “me” or my awareness. What pundit dares challenge this?! :)

  9. Cloe

    I haven’t read the Esquire article, nor do I hold much opinion in regard to this man.

    It however took me several years to truly understand what happened to me that day. So, I agree that we probably do need time to intergrate.

    If mine had been taken literally; such as, “Into darkness, then what followed seemed to happen all at once…no time differential.”. An “expert” could determine that “the inability of the human brain to sequence the events caused subject to determine that events are in fact interconnected”. (gotta laugh)

    For me personally…along with getting the occasional “reminders” (I’d guess that most nders know what that means)…I find comfort in theoretical physics in which we seem to be getting closer to understanding, imo.

    Alexander, having worked on the quantum computer called the human brain, should perhaps realize that it is in probability entangled to an array of information, including butterflies. :)

    • tim

      If you really had an NDE you are entitled to interpret that event any way you want to. But all the prospective studies have confirmed or at least pointed strongly to the experience occuring when the brain is not functioning (cardiac arrest).
      So whatever brain pathology is supposed/proposed to create these experiences is completely irrelevant.

      As Sam Parnia has said “If I inject you with LSD (or any other drug) in cardiac arrest, I guarantee you won’t have an NDE”.

      As to Dr Alexander’s critic, the very uneasy looking Mr Dittrich, I read his scoop and wasn’t the slightest bit bothered by it. It doesn’t matter whether he cried out “Help me God” or not, or what Dr Potter gave him (a chemical induced coma I believe, wipes out consciousness so that doesn’t help materialists)
      No one who has taken drug trips posesses the certainty of survival (of the vast majority of NDErs, not you of course) that NDErs do.

  10. Ron Cecchini

    Well said, Danakil and Joseph!

    And well said, Nancy!

    Great stuff.

    (Joseph, I really liked you: “Once you learn the road map, it becomes easier to recognize and respect the developmental bias of the speaker.” At this point, I’ve read literally thousands of NDEs, ADCs and OBEs – mostly courtesy of – and you do indeed learn a “road map”, so to speak. In other words, everyone’s experiences are, as I put it, “uniquely similar” (or “similarly unique”), and you can see where the person’s subjective beliefs and experiences interweaves with the objective reality they’re encountering. In fact, as it pertains to Dr. Alexander, I’ve said a couple of times in recent months that I don’t necessarily resonate with all of his conclusions and then add, “but he just had his experience 4-5 years ago and he’s still processing it – so I can totally cut him some slack!” Heck, it took me 10 years to process my primary experience, so I “get it”.)

    Ok, ’nuff rambling.

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