Near-Death Experiences: 30 Years of Research

Near-Death Experiences: 30 Years of Research

Sep 28

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NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES: 30 YEARS OF RESEARCH – PART 1
By Stephanie Lam
Epoch Times
September 13, 2011

Original Link

Grandma was just resuscitated. She wakes up and tells you a bizarre story of coming out of her body and going to heaven. Has she developed psychosis? Was her brain damaged from the lack of oxygen?

After over 30 years of research, scientists have concluded that this is not the case. Instead, they think that this phenomenon is something today’s science is yet to understand, and that it is an opportunity for the advancement of science.

The phenomenon was coined near-death experiences (NDEs) in the 1975 book “Life After Life” by Raymond Moody, M.D. and Ph.D. in philosophy and psychology. NDEs generally include cognitive, affective, paranormal, and transcendental experiences.

Examples of NDEs include experiencing a change in one’s perception and way of thinking, feeling peace or calmness, gaining extrasensory perception (ESP), going through a review of one’s life and seeing the effects of one’s actions on others, a feeling of leaving the body, seeing deceased people and other beings such as angels, and feeling as if one has entered another dimension.

NDEs are encountered by people of all backgrounds, and most studies find the prevalence of NDEs to be 10–20 percent of people who have come close to death.

Interest in studying NDEs was sparked after the publication of Moody’s book. Then in 1981, the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) was founded “to promote responsible, multi-disciplinary exploration of near-death and similar experiences, their effects on people’s lives, and their implications for beliefs about life, death, and human purpose,” according to the IANDS website.

On Sept. 2–4, IANDS organized a conference in Durham, N.C., for NDE researchers to present their findings.

Improved Mental Functions With an Impaired Brain

Bruce Greyson, M.D. and director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, said NDEs are reliable because the accounts by near-death experiencers (NDErs) of these events remain unchanged over time. He compared a group of NDErs’ accounts about their NDEs made 20 years apart and found that they remained closely identical over time.

Greyson believes that NDEs are an indication that the mind is independent of the brain because impaired brain functions would be expected during the clinical situation that the NDErs underwent, but his research found no corresponding impairment of mental functions in NDErs.

“In most cases, people’s mental functioning is better in the NDE than [it] is during our normal waking life,” Greyson said during an interview with The Epoch Times.

“Their thinking is faster, is clearer, is more logical, they have more control over their chain of thought, their senses are more acute, their memories are more vivid.

“If you ask somebody about their near-death experience that happened 15 years ago, they tell it as if it happened yesterday. If you ask them [about] other experiences from their life at the same time, they are very fuzzy memories, if they have any at all.

“[…] When you think that these experiences, which are characterized by enhanced thought processes [that] takes place when the brain is not functioning well or sometimes not functioning at all since it is in cardiac arrest or deep anesthesia—times when brain science would tell us that you shouldn’t be able to think or perceive or form memories—it becomes quite clear that we can’t explain this thing on the basis of brain physiology.”

Eben Alexander, M.D., a neurosurgeon who also spoke at the conference, had an NDE that’s a case in point. He contracted acute bacterial meningitis, which damages the neocortex, in 2008 and went into a coma, spending six days on a ventilator.

The glucose level of his cerebrospinal fluid was 1 mg/dl (milligram per one-tenth of a liter), while normal levels are between 60 and 80 mg/dl. When the level drops to 20 mg/dl, the meningitis infection is considered severe. For days after the coma, Alexander struggled to speak and recall memories before the coma. No one with this kind of severe brain damage is expected to fully recover.

However, during his NDE, Alexander had such vivid experiences involving multiple senses, such as vision, hearing, and smell, that he said he couldn’t describe how amazing it was.

“My brain right now—I think it recovered pretty well—could not do anything close to what my brain was doing,” Alexander said. “How does a dying brain end up getting far, far more powerful and able to handle these tremendous loads of information instantaneously and put it altogether?”

Shared Death Experiences

Another phenomenon related to NDEs is shared death experiences, in which a person close to a dying person experiences something with the same characteristics as NDEs.

Moody first heard about shared death experiences in 1972 from a medical professor of his. The professor’s mother had a cardiac attack, and when she was trying to resuscitate her mother, she felt herself leaving her body and saw her body resuscitating her mother. As her mother died, she saw her mother in spirit form, and the spirit met some beings, some of whom she could recognize as people whom her mother had known. Then, her mother and the other people were sucked into a tunnel.

After over 30 years of research, Moody estimates that shared death experiences are as common as NDEs. As he studied more of these cases over the years, he found that the features of shared death experiences are similar to those of NDEs.

One of the most common features of shared death experiences is that the shared death experiencer sees the spirit of the dying person, which appears as a transparent replica of the person, or an oval or sphere of light leaving from the head or chest of the dying person’s physical body, Moody told The Epoch Times in an interview.

Sometimes, the bystander would also experience the life review of the dying person. A woman in Georgia was documented as having talked with her husband’s spirit as she saw his life review when he was dying, and she also saw a being that identified herself as the miscarried daughter she and her husband had lost.

Moody thinks that shared death experiences act as strong evidence for the view that the mind exists independently of the brain, because the people experiencing them are in no way having impaired brain functions at the time.

“All of the features that I identify as the initial near-death experiences that I studied years ago are also present in people who have these experiences at the bedside, who incidentally are not ill or injured,” Moody said during his presentation at the conference.

“There’s nothing wrong with the oxygen flow to their brains, and yet they have identically the same experiences that I hear from people who did come close to death.”

Even stronger evidence, as Moody recounted during the interview with The Epoch Times, was the case of a priest and a nun in South Africa who had a car accident together and who both had cardiac arrest followed by an NDE. After they were resuscitated, both recounted the experience of leaving their bodies and going into a light together with identical details.

With the amount of research over the past 30 years, Moody said that “there has now been a genuine — and I would underline ‘genuine’ — solid step toward rational comprehension of the afterlife.”

Similarly, Greyson said, “The science of near-death experiences is much further advanced now than it was 30 years ago.”

However, Greyson thinks that there is still more to do in the area of near-death studies, especially with the modern tools and techniques that we didn’t have before, and he expects that in the future, we will learn more about the causes of NDE.

“I think we have just scratched the surface of NDE,” he said.

“Some people with a religious or spiritual background will talk about the experience being given to us as a gift or coming from some supernatural cause, and I don’t know how to express that concept in scientific terms yet. But I think that science is a dynamic enterprise, not a static one, and I think sooner or later we will find a way in scientific terms to talk about something beyond the physical or psychological that is ordered in a way that we demand scientific concepts will be.

“I think the major advances in the future will be along the lines of what role the NDE plays in people’s lives and personality development, and establishing values and beliefs and attitudes and different ways we can help people benefit from the near-death experience.”

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NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES: 30 YEARS OF RESEARCH – PART 2
By Stephanie Lam
Epoch Times
September 20, 2011

Original Link

It was 1993. Kathleen Elmore was driving through an intersection and a truck came at her from the left. “That doesn’t look good,” she thought.

“Dying does not hurt,” Elmore said as she recounted the experience at the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) conference this year.

“That whole immense, huge impact felt like somebody just kind of tipped me on the shoulder, and I went straight up.”

Elmore said that her consciousness went 50 or 60 feet up into a beautiful white light where she felt “incredible love” and heard beautiful music. There she met three beings who are “beyond angels,” she said, and who had helped plan her life before she was born. She had a conversation with them while watching people rescuing her down below. After she came back to life, she gained the ability to see the energy around the earth and people’s collective consciousness, she said.

Episodes that people experience when they are clinically dead or close to clinical death are dubbed near-death experiences (NDEs) in the 1975 book “Life After Life” by Raymond Moody, M.D. and Ph.D. in philosophy and psychology. The book has drawn academics to study the phenomenon, and led to the foundation of IANDS in 1981 to facilitate near-death research. On Sept. 2–4, near-death experiencers (NDErs) and researchers gathered in Durham, N.C., to share their experiences and findings over the past 30 years.

In Part 1 of this series, we mentioned that Eben Alexander, M.D., had an NDE while his brain was damaged by acute bacterial meningitis; and that Bruce Greyson, M.D. and director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, reported that NDErs’ mental functioning is, in most cases, better during the NDE than usual, and that they can still remember their NDEs very accurately 20 years after the event.

In this part, we look at the validity of NDEs through their aftereffects on NDErs.

The Study of Aftereffects

During his talk at the IANDS conference, Greyson mentioned that some “pseudo-skeptics,” as he calls scientists not open to NDE discoveries, believe that the NDE phenomenon is not something that can be studied scientifically because NDEs are not something material, and they cannot be measured.

Greyson argued that there have been a lot of studies done on emotions, though they are not known to be of material existence.

“Are love and fear material?” he asked. “There’s certainly a lot of scientific research about these things. We can’t see them, but we can certainly measure the aftereffects, and from their effects, we learn, scientifically, a lot about them.”

In scientific study, there are many things that we measure indirectly. For example, physicists’ study of dark matter is not through the direct observation of its existence, but through indirect means such as calculating the discrepancy of a cosmic body’s mass estimated in different ways.

Last week, NASA announced that its Kepler mission confirmed the existence of an invisible planet, Kepler-19c, by observing the orbit cycle of a nearby planet, Kepler-19b, which is seen to be influenced by an unknown gravitational force.

The Kepler team also published a paper in the journal Science on Sept. 16 about the discovery of the planet Kepler-16b orbiting two low-mass suns. The discovery was made from eclipses, some of which were due to the two suns obscuring one another.

Using the bubble chamber as an analogy, Greyson argued that NDE can be studied scientifically. A bubble chamber is a vessel in which subatomic particles are made to pass through a liquid, leaving a trail of bubbles on their tracks. The particles are too small and move at too fast a speed for us to observe, but by observing the bubbles that form around their tracks, we can learn about them. Similarly, Greyson said, we can learn about NDEs from their aftereffects.

“For true scientists, the ultimate authority is experience, not theory,” he said.

Some may think that NDErs must be religious to start with, and their experiences could be their imagination. However, there are NDErs who weren’t religious before their NDEs, and Greyson has found that one of the aftereffects of NDEs is a lowered religiosity. Interestingly, NDErs also generally have an increased spirituality after their NDEs.

Another thing that Greyson has found in his research is that, contrary to what most would expect, NDErs are more inclined to use logical thought after their NDEs than before their NDEs.

Apart from psychological changes, electromagnetic aftereffects are widely reported. When some NDErs wear wristwatches, the batteries run down very quickly, or the watches keep a faster or slower time than normal. Some NDErs make light bulbs go out, or TVs and radios might change stations when they pass by. Greyson mentioned that one NDEr cannot be detected by automatic doors.

Jane Katra, Ph.D. in Public Health, who also spoke at the conference, said that she became sensitive to vibrations and electromagnetic fields after her NDE, and it was difficult for her to adjust to living in her parents’ house because she became able to hear various things from different rooms.

These aftereffects of NDEs make it difficult for one to deny NDEs as real experiences, because mere hallucinations or being close to death would not bring such effects.

Greyson and Mitchell Liester, M.D., are starting a study on the electromagnetic aftereffects of NDEs. Following the data collection from a questionnaire, they will conduct studies measuring NDErs’ electromagnetic fields and effects on watches.

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NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES: 30 YEARS OF RESEARCH – PART 3
By Stephanie Lam
Epoch Times
September 13, 2011

Original Link

How do you prove or disprove near-death experiences (NDEs), which are entirely of a spiritual domain?

While near-death experiencers (NDErs) claim that their experiences of leaving their bodies, going to heaven, and seeing deceased people and heavenly beings, and so on, are real, many scientists insist that these are hallucinations due to critical biological states such as the lack of oxygen in one’s brain. Yet there is another group of scientists who, after over 30 years of research, ended up with evidence supportive of NDErs’ accounts.

In the first part of this series, we discussed shared death experiences, in which someone close to a dying person experiences something similar to NDEs. Raymond Moody, M.D., Ph.D., told The Epoch Times that shared death experiencers generally see the spirit of the dying person leaving the body, and may see them meeting deceased people, experiencing a life review, going to another realm, and so on.

“All of the features that I identify as the initial near-death experiences that I studied years ago are also present in people who have these experiences at the bedside, who incidentally are not ill or injured,” Moody said during his presentation at the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) conference this year.

“There’s nothing wrong with the oxygen flow to their brains, and yet they have identically the same experiences that I hear from people who did come close to death.”

This, Moody thinks, overturns the conventional scientific hypothesis that NDEs are hallucinations caused by critical states in the brain. However, it still does not provide solid proof that NDErs’ accounts are true.

Yet, there are other documented cases the validity of which is difficult to disprove using conventional scientific explanations. For example, there are cases when NDErs see deceased relatives who they did not know had died, or whom they hadn’t even met.

Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, M.D., had such an experience during a coma caused by acute bacterial meningitis. During the IANDS conference, he recounted that, at certain points during his NDE, he experienced being a speck on a butterfly’s wings, and was accompanied by a being whom he regarded as a guardian angel.

Being an orphan, Alexander did not know about his biological siblings until recent years, and by the time he got into contact with them, one of his sisters had already died. One day after his NDE, he looked at a photograph that his siblings gave him, and found that the “guardian angel” was the sister who had died.

Another interesting case, described by Moody during an interview with The Epoch Times, involved a priest and a nun who had a car accident together in South Africa. Both of them were resuscitated from cardiac arrest and described a joint NDE of leaving their bodies and going into a light together, with identical details.

Verified NDE Accounts

There are also NDE accounts that are directly verified. NDE researchers Robert and Suzanne Mays recounted several such stories at the conference and during an interview with The Epoch Times.

One case involved a man severely injured in a car accident on a foggy night. He reported rising out of his body, flying over to a house, and jumping up and down and yelling for help outside a window of the second floor. A man heard the NDEr and called the police. After the police came, another man who was in the house reported seeing fog in the shape of a human jumping outside his window.

Robert Mays also spoke of cases where NDErs reported going into others’ bodies. In one instance, a man tried to commit suicide by hanging but regretted it during his NDE, so he went into his wife’s body to communicate with her and seek help. After he made contact with her, she said, “Oh, my God,” took a knife, went directly to where her husband was, and cut him down.

Another documented case involved George Rodonaia, M.D. and Ph.D. in neuropathology, who had been pronounced dead for three days. While in this state, he underwent an NDE. During his NDE, he experienced going inside his wife’s head and hearing her thoughts as she, believing that he was dead already, thought about men she could date and who could become her future husband. His wife later confirmed that she indeed had those thoughts before he came back to life.

The case that left Robert and Suzanne Mays with the biggest impression was that of George Ritchie, M.D., in 1943 when he was only 20, a soldier about to attend medical school. Ritchie was pronounced dead on the night that he was supposed to catch a train leaving the army base in Texas to Virginia for medical school.

Ritchie reported that he came out of his body, but at first did not realize this. Knowing that he had missed the train, he decided to leave the hospital and travel by his own means. After determining the directions from the location of the North Star, Ritchie reported that he started flying east.

As he passed through a town on his route, he spotted a man about to enter an all-night cafe and went down to ask the man for directions, only to be ignored by him. Then, Ritchie went to lean against the guide wire of a telephone pole, and his hand went through the wire. He realized that he had left his body and went back to the hospital, where a being manifesting as a light helped him get back into his body.

After the NDE, he had driven past the town and recognized the all-night cafe, thus knowing that the town he flew to during the NDE was Vicksburg. The details that Ritchie recalled of the area before he returned there physically were exactly the same as reality.

Based on Ritchie’s description of how he got out of the hospital, Robert and Suzanne Mays traced back the route that Ritchie possibly took, and found that the door that Ritchie had probably gone out of was at the same latitude as the all-night cafe in Vicksburg.

Ritchie had also mentioned seeing blinking lights in one of the towns he flew over. To confirm this, Robert and Suzanne Mays found a woman who lived in one of the towns along the route directly east of the hospital door that Ritchie was thought to have left from. The woman told them that there were four blinking lights in the town in 1943, and it turns out that the path that Ritchie possibly took was in between the locations of the lights that she pointed out.

When faced with NDE accounts like this, it is hard to dismiss their validity and explain the experiences as products of biological processes.

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RELATED LINK:

Pulse on Near-Death Experiences

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