Near-death Experience overview: what it is and some of the research
by Francis O’Neill
Following the earlier article, about the boy (Paul Eicke), who had a near-death experience, I thought it would be helpful to write a near-death experience overview, that picks up on some of the stages of NDE, and provide comments on some of the research – and also suggest where you can go to find out more about it. [ Near-Death Experience overview ]
I think it fair to say near-death experience is a matter that everyone should really have an interest in, and decide for themselves what they believe at this point. I anticipate it won’t be that long before we will have left belief behind and be dealing with facts instead. [ Near-Death Experience overview ]
Life After Life
Back in the 1970s I got hold of a book that gave me a bit of an eye opener. Here was a writer from a respected medical background who had written a radical book to help revolutionise our thinking about death. This was Life After Life, by Raymond Moody JR MD (1977 Bantam Books).
The cover of that version of the book states, The astounding bestseller that offers true experiences of those people declared clinically dead… descriptions so similar, so vivid, so overwhelmingly positive that they may change mankind’s view of life, death and spiritual survival forever. It certainly was a point of inspiring news to my thinking.
From a scientific perspective one can argue the cases that Dr Moody listed were anecdotal, except he discovered that a lot of people were reporting having similar kinds of experiences and so common characteristics or stages started to emerge, were being identified and even predicted.
In this book he listed ten stages – all of which have been found to be common in later observations and research. Later research has actually come up with more than fifteen common characteristics or stages.
A person going through a NDE however may only experience one or two of these common stages. On the other hand all of these could be experienced in a full NDE. [ Near-Death Experience overview ]
The NDE Stages
Let’s look at the near-death experience stages as Dr Moody listed them. These include:
The person hearing that they have been pronounced dead by a doctor or surgeon. This then is often followed by feelings of peace and quiet.
Next people report hearing a noise or sounds – sometimes pleasant, sometimes extremely unpleasant.
The noise or sounds can then give way to the next, tunnel, stage. People have the sensation of being pulled through a dark space of some kind. This is variously described as a cave, a well, tunnel, a vacuum, a void, even a sewer. There is however literally light at the end of this tunnel.
Out of body experience
In Moody’s next stage, people can report being out of their body. There is a bit of confusion here with later listings as in most recent orderings this ‘out of body’ looks to take place before the tunnel sequence. [ Near-Death Experience overview ]
Whichever way, people report being usually up at the ceiling looking down on surgeons working to try and resuscitate them. The dying person often accurately reports conversations and observations.
This is followed by a stage of meeting others – the presence of other spiritual beings in their vicinity. These are beings, who were there to ease people through their transition into death, or, to tell them that their time to die had not yet come. These beings may be known or unknown to the person. [ Near-Death Experience overview ]
Being of Light
Most commonly follows a stage where the person is met by a being of light, and having ‘a very definite personality.’ Futher, the ‘love and warmth which emanate from this being to the dying person are utterly beyond words, and s/he feels completely surrounded by it and taken up in it, completely at ease and accepted in the presence of this being.’
The next stage that a dying person may experience is a life review, given to them by the ‘being of light.’ This is experienced as provoking reflection on one’s life.
The next common experience is approaching a border or limit of some kind. It could be a ‘body of water, a gray mist, a door, a fence across a field, or simply a line.’ This is a ring-pass-not between going over to the ‘other side’ or returning to the body. It is obviously followed by a coming back by those who are resuscitated.
What is commonly reported in the early stages of the near-death experience is that the person wants to get back into their body as soon as possible. In the later stages, when resuscitation is having affect, people commonly report that do not want to come back – and often come back for the sake of others.
The experience also commonly leaves people with vivid memories and less fear concerning their eventual death. I might add it appears common too for people to change in their feelings in a positive way towards life and others. [ Near-Death Experience ]
How interest in near-death experience began
Although reports of NDEs go back to the 19th century (possibly earlier judging by Hieronymus Bosch painting circa 1490, the Ascent of the Blessed which is often cited as depicting the tunnel as seen by NDEs), interest in this fascinating field of study really only began with the writings of Jess E Weiss (The Vestibule 1972, featuring contributions by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and George Ritchie), also George Ritchie & Elizabeth Sherrill (Return from Tomorrow 1978), and of course Dr Raymond Moody.
This was soon to be followed by the establishment of the International Association for Near-death Studies (IANDS) in 1981.
IANDS is an organisation that encourages scientific research and education on the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual nature and ramifications of near-death experiences, across the globe. As well as the website IANDs also run publications, a peer-reviewed Journal of Near-Death Studies plus the quarterly newsletter, Vital Signs. It has since blossomed enormously.
Not everyone is on death’s door having a NDE
It is worth noting that on the IANDS website they say that in the 800 or so cases of NDEs that they have in their database, a quarter of the people ‘were not close to death‘ when they experienced what they experienced. Rather they were ‘in emotionally intense situations, praying or meditating, sleeping or in ordinary states of consciousness when this phenomenon occurred.‘
IANDS call these ‘near-death-like-experiences’ or NDLEs for short. Maybe you are one of the 25% who have had an out of body experience or similar…?
So is NDE now accepted as pointing to an afterlife?
If only… The sciences are somewhat divided over whether NDE is indicative of a mind or consciousness surviving after brain death, or, alternatively, the experiences are of a dying brain, or a dying brain on drugs, or a dying brain starved of carbon dioxide. There are lots of theories to counter what we could call the spiritual view.
There is also a degree of denial mixed in with this too in some quarters, by those who find it impossible to entertain, let alone accept, anything other than an organic brain oriented explanation for NDEs. Some of us, it seems, have difficulty standing outside-the-box let alone outside-of-the-body.
This near-death experience overview would not be complete without considering some of the research into it. [ Near-Death Experience ]
Research has mainly been carried out by the disciplines of medicine, psychology and psychiatry. Notably there is little interest in the field of neuroscience (that addresses psychological functions in context with the neural circuitry of the brain) to get involved in studies into NDE as yet.
Research has continued but funding is tight. Five independent studies published since 2001 in the UK, Holland and USA show that in a percentage of people revived from cardiac arrest and clinical death have memories from that period. This suggests that their consciousness continued for a period of time after death. They were able to see and hear while dead.
Pim van Lommel study
Out of these two notable studies stand out: In Holland, Dr Pim van Lommel study of 344 heart patients resuscitated after cardiac arrest, of which 62 reported having a NDE. All had been clinically dead at some point during their treatment.
The AWARE study
Then there is the AWARE study being run by Dr Sam Parnia at Southampton University, and carried out across 25 hospitals since 2008.
An important aspect of this study is to test whether people can report spotting objects they would only be able to see when outside of their body and having an up-on-the-ceiling perspective – I reckon if it was me being tested I’d need a ladder for this part of the experiment.
Preliminary results from this research – the largest research ever taken – are expected to be available later this year.
Update Nov 2014. Aware Study: This research has now been published. Go to Has Science proved life after death to read about it and results.
Around 10% of cardiac arrests can have a NDE
Across various research, in hospitals in a range of countries, it appears that around 10% of those who clinically die as a result of cardiac arrest have a NDE – some research goes lower down to 4% others higher, up to 18% – check out Wikipedia on NDE for more on this.
It does however indicate that up to 90% of people do not experience a NDE. Dr Parnia, however disputes these percentages are really accurate. He says, ‘Death starts when the heart stops beating, but we can intervene and bring people back to life, sometimes even after three to four hours when they are kept very cold. It could be that a far higher proportion of people have near-death experiences but don’t remember them.’
I believe that even the small percentages are significant enough to convince me that there is an afterlife – but then I have believed in this for a long time. We live in exciting times. A real break-through in what we know about after-death is imminent.
Dr Parnia actually considers (and probably not alone in this) it may be possible in 20 years or so for resuscitation technology and practices to have moved on so far that we might not be talking minutes or hours (as it is now) that a person can be brought back from the other side of death, but it could be up to a day.
Imagine what we might learn from such a breakthrough. Such an event would serve to answer the biggest question mankind can ask – and you don’t need me to tell you what that question is. I reckon I know what the answer would be too.
You will find much more information regarding NDE on the IANDS website. Meanwhile, if you are of a mind, leave your thoughts below…