near-death experience (NDE) 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.
phenomena are usually reported after an individual has been pronounced
clinically dead or otherwise very close to death, hence the term
Many NDE reports, however,
originate from events that are not life-threatening. With recent
developments in cardiac resuscitation techniques, the number of reported
NDEs has increased.
Many in the scientific community regard such
experiences as hallucinatory, while paranormal specialists and some
mainstream scientists claim them to be evidence of an afterlife.
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
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.
NDEs are among the phenomena studied in the fields of parapsychology, psychology, psychiatry, and hospital medicine.
Contributions to the research on near-death experiences have come from several academic disciplines, among these the disciplines of medicine, psychology and psychiatry.
Interest in this field of study was originally spurred by the research of such pioneers as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, George Ritchie, and Raymond Moody Jr. Moody's book Life After Life, which was released in 1975, brought a lot of 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.
Later researchers, such as Bruce Greyson, Kenneth Ring, and Michael Sabom, helped to launch the field of Near-Death Studies and introduced the study of near-death experiences to the academic setting.
The Day I Died
The medical community has been somewhat reluctant to address the phenomenon of NDEs, and grant money for research has been scarce. However, both Greyson and Ring developed tools that can be used in a clinical setting.
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 nonspecific 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, while Morse and colleagues have investigated near-death experiences in a pediatric population.
Neuro-biological 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", and the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer (1998).
In September 2008 it was announced that 25 UK and US hospitals will examine near-death studies in 1,500 heart attack patient-survivors.
The three-year study, coordinated by Dr. Sam Parnia at Southampton University, hopes to determine if people without heartbeat or brain activity can have an out-of-body experience with veridical visual perceptions.
This study follows on from an earlier 18-month pilot project. On a July 28, 2010 interview about a recent lecture at Goldsmiths, Parnia asserts that "evidence is now suggesting that mental and cognitive processes may continue for a period of time after a death has started" and describes the process of death as "essentially a global stroke of the brain. Therefore like any stroke process one would not expect the entity of mind / consciousness to be lost immediately".
He also expresses his disagreement with the term 'near death experiences' because "the patients that we study are not near death, they have actually died and more over it conjures up a lot of imprecise scientific notions, due to the fact that itself is a very imprecise term".
Researchers have identified the common elements that define near-death experiences.
- Receiving messages in telepathic form.
- 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.
- There also seems to be a link between the cultural and spiritual beliefs where you live. These seem to dictate what is experienced in the NDE or how it is interpreted afterwards
George G. Ritchie, MD held positions as president of the Richmond Academy of General Practice; chairman of the Department of Psychiatry of Towers Hospital; and founder and president of the Universal Youth Corps, Inc.
He lived in Virginia. At the age of twenty, George Ritchie died in an army hospital. Nine minutes later he returned to life. What happened to him during those minutes was so compelling, it changed his life forever.
In Return from Tomorrow, he tells of his out-of-body encounter with other beings, his travel through different dimensions of time and space, and ultimately, his transforming meeting with the Light of the World, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Ritchie's extraordinary experience not only altered his view of eternity, it directed and governed his entire life, and provided a startling and hopeful description of the realm beyond.
Ritchie's story was the first contact Dr. Raymond Moody, PhD (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.
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, Michael Sabom states that one of his contacts 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 identified after his recovery as the one who removed them.
This surprised her, as he had been in a deep coma and undergoing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation at the time.
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.