A near-death experience (NDE) refers to a broad range of personal experiences associated with impending death, encompassing multiple possible sensations ranging from 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 or spiritual presence. Some cultures and individuals[specify] revere NDEs as a paranormal and spiritual glimpse into the afterlife.
Such cases are usually reported after an individual has been pronounced clinically dead, or otherwise very close to death, hence the entitlement 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 NDEs reported is continually increasing. Most of the scientific community regards such experiences as hallucinatory, while paranormal specialists and some mainstream scientists claim them to be evidence of an afterlife.
Popular interest in near-death experiences was initially sparked by Raymond Moody, Jr’s 1975 book “Life After Life” and the founding of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) in 1978. According to a Gallup poll, approximately eight million Americans claim to have had a near-death experience. NDEs are among the phenomena studied in the fields of parapsychology, psychology, psychiatry, and hospital medicine.
In some cases, a NDE any particular person experiences varies depending on the beliefs that the person held. Children, who typically do not have enough time to develop strongly towards one faith, had very limited NDEs. Examples of this include a boy simply having talked to his brother in his NDE and a daughter having a conversation with her mother. The phenomenology of an NDE usually includes physiological, psychological and alleged transcendental aspects. Typically, the experience follows a distinct progression:
1. A very unpleasant sound/noise is the first sensory impression to be noticed (R. Moody: Life after Life); 2. A sense of being dead; 3. Pleasant emotions; calmness and serenity; 4. An out-of-body experience; a sensation of floating above one’s own body and seeing the surrounding area; 5. Floating up a blue tunnel with a strong, bright light or garden at the end; 6. Meeting deceased relatives or spiritual figures; 7. Encountering a being of light, or a light (often interpreted as being the deity or deities they personally believe in); 8. Being given a life review (the “life-flashing-before-your-eyes” phenomenon); 9. Reaching a border or boundary; 10. A feeling of being returned to the body, often accompanied by a reluctance. 11. Feeling of warmth even though naked.
Some people have also experienced extremely distressing NDEs, which can manifest in forewarning of emptiness or a sense of dread towards the cessation of their life.
According to the Rasch model-validated NDE scale, a “core” near-death experience encompasses peace, joy, and harmony, followed by insight and mystical or religious experiences. The most intense NDEs 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.
Clinical circumstances that are thought to lead to an NDE include conditions such as: cardiac arrest, shock in postpartum loss of blood or in perioperative complications, septic or anaphylactic shock, electrocution, coma, intracerebral haemorrhage or cerebral infarction, attempted suicide, near-drowning or asphyxia, apnoea, and serious depression. Many NDEs 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 NDEs than unintended near-death situations.
Interest in the NDE was originally spurred by the research of such pioneers as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, George Ritchie, P.M.H. Atwater, and Raymond Moody Jr. Moody’s book Life After Life, which was released in 1975, and brought a great deal of attention to the topic of NDEs. This was soon followed by the establishment of the International Association for Near-death Studies (IANDS), founded in 1978, in order to meet the needs of early researchers and those with NDE experiences within this field of research. Today the association includes researchers, health care professionals, NDE-experiencers and people close to experiencers, as well as other interested people. One of its main goals is to promote responsible and multi-disciplinary investigation of near-death and similar experiences.
Later researchers, such as Bruce Greyson, Kenneth Ring, and Michael Sabom, introduced the study of near-death experiences to the academic setting. The medical community has been somewhat reluctant to address the phenomenon of NDEs, and money granted for research has been relatively scarce. However, although the research was not always welcomed by the general academic community, both Greyson and Ring made significant contributions in order to increase the respectability of near-death research. Major contributions to the field include the construction of a Weighted Core Experience Index in order to measure the depth of the near-death experience, and the construction of the Greyson near-death experience scale, in order to differentiate between subjects that are more or less likely to have experienced a classical NDE. The NDE-scale also aims to differentiate between what the field claims are “true” NDEs and syndromes or stress responses that are not related to an NDE, such as the similar incidents experienced by sufferers of epilepsy. Greyson’s NDE-scale was later validated using Rasch model scaling.
Other contributors to the research on near-death experiences come from the disciplines of medicine, psychology and psychiatry. Greyson (1997) has also brought attention to the near-death experience as a focus of clinical attention, while Morse et al. (1985; 1986) have investigated near-death experiences in a pediatric population.
Neuro-biological factors in the experience have been investigated by researchers within the field of medical science and psychiatry (Mayank and Mukesh, 2004; Jansen, 1995; Thomas, 2004). Among the researchers and commentators who tend to emphasize a naturalistic and neurological base, for the experience, are the British psychologist Susan Blackmore (1993) and the founding publisher of Skeptic, Michael Shermer (1998).
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, and the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
In September 2008, it was announced that 25 UK and US hospitals will examine near-death studies in 1,500 heart attack patients-survivors. The 3 years study, co-ordinated by 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.
Variance in NDE Studies
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% had an NDE. Though, Knoblauch in 2001 performed a more selective study in Germany and found that 4% of the sample population had experienced an NDE. However, the information gathered from these studies may be subjected to the broad timeframe and location of the investigation.
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 experienced an NDE. In a more clinical setting, 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 18% of these patients had an NDE, with 12% of those being core experiences.
According to Martens (1994), the only satisfying method to address the NDE-issue would be an international multicentric data collection within the framework for standardized reporting of cardiac arrest events. The use of cardiac-arrest criteria as a basis for NDE research has been a common approach among the European branch of the research field.
Biological Analysis and Theories
In the 1990s, Dr. Rick Strassman conducted research on the psychedelic drug Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) at the University of New Mexico. Strassman advanced the theory 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 and/or other psychedelic/entheogenic agents. Some speculators consider that if subjects without prior knowledge on the effects of DMT had been used during the experiment, it is possible more volunteers would have reported feeling as though they had experienced an NDE.
Critics have argued that neurobiological models often fail to explain NDEs that result from close brushes with death, where the brain does not actually suffer physical trauma, such as a near-miss automobile accident. Such events may however have neurobiological effects caused by stress.
In a new theory devised by Kinseher in 2006, the knowledge of the Sensory Autonomic System is applied in the NDE phenomenon. His theory states that the experience of looming death is an extremely strange paradox to a living organism – and therefore it will start the NDE: during the NDE, the individual becomes capable of “seeing” the brain performing a scan of the whole episodic memory (even prenatal experiences), in order to find a stored experience which is comparable to the input information of death. All these scanned and retrieved bits of information are permanently evaluated by the actual mind, as it is searching for a coping mechanism out of the potentially fatal situation. Kinseher feels this is the reason why a near-death experience is so unusual.
The theory also states that out-of-body experiences, accompanied with NDEs, are an attempt by the brain to create a mental overview of the situation and the surrounding world. The brain then transforms the input from sense organs and stored experience (knowledge) into a dream-like idea about oneself and the surrounding area.
Whether or not these experiences are hallucinatory, they do have a profound impact on the observer. Many psychologists not necessarily pursuing the paranormal, such as Susan Blackmore, have recognized this. These scientists are not trying to debunk the experience, but are instead searching for biological causes of NDEs.
Near-death experiences can have tremendous effects on the people who have them, their families, and medical workers. Changes in values and beliefs often occur in the experiencer after a near-death experience, including changes in personality and outlook on life, such as a greater appreciation for life, higher self-esteem, greater compassion for others, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, and a desire to learn. The changes may also include an increased physical sensitivity to and diminished tolerance of light, alcohol and drugs.
Matthew Dovel, author of “My Last Breath”, having had two near-death experiences, discusses the side effects associated with having had a NDE (Empathic, telepathy, clairaudience, clairvoyance, precognition, remote viewing, animals, children, and timepieces). 
Some view the NDE as the precursor to an afterlife experience, claiming that the NDE cannot be completely explained by physiological or psychological causes, and that 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 by many that consciousness is situated entirely within the brain.
A majority of 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. Many former atheists, such as the Reverend Howard Storm have adopted a more spiritual viewpoint after their NDEs. Howard Storm’s NDE might also be characterized as a distressing near-death experience. The distressing aspects of some NDE’s are discussed more closely by Greyson & Bush (1992).
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.
Some research has suggested that unconscious patients can overhear conversations even if the hospital machines aren’t registering any brain activity. It is suggested that adrenaline may cause this. Recent findings have also shown that persons diagnosed in a “persistent vegetative state” can communicate through their thoughts.
Religious and Physiological Views
There are many religious and physiological views about NDEs. The NDE is often cited as evidence for the existence of the human soul, the afterlife, heaven and hell, ideas that appear in many religious traditions. On the other hand, skeptical commentators view NDEs as purely neurological and chemical phenomena occurring in the brain. From this perspective NDEs are the result of purely physiological and neurobiological mechanisms. The imagery in the experiences also varies within cultures.
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- Kinseher Richard (2008), “Verborgene Wurzeln des Glücks – selbstbeobachtbare Gehirnfunktion.” BoD, ISBN 978-3-8334-7378-4, German Language, (A new theory: During a Near-Death-Experience, a person can observe the scan of the own episodic memory. These stored experiences are then judged by the topical intellect.)
- Tulku Thondup: Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth: A Tibetan Buddhist Guidebook with a CD of Guided Meditations”,Publisher: Shambhala; Pap/Com edition (December 12, 2006), ISBN 1590303857 (10), ISBN 978-1590303856 (13)
- Return from Tomorrow by George G. Ritchie, M.D. with Elizabeth Sherrill (1978). George G. Ritchie, M.D. 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-the-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.
- 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 was clinically dead for 28 minutes and taken to a hospital morgue.
- Placebo by Howard Pittman (1980). A detailed record of Mr. 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 far-reaching effects of his NDE after going through the death process several times in one night.
- Bahá’í Reinee Pasarow has presented her experiences and an extended talk which was filmed Part 1,Part2, with a partial transcript, and analyzed from a religious point of view in a Commentary and analyzed as part of the paper The Exploration of Life After Death. Pasarow was interviewed by Dr. Kenneth Ring.
- Anita Moorjani, an ethnic Indian woman from Hong Kong experienced a truly remarkable 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 total recovery of her health. Her full story can be read at www.nderf.org titled “Anita M’s NDE”.
- Goldie Hawn, while giving a speech at the Buell Theater in Denver, Colorado, reflected upon her near-death experience. When she was younger, and starting out as an actress, she and a group of friends were in a severe car crash together. While she was unconscious, she remembers looking over herself while the paramedics were trying to revive her. She also mentioned seeing a bright light and being told it was not her time soon before she awoke.
- 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. The article was scanned and can be retrieved online at .
As an afterlife experience
- International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS)
- Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF)
- Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife Near-Death.com
- SpiritualTravel.org – Explaining Neath-death Experiences, Objections to current scientific arguments
- Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands Lommel, Hospital Rijnstate
- Does Mind Survive Physical Death? Fontana, Cardiff University and Liverpool John Moores University
- How Stuff Works – Near Death Experience
- News for the Soul, Archived Webradio Interview with P.M.H. Atwater and Dannion Brinkley on NDE research (mp3 realplayer set at 20, 32, 42 min.)
- Thoughtful Living, a study of near death experiences
- A TED talk given by Jill Bolte Taylor
- “My Last Breath”, by Matthew Dovel
- Using Ketamine to Induce the Near-Death Experience:Mechanism of Action and Therapeutic Potential – Dr. Karl L. R. Jansen MD, PhD, MRCPsych
- University of Virginia Health System – Division of Personality Studies
As a physiological and psychological experience
- Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences by Keith Augustine, published on the Secular Web
- A Special Report: What Is Betty Eadie Hiding? Christian Research Institute Journal
- Skepdic Article
- Near-Death Experiences: In or out of the body? – Susan Blackmore, Published in Skeptical Inquirer 1991, 16, 34-45
- The Ketamine Model of the Near Death Experience:A Central Role for the NMDA Receptor – Dr. Karl L. R. Jansen MD, PhD, MRCPsych