A near-death experience (NDE) is a personal experience associated with death or impending death, encompassing multiple possible sensations including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light.
Explanatory models for the NDE can be divided into several broad categories, including psychological, physiological, and transcendental explanations. Research from neuroscience considers the NDE to be a hallucinatory state caused by various physiological and psychological factors.
- 1 Characteristics
- 2 Historical reports, incidence and prevalence
- 3 Research
- 3.1 Introduction
- 3.2 Research scales used to classify a near-death experience
- 3.3 Medical disciplines involved in research
- 3.4 Scientific Journals Publishing Research in NDEs
- 3.5 Research in animals
- 3.6 Clinical research in cardiac arrest patients
- 3.7 Explanatory models
- 3.8 Effects
- 3.9 Cross-cultural research
- 3.10 Afterlife claims and skeptical responses
- 4 Personal experiences
- 5 In popular culture
- 6 Known NDE researchers
- 7 Further reading
- 8 See also
- 9 External links
- 10 References
The equivalent French term expérience de mort imminente (experience of imminent death) was proposed by the French psychologist and epistemologist Victor Egger as a result of discussions in the 1890s among philosophers and psychologists concerning climbers' stories of the panoramic life review during falls. In 1968 Celia Green published an analysis of 400 first-hand accounts of out-of-body experiences. This represented the first attempt to provide a taxonomy of such experiences, viewed simply as anomalous perceptual experiences, or hallucinations. These experiences were popularized by the work of psychiatrist Raymond Moody in 1975 as the near-death experience (NDE).
Researchers have identified the common elements that define near-death experiences. Bruce Greyson argues that the general features of the experience include impressions of being outside one's physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of egotic and spatiotemporal boundaries. Many common elements have been reported, although the person's interpretation of these events often corresponds with the cultural, philosophical, or religious beliefs of the person experiencing it.
Another common element in near-death experiences is encountering people, which are generally identified according to the person's individual faith; for instance, in the USA, where 46% of the population believes in guardian angels, they will often be identified as angels or deceased loved ones (or will be unidentified), while Hindus will often identify them as messengers of the god of death.
Although the features of NDEs vary from one case to the next, common traits that have been reported by NDErs are as follows:
- A sense/awareness of being dead.
- A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world.
- An out-of-body experience. A perception of one's body from an outside position. Sometimes observing medical professionals performing resuscitation efforts.
- A "tunnel experience" or entering a darkness. A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.
- A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light (or "Being of Light") which communicates with the person.
- An intense feeling of unconditional love and acceptance.
- Encountering "Beings of Light", "Beings dressed in white", or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.
- Receiving a life review, commonly referred to as "seeing one's life flash before one's eyes".
- Receiving knowledge about one's life and the nature of the universe.
- Approaching a border, or a decision by oneself or others to return to one's body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return.
- Suddenly finding oneself back inside one's body.
- Connection to the cultural beliefs held by the individual, which seem to dictate some of the phenomena experienced in the NDE and particularly the later interpretation thereof.
- Body separation
- Entering darkness
- Seeing the light
- Entering the light
He stated that 60% experienced stage 1 (feelings of peace and contentment), but only 10% experienced stage 5 ("entering the light").
Clinical circumstances associated with near-death experiences include cardiac arrest in myocardial infarction (clinical death); shock in postpartum loss of blood or in perioperative complications; septic or anaphylactic shock; electrocution; coma resulting from traumatic brain damage; intracerebral hemorrhage or cerebral infarction; attempted suicide; near-drowning or asphyxia; apnea; and serious depression. In contrast to common belief, Kenneth Ring argues that attempted suicides do not lead more often to unpleasant NDEs than unintended near-death situations.
Some NDEs have elements that bear little resemblance to the "typical" near-death experience. Anywhere from one percent (according to a 1982 Gallup poll) to 20 percent of subjects may have distressing experiences and feel terrified or uneasy as various parts of the NDE occur, they visit or view dark and depressing areas or are accosted by what seem to be hostile or oppositional forces or presences.
Persons having bad experiences were not marked by more religiosity or suicidal background. According to one study (Greyson 2006) there is little association between NDEs and prior psychiatric treatment, prior suicidal behavior, or family history of suicidal behavior. There was also little association between NDEs and religiosity, or prior brushes with death, suggesting the occurrence of NDEs is not influenced by psychopathology, by religious denomination or religiosity, or by experiencers' prior expectations of a pleasant dying process or continued postmortem existence. Greyson (2007) also found that the long term recall of NDE incidents was stable and did not change due to embellishment over time.
Bush (2012), a counselor, and board member and former Executive Director to the International Association for Near-Death Studies, holds that not all negative NDE accounts are reported by people with a religious background. Suicide attempters, who should be expected to have a higher rate of psychopathology according to Greyson (1991) did not show much difference from non-suicides in the frequency of NDEs.
Historical reports, incidence and prevalence
Individual cases of NDEs in literature have been identified into ancient times. In the 19th century a few efforts moved beyond studying individual cases - one privately done by the Mormons and one in Switzerland. Up to 2005, 95% of world cultures have been documented making some mention of NDEs.
The prevalence of NDEs has been variable in the studies that have been performed. According to the Gallup and Proctor survey in 1980–1981, of a representative sample of the American population, data showed that 15% described themselves as having had an "unusual experience" when on the verge of death or having a "close call".
Perera et al., in 2005, conducted a telephone survey of a representative sample of the Australian population, as part of the Roy Morgan Catibus Survey, and concluded that 8.9% of the population had an NDE.
The information gathered from these studies may nevertheless be subject to the broad timeframe and location of the investigation.
Incidence (cardiac arrest patients)
A number of sources report incidences of near death experiences of:
- 17% amongst critically ill patients, in nine prospective studies from 4 different countries.
- between 10-20% from prospective studies with people from different populations who have come close to death 
More specifically, amongst the studies cited above, those taking place in a clinical setting in Western Europe include:
a) van Lommel et al. (2001), a cardiologist from Netherlands, studied a group of patients who had suffered cardiac arrests and who were successfully revived. They found that 62 patients (18%) had an NDE, of whom 41 (12%, or 66% of those who had an NDE) described a core experience.
b) Parnia et al. (2001), an intensive care doctor from the UK (currently US based), also studied cardiac arrest patients and found an incidence of 6,3% of mental states consistent with the NDE features 
Contemporary interest in this field of study was originally spurred by the writings of Raymond Moody such as his book Life After Life, which was released in 1975, brought public attention to the topic of NDEs. This was soon to be followed by the establishment of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) in 1981. IANDS is an international organization that encourages scientific research and education on the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual nature and ramifications of near-death experiences. Among its publications are the peer-reviewed Journal of Near-Death Studies and the quarterly newsletter Vital Signs.
Bruce Greyson (psychiatrist), Kenneth Ring (psychologist), and Michael Sabom (cardiologist), helped to launch the field of near-death studies and introduced the study of near-death experiences to the academic setting. From 1975 to 2005, some 2,500 self-reported individuals in the US had been reviewed in retrospective studies of the phenomena with an additional 600 outside the US in the West, and 70 in Asia. Prospective studies, reviewing groups of individuals and then finding who had an NDE after some time and costing more to do, had identified 270 individuals. In all, close to 3,500 individual cases between 1975 and 2005 had been reviewed in one or another study. All these studies were carried out by some 55 researchers or teams of researchers. The medical community has been reluctant to address the phenomenon of NDEs, and grant money for research has been scarce.
Research scales used to classify a near-death experience
Major contributions to the field include Ring's construction of a "Weighted Core Experience Index" to measure the depth of the near-death experience, and Greyson's construction of the "Near-death experience scale" to differentiate between subjects that are more or less likely to have experienced an NDE.
The latter scale is also, according to its author, clinically useful in differentiating NDEs from organic brain syndromes and non-specific stress responses. The NDE-scale was later found to fit the Rasch rating scale model. Greyson has also brought attention to the near-death experience as a focus of clinical attention.
Medical disciplines involved in research
As can be observed by researching online the US National Library of Medicine, also called PubMed, for the term "near death experience", research has been done in the disciplines of medicine, psychology and psychiatry, in recent times and over the last couple of decades.
Scientific Journals Publishing Research in NDEs
Among the scientific and academic journals that have published, or are regularly publishing, new research on the subject of NDEs are Journal of Near-Death Studies, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, British Journal of Psychology, American Journal of Disease of Children, Resuscitation, The Lancet, Death Studies, the Journal of Advanced Nursing and occasionally the well known New England Journal of Medicine which has published some articles on out of body experiences (a componenent of NDEs). Most top peer-reviewed journals in neuroscience, such as Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Brain Research Reviews, Biological Psychiatry, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience are generally not publishing research on NDEs.
Research in animals
Clinical research in cardiac arrest patients
Sam Parnia's 2001 study
In 2001, Parnia and colleagues published the results of a year-long study of cardiac arrest survivors that was conducted at Southampton General Hospital. 63 survivors were interviewed. They had been resuscitated after being clinically dead with no pulse, no respiration, and fixed dilated pupils. These are conditions associated with the cessation of brain function (as confirmed by independent studies). According to Dr. Sam Parnia, a Southampton university clinical research fellow and co-author of the study, "the rapid loss of brainstem activity during cardiac arrest should make it impossible to sustain lucid processes or form lasting memories."
Sam Parnia and colleagues investigated out of body experiences (OBEs) out-of-body claims by placing figures on suspended boards facing the ceiling, not visible from the floor. Parnia wrote "anybody who claimed to have left their body and be near the ceiling during resuscitation attempts would be expected to identify those targets. If, however, such perceptions are psychological, then one would obviously not expect the targets to be identified."
7 patients had memories of the time they were unconscious and 4 had experiences that, according to the study criteria, were NDEs. In other words, six percent of the patients met the strict criteria used to diagnose near-death experiences: they recalled emotions and visions during their unconscious state, including feelings of peace and joy, time speeding up, heightened senses, lost awareness of body, seeing a bright light, entering another world, encountering a mystical being or deceased relative, and coming to a point of no return. According to Dr. Parnia, the recollections, unlike hallucinations, were "highly structured, narrative, easily recalled and clear." No differences were observed on all physiological parameters measured other than oxygen levels. The four patients who met the criteria for a true near-death experience actually had higher oxygen levels—contradicting the notion that lack of oxygen is responsible for the experience. No positive results were reported, and no conclusions could be drawn due to the small number of subjects.
Van Lommel's study
In 2001 Pim van Lommel, a cardiologist from the Netherlands, and his team conducted a study on near-death experiences (NDEs) including 344 cardiac arrest patients who had been successfully resuscitated in 10 Dutch hospitals. Patients not reporting NDEs were used as controls for patients who did, and psychological (e.g. fear before cardiac arrest), demographic (e.g. age, sex), medical (e.g. more than one cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)) and pharmacological data were compared between the 2 groups. The work also included a longitudinal study where the 2 groups (those who had had an NDE and those who had not had one) were compared at 2 and 8 years, for life changes. Van Lommel's prospective study was published in the medical journal The Lancet.
In a review article B. Greyson refers to Van Lommel's study (as well as other sources) and mentions that there have been "documented and corroborated accurate perceptions by near-death experiencers of incidents that occurred during the time when the brain was fully anesthetized or deprived of blood flow, as during cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest". B. Greyson also mentions that apparently some patients reported events that occurred beyond what their sense organs could perceive and that would have been impossible for them to perceive even in a conscious state.
In the same review article, referring to Van Lommel's study and other works, B. Greyson explains that a process of transformation was observed amongst NDE patients after cardiac arrest. This process was greater with respect to non NDE patients and affected relationship to others, sense of sacredness in life, purpose of life, relationship to others, perception of self and attitude toward life. These changes have been confirmed in long term studies. According to B. Greyson, and referring specifically to Van Lommel's study, changes in attitudes toward life amongst cardiac arrest survivors who experienced NDEs are greater 8 years after the event versus 2 years after.
Another review article reports that 41 (12%) of the cardiac arrest patients interviewed provided accounts similar to the Sam Parnia's 2001 study. Also, the same review article. One patient had a conventional out of body experience where he reported being able to watch and recall events during the time of his cardiac arrest. His claims were confirmed by hospital personnel. “This did not appear consistent with hallucinatory or illusory experiences, as the recollections were compatible with real and verifiable rather than imagined events”.
AWAreness during REsuscitation (AWARE) study
While at University of Southampton, Parnia was the principal investigator of the AWARE Study, which was launched in 2008. This study which concluded in 2012 included 33 investigators across 15 medical centers in the UK, Austria and the USA and tested consciousness, memories and awareness during cardiac arrest. The accuracy of claims of visual and auditory awareness was examined using specific tests. One such test consisted in installing shelves, bearing a variety of images and facing the ceiling, hence not visible by hospital staff, in rooms where cardiac-arrest patients were more likely to occur. The results of the study were published in October 2014; both the launch and the study results were widely discussed in the media.
A review article analysing the results reports that, out of 2060 cardiac arrest events, only 101 of 140 cardiac arrest survivors could complete the questionnaires. Of these 101 patients only 9% could be classified as near death experiences. 2 more patients (2% of those completing the questionnaires) described "seeing and hearing actual events related to the period of cardiac arrest". These two patients' cardiac arrests did not occur in areas equipped with ceiling shelves hence no images could be used to objectively test for visual awareness claims. One of the two patients was too sick and the accuracy of her recount could not be verified. For the second patient instead, it was possible to verify the accuracy of the experience and to show that awareness occurred paradoxically some minutes after the heart stopped, at a time when "the brain ordinarily stops functioning and cortical activity becomes isoelectric." The experience was not compatible with an illusion, imaginary event or hallucination since visual (other than of ceiling shelves' images) and auditory awareness could be corroborated.
As of May 2016, a posting at the UK Clinical Trials Gateway website describes plans for AWARE II, a two-year multicenter observational study of 900-1500 patients experiencing cardiac arrest, with subjects being recruited as Aug 1 2014 and a trial end date of May 31, 2017.
In a review article psychologist Chris French has grouped approaches to explain NDEs in three broad groups which "are not distinct and independent, but instead show considerable overlap": spiritual theories (also called transcendental), psychological theories and physiological theories that provide a physical explanation for NDEs.
Another review article  uses the same approach, although the semantics are slightly different, and also divides explanatory models in 3 groups: psychological, physiological and nonreductionistic explanations (which French calls spiritual theories).
One psychological theory proposes that the NDE is a dissociative defense mechanism that occurs in times of extreme danger. A wide range of physiological theories of the NDE have been put forward including those based upon cerebral hypoxia, anoxia, and hypercarbia; endorphins and other neurotransmitters; and abnormal activity in the temporal lobes.
In the 1970s professor of psychiatry Russell Noyes and clinical psychologist Roy Kletti suggested the NDE is a form of depersonalization experienced under emotional conditions such as life-threatening danger and that the NDE can best be understood as a fantasy based hallucination.
Physiological explanations (organic theories)
Neurobiological factors in the experience have been investigated by researchers in the field of medical science and psychiatry. Among the researchers and commentators who tend to emphasize a naturalistic and neurological base for the experience are the British psychologist Susan Blackmore (1993), with her "dying brain hypothesis". More recently, cognitive neuroscientist Olaf Blanke (2009), from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, has published a review article presenting evidence for a brain-based explanation of near-death experiences.
In the early 1980s the neuropsychologist Daniel Carr proposed that the NDE has characteristics suggestive of a limbic lobe syndrome and that the NDE can be explained by the release of endorphins and enkephalins in the brain. Judson and Wiltshaw (1983) noted how the release of endorphins can lead to blissful or emotional NDEs, whilst naloxone can produce "hellish" NDEs. The first formal neurobiological model for NDE was presented in 1987 by Chilean scientists Juan Sebastián Gómez-Jeria (who holds a PhD in Molecular Physical Chemistry) and Juan Carlos Saavedra-Aguilar (M.D.) from the University of Chile. Their model included endorphins, neurotransmitters of the limbic system, the temporal lobe and other parts of the brain. Extensions and variations of their model came from other scientists such as Louis Appleby (1989) and Karl Jansen (1990).
The research of Karl Jansen has revealed how the effects of an NDE can be induced by ketamine. In 1996 he published a paper on the subject which concluded "mounting evidence suggests that the reproduction/induction of NDE's by ketamine is not simply an interesting coincidence... ketamine administered by intravenous injection, in appropriate dosage, is capable of reproducing all of the features of the NDE which have been commonly described in the most cited works in this field."
Whinnery (1997) revealed the similarities between NDEs and G-LOC (G-force induced Loss Of Consciousness) episodes. Based on the observations of G-LOC, Whinnery noted how the experiences often involved "tunnel vision and bright lights, floating sensations, automatic movement, autoscopy, OBEs, not wanting to be disturbed, paralysis, vivid dreamlets of beautiful places, pleasurable sensations, psychological alterations of euphoria and dissociation, inclusion of friends and family, inclusion of prior memories and thoughts, the experience being very memorable (when it can be remembered), confabulation, and a strong urge to understand the experience."
In the 1990s Rick Strassman conducted research on the psychedelic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT) at the University of New Mexico. Strassman advanced the hypothesis that a massive release of DMT from the pineal gland prior to death or near-death was the cause of the near-death experience phenomenon. Only two of his test subjects reported NDE-like aural or visual hallucinations, although many reported feeling as though they had entered a state similar to the classical NDE. His explanation for this was the possible lack of panic involved in the clinical setting and possible dosage differences between those administered and those encountered in actual NDE cases. All subjects in the study were also very experienced users of DMT or other psychedelic/entheogenic agents.
According to Engmann (2008) near-death experiences of people who are clinically dead are psychopathological symptoms caused by a severe malfunction of the brain resulting from the cessation of cerebral blood circulation. An important question is whether it is possible to "translate" the bloomy experiences of the reanimated survivors into psychopathologically basic phenomena, e.g., acoasms (nonverbal auditory hallucinations), central narrowing of the visual field, autoscopia, visual hallucinations, activation of limbic and memory structures according to Moody's stages. The symptoms suppose a primary affliction of the occipital and temporal cortices under clinical death. This basis could be congruent with the thesis of pathoclisis—the inclination of special parts of the brain to be the first to be damaged in case of disease, lack of oxygen, or malnutrition—established eighty years ago by Cécile and Oskar Vogt.
Research has shown that hypercarbia can induce NDE symptoms such as lights, visions and mystical experiences. Professor of neurology Terence Hines (2003) claimed that near-death experiences are hallucinations caused by cerebral anoxia, drugs, or brain damage. A 2006 study by Lempert et al. induced syncopes in 42 healthy subjects using cardiovascular manipulations. They found that the subjects reported NDE experiences such as seeing lights, tunnels, meeting deceased family members and visiting other worlds.
Neuroscientists Olaf Blanke and Sebastian Dieguez (2009) have written that NDE experiences can best be explained by different brain functions and mechanisms without recourse to the paranormal. They suggest that damage to the bilateral occipital cortex and the optic radiation may lead to visual features of NDEs such as seeing a tunnel or lights, and interference with the hippocampus may lead to emotional experiences, memory flashbacks or a life review. They concluded that future neuroscientific studies are likely to reveal the neuroanatomical basis of the NDE which will lead to the demystification of the subject.
Vanhaudenhuyse et al. 2009 reported that recent studies employing deep brain stimulation and neuroimaging have demonstrated that out-of-body experiences result from a deficient multisensory integration at the temporoparietal junction and that ongoing studies aim to further identify the functional neuroanatomy of near-death experiences by means of standardized EEG recordings.
Lakhmir Chawla, an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine and Medicine at George Washington University medical centre argued that near-death experiences are caused by a surge of electrical activity as the brain runs out of oxygen before death. Levels of brain activity were similar to those seen in fully conscious people, even though blood pressure was so low as to be undetectable. The gradual loss of brain activity had occurred in the approximate hour before death, and was interrupted by a brief spurt of action, lasting from 30 seconds to three minutes. Chawla and colleagues from a case series of seven patients wrote "increase in electrical activity occurred when there was no discernable blood pressure, patients who suffer "near death" experiences may be recalling the aggregate memory of the synaptic activity associated with this terminal but potentially reversible hypoxemia."
Research released in 2010 by University of Maribor, Slovenia had put near-death experiences down to high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood altering the chemical balance of the brain and tricking it into 'seeing' things. Of the 52 patients, 11 reported NDEs.
NDE subjects have increased activity in the left temporal lobe. Stimulation of the temporal lobe is known to induce hallucinations, out-of-body experiences and memory flashbacks. In an experiment with one patient, electrical stimulation at the left temporoparietal junction lead to an illusion of another person being close to her. Chris French has written that the "temporal lobe is almost certain to be involved in NDEs, given that both damage to and direct cortical stimulation of this area are known to produce a number of experiences corresponding to those of the NDE, including OBEs, hallucinations, and memory flashbacks."
In 2011 Alexander Wutzler and his colleagues at the Charité University of Medicine in Berlin, Germany suggested that near-death experiences may be triggered by an increase of serotonin in the brain. Charles Q. Choi in an article for the Scientific American concluded "scientific evidence suggests that all features of the near-death experience have some basis in normal brain function gone awry."
In a 2013 study, Marie Thonnard and colleagues suggested that the memories of NDEs are flashbulb memories of hallucinations. The findings were in accordance with a 2014 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
In 2013 Jimo Borjigin found four states of brainwaves including γ neural oscillation in dying rats. The γ neural oscillation was similar to a previous human study, which speculated that "patients who suffer "near death" experiences may be recalling the aggregate memory of the synaptic activity associated with this terminal but potentially reversible hypoxemia". The human γ neural oscillations ranged 60–100 Hz,which were also similar to 80–130 Hz found in long-term meditators.
A recent study in 2015 by Duan Li and colleagues suggested there is evidence that the "brain possesses a high capacity for producing well-organized neurophysiological and neurochemical activities and for generation of internal states of consciousness at near-death."
It is suggested that the extreme stress caused by a life-threatening situation triggers brain states similar to REM sleep and that a part of the near death experience is a state similar to dreaming while awake. People who have experienced times when their brains behaved as if they were dreaming while awake are more likely to develop the near death experience.
Some sleep researchers, such as Timothy J. Green, Lynne Levitan and Stephen LaBerge, have noted that NDEs are similar to many reports of lucid dreaming, in which the individual realizes he is in a dream. Often these states are so realistic as to be barely distinguishable from reality.
In a study of fourteen lucid dreamers performed in 1991, people who perform wake-initiated lucid dreams (WILD) reported experiences consistent with aspects of out-of-body experiences such as floating above their beds and the feeling of leaving their bodies. Due to the phenomenological overlap between lucid dreams, near-death experiences, and out-of-body experiences, researchers say they believe a protocol could be developed to induce a lucid dream similar to a near-death experience in the laboratory.
Modeling of NDEs by S. L. Thaler in 1993 using artificial neural networks has shown that many aspects of the core near-death experience can be achieved through simulated neuron death. In the course of such simulations, the essential features of the NDE—life review, novel scenarios (i.e., heaven or hell), and OBE—are observed through the generation of confabulations or false memories, as discussed in Confabulation (neural networks). The key feature contributing to the generation of such confabulatory states are a neural network's inability to differentiate dead from silent neurons. Memories, whether related to direct experience, or not, can be seeded upon arrays of such inactive brain cells.
NDEs are also associated with changes in personality and outlook on life. Kenneth Ring (professor of psychology) has identified a consistent set of value and belief changes associated with people who have had a near-death experience. Among these changes one finds a greater appreciation for life, higher self-esteem, greater compassion for others, less concern for acquiring material wealth, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, desire to learn, elevated spirituality, greater ecological sensitivity and planetary concern, and a feeling of being more intuitive. Changes may also include increased physical sensitivity; diminished tolerance of light, alcohol, and drugs; a feeling that the brain has been "altered" to encompass more; and a feeling that one is now using the "whole brain" rather than a small part. However, not all after-effects are beneficial and Greyson describes circumstances where changes in attitudes and behavior can lead to psychosocial and psychospiritual problems. Often the problems are those of the adjustment to ordinary life in the wake of the NDE.
Recent research into afterlife conceptions across cultures by religious studies scholar Gregory Shushan analyzes the afterlife beliefs of five ancient civilizations (Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, Sumerian and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, Vedic India, pre-Buddhist China, and pre-Columbian Mesoamerica) in light of historical and contemporary reports of near-death experiences, and shamanic afterlife "journeys". It was found that despite numerous culture-specific differences, the nine most frequently recurring NDE elements also recur on a general structural level cross-culturally, which tends to suggest that the authors of these ancient religious texts were familiar with NDEs or similar experiences. Cross-cultural similarity, however, can be used to support both religious and physiological theories, for both rely on demonstrating that the phenomenon is universal.
Studies that have investigated cultural differences in NDEs have argued that the content of the experiences do not vary by culture, except for the identity of the figures seen during the experiences. For example, a Christian may see Jesus, while a Hindu may see Yamaraja, the Hindu king of death.
Afterlife claims and skeptical responses
Many individuals who experience an NDE see it as a verification of the existence of an afterlife, and some researchers in the field of near-death studies see the NDE as evidence that human consciousness may continue to exist after death. The transcendental (or survivalist) interpretation of the NDE contends that the experience is exactly what it appears to be to the persons having the experience. According to this interpretation, consciousness can become separated from the brain under certain conditions and glimpse the spiritual realm to which souls travel after death.
The transcendental model is in some friction with the dominant view from mainstream neuroscience; that consciousness is a product of, and dependent on, the brain. According to the mainstream neuroscientific view, once the brain stops functioning at brain death, consciousness fails to survive and ceases to exist.
Several NDE researchers have argued that the NDE poses a major challenge to current scientific thinking regarding the relationship between consciousness and the brain, as argued by Van Lommel:
|“||How could a clear consciousness outside one's body be experienced at the moment that the brain no longer functions during a period of clinical death with flat EEG?... (the) NDE pushes at the limits of medical ideas about the range of human consciousness and the mind-brain relation.||”|
These arguments raised by several researchers have been criticized by some scientific skeptics and scientists on several grounds. Chris French (2005, 2009) noted that, "it is clear that the argument that recent findings present a major challenge to modern neuroscience hinges upon the claim that the NDE is actually experienced "during a period of clinical death with flat EEG" as claimed". With respect to the former point he pointed out that it is not at all clear that NDEs actually do occur during a period of flat EEG. Assuming that the patients in question entered a period of flat EEG, French argued that the NDE may have occurred as they entered that state or as they slowly recovered from it. Parnia and Fenwick (2001) had rejected the idea that the NDE may have occurred as the patient is becoming unconscious because they argued that this happens too quickly. But French points out that it is unclear how much time would be required to experience an NDE and that a common feature of altered states of consciousness is time distortion. He argued that this is well illustrated by the life review component of the NDE itself which, although involving a review of a person's entire life, only seems to last a very brief time. And that therefore, "who can say, therefore, that the few seconds of remaining consciousness as an individual enters the state of clinical death is insufficient for the experiences that form the basis of the NDE?".
Parnia and Fenwick (2001) also claimed that the NDE could not occur as a person slowly regains consciousness as this period is characterized by delirium and not by the lucid consciousness reported by NDErs. French again argued that the attribution of confusion is typically made by an outside observer. The subjects themselves may not subjectively feel confused at all. He quoted from an article by Liere and Stickney where they noted that, "Hypoxia quickly affects the higher centers, causing a blunting of the finer sensibilities and a loss of sense of judgment and of self-criticism. The subject feels, however, that his mind is not only quite clear, but unusually keen", and that the subjective claim of great clarity of thought may therefore well be an illusion. French (2005) also noted that "it should be borne in mind that we are always dealing with reports of experiences rather than with the experiences themselves. Memory is a reconstructive process. It is highly likely the final narrative will be much more coherent after the individual has reflected upon it before telling it to others, given the inherently ineffable nature of the experience itself".
And with respect to the latter point, the survivalists have also been criticized by scientists like French and Braithwaite of placing undue confidence in EEG measures. French (2005, 2009) and Braithwaite (2008) claimed that survivalists generally appear to assume that a flat EEG is indicative of total brain inactivity and that therefore the experience of an NDE during such a flatline period would completely undermine the core assumption of modern neuroscience that any complex experience must be based upon a functioning neural substrate.
Even assuming that NDEs actually occur during such periods, the assumption that isoelectric surface EEG recordings are always indicative of total brain inactivity is according to Braithwaite and French wrong. Braithwaite noted that "unless surgically implanted into the brain directly, the EEG principally measures surface cortical activity. The waveforms seen in cortical EEG are largely regarded to come from the synchronistic firing of cortical pyramidal neurons. As such, it is entirely conceivable that deep sub-cortical brain structures could be firing, and even in seizure, in the absence of any cortical signs of this activity." Braithwaite also noted that Gloor (1986) reviewed evidence indicating that inter-ictal discharges in the hippocampus or amygdala can produce complex meaningful hallucinations without the involvement of the cerebral cortex.
Another argument which, according to Braithwaite (2008), relies upon misplaced confidence in surface EEG measurement was put forward by Fenwick P. and Fenwick E. (1995). They argued that, in cases where the surface EEG recording was not flat, if the NDE was a hallucinatory experience based upon disinhibition, evidence of this disinhibition should be visible in the surface EEG recorded at the time. However, Braithwaite argued that data from a recent study comparing EEG recorded at the scalp with EEG recorded from electrodes surgically implanted in deep sub-cortical regions show conclusively that high-amplitude seizure activity can be occurring in deep brain regions and yet be completely undetectable in the surface EEG. Even more so, a study comparing surface EEG recordings with the fMRI blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) response showed that the surface EEG could fail to detect seizure activity at the level of the cortex that was detected by the BOLD response.
Another argument made by several NDE researchers such as Parnia and Fenwick (2001) for the transcendental model is that the occurrence of anecdotal reports of patients being able to see and recall detailed events occurring during the cardiac arrest that are afterwards verified by hospital staff supports the argument that such perception sometimes do occur during periods of clinical death. NDE researcher Janice Miner Holden found 107 such anecdotal reports in the NDE literature as of 2009, out of which approximately 91% were accurate.
According to French (2005) and Blackmore (1993), when serious attempts at corroboration are attempted, the evidence often turns out to be nowhere near as impressive as it initially appeared. And such cases can possibly (since they had not been ruled out) be accounted for in terms of non-paranormal factors including, "information available at the time, prior knowledge, fantasy or dreams, lucky guesses, and information from the remaining senses. Then there is selective memory for correct details, incorporation of details learned between the end of the NDE and giving an account of it, and the tendency to tell a good story."
According to French (2005) a similar claim to the argument from veridical perceptions are the cases of blind people that during NDEs are able to see even though, in some cases, they may have been blind from birth. According to French (2005), "initial readings of such accounts often give the impression that the experience involves seeing events and surroundings in the same way that sighted people do, but closer reflection upon these cases suggests otherwise." French quoted from an article by NDE researcher Ring where he noted that, "as this kind of testimony builds, it seems more and more difficult to claim that the blind simply see what they report. Rather, it is beginning to appear it is more a matter of their knowing, through a still poorly understood mode of generalized awareness, based on a variety of sensory impressions, especially tactile ones, what is happening around them." French (2005) concluded that, "NDEs in the blind are certainly worthy of study but do not merit any special status in terms of evidential support for spiritual explanations of the phenomenon."
Nevertheless, according to French (2005) future research in the near-death experience should focus on devising ways to distinguish between the two main hypotheses relating to when the NDE is occurring. If it really is occurring when some NDE researchers claim that it is, during a period of flat EEG with no cortical activity, then modern neuroscience would require serious revision. This would also be the case if the OBE, either within the NDE or not, could be shown to be veridical. Attempts to test the veridicality of OBEs using hidden targets (e.g., Parnia and Fenwick (2001) should be welcomed.
- Return from Tomorrow by George G. Ritchie with Elizabeth Sherrill (1978). At the age of 20, George Ritchie died in an army hospital. Nine minutes later he returned to life. Ritchie's story was the first contact Raymond Moody (who was studying at the University of Virginia, as an undergraduate in Philosophy, at the time) had with NDEs. It inspired Moody to investigate over 150 cases of near-death experiences, in his book Life After Life, and two other books that followed.
- Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie (1992). One of the most detailed near-death experiences on record.
- Saved by the Light by Dannion Brinkley. Brinkley's experience documents one of the most complete near death experiences, in terms of core experience and additional phenomena from the NDE scale. Brinkley claims to have been clinically dead for 28 minutes and taken to a hospital morgue, but some of his claims are disputed.
- Placebo by Howard Pittman (1980). A detailed record of Pittman's near-death experience.
- The Darkness of God by John Wren-Lewis (1985). Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Psychical Research No 5. An account of the effects of his NDE after going through the death process several times in one night.
- Three have associated their experiences with their decision to join the Bahá'í Faith: Reinee Pasarow, Ricky Bradshaw, and Marie Watson. Pasarow's published her story as early as 1981. At least one extended talk was video taped and is available online in a couple places. There are also extended partial transcripts. Bradshaw's experience has been reviewed in several books. Watson, author of Two Paths in 1897, says she suffered a car accident in 1890 in Washington DC and reported having a vision and met a guide. She converted to the religion in 1901 and identified the guide as `Abdu'l-Bahá.
- Dying To Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing by Anita Moorjani, an ethnic Indian woman from Hong Kong, experienced a NDE which has been documented on the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) website as one of the most exceptional accounts on their archives. She had end-stage cancer and on February 2, 2006, doctors told her family that she only had a few hours to live. Following her NDE, Anita experienced a remarkable recovery of her health.
- Kiki Carter, a.k.a. Kimberli Wilson, an environmental activist and singer/songwriter, reported a near-death experience in 1983. The day after the experience, her mother, Priscilla Greenwood, encouraged her to write it down. Priscilla Greenwood published the story in September 1983 in a local metaphysical journal. For 24 hours after the experience, Kimberli had an aftervision which was a catalyst for her interest in quantum physics and holograms.
- 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, is Piper's account of his own near-death experience. EMTs on the scene determined Piper had been killed instantly after a tractor-trailer had swerved into his lane, crushing his car. Piper survived, however. In the book, he wrote about seeing deceased loved ones and friends as well as magnificent light; he felt a sense of pure peace. Piper had a very difficult and painful recovery, undergoing 34 surgeries.
- Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo, is a father's account of his son, Colton, and Colton's trip to heaven and back. After discovering that then-four-year-old Colton's appendix has ruptured, he was rushed to the hospital. While unconscious, Colton describes having met Jesus, God, his great-grandfather whom he had never met, and his older sister lost in a miscarriage.
- Parallel Universes, a Memoir from the Edges of Space and Time by Linda Morabito Meyer is a NASA scientist's account of several near death experiences at the hands of her parents and William Franklin Mosley of the Temple of the More Abundant Life in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She explained that during these experiences, she visited Heaven, saw Jesus, and was in the presence of God.
- Eben Alexander, M.D., born December, 1953, author of Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife, which made The New York Times Best Seller list for nonfiction. In the book, Alexander describes how he had an intense NDE while in a seven-day coma brought on by an attack of meningitis. Inconsistencies and other issues in his story have led to questions about its veracity.
- Howard Storm. In 1985, Storm travelled to Europe with his wife and university students. After suffering from severe stomach pain, he ended up in a hospital in Paris, where he had a near-death experience. He converted from atheism to Christianity in its aftermath.
- Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age elaborated on his near-death experience in an interview with Marc Maron in October 2013. He told Maron that he contracted a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection in 2010, which his immune system could not fight due to stress. Due to unexpected complications during knee surgery, the doctors could not oxygenate his blood, and Josh suffered a near-death experience due to asphyxiation. Doctors eventually had to use a defibrillator to revive him. Following this, he was confined to bed rest for three months. The experience left him weakened and unable to produce music for almost two years.
- The Friend From Mexico, a True Story of Surviving an Intensive Care Unit by Apostolos Mavrothalassitis (2012) is the author's near-death experience account. Following a mid-air collision while participating in the 2009 Paragliding World Championships, he suffered extensive blood loss during surgery and was put under induced coma for two weeks. During these two weeks he lived a different life, and was not aware of his predicament. The experiences of this period are described extensively in the book.
In popular culture
Near-death experiences have been a theme in several films, like Hereafter by Clint Eastwood (2010) and Stay by Marc Forster (2008). It has also been a subject in fantastic literature, for example in the novella The Baron Bagge by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (1936). It is also part of books written by Karl May in his novels with the names 'the Hereafter' ('Am Jenseits',1899) and in 'In the Realm of the Silver lion III'('Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen II', 1902).
- Flatliners (1990), film starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, and William Baldwin
- Ghost (1990), film starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg; the film received several Academy Awards nominations.
- The Fountain (2006), film by Darren Aronofsky starring Hugh Jackman
- Enter the Void (2009), film by Gaspar Noé
- If I Stay (2014), film directed by R.J. Cutter, based on Forman's 2009 novel
- Heaven Is for Real (2014), film directed by Randall Wallace and written by Christopher Parker, based on Pastor Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent's 2010 book of the same name.
- "The Little Match Girl" (1845), a short story by Hans Christian Andersen
- "To Build a Fire" (1902, revised 1908), two versions of a short story by Jack London
- Left for Dead: : My Journey Home from Everest (2000), memoir by Beck Weathers and Stephen G. Michaud, recounting Weathers' near-death experience during the 1996 Mount Everest disaster and its aftermath
- If I Stay (2009), novel by Gayle Forman
- Ghost Whisperer (September 23, 2005, to May 21, 2010), CBS television series
- Proof (2015 TV series) (June 16, 2015, to August 18, 2015), TNT television series
Known NDE researchers
Maurice S. Rawlings
Maurice S. Rawlings was an American cardiologist who focused on near-death experiences from a Christian point of view. Rawlings was the author of several books, including: "Beyond the line of death - New clear evidence for the existence of Heaven and Hell" (1987), "To Hell and Back - Afterlife" (1996), which were translated into several languages.
Raymond A. Moody
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross interviewed numerous people who were dying and in her work she described the "five stages of dying" which refers to how patients deal with the realization of their impending death. She also focused on near-death experiences. Kübler-Ross was the first to publish interviews with dying patients in 1969.
Bernard Jakoby is a German NDE researcher who comes to similar conclusions as Moody.
Pim van Lommel
Pim van Lommel is a Dutch author and researcher in the field of near-death studies. He studied medicine at Utrecht University, specializing in cardiology. Lommel is best known for his work on the subject of near-death experiences, including a prospective study published in the medical journal The Lancet.
Sam Parnia is a British assistant professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Parnia is the principal investigator of the AWARE study (AWAreness during REsuscitation), which was launched in 2008, and published in 2014.
Walter van Laack
Bruce Greyson is an American psychiatrist and NDE researcher. He is Professor of Psychiatry and Director Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia and therefore the direct successor to Ian Stevenson. He is a founding member of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and is known for his work in the field of near-death studies. In 1983 he also developed the Greyson questionnaire for the qualification of a near-death experience (known as the "Greyson's NDE scale").
Penny Sartori is researching near-death experiences, culminating in the publication of her monograph The Near-Death Experiences of Hospitalized Intensive Care Patients: A Five Year Clinical Study.
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- Out-of-body experience
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A large phenomenological overlap among lucid dreams, out-of-body experiences, and near-death experiences suggests the possibility of developing a methodology of replicating components of the near-death experience using newly developed methods of inducing lucid dreams. Reports on the literature of both spontaneous and induced near-death-experience-like episodes during lucid dreams suggest a possible protocol.
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In brain death there is irreversible cessation of all functions of the brain including the brainstem. Consciousness is, therefore, permanently lost in brain death.
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- Atwater, PMH (2001). Coming Back to Life; The After-Effects of the Near-Death Experience (2001 Revised and Updated ed.). Kensington Pub Corp. pp. 111–112. ISBN 978-0-8065-2303-3.
- Atwater, PMH (2007). The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences; The Ultimate Guide to What Happens When We Die (2nd, illustrated ed.). Hampton Roads Publishing. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-1-57174-547-7.
- Barnes, Linda L.; Sered, Susan Starr (2005). Religion and Healing in America (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 399–400. ISBN 978-0-19-516796-2.
- Marie Watson (1897). The Two Paths. A.C. Clark.
- Watson, Marie (1932). My Pilgrimage to the Land of Desire. Executor of the estate of Marie Watson and the Bahá'í Publishing Committee of New York. pp. 13–14.
- "Anita M's NDE" NDERF
- Kimberli Wilson
- 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper
- Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo
- "Parallel Universes, a Memoir from the Edges of Space and Time" by Linda A. Morabito
- "Best Sellers". Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction. The New York Times. April 25, 2012. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
- Jul. 3, 2013 6:45pm Billy Hallowell (2013-07-03). "Did the Famed Neurosurgeon Who Claims He Saw God and Visited Heaven Lie? Article Exposes Alleged Inconsistencies | Video". TheBlaze.com. Retrieved 2015-05-08.
- N. E. Bush (2002). Afterward: Making meaning after a frightening near-death experience. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 21(2), 99–133. "Among contemporary near-death experiences, the best-known of this type is no doubt that of Howard Storm (2000), self-described as an angry, hostile atheist before a harrowing experience that transmogrified into one of affirmation and transcendence."
- "WTF with Marc Maron Podcast – Episode 431 – Josh Homme". Wtfpod.com. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
- Mavrothalassitis, Apostolos (2012). The Friend From Mexico: A True Story of Surviving an Intensive Care Unit. Translated by David J. Horn. ASIN B00A7VSCJ8. ISBN 978-1-48103-491-3.
- compare Dietmar Czycholl (Hg.): Als ich am gestrigen Tag entschlief. Erfahrungen Wiederbelebter in der Weltliteratur. Eine Anthologie aus drei Jahrtausenden. Genius Verlag, Oberstaufen 2003 ISBN 3-934719-13-9
- Karl May: Am Jenseits, Freiburg i.Br. 1912, S. 504 ff. (online auf zeno.org); Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen, Band 3, Freiburg i.Br. 1908, S. 270 ff. (online auf zeno.org).
- Video: Dr. Raymond Moody über Nahtod-Erfahrungen abgerufen am 15. März 2014.
- Video: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross über Nahtoderfahrungen (1981) , abgerufen am 14. März 2014
- Bild der Wissenschaft: Sind Nahtod-Erfahrungen Bilder aus dem Jenseits? "Ein helles Licht am Ende eines langen Tunnels, ein Gefühl von Freude und Hoffnung: Davon erzählten Patienten, die einen Herzstillstand erlitten haben, britischen Forschern. Die Wissenschaftler der Universität Southampton werten diese Berichte als die bislang schlüssigsten Hinweise auf ein Leben nach dem Tod, schreibt die deutsche Ärzte-Zeitung. " abgerufen am 16. März 2014.
- van Lommel P, van Wees R, Meyers V, Elfferich I. (2001) "Near-Death Experience in Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A prospective Study in the Netherlands", The Lancet, 358(9298):2039–45, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(01)07100-8.
- Video: Spiegel-TV: Gibt es ein Leben nach dem Tod? Blick ins Jenseits siehe Beiträge von Markolf Niemz, von Walter van Laack, vom 9. März 2014
- fh-aachen.de vom 19. März 2014
- zdf Nahtoderfahrungen sind keine Hirnprodukte – ZDF Bericht , abgerufen am 14. März 2014
- Bild der Wissenschaft: Sind Nahtod-Erfahrungen Bilder aus dem Jenseits? "Ein helles Licht am Ende eines langen Tunnels, ein Gefühl von Freude und Hoffnung: Davon erzählten Patienten, die einen Herzstillstand erlitten haben, britischen Forschern. Die Wissenschaftler der Universität Southampton werten diese Berichte als die bislang schlüssigsten Hinweise auf ein Leben nach dem Tod, schreibt die deutsche Ärzte-Zeitung." und "Eines macht der Forscher Bruce Greyson von der Universität Virginia klar: Menschen mit Nahtod-Erlebnissen sind nicht psychisch krank. Die Änderung des Bewusstseins führt nicht zu bleibenden Schäden, berichtete er in der Fachzeitschrift "Lancet" (Bd. 355, S. 460)." abgerufen am 16. März 2014.
- Rense Lange, Bruce Greyson, James Houran: Research Scales Used to Classify an NDE : the Greyson Scale, geladen 13. November 2014
- Dr. Jeffrey Long Takes On Critics of, Evidence of the Afterlife, read 11. June 2016
- Dr. Jeffrey Long's Near-Death Experience Research a "Game Changer" for Science, read 11. June 2016
- Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences, read 11. June 2016
- Michael Sabom, read 11. June 2016
- Michael Sabom, read 11. June 2016