Near Death Experience:
Glimpse of Immortality or Grand Illusion?
By: Nelson Abreu
Human history is no stranger to accounts of transcendental experiences of traveling through a tunnel into a realm of unbelievably bright light and freedom from physical restriction, often involving an encounter with spiritual guides and loved ones that have passed on. Near-death experiences (NDE’s), which occur after serious illness or psychological or physical trauma, have been largely disregarded by the medical and scientific community. However, a number of forthright physicians could not merely overlook the striking observations of their patients: accurate observations of events inside and outside of their rooms that transpired while they were clinically dead.
NDE’s have been brushed aside as a result of hallucination, anesthesia, and endorphins normally produced by the body, the structure and functioning of the brain, the eyes, or other sense organs that reportedly operate during these experiences. However, millions have had similar experiences in out-of-body phenomena: from a singular spontaneous event to daily, will-induced experiences that allow one to make repeated, posterior confirmations. Remarkably, as Dr. Kenneth Ring famously revealed, even people who are congenitally blind have had confirmed visual experiences!
At the 2004 Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference (
The December 2001 issue of the internationally acclaimed medical journal The Lancet published research by Dr. Pim Van Lommel et al conducted in 10 dutch hospitals for over 10 years. Patients (n = 334) were resuscitated from heart or breathing failures after a fixed amount of time. This ensured the amount of oxygen depletion would be approximately the same. This prospective study showed anoxia was not a leading cause of NDE’s because the incidence was 12 to 18% rather than almost all or almost none as was expected by skeptics. The majority of NDEr’s felt this was one of the most positively marking experiences of their life, helping them re-prioritize their activities toward more purposeful living, and even improving their personality and interactions with other humans.
Susan Blackmore, who has studied psi phenomena for three decades, is considered one of the leading authorities in the field. However, her direct experience is reportedly limited to a single, drug-induced OBE, having reported no lucid, intentional OBE’s. At the closing talks in Tucson, four days after the aforementioned comment, Blackmore revealed her frustration with people who still did not consider this a dead issue; but when challenged by the audience, she concede that further tests need to be done to test her speculative rebuttals. Invoking cases of anomalous perception resulting from electrical stimulation of the brain, Blackmore argued, with questionable logic, that OBE’s were clearly illusory perceptions triggered by physical processes alone.
Many skeptics ascribe NDE perceptions to supposed
perceptions of a dying brain. However,
lucid projectors have out-of-body experiences by will without a dying brain
condition and can still see “beings of life,” and even perceive the characteristic
“tunnel” often associated with NDE’s. More importantly, they are able to make
accurate observations of distant physical environments and interact among
themselves while projected. For instance, in the van Lommel’s study, one
patient recognized the nurse who removed his dentures while he (or rather, his
body) was in a coma. Under Michael
Sabom, MD, another prospective study is underway at
Cardiologist Sabom is among physicians who can no longer
deny that consciousness can exist in the absence of a functioning brain. With neurosurgeon Michael Spetzler (Barrow
The internist Barbara Rommer (
Central to the debate is the kind of worldview scientists adopt. Consciousness-centered paradigms point out that even though extraordinary experiences can be triggered by electromagnetic pulses, stress (i.e. drowning victim), physical trauma (i.e. head injury), and chemicals, they are also produced spontaneously or by will. Detected neural activity that is characteristic of such altered states is not necessarily the cause: it is just as logically plausible that it is a concomitant effect.
It is worth remembering that brain wave activity (EEG) is not always a reliable way to know about one’s state of consciousness. An advanced yogi may be awake but his brain and physiology may be reflective of someone deep asleep (delta waves). While some detractors argue the OBE is an inferior altered state because it does not produce widespread coherence in brain activity, they forget the reason: the consciousness has temporarily left the brain! However, according to a pilot study by Alegretti, the vibrational state (VS) reportedly does synchronize brain activity. The VS, which often precedes the OBE, is characterized by sensations of generalized “electricity,” “tingling,” or “vibration.”
The Swiss neuroscientist Olaf Blanke thinks that the OBE is caused by neurophysiological abnormalities, after observing the brains of some patients who reportedly have the experience. Assuming the experiences are real projections, should the differences be labeled abnormalities or evolutionary outliers? Could they depart from the average through evolution of the consciousness with some resulting physical changes? After all, it was the same Dr. Blanke who conceded, in a BBC radio debate with IAC president Wagner Alegretti that one of his patients was able to make accurate visual observations while projected that were difficult to account for. The OBE’s were triggered when her exposed brain’s right angular gyrus was stimulated by electromagnetic pulses.
According to Patricia Sousa, OBE researcher and NDE
specialist at the International Academy of Consciousness –
Skeptics attempt to ascribe NDE perceptions to lights and other possible perceptions of a dying brain. However, lucid projectors have out-of-body experiences by will without a dying brain condition and can still see “beings of light,” and even perceive the characteristic “tunnel” often associated with NDE’s. More importantly, they are able to make accurate observations of distant physical environments and interact among themselves while projected. For instance, in van Lommel’s study, one patient recognized the nurse who removed his dentures while he was in a coma.
Together with Rodrigo Medeiros, Patricia Sousa runs the
Image Target Project, an experiment that invites people from all over the world
to drop by a locked room in
It seems that no matter how the credible and persuasive the experimental evidence, there is no replacement for personal experience. After innumerable experiences outside and inside the body, non-physical reality is self-evident for this author, hundreds of colleagues, and many thousands throughout the world. As they say, proof is in the pudding. Have your own experiences!
Web FAQ’s on NDE: