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NDE (Near Death Experiences)
 

A near-death experience, refers to a broad range of personal experiences associated with impending death, encompassing multiple possible sensations including detachment from the body; feelings of levitation; extreme fear; total serenity, security, or warmth; the experience of absolute dissolution; and the presence of a light, which some people interpret as a deity. Some see NDE's as a paranormal and spiritual glimpse into the afterlife.

These phenomena are usually reported after an individual has been pronounced clinically dead or otherwise very close to death, hence the term near-death experience. Many NDE reports, however, originate from events that are not life-threatening. With recent developments in cardiac resuscitation techniques, the number of reported NDE's has increased. Many in the scientific community regard such experiences as hallucinatory, while paranormal specialists claim them to be evidence of an afterlife.

Popular interest in near-death experiences was initially sparked by Raymond Moody's 1975 book Life After Life, and the founding of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) in 1981. According to a Gallup poll, approximately eight million Americans claim to have had a near-death experience. Some commentators, such as Simpson claim that the number of near-death experiencers may be underestimated, mainly because some such individuals are presumably afraid or otherwise reluctant to talk about their experiences.

NDE's are among the phenomena studied in the fields of parapsychology, psychology, psychiatry, and hospital medicine.

The phenomenology of an NDE usually includes physiological, psychological, and alleged transcendental aspects. Researchers have identified the common elements that define near-death experiences. Among the general features of the experience one may find subjective impressions of being outside the physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of ego and spatiotemporal boundaries. The most intense NDE's are reported to have an awareness of things occurring in a different place or time, and some of these observations are said to have been evidential.

The traits of a classical NDE are as follows: The notice of a very unpleasant sound or noise. A sense/awareness of being dead. A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A feeling of being removed from the world. An out-of-body experience. A perception of one’s body from an outside position. Sometimes observing doctors and nurses performing medical resuscitation efforts. A "tunnel experience". A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase. A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light. Communication with the light. An intense feeling of unconditional love. Encountering "Beings of Light", "Beings dressed in white", or other spiritual beings. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones. Being given a life review. Being presented with knowledge about one's life and the nature of the universe. A decision by oneself or others to return to one’s body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return. Approaching a border. Kenneth Ring (1980) subdivided the NDE on a five-stage continuum. 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 preoperative complications, septic or anaphylactic shock, electrocution, coma resulting from traumatic brain damage, intracerebral hemorrhage or cerebral infarction, attempted suicide, near-drowning or asphyxia, apnoea, and serious depression. Many NDE's occur after a crucial experience (e.g., when a patient can hear that he or she is declared to be dead by a doctor or nurse) or when a person has the subjective impression to be in a fatal situation (e.g., during a close-call automobile accident). In contrast to common belief, attempted suicides do not lead more often to unpleasant NDE's than unintended near-death situations.

Some people have also experienced extremely distressing NDE's, which can manifest in forewarning of emptiness or a sense of dread toward the cessation of their life. The distressing aspects of some NDE's are discussed more closely by Greyson and Bush. The content of near death experiences may vary by culture. Children, who typically do not have enough time to develop strongly toward one faith, had very limited NDE's.

Near-death experiences can have a major impact on the people who have them, and they may produce a variety of after-effects. Many of these effects are associated with changes in personality and outlook on life. Kenneth Ring 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, 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 to 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 just 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 psycho spiritual problems. Often the problems have to do with the adjustment to ordinary life in the wake of the NDE.

Some of the side effects associated with having had a NDE (empathic, telepathy, clairaudience, clairvoyance, precognition, remote viewing, communication with animals, children, and the failure of timepieces).

Spiritual viewpoints

Many view the NDE as the precursor to an afterlife experience, claiming that the NDE cannot be adequately explained by physiological or psychological causes, and that the phenomenon conclusively demonstrates that human consciousness can function independently of brain activity. Many NDE-accounts seem to include elements which, according to several theorists, can only be explained by an out-of-body consciousness. For example, in one account, a woman accurately described a surgical instrument she had not seen previously, as well as a conversation that occurred while she was under general anesthesia. In another account, from a prospective Dutch NDE study, a nurse removed the dentures of an unconscious heart attack victim, and was asked by him after his recovery to return them. It might be difficult to explain in conventional terms how an unconscious patient could later have recognized the nurse.

Dr. Michael Sabom reports a case about a woman who underwent surgery for an aneurysm. The woman reported an out-of-body experience that she claimed continued through a brief period of the absence of any EEG activity. If true, this would seem to challenge the belief held by many that consciousness is situated entirely within the brain.

Many individuals who experience an NDE see it as a verification of the existence of an afterlife. This includes those with agnostic/atheist inclinations before the experience. There are examples of ex-atheists, such as the Reverend Howard Storm, adopting a more spiritual viewpoint after their NDE's. Storm's NDE may also be characterized as a distressing near-death experience.

Greyson claims that: "No one physiological or psychological model by itself explains all the common features of NDE. The paradoxical occurrence of heightened, lucid awareness and logical thought processes during a period of impaired cerebral perfusion raises particular perplexing questions for our current understanding of consciousness and its relation to brain function. A clear sensorium and complex perceptual processes during a period of apparent clinical death challenge the concept that consciousness is localized exclusively in the brain."

A few people feel that research on NDEs occurring in the blind can be interpreted to support an argument that consciousness survives bodily death. Dr. Kenneth Ring claims in the book "Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind" that up to 80% of his sample studied reported some visual awareness during their NDE or out of body experience. Skeptics however question the accuracy of their visual awareness.

There are many religious and physiological views of near-death experiences. The NDE is often cited as evidence for the existence of the human soul, the afterlife, and heaven and hell, ideas that appear in many religious traditions. On the other hand, skeptical commentators view NDE's as purely neurological and chemical phenomena occurring in the brain. From this perspective NDE's are the result of purely physiological and neurobiological mechanisms. The imagery in the experiences also varies within cultures.

There has been recent research into afterlife conceptions across cultures by religious studies scholar Dr. Gregory Shushan. The study 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. This suggests that the authors of these ancient religious texts were familiar with NDE or something similar (e.g. shamanic-type 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.

Some neurologists have suspected that the event is triggered by a mismatch between visual and tactile signals. They used a virtual reality setup to recreate an OBE. The subject looked through goggles and saw his own body as it would appear to an outside observer standing behind him. The experimenter then touched the subject at the same time as a rod appeared to touch the virtual image. The experiment created an illusion of being behind and outside one's body. However, both critics and the experimenter himself note that the study fell short of replicating "full-blown" OBEs.

The earliest recorded reference to an OBE is in the Holy Bible, 2 Corinthians 12:1–4, in which the apostle Paul describes this kind of experience. Many other visions of God recorded in the Bible appear to be similar in nature.

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