NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES
(Investigator 108, 2006 May)
injured accident victim lies on a hospital theatre operating table, he
hears a distant voice say there is little hope of saving him.
is a loud ringing
or buzzing sound in his ears as he starts moving through a long dark
tunnel with a bright light at the end of it; suddenly he finds himself
outside his physical body, looking down, and recognizing his own inert
shape swathed in white and those gathered around; he watches as the
doctor and attendants feverishly go about their business; he sees the
spirits of former friends and relatives who greet him lovingly; a being
of light asks him to evaluate his life and helps him remember with a
playback of some of the major events in his life; he fights to return
to his body, and wakes to find himself in a hospital ward with an
anxious wife by his side.
recovers, and later
gropes for words adequate enough as he tries to relate his experience
The foregoing is a typical description of what is termed "a near death
experience", and which correlates generally with accounts given by
accident and cardiac arrest victims after a life saving operation or
The possibility that we survive after death in spirit form has long
intrigued man, and evidence for survival and matters relating to it has
long been sought by both psychical and scientific researchers.
Dr Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia, claims to have evidence
of a spirit capable of leaving its flesh and blood body, and many
people believe that during a near death crisis they were transported to
another level of existence.
Believers in survival after death argue that as people from widely
divergent backgrounds and beliefs experience remarkably similar events,
this points to the reality of the experience and provides compelling
evidence for the continued existence in some form or other of a
metaphysical body. One speculation suggests that a mechanism exists
which releases the soul at death, and that in the case of a near death
experience, the mechanism may be prematurely triggered.
In their book, At the Hour of Death, two parapsychologists,
Karlis Osis and Erlandur Haroldsson, tend to support the idea of
survival in their description of a typical near death experience: a
"vision, usually while the patient is fully conscious and not sedated.
The vision is generally that of a dead friend or relative, who is
typically described by the patient as being there to take him into
Their conclusions were based on large numbers of questionnaires sent to
physicians and nurses who, as trained observers, would be more likely
to be accurate in their accounts than the patients themselves. If the
reports are true, they would be comforting for those who believe in
survival after death.
Since the early 1970s, NDEs have been the subject of clinical and
scientific studies and in 1982, prompted the co-founding by a
University of Connecticut psychologist of the International Association
for Near Death Studies. Now based in Philadelphia, it has chapters in
many countries including Australia.
Generally the findings of most studies indicate that there are distinct
sequential stages through which the subjects pass – a loud ringing or
buzzing sound in the ears, a feeling of tranquillity, leaving the body
and observing their surroundings from a metaphysical body, a panoramic
review of events in their past lives, being welcomed by deceased
friends and relatives, entering a dark tunnel, perceiving a bright
light, and entering the light.
Occasionally subjects will give vivid descriptions of heaven or hell.
Quite often psychological and spiritual changes are produced in many
who have had the experience, not the least of which is a decreased fear
As one who has been personally subject to periodical and as yet
unexplained blackouts since my early teens, I have experienced most of
the above sensations although they have not been followed by any
psychological or spiritual changes.
This leads me to speculate that perhaps NDEs have physiological and
psychological explanations rather than metaphysical.
While the idea of friends to welcome one into a life hereafter is
comforting, does the evidence support the concept?
Psychobiologists are suspicious of claims that mature consciousness
exists beyond death, and sceptics point out that many of the sensations
referred to also occur during psychedelic drug trips. So are they
A professor of earth sciences, Western Australian John Happs, gives
what would appear to be the simplest and most plausible explanation:
"The brain is an incredible machine, and when you deplete its oxygen
supply you can get it to create all sorts of hallucinations ... an
altered state of consciousness can occur. There has been plenty of
research done on altered states of consciousness, where the person is
still conscious but the brain is creating scenes based on imagination."
Dr Susan Blackmore, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of
the West of England, has probably done as much research into NDEs and
OBEs (Out of Body Experiences) as anyone, and has written definitively
on the subjects.
Her theory parallels that of Happs and is based upon brain
physiology, cognitive psychology and her own work on OBEs. She explains
what is understood of how a healthy brain works, and what happens as,
suffocating and cut off from normal sensory input, the brain struggles
to survive and maintain a coherent model of the world. This death
struggle, she argues, produces the abnormal experiences of a NDE.
A fundamental objection to the hypothesis that some have witnessed life
after death in a NDE, is that the experience was still that of a living
Alcock, J. 1979. "Psychology and Near-Death Experiences." Skepical
Blackmore, S. 1982. Beyond the Body. Grenada. London.
----------------- 1993 Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences,
Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York.
Brandon, R. 1983. The Spiritualists. Alfred A. Knopf.
Hines, T. 1988. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus
Books, Buffalo. New York.
Hobson, J. and McCarley, R. 1977. "Brain as a Dream State Generator." American
Journal of Psychiatry. 134, 1335-1346.
Journal of Parapsychology, 1984. A Psychological Theory of the
Out-of-Body Experience. Vol. 48. pp 201-218.
Osis, K. and Haraldsson, E. 1977. "Deathbed Observations Physicians and
Nurses: A Cross-cultural Survey." Journal of the American Society
for Physical Research. 71, 237-259.
Rawlings, M. 1978. Beyond Death’s Door. Thoman Nelson. New York.
Ring, K. 1980. Life at Death: A Scientific Investigation of the
NearDeath Experience. Coward, McCann and Geoghegan. NY.
[From: Edwards H, A Skeptic's
Guide to the New Age]