Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Typical Agruments Against The Soul

1. If the mind/soul exist how do they interact with the body?

Leo: I use the radio analogy music is not produce by the radio but interacts with it

2. There's a strong correlation between brain states and mental states

Leo: There is also a strong correlation between the radio and the music but that does not mean that mental capacities can't continue after the brain and body is destroyed

3. >As brain complexity increases, mental abilities also increase

A powerful radio can pick up more signals than a weak radio.

4. Alzheimers and other brain diseases destroyed memories

In Irreducible Mind the authors call into question that assumption

There is also a brief but fascinating discussion of an "even rarer kind of deathbed experience, but one that like NDEs calls into question the absolute dependence of mental functioning on the state of the brain":

There are scattered reports of people apparently recovering from dementia shortly before death. The eminent physician Benjamin Rush, author of the first American treatise on mental illness, observed that "most of mad people discover a greater or less degree of reason in the last days or hours of their lives". Similarly, in his classic study of hallucinations, Brierre de Boismont noted that "at the approach of death we observe that ... the intellect, which may have been obscured or extinguished during many years, is again restored in all its integrity". Flournoy mentioned that French psychiatrists had recently published cases of mentally ill persons who showed sudden improvement in their condition shortly before death....

[Other examples of more recent vintage follow. Then:]

Such cases are few in number and not adequately documented, but the persistence of such reports suggest that they may represent a real phenomenon that could potentially be substantiated by further in traditions. If so, they would seriously undermine the assumption that in such diseases as Alzheimer's the mind itself is destroyed in lockstep with the brain. Like many of the experiences discussed in this chapter, such cases would suggest that in some conditions, consciousness may be enhanced, not destroyed, when constraints normally supplied by the brain are sufficiently loosened. [Pages 410-411]

5. Why do ghosts wear clothes?

The answer to that is that the ghost is going to want to present themselves not naked but presentable to the person he or she visits like in apparitions and in dreams.

6. Does every living thing have a soul?

I would say yes we all have made of a etheric substance.

Dualism

Here's arguments for dualism


The Mental is Private

Dualism holds that each of us has an immaterial mind or soul that exists in a non-physical realm. The physical world is in principle equally observable to all of us, but the mental is not. One of the most striking characteristics of dualism is therefore that the mental is private, that though each of us has access to our own mind through introspection, no one can directly observe anyone else’s mind. This position contrasts with that of substance monism, according to which minds are part of the physical, public world, and so could, in principle, be equally accessible to everyone.
Priveleged Access

Information that reaches us through our senses is notoriously fallible; though the world may appear to us to be a certain way, it may well be other than it appears to be. Our senses can lead us to make mistakes in describing the world.

Our knowledge of our own minds, however, is not like that; instead it is infallible. If I introspect and judge myself to be happy, or frightened, or to disbelieve a certain proposition, then my judgement will always be correct. This is because we have priveleged access to our own minds.
The Mental is Irreducible

Finally, and most fundamentally of all, substance dualism holds that the mental is irreducible, that it cannot be fully explained in purely non-mental terms. Dualists thus reject attempts to identify the mental with certain characteristics of the physical world, such as brain-states, or behaviour. There is more to mentality, says the dualist, than physicality, and so any attempt at a reductive definition of mind is doomed to failure.



Other Arguments for dualism is the brain in a vat argument and the evidence for the soul accurate near death experiences, out of body experience experiments, remote viewing experiments, xenoglossy, deathbed visions, past-life regressions, hynotic regressions, electronic voice phenomena experiment[the pye records], instrumental transcommunication experiments, the scole experiments, drop-in communicators, physical and mental mediumship, proxy-sittings, mental mediumship experiments, direct-voice, proxy-sittings, the cross correspondences, crisis apparitions, apparitions, hauntings, afterdeath communications etc.]

Monday, July 30, 2007

I Miss Winter, Professor Ray Hyman, Psychic Detectives

I love a blizzard here is the definition for it

1. Blizzard- the most severe type of winterstorm, is characterized by winds of 35 mph [56 kph] or greater,large with large quantities of snow, and temperatures of 20 degrees farenheit [-6 degrees farenheit] or lower.


Here's some good article on closed-minded skeptic Professor Ray Hyman

http://www.victorzammit.com/skeptics/rayhyman.html
http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/HymanReview.htm

It's raining outside here today but yesterday was very hot and humid. My brother Tommy and his friend and my friend Alex both split on a pizza last night from sam's pizza.

I am currently reading a interesting book it's called The Blue Sense Psychic Detectives And Crime

It mentions some Psychics who have solves crimes such as

Janoes Kele
Gene Dennis

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Proxy sittings refute the allegation of mind reading

There was a argument in the early days of Psychical Research that mediums were using telepathy from unconscious minds who were at the sittings.

The Reverend Charles Drayton Thomas, a Methodist minister who became a psychic researcher, spent many years as a proxy sitter investigating the mediumship of Mrs Leonard and recording his results for the Society for Psychical Research. He would go to a sitting knowing only the name of the deceased and the name of the person who desired communication.

In one instance in 1936-37 Thomas went to four sittings on behalf of Emma Lewis, a person he did not know. Through the medium, Mrs Leonord, he was able to gain seventy pieces of information which Emma later felt confirmed beyond all doubt that it was her father, Frederick William Macaulay, who was communicating.


The only possible objection a skeptic can make in relation to proxy sittings is fraud. There is no other possible or probable explanation for the information coming through the medium about someone who has passed on and who had no connection whatsoever with any of the sitters who were with the medium at the time.

But so far in the last fifty years or so, no one has been able to even suggest fraud in the proxy sittings conducted by the Reverend Drayton Thomas. Again, psychic researchers are impressed by the conspicuous absence of criticism of these particular proxy sittings.

For Example Professor Dodds says this about the possibilty fo fraud in the proxy sittings:



The hypothesis of fraud, rational inference from disclosed facts, telepathy from the actual sitter, and co-incidence cannot either singly or in combination account for the results obtained ( Dodds 1962).

You can get more information on the proxy-sittings evidence for survival after death here. http://www.enformy.com/LeonardCh05.htm

Sixth Sense: A Cat Is Able To Predict The Deaths Of Patients

This is an amazing article on a xat who is able to predict the deaths of patients. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/07/25/health/webmd/main3097899.shtml

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Belief Vs Evidence

A belief is something everything has however if it is not validated by scientific evidence it because a blind belief with no substance. Has Evidence can be falsify but that's what makes science interesting the thing is if there is enough scientific evidence for something then is because probable that it exists.

I have been researching a lot on life after death the evidence that i have read very carefully and looked with a critical eye i am now 90 percent convinced that life after death does exist that there is a nonphysical soul and that are consciousness does survive death.

Here's a few good websites on survival of the soul and consciousness after death.

www.victorzammit.com
www.survivalafterdeath.org
www.iands.org

There is also a lot of evidence for Psi Phenomena for example Dr.Dean Radin says things about the closed-minded skeptics who don't bother to research and investigate the evidence

Most of the commonly repeated skeptical reactions to psi research are extreme views, driven by the belief that psi is impossible. The effect of repeatedly seeing skeptical dismissals of the research, in college textbooks and in prominent scientific journals, has diminished mainstream academic interest in this topic. However, informed opinions, even among skeptics, shows that virtually all of the past skeptical arguments against psi have dissolved in the face of overwhelming positive evidence, or they are based on incredibly distorted versions of the actual research.

Here's another good article on The problem with James Randi

http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/New/Examskeptics/Randi_problem.html

Thursday, July 26, 2007

James Randi Million Dollar Challenge

If you already don't know Jame Randi former Magician was a million dollars for any psychic or any other person into the parnormal to demonstrate under controlled scientific experiments that they really have supernatural powers. Know you may think that well I mean this is a former magician he knows a lot about how people can be deceived Right so everything he must say about a psychic also what he says about scientists working in parapsychology must be true Right? Well the answer to that question may come as a surprise to some people the anwswer is James Randi's million dollar challenge is a publicity stunt also science demands replication this does not happen in the challenge he have to demonstrate it once and onle once.


Here's some good links discussing James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge and why it has not scientific value.

http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/controversies/Auerbach_Randi.htm


Here's a funny statement by James Randi

“Scientists are easily fooled,” explained Randi, “because they think they know.” But only skeptics really know.

So magician James Webster must be fooled ah? Professor Sir Williams Crookes, Dr.Dean Radin must also be fooled ah? along with a long list of others?

Here's another good article on James Randi's challenge ''He's changing the Rules''

http://www.paranormalreview.com/News/tabid/59/newsid368/78/Sceptic-changes-the-rules--and-targets-four-psychics/Default.aspx


Other Articles worth checking out

http://www.alternativescience.com/randi-retreats.htm
http://www.alternativescience.com/james-randi.htm
http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/whoswho/Randi_dogs.htm
http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/exam/Sean_Randichallenge.htm

According To James Randi he always has a out and that the evidence for survival after death is impossible. As you can see he already has made up his mind about this his mind is now closed to any possibility of this possibly being true.

Now there is no doubt we need skeptics but of the open-minded type sadly though organizations such as csicop and others are promoting a closed-minded way to say well these things are impossible so let's just do this for fun and leave serious investigation out.

My Day At Work, The Weather Here, Richard Wiseman Refuted By Stephen Braude

Today I did a box of bananas, bag up some bananas[markdowns], I bag up some onions, I put out vegetables that look like potatoes but aren't. I put out some romaine lettuce, I put out some hothouse tomatoes and 5 by 6 tomatoes, I also put out some cucumbers and some oranges.

The weather here is hot like 44 degrees in the sun.

Here's a good article refuting Richard Wiseman Agrument on a classic case of physical mediumship

http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/New/Examskeptics/Braude_Wiseman.html

Here are some wrestlers I like watching

Melina
John Cena
Hulk Hogan
Stone Cold
Batista
Kane
The Big Show
Lita
Christy Hemme
Goldberg
Brock Lesnar
Candice Michelle

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Best Physical Mediums And How My Day's Gone So far

Here is a list of who I think the best physical mediums are that have shown evidence for survival after death.

DD Homes
http://www.survivalafterdeath.org/mediums/home.htm

The Schneider Boys
http://www.survivalafterdeath.org/mediums/schneider.htm

Miss Stella C
http://www.survivalafterdeath.org/mediums/stella.htm

Helen Duncan
http://www.survivalafterdeath.org/articles/goldston/duncan.htm

Eusapia Palladino
http://www.survivalafterdeath.org/mediums/palladino.htm

Florence Cook
http://www.survivalafterdeath.org/mediums/palladino.htm

Also Franek Kluski, the Warsaw medium who was notable for materializing large numbers of animals and mediumship was verified by Dr Gustave Geley, who participated in Kluski's seances at the Paris Institut Metapsychique International and by Prof. F. W. Pawlowski.

My day went pretty well back to work this morning I put out a bag of turnips, a bag of 2 pound carrots, put out some potatoes 10 pound bags, i put out some spanish onions and red onions, i put out two boxes of bananas, i bag up some banana's [markdowns] also I put out a box of brocoli

I'm planning on going to the gym too probably workout all triceps, and back.

Here's a some movies that I like House of a thousand corpses, See No Evil, The Messengers, The Devil's Rejects, King Kong.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Mind-Body Problem

Currently Neuroscience believes that out consciousness is a by product of electrical chemical activity going on in the brain [The Production Theory. There is a another theory though it's called the receiver/transmission theory it says that are brain receives the mind and that our mind/soul is a signal that is being picked up from the Aether background medium.

Three are three different views on the mind-body problem

Materialism- Only physical things exists mind is just a by product of the brain

Idealism- Everything is Mind and that matter is a illusion

Dualism- Matter and Mind are both real they interact but are also distinct from one another.


Now I accept Dualism in the form of

Substance Dualism
Substance dualists argue that the mind is an independently existing substance




Mind Distinguished from Brain

If the physical/material universe is all there is, then every facet of occultism (which necessarily occurs in a nonphysical universe) is simply a delusion. There is, however, far too much evidence in support of so-called ESP, telekinesis, precognition, poltergeist activity and other forms of evidence for life after death allow one to accept materialistic dogma. Carl Rogers eventually confessed that "mind is an entity far greater than brain…"11 Recognizing that consciousness could not be explained by materialism, Rogers realized the consequences and on that basis predicted the imminent practical application of "such paranormal phenomena as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition... healing energies… the power of meditation, transcendent forces.

The famous neurologist Wilder Penfield put it well: "The mind is independent of the brain. The brain is a computer, but it is programmed by something that is outside itself, the mind."13 Logically, if the mind/spirit/soul is independent of the brain, it could survive the death of the body. Carl Jung, reflecting upon whether the soul, which he called "the psyche," might survive physical death, wrote:

Total loss of consciousness can be accompanied by perceptions of the outside world and vivid dream experiences. Since the cerebral cortex, the seat of consciousness, is not functioning at these times, there is as yet no explanation for such phenomena. They may be evidence for at least a subjective persistence of the capacity for consciousness—even in a state of apparent unconsciousness.14

That some form of consciousness persists even when the brain is not functioning is evident from the many testimonies of those who have been declared brain dead and yet lived to describe in detail what was happening around them while they were being revived.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Here's A List Of Some Artists And Bands I like, Plus Books On The Afterlife

Aerosmith, Outcast, Aqua, Korn, Jacksoul, Briteny Spears, 50-Cent, Puff Daddy, Akon, Kelly Clarkson, Jojo, The Backstreet Boys, The Moffatts, All-Saints, Enimem, Acdc, Whitesnake, Avril Lavigne, Paul Brandt, Clay Walker, Fefe Dobson, Ludacris, T.I, Prodigy, Marilyn Manson, Queen, Abba, Bon-Jovi, Nortorious BMG, Vanilla Ice, Boys 2 Men, Coldplay, The Beastie Boys, New Kids On The Block, Hanson, Coolio, Weird Al, Sara Evans, Carrie Underwood, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, Mark Chesnutt, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Brooks n Dunn, Trisha Yearwood, Shedaisy, Aaron Lines, Diamond Rio, Oasis, Greenday, Blink 182, The Barenaked Ladies, Beach Boys, Pink, Jimi Hendrix, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, The Counting Crows, Keshia Chante, Christina Aquilera, Ron Sexsmith, Guns n Roses, Bryan Adams, Lionel Ritchie, Enrigue Iglesias, George Canyon, The Dixie Chicks, Reba Mcintire, Tim Mcgraw, Faith Hill, LFO, TLC, Steve Wonder, Creed, Del Shannon, Elisa Estrada, Supertramp, Metallica, MegaDeth, Poison, Joss Stone, Verve, Tony Yayo, Martina McBride, Colin Raye, Billy Ray Cyrus, The RoadHammers, Jason Mccoy, Usher, Kos, Twisted Sister, Method Man, Edwin, John Mayer, Seal, Free, Kiss, The Drifters, Justin Timderlake, N Sync, Tom Cochrane, Jann Arden, Taylor Swift, MIMS, Mase, Evanscence, Nickelback, Phil Vassar, shakira, Celine Dion, Sean Paul, Sean Kingston, Sawyer Brown, Ace Of Base

Now I will admit I have not read any of the books below however I have read some book on this subject and they were good.

1. Nothing Better Than Death By kevin Williams
2. After We Die, What Then? By George Meek
3. MindSight: Near Death And Out Of Body Experiences In The Blind By Kenneth Ring
4. Phone Calls From The Dead By D Scott Rogo And Raymond Bayless
5. Life Is Forever By Susy Smith
6. They Walk Among Us By Emma Heathcote-James
7. Life After Life By Raymond Moody
8. Closer To The Light By Melvin Morse And Paul Perry
9. Light And Death By Michael Sabom
10. Conversation Beyond The Light By Pat Kubis And Mark Macy

Out of Body Specific Research That Give Evidence For The Soul Leaving The Body

OBE Specific Research:

--The Monroe Institute's OBE Experiments.

--Charles Tart's OBE Experiment of having an experienced OBEr accurately read a five-digit number from an unreachable/unseeable location. 100,000 to 1 chance accuracy.

--Robert Morris' OBE Experiments with Keith Harary who reported accurately on sitters, letters, and positions, in a sealed laboratory 20 yards away.

--Clinical testing of OBEs - in which strain gauges were triggered at a distance, apparently by the test subject's roving presence, and in which an animal reacted consistently as if the subject were in the room when he was reportedly having an OBE while asleep in the next room.

--The US Government's 20 year long Program "Stargate" on Remote Viewing which had a number of amazing positive veridical results with Remote Viewers, as well as a number of misses.


These Studies support a soul separating from the physical body.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Materialistic Dogma

The current state of science is mostly full of materialist scientists that believe in physical things. No matter have much evidence there is supporting a spiritual reality that we all go to when our physical bodies cave in. The same old catch phrase keeps coming ''extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'' well that is a valid assertion there is a EMORMOUS amount of evidence supporting these claims. Now i realize there are crackpots and loons out there like a lot of mediums who do deceive people. However there are some mediums that have shown they really can communicate with our loved ones.

The fear among many scientists is if Psi phenomena is accepted into the scientific community then there will be a paradigm change from materialistic to a spiritual view of the universe and of life. There's a good website countering skeptics arguments

here it is http://www.victorzammit.com/skeptics/winston.html

For Example David Deutsch Ph.D.
works at the Centre for Quantum Computation at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford University. In the autumn of 2001, he denounced a fellow quantum physicist, Brian Josephson, for suggesting that quantum physics might lead to an explanation of "processes still not understood within conventional science such as telepathy". Deutsch asserted: "It is utter rubbish. Telepathy simply does not exist.

It's funny because David Detsche asserts that there are lots and lots of parellel universes also he talks about time travel neither one has any evidence.

Another good example is Dr.Richard Wiseman trying to debunk psychic pet phenomena

http://www.sheldrake.org/D&C/controversies/wiseman.html

Wwe And Richard Dawkins God Delusion Book

Well currentl the Great Kakali is the wwe champion he however will be defending his title in a triple threat match at The Great American Bash here is who I think will win the matches tonight that are on pay-per-view.



WWE Champion John Cena vs. Bobby Lashley

I think John Cena will win this match


World Heavyweight Champion The Great Khali vs. Batista vs. Kane - Triple Threat Match

I think Batista is going to get the title back tonight

ECW World Champion John Morrison vs. CM Punk

CM Punk


Intercontinental Champion Umaga vs. Jeff Hardy

Umaga

Women's Champion Candice Michelle vs. Melina

Melina


Dusty Rhodes vs. Randy Orton (Texas Bull Rope Match)

Randy Orton

United States Champion MVP vs. Matt Hardy

Matt Hardy

Sandman vs. Carlito

Sandman


Cruiserweight Open

Jamie Noble


Now to Richard Dawkins God Delusion Book he makes a unsupported assumption when he says we are a product of natural selection WHY? because the orgin of life remains a mystery and for Richard Dawkins to say that the origin of life has already been solved is misleading. http://www.amazon.com/Origins-Skeptics-Guide-Creation-Earth/dp/0553343556/ref=sr_1_1/104-2217848-5403167?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1177455170&sr=1-1

Also there is a argument called the cosmic "fine-tuning" that made a habitable universe possible that Richard Dawkins ignores plus the MASSIVE amount of evidence for survival of bodily death also the STRONG evidence for Psi Phenomena and there is other evidence that in biomedicine and some in neuroscience that seem incompatible with a production model for the mind and brain relationship instead it seems like it supports the radio model that the brain is the receiver of consciousness or tuner.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Reincarnation

Back in the day Dr.Ian Stevenson did studies on past-life regression cases. There's 21 cases which he sums up as good evidence for reincarnation such as birth marks.

This site is also has good information on past-life research. Also at present Dr.Jim tucker is doing reincarnation research

One of the explanations to try and explain the evidence

is Cryptomnesia

This simply means that the reborn child had learnt in this lifetime what he is saying about some previous life. The claim is that, consciously or unconsciously, the reborn child must have read the information, or heard about it, or been told about it, but forgotten it.

Dr Stevenson explains that some of the original information from some of the reborn children, especially from those who were as young as two years, was not known to those around the reborn child. From Stevenson's own observation, the child on learning to say a few words would start to talk about his or her previous life. This greatly reduces the other possibilities where the information could have come from.


Another one is fraud

Fraud ?

Initially one has to take into consideration the qualifications, the professionalism, the caliber and the integrity of one of America's foremost scientific investigators. Dr Stevenson has a long track record as a highly professional scientific investigator, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. In addition, years of interviewing thousands of witnesses gave him enormous practical experience in detecting fraud. He himself wrote textbooks on psychiatric examination and diagnostic interviewing.

He says that his interviews and cross-examinations of so many children and witnesses clearly reveal that it would be a gigantic, a Herculean task for anyone to try to organize the situation, the coaching of the parents, relatives, friends, witnesses—sometimes the number involved is over fifty people and even more.

Then there would have to be the staging of the emotions when there is a reunion of the child with the loved ones of his former life. The staging of the intense emotions of these situations is outside the human capacity to structure 'on site'. Having interviewed thousands of 'reborn' children, Dr Stevenson adds that, 'small children are not easy to coach for the assumptions of the roles that do not seem natural to them'.

Stevenson publicly stated that he does not give money to any of the people involved and consistently applies his policy that no payment is to be made for any testimony. Nor is publicity given as some incentive to co-operate.

Dr Stevenson has always been fully aware that the scientific investigations he conducted would be scrutinized in the minutest detail by other scientists, by outsiders and by those with vested interests who would not want him to succeed and who would try to denigrate and undermine his scientific investigations into the afterlife and reincarnation.

Full Rebuttal To Keith Augustine's Attack On Nde's

Out-of-Body Discrepancies

(1) Some NDErs report out-of-body experiences during their NDEs where what is seen 'out-of-body' does not correspond to what is actually happening in the physical world. Peter Fenwick reports the NDE of a World War II veteran whose unit came under attack from aerial bombers:



The battery cook (a devout Muslim) came running in panic toward me.... He lay down, touching my right elbow, and calmed himself.... As I looked up one of the Heinkel pilots executed a tight turn over the rim of the wadi and lined up on us.... I Leoking at all that remained of Osman the cook, who had been lying beside me. I noticed also that my Bren gunner, who had been close to my other side, had disappeared (Fenwick and Fenwick 43-44).

Fenwick concedes that in this case it is "quite clear" that this NDEr was not actually observing the physical world when he saw his body from above. Obviously this NDE must have been a brain-generated hallucination. Despite his sympathy for the survival hypothesis, Fenwick is explicit about the hallucinatory nature of this NDE: "He was unaware of the cook, who had been lying beside him--and was now not simply lying beside him but spread all over his back, where he could hardly have failed to be seen" (Fenwick and Fenwick 44).

Leo: But is that the only explanation a brain-generated hallunication let's think carefully there is another one and that is the patient soul iamgine things that were not there does not mean it is a hallunication

(2) Fenwick also mentions the case of a woman who had 3 spontaneous out-of-body experiences during her second pregnancy (Fenwick and Fenwick 40-41). In her third OBE, she found it difficult to 'return to her body.' Fenwick writes: "Mrs Davey adds that although she was up on the ceiling, she did not see her body" (Fenwick and Fenwick 41).

Nitpicking only the stuff that fit's into his worldview

(3) In a case from "the Evergreen Study" (conducted at Evergreen State College in Washington), a woman had a ruptured Fallopian tube due to an ectopic pregnancy (where a fertilized egg implants and grows in one of the tubes rather than the uterus) and reported seeing things in the room while 'out-of-body' which didn't exist:

Leo: Misconceiving things is different than hallunicated for example this happens in crimes but that does not mean that the eye witness is hallunicating.

I saw this little table over the operating table. You know, those little round trays like in a dental office where they have their instruments and all? I saw a little tray like that with a letter on it addressed (from a relative by marriage she had not met) (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 109).

leo: maybe because it was a relative by marriage but did not know

The authors report that this woman told her sister-in-law about her NDE, who happened to be a nurse who was called into the operating room at the time of the NDE. But the nurse was adamant that there was neither a letter nor a round table in the operating room.

However, the authors note that there was a small rectangular table for holding instruments in the room called a 'Mayo' and quickly deduce a probable scenario for why this experience took the form it did: "Notice [Mayo] sounds like 'mail.' She may have heard someone call the tray by name (since hearing is reportedly the final sense to fail at death) and connected it with 'mail.'" (109). Moreover, the letter seen out-of-body was addressed from the nurse's brother-in-law, which suggests that she might have heard the nurse's name and incorporated that information into her experience as well.

What is particularly interesting about this case is not simply that it contains discrepancies, but also that it seems to confirm that out-of-body imagery in NDEs is sometimes obtained directly from scraps of conversation rather than from some paranormal source.

Leo: Here we have a big assumption with no evidence to back it up.

(4) In a study of 264 subjects with sleep paralysis, Giorgio Buzzi and Fabio Cirignotta found that about 11% of their subjects (28 people) "viewed themselves lying on the bed, generally from a location above the bed" (Buzzi 2116). As Buzzi points out, however, these out-of-body experiences often included false perceptions of the physical environment:

I invited these people to do the following simple reality tests: trying to identify objects put in unusual places; checking the time on the clock; and focusing on a detail of the scene, and comparing it with reality.

I received a feedback [sic] from five individuals. Objects put in unusual places (eg, on top of the wardrobe) were never identified during out-of-body experiences. Clocks also proved to be unreliable: a woman with nightly episodes of sleep paralysis had two out-of-body experiences in the same night, and for each the clock indicated an impossible time.... Finally, in all cases but one, some slight but important differences in the details were noted: "I looked at 'me' sleeping peacefully in the bed while I wandered about. Trouble is the 'me' in the bed was wearing long johns ... I have never worn such a thing" (Buzzi 2116-2117).


Leo: Here could of been teh soul imagining long johns but it does not mean it was a hallunication also Dr.Pim Van Lommel's study of 344 cardiac arrest patients only 2 had accurate verdical perceptions.

Buzzi concludes that because these experiences contained out-of-body discrepancies and failed his other 'reality tests,' his subjects' out-of-body imagery must have been derived from memory and imagination rather than from the physical environment at the time (2117).

(5) Melvin Morse reports an NDE where a young girl sees her teacher by her body during an OBE when her teacher is not actually there. This case also has other hallucinatory features, such as encountering doctors in the NDE:

[O]ne child.... could see her own body as doctors wearing green masks tried to start an IV. Then she saw her living teacher and classmates at her bedside, comforting her and singing to her (her teacher did not visit her in the hospital). Finally, three tall beings dressed in white that she identified as doctors asked her to push a button on a box at her bedside, telling her that if she pressed the green button she could go with them, but she would never see her family again. She pressed the red button and regained consciousness (Morse 68-69).

(6) Using open-ended questions, Morse also found a case where a child that was clinically dead reported that while she was 'above her body' looking down, "her mother's nose appeared flattened and distorted 'like a pig monster'" (Morse 67).

Leo:Here could of been the child's soul creating with their soul and mind like a pig nose. Also as far as children seeing living people goes check out this from PMH Atwater's book the complete's idiots guide to the near death experience



PMH Atwater in her book, "The Complete Idiots Guide To Near-Death Experiences", states that in those cases where children and people saw living friends and living relatives, it was merely as an introductory calming event to ease the transition of the person to the other side, and that after this initial calming phase ended, the "living person" disappeared, and did not reappear in the rest of the NDE event.

Some NDErs even said that the angels and higher beings that they met during their NDE who looked like human beings turned into a ball of light when asked, "Is that how you really are"? So, it seems that the "Living Persons" can also be hiding their true form as well, and are actually a higher light being trying to ease the person's transition in the introductory phase.


(7) Fenwick recounts an NDE where the NDEr 'observed' a procedure that never took place during the heart bypass operation she underwent at the time:

[S]he left her body and watched her heart lying beside her body, bumping away with what looked like ribbons coming from it to hands. In fact, this is not what happens in a heart bypass operation, as the heart is left within the chest and is never taken outside the body (Fenwick and Fenwick 193).

Fenwick tries to explain away this major discrepancy by pointing out that ribbons are indeed tied to arteries during an operation of this sort and by attributing the false perception to misidentification. However, it is difficult to see how a person truly out-of-body with vivid perceptual capabilities could confuse arteries (ribboned or not) with a beating heart lying next to her outside of her body. In the remainder of her experience this NDEr reported 'traveling' to a place that looked like an enormous silver 'airplane hangar' with tiny figures off in the distance, miles away.

leo: Unless they had no knowledge of the heart and what artery it was.

(8) Others who have had an out-of-body experience during their NDEs have reported seeing friends out-of-body with them who are, in reality, still alive and normally conscious. The Evergreen Study also recorded a clearly hallucinatory near-death experience after a major car accident:

Well, then I remember, not physical bodies but like holding hands, the two of us, up above the trees. It was a cloudy day, a little bit of clouds. And thinking here we go, we're going off into eternity... and then bingo, I snapped my eyes open and I looked over and he was staring at me [ellipsis original] (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 110).

The authors of the study go on to write: "In this incident a woman had lost consciousness but her male companion had not. In the experience, she perceived the two of them in an out-of-body state, yet her friend never blacked out" (110).

Leo: again the exeperiencer is misconceiving things but does not the experiencer is hallunicating .

(9) OBErs who do not lose consciousness before their experiences often report watching their bodies continue to perform coordinated actions--as if they were still in control their bodies--while nevertheless apparently viewing them from above. Recalling an OBE while on patrol for the first time, chasing an armed suspect, a police officer reported:

I promptly went out of my body and up into the air maybe 20 feet above the scene. I remained there, extremely calm, while I watched the entire procedure--including watching myself do exactly what I had been trained to do (Alvarado 183).

leo: Here we have evidence of accurate out of body perception in this part keith augustine uses this quote from alvardo to support the afterlife hypothesis.

After the suspect had been restrained and the danger was over, the officer returned to normal consciousness. Another OBEr, who had been running for over 12 miles training for a marathon, reported:

I felt as if something was leaving my body, and although I was still running along looking at the scenery, I was looking at myself running as well (184).

This ability to simultaneously 'hover' above the scene and continue to function as if 'in' the body strongly suggests the hallucinatory nature of these experiences. In some sleep disorders, for instance, subjects are able to exhibit "directed" behavior--e.g., sleepwalking and sleep eating--even though they are evidently not normally conscious. The ability to function as otherwise normal, though taking on an extraordinary new perspective, makes much more sense if such experiences are occurring 'in' the body all along, rather than in some remote discarnate entity detached from the physical body.


Leo: The soul has an amazing abilty that many of else cannot understandLeo
As Fenwick points out, if OBEs and NDEs are hallucinations,

we should expect there to be major discrepancies between the psychological image--what the person sees from up there on the ceiling, which will be constructed by the brain entirely from memory; and the real image--what is actually going on at ground level. Mrs Ivy Davey, for example, did not see her body, although her body was clearly there (Fenwick and Fenwick 41).

And in the cases above this is exactly what we find. Discrepancies between what's seen out-of-body and what's actually happening in the physical world are found in spontaneous OBEs, in NDEs where a real or perceived threat of imminent harm triggers an OBE, and in NDEs that include an OBE along with other NDE components (e.g., a tunnel and light).

Leo: No we don't what we see is misconceiving it's a part of the human condition but that does not mean that it really was not real.



Veridical Paranormal Perception During OBEs?

The cases cited in this essay show that many near-death experiences are hallucinations. NDE cases which include false descriptions of the physical environment have been found not only by different near-death researchers, but by researchers searching for evidence that NDEs are not hallucinatory. This motivation among researchers makes it impossible to estimate the prevalence of NDEs with clearly hallucinatory features. As Bruce Greyson points out, the file-drawer problem is a likely factor here: NDE accounts with clearly hallucinatory features may end up filed away indefinitely, while only more dramatic accounts are deemed fit for publication by NDE researchers (Greyson 344). Similarly, NDEs with obviously hallucinatory traits seem particularly likely to be underreported by NDErs themselves, given the disparity between how real one's NDE felt at the time and the realization that it could not possibly reflect reality if, for instance, the NDEr communicated with his still-living mother in an ostensibly transcendental realm. Nevertheless, given that many NDEs are already known to be hallucinations, it is likely that other NDEs are hallucinations as well.

leo:Here we have a assertion by keith augisgustine just because these ones appear as hallunications that we MUST say that the rest are hallunications


The majority of near-death researchers are interested in the subject because they believe NDEs provide evidence for life after death. Thus near-death researchers generally disregard hallucinatory NDEs while searching for cases of veridical paranormal perception. But at the end of the day, we are left with no compelling evidence that NDErs have actually been able to obtain information from remote locations, and we have clear evidence that NDErs sometimes have false perceptions of the physical world during their experiences.

Leo: untrue statement there they are not lloking for evidence of life after death not one of these doctors ever expected evidence for life after death but it happened.
Mark Fox provides a very balanced assessment of the evidential value of near-death experiences in his recently published Religion, Spirituality and the Near-Death Experience. As a research committee member of the Religious Experience Research Centre at the University of Wales, Lampeter, Fox is certainly no enemy of dualism. Yet he concludes that NDE research to date largely presupposes some sort of dualism rather than providing evidence for it:

This needs to be spelled out loudly and clearly: twenty-five years after the coining of the actual phrase 'near-death experience,' it remains to be established beyond doubt that during such an experience anything actually leaves the body. To date, and claims to the contrary notwithstanding, no researcher has provided evidence for such an assertion of an acceptable standard which would put the matter beyond doubt (Fox 340).

In fact, very few cases of 'veridical perception' during NDEs have been corroborated. In many cases, details which are said to have been accurate "are not the kind that can easily be checked later" (Blackmore, "Dying" 114). Even the 'founding father' of near-death studies, Raymond Moody, concedes that most cases of alleged veridical perception during NDEs are found well after the fact and are usually attested to only by the NDEr and perhaps a few friends (114). And in one study Carlos Alvarado found that although nearly one-fifth of participants claimed to have made "verifiable observations" during their OBEs, only 3 of the 61 cases even "qualified as potentially veridical when experients were asked to provide fuller descriptions" (Alvarado 187).

Leo: all researchers in nde research realize that accurrate out of body eprceptions are not as common as someone having a near death expereince but that does not mean that all accurate out of body perceptions must be hallunications because materialism says so.


Susan Blackmore and Tillman Rodabough consider at length how accurate information can be incorporated into realistic out-of-body imagery during NDEs. Both conclude that the primary source of information in the construction of out-of-body imagery is probably hearing. Rodabough notes that patients who appear to be unconscious often repeat earlier comments made by doctors and nurses even without an OBE, and "have even been able to recall operating room conversations under hypnosis" (Rodabough 108). But Blackmore points out that other sensory sources of information are also available to patients. She notes that a residual sense of touch during NDEs could explain accurate details about where defibrillator pads were placed or where chest injections were administered (Blackmore, "Dying" 125).

Leo: Yes but we would expect the audio-sensory input a spike in it on the EEG monitor that has not been shown.

Remaining out-of-body imagery is probably derived from imagination and general background knowledge. For example, Rodabough points out that childhood socialization trains us to imagine how we appear to others 'from the outside'; thus visualizing oneself from a third-person perspective comes naturally (Rodabough 108). Blackmore notes that when people are asked to imagine walking down a beach, they usually picture themselves from above, from a bird's-eye perspective (Blackmore, "Dying" 177). Carol Zaleski suggests that we should expect some NDEs to include OBEs because the most natural way to imagine experiencing one's death is to imagine looking down on one's body from above (as people typically do when asked to imagine viewing their own burials). In her lesser-known 1996 book on NDEs, The Life of the World to Come, Zaleski notes:

The people who testify to near-death experience are neither Platonists nor Cartesians, yet they find it natural to speak of leaving their bodies in this way. There simply is no other way for the imagination to dramatize the experience of death: the soul quits the body and yet continues to have a form (Zaleski, "Life" 62-63, cited in Fox 89).

Leo: here we have another true statement that furthur supports the afterlife hypothesis.


Background knowledge also surely plays a role. Personal experience and media portrayals make it easy for us to imagine what a hospital scene should look like (Rodabough 109). Even specific details about people are fairly predictable in a hospital setting:

When either a person or their roles [sic] is well known, it is not difficult to predict dress or behavior. For example, isn't it easy to guess that a physician will wear his greens in surgery?... Behavior, particularly where strong emotions are concerned, may be even easier to predict. Mother falls apart and begins to sob hysterically while Dad puts his arms around her in consolation and stoically keeps his anxiety inside.... [Thus] the probability of an accurate description can be high even without an out-of-body experience [emphasis mine] (Rodabough 109).

Blackmore ultimately concludes that "prior knowledge, fantasy and lucky guesses and the remaining operating senses of hearing and touch," plus "the way memory works to recall accurate items and forget the wrong ones" is sufficient to explain out-of-body imagery in NDEs (Blackmore, "Dying" 115). Cases incorporating out-of-body discrepancies, including those based on misinterpretations of scraps of conversation (e.g., seeing mail in out-of-body imagery when 'Mayo' is spoken), appear to confirm this suggestion.

Leo: As Dr.Greg Stone points out How does she explain reports of out-of-body perceptions that contradict her theory?

"The answers include prior knowledge, fantasy and lucky guesses and the remaining senses of hearing and touch."

Aware of the tenuous nature of her argument, she must reassure us:

"This may sound destructive and doubting--an exercise in debunking. But my intention is not to debunk so much as to assess the alternatives."

If one follows the arguments in the book, however, it's clear the sole purpose is to debunk. There is no intention of assessing alternatives. When research clearly supports the Afterlife Hypothesis, the data is ignored or dismissed as "lucky guesses and fantasy." She contends there is no spirit, thus no reason to consider the Afterlife Hypothesis. Research data is replaced with personal bias and opinion.

Our memories are constantly reconstructed as we retell stories about our pasts. When a person has an extraordinary story to tell, such as how he found himself out of his body, with all that suggests about the possibility of life after death, the likelihood of exaggeration--even unintentional exaggeration--is obvious. In such cases, ultimately "the version we tell is likely to be just that little bit more interesting or poignant than it might have been" (115).

In fact, most NDE reports are provided to researchers years after the experience itself. Ultimately, all we have to go on is after-the-fact reports of private experiences. The constant reconstruction of memory makes it difficult to know just what NDErs have actually experienced. This problem is clearly recognized by Fox:

[T]he fact that NDErs' testimonies are indeed retrospectively composed ... arouses a suspicion that what NDErs recall--and hence narrate--about their experiences may in fact be different than what they actually experienced during their near-death crises.... [A]ttempting to ascertain what really happens to NDErs--what the core elements of their experiences actually are in and of themselves--may be nigh on impossible to determine.... [W]hat is remembered about an experience or situation may not actually accurately correspond to what was experienced at the time (Fox 197).

Following Zaleski, Fox also wonders to what extent people other than the NDEr play a part in composing an NDE report. Both note, for example, Raymond Moody's concession that he sometimes used leading questions when interviewing respondents for his 1975 Life After Life (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 149; Fox 199). Zaleski also points out that after urging his respondents to speak freely, Kenneth Ring would ask specific questions about whether his subjects encountered features of Moody's model of the NDE, such as: "[W]ere you ever aware of seeing your physical body?" or "Did you at any time experience a light, glow, or illumination?" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 105-106). After Sabom allowed his patients to speak freely, he would also "delve for the elements described in Life After Life" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 109). One wonders how much similarity would have been found between individual NDE accounts in the West had these early researchers simply asked their respondents to speak freely about their experiences without steering them in a particular direction by probing for Moody's elements.

This raises further questions about the extent to which other near-death researchers have also used leading interviewing techniques (Fox 199-200). As Greyson points out, how a counselor responds to an NDEr "can have a tremendous influence on whether the NDE is accepted and becomes a stimulus for psychospiritual growth or whether it is regarded as a bizarre experience that must not be shared" [emphasis mine] (Greyson 328). While some counselors might take a dismissive attitude to such experiences, many are likely to influence NDErs in the opposite direction, and near-death researchers seem particularly likely to positively reinforce an afterlife interpretation of NDEs. This may be one reason why so many NDErs accept that interpretation. Another may be that widespread belief in an afterlife among the general population has already primed NDErs to interpret unusual experiences on the brink of death in terms of an afterlife. And on top of such outside influences, Fox notes:

[Simply] having an experience which may appear to the subject to point to the possibility of immortality--such as an OBE whilst resting or sleeping, leading to the conviction that the soul can function independently of the body--may suffice to instil in him or her an often strong and permanent belief that personal death is not the end.... And often their experiences are so vivid as to provide, for them, a solid basis for drawing conclusions across a wide range of important, existential issues: including the question of their own immortality and its relationship to the way they live and understand their lives before their deaths (Fox 287).

Taking an afterlife interpretation largely explains the transformative effects of NDEs on those who have them as well. (Though to gauge the extent of this, it would be interesting to see if "nonbelievers" had the same transformations as "survivalists" among NDErs.)

Rodabough explains how unintentional interviewer feedback can contaminate NDE reports:

[I]f the resuscitated person gives a partially accurate account of some event taking place while he was "out," the questioner may unintentionally give information which the resuscitated person unknowingly fits into his story. To some degree, we can visualize what we are told and not be sure which occurred first.... This is likely to occur if the questioner wants to hear things a particular way and nonverbally reinforces the respondent when he hears what he wants. The high enthusiasm of the interviewer may unwittingly entice the respondents to embellish their experiences, and low enthusiasm may influence respondents to remain silent about puzzling or unusual experiences (Rodabough 109-110).

In fact, in recent years a large number of NDE reports have been garnered from NDE support groups. Support group members have almost certainly shaped the content of individual NDE accounts through "biographical reshaping, deepening of commitment, and reinforcement of group belief" (Fox 201).

Leo: here with a have a statement with no evidence to support it

In The Truth in the Light, Peter Fenwick asks how an experience as coherent as an NDE could be generated in a disorganized dying brain, and how it could be encoded for vivid recall later:

How is it that this coherent, highly structured experience sometimes occurs during unconsciousness, when it is impossible to postulate an organized sequence of events in a disordered brain? One is forced to the conclusion that either science is missing a fundamental link which would explain how organized experiences can arise in a disorganized brain, or that some forms of experience are transpersonal--that is, they depend on a mind which is not inextricably bound up with the brain (Fenwick and Fenwick 235).

But as Gerald Woerlee points out, lack of oxygen to the brain blunts a subject's judgment, creating a false confidence in one's abilities and a false sense that one's thinking is particularly keen--a well-known fact exhibited in the statements of clearly impaired drunk drivers. "This," he argues, "is why people recovering from cardiac resuscitation never say their mental state during a period of consciousness such as an NDE was confused or befuddled" (Woerlee, "Cardiac" 246).

Greyson offers a related argument:

[O]rganic brain malfunctions generally produce clouded thinking, irritability, fear, belligerence, and idiosyncratic visions, quite unlike the exceptionally clear thinking, peacefulness, calmness, and predictable content that typifies the NDE. Visions in patients with delirium are generally of living persons, whereas those of patients with a clear sensorium as they approached death are almost invariably of deceased persons [emphasis mine] (Greyson 334).

But as we see in the case of G-LOC dreamlets (pleasurable experiences caused by lack of oxygen to the brain during pilot blackouts), some "organic brain malfunctions" clearly produce hallucinatory experiences characterized by clarity of thought, euphoria, and the 'realness' feel of the experience. As James E. Whinnery has reported, hypoxic G-LOC episodes have some similarities to NDEs, such as floating sensations, OBEs, visions of lights, and "vivid dreamlets of beautiful places that frequently include family members and close friends, pleasurable sensations, euphoria, and some pleasurable memories" (Greyson 334). The ability to consistently induce these dreamlets in pilot centrifuges should have dispelled the myth that hypoxic hallucinations are nearly always frightening, confused, or disoriented. And the prevalence of visions of the deceased in NDEs is not surprising: patients who merely have delirium are not dying and have no particular expectation of dying. For the same reason, it should not be surprising that G-LOC dreamlets do not share other NDE features. The context of NDEs is much different, as the sensation or expectation of dying is much more likely in near-death contexts. And while Greyson points out that NDErs who had hallucinations prior to their NDEs describe their NDE worlds as "'more real' than the world of waking hallucinations" (334), the proper comparison is between NDEs and (very vivid and realistic) hallucinations that follow a loss of consciousness (e.g., dreams), not waking hallucinations.

Leo: Irreducible mind talks about this objection:One of the earliest and most persistent of the physiological theories proposed for NDEs is that lowered levels of oxygen (hypoxia or anoxia), perhaps accompanied by increased levels of carbon dioxide (hypercarbia), have produced hallucinations.... One study frequently cited is that of Whinnery (1997), who compared NDEs to what he called the "dreamlets" occurring in brief periods of unconsciousness induced in fighter pilots by rapid acceleration in a centrifuge... He claimed that some features common to NDEs are also found in these hypoxic episodes, including tunnel vision, bright lights, brief fragmented visual images, a sense of floating, pleasurable sensations, and, rarely, a sense of leaving the body. The primary features of acceleration-induced hypoxia, however, are myoclonic convulsions (rhythmic jerking of the limbs), impaired memory for events just prior to the onset of unconsciousness, tingling in the extremities and around the mouth, confusion and disorientation upon awakening, and paralysis, symptoms that do not occur in association with NDEs. Moreover, contrary to NDEs, the visual images Whinnery reported frequently included living people, but never deceased people; and no life review or accurate out-of-body perceptions have been reported in acceleration-induced loss of consciousness. [Page 379]

In their prospective study of NDEs published in Lancet, Pim van Lommel and colleagues argue that NDE-like hallucinations induced in the laboratory are simply too fragmented to be comparable to NDEs (van Lommel et al. 2044). So why do NDErs recall such vivid experiences, rather than fragments of memories, if NDEs are hallucinations? Fox suggests that the answer does not lie in what is happening to the brain during the NDE, but in how NDE reports are reshaped afterward:

[I]t is clearly probable that both the structured story which at least some NDErs tell and its vividness and clarity may both stem from a variety of sources other than the purely private experiences of the NDErs themselves.... [P]lot and detail may potentially hail from a wide range of sources, including ... the behavior of near-death researchers themselves as they attempt to draw out a story along already existing and fixed lines, and the processes which have been seen to exist when the NDEr's story is told and retold before groups (which may themselves interact in the process of composition and reshaping of the original traveller's tale) (Fox 203).

In fact, the comments of NDErs themselves provide evidence that NDE accounts become more elaborate over time while NDErs' commitment to the reality of their experiences deepens. After 23 years of trying to determine the significance of her NDE, one woman commented: "It was real then. It is more real now" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 150). Another NDEr noted that what he understood and remembered about his NDE had grown over the years by relating the story to others (150). In one of the more reliable studies of NDE incidence and transformation, van Lommel and colleagues found that the transformations widely believed to occur after NDEs actually do occur, but that "this process of change after NDE tends to take several years to consolidate" (van Lommel et al. 2043). In other words, the transformative effect of NDEs on experients is not immediate, but gradual[1]. This suggests that NDE transformations do not result from the NDE itself, but from reflecting on the meaning of the experience--that is, from the added layers of meaning and interpretation experients' place on their NDEs.

Rense Lange, Bruce Greyson, and James Houran have even found suggestive statistical evidence for embellishment. In the process of establishing that the Greyson NDE Scale can reliably diagnose and measure the depth of NDEs, the researchers made a curious discovery about their sample of NDErs. Plotting data on when an NDE occurred against when it was reported, they found that "when reported at a later age (50 years or older) NDE[s] appear more intense then when reported earlier (49 or younger), and the intensity of the reported NDE[s] increased with their latency (shorter vs. longer than 15 years)" (Lange, Greyson, and Houran 168). In other words, the longer the delay between having the experience and reporting it, the more intense the NDE that was reported. As the authors note, however, these findings conflict with those of a similar study by Carlos Alvarado and Nancy Zingrone, and David Lester found no correlation between NDE depth (as measured by Kenneth Ring's Weighted Core Experience Index) and length of delay between the NDE and when it was reported (172). Consequently, the discovery of embellishment in the Lange-Greyson-Houran study may have been peculiar to that particular sample of NDErs, rather than a finding that should be generalized to all NDErs. The authors suggest longitudinal studies to definitively determine the extent of embellishment in NDEs (173).

Further evidence that NDE accounts are continually reshaped over time to make them more coherent and interesting comes from comparisons between the NDEs reported by adults and those reported by children. Childhood NDE reports almost always consist only of memory fragments (Morse 68). Both Fenwick and Morse found that childhood NDEs tend to be much more fragmentary than those of adults. This makes sense, for children have fewer conceptual resources to draw on and so are much less likely to incorporate unconscious embellishments in their accounts when recalling their NDEs.

Leo: But what about the ones who report there accurate out of body perception that objection has no merit in those cases.

Given fragmentary experiences of any sort, the brain will often fill in the gaps with plausible guesses about what happened in the missing intervals in order for an experience to make sense. Human memory relies on plausible after-the-fact reconstructions of events that often incorporate details invented by the subject, details which were never actually experienced. For example, a witness may provide a description of a robber wearing the wrong color of clothing. Since adults have already developed complex ways of making sense of their experiences, while children have comparably simple thought processes, it would not be surprising for adult NDErs to unconsciously embellish reports of their experiences with after-the-fact interpretations of them. This seems to be the most likely explanation for why adult NDE reports are so vivid and structured, flowing seamlessly from one NDE element to another, while childhood NDEs tend to be fragmentary.

Van Lommel and colleagues open their discussion of the results of their landmark longitudinal study with an argument against physiological explanations for NDEs:

Our results show that medical factors cannot account for [the] occurrence of [the] NDE; although all [of our] patients had been clinically dead, most did not have [an] NDE. Furthermore, seriousness of the crisis was not related to occurrence or depth of the experience. If purely physiological factors resulting from cerebral anoxia caused [the] NDE, most of our patients should have had this experience (2043).

One possible answer to this argument is anticipated in Blackmore's model of the NDE: There are different kinds of anoxia, and rate of onset, amount of time before oxygen restoration, and similar factors have to fall within the right ranges before an NDE can take place. Apparently, for the vast majority of cardiac arrest survivors, this does not happen, and so NDEs are rare among them, no matter how close they come to death as measured by some objective criterion. Another possible answer, perhaps complementary to Blackmore's, is suggested by Britton and Bootzin's research: If only a small minority of those who come close to death are physiologically predisposed to have NDEs, the vast majority will experience nothing--and this is exactly what we find.

Leo: and this argument has been debunked over and over again of anorexa for example:

Dr.Peter Fenwick likewise refutes the endorphin argument:

As for that stuff about endorphins, we're boosting the effect they have all the time because thousands of people are given morphine every day. That certainly produces calmness, but it doesn't produce structured experiences (Fenwick 1995: 47).

On the other hand, what of the alternative explanation? If NDEs were really glimpses of an afterlife, why is it that only a fraction of those who come close to death (about 10-20% per van Lommel et al.) report them? Physiology provides a ready answer: Woerlee has calculated that around 20-24% of those undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) have some degree of consciousness restored during CPR, a fraction of whom could be having NDEs precisely because the conditions are ripe for an altered state of consciousness (Woerlee, "Cardiac" 233, 244). And why aren't NDEs consistently reported (nearly 100% of the time) after the controlled induction of hypothermic cardiac arrest or "standstill," where patients are clinically dead for up to an hour? The vast majority of those who come as close to death as possible without actually dying experience nothing at all (van Lommel et al. 2041). If NDEs are to be understood as glimpses of an afterlife, are we to conclude that 80% of individuals cease to exist when they die, while the remaining 20% survive bodily death?

While some NDErs claim to accurately see things they could not possibly see from their bodies, such anecdotes are difficult to corroborate, and it would not be surprising if NDErs consciously or unconsciously exaggerated the accuracy of their descriptions in order to validate their experiences. As we shall see later, many NDErs are already known to exaggerate claims about their psychic abilities after their NDEs; so it would not be surprising for them to exaggerate claims about what they saw during their out-of-body experiences as well.

Leo: Yes they are difficult to corroborate but that does not mean that they are not worthy of study.

The near-death literature is filled with anecdotes of NDErs providing accurate details about events they could not have possibly learned about through normal means. But as I hope to make clear, claims of unequivocal paranormal perception during NDEs are greatly exaggerated. Let's take a closer look at a few well-known cases widely held to provide such evidence.
Maria's Shoe

In 1984 Kimberly Clark reported a sensational case of apparent veridical paranormal perception during an NDE. Seven years earlier, in April 1977, an out-of-town migrant worker known only as "Maria" was admitted to the coronary care unit of Seattle's Harborview Medical Center after a heart attack. Three days later, Maria had a second heart attack while still hospitalized and was quickly resuscitated. When Clark came to check on Maria's condition later that day, Maria reported an OBE where she witnessed her resuscitation from above, noting printouts flowing from the machines monitoring her vital signs. Next she reported becoming distracted by something over the area surrounding the emergency room entrance and 'willing herself' outside of the hospital. She accurately described the area surrounding the emergency room entrance, which Clark found curious since a canopy over the entrance would have obstructed Maria's view if she had simply looked out of her hospital room window. Maria then became distracted by something on a third-floor window ledge on the far side of the hospital, 'willing herself' to this location as well. From this apparent vantage point, she noted a left-foot man's tennis shoe on a third-floor window ledge. She described the shoe as dark blue with a worn-out patch over the little toe and a single shoelace tucked under its heel. To corroborate her story, Maria asked Clark to go look for the shoe (Clark 242-243).

Unable to see anything from outside the hospital at ground level, Clark reports, she proceeded to search room-to-room on the floor above Maria's room, pressing her face hard against the windows to see their ledges. Eventually she came across the reported shoe in one of the rooms, but insisted that she could not see the worn-out toe facing outward or the tucked-in shoelace from inside the room. Clark then removed the shoe from the ledge (243). Kenneth Ring and Madelaine Lawrence hail the report as one of most convincing cases of veridical paranormal perception during NDEs on record:

[T]he facts of the case seem incontestable. Maria's inexplicable detection of that inexplicable shoe is a strange and strangely beguiling sighting of the sort that has the power to arrest the skeptic's argument in mid-sentence, if only by virtue of its indisputable improbability (Ring and Lawrence 223).

This case has taken on the status of something of an urban legend, allegedly demonstrating that Maria learned things during her OBE that she could not have possibly known about other than by actually leaving her body. But as Hayden Ebbern, Sean Mulligan, and Barry Beyerstein make clear, the details Maria reported were in fact quite accessible to her through ordinary sense perception and inference.

In 1994 Ebbern and Mulligan visited Harborview to survey the sites where the NDE took place and to interview Clark. They were unable to locate "Maria" or anyone who knew her personally and suspect that she is now deceased (Ebbern, Mulligan, and Beyerstein 30). They examined each of the details of Clark's report and found the case much less impressive than it has been made out to be. First, after being hospitalized for three days, Maria would have been quite familiar with the equipment monitoring her; so her perception of the printouts during her OBE may be nothing more than "a visual memory incorporated into the hallucinatory world that is often formed by a sensory-deprived and oxygen-starved brain" (31). Second, her perception of details concerning the area surrounding the emergency room entrance were of details that "common sense would dictate"--such as the fact that the doors opened inward, accomodating paramedics rushing in patients who need immediate attention (31). Moreover, she was brought into the hospital through this very entrance--albeit at night, but the area was well-lit--and could've picked up details about it from normal sensory channels then (31-32). The fact that rushing ambulances would traverse a one-way driveway, too, is something anyone could infer from common sense. Finally, Maria's hospital room was just above the emergency room entrance for a full three days before she had her OBE, and "she could have [easily] gained some sense of the traffic flow from the sounds of the ambulances coming and going" and from nighttime "reflections of vehicle lights" even if she never left her bed (32).

But what of the most persuasive aspect of her report--her description of the infamous shoe? How difficult would it have been for her to learn these details without having left her body? Ebbern and Mulligan set out to determine exactly that:

As part of our investigation, Ebbern and Mulligan visited Harborview Medical Center to determine for themselves just how difficult it would be to see, from outside the hospital, a shoe on one of its third-floor window ledges. They placed a running shoe of their own at the place Clark described and then went outside to observe what was visible from ground level. They were astonished at the ease with which they could see and identify the shoe.

Clark's claim that the shoe would have been invisible from ground level outside the hospital is all the more incredible because the investigators' viewpoint was considerably inferior to what Clark's would have been seventeen years earlier. That is because, in 1994, there was new construction under way beneath the window in question and this forced Ebbern and Mulligan to view the shoe from a much greater distance than would have been necessary for Clark (32).

As the authors note, what was a construction area for them in 1994 was a high-traffic parking lot and recreation area back in 1977, providing an even better view of Maria's shoe than the one they saw so easily. Their 1994 'test shoe' was so conspicuous, in fact, that by the time they returned to the hospital one week later, "someone not specifically looking for it" had noticed it and removed it (32). It is quite likely, then, "that anyone who might have noticed the shoe back in 1977 would have commented on it because of the novelty of its location" and Maria could have heard such a conversation and consciously forgotten about it, incorporating it into her out-of-body imagery (32). Moreover, even if no one had seen it from the ground level, Ebbern and Mulligan tested Clark's claim that Maria's shoe was impossible to see from inside the room unless she pressed her face hard against the glass looking for it. This claim was found to be wanting:

They easily placed their running shoe on the ledge from inside one of the rooms and it was clearly visible from various points within the room. There was no need whatsoever for anyone to press his or her face against the glass to see the shoe. In fact, one needed only to take a few steps into the room to be able to see it clearly. To make matters worse for Clark's account, a patient would not even need to strain to see it from his or her bed in the room. So it is apparent that many people inside as well as outside the hospital would have had the opportunity to notice the now-famous shoe, making it even more likely that Maria could have overheard some mention of it (32).

Leo: As P.M.H. Atwater also addressed this case of the debunkers in one of her books, and put forward what they couldn't explain in regards to this case...

"A team of scientific debunkers investigated the blue-shoe case. They took photographs to prove that Maria could have seen the shoe from the window. They could not explain, however, how she saw the scuff mark and the shoelace caught under the heel, especially since she was confined to bed at the time. Nor could they account for most of the other details she saw while out-of-body." - P.M.H Atwater, "The Complete Idiots Guide To Near-Death Experiences"

Even if she had seen the blue shoe from the ground level, walking by or driving by, days or weeks prior (of which there is zero proof or indication to suggest she might have) it would have been a featureless blue blur that is obviously a shoe, but without specific details. Even if she had overheard from staff (of which there is zero proof or indication to suggest she might have) that there was a blue shoe on the third floor ledge, it's ridiculous to think they would have spelled out each and every intimate detail of it, or would have gotten close enough themselves to examine it in detail.


The authors add that anyone who did press his or her face against the glass to get a closer look at the conspicuous shoe from inside the room could easily see the worn-out little toe and tucked shoelace: "we had no difficulty seeing the shoe's allegedly hidden outer side" (32). They conclude:

[Maria's shoe] would have been visible, both inside and outside the hospital, to numerous people who could have come into contact with her. It also seems likely that some of them might have mentioned it within earshot....

Leo: yes it's possible but let's not let on this is the only explanation


[And Clark] did not publicly report the details of Maria's NDE until seven years after it occurred. It is quite possible that during this interval some parts of the story were forgotten and some details may have been interpolated.... [Moreover], we have no way of knowing what leading questions Maria may have been asked, or what Maria might have "recalled" that did not fit and was dropped from the record (32-33).

Furthermore, Clark's inaccurate account of how difficult the shoe was to see from both inside and out provides evidence that she subconsciously embellished significant details to bolster the apparently veridical nature of the case (33).
Pam Reynolds

As Michael Sabom recounts in Light and Death, in August 1991 a then 35-year-old woman he called "Pam Reynolds" (a pseudonym) underwent an innovative procedure to remove a brain aneurysm. The procedure--inducing hypothermic cardiac arrest or "standstill"--involved lowering Pam's body temperature to 60°F, stopping her heart and breathing, and draining the blood from her brain to cool it and then reintroduce it. While in this roughly hour-long standstill state--which is accompanied by no brain function for about 5 minutes at its midpoint--her aneurysm was removed. About 2 hours after awaking from general anesthesia, Pam was moved into the recovery room still intubated (Sabom, "Light" 46-47). At some point after that, intubation was removed from her trachea and she was able to speak. She reported a classic NDE with a vivid OBE, moving through a "tunnel vortex" toward a "pinpoint of light" that continually grew larger, hearing her deceased grandmother's voice, encountering figures in a bright light, encountering deceased relatives who gave her "something sparkly" to eat, and being 'returned' to her body by her deceased uncle (Sabom, "Light" 42-46).

The case soon became infamous because of the lack of synaptic activity during the deepest portion of standstill and Pam's report of an apparently veridical OBE at some point during the operation. But it has been sensationalized at the expense of the facts, facts which have been continually misrepresented by some parapsychologists and near-death researchers. Although hailed by some as "the most compelling case to date of veridical perception during an NDE" (Corcoran, Holden, and James), and "the single best instance we now have in the literature on NDEs to confound the skeptics" (Ring, "Religious Wars" 218), it is in fact best understood in terms of normal perception operating during an entirely nonthreatening physiological state.

Two mischaracterizations of this case are particularly noteworthy, as their errors of fact greatly exaggerate the force of this NDE as evidence for survival after death. First, in their write-up of the first prospective study of NDEs, van Lommel and colleagues write:

Sabom mentions a young American woman who had complications during brain surgery for a cerebral aneurysm. The EEG of her cortex and brainstem had become totally flat. After the operation, which was eventually successful, this patient proved to have had a very deep NDE, including an out-of-body experience, with subsequently verified observations during the period of the flat EEG [emphasis mine] (van Lommel et al. 2044).

Second, in his Immortal Remains--an assessment of the evidence for survival of bodily death--Stephen Braude erroneously describes the case as follows:

Sabom reports the case of a woman who, for about an hour, had all the blood drained from her head and her body temperature lowered to 60 degrees. During that time her heartbeat and breathing stopped, and she had both a flat EEG and absence of auditory evoked potentials from her brainstem.... Apparently during this period she had a detailed veridical near-death OBE [emphasis mine] (Braude 274).


But anyone who gives Sabom's chapters on the case more than a cursory look will see two glaring errors in the descriptions above. First, it is quite clear that Pam did not have her NDE during any period of flat EEG[2]. Indeed, she was as far as a patient undergoing her operation could possibly be from any period of flat EEG when her OBE began. Second, the complete cessation of electrical activity in her brain occurred during a constant 60°F body temperature which persisted for only about 5 minutes at the midpoint of her 55-minute period of cardiac arrest. Both of these facts are nicely illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1

Fig. 1. Timeline of Pam Reynolds' general anesthesia. The colored areas represent changes in body temperature: Green indicates a life-sustaining temperature; yellow, the mechanical cooling or warming of blood; red, the constant temperature of her deepest hypothermia. The shaded area within the dotted lines represents a period when Pam either could not have been conscious or would not have been able to consolidate memories of conscious experiences. The dotted lines mark a thermal threshold of 78.8°F, above which memories of experiences can be consolidated (G. Woerlee, personal communication, November 15, 2005).

Most times marking events or temperatures are derived from Michael Sabom's account of Pam Reynolds' procedure provided in Ch.'s 3 & 10 of Light & Death. Times where labels include a question mark are conjectured to fill in the gaps in Sabom's account.

Despite accurately reporting the facts, Sabom himself has encouraged these misrepresentations[3]. Though he informs the reader that Pam's experience began well before standstill, he reveals this incidentally, so that a careful reading of the text is required to discern the point. For instance, just after describing Pam's recollections of an operating room conversation, he notes, almost as an afterthought, that "[h]ypothermic cardiac arrest would definitely be needed" [emphasis mine] (Sabom, "Light" 42). He then goes on to assert that the very features of her experience which cannot be timed happened during standstill. At first, Sabom only implies this by describing the cooling of blood leading to standstill prior to describing the remainder of Pam's near-death experience (42-46). Then Sabom turns to a discussion of whether Pam was "really" dead during a portion of her standstill state:

But during "standstill," Pam's brain was found "dead" by all three clinical tests--her electroencephalogram was silent, her brain-stem response was absent, and no blood flowed through her brain. Interestingly, while in this state, she encountered the "deepest" near-death experience of all Atlanta Study participants....

With this information, can we now scientifically assert that Pam was either dead or alive during her near-death experience? Unfortunately, no. Even if all medical tests certify her death, we would still have to wait to see if life was restored [emphasis mine] (Sabom, "Light" 49).

Of course, the issue of whether Pam was "really" dead within standstill is an extraordinarily misleading red herring in this context. And it is blatantly irresponsible for Sabom to explicitly state that her NDE occurred "while in this state." As Sabom's own account reveals, her standstill condition had absolutely nothing to do with the time when we know that her near-death OBE began: A full two hours and five minutes before the medical staff even began to cool her blood, during perfectly normal body temperature![4] (Again, see Figure 1.)

Unlike the other elements of her NDE, we can precisely time when Pam's OBE began because she did accurately describe an operating room conversation. Namely, she accurately recalled comments made by her cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Murray, about her "veins and arteries being very small" (Pam's words) (Sabom, "Light" 42). Two operative reports allow us to time this observation. First, in the head surgeon's report, Dr. Robert Spetzler noted that when he was cutting open Pam's skull, "Dr. Murray performed bilateral femoral cut-downs for cannulation for cardiac bypass" (185). So at about the same time that Dr. Spetzler was opening Pam's skull, Dr. Murray began accessing Pam's blood vessels so that they could be hooked up to the bypass machine which would cool her blood and ultimately bring her to standstill. Second, Dr. Murray's operative report noted that "the right common femoral artery was quite small" and thus could not be hooked up to the bypass machine. Consequently, Murray's report continues, "bilateral groin cannulation would be necessary: This was discussed with Neurosurgery, as it would affect angio access postoperatively for arteriography" (185). And although Pam's mother was given a copy of the head surgeon's operative report (which she said Pam did not read), the report did not say anything about any of Pam's arteries being too small (Sabom, "Shadow" 4).

Many have argued that Pam's accurate recall of an operating room conversation is strong evidence that she really did leave her body during the procedure. But there is at least one peculiar fact about Pam's recollections--in addition to the timing of her experience--which makes a physiological explanation of her OBE much more likely.

General anesthesia is the result of administering a trio of types of drugs: sedatives, to induce sleep or prevent memory formation; muscle relaxants, to ensure full-body paralysis; and painkillers. Inadequate sedation alone results in anesthesia awareness. Additionally, if insufficient concentrations of muscle relaxants are administered, a patient will be able to move; and if an inadequate amount of painkillers are administered, a patient will be able to feel pain (Woerlee, "Anaesthesiologist" 16). During a typical surgical procedure, an anesthesiologist must regularly administer this trio of drugs throughout the operation. But just prior to standstill, anesthetic drugs are no longer administered, as deep hypothermia is sufficient to maintain unconsciousness. The effects of any remaining anesthetics wear off during the warming of blood following standstill (G. Woerlee, personal communication, November 8, 2005).

In irreducible mind the authors discuss this objection

In their discussion of anesthesia, they consider the claim that some aspects of NDEs can be explained by the anesthetized patient being partially awake and hearing or feeling what is being done to him. They point out that such awakenings are exceedingly rare and different in kind from reported NDEs.

The expression "adequately anesthetized" is intended here to exclude cases of literal awakening, or partial awakening, during surgical procedures. Such awakening is known to occur, even using present-day techniques, in something on the order of 0.1-0.3% of all general-surgery procedures. Higher rates occur, as might be expected, when muscle relaxants are used in combination with low levels of anesthetic agents.... The phenomenology of such awakenings, however, is altogether different from that of NDEs, and often extremely unpleasant, frightening, and even painful. The experiences are typically brief and fragmentary, and primarily auditory or tactile, and not visual. [Footnote, page 387]



About one or two in a thousand patients undergoing general anesthesia report some form of anesthesia awareness. That represents between 20,000 and 40,000 patients a year within the United States alone. A full 48% of these patients report auditory recollections postoperatively, while only 28% report feeling pain during the experience (JCAHO 10). Moreover, "higher incidences of awareness have been reported for caesarean section (0.4%), cardiac surgery (1.5%), and surgical treatment for trauma (11-43%)" (Bünning and Blanke 343). Such instances must at least give us pause about attributing Pam's intraoperative recollections to some form of out-of-body paranormal perception. Moreover, for decades sedative anesthetics such as nitrous oxide have been known to trigger OBEs.

Leo: well if they are having awareness that means there not doing a good job.
As Dr.Peter Fenwick clearly states:I find this interesting, because if NDEs are due to patients being conscious from inadequate anesthesia, then it appears that a significant number of patients undergoing surgery are conscious and not fully anesthetized. This, as Woerlee stated, "is an event that all anesthesiologists try to prevent." It seems to me that they aren't doing a very good job if that premise is true. Now, if patients are awake during major surgery and don't feel pain due to pain-killer drugs, then I might ask, why bother with general anesthesia? But then, if such patients are given good doses of pain medications, from my experience with patients receiving these medications, they are likely to be groggy and not in a state of clear consciousness. This is not consistent with the state of clear consciousness reported in many NDEs.

Sometime after 7:15 AM that August morning, general anesthesia was administered to Pam Reynolds. Subsequently, her arms and legs were tied down to the operating table, her eyes were lubricated and taped shut, and she was instrumented in various other ways (Sabom, "Light" 38). A standard EEG was used to record activity in her cerebral cortex, while small earphones continuously played clicks into her ears to invoke auditory evoked potentials (AEPs), a measure of activity in the brain stem (39).

Sabom considers whether conscious or semiconscious auditory perceptions were incorporated into Pam's OBE imagery during a period of anesthesia awareness, but dismisses the possibility all-too-hastily:

Could Pam have heard the intraoperative conversation and then used this to reconstruct an out-of-body experience? At the beginning of the procedure, molded ear speakers were placed in each ear as a test for auditory and brain-stem reflexes. These speakers occlude the ear canals and altogether eliminate the possibility of physical hearing (Sabom, "Light" 184).

But is this last claim really true? Since Sabom merely asserts this (and has an obvious stake in it being true), we have little reason to take him at his word--especially on such a crucial point. What is the basis for his assertion? Does he have any objective evidence that the earphones used to measure AEPs completely cut off sounds from the external environment?

Since Sabom does not back up this claim in Light and Death, I did a little research and discovered that his claim is indeed false. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, as a matter of procedure, a patient who is monitored by the very same equipment to detect acoustic neuromas (benign brain tumors) "sits in a soundproof room and wears headphones" (NINDS). But a soundproof room would be unnecessary, of course, if the earphones used to measure AEPs "occlude the ear canals and altogether eliminate the possibility of physical hearing." It is theoretically possible that the earphones used in 1991 made physical hearing impossible, whereas the earphones used today do not. However, it highly unlikely, as it would be far cheaper for medical institutions to continue to invest in the imagined sound-eliminating earphones, rather than soundproofing entire rooms to eliminate external sounds. As Gerald Woerlee points out, "earplugs do not totally exclude all external sounds, they only considerably reduce the intensity of external sounds," as demonstrated by "enormous numbers of people ... listening to loud music played through earplugs, while at the same time able to hear and understand all that happens in their surroundings" (Woerlee, "Pam").


Leo: As Ian Lawton points out:But this particular case has generated so much controversy that, since the book was published, I have come across various websites in which a number of sceptics have, for once, examined it closely (for example, Gerald Woerlee). In particular they suggest that Pam could still have heard conversations or music through the speaker-plugs in her ears – which were fitted to emit a regular pulse to check on her brainstem reaction – especially if her levels of anaesthetic were low at that point. On the face of it this may be a valid assertion, particularly given that these parts of the experience occurred when she was not clinically brain-dead.*

However, most crucially of all - and maintaining their typical selectiveness - none of them has even tried to explain how she was able to “see” the saw used to open up her skull. Remember that this had an unusual design that a non-expert could not be expected to guess at, and that Pam also described its accompanying “interchangeable blades” in a “socket-wrench case”. Remember too that her eyes were firmly closed, lubricated and taped shut throughout the operation, and that the saw was being used on the top of her head, which would in any case have been out of range of her normal eyesight.
After being prepped for surgery, Pam's head was secured by a clamp. By 8:40 AM, her entire body was draped except for her head (the site of the main procedure) and her groin (where blood vessels would be hooked up to the bypass machine to cool her blood). In the five minutes or so to follow, Dr. Spetzler would open her scalp with a curved blade, fold back her scalp, then begin cutting into her skull with a Midas Rex bone saw (39-41). At this point, about an hour and a half after being anesthetized, Pam's OBE began (185). She reported being awoken by the sound of a natural D, then being "pulled" out of the top of her head by the sound (41).

"But," Sabom asks, "was Pam's visual recollection from her out-of-body experience accurate?" (186). That is indeed the question to ask regarding the veridicality of her report.

Pam reported that during her OBE, she was able to view the operating room from above the head surgeon's shoulder, describing her out-of-body vision as "brighter and more focused and clearer than normal vision" (41). In her report of the experience, she offered three verifiable visual observations. First, she said that "the way they had my head shaved was very peculiar. I expected them to take all of the hair, but they did not." Second, she reported that the bone saw "looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it, a groove at the top where the saw appeared to go into the handle, but it didn't." Finally, she noted that "the saw had interchangeable blades ... in what looked like a socket wrench case" (41). Subsequently, she only reported auditory observations--hearing the bone saw "crank up" and "being used on something"--but most notably the operating room conversation initiated by Dr. Murray.

Given such vivid 'perceptual capabilities' during her OBE, we would expect there to be no confusion about what Pam saw during the experience. So her visual observations provide an interesting test of the notion that her soul left her body while under general anesthesia during normal body temperature. Let us look at each of these in turn.

First, there is the observation that only part of her head was shaved. Perhaps she could have guessed this at the time of her experience, but there is no need even for this in order to account for the reported observation. Surely Pam would have noticed this soon after awaking from general anesthesia--by seeing her reflection, feeling her hair, or being asked about it by visitors. And she certainly would have known about it, one way or the other, by the time she was released from the hospital. Indeed, if her hair had been shaved presurgery, or at any time prior to her general anesthesia, she would have known about it well before her OBE. And patients undergoing such a risky procedure are standardly given a consent briefing where even the cosmetic effects of surgery are outlined--if not explicitly in a doctor's explanation, then at least incidentally in any photographs, diagrams, or other sources illustrating what the procedure entails. So Pam may have learned (to her surprise) that her head would be only partially shaved in a consent briefing prior to her experience, but 'filed away' and consciously forgot about this information given so many other more pressing concerns on her mind at the time. That would be exactly the sort of mundane, subconscious fact we would expect a person to recall later during an altered state of consciousness[5]. And although we are not given the exact date of the operation, Sabom reports that the procedure took place in August 1991 (38). He later tells us that he interviewed Pam for the first time on November 11, 1994 (186). That leaves over three years between the date of Pam's NDE and Sabom's interview--plenty of time for memory distortions to have played a role in her report of the experience. So there is nothing remarkable about this particular observation.

Second, there is her description of the bone saw. But the very observation that provides the greatest potential for supporting the notion that she actually left her body during her OBE actually tends to count against that hypothesis. As Sabom recounts,

Pam's description of the bone saw having a "groove at the top where the saw appeared to go into the handle" was a bit puzzling.... [T]he end of the bone saw has an overhanging edge that [viewed sideways] looks somewhat like a groove. However, it was not located "where the saw appeared to go into the handle" but at the other end.

Why had this apparent discrepancy arisen in Pam's description? Of course, the first explanation is that she did not "see" the saw at all, but was describing it from her own best guess of what it would look and sound like (187).

Leo: In the book irreducible mind talks about this In their discussion of the celebrated and controversial Pam Reynolds case, they address the objection that the heavily anesthetized patient might still have been able to hear what was going on around her:

The experience also included some verifiable features: First, despite having speakers in her ears that blocked all external sounds with 95 dB clicks, the experience began when she heard the sound of the special saw used to cut into her skull... She also noted the unexpected (to her) way in which her head had been shaved, and she heard a female voice commenting that her veins and arteries were small....

Her description of the unusual saw was verified by the neurosurgeon and by photographs of it obtained by Sabom. Also, as the patient had heard, at the time the cardiopulmonary bypass procedure was being started, the cardiac surgeon (a female) had commented that the right femoral vessels were too small to support the bypass, so that she had to prepare the left leg. Although at the time this comment was made the patient's brainstem auditory evoked potentials had not yet disappeared, the molded speakers in her ears themselves, let alone the 95 dB clicks, would have made it impossible for her to hear the comment in the ordinary way, even had she been fully conscious at the moment....

The case is not perfect. The details were not published for several years after the experience occurred. More importantly, the verifiable events that she reported observing in the operating room occurred when she was anesthetized and sensorially isolated but before and after the period of time in which she was clinically "dead."... Even so, the extremity of her condition and her heavily anesthetized state throughout the entire procedure casts serious doubt on any view of mind or consciousness as unilaterally and totally dependent on intact physiological functioning. [Pages 392-394]


Also as one doctor mentions about Dr. George Worelee assessment on pam reyold's nde

A psychiatrist emailed to me this interesting critique of Woerlee's theory:

As a psychiatrist, I read with interest Gerald Woerlee's critique of Pam Reynolds' NDE documented by Michael Sabom, and found some inconsistencies with it.

Woerlee contends that anesthesia can be incomplete and a patient may still be conscious during surgery, and therefore, the patient will be able to perceive what's going on. He gives an example of where a patient might be inadequately anesthetized and be awake, yet appear to be unconscious and unable to move due to muscle-paralyzing drugs. He mentioned that such a patient would not feel pain due to pain-killer drugs. From this, he infers that NDEs occur while a patient is still conscious and that the effects of various drugs can cause an abnormal interpretation of bodily sensations to account for the OBE. From this, it follows that one cannot experience an NDE while unconscious.

I find this interesting, because if NDEs are due to patients being conscious from inadequate anesthesia, then it appears that a significant number of patients undergoing surgery are conscious and not fully anesthetized. This, as Woerlee stated, "is an event that all anesthesiologists try to prevent." It seems to me that they aren't doing a very good job if that premise is true. Now, if patients are awake during major surgery and don't feel pain due to pain-killer drugs, then I might ask, why bother with general anesthesia? But then, if such patients are given good doses of pain medications, from my experience with patients receiving these medications, they are likely to be groggy and not in a state of clear consciousness. This is not consistent with the state of clear consciousness reported in many NDEs.

Furthermore, Woerlee cites an example of a woman who was administered general anesthesia for a varicose vein operation, and was evidently awake during her operation, but remembered absolutely nothing of her period of awareness after awakening. This is in contrast to those who vividly recall their NDE during an operation, afterward.

In the case of Pam Reynolds, he states that she must have had her NDE just before going into hypothermic cardiac arrest or just after restoration of normal body temperature, but not during when her brain was flatline. If that's the case, then we would have expected Reynolds' NDE to be cut off when she went flatline, but according to her account it was continuous all the way through.

Woerlee states that the VEP monitor and EEG machine are not 100% reliable, implying that they could have been wrong during Reynolds' surgery and thus, she may not have been fully unconscious, even though they indicated no brain activity. That in the face of no heartbeat and her brain being drained of blood. If so, then she was conscious without a functioning brain, which would refute Woerlee's position!

Also, if Reynolds had an abnormal interpretation of bodily sensations due to anesthetics, that does not explain her accurately perceiving what went on in the operating room. We would also expect an abnormal interpretation of her sensations of the surroundings.

Woerlee claims that even though Reynolds had ear plugs, she would still be able to hear. But such sounds would be muffled and less clear. During her NDE she could see and hear more clearly as she pulled away from her body. I might add that her eyes were taped shut. Actual separation from her body would provide a better explanation.

In view of this, I find Woerlee's point of view to be flawed and that the afterlife hypothesis provides a better explanation. Of course, physiological changes are involved, but as I see it, they are the manifestations rather than the origin of the NDE, sort of like the electrical activity of a radio's components representing the manifestations of an outside radio broadcast.




Out-of-Body Discrepancies


(1) Some NDErs report out-of-body experiences during their NDEs where what is seen 'out-of-body' does not correspond to what is actually happening in the physical world. Peter Fenwick reports the NDE of a World War II veteran whose unit came under attack from aerial bombers:

The battery cook (a devout Muslim) came running in panic toward me.... He lay down, touching my right elbow, and calmed himself.... As I looked up one of the Heinkel pilots executed a tight turn over the rim of the wadi and lined up on us.... I flattened out like a lizard on the sand....

Instantly I was enveloped in a cloud of beautiful purple light and a mighty roaring sound.... and then I was floating, as if in a flying dream, and watching my body, some dozen feet below, lifting off the sand and flopping back, face downwards. I only saw my own body. I was quite unaware of the two Sudanese lying beside me.... And then I was gliding horizontally in a tunnel ... rather like a giant, round, luminous culvert, constructed of translucent silken material, and at the end of a circle of bright, pale primrose light. I was enjoying the sensation of weightless, painless flight.... I had a feeling it would be more interesting when I reached the light....

I became aware that I was being 'sucked' back through the tunnel and then into a body that felt rather unpleasantly 'heavy,' that the sun was burning my back.... [T]he Heinkels were still firing at us and a cannon shell knocked a saucepan off the truck above my head. This troubled me not at all; indeed I seemed to have lost all sense of fear, but my back felt wet and slimy so I looked over my shoulder to investigate the cause. My back was a red mass of blood and raw flesh.... Then I realised that I was looking at all that remained of Osman the cook, who had been lying beside me. I noticed also that my Bren gunner, who had been close to my other side, had disappeared (Fenwick and Fenwick 43-44).

Fenwick concedes that in this case it is "quite clear" that this NDEr was not actually observing the physical world when he saw his body from above. Obviously this NDE must have been a brain-generated hallucination. Despite his sympathy for the survival hypothesis, Fenwick is explicit about the hallucinatory nature of this NDE: "He was unaware of the cook, who had been lying beside him--and was now not simply lying beside him but spread all over his back, where he could hardly have failed to be seen" (Fenwick and Fenwick 44).

(2) Fenwick also mentions the case of a woman who had 3 spontaneous out-of-body experiences during her second pregnancy (Fenwick and Fenwick 40-41). In her third OBE, she found it difficult to 'return to her body.' Fenwick writes: "Mrs Davey adds that although she was up on the ceiling, she did not see her body" (Fenwick and Fenwick 41).

(3) In a case from "the Evergreen Study" (conducted at Evergreen State College in Washington), a woman had a ruptured Fallopian tube due to an ectopic pregnancy (where a fertilized egg implants and grows in one of the tubes rather than the uterus) and reported seeing things in the room while 'out-of-body' which didn't exist:

I saw this little table over the operating table. You know, those little round trays like in a dental office where they have their instruments and all? I saw a little tray like that with a letter on it addressed (from a relative by marriage she had not met) (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 109).

The authors report that this woman told her sister-in-law about her NDE, who happened to be a nurse who was called into the operating room at the time of the NDE. But the nurse was adamant that there was neither a letter nor a round table in the operating room.

However, the authors note that there was a small rectangular table for holding instruments in the room called a 'Mayo' and quickly deduce a probable scenario for why this experience took the form it did: "Notice [Mayo] sounds like 'mail.' She may have heard someone call the tray by name (since hearing is reportedly the final sense to fail at death) and connected it with 'mail.'" (109). Moreover, the letter seen out-of-body was addressed from the nurse's brother-in-law, which suggests that she might have heard the nurse's name and incorporated that information into her experience as well.

What is particularly interesting about this case is not simply that it contains discrepancies, but also that it seems to confirm that out-of-body imagery in NDEs is sometimes obtained directly from scraps of conversation rather than from some paranormal source.

(4) In a study of 264 subjects with sleep paralysis, Giorgio Buzzi and Fabio Cirignotta found that about 11% of their subjects (28 people) "viewed themselves lying on the bed, generally from a location above the bed" (Buzzi 2116). As Buzzi points out, however, these out-of-body experiences often included false perceptions of the physical environment:

I invited these people to do the following simple reality tests: trying to identify objects put in unusual places; checking the time on the clock; and focusing on a detail of the scene, and comparing it with reality.

I received a feedback [sic] from five individuals. Objects put in unusual places (eg, on top of the wardrobe) were never identified during out-of-body experiences. Clocks also proved to be unreliable: a woman with nightly episodes of sleep paralysis had two out-of-body experiences in the same night, and for each the clock indicated an impossible time.... Finally, in all cases but one, some slight but important differences in the details were noted: "I looked at 'me' sleeping peacefully in the bed while I wandered about. Trouble is the 'me' in the bed was wearing long johns ... I have never worn such a thing" (Buzzi 2116-2117).

Buzzi concludes that because these experiences contained out-of-body discrepancies and failed his other 'reality tests,' his subjects' out-of-body imagery must have been derived from memory and imagination rather than from the physical environment at the time (2117).

(5) Melvin Morse reports an NDE where a young girl sees her teacher by her body during an OBE when her teacher is not actually there. This case also has other hallucinatory features, such as encountering doctors in the NDE:

[O]ne child.... could see her own body as doctors wearing green masks tried to start an IV. Then she saw her living teacher and classmates at her bedside, comforting her and singing to her (her teacher did not visit her in the hospital). Finally, three tall beings dressed in white that she identified as doctors asked her to push a button on a box at her bedside, telling her that if she pressed the green button she could go with them, but she would never see her family again. She pressed the red button and regained consciousness (Morse 68-69).

(6) Using open-ended questions, Morse also found a case where a child that was clinically dead reported that while she was 'above her body' looking down, "her mother's nose appeared flattened and distorted 'like a pig monster'" (Morse 67).

(7) Fenwick recounts an NDE where the NDEr 'observed' a procedure that never took place during the heart bypass operation she underwent at the time:

[S]he left her body and watched her heart lying beside her body, bumping away with what looked like ribbons coming from it to hands. In fact, this is not what happens in a heart bypass operation, as the heart is left within the chest and is never taken outside the body (Fenwick and Fenwick 193).

Fenwick tries to explain away this major discrepancy by pointing out that ribbons are indeed tied to arteries during an operation of this sort and by attributing the false perception to misidentification. However, it is difficult to see how a person truly out-of-body with vivid perceptual capabilities could confuse arteries (ribboned or not) with a beating heart lying next to her outside of her body. In the remainder of her experience this NDEr reported 'traveling' to a place that looked like an enormous silver 'airplane hangar' with tiny figures off in the distance, miles away.

(8) Others who have had an out-of-body experience during their NDEs have reported seeing friends out-of-body with them who are, in reality, still alive and normally conscious. The Evergreen Study also recorded a clearly hallucinatory near-death experience after a major car accident:

Well, then I remember, not physical bodies but like holding hands, the two of us, up above the trees. It was a cloudy day, a little bit of clouds. And thinking here we go, we're going off into eternity... and then bingo, I snapped my eyes open and I looked over and he was staring at me [ellipsis original] (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 110).

The authors of the study go on to write: "In this incident a woman had lost consciousness but her male companion had not. In the experience, she perceived the two of them in an out-of-body state, yet her friend never blacked out" (110).

(9) OBErs who do not lose consciousness before their experiences often report watching their bodies continue to perform coordinated actions--as if they were still in control their bodies--while nevertheless apparently viewing them from above. Recalling an OBE while on patrol for the first time, chasing an armed suspect, a police officer reported:

I promptly went out of my body and up into the air maybe 20 feet above the scene. I remained there, extremely calm, while I watched the entire procedure--including watching myself do exactly what I had been trained to do (Alvarado 183).

After the suspect had been restrained and the danger was over, the officer returned to normal consciousness. Another OBEr, who had been running for over 12 miles training for a marathon, reported:

I felt as if something was leaving my body, and although I was still running along looking at the scenery, I was looking at myself running as well (184).

This ability to simultaneously 'hover' above the scene and continue to function as if 'in' the body strongly suggests the hallucinatory nature of these experiences. In some sleep disorders, for instance, subjects are able to exhibit "directed" behavior--e.g., sleepwalking and sleep eating--even though they are evidently not normally conscious. The ability to function as otherwise normal, though taking on an extraordinary new perspective, makes much more sense if such experiences are occurring 'in' the body all along, rather than in some remote discarnate entity detached from the physical body.

As Fenwick points out, if OBEs and NDEs are hallucinations,

we should expect there to be major discrepancies between the psychological image--what the person sees from up there on the ceiling, which will be constructed by the brain entirely from memory; and the real image--what is actually going on at ground level. Mrs Ivy Davey, for example, did not see her body, although her body was clearly there (Fenwick and Fenwick 41).

And in the cases above this is exactly what we find. Discrepancies between what's seen out-of-body and what's actually happening in the physical world are found in spontaneous OBEs, in NDEs where a real or perceived threat of imminent harm triggers an OBE, and in NDEs that include an OBE along with other NDE components (e.g., a tunnel and light).

Veridical Paranormal Perception During OBEs?

The cases cited in this essay show that many near-death experiences are hallucinations. NDE cases which include false descriptions of the physical environment have been found not only by different near-death researchers, but by researchers searching for evidence that NDEs are not hallucinatory. This motivation among researchers makes it impossible to estimate the prevalence of NDEs with clearly hallucinatory features. As Bruce Greyson points out, the file-drawer problem is a likely factor here: NDE accounts with clearly hallucinatory features may end up filed away indefinitely, while only more dramatic accounts are deemed fit for publication by NDE researchers (Greyson 344). Similarly, NDEs with obviously hallucinatory traits seem particularly likely to be underreported by NDErs themselves, given the disparity between how real one's NDE felt at the time and the realization that it could not possibly reflect reality if, for instance, the NDEr communicated with his still-living mother in an ostensibly transcendental realm. Nevertheless, given that many NDEs are already known to be hallucinations, it is likely that other NDEs are hallucinations as well.

The majority of near-death researchers are interested in the subject because they believe NDEs provide evidence for life after death. Thus near-death researchers generally disregard hallucinatory NDEs while searching for cases of veridical paranormal perception. But at the end of the day, we are left with no compelling evidence that NDErs have actually been able to obtain information from remote locations, and we have clear evidence that NDErs sometimes have false perceptions of the physical world during their experiences.

Mark Fox provides a very balanced assessment of the evidential value of near-death experiences in his recently published Religion, Spirituality and the Near-Death Experience. As a research committee member of the Religious Experience Research Centre at the University of Wales, Lampeter, Fox is certainly no enemy of dualism. Yet he concludes that NDE research to date largely presupposes some sort of dualism rather than providing evidence for it:

leo: here we have a opinion that can be counter by differing views

This needs to be spelled out loudly and clearly: twenty-five years after the coining of the actual phrase 'near-death experience,' it remains to be established beyond doubt that during such an experience anything actually leaves the body. To date, and claims to the contrary notwithstanding, no researcher has provided evidence for such an assertion of an acceptable standard which would put the matter beyond doubt (Fox 340).

Here is according to the ones stuck in there worldview but not according to open-minded scientists that have come with evidence that the soul does leave the body

In fact, very few cases of 'veridical perception' during NDEs have been corroborated. In many cases, details which are said to have been accurate "are not the kind that can easily be checked later" (Blackmore, "Dying" 114). Even the 'founding father' of near-death studies, Raymond Moody, concedes that most cases of alleged veridical perception during NDEs are found well after the fact and are usually attested to only by the NDEr and perhaps a few friends (114). And in one study Carlos Alvarado found that although nearly one-fifth of participants claimed to have made "verifiable observations" during their OBEs, only 3 of the 61 cases even "qualified as potentially veridical when experients were asked to provide fuller descriptions" (Alvarado 187).

Susan Blackmore and Tillman Rodabough consider at length how accurate information can be incorporated into realistic out-of-body imagery during NDEs. Both conclude that the primary source of information in the construction of out-of-body imagery is probably hearing. Rodabough notes that patients who appear to be unconscious often repeat earlier comments made by doctors and nurses even without an OBE, and "have even been able to recall operating room conversations under hypnosis" (Rodabough 108). But Blackmore points out that other sensory sources of information are also available to patients. She notes that a residual sense of touch during NDEs could explain accurate details about where defibrillator pads were placed or where chest injections were administered (Blackmore, "Dying" 125).

Remaining out-of-body imagery is probably derived from imagination and general background knowledge. For example, Rodabough points out that childhood socialization trains us to imagine how we appear to others 'from the outside'; thus visualizing oneself from a third-person perspective comes naturally (Rodabough 108). Blackmore notes that when people are asked to imagine walking down a beach, they usually picture themselves from above, from a bird's-eye perspective (Blackmore, "Dying" 177). Carol Zaleski suggests that we should expect some NDEs to include OBEs because the most natural way to imagine experiencing one's death is to imagine looking down on one's body from above (as people typically do when asked to imagine viewing their own burials). In her lesser-known 1996 book on NDEs, The Life of the World to Come, Zaleski notes:

The people who testify to near-death experience are neither Platonists nor Cartesians, yet they find it natural to speak of leaving their bodies in this way. There simply is no other way for the imagination to dramatize the experience of death: the soul quits the body and yet continues to have a form (Zaleski, "Life" 62-63, cited in Fox 89).

Background knowledge also surely plays a role. Personal experience and media portrayals make it easy for us to imagine what a hospital scene should look like (Rodabough 109). Even specific details about people are fairly predictable in a hospital setting:

When either a person or their roles [sic] is well known, it is not difficult to predict dress or behavior. For example, isn't it easy to guess that a physician will wear his greens in surgery?... Behavior, particularly where strong emotions are concerned, may be even easier to predict. Mother falls apart and begins to sob hysterically while Dad puts his arms around her in consolation and stoically keeps his anxiety inside.... [Thus] the probability of an accurate description can be high even without an out-of-body experience [emphasis mine] (Rodabough 109).

Blackmore ultimately concludes that "prior knowledge, fantasy and lucky guesses and the remaining operating senses of hearing and touch," plus "the way memory works to recall accurate items and forget the wrong ones" is sufficient to explain out-of-body imagery in NDEs (Blackmore, "Dying" 115). Cases incorporating out-of-body discrepancies, including those based on misinterpretations of scraps of conversation (e.g., seeing mail in out-of-body imagery when 'Mayo' is spoken), appear to confirm this suggestion.

Our memories are constantly reconstructed as we retell stories about our pasts. When a person has an extraordinary story to tell, such as how he found himself out of his body, with all that suggests about the possibility of life after death, the likelihood of exaggeration--even unintentional exaggeration--is obvious. In such cases, ultimately "the version we tell is likely to be just that little bit more interesting or poignant than it might have been" (115).

In fact, most NDE reports are provided to researchers years after the experience itself. Ultimately, all we have to go on is after-the-fact reports of private experiences. The constant reconstruction of memory makes it difficult to know just what NDErs have actually experienced. This problem is clearly recognized by Fox:

[T]he fact that NDErs' testimonies are indeed retrospectively composed ... arouses a suspicion that what NDErs recall--and hence narrate--about their experiences may in fact be different than what they actually experienced during their near-death crises.... [A]ttempting to ascertain what really happens to NDErs--what the core elements of their experiences actually are in and of themselves--may be nigh on impossible to determine.... [W]hat is remembered about an experience or situation may not actually accurately correspond to what was experienced at the time (Fox 197).

Following Zaleski, Fox also wonders to what extent people other than the NDEr play a part in composing an NDE report. Both note, for example, Raymond Moody's concession that he sometimes used leading questions when interviewing respondents for his 1975 Life After Life (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 149; Fox 199). Zaleski also points out that after urging his respondents to speak freely, Kenneth Ring would ask specific questions about whether his subjects encountered features of Moody's model of the NDE, such as: "[W]ere you ever aware of seeing your physical body?" or "Did you at any time experience a light, glow, or illumination?" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 105-106). After Sabom allowed his patients to speak freely, he would also "delve for the elements described in Life After Life" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 109). One wonders how much similarity would have been found between individual NDE accounts in the West had these early researchers simply asked their respondents to speak freely about their experiences without steering them in a particular direction by probing for Moody's elements.

This raises further questions about the extent to which other near-death researchers have also used leading interviewing techniques (Fox 199-200). As Greyson points out, how a counselor responds to an NDEr "can have a tremendous influence on whether the NDE is accepted and becomes a stimulus for psychospiritual growth or whether it is regarded as a bizarre experience that must not be shared" [emphasis mine] (Greyson 328). While some counselors might take a dismissive attitude to such experiences, many are likely to influence NDErs in the opposite direction, and near-death researchers seem particularly likely to positively reinforce an afterlife interpretation of NDEs. This may be one reason why so many NDErs accept that interpretation. Another may be that widespread belief in an afterlife among the general population has already primed NDErs to interpret unusual experiences on the brink of death in terms of an afterlife. And on top of such outside influences, Fox notes:

[Simply] having an experience which may appear to the subject to point to the possibility of immortality--such as an OBE whilst resting or sleeping, leading to the conviction that the soul can function independently of the body--may suffice to instil in him or her an often strong and permanent belief that personal death is not the end.... And often their experiences are so vivid as to provide, for them, a solid basis for drawing conclusions across a wide range of important, existential issues: including the question of their own immortality and its relationship to the way they live and understand their lives before their deaths (Fox 287).

Taking an afterlife interpretation largely explains the transformative effects of NDEs on those who have them as well. (Though to gauge the extent of this, it would be interesting to see if "nonbelievers" had the same transformations as "survivalists" among NDErs.)

Rodabough explains how unintentional interviewer feedback can contaminate NDE reports:

[I]f the resuscitated person gives a partially accurate account of some event taking place while he was "out," the questioner may unintentionally give information which the resuscitated person unknowingly fits into his story. To some degree, we can visualize what we are told and not be sure which occurred first.... This is likely to occur if the questioner wants to hear things a particular way and nonverbally reinforces the respondent when he hears what he wants. The high enthusiasm of the interviewer may unwittingly entice the respondents to embellish their experiences, and low enthusiasm may influence respondents to remain silent about puzzling or unusual experiences (Rodabough 109-110).

In fact, in recent years a large number of NDE reports have been garnered from NDE support groups. Support group members have almost certainly shaped the content of individual NDE accounts through "biographical reshaping, deepening of commitment, and reinforcement of group belief" (Fox 201).

In The Truth in the Light, Peter Fenwick asks how an experience as coherent as an NDE could be generated in a disorganized dying brain, and how it could be encoded for vivid recall later:

How is it that this coherent, highly structured experience sometimes occurs during unconsciousness, when it is impossible to postulate an organized sequence of events in a disordered brain? One is forced to the conclusion that either science is missing a fundamental link which would explain how organized experiences can arise in a disorganized brain, or that some forms of experience are transpersonal--that is, they depend on a mind which is not inextricably bound up with the brain (Fenwick and Fenwick 235).

But as Gerald Woerlee points out, lack of oxygen to the brain blunts a subject's judgment, creating a false confidence in one's abilities and a false sense that one's thinking is particularly keen--a well-known fact exhibited in the statements of clearly impaired drunk drivers. "This," he argues, "is why people recovering from cardiac resuscitation never say their mental state during a period of consciousness such as an NDE was confused or befuddled" (Woerlee, "Cardiac" 246).

Here we have George Woerlee tryign to educate dr.Peter Fenwick which has been studying the brain and mind where George Worelee has not knowledge of what really is happening because he does not work with patients who are having near death experiences

Greyson offers a related argument:

[O]rganic brain malfunctions generally produce clouded thinking, irritability, fear, belligerence, and idiosyncratic visions, quite unlike the exceptionally clear thinking, peacefulness, calmness, and predictable content that typifies the NDE. Visions in patients with delirium are generally of living persons, whereas those of patients with a clear sensorium as they approached death are almost invariably of deceased persons [emphasis mine] (Greyson 334).

But as we see in the case of G-LOC dreamlets (pleasurable experiences caused by lack of oxygen to the brain during pilot blackouts), some "organic brain malfunctions" clearly produce hallucinatory experiences characterized by clarity of thought, euphoria, and the 'realness' feel of the experience. As James E. Whinnery has reported, hypoxic G-LOC episodes have some similarities to NDEs, such as floating sensations, OBEs, visions of lights, and "vivid dreamlets of beautiful places that frequently include family members and close friends, pleasurable sensations, euphoria, and some pleasurable memories" (Greyson 334). The ability to consistently induce these dreamlets in pilot centrifuges should have dispelled the myth that hypoxic hallucinations are nearly always frightening, confused, or disoriented. And the prevalence of visions of the deceased in NDEs is not surprising: patients who merely have delirium are not dying and have no particular expectation of dying. For the same reason, it should not be surprising that G-LOC dreamlets do not share other NDE features. The context of NDEs is much different, as the sensation or expectation of dying is much more likely in near-death contexts. And while Greyson points out that NDErs who had hallucinations prior to their NDEs describe their NDE worlds as "'more real' than the world of waking hallucinations" (334), the proper comparison is between NDEs and (very vivid and realistic) hallucinations that follow a loss of consciousness (e.g., dreams), not waking hallucinations.

In their prospective study of NDEs published in Lancet, Pim van Lommel and colleagues argue that NDE-like hallucinations induced in the laboratory are simply too fragmented to be comparable to NDEs (van Lommel et al. 2044). So why do NDErs recall such vivid experiences, rather than fragments of memories, if NDEs are hallucinations? Fox suggests that the answer does not lie in what is happening to the brain during the NDE, but in how NDE reports are reshaped afterward:

[I]t is clearly probable that both the structured story which at least some NDErs tell and its vividness and clarity may both stem from a variety of sources other than the purely private experiences of the NDErs themselves.... [P]lot and detail may potentially hail from a wide range of sources, including ... the behavior of near-death researchers themselves as they attempt to draw out a story along already existing and fixed lines, and the processes which have been seen to exist when the NDEr's story is told and retold before groups (which may themselves interact in the process of composition and reshaping of the original traveller's tale) (Fox 203).

In fact, the comments of NDErs themselves provide evidence that NDE accounts become more elaborate over time while NDErs' commitment to the reality of their experiences deepens. After 23 years of trying to determine the significance of her NDE, one woman commented: "It was real then. It is more real now" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 150). Another NDEr noted that what he understood and remembered about his NDE had grown over the years by relating the story to others (150). In one of the more reliable studies of NDE incidence and transformation, van Lommel and colleagues found that the transformations widely believed to occur after NDEs actually do occur, but that "this process of change after NDE tends to take several years to consolidate" (van Lommel et al. 2043). In other words, the transformative effect of NDEs on experients is not immediate, but gradual[1]. This suggests that NDE transformations do not result from the NDE itself, but from reflecting on the meaning of the experience--that is, from the added layers of meaning and interpretation experients' place on their NDEs.

Rense Lange, Bruce Greyson, and James Houran have even found suggestive statistical evidence for embellishment. In the process of establishing that the Greyson NDE Scale can reliably diagnose and measure the depth of NDEs, the researchers made a curious discovery about their sample of NDErs. Plotting data on when an NDE occurred against when it was reported, they found that "when reported at a later age (50 years or older) NDE[s] appear more intense then when reported earlier (49 or younger), and the intensity of the reported NDE[s] increased with their latency (shorter vs. longer than 15 years)" (Lange, Greyson, and Houran 168). In other words, the longer the delay between having the experience and reporting it, the more intense the NDE that was reported. As the authors note, however, these findings conflict with those of a similar study by Carlos Alvarado and Nancy Zingrone, and David Lester found no correlation between NDE depth (as measured by Kenneth Ring's Weighted Core Experience Index) and length of delay between the NDE and when it was reported (172). Consequently, the discovery of embellishment in the Lange-Greyson-Houran study may have been peculiar to that particular sample of NDErs, rather than a finding that should be generalized to all NDErs. The authors suggest longitudinal studies to definitively determine the extent of embellishment in NDEs (173).

Leo: Augustine also complains that NDErs may not undergo major transformative effects from their experience until some time afterward - perhaps even years. No doubt, but so what? It takes time to process any new experience. This doesn't make the experience unreal.As Michael Prescott points out :


Further evidence that NDE accounts are continually reshaped over time to make them more coherent and interesting comes from comparisons between the NDEs reported by adults and those reported by children. Childhood NDE reports almost always consist only of memory fragments (Morse 68). Both Fenwick and Morse found that childhood NDEs tend to be much more fragmentary than those of adults. This makes sense, for children have fewer conceptual resources to draw on and so are much less likely to incorporate unconscious embellishments in their accounts when recalling their NDEs.

Given fragmentary experiences of any sort, the brain will often fill in the gaps with plausible guesses about what happened in the missing intervals in order for an experience to make sense. Human memory relies on plausible after-the-fact reconstructions of events that often incorporate details invented by the subject, details which were never actually experienced. For example, a witness may provide a description of a robber wearing the wrong color of clothing. Since adults have already developed complex ways of making sense of their experiences, while children have comparably simple thought processes, it would not be surprising for adult NDErs to unconsciously embellish reports of their experiences with after-the-fact interpretations of them. This seems to be the most likely explanation for why adult NDE reports are so vivid and structured, flowing seamlessly from one NDE element to another, while childhood NDEs tend to be fragmentary.

Van Lommel and colleagues open their discussion of the results of their landmark longitudinal study with an argument against physiological explanations for NDEs:

Our results show that medical factors cannot account for [the] occurrence of [the] NDE; although all [of our] patients had been clinically dead, most did not have [an] NDE. Furthermore, seriousness of the crisis was not related to occurrence or depth of the experience. If purely physiological factors resulting from cerebral anoxia caused [the] NDE, most of our patients should have had this experience (2043).

One possible answer to this argument is anticipated in Blackmore's model of the NDE: There are different kinds of anoxia, and rate of onset, amount of time before oxygen restoration, and similar factors have to fall within the right ranges before an NDE can take place. Apparently, for the vast majority of cardiac arrest survivors, this does not happen, and so NDEs are rare among them, no matter how close they come to death as measured by some objective criterion. Another possible answer, perhaps complementary to Blackmore's, is suggested by Britton and Bootzin's research: If only a small minority of those who come close to death are physiologically predisposed to have NDEs, the vast majority will experience nothing--and this is exactly what we find.

On the other hand, what of the alternative explanation? If NDEs were really glimpses of an afterlife, why is it that only a fraction of those who come close to death (about 10-20% per van Lommel et al.) report them? Physiology provides a ready answer: Woerlee has calculated that around 20-24% of those undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) have some degree of consciousness restored during CPR, a fraction of whom could be having NDEs precisely because the conditions are ripe for an altered state of consciousness (Woerlee, "Cardiac" 233, 244). And why aren't NDEs consistently reported (nearly 100% of the time) after the controlled induction of hypothermic cardiac arrest or "standstill," where patients are clinically dead for up to an hour? The vast majority of those who come as close to death as possible without actually dying experience nothing at all (van Lommel et al. 2041). If NDEs are to be understood as glimpses of an afterlife, are we to conclude that 80% of individuals cease to exist when they die, while the remaining 20% survive bodily death?

While some NDErs claim to accurately see things they could not possibly see from their bodies, such anecdotes are difficult to corroborate, and it would not be surprising if NDErs consciously or unconsciously exaggerated the accuracy of their descriptions in order to validate their experiences. As we shall see later, many NDErs are already known to exaggerate claims about their psychic abilities after their NDEs; so it would not be surprising for them to exaggerate claims about what they saw during their out-of-body experiences as well.

The near-death literature is filled with anecdotes of NDErs providing accurate details about events they could not have possibly learned about through normal means. But as I hope to make clear, claims of unequivocal paranormal perception during NDEs are greatly exaggerated. Let's take a closer look at a few well-known cases widely held to provide such evidence.
Maria's Shoe

In 1984 Kimberly Clark reported a sensational case of apparent veridical paranormal perception during an NDE. Seven years earlier, in April 1977, an out-of-town migrant worker known only as "Maria" was admitted to the coronary care unit of Seattle's Harborview Medical Center after a heart attack. Three days later, Maria had a second heart attack while still hospitalized and was quickly resuscitated. When Clark came to check on Maria's condition later that day, Maria reported an OBE where she witnessed her resuscitation from above, noting printouts flowing from the machines monitoring her vital signs. Next she reported becoming distracted by something over the area surrounding the emergency room entrance and 'willing herself' outside of the hospital. She accurately described the area surrounding the emergency room entrance, which Clark found curious since a canopy over the entrance would have obstructed Maria's view if she had simply looked out of her hospital room window. Maria then became distracted by something on a third-floor window ledge on the far side of the hospital, 'willing herself' to this location as well. From this apparent vantage point, she noted a left-foot man's tennis shoe on a third-floor window ledge. She described the shoe as dark blue with a worn-out patch over the little toe and a single shoelace tucked under its heel. To corroborate her story, Maria asked Clark to go look for the shoe (Clark 242-243).

Unable to see anything from outside the hospital at ground level, Clark reports, she proceeded to search room-to-room on the floor above Maria's room, pressing her face hard against the windows to see their ledges. Eventually she came across the reported shoe in one of the rooms, but insisted that she could not see the worn-out toe facing outward or the tucked-in shoelace from inside the room. Clark then removed the shoe from the ledge (243). Kenneth Ring and Madelaine Lawrence hail the report as one of most convincing cases of veridical paranormal perception during NDEs on record:

[T]he facts of the case seem incontestable. Maria's inexplicable detection of that inexplicable shoe is a strange and strangely beguiling sighting of the sort that has the power to arrest the skeptic's argument in mid-sentence, if only by virtue of its indisputable improbability (Ring and Lawrence 223).

This case has taken on the status of something of an urban legend, allegedly demonstrating that Maria learned things during her OBE that she could not have possibly known about other than by actually leaving her body. But as Hayden Ebbern, Sean Mulligan, and Barry Beyerstein make clear, the details Maria reported were in fact quite accessible to her through ordinary sense perception and inference.

In 1994 Ebbern and Mulligan visited Harborview to survey the sites where the NDE took place and to interview Clark. They were unable to locate "Maria" or anyone who knew her personally and suspect that she is now deceased (Ebbern, Mulligan, and Beyerstein 30). They examined each of the details of Clark's report and found the case much less impressive than it has been made out to be. First, after being hospitalized for three days, Maria would have been quite familiar with the equipment monitoring her; so her perception of the printouts during her OBE may be nothing more than "a visual memory incorporated into the hallucinatory world that is often formed by a sensory-deprived and oxygen-starved brain" (31). Second, her perception of details concerning the area surrounding the emergency room entrance were of details that "common sense would dictate"--such as the fact that the doors opened inward, accomodating paramedics rushing in patients who need immediate attention (31). Moreover, she was brought into the hospital through this very entrance--albeit at night, but the area was well-lit--and could've picked up details about it from normal sensory channels then (31-32). The fact that rushing ambulances would traverse a one-way driveway, too, is something anyone could infer from common sense. Finally, Maria's hospital room was just above the emergency room entrance for a full three days before she had her OBE, and "she could have [easily] gained some sense of the traffic flow from the sounds of the ambulances coming and going" and from nighttime "reflections of vehicle lights" even if she never left her bed (32).

But what of the most persuasive aspect of her report--her description of the infamous shoe? How difficult would it have been for her to learn these details without having left her body? Ebbern and Mulligan set out to determine exactly that:

As part of our investigation, Ebbern and Mulligan visited Harborview Medical Center to determine for themselves just how difficult it would be to see, from outside the hospital, a shoe on one of its third-floor window ledges. They placed a running shoe of their own at the place Clark described and then went outside to observe what was visible from ground level. They were astonished at the ease with which they could see and identify the shoe.

Clark's claim that the shoe would have been invisible from ground level outside the hospital is all the more incredible because the investigators' viewpoint was considerably inferior to what Clark's would have been seventeen years earlier. That is because, in 1994, there was new construction under way beneath the window in question and this forced Ebbern and Mulligan to view the shoe from a much greater distance than would have been necessary for Clark (32).

As the authors note, what was a construction area for them in 1994 was a high-traffic parking lot and recreation area back in 1977, providing an even better view of Maria's shoe than the one they saw so easily. Their 1994 'test shoe' was so conspicuous, in fact, that by the time they returned to the hospital one week later, "someone not specifically looking for it" had noticed it and removed it (32). It is quite likely, then, "that anyone who might have noticed the shoe back in 1977 would have commented on it because of the novelty of its location" and Maria could have heard such a conversation and consciously forgotten about it, incorporating it into her out-of-body imagery (32). Moreover, even if no one had seen it from the ground level, Ebbern and Mulligan tested Clark's claim that Maria's shoe was impossible to see from inside the room unless she pressed her face hard against the glass looking for it. This claim was found to be wanting:

They easily placed their running shoe on the ledge from inside one of the rooms and it was clearly visible from various points within the room. There was no need whatsoever for anyone to press his or her face against the glass to see the shoe. In fact, one needed only to take a few steps into the room to be able to see it clearly. To make matters worse for Clark's account, a patient would not even need to strain to see it from his or her bed in the room. So it is apparent that many people inside as well as outside the hospital would have had the opportunity to notice the now-famous shoe, making it even more likely that Maria could have overheard some mention of it (32).

The authors add that anyone who did press his or her face against the glass to get a closer look at the conspicuous shoe from inside the room could easily see the worn-out little toe and tucked shoelace: "we had no difficulty seeing the shoe's allegedly hidden outer side" (32). They conclude:

[Maria's shoe] would have been visible, both inside and outside the hospital, to numerous people who could have come into contact with her. It also seems likely that some of them might have mentioned it within earshot....

[And Clark] did not publicly report the details of Maria's NDE until seven years after it occurred. It is quite possible that during this interval some parts of the story were forgotten and some details may have been interpolated.... [Moreover], we have no way of knowing what leading questions Maria may have been asked, or what Maria might have "recalled" that did not fit and was dropped from the record (32-33).

Furthermore, Clark's inaccurate account of how difficult the shoe was to see from both inside and out provides evidence that she subconsciously embellished significant details to bolster the apparently veridical nature of the case (33).
Pam Reynolds

As Michael Sabom recounts in Light and Death, in August 1991 a then 35-year-old woman he called "Pam Reynolds" (a pseudonym) underwent an innovative procedure to remove a brain aneurysm. The procedure--inducing hypothermic cardiac arrest or "standstill"--involved lowering Pam's body temperature to 60°F, stopping her heart and breathing, and draining the blood from her brain to cool it and then reintroduce it. While in this roughly hour-long standstill state--which is accompanied by no brain function for about 5 minutes at its midpoint--her aneurysm was removed. About 2 hours after awaking from general anesthesia, Pam was moved into the recovery room still intubated (Sabom, "Light" 46-47). At some point after that, intubation was removed from her trachea and she was able to speak. She reported a classic NDE with a vivid OBE, moving through a "tunnel vortex" toward a "pinpoint of light" that continually grew larger, hearing her deceased grandmother's voice, encountering figures in a bright light, encountering deceased relatives who gave her "something sparkly" to eat, and being 'returned' to her body by her deceased uncle (Sabom, "Light" 42-46).

The case soon became infamous because of the lack of synaptic activity during the deepest portion of standstill and Pam's report of an apparently veridical OBE at some point during the operation. But it has been sensationalized at the expense of the facts, facts which have been continually misrepresented by some parapsychologists and near-death researchers. Although hailed by some as "the most compelling case to date of veridical perception during an NDE" (Corcoran, Holden, and James), and "the single best instance we now have in the literature on NDEs to confound the skeptics" (Ring, "Religious Wars" 218), it is in fact best understood in terms of normal perception operating during an entirely nonthreatening physiological state.

Two mischaracterizations of this case are particularly noteworthy, as their errors of fact greatly exaggerate the force of this NDE as evidence for survival after death. First, in their write-up of the first prospective study of NDEs, van Lommel and colleagues write:

Sabom mentions a young American woman who had complications during brain surgery for a cerebral aneurysm. The EEG of her cortex and brainstem had become totally flat. After the operation, which was eventually successful, this patient proved to have had a very deep NDE, including an out-of-body experience, with subsequently verified observations during the period of the flat EEG [emphasis mine] (van Lommel et al. 2044).

Leo: but it looks like the experience continue out through the entire procedure including the accurate out of body perceptions.

Second, in his Immortal Remains--an assessment of the evidence for survival of bodily death--Stephen Braude erroneously describes the case as follows:

Sabom reports the case of a woman who, for about an hour, had all the blood drained from her head and her body temperature lowered to 60 degrees. During that time her heartbeat and breathing stopped, and she had both a flat EEG and absence of auditory evoked potentials from her brainstem.... Apparently during this period she had a detailed veridical near-death OBE [emphasis mine] (Braude 274).

But anyone who gives Sabom's chapters on the case more than a cursory look will see two glaring errors in the descriptions above. First, it is quite clear that Pam did not have her NDE during any period of flat EEG[2]. Indeed, she was as far as a patient undergoing her operation could possibly be from any period of flat EEG when her OBE began. Second, the complete cessation of electrical activity in her brain occurred during a constant 60°F body temperature which persisted for only about 5 minutes at the midpoint of her 55-minute period of cardiac arrest. Both of these facts are nicely illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1

Fig. 1. Timeline of Pam Reynolds' general anesthesia. The colored areas represent changes in body temperature: Green indicates a life-sustaining temperature; yellow, the mechanical cooling or warming of blood; red, the constant temperature of her deepest hypothermia. The shaded area within the dotted lines represents a period when Pam either could not have been conscious or would not have been able to consolidate memories of conscious experiences. The dotted lines mark a thermal threshold of 78.8°F, above which memories of experiences can be consolidated (G. Woerlee, personal communication, November 15, 2005).

Most times marking events or temperatures are derived from Michael Sabom's account of Pam Reynolds' procedure provided in Ch.'s 3 & 10 of Light & Death. Times where labels include a question mark are conjectured to fill in the gaps in Sabom's account.

Despite accurately reporting the facts, Sabom himself has encouraged these misrepresentations[3]. Though he informs the reader that Pam's experience began well before standstill, he reveals this incidentally, so that a careful reading of the text is required to discern the point. For instance, just after describing Pam's recollections of an operating room conversation, he notes, almost as an afterthought, that "[h]ypothermic cardiac arrest would definitely be needed" [emphasis mine] (Sabom, "Light" 42). He then goes on to assert that the very features of her experience which cannot be timed happened during standstill. At first, Sabom only implies this by describing the cooling of blood leading to standstill prior to describing the remainder of Pam's near-death experience (42-46). Then Sabom turns to a discussion of whether Pam was "really" dead during a portion of her standstill state:

But during "standstill," Pam's brain was found "dead" by all three clinical tests--her electroencephalogram was silent, her brain-stem response was absent, and no blood flowed through her brain. Interestingly, while in this state, she encountered the "deepest" near-death experience of all Atlanta Study participants....

With this information, can we now scientifically assert that Pam was either dead or alive during her near-death experience? Unfortunately, no. Even if all medical tests certify her death, we would still have to wait to see if life was restored [emphasis mine] (Sabom, "Light" 49).

Of course, the issue of whether Pam was "really" dead within standstill is an extraordinarily misleading red herring in this context. And it is blatantly irresponsible for Sabom to explicitly state that her NDE occurred "while in this state." As Sabom's own account reveals, her standstill condition had absolutely nothing to do with the time when we know that her near-death OBE began: A full two hours and five minutes before the medical staff even began to cool her blood, during perfectly normal body temperature![4] (Again, see Figure 1.)

Unlike the other elements of her NDE, we can precisely time when Pam's OBE began because she did accurately describe an operating room conversation. Namely, she accurately recalled comments made by her cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Murray, about her "veins and arteries being very small" (Pam's words) (Sabom, "Light" 42). Two operative reports allow us to time this observation. First, in the head surgeon's report, Dr. Robert Spetzler noted that when he was cutting open Pam's skull, "Dr. Murray performed bilateral femoral cut-downs for cannulation for cardiac bypass" (185). So at about the same time that Dr. Spetzler was opening Pam's skull, Dr. Murray began accessing Pam's blood vessels so that they could be hooked up to the bypass machine which would cool her blood and ultimately bring her to standstill. Second, Dr. Murray's operative report noted that "the right common femoral artery was quite small" and thus could not be hooked up to the bypass machine. Consequently, Murray's report continues, "bilateral groin cannulation would be necessary: This was discussed with Neurosurgery, as it would affect angio access postoperatively for arteriography" (185). And although Pam's mother was given a copy of the head surgeon's operative report (which she said Pam did not read), the report did not say anything about any of Pam's arteries being too small (Sabom, "Shadow" 4).

Many have argued that Pam's accurate recall of an operating room conversation is strong evidence that she really did leave her body during the procedure. But there is at least one peculiar fact about Pam's recollections--in addition to the timing of her experience--which makes a physiological explanation of her OBE much more likely.

General anesthesia is the result of administering a trio of types of drugs: sedatives, to induce sleep or prevent memory formation; muscle relaxants, to ensure full-body paralysis; and painkillers. Inadequate sedation alone results in anesthesia awareness. Additionally, if insufficient concentrations of muscle relaxants are administered, a patient will be able to move; and if an inadequate amount of painkillers are administered, a patient will be able to feel pain (Woerlee, "Anaesthesiologist" 16). During a typical surgical procedure, an anesthesiologist must regularly administer this trio of drugs throughout the operation. But just prior to standstill, anesthetic drugs are no longer administered, as deep hypothermia is sufficient to maintain unconsciousness. The effects of any remaining anesthetics wear off during the warming of blood following standstill (G. Woerlee, personal communication, November 8, 2005).

About one or two in a thousand patients undergoing general anesthesia report some form of anesthesia awareness. That represents between 20,000 and 40,000 patients a year within the United States alone. A full 48% of these patients report auditory recollections postoperatively, while only 28% report feeling pain during the experience (JCAHO 10). Moreover, "higher incidences of awareness have been reported for caesarean section (0.4%), cardiac surgery (1.5%), and surgical treatment for trauma (11-43%)" (Bünning and Blanke 343). Such instances must at least give us pause about attributing Pam's intraoperative recollections to some form of out-of-body paranormal perception. Moreover, for decades sedative anesthetics such as nitrous oxide have been known to trigger OBEs.

Sometime after 7:15 AM that August morning, general anesthesia was administered to Pam Reynolds. Subsequently, her arms and legs were tied down to the operating table, her eyes were lubricated and taped shut, and she was instrumented in various other ways (Sabom, "Light" 38). A standard EEG was used to record activity in her cerebral cortex, while small earphones continuously played clicks into her ears to invoke auditory evoked potentials (AEPs), a measure of activity in the brain stem (39).

Sabom considers whether conscious or semiconscious auditory perceptions were incorporated into Pam's OBE imagery during a period of anesthesia awareness, but dismisses the possibility all-too-hastily:

Could Pam have heard the intraoperative conversation and then used this to reconstruct an out-of-body experience? At the beginning of the procedure, molded ear speakers were placed in each ear as a test for auditory and brain-stem reflexes. These speakers occlude the ear canals and altogether eliminate the possibility of physical hearing (Sabom, "Light" 184).

But is this last claim really true? Since Sabom merely asserts this (and has an obvious stake in it being true), we have little reason to take him at his word--especially on such a crucial point. What is the basis for his assertion? Does he have any objective evidence that the earphones used to measure AEPs completely cut off sounds from the external environment?

Since Sabom does not back up this claim in Light and Death, I did a little research and discovered that his claim is indeed false. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, as a matter of procedure, a patient who is monitored by the very same equipment to detect acoustic neuromas (benign brain tumors) "sits in a soundproof room and wears headphones" (NINDS). But a soundproof room would be unnecessary, of course, if the earphones used to measure AEPs "occlude the ear canals and altogether eliminate the possibility of physical hearing." It is theoretically possible that the earphones used in 1991 made physical hearing impossible, whereas the earphones used today do not. However, it highly unlikely, as it would be far cheaper for medical institutions to continue to invest in the imagined sound-eliminating earphones, rather than soundproofing entire rooms to eliminate external sounds. As Gerald Woerlee points out, "earplugs do not totally exclude all external sounds, they only considerably reduce the intensity of external sounds," as demonstrated by "enormous numbers of people ... listening to loud music played through earplugs, while at the same time able to hear and understand all that happens in their surroundings" (Woerlee, "Pam").

Leo: yes but it would be less clear and muffled

After being prepped for surgery, Pam's head was secured by a clamp. By 8:40 AM, her entire body was draped except for her head (the site of the main procedure) and her groin (where blood vessels would be hooked up to the bypass machine to cool her blood). In the five minutes or so to follow, Dr. Spetzler would open her scalp with a curved blade, fold back her scalp, then begin cutting into her skull with a Midas Rex bone saw (39-41). At this point, about an hour and a half after being anesthetized, Pam's OBE began (185). She reported being awoken by the sound of a natural D, then being "pulled" out of the top of her head by the sound (41).

"But," Sabom asks, "was Pam's visual recollection from her out-of-body experience accurate?" (186). That is indeed the question to ask regarding the veridicality of her report.

Pam reported that during her OBE, she was able to view the operating room from above the head surgeon's shoulder, describing her out-of-body vision as "brighter and more focused and clearer than normal vision" (41). In her report of the experience, she offered three verifiable visual observations. First, she said that "the way they had my head shaved was very peculiar. I expected them to take all of the hair, but they did not." Second, she reported that the bone saw "looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it, a groove at the top where the saw appeared to go into the handle, but it didn't." Finally, she noted that "the saw had interchangeable blades ... in what looked like a socket wrench case" (41). Subsequently, she only reported auditory observations--hearing the bone saw "crank up" and "being used on something"--but most notably the operating room conversation initiated by Dr. Murray.

Given such vivid 'perceptual capabilities' during her OBE, we would expect there to be no confusion about what Pam saw during the experience. So her visual observations provide an interesting test of the notion that her soul left her body while under general anesthesia during normal body temperature. Let us look at each of these in turn.

First, there is the observation that only part of her head was shaved. Perhaps she could have guessed this at the time of her experience, but there is no need even for this in order to account for the reported observation. Surely Pam would have noticed this soon after awaking from general anesthesia--by seeing her reflection, feeling her hair, or being asked about it by visitors. And she certainly would have known about it, one way or the other, by the time she was released from the hospital. Indeed, if her hair had been shaved presurgery, or at any time prior to her general anesthesia, she would have known about it well before her OBE. And patients undergoing such a risky procedure are standardly given a consent briefing where even the cosmetic effects of surgery are outlined--if not explicitly in a doctor's explanation, then at least incidentally in any photographs, diagrams, or other sources illustrating what the procedure entails. So Pam may have learned (to her surprise) that her head would be only partially shaved in a consent briefing prior to her experience, but 'filed away' and consciously forgot about this information given so many other more pressing concerns on her mind at the time. That would be exactly the sort of mundane, subconscious fact we would expect a person to recall later during an altered state of consciousness[5]. And although we are not given the exact date of the operation, Sabom reports that the procedure took place in August 1991 (38). He later tells us that he interviewed Pam for the first time on November 11, 1994 (186). That leaves over three years between the date of Pam's NDE and Sabom's interview--plenty of time for memory distortions to have played a role in her report of the experience. So there is nothing remarkable about this particular observation.

Second, there is her description of the bone saw. But the very observation that provides the greatest potential for supporting the notion that she actually left her body during her OBE actually tends to count against that hypothesis. As Sabom recounts,

Pam's description of the bone saw having a "groove at the top where the saw appeared to go into the handle" was a bit puzzling.... [T]he end of the bone saw has an overhanging edge that [viewed sideways] looks somewhat like a groove. However, it was not located "where the saw appeared to go into the handle" but at the other end.

Why had this apparent discrepancy arisen in Pam's description? Of course, the first explanation is that she did not "see" the saw at all, but was describing it from her own best guess of what it would look and sound like (187).

Precisely! Except that, of course, Pam didn't need to guess what the bone saw sounded like, since she probably heard it as anesthesia failed. An out-of-body discrepancy within Pam's NDE prima facie implies the operation of normal perception and imagination within an altered state of consciousness. Indeed, this explanation is so straightforward that Sabom considers it before all others. And it is telling that the one visual observation that Pam (almost) could not have known about other than by leaving her body was the very detail that was not accurate.

Let us turn to the report of Pam's final visual observation during her OBE, her comment that the bone saw used "interchangeable blades" placed inside something "like a socket wrench case." This detail was also accurate; however, one need not invoke paranormal perceptual capabilities to explain it. As Woerlee notes,

[S]he knew no-one would use a large chain saw or industrial angle cutter to cut the bones of her skull open.... Pneumatic dental drills with the same shapes, and making similar sounds as the pneumatic saw used to cut her skull open, were in common use during the late 1970s and 1980s. Because she was born in 1956, a generation whose members almost invariably have many fillings, Pam Reynolds almost certainly had fillings or other dental work, and would have been very familiar with the dental drills. So the high frequency sound of the idling, air-driven motor of the pneumatic saw, together with the subsequent sensations of her skull being sawn open, would certainly have aroused imagery of apparatus similar to dental-drills in her mind when she finally recounted her remembered sensations. There is another aspect to her remembered sensations--Pam Reynolds may have seen, or heard of, these things before her operation. All these things indicate how she could give a reasonable description of the pneumatic saw after awakening and recovering the ability to speak (Woerlee, "Anaesthesiologist" 18).

And, predictably enough, the dental drills in question also used interchangeable burs stored in their own socket-wrench-like cases.

During anesthesia awareness, and as far from standstill as a person under general anesthesia can be, Pam could have heard her surroundings, but not seen them, since her eyes were taped shut. And the facts of her case strongly suggest that this is exactly what happened. Information that she could have obtained by hearing was highly accurate; at the same time, information that was unavailable to her through normal vision was the very information which was inaccurate. More precisely, her visual descriptions were only partially accurate: accurate on details she could have plausibly guessed or easily learned about subsequent to her experience, and inaccurate on details that it would be difficult to guess correctly.

In other words, OBE imagery derived from hearing and background knowledge, perhaps coupled with the reconstruction of memory, fully accounts for the most interesting details of Pam Reynolds' NDE report. After being awoken from inadequate anesthesia by the sound of the bone saw revving up, her mind generated a plausible image of what the bone saw used during her operation looked like, rendered from her prior knowledge of similar-sounding dental drills. But her best guess about the appearance of the bone saw was inaccurate regarding the features of the bone saw that only true vision could discern: whether there was a true groove in the instrument, and where it was located.

Moreover, the fact that Pam's NDE began during an entirely nonthreatening physiological condition--under general anesthesia at normal body temperature--implies that there was no particular physiological trigger for the experience (such as anoxia/hypoxia). Rather, it appears that her NDE was entirely expectation-driven. Before going into surgery, Pam was fully aware that she would be taken to the brink of death while in the standstill state. Being awoken from general anesthesia by the sound of the bone saw appears to have induced a fear response, which in turn caused Pam to dissociate and have a classic NDE. Indeed, this makes sense of her otherwise odd report of being pulled out of the top of her head by the sound of the saw itself.

At least five separate studies (Gabbard, Twemlow, and Jones 1981; Stevenson, Cook, and McClean-Rice 1989-1990; Gabbard and Twemlow 1991; Serdahely 1995; Floyd 1996) have documented cases where fear alone triggered an NDE. As Stevenson, Cook, and McClean-Rice conclude, "an important precipitator of the 'near-death experience' is the belief that one is dying--whether or not one is in fact close to death" (Stevenson, Cook, and McClean-Rice 45). They go on to label those (otherwise indistinguishable) NDEs precipitated by fear of death alone "fear-death experiences" (FDEs). Physiologically, such NDEs might be mediated by a fight-or-flight response in the absence of an actual medical crisis. In a case reported by Glen Gabbard and Stuart Twemlow, an NDEr dislodged the pin of a dummy grenade he thought to be a live one, producing a classic NDE similar to the one Pam experienced:

A marine sergeant was instructing a class of young recruits at boot camp. He stood in front of a classroom holding a hand grenade as he explained the mechanism of pulling the pin to detonate the weapon. After commenting on the considerable weight of the grenade, he thought it would be useful for each of the recruits to get a "hands-on" feeling for its actual mass. As the grenade was passed from private to private, one 18-year-old recruit nervously dropped the grenade as it was handed him. Much to his horror, he watched the pin become dislodged as the grenade hit the ground. He knew he only had seconds to act, but he stood frozen, paralyzed with fear. The next thing he knew, he found himself traveling up through the top of his head toward the ceiling as the ground beneath him grew farther and farther away. He effortlessly passed through the ceiling and found himself entering a tunnel with the sound of wind whistling through it. As he approached the end of this lengthy tunnel, he encountered a light that shone with a special brilliance, the likes of which he had never seen before. A figure beckoned to him from the light, and he felt a profound sense of love emanating from the figure. His life flashed before his eyes in what seemed like a split-second. In midst of this transcendent experience, he suddenly realized that grenade had not exploded. He felt immediately "sucked" back into his body (Gabbard and Twemlow 42).

Gabbard and Twemlow conclude that "thinking one is about to die is sufficient to trigger the classical NDE" (42). After comparing experiences that occurred in nonthreatening conditions with those where subjects were actually close to death, they also concluded that no particular elements were "exclusive to near-death situations," but "several features of the experiences were significantly more likely to occur when the individual felt that death was close at hand" [emphasis mine] (42). That expectation alone can trigger NDEs in certain individuals, then, is well-documented.

If Pam had truly been out of body and perceiving, both her auditory and visual sensations should've been accurate; but when it came to details that could not have been guessed or plausibly learned after the fact, only her auditory information was accurate. Moreover, it is significant that as her narrative continues beyond the three visual observations outlined above, the remainder of her reported out-of-body perceptions are exclusively auditory. Finally, it is interesting that Pam reports uncertainly about the identity of the voice she heard when her OBE began: "I believe it was a female voice and that it was Dr. Murray, but I'm not sure" (Sabom, "Light" 42).

These facts strongly imply anesthesia awareness, and tend to count against the idea that Pam's soul left her body during the operation. If her soul had left her body, the fact that her account contains out-of-body discrepancies doesn't make much sense. But it makes perfect sense if she experienced anesthesia awareness, particularly when one looks at which sorts of information that she provided were accurate and which were not. Pam Reynolds did not report anything that she could not have learned about through normal perception, and this is exactly what we would expect if normal perception alone was operating during her OBE. It is little wonder that Fox concludes that "the jury is still very much out over this case" (Fox 210).
NDEs in the Blind?

As Susan Blackmore reported in Dying to Live, as of 1993, even Kenneth Ring conceded (in his own words) that there hadn't been a single "case of a blind NDEr reported in the literature where there was clear-cut or documented evidence of accurate visual perception during an alleged OBE" (Blackmore, "Dying" 133). But Blackmore's unsuccessful search for such cases prompted Ring and a doctoral student, Sharon Cooper, to endeavor upon a search of their own.

The results of their search are published most prominently in their joint 1999 book Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind. There they document 31 cases of blind persons who had NDEs or OBEs, 10 of which were not medically close to death at the time of their experiences. These cases were garnered from responses to an advertisement in the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) Newsletter Vital Signs, as well as from contacts in 11 different organizations for the blind. Of the 31 persons in the sample, 14 were born blind, 11 lost their sight after they were five years old, and 6 were highly visually impaired. 25 of the 31 reported visual sensations during their experiences, as did 9 of the 14 persons blind from birth. The most startling claim made in Mindsight is not simply that some blind NDErs testify to gaining knowledge of facts they could only have learned through a faculty like vision, but that relevant eyewitnesses can corroborate their testimony.

But is there actually strong evidence of veridical paranormal perception in Ring and Cooper's sample of blind NDErs? One reason Fox questions the significance of this study is that those known to acquire sight for the first time, or reacquire it after a very long time, have difficulty making sense of their visual sensations. He notes the case of a 52-year-man who, after receiving corneal grafts, could not visually identify a lathe that he was otherwise well-acquainted with--by touch--unless he was given the opportunity to touch it. Continually frustrated at his inability to interpret his visual sensations, he eventually took his own life a full two years after the operation (Fox 225-226). By contrast, Ring and Cooper's blind NDErs are said to have "virtually immediately [gained] the ability to perceive accurately just such things as hospitals and streetlights with virtually no difficulty whatsoever" (226). While Ring and Cooper interpret this as evidence of a previously unknown sort of synesthetic perception 'transcending' normal human vision (224), Fox points out that more mundane sources--such as learning from mass media or NDE researchers that OBEs, tunnels, and lights are to be expected during near-death crises--might more satisfactorily explain the blind NDErs' testimonies (239). Harvey Irwin notes similar possibilities:

[These cases] may be inspired by accounts of other people's NDEs that have been widely disseminated in various forms of the media. That is, might a blind person have heard that people see certain things in a near-death encounter and unconsciously generated a fantasy that conformed to this belief?... [Blind NDErs might also] learn about what to expect in an afterlife from diverse sociocultural sources, and they may rely extensively on these expectations in generating a near-death fantasy.... Thus, the blind may commonly have a belief that they will suffer no visual affliction in an afterlife, and this belief may influence the content of NDEs in the blind (Irwin, "Mindsight" 112).

Fox adds that Ring and Cooper's two most impressive cases are suspect as evidence for paranormal perception in the blind. In one of these cases, for instance, though an NDEr was said to have superior perceptual capabilities--like "omnidirectional awareness" of the environment--her out-of-body 'perceptions' were colorblind. But surely, Fox interjects, "we should expect in such a situation to see in colour. Indeed, we might reasonably expect to appreciate more, deeper and greater colour in such a condition, not less colour or none at all" (Fox 232). In the other case, a 33-year-old man reported an NDE when he was 8-years-old. But, Fox adds, one "might seriously question whether the testimony, twenty-five years after the event, of an episode that occurred to an 8-year-old boy, should qualify as one of their two most impressive cases" (231). Most significantly, though, Fox notes the statistical improbability of NDE researchers finding any genuine cases of NDEs in the blind:

Further, the reader may wonder at the statistical improbability of some of the events that Ring and Cooper present. NDEs seem quite rare, despite the recent publicity that has surrounded them. In this context, for example, it is worth noting that a recent study organized by British theologian Paul Badham and neuroscientist Peter Fenwick, which attempted to gain empirical support for the hypothesis that something leaves the body during an NDE, foundered because of a paucity of cases in the hospital chosen for the study. To find NDEs in the blind, therefore, would seem to be an incredibly difficult task. That Ring and Cooper found twenty-one [sic: 31] such cases is an extraordinary achievement. That one of their two best cases [the colorblind one] was referred by the same social worker [Kimberly Clark] as was involved in the celebrated 'tennis shoe' case, and indeed came from the same hospital, seems most striking--and incredibly statistically improbable (Fox 232).

But Fox's analysis does not end here. What of the alleged cases of veridical paranormal perceptions in these blind NDErs? While Ring and Cooper recognize the need for corroboration from others of the events NDErs report, and indeed present cases claiming exactly that, Fox notes that "a critical reading of the quality of the data presented reveals the need for caution in accepting them unreservedly" (232). He points out, for instance, that in one case passed on to Ring and Cooper by another NDE researcher, no one appears to have ever followed-up with potential witnesses (232). In another seemingly impressive case, a man who had been blind for 10 years reported an OBE after laying down on a couch where he could see a tie that he was wearing purchased for him by a friend who had never described it to him. The NDEr reported how amazed his friend was when he accurately described the patterns on the tie to her (233). But upon interviewing the friend, Ring and Cooper found that she could not really corroborate his recollection:

Although Ring and Cooper present this as a 'corroborative' case of sight during a blind respondent's out-of-body experience, it is clear that it is not. The witness does not remember clearly the events or the tie. She thus cannot corroborate the detail of the episode in question, but merely presents a testimony to Frank's apparent truthfulness and simply thinks that he was 'probably accurate' in the details given.... Once again, therefore, we must exercise care with the quality of the data presented.... More cautious commentators may be forgiven for suggesting that much stronger data are needed before they agree that existing scientific paradigms need to be hauled down and news ones erected (Fox 234).

Thus Blackmore's conclusion about paranormal perception during NDEs (including NDEs in the blind) prior to Ring and Cooper's study is just as poignant today as it was over a decade ago:

I think it would not be surprising if there were many claims of paranormal perception in NDEs even if it never happened. It is my impression that it probably never does happen.... [F]or the moment at least, these claims present no real challenge to a scientific account of the NDE (Blackmore, "Dying" 134-135).
NDE Target Identification Experiments

The cutting edge of near-death research lies in controlled tests of veridical paranormal perception during the out-of-body phase of those NDEs that include OBEs. The detection of remote visual targets during out-of-body NDEs has the potential to provide decisive evidence of consciousness functioning independently of the body, conceivably answering the survival question once and for all. Alternatively, if NDErs are given ample opportunities to identify remote visual targets during their experiences yet fail to do so, veridicality studies offer the prospect of confirming the hallucinatory nature of these experiences. Given the importance of such experiments in either establishing or falsifying veridical paranormal perception during NDEs, it would seem remiss to conclude this section without a survey of the results of NDE veridicality research conducted to date.

Thus far there have been five separate studies in which remote visual targets were placed in presumably NDE-conducive hospital environments. Although earlier experiments with OBEs induced at will have failed to provide compelling evidence of any paranormal processes operating during induced OBEs (see Alvarado 199-200 and especially Blackmore, "Beyond" 189-199 & 213-224 for a survey of the results of these experiments), one might anticipate a greater likelihood of paranormal activity during spontaneous out-of-body NDEs. The first NDE target identification experiment was carried out in the mid-1980s by Janice Minor Holden in the emergency room (ER), each room of the coronary care unit (CCU), and each room of the intensive care unit (ICU) at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois (Holden and Joesten 46). As Holden and Leroy Joesten report, visual targets were placed

in the corners of hospital rooms in which near-death episodes were most likely to occur.... in such a way as to be visible only from a vantage point of looking down from the ceiling. No living person was to know the exact content of the stimuli, thus rendering the design double-blind. Once the patient was resuscitated from a near-death episode in one of the "marked" rooms, knowledge of the content of the visual stimulus would be assessed (Holden and Joesten 46).

The authors go on to explain what would constitute a positive result in their study: "If [out-of-body NDErs] accurately identified card content with significantly greater frequency than other NDErs and non NDErs ... the hypothesis that [out-of-body NDErs] have veridical perception ... would be supported" (Holden and Joesten 48). Unfortunately, however, in the entire year of the study, only 1 cardiac resuscitation occurred in the hospital areas covered by the study, to an Armenian immigrant with poor English who declined to give an interview about his resuscitation. At the same time, at least one NDE occurred in a hospital area not covered by the study (Holden and Joesten 51). With no experiences to test, inevitably no positive results were reported.

A second experiment was conducted by Madelaine Lawrence at Hartford Hospital, Connecticut until early November 1994, when Lawrence was Director of Nursing Education and Research. A scrolling LED display placed in the cardiac electrophysiology lab--though occasionally turned off--was up and running for a total of about 6 months (M. Lawrence, personal communication, August 7, 2006). Lawrence reports:

I placed an electronic sign high on a cabinet in the room [of the electrophysiology lab], not visible to anyone standing on the floor. In order to read the sign a person needed to use a ladder or be out of his body. It contained a nonsense statement like, "The popsicles are in bloom," and I changed it randomly. It was nonsense so that no one could say he overheard a conversation about the words on the sign. All subjects who became unconscious during the EP [electrophysiology] studies were interviewed and asked to describe their experiences. We were hoping they had had an NDE and had read the sign (Lawrence 158-159).

Unfortunately, although "three patients reported the early stages of an out-of-body experience," no one had an OBE extensive enough to see the sign (159). So the results of this study, too, can only be considered negative.

A third experiment was set up in "the medical, emergency, and coronary care units of Southampton General Hospital" in the United Kingdom by Sam Parnia from August 1997 to August 1998 (Parnia et al. 150; S. Parnia, personal communication, August 3, 2006). For one year "boards were suspended from the ceiling of the wards.... [with] various figures on the surface facing the ceiling which were not visible from the floor" (Parnia et al. 151). Of the 63 cardiac arrest survivors interviewed during that time, 7 had some recall of the period after they lost consciousness. Of these 7, 4 had NDEs as defined by the Greyson NDE Scale, 2 had NDE-like memories (e.g., feelings of peace or seeing deceased relatives), and 1 had memories unlike NDEs (e.g., seeing "some unknown people jumping off a mountain"). Though two of the four NDErs "lost awareness of their bodies," none of them had full-blown OBEs (151-153).

Under the supervision of neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick and Religious Experience Research Centre (RERC) Director Paul Badham, Penny Sartori conducted a fourth target identification experiment, also in the United Kingdom, at Morriston Hospital, Swansea from January 1998 to January 2003 (Sartori 34). As Sartori explains:

At each patient's bedside in ITU [the intensive therapy unit], mounted on the wall, is a cardiac monitor. Symbols which were mounted on brightly coloured day glow paper to attract attention were placed on the top of each monitor. These symbols were above head height and concealed behind ridges to prevent them being viewed from a standing position, thus ensuring they could only be viewed from an out-of-body perspective (Sartori 35).

Sartori adds that the symbols were inconspicuously changed every two months and covered by a card removed away from her sight, "ensuring that not even the author knew which symbol was on which monitor" (35). Though all ITU patients were interviewed in the first year of the study, for logistical reasons interviews in the remaining four years were limited to cardiac arrest survivors, those who came so close to death that their survival was unexpected, and spontaneous OBErs and NDErs (36). Consistent with van Lommel and colleagues' findings, about 18% of the cardiac arrest survivors reported NDEs; about 5% of them reported OBEs (37-38). In the entirety of Sartori's 5-year study, 15 patients reported NDEs or NDE-like experiences, and 8 OBEs were reported (37-38). Nevertheless, Sartori reports, this study also yielded negative results, as "not all of the patients rose high enough out of their bodies and some reported viewing the situation from a position opposite to where the symbols were situated" (Sartori 38).

The fifth and most recent veridicality study was conducted by Bruce Greyson, Janice Minor Holden, and J. Paul Mounsey at the University of Virginia Health System Electrophysiology Clinic from January 2004 to July 2006 in order to demonstrate that "patients during cardiac arrest have perceptions that they could not have had normally from the position of their bodies," as this would provide profound "evidence for the independent functioning of the mind while the brain was physiologically impaired" (Greyson, Holden, and Mounsey 93). Following Lawrence's precedent, the University of Virginia study was premised on cardioversion, the controlled administration of an electric shock to the heart to restore normal heart rhythm. But whereas only about 30% of Lawrence's electrophysiology patients required cardioversion in order to restore a normal heart rhythm (of which 9% reported NDEs) (Lawrence 158), all 25 of the University of Virginia patients experienced at least two episodes of induced cardiac arrest in order to test implantable cardioverters/defibrillators (ICDs) (Greyson, Holden, and Mounsey 90).

During the two-and-a-half-year period of the study, a ceiling-facing laptop computer visible only from a perspective far above eye level was opened and laid flat on top of a cabinet or video monitor before patients entered the procedure room for ICD implantation and testing. The laptop generated clear and simple but unpredictable cartoon animations (e.g., a jumping frog) of varying colors quasi-randomly selected by the computer based on when it was turned on and unknown to any living person prior to the completion of the study (88-89). Although 5 patients (20% of the sample) acknowledged some recall of events while unconscious--such as a sense of timelessness, feelings of peace, vaguely being somewhere unfamiliar, and possibly sensing the presence of a deceased relative--no NDEs were reported, and thus no out-of-body NDEs were available to test (91-92).

Given that controlled studies of veridical paranormal perception during NDEs have only been attempted intermittently and on a small scale, it is imperative that further target identification experiments are simultaneously carried out at multiple hospitals over a period of several years. For, as Sartori notes,

If hundreds of patients report an OBE there is a greater potential for the symbols being viewed. Equally, if hundreds of patients report an OBE but none correctly identify the symbols then it could lead to the conclusion that the OBE is a mind model (Sartori 39).

In a related but hardly surprising development, similar long-term multicenter research has already established that distant prayer (i.e., prayer unknown to the prayed-for) has absolutely no effect on the health of hospitalized patients (Benson et al. 934). If past experience is any guide at all, NDE veridicality research is no more likely to overthrow our current scientific understanding of humanity's place in the universe. In the meantime, at any rate, existing veridicality research presents no challenge to the current scientific understanding of near-death experiences as hallucinations.

Leo: what is he talking about it looks like he's not familiar with rsearch done on prayer which showed evidence for it.

What Are Out-of-Body Experiences?

In order to assess the viability of particular psychophysiological models of OBEs and NDEs, it is essential to survey the data collected on those who have undergone such experiences. As will become evident shortly, taken as a whole such studies strongly imply that whatever these experiences are, they are characterized by features that one would expect of internally generated fantasies, but not of any putative "disembodied existence."

Few dispute that OBEs and NDEs are altered states of consciousness (ASCs)--temporary departures from the normal (alert) waking state. During ASCs, a variety of mental faculties appear to be altered, including arousal, attention, perceptual functions, imagery skills, memory, cognition, and sense of identity. Other ASCs include REM dreaming, hypnagogic and hypnopompic dreams (when falling asleep or waking up, respectively), lucid dreams (where the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming), hypnosis, meditation, religious and mystical experiences, experiences during prolonged sensory deprivation, states induced by psychoactive drugs, and drug or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) flashbacks. Sometimes ASCs follow a period of unconsciousness, but they are often triggered during normal consciousness. ASCs are typically understood to involve turning one's attention inward, into the contents of one's own mind, rather than than revealing anything about the external world. For example, dreams are ASCs that are typically understood to call up internally generated imagery; that is, the world encountered during dreaming is not typically taken to involve any real terrain. Similarly, to say that alien abduction experiences involve ASCs (e.g., sleep paralysis) is to imply that such experiences do not really involve extraterrestrials physically kidnapping unlucky human subjects. Thus, insofar as OBEs and NDEs are such altered states, there is already a reasonable presumption that they do not reflect any objective existence outside of the normal physical body. But let us turn to the specific psychological traits of those who have OBEs and NDEs--traits which strongly imply that some psychophysiological model of OBEs and NDEs must be correct.

Leo: just ebcause lot's of scientists believe they are not real doesn't mean they are. for example lot's of scientists used to believe that machines could not fly.

First, there is the discovery of statistically significant correlations between dissociation and both OBEs and NDEs. Dissociation is the structured separation of mental processes, so that thoughts, feelings, memories, and sense of identity "may appear to proceed independently" of each other (Irwin, "Disembodied" 261). The classic example of dissociation is "highway hypnosis," daydreaming or consciously focusing on anything other than driving and yet still arriving at your destination, evidently subconsciously engaging in the required driving skills (262). Across studies, dissociation has been consistently positively correlated with OBEs using the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) (Alvarado 192-193). Irwin found that NDErs were more likely to have suffered childhood trauma than non-NDErs, and consequently theorized that NDErs are predisposed to dissociate during unexpected highly stressful situations in order to "escape" from the pain or anxiety of their environments (Greyson 322-323). Similarly, Ring found that NDErs have significantly greater dissociative tendencies than non-NDErs, and suggested that childhood trauma makes victims more prone to dissociation and thus NDEs. Although Ring views such dissociative tendencies as a psychological defense mechanism to "tune out" physical threats to one's well-being while simultaneously opening a door to "alternative realities," their hypothetical status as a defense mechanism makes much more sense if OBEs and NDEs do not literally involve any form of disembodiment. For if such experiences literally involved some double leaving the body, why would psychological mechanisms--as opposed to, say, physiological crises alone--trigger the release of the soul?

Such nonpathological dissociation exists on a continuum best measured by absorption, the capacity to become highly engrossed in the imagination, including through books or movies (Irwin, "Disembodied" 263; Blackmore 35). One way to think of the distinction is this: Dissociation is the shutting out of sensory stimuli, while absorption is focusing on the imagination--but they tend to go hand-and-hand (Greyson 323). Cumulatively, several studies have found a moderate correlation between absorption and OBEs (Alvarado 191-192). For instance, in previous studies Irwin showed both that OBErs are highly absorbed, and that highly absorbed people can artificially induce OBEs more easily than people who are not particularly absorbed (Irwin, "Disembodied" 263). Interestingly, Gabbard and Twemlow compared NDErs with those who had OBEs in non-life-threatening conditions and found that NDErs were more absorbed than other OBErs (Blackmore, "Dying" 35). This is not surprising given that NDEs are typically more elaborate than OBEs in other contexts. So both OBErs and NDErs tend to have high rates of absorption--a trait which Irwin notes "might usefully be thought of as a capacity for imaginative involvement" (Irwin, "Disembodied" 263). Again, such a psychological correlation makes little sense if OBEs and NDEs represent something actually leaving the body.

Fantasy proneness is "characterized by a strong investment in fantasy life, vivid hallucinatory ability, intense sensory experience, and excellent eidetic [i.e., vivid visual] memory" (Greyson 324). Across studies, fantasy proneness has also been consistently positively correlated with OBEs (Alvarado 192). In other words, several studies indicate that fantasy proneness is higher among OBErs than non-OBErs (Irwin, "Disembodied" 264). Similarly, James R. Council and Bruce Greyson found that NDErs were both more absorbed and more fantasy prone than a control group, and that the extent of absorption and fantasy proneness among NDErs was greater the "deeper" the NDE reported (Greyson 325). Yet again, such psychological correlations are rather puzzling if OBEs and NDEs represent the soul actually exiting the body, but make perfect sense if they have a psychophysiological explanation.

Interesting correlations between imagery skills and OBEs have also been discovered. Compared to non-OBErs, for instance, Blackmore found that OBErs "are better at detecting the viewpoint from which a three-dimensional object is seen and are better able to switch viewpoints in their imagination" (Blackmore, "Dying" 180). Moreover, those who habitually dream in a bird's-eye view or see themselves during their dreams are more likely to have OBEs (180). Additionally, those who can induce OBEs at will have better dream control skills than spontaneous OBErs--a fact anticipated by psychophysiological models given that OBE-inducers would be expected to have "mastered" the required psychological abilities compared to "novice" spontaneous OBErs (Alvarado 202). Blackmore nicely summarizes these findings:

OBErs are better than others at switching from one viewpoint to another (especially to the viewpoint above the head), [are] more proficient at producing clear and detailed images from different viewpoints, and tend to use the observer viewpoint in dream recall (Blackmore, "Where" 64, cited in Alvarado 193).

Finally, compared to non-OBErs, OBErs tend to have more hallucinatory experiences, perceptual distortions, distortions of body image, illusory experiences of changes in body size, and floating sensations (Alvarado 194). Cumulatively, such studies lead Alvarado to conclude that the best predictors of OBEs are dissociation, hypnotic susceptibility, absorption, and fantasy proneness (Alvarado 193-194).

Of course, none of these findings are inconsistent with the view that something leaves the body during OBEs and NDEs. But they are clearly not predicted by that view, whereas such correlations are anticipated by psychophysiological models. Those who insist upon a survivalist interpretation of such experiences, then, can surely fit these findings within their particular theoretical frameworks. But they do not fit well, requiring various ad hoc modifications to account for them. Prima facie, at least, existing studies of OBErs and NDErs, taken as a whole, make psychophysiological models of such experiences much more likely to be true than their spiritualistic alternatives. That is, extant research strongly implies that OBEs are just one of many different kinds of distortions of body image along a continuum of altered states of consciousness.

But now it is time to return to the question prefacing this section. What, exactly, are OBEs? Several theories have been postulated, but three are particularly promising. The first is Irwin's theory:

Circumstances associated with extreme (either high or low) levels of cortical arousal evoke a state of strong absorption, particularly in the case of a person with a requisite level of absorption capacity and need for absorbing experiences.... If this state of absorbed mentation is paralleled by a dissociation from somatic (somaesthetic and kinesthetic) stimuli, an OBE may occur (Irwin, "Disembodied" 272).

In other words, OBEs are a form of "dissociation between sensory processing of somatic (somaesthetic and kinesthetic) events and the sense of self or identity" characterized by a high level of absorption (265). Though this theory is based on Irwin's own findings over the years, Etzel Cardeña's independent studies confirm that disruptions in sensory input are underlying causes of OBEs, influenced by the hypnotizability and attentional deployment of the subject (Alvarado 204).

A second intriguing theory has been developed by Blackmore: Under stress or when sense input is disrupted, one's normal model of reality is replaced by one based on memory and imagination. OBEs, perceptual distortions, lucid dreams, and other ASCs are all different models of reality (Alvarado 202). Several confirmed predictions support this theory. First, OBErs should have better imagery skills than non-OBErs, particularly those involving manipulating one's spatial perspective (202). And as already noted, OBErs are indeed better at identifying the viewpoints of placed objects and imagining changes in perspective. Second, those who induce OBEs at will should have better visual-spatial skills than those who have OBEs spontaneously; and again Blackmore found this to be the case for dream control (202). Third, bird's-eye-view dreamers should be more likely to have OBEs than those who dream from other perspectives--as both Irwin and Blackmore have found (202-203). Finally, OBErs should have more hallucinations and ASCs than non-OBErs; and four separate studies have confirmed this to be the case (203).

A third interesting theory, which may complement rather than compete with those of Irwin and Blackmore, has a more physiological focus. Few consistent findings on correlations between OBEs or NDEs and physiological factors have been found, but those that have been discovered implicate the temporal lobe in such experiences (see Is the Temporal Lobe Implicated in NDEs? below). Olaf Blanke theorizes that OBEs are "culturally invariant neuropsychological phenomena or deviant self models" resulting from abnormal brain activity centered around the temporo-parietal junction (Bünning and Blanke 332). This unusual neural activity produces a dual failure of multisensory integration that leads to an OBE. Conflicting proprioceptive, tactile, and visual information, coupled with a conflict between the vestibular feeling of where the body is and the visual representation of the body's location, yields an OBE:

[D]uring an OBE the integration of proprioceptive, tactile, and visual information of one's body fails due to discrepant central representations by the different sensory systems. This may lead to the experience of seeing one's body ... in a position (i.e., on a bed) that does not coincide with the felt position of one's body (i.e., under the ceiling ...) (Bünning and Blanke 334).

Blanke argues that just as the phantom limb phenomenon exemplifies a tactile body part illusion, OBEs exemplify a visual whole body illusion (332). Multisensory disintegration is implicated in OBEs by, among other things, Blanke's experiments with OBEs induced through electrical stimulation of the brain:

Initial stimulations (n = 3; 2.0-3.0 mA) [of the right angular gyrus] induced vestibular responses, in which the patient reported that she was "sinking into the bed" or "falling from a height". Increasing the current amplitude (3.5 mA) led to an OBE ("I see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk"). Two further stimulations induced the same sensation, which included an instantaneous feeling of "lightness" and "floating" about two metres above the bed, close to the ceiling (Blanke et al. 269).

So for one of Blanke's patients, progressively intensifying the electrical stimulation of the same area of the brain started out with simple vestibular sensations and ended with a full-blown OBE. And electrical stimulation of the right temporo-parietal junction has long been known to induce OBEs (Bünning and Blanke 334; Tong 104-105).

Another factor implicating multisensory disintegration in OBEs, particularly vestibular disturbances, is their frequency in sudden body accelerations or decelerations, such as falls from great heights, car accidents, and sudden altitude changes during flight (Bünning and Blanke 337). The latter is exemplified by the "break-off phenomenon," where disoriented pilots report a cluster of OBE-like sensations, such as "a feeling of detachment, isolation, and remoteness from their immediate surroundings" (338). Some pilots describe "being all of a sudden outside the aircraft or outside themselves watching themselves while flying the aircraft" (338). And OBEs during flight are most common during absorbing experiences, such as "when pilots are relatively unoccupied with flight details" or on "long cross-country missions over featureless terrain" (338).

Blanke classifies OBEs as one of three different types of autoscopic phenomena--experiences where one typically sees one's own body. (Though, as already noted, OBErs do occasionally appear to see from a vantage point near the ceiling without seeing their bodies below.) In autoscopy, a subject feels like he is in his own body and has an internal vantage point, but sees an apparitional mirror image of himself (a double or doppelgänger) in the external environment. In OBEs, a subject feels like he is outside of his body, seeing an image of his normal body and its surroundings from an external vantage point. In heautoscopy, the subject has difficulty localizing where 'he' is, sometimes alternating between an 'internal' and 'external' vantage point, sometimes experiencing both vantage points simultaneously (Bünning and Blanke 333). Whereas in autoscopy the double is typically just an image, in heautoscopy "the double is often experienced as a three-dimensional person" (333). Thus, one feels 'inside the body' in autoscopy, 'outside the body' in OBEs, and simultaneously 'inside' and 'out'--or alternating between them--in heautoscopy (333). The extent to which these experiences are related remains to be seen.

Interestingly, Blanke's theory suggests an answer to a question posed by V. Krishnan: Why is it that OBErs "nearly always" find themselves looking down on the body from above? Krishnan suggests that this feature of the experience lends itself to psychophysiological explanation:

If the mediator of out-of-body vision is an element that functions independently of the body, I find no reason why it should position itself only above the body; it seems reasonable to expect instances of observation of oneself from other positions to be no less frequent. For example, in the case of a person undergoing an OBE when sitting or standing or falling from a height, self-observation is possible from the front at eye-level or below it (Krishnan 23).

Whereas subjects are typically sitting or standing during autoscopy and heautoscopy, OBEs predominantly occur when subjects are laying on their backs, as when preceded by sleep or general anesthesia. Accordingly, Blanke suggests that "OBEs are faciliated by the somato-sensory coding of a supine body position" (Bünning and Blanke 337).

Whichever model turns out to be correct, a preponderance of the evidence suggests that that model will be a psychophysiological one. For if OBEs and NDEs truly represent the detachment of a person's soul from his body, why would people with certain psychological characteristics have a greater ability to leave the body? That is, if there is some mechanism that can be activated to achieve such a detachment, why would that mechanism have any connection to purely psychological traits? The "projection theory" does not make much sense of the extensive psychological data collected on OBErs and NDErs. But that data clearly makes sense on a psychophysiological understanding of OBEs.
Bodily Sensations

(1) In other NDEs bodily sensations are incorporated into an experience that, on the survivalist interpretation, is assumed to take place in a soul or double that separated from the normal physical body long ago. Fenwick reports an NDE during a hernia operation where a bodily sensation is felt well into the experience:

I left my body and went walking towards a very bright white light which was at the end of a long tunnel. At the same time I could see three figures standing at the end of the bed and I kept wishing they would go away so that I could go to the light, which to me was lovely and warm. Just as I neared the light I felt a stab in my thigh (Fenwick and Fenwick 91).

With that stab in the thigh this near-death experience ended. But if NDEs were literally journeys of one's 'spiritual double' traveling through the physical world, free of the normal physical body, and entering a tunnel into the afterlife, one should not have any sensations arising from the normal physical body during any part of an NDE.

Also notice that although this NDEr reports leaving his body, 'walking' toward a bright light at the end of a long tunnel, and finally getting close to the light, he immediately feels a sharp pain and the experience ends. He does not report 'backtracking' through the tunnel and back into his body. At one moment he is close to entering the light, at the next he is back in his bed. If it was necessary for this person's double to 'travel' to get from his body to the light, wouldn't he have to travel back from the light to return to his body? The lack of a 'return trip' also suggests that this experiencer was undergoing a hallucination that was suddenly interrupted by a sharp pain.

(2) Fenwick provides us with another case where bodily sensations are incorporated into an NDE. While on a Royal Navy ship, a sailor leaning against some chains was accidentally electrocuted when testing the power supply by plugging in a badly connected portable fan. After hearing himself screaming, seeing flashes of electricity 'licking around' his body, and hearing a roar, the flashes disappeared and everything went silent. While his body was motionless on the ship's deck, he reported:

I seemed to be floating in a beautiful velvet-like darkness, feeling completely at peace away from the frightening flashes. I seemed to be going through a tunnel angled slightly downwards when suddenly I found myself standing in a field of beautiful yellow corn.... I felt comfortable and appeared to be wearing a blue gown.

Suddenly, on the distant horizon I saw something that appeared to be a train, in fact a blue train. At first.... I hadn't noticed gentle music in the background plus the quiet rumble of the blue train.

For some unexplained reason I appeared to get closer to the train, which stopped in front of where I was standing. I could see people in the carriages beckoning to me and telling me to climb aboard....

Then, again almost as if by magic, I was in the train compartment with the faceless passengers, who, I noticed, seemed to be dressed in the same way as I was....

Then it began to happen. I felt a pressure on my shoulders and a strange sensation as I began to rise. It didn't make any sense--I felt I was being pushed down yet I was going up....

The speed of my ascent became faster and I felt a feeling of anger mixed with regret. I didn't want to go back. Suddenly I came to and was lying face down on the deck of the frigate passageway. My colleague was pushing on my shoulder blades in the old Holger-Nielson method of resuscitation (Fenwick and Fenwick 154-55).

Clearly a real bodily sensation is being incorporated into an NDE. What didn't make any sense to this NDEr at the time was why he was rising up out of this train when he felt he was being pushed down. But it makes perfect sense if the NDE is a brain-generated hallucination whose imagery is primarily internally generated but which sometimes allows information from the senses to be incorporated into it, just as a person can occasionally dream about going to the bathroom when sleeping with a full bladder.

(3) Remarkably, Morse mentions a childhood NDE that occurred while the child was conscious and talking to nurses--but a person relating an experience to nurses could hardly be supposed to be simultaneously leaving his normal physical body and traveling elsewhere:

Boston Children's Hospital described a total of 13 pediatric NDEs. Seven of these experiences were told to nurses immediately after recovery, and one was reported during the experience [emphasis mine] (Morse 70).

Unfortunately, Morse provides no further details about this NDE and the researchers who discovered it reported it at a "Perspective on Change" conference at Children's Hospital in Boston in October 1990. So far as I can determine, there are no published reports about this NDE and Children's Hospital does not have a written version of this presentation archived.
Living Persons

(1) Some NDErs report seeing living persons in their NDEs. Fenwick reports the case of a woman who encountered her live-in partner after a hysterectomy had caused heavy bleeding and an NDE:

I was outside my body floating overhead. I saw doctors and nurses rushing me along the corridor....

I recall floating in a very bright tunnel. Everything seemed so calm and peaceful. At the end of the tunnel [was] my father, who had died three years previously....

As I said, the feeling of calmness was indescribable. I heard music.... I heard someone calling me. I turned and saw his face at the other end of the tunnel. It was Fabio [the man she was living with]....

Like most people, I had a tremendous fear of death. Now ... I have lost that fear of the unknown because I truly believe I have had a preview [brackets original] (Fenwick and Fenwick 32-33).

But Fabio was alive and normally conscious during his girlfriend's NDE, so he could not have possibly really been calling her inside a tunnel to another world. Clearly we can encounter both the living and the dead in NDEs, just as we can in dreams. This implies that it would be just as irrational to suggest that real people inhabit the NDE world as it would be to suggest that they inhabit the world you encounter in your dreams.

(2) William Serdahely has presented many examples of NDEs that include classic NDE components but which do not quite fit the popularized Moody model of the NDE. For example, Serdahely reports a case of a woman whose NDE was triggered by a sexual assault: "One of the female NDErs saw a living female friend in her 'windsock' tunnel. The friend told her to go back to her body" (Serdahely 189). Serdahely provides more details about this NDE as well as a psychological explanation for what triggered it:

The NDE or OBE is tailored specifically to fit the needs of that person. For example, the woman who was sexually assaulted was able to dissociate from the trauma by having an out-of-body experience. The [living] friend she encountered in her experience was a 'big woman' who worked for the sheriff's department that had jurisdiction for the county in which the assault took place and appeared to the NDEr in her sheriff's uniform (194).

As encounters with living persons repeatedly crop up in NDEs, the less NDEs start to look like visions of another world and the more they appear to be brain-generated hallucinations triggered by a real or perceived threat to the experiencer's well-being.

(3) Encountering living persons during NDEs is more common in children than in adults. Melvin Morse reports the following NDE of a young Japanese boy:

Japanese children similarly describe simple experiences of seeing a bright light or seeing living teachers and playmates. A 4-year-old boy, who had fulminant pneumonia, described floating out of his body and coming to the edge of a river. His [living] playmates were on the other side, urging him to go back. There was a misty bright light on the other side (Morse 70).

(4) Fenwick cites an intriguing case of a childhood NDE which lacked the most common element of the classic NDE--feelings of peace or euphoria--where a living person was also present in the experience. When Richard Hands was 9 years old his appendix was removed but complications led to an NDE:

The first [image I recall] is of looking down on a body on the operating table, being fussed over by green-clad surgeons and nurses. I couldn't actually see the face--someone was in the way--but I assume it was mine. This image is particularly vivid, and despite its goriness is not associated with any pain or distress, even in recall.

[Then I saw] a blackness with a pinpoint of light far off in the distance. I feel drawn towards the light, but there is a terror and a feeling that I do not wish it to pull me towards it. My [living] mother is with me in this scene, trying to pull me back from the light. There is also a wind rushing past, towards the light (Fenwick and Fenwick 173).

Clearly his mother was not actually present in this 'blackness' with light, since she was alive and normally conscious at the time of his experience. Interestingly, this experiencer attached no spiritual significance to his NDE either at the time it occurred or since. Initially he thought it might have been a reaction to the anesthetics he was on at the time, before he had heard of the NDE; now he is inclined to see it as a physiological event that did not depend on anesthetics. He is now a scientific journalist and atheist who is generally skeptical of paranormal claims (173).

Fenwick found that in his sample only 50% of those who have NDEs when they are between 3-9 years old report becoming more religious after the experience; by 16 or older this rises significantly to 90% (185). Given that adults have more complex religious concepts than children, it is not surprising that adults are more likely to attach religious significance to an unusual experience that occurred when they narrowly escaped death.

(5) Susan Blackmore reports that a woman who was suffocating after an operation had an NDE where she encountered the medical staff who had been trying to resuscitate her in the light at the end of the tunnel:

[I was] struggling along a dark tunnel in which someone was trying to hold me back. The figures in the bright light at the end of the tunnel proved to be the ward sister and her staff trying to resuscitate me (Blackmore, "Dying" 227).

As Blackmore points out, cases like these don't "make much sense if you think the beings seen in NDEs are 'real entities' inhabiting another realm" (227). But they make perfect sense if NDEs are brain-generated hallucinations. The fact that living persons are occasionally encountered in NDEs severely undermines survivalist interpretations of the NDE.

(6) Fenwick also reports a case where doctors are carting an NDEr 'into the afterlife.' This case is a second-hand report from the NDEr's son of what he remembers his father telling him after he was unconscious for three days due to multiple strokes:

He told me how, on the previous evening, he'd been taken to the operating theatre. He remembered having difficulty in getting on to the theatre trolley--it had taken three or four porters to lift him from his bed. He recalled travelling down the hospital corridor towards the theatre.... He remembered seeing the light of the theatre at the bottom of the corridor and as he got nearer to it he could feel it getting warmer and he recalled hearing music coming from inside the theatre.

When eventually he entered the theatre it was very large and bright and was occupied by one doctor, whom he described as being a big man with a beard, who was wearing an ill-fitting white doctor's coat.... The doctor asked him why he was in the theatre and my father's reply was that he had just been brought there by the porters. The doctor then told my father that he 'was not ready for him yet,' and that he would have to be taken back to the ward.... The doctor ... subsequently arranged for him to be taken back to the ward. My father finally recalls the cold corridors once again, when he was returned to the ward, and then waking in his bed (Fenwick and Fenwick 152).

When this NDEr's son asked his doctor about the scheduled operation and which day his father had been carted into the operating theater by mistake, the doctor told him that his father had never been moved from his bed and that he didn't need an operation (152). Fenwick wonders why, if his father had merely had a dream, it incorporated so many elements of the NDE (153).

(7) Interestingly, Serdahely has also found cases where rather prosaic medical imagery was seen in NDEs, though no living persons are reported in this particular account:

One male respondent said he traveled through a tunnel on a cart or gurney on his way to being greeted by his deceased father, godfather, and coworkers, all of whom beckoned him into the light. I had previously come across an NDEr who indicated he had been transported to the light in an ambulance-like vehicle (Serdahely 189).

Fenwick reports that 14% of his total 350 person sample of NDErs--about 50 people--encountered living persons in their NDEs (Fenwick states that 38% of his total sample encountered other persons; a further 38% of those encounters were with living people; hence roughly 14% of the people in his total sample encountered living persons during their NDEs) (Fenwick and Fenwick 79).

Morse and others have found that encounters with living persons are more commonly reported in childhood NDEs than in the NDEs of adults. This is not surprising given that children generally know far fewer people who have died than adults do. While NDEs where living persons are encountered are relatively rare, apparently they still make up a significant fraction of all reported NDEs. As previously noted, Fenwick found that more than 1 out of every 10 of his NDErs encountered living persons in their NDEs.
Cultural Differences

(1) In the industrialized West, where Christian imagery dominates, people who encounter religious figures in their NDEs typically encounter Christian religious figures. In one of Fenwick's cases a woman who reported seeing a light form above her bedroom door just before 'floating' over her body encountered Jesus:

Jesus came walking up to me with arms outstretched. He was dressed in a long white robe, his hair to his shoulders, ginger-auburn, and he had a short beard.... I was trying to speak with him but I could only croak because my mouth was dry and my tongue swollen (Fenwick and Fenwick 62).

While we have no idea what the historical Jesus actually looked like, it would be very surprising if he looked exactly as he appears in standard artists' depictions of him today. The culturally determined appearance of Jesus in this NDE recalls cases of stigmata where the nail wounds of Jesus appear in the hands--exactly where artists' depictions of Jesus on the cross put them--but not where nails must be placed (in the wrists) in order to successfully crucify someone.

It also seems unlikely that one's double would suffer astral dry mouth while functioning separately from the normal physical body. But it would not be very surprising to hallucinate having dry mouth while in an imaginary realm.

(2) By contrast, the dominant religious imagery of India is Hindu, and predictably NDEs from India typically involve encounters with Hindu religious figures. Satwant Pasricha provides us with the following case from one of the largest surveys of non-Western NDEs conducted so far:

"Don't send me back, just give me some work to do right here," cried Chhajju Bania, 34, crouching before Yamaraj, the god of death who sported a flowing white beard and sat on a high chair.

He looked around and saw a little old lady, apparently a clerk, wielding a pen; several clerks leafed through books.

"You have brought the wrong Chhajju," said a clerk. "Push him back and bring the right one." (Riti).

Here an NDEr is seated near Yamaraj, the Hindu god of death, whose appearance also corresponds to the god's portrayal in Hindu tradition. While Western NDErs tend to encounter dead friends and relatives more often than religious figures, Hindu religious figures are prominent in NDEs from India: "Almost every person [Pasricha] interviewed here ... met either Yamaraj or his emissaries" (Riti).

Here we see that NDErs from different cultures also give different reasons for why they are sent back. Western NDErs are often 'sent back' in order to take care of immediate family or for some assumed purpose unknown to them; NDErs from India report meeting clerks in an impersonal afterlife bureaucracy who process the dead and send them back because they have been sent the wrong person due to paperwork mistakes.

(3) Cultural conditioning is even evident in children's NDEs. In the West, children's culturally determined encounters with other beings during NDEs tend to be more imaginative than encounters in adult cases. Morse paraphrases one girl's encounter with Jesus during an NDE as follows:

He was in a very bright light that she could not describe other than by saying that it made her feel good. He was sitting there with a round belly and a red hat, looking like Santa Claus (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 125).

Morse notes that in other cases children have reported encountering wizards, doctors, guardian angels, living teachers, living playmates, pets, and other animals during their NDEs (Morse 70).

(4) Buddhist theologian Todd Murphy translated 11 published accounts of NDEs in Thailand into English; three of these published accounts reported two NDEs from the same subject, yielding a total of 14 cases (Murphy, "Eleven"). Because one of the published accounts was so similar to another, Murphy presented an analysis of 10 of them in his 2001 paper (T. Murphy, personal communication, January 24, 2006). Like NDEs from India, Thai NDEs contrast starkly with those reported in the West.

While deceased friends and relatives are encountered in Thai NDEs (in 4 of the 10 accounts), rather than greeting the NDEr (as in the West), they inform the NDEr "of the rules governing the afterlife" (Murphy, "Thailand" 175). And, like Indian NDErs, Thai NDErs were far more likely to encounter religious figures than deceased friends and relatives: 9 out of 10 of Murphy's Thai NDErs met messengers of Yama, the god of death, known as Yamatoots (164). The 'mistaken identity' motif appears here as well: Half of the Thai NDErs reported "being told that they were the wrong person, and being ordered back to life" (175).

While OBEs are rather common early on in Western NDEs, being visited by a Yamatoot is "the most common initial phase" of Thai NDEs (170). For those Thai cases where OBEs do occur, "OBEs in Thai NDEs tend immediately to precede meetings with Yamatoots" (171). Tunnels are "largely absent in Thai NDEs" (with one exception unlike the tunnel experiences found in Western NDE reports), and feelings of peace or euphoria and experiences of light are not reported at all (172). Thai NDErs are sometimes judged, but their deeds are recounted by reviewing the records of one's life events, or through the testimony of others. The following case is typical:

I ... found myself in the judgment hall of Yama's palace. I knew that they were ready to judge me for my sins. A giant rooster appeared who told Yama that I had killed him. He emphasized that I had tried to kill him again and again. The rooster also said that he remembered me exactly. An entire flock of roosters also [appeared] and testified that I had killed them, as well. I remembered my actions, and I had to admit that the roosters had told the truth. Yama said that I had committed many sins, and sentenced me to many rebirths both as a chicken, and many other types of birds as well.... But, quite suddenly, an enormous turtle appeared. It screamed at Yama, saying "Don't take him; he is a good human, and should be allowed to live." Yama answered the turtle "What did he do to help you?" [ellipses original] (Murphy, "Thailand" 167).

But such life events are not viewed or re-experienced as a memory flashback, as in Western cases. Landscapes are common in Thai NDEs, but typically unpleasant, as in the tours of the various hells. And while "Western NDErs may reach a 'point of no return' and choose to return to life, Thai NDErs are typically told they were taken because of a clerical mistake and told to return to the body" (177). Regarding the alleged cross-cultural consistency of NDE accounts, Murphy concludes:

The fact that Thai (and Indian) NDEs do not follow the typical Western progression reflected by Kenneth Ring's temporal model seems to rule out the possibility that there is an ideal or normal NDE scenario, except within a particular cultural context (169).

Bolstering this point, Murphy adds that "Accounts of Western NDEs would seem to be useless in helping Thais know what to expect at their deaths" (170). He concedes, nonetheless, that there may be vague cross-cultural commonalities "in which individuals commonly use culturally-derived patterns to confabulate individualized death-process phenomena that serve common psychological functions" (177). However, these commonalities are readily explicable as expressions of common beliefs across societies, such as the idea that individuals are judged for their actions in some manner after death, coupled with the expectation or sense of being dead which accompanies NDEs.

(5) Japanese journalists Hiroshi Tanami and Takashi Tachibana originally reported their study of 400 Japanese NDEs on NHK television (Morse 70). Details of the study are reported in the Japanese-only book Near Death Experience by Takashi Tachibana (Tokyo: Bungeishunjusha, 1994), which includes a chapter on the cultural differences between NDEs from Japan and from elsewhere. The study found that Japanese NDErs often report "seeing long, dark rivers and beautiful flowers, two common symbols that frequently appear as images in Japanese art" (Mauro 57).

Morse claims that despite such 'cultural embellishments,' a common core NDE can be found across cultures which includes "leaving the body, seeing angelic people or dead relatives, having a life review, and experiencing a warm and loving light" (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 127).

But another study from Japan found that even these supposedly 'core' elements were absent from their sample of NDEs. Yoshia Hata and a team of researchers at Kyorin University interviewed 17 patients who went into comas with "minimal signs of life" after heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, and drug poisoning. 8 of the 17 reported 'dreams' where rivers and ponds were prominent, while the remaining 9 had no experiences. 5 of the 8 NDErs reported "fear, pain and suffering," unlike typical NDEs from the West. While one of the patients from the Kyorin study reported repeatedly doing handstands in the shallows of a reservoir,

Another patient, a 73-year-old woman with cardiac arrest, saw a cloud filled with dead people. 'It was a dark, gloomy day. I was chanting sutras. I believed they could be saved if they chanted sutras, so that is what I was telling them to do.' (Hadfield 11).

(6) University of Zambia physician Nsama Mumbwe collected 15 NDE reports from Africa in order to determine if the elements of the prototypical Western NDE were cultural products of the Western media (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 120-24).

In one case, after being attacked by a lioness protecting her cubs, a 60 year old truck driver reported that a highway opened up for him going endlessly into the sky, surrounded by stars; when he tried to go on to the highway, the stars blocked his way, and he stood there until the highway and stars disappeared (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 122).

In another African case, an 85 year old woman reports an NDE that sounds a little more like a prototypical Western NDE:

I was suffering from a stroke. During this time I felt I was put into a big calabash [the hollow shell of a gourd] with a big opening. But somehow I couldn't get out of it. Then a voice from somewhere said to me, 'be brave. Take my hand and come out. It is not yet your time to go.'

After some time of being in the calabash I managed to get out on my own [brackets original] (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 122-123).

In the first case the man attributed his NDE to a 'bad omen'; in the second the NDEr thought someone was trying to 'bewitch her' into death. Clearly these are culture-bound interpretations of the experience; but what of the reports of what was experienced?

The single report of being caught inside a calabash or 'hollow gourd' with a large opening has widely been interpreted as the tunnel experience of a prototypical Western NDE. This is a reasonable interpretation, but it is not the only one. The calabash reference may indicate the NDEr's feeling of being caught inside of something more like a bowl or pot with only one opening, rather than something more tunnel-like with two openings. After all, the NDE report with the calabash reference explicitly refers to a single large opening rather than two openings. So we have a single African NDE which may or may not include a tunnel experience. There is little reason to describe the other African case where a 'highway' through the stars opens up as either a tunnel experience or an OBE, since there is no indication of being enclosed in the report or of looking down at one's body or the ground.

(7) In the South Pacific region known as Melanesia, the province of Western New Britain lies just east of mainland Papua New Guinea. Here even the hunter-gatherer culture of the Kaliai cannot escape the influence of Western globalization. In her survey of near-death experiences from this region, anthropologist Dorothy Counts found that the NDE world "is a land that is described as having factories and wage employment. It has an appearance that reminds me of the view approaching Los Angeles from the air" (Counts 130).

One Kaliai NDEr reports walking through a flower field to a road that forked in two. In each fork of the road a man was standing persuading the NDEr to come with him (119-120). The NDEr picked one of the forks at random and he and his guide traveled to a village:

The man took my hand and we entered a village. There we found a long ladder that led up into a house. We climbed the ladder but when we got to the top I heard a voice saying, "It isn't time for you to come. Stay there. I'll send a group of people to take you back."....

As I was walking around, trying to see everything, they took hold of me and took me back down the steps. I wanted to go back to the house, but I couldn't because it turned and I realized that it was not on posts. It was just hanging there in the air, turning around as if it were on an axel [sic]. If I wanted to go to the door, the house would turn and there would be another part of the house where I was standing.

There were all kinds of things inside this house, and I wanted to see them all. There were some men working with steel, and some men building ships, and another group of men building cars. I was standing staring when this man said, "It's not time for you to be here. Your time is yet to come. I'll send some people to take you back.... [Y]ou must go back."

I was to come back, but there was no road for me to follow, so the voice said, "Let him go down." Then there was a beam of light and I walked along it. I walked down the steps, and when I turned to look there was nothing but forest....

So I walked along the beam of light, through the forest and along a narrow path. I came back to my house and re-entered my body and was alive again (120).

The world the Kaliai encounter in their NDEs conforms to a Kaliai complex of beliefs known as the cargo belief, whose central assumption is that white people are 'spirit people' or ancestors that have returned from the dead. This belief complex is partially based on the Kaliai's awareness of more advanced Western technology, for the Kaliai believe that spirits or ancestors give technology to human beings. In their belief system, the afterlife is "rich with divinely given technology," including "factories, automobiles, highways, airplanes, European houses and buildings in great numbers, and manufactured goods" (130).

After discovering such major differences in the descriptions of the NDE world encountered in Western and non-Western cultures, Counts concludes:

[T]he place that [people] perceive as being the world of the dead often is a pleasant, happy place. However, the content of paradise varies and seems to be culturally defined.... North Americans and Europeans see a beautiful garden, while Kaliai find an industrialized world of factories, highways, and urban sprawl....

The culturally structured nature of these experiences is consistent with the explanation that out-of-body and near-death experiences are the result of a psychological state known as hypnagogic sleep. The Kaliai data presented here suggest that this, rather than an objectively experienced "life after death," is the most reasonable explanation for the phenomena (132-133).

How Consistent Are NDE Features Across Cultures?

Reading the testimonies of NDErs in the West, we find that beyond a few core elements--such as having an OBE, going through a tunnel, encountering a light, and meeting deceased relatives--descriptions of the world encountered during NDEs are nearly as variable as dreams. Even the identity of 'the light' is not consistent within Western NDEs: in some cases it has a personality, in others it does not; sometimes it has a specific identity that varies between people--a 'bright angel' in one case, Jesus in another; in other cases it is a path or simply the illumination of another world at the other end of a tunnel (Fox 106, 118). Even the function of light in the NDE varies significantly between individuals:

Indeed, as regards the light's identity, we cannot even ... attempt to identify it by function, for it appears to do a number of things ... sometimes merely acting as a destination, sometimes lighting the way, sometimes judging, sometimes asking questions, and sometimes simply returning NDErs to where they came from (Fox 140).

So what features, exactly, are thought to be the consistent or core elements of the prototypical Western NDE? The answer you receive depends on which researcher you ask (see Fox 101), but the list below seems to encompass most of the elements suggested by different near-death researchers:

* Feelings of peace or euphoria, lack of pain
* An out-of-body experience (OBE)
* Traveling through a tunnel or darkness
* Encountering a sun-like light
* Meeting others
* A life review where one's own life events are viewed/felt and sometimes judged
* Seeing some sort of landscape
* Encountering a barrier or threshold between life and death

Most Western NDEs do not include all of these elements; consequently, I will define the prototypical Western NDE (functionally) as an experience containing at least two of the elements listed above. Since prototypical Western NDEs can occur when subjects only think that they are going to die, such NDEs must be defined in terms of their experiential elements rather than their actual proximity to death. Nevertheless, in the bulk of Western NDE accounts the expectation of dying, at least, clearly precipitated the experience. Thus in non-Western contexts an NDE should be understood as an experience occurring during an altered state of consciousness where the subject is either medically near death or expects to die.

Consistency between different NDE accounts in the West has been well-established by near-death research. The primary question remaining, then, is whether the consistency between Western NDE reports extends to non-Western cultures as well. And to determine this we must search existing accounts of non-Western NDEs for elements of the prototypical Western NDE. The chart below summarizes the findings of 10 studies of non-Western NDEs:

NDE Elements Across Cultures*
Culture;
Study;
# of NDEs Peace OBE Tunnel Light Meeting others Life
review Landscape Barrier/ Threshold
India;
Pasricha 1993,
Pasricha and
Stevenson 1986;
total 45 cases No Yes: in only
1 case No No Yes No:
written
records
read No:
office No
Thailand;
Murphy 1999;
14 cases** No Yes Yes: in only
1 case No Yes No: records read, others testify Yes: gardens, palace, torture chambers No: Yamatoots force one back
China;
Zhi-ying and
Jian-xun 1992;
32 cases Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Japan; Hata (in
Hatfield 1991);
8 cases No No No No Yes No Yes:
ponds,
rivers No
Japan; Tanami
and Tachibana (in
Morse 1994);
400 cases*** No Yes No Yes Yes No Yes:
rivers Yes:
river
Zambia;
Mumbwe (in
Morse 1992);
15 cases**** No No Maybe: calabash No Yes No Yes Yes:
stars
blocking
road
Melanesia;
Counts 1983;
3 cases No No No:
roads No: man
lit with
flashlight Yes No:
sorcerers
judged Yes:
urban
sprawl Yes: door
approach
thwarted
Guam;
Green 1984;
4 cases No Yes:
OB
visits No No Yes No Yes Yes: door,
field
entrance
Native America;
Schorer 1985;
2 cases No Yes No No Yes No Yes No
* Yes/no responses are to the question: "Is this element reported in this study?"
** Murphy 1999 reviews the accounts of 11 subjects, three of which recount two NDEs.
*** Responses based on the 1 paraphrased case reported in Morse 1994 (of the 400 collected).
**** Responses based on the 5 African cases reproduced in Morse 1992 (of the 15 collected).

A cross-cultural comparison based on the available non-Western NDE studies where more than a single case was collected has found just how variable NDEs are across cultures. Out of the 10 available studies of NDEs (with 2 studies in India[6] and 2 in Japan), 8 different non-Western cultures were considered. Of these 8 non-Western cultures, very few elements of the prototypical Western NDE are universally present:

* (1) Feelings of peace have only been reported in NDEs from China. A single Thai NDEr did report feeling "a deep sense of beauty" after an OBE, followed by walking down a road, encountering Yamatoots, and desperately trying to escape from them.
* (2) OBEs are widely present, but absent from NDEs in Zambia and Melanesia, and only 1 OBE is reported out of the 45 reports of NDEs from India. Moreover, the OBEs from Guam did not involve looking down on one's body or the area around it, but of out-of-body 'flights' to relatives living in America. That OBEs are not universal in NDEs is somewhat surprising, given the ease of imagining a scene from above; but perhaps this is because "not all cultures recognize OBEs as a herald of death" (Murphy, "Thailand" 171).
* (3) Tunnel experiences were virtually limited to NDEs from China[7]; one may be present in 1 case out of 15 from Zambia, depending on whether 'calabash' should be interpreted as 'tunnel'. And though a tunnel is encountered twice in one NDE from Thailand, it is not traversed in the beginning of the experience due to 'bad weather'; an elevator to Yama's hall of judgment is taken instead. Later, a tunnel is opened to "access" the first level of Hell, where people with the "heads of chickens, buffalos, and cows" are encountered, but Thai NDErs typically traverse roads in their experiences.
* (4) An experience of a sun-like light was only reported in NDEs from Japan, though a "light that was too bright to bear" is encountered where "the cries of those being tortured" can be heard in the fourth level of Hell (reserved for arsonists) in a single Thai NDE.
* (5) Meeting others is the only truly universal element found in every non-Western NDE study, but this general element hardly lends support for the existence of any substantial core NDE across cultures, as it would not be surprising to find encounters with others in many hallucinatory human experiences. Moreover, this general element covers much variation: meeting deceased friends or relatives, strangers, religious figures, animals, and even living persons or mythological creatures.
* (6) A life review where one's own life events are viewed or felt and sometimes judged was only reported in NDEs from China, although NDEs from India and Thailand often included readings of written records of the events of one's life. 'Record reading' was found only in NDEs from India and Thailand and reflects traditional Hindu and Thai beliefs that such an event is to be expected in the afterlife (Pasricha and Stevenson 168; Murphy, "Thailand" 166). Thai NDErs were often judged for specific actions and whether their good deeds outweighed their bad ones, as Yama would accuse them of wrongdoings; but those affected by their actions (including a rooster and a turtle in one case) would testify for or against them. With the exception of some Chinese NDEs, no sensory "memory flashbacks" were reported by any non-Western NDEr in these studies[8]. One Melanesian NDEr reported witnessing a sorcerer being judged via loudspeaker and destroyed by fire during his NDE, but the NDEr himself never reviewed the events of his own life (Counts 121-122).
* (7) Encountering a landscape of some sort is nearly universal, but absent from NDEs in India, where NDErs typically enter a sort of administrative office and are sent back because clerks find that they have been sent the wrong person. This motif is also found in Thai NDEs, occasionally preceding an experience which also includes some sort of landscape. The most common features of the NDE world in Thai NDEs were visions of Yama's palace and various tortures being inflicted on wrongdoers in the various hells, and gardens or land strewn with jewels in various heavens. Moreover, the landscapes encountered in NDEs themselves vary considerably across cultures--bodies of water are prominent in NDEs from Japan, fields in NDEs from Guam, and brightly lit cities with factories, cars, roads, planes, and buildings in NDEs from Melanesia.
* (8) A barrier or threshold was reported in NDEs from Japan (rivers), Zambia (stars blocking a highway), Melanesia (a house would turn if a door was approached), and Guam (a field entrance, a door, a hill in the distance the NDEr is prevented from traveling to). In Thai NDEs, Yamatoots often forced NDErs back into their bodies after they were recognized to be the wrong person (i.e., mistaken identity), but no barrier was encountered preventing them from going further, and no choice to stay or return was ever offered.

Of the 8 elements of the prototypical Western NDE, only 'meeting others' is truly universally reported in non-Western cultures. Landscapes are nearly universal, but quite variable when the details of the landscapes are considered. Even the OBE appears to be far from a universal NDE element, though it is more common than many of the other elements sought in non-Western NDEs. Encountering some sort of barrier one cannot cross was almost as prevalent as the OBE. Perhaps most surprising of all is the absence of feelings of peace, a clear tunnel experience, an experience of light, and a life review in almost all of the non-Western NDE reports, given their prominence in the prototypical Western NDE.

Presumably cross-cultural consistency could be explained in terms of either similar physiological events occurring in a dying brain or in terms of different encounters with the same objective afterlife reality. But the cross-cultural studies of the NDE that have been done suggest that either sort of explanation is unnecessary. They demonstrate that most near-death researchers have simply assumed that the consistency between Western accounts is merely a specific instance of what is really a cross-cultural consistency. But, in fact, this assumption has not been borne out by existing cross-cultural studies of NDEs; rather, existing studies suggest that if any cross-cultural core to NDEs exists, it consists of a very small number of elements. Thus sociologist Allan Kellehear suggests a very general and rather meager 'core NDE' after his survey of cross-cultural NDE accounts:

In every case discussed, deceased or supernatural beings are encountered. These are often met in another realm.... [which] is a social world not dissimilar to the one the percipient is from. The major difference is that this world is often much more pleasant socially and physically. Clearly, the consistency of these reports suggests that at least these two features of the NDE are indeed cross-cultural (Kellehear 33).

Simply reviewing the existing cross-cultural literature on NDEs led Kellehear to the surprisingly modest conclusion that "the major cross-cultural features of the NDE appear to include encountering other beings and other realms on the brink of death" (34). No other features identified with the prototypical Western NDE appear to be universal.

But if the only truly universal feature of NDEs is encountering other beings in other realms, such little cross-cultural consistency hardly cries out for either a neuroscientific or survivalist explanation. We would expect near-death experiences precipitated by some sort of medical crisis or an expectation of imminent death to produce the feeling that one is dying. In that context it would not be surprising for different persons to hallucinate images of deceased friends and relatives, religious figures prominent in one's own culture, and afterlife vistas that--aside from being a better place to live--appear exactly like the world of the living.

Mark Fox suggests, however, that a more specific core NDE can be discerned:

[I]t seems clear that certain motifs do recur within NDErs' testimonies with some regularity, both cross-culturally and pre-Moody. The presence of some kind of light motif seems very widespread ... as does the experience of a period of darkness en route or prior to it (Fox 136).

While there do seem to be recurrent motifs across Western NDE accounts, including traveling through a darkness or tunnel toward a light, there really is little evidence that the motifs of the prototypical Western NDE exist in NDEs from non-Western cultures. NDEs from India, for example, are well-documented in large numbers yet are markedly different from those reported in the West.

Existing studies have simply failed to find traversing a tunnel or space toward a light in most non-Western NDE accounts. In fact, given Fox's assertion that a darkness and light motif is prominent cross-culturally, it is notable that Kellehear (who himself suggests that darkness may be cross-cultural) failed to even create a category for either 'darkness' or 'light' in his "Summary of Non-Western NDE Features" table (Kellehear 32).

If existing cross-cultural studies had found that more specific NDE elements did occur universally, a special explanation for the consistency between Western NDEs in particular would not be necessary. But since far more differences than similarities have been found between Western and non-Western accounts, a special explanation is called for. Given that cross-cultural studies have found very little consistency between Western and non-Western NDE accounts, what could possibly explain consistency between Western accounts but not cross-cultural consistency?

Here a sociological explanation is called for rather than a neuroscientific or survivalist one. The most obvious response is to suggest that the instant popularity of Raymond Moody's 1975 Life After Life and the widespread media dissemination of Moody's ideas accounts for the consistency across Western NDE accounts. The consistency between the reports within Moody's own study could be due to selection bias--omitting reports not conforming to Moody's model--and interviewer bias, such as asking leading questions (see Fox 199 for a discussion of Moody's admission of leading subjects on in his Life After Life study).

But Fox has revealed never-before published pre-Moody NDEs from the Religious Experience Research Centre (RERC) archives. The RERC was established in September 1969 and contains over 6000 reports of religious experiences from 1925 to present (Fox 243-44). One particular report, RERC account 2733, was written in August 1971 (before Moody had even coined the term 'near-death experience') and refers to traveling down a long, whirling black tunnel toward a bright light at the end (Fox 118). At the end of the tunnel the woman reported floating in a warm golden mist in bliss and faces coming out of the mist, smiling, then fading away. The experience ended with 'waking up' being slapped by a doctor hard on both sides of the face (this NDE had occurred just after giving birth; no OBE was reported).

The evidence for consistency between Western NDEs is not limited to this single pre-Moody case from the RERC archives. At about the same time that Moody had published Life After Life in 1975, German minister Johann Christophe Hampe was independently working on a little-known book titled To Die is Gain, published in English in 1979 (Fox 55). In contrast to Moody, Hampe's collection of NDEs (garnered from both psychical research literature and testimonies from mountain-climbing fall survivors) included 'return trips' back through tunnels, did not include ringing noises, and rarely included encounters with deceased relatives (58-61). Nevertheless, Hampe independently found many elements of the prototypical Western NDE that Moody and others later found--the 'realness' feel of the experience, lucid thought during it, OBEs, tunnel experiences, experiences of light, life reviews, and transformations (61).

The discovery of pre-Moody NDE accounts with major elements of the prototypical Western NDE thus rules out the popularity of Moody's ideas as the cause of the consistency between all NDE accounts in the West[9]. This is not to deny that the slew of books on NDEs since 1975 has probably contaminated NDE reports since then; by the turn of the century few Westerners hadn't heard of near-death experiences. But it does mean that Moody's work and that of subsequent near-death researchers cannot possibly explain the consistency between all Western NDE reports.

But we should be clear about just how different NDEs are between individuals in the West, even as we acknowledge the commonalities. As Kellehear wisely cautions:

[T]he full image of the NDE is an artifact of the composite picture put together by Moody and repeated endlessly in the NDE literature. Few people actually experience all of these images.... In Ring's study of clinical NDEs, for example, 60 percent of NDErs experienced a sensation of peace but only 23 percent "entered a darkness" and only 10 percent experienced supernatural scenes. People who are bereaved are probably more likely than NDErs to see deceased relatives or friends....

Our understanding of the NDE has been shaped not by the diversity of NDEs but by a collective portrayal of features seldom occurring all together but immortalized by Moody's medical vignette (Kellehear 162).

Kellehear points out that about 66% of widows and 75% of parents who lose children experience bereavement hallucinations where their lost loved ones are briefly seen or heard. By contrast, in the recent van Lommel study published in Lancet, where NDErs were interviewed within a week of their experiences, only about one-third (32%) of those who had NDEs reported meeting deceased persons. Even fewer--about a quarter (24%)--reported out-of-body experiences. In fact, only two out of the ten elements listed were found in half or more of the NDErs in the study: positive emotions occurred most commonly, in 56% of the NDE subjects, followed by an awareness of being dead in 50% of them. Meeting deceased persons was the next most common element at 32% (van Lommel et al. 2041). Thus even the sort of imagery we would expect to find in hallucinations near death is not nearly as common as our image of the prototypical Western NDE suggests.

Moreover, the discrepancies between different researchers' accounts of the order of NDE elements--whether an OBE is directly followed by a tunnel experience or instead by otherworldly scenes, for instance--is an artifact of different researchers trying to "create a pattern out of the welter of various tunnels and paths, lights and presences, gardens and edifices" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 123). In other words, in order to portray different NDEs as following a common blueprint, researchers have extracted features from several different NDE accounts from the West and put them back together into one coherent (but artificial) story where the stages of the NDE are clearly defined and follow a "developmental sequence" (123). Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Western NDEs really are "patterned phenomena" marked by similar elements, as the authors of the Evergreen study point out. However, they also wisely caution that "all [of] these stages are not perceived by everyone and that they are not necessarily consecutive levels of experience" (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 105). But even so, the clichéd commonalities between dreams--dreams of falling or flying, for instance--do not seem nearly as similar between individuals as NDEs do.

With that caveat duly noted, we must return to our original question: How do we explain the consistency between Western NDE accounts? The next obvious reply is to suggest that NDE motifs are found in some part of the Western cultural background other than the NDE literature since Moody. At this point, however, one is nagged by a poignant issue raised by Fox:

[I]n the cases where NDEs with classic features such as tunnels and lights are reported, we might wish to question where NDErs actually derive their cultural-linguistic NDE pattern from.... For it is clear that such experiences, complete with recurring motifs such as traversing a period of darkness towards a light, do not represent part of any of the religious traditions of the West (Fox 117).

Fox is certainly right about this--specific NDE motifs are absent from the standard depictions of the afterlife provided by Western religious traditions. To my knowledge, the only systematic survey of Western stereotypes of the afterlife was carried out by Irwin precisely to test the hypothesis that NDE motifs derive from social conditioning (Irwin, "Images" 2). Irwin puts that hypothesis as follows: "[I]n a situation of sudden confrontation with death people might draw upon their common cultural heritage to generate comparatively uniform hallucinatory images about a state of existence that is independent of the physical body" (1). The first sociological source Irwin considers is the biblical depiction of Heaven, particularly that offered in Revelation 21. But as he quickly notes, biblical sources are not merely inadequate to account for the uniformity of Western NDE motifs, but are actually at variance with them:

The difficulty here is that the biblical account is somewhat at odds with the descriptions of the afterlife realm given by subjects of the NDE.... [T]he general public would be well aware of [the biblical] representation of heaven as a city of buildings and streets of pure gold and a surrounding high wall with [pearly] gates. In the NDE on the other hand, the post-mortem realm commonly is reported to comprise a pastoral setting, one with rolling green hills, trees, flowers, perhaps a stream and a blue sky above (Irwin, "Images" 1-2).

As Irwin notes, prima facie "this disparity does not sit well with the view that the near-death experient's image of the afterlife springs largely from social conditioning" (2). However, he cautions that such biblical imagery does indeed feature in some NDE reports, but more importantly, it is questionable "that the portrayal of heaven in Revelation 21 forms the popular stereotypical image [of the afterlife] in our culture" (2).

Consequently, Irwin set out to determine the most common Western visions of the afterlife by administering a questionnaire survey to 96 introductory psychology students at the rural University of New England in Australia. The survey concerned such variables as the appearance, inhabitants, and means of travel of the afterlife, as well as its auditory features (2). He found that (of each questionnaire item) the most common Western images of the afterlife included a cosmic existence simultaneously everywhere and nowhere in the universe (40%), a pastoral scene of "lush green hills, trees, flowers and streams" (30%), and a formless void of pure being (29%) (2, 3). A mere 7% of respondents selected the biblical image, and 9% expected large gardens to figure prominently in the afterlife (3).

Irwin draws three key conclusions on the basis of this data. First, there are several different Western visions of the afterlife, not just one. Second, the biblical image of Heaven--though widely known--is not widely held. Thus sociological sources of NDE motifs "can not be denied on the grounds that the account of the afterlife in NDEs fails to correspond to the biblical representation" (3). Finally, the image of the afterlife as a pastoral scene--an image often represented in NDEs--is quite commonplace, even though respondents' questionnaire answers indicate that "the pastoral stereotype generally is not based on familiarity with NDEs" [emphasis mine] (3). Like the image of looking down upon the Earth from the clouds in the afterlife, a pastoral scene appears to have an obscure but clearly Western cultural source independent of NDE reports themselves. And in turn this image--like that of a garden or the pearly gates--appears to have influenced the content of some Western NDE reports. As Irwin notes, religious indoctrination is one possible source for the pastoral image: "the Bible frequently appeals to pastoral metaphors ... [and] Sunday School classes often include exposure to pictures of Christ standing in a grassy, sunlit field" (3-4). And interestingly enough, it is notable that the 'cosmic' image of the afterlife, which Irwin suggests is "rooted in diverse mystical and non-Christian traditions," appears to have played a role in one of those rare 'meaningless void' experiences documented by Bruce Greyson and Nancy Evans Bush. In that experience, a 28-year-old woman reported encountering a small group of jeering circles 'clicking' back and forth from black to white, and vice versa, and noted that she later discovered they embodied the Taoist yin-yang symbol--a symbol she likely was subconsciously aware of but had consciously forgotten about.

Though Irwin makes no note of it, one prototypical Western NDE element is represented in two items in his questionnaire (#6 and #7), which combined indicate that a full 57% of respondents anticipated some sort of illuminating light in the afterlife (3). This is significant because, if we do combine those two items (namely, being "bathed in perpetual sunshine," and being "illuminated by a soft, diffuse light with no apparent source"), respondents anticipated illuminating light more than any other particular item concerning the appearance of the afterlife, and this was the only feature anticipated by a majority of the respondents. And, of course, the presence of illuminating light is a major Western NDE motif--perhaps the most prominent feature of NDEs in the popular imagination.

Though no other NDE elements are evident in Irwin's survey, OBEs appear to represent the most natural way to imagine what will happen to your soul immediately after the death of the body (as noted in Veridical Paranormal Perception During OBEs? above). Moreover, Heaven--which polls indicate the vast majority of people expect to end up in--is explicitly conceived to be a place of bliss and peace. Tunnels might be the most natural representation of transition for Westerners, as Kellehear has argued. And, as is evident in one of the creation accounts in Genesis, light is often associated with what is good in Judeo-Christian tradition, and God is conceived of as perfectly good. It is not much of a leap to associate God with light, and to think that God would be found on the other side of a transition between life and death. Individuals universally expect to meet others in the afterlife, and most contemporary religious traditions posit some sort of accounting or judgment of one's actions during earthly life. Consequently, it is possible that NDErs are interpreting their experiences of specific physiological events unfolding in a dying brain--such as a flood of endorphins, body-image distortions caused by multisensory disintegration, disinhibition in the visual cortex, and abnormal temporal lobe activity--in terms of their cultural expectations.

But what of alternative sources of such motifs? Kellehear suggests one possible cultural source for Western NDE imagery other than religious tradition:

The Velveteen Rabbit contains many of the classic images of the NDE. However, it is not unique in this respect. In The Wizard of Oz, for example, Dorothy is transported inside the "tunnel" of a tornado to another place, where she meets the "good witch of the east." In Alice in Wonderland, Alice begins her adventure by a long fall down a dark rabbit hole. Children's literature is replete with tunnels, extraordinary beings, life reviews, flying experiences, and tales of reunion (Kellehear 153).

The suggestion that well-known children's stories could be the source of NDE motifs in the West is an intriguing one, for it offers a possible explanation for the obvious consistency of Western NDEs in the absence of compelling evidence for cross-cultural consistency. However, this particular sociological explanation is ultimately unconvincing. The similarities between the imagery described in these children's stories and NDE imagery are superficial at best. Moreover, the stories Kellehear mentions are not stories about what to expect when you die. As a sociological explanation a great deal is still left unexplained--such as why so many different people would, upon gaining an awareness of dying, derive NDE imagery specifically from children's stories rather than from better-known and more context-appropriate afterlife imagery from Western religious traditions. Thus any suggestion of a cultural connection between NDE motifs and imagery from children's literature seems rather strained.

Existing studies leave us with many unanswered questions. We have well-documented evidence for consistency between different NDEs in the West, but little evidence for cross-cultural consistency. This opens up two particularly interesting directions for future research:

(1) A sociological search for more compelling links between NDE motifs and possible cultural sources within Western tradition and

(2) More anthropological studies of NDEs in a greater variety of non-Western cultures and with larger sample sizes.

The latter avenue of research is paramount. On one hand, if more robust studies confirm the existence of little or no cross-cultural consistency between NDE reports (as current evidence suggests), the need to search for a sociological source for NDE motifs in Western tradition will become more pressing. On the other hand, if more robust studies establish that specific NDE elements are cross-culturally consistent after all, searching for a Western source of NDE motifs will become unnecessary and we'll know exactly which NDE motifs really are universal or at least widespread. And that information would provide us with better data to test specific neuroscientific explanations against.

Ultimately, the absence of a convincing sociological explanation for common NDE motifs in the West means that we shouldn't foreclose the possibility of a cross-cultural core NDE. Should future cross-cultural studies find universal elements of a core NDE after all, the hallucinatory features of NDEs suggest that only some sort of neuroscientific explanation could plausibly account for such consistency. But should future studies fail to find any substantial cross-cultural consistency in NDE elements, a sociological explanation for NDE consistency within the West would still be required.

In any case, our best evidence shows that regardless of how NDEs are ultimately explained, a survivalist explanation will not do. Despite the commonalities, there is clearly wide variation in the specific details of NDEs reported by different individuals. Such variation cannot plausibly be accounted for in survivalist terms, for reading NDE reports reveals that in most cases what is experienced is what differs between individuals. While one person actually sees Jesus, another sees the Hindu god Yamaraj. The glossed explanation that different people simply use different language to describe the same experience--an encounter with the same 'being of light,' for instance--does not do justice to the NDE reports that have actually been collected, where Jesus and Yamaraj have very different appearances and functions.

When NDErs provide very different descriptions of their experiences, there is no reason to assume that different NDErs are simply using different labels to describe the same experience. The most straightforward reason why different NDErs would provide very different descriptions of their experiences is because different NDErs actually have very different experiences. The standard survivalist explanation makes the ad hoc stipulation that despite appearances, different NDE reports really are similar.

But it is important to recognize that this assumption is exactly that--a principle that survivalists assume to be true ahead of time. The principle is assumed in order to maintain that NDEs provide evidence for survival of bodily death in virtue of their specific consistency across accounts. The argument is that different people report similar experiences because they are all experiencing the same afterlife reality. The more diversity there is between different NDE accounts, the less convincing the argument from NDE consistency for survival becomes. Hence the need for such a principle to make different NDE accounts more consistent than they first appear.

The reality is that NDE reports themselves do not support this principle, and in fact often contradict it. We have already seen this with the claim that encounters with Jesus or Yamaraj are really just encounters with the same being of light. But we can see this even in cases where presumed core elements are involved. Kellehear, for example, suggests that perhaps:

tunnel experiences are not cross-cultural but that a period of darkness may be. This darkness is then subject to culture-specific interpretations: a tunnel for Westerners, subterranean caverns for Melanesians, and so on. NDErs who do not report darkness may not view this aspect of the experience as an important part of their account or narrative.... Why is the frequently reported sensation of traveling through a darkness by Western NDErs so often described as a tunnel experience? (Kellehear 35-36).

In fact, most near-death researchers simply disregard the most straightforward interpretation of such reports--that Westerners actually see tunnels in their experiences, while Melanesians actually see underground caverns. The most straightforward interpretation of apparent diversity in NDE accounts is actual diversity. But since acknowledging actual diversity tends to undermine arguments for survival based on NDE consistency, and most near-death researchers have a vested interest in providing evidence for survival, it is not surprising that most near-death researchers prefer to interpret markedly different NDE reports in terms of the 'same experience, different descriptions' principle. The less NDE accounts from different people are made to be consistent, the less persuasive survival arguments based on NDE consistency become.

Fox is another case in point. After finding many accounts of visiting outer space in the RERC archives, Fox asserts that many experients "were found to use the descriptor 'space' to describe the episode of darkness" (Fox 265). Soon after he writes: "The significance of the word 'space' to describe the darkness encountered in these experiences will be returned to" (265). Finally, Fox skews what is actually reported by NDErs by concluding that many of his RERC respondents "describe an encounter with some sort of darkness motif in terms seemingly suggestive of a visit to outer space" (277).

Fox is speaking as if he knows ahead of time what these different people have experienced. But of course assuming that these reports are describing the same thing regardless of what they actually say begs the question--for that is the very issue of contention. Fox asserts that the episode of darkness is what is encountered, but that it is being described as 'space'--but how does he know that it was not space that was actually encountered? Of course he doesn't know; he just assumes. But there is really no evidence that this principle holds true in this case or in most others.

If we accept testimony where one person reports encountering a tunnel and another reports encountering space, shouldn't we take each at his word instead of assuming that both are encountering the same darkness in order to fit our artificial NDE models? Just because space is dark, tunnels are dark (openings aside), and underground caverns are dark does not mean that astronauts, motorists, and miners are using different terminology to describe traveling to the same place. One wonders just how much consistency is being derived from NDE reports rather than simply being read into them.

Worse still for the 'same experience, different descriptions' principle are NDE accounts where it cannot possibly apply. For example, many NDErs report encountering tunnels with physical properties, such a being made of bricks. Consider a case reported by one of Fenwick's female NDErs:

[T]he tunnel was made of polished metal, jointed and held together with something like rivets.... I felt it should have been more ethereal somehow ... My feet felt like lead but as I walked back to life the light threw my shadow on to the floor of the tunnel as I walked away from it (Fenwick and Fenwick 55).

Clearly a case like this could not simply be a culturally embellished description of a mere 'episode of darkness.' The obvious explanation for such discrepancies is that different NDErs actually experience different things--traveling down tunnels, floating in 'outer space,' walking down a road, being caught in a calabash, etc. We have already seen just how variable NDEs can be; it is hardly surprising that even supposedly core NDE elements might not be as consistent across accounts as we have been led to think.

Bruce Greyson has conceded such stark cross-cultural variation, but argues that the fact that some NDErs have "experiences which conflict their specific religious and personal expectations of death" constitutes evidence against the view "that NDEs are products of imagination, constructed from one's personal and cultural expectations" (Greyson 332). As I will proceed to show, this is a particularly poor argument against what Greyson calls "the expectancy model." Moreover, even if the argument were persuasive, a few cases of apparent 'cultural dissonance' in NDEs certainly does not outweigh an abundance of evidence for the predominant role of expectation in NDEs from different cultures, such as those from India and Thailand.

Greyson cites the case of the Jewish NDEr Chaim Ralbag, recounted by Henry Abramovitch. After going into cardiac arrest, Ralbag experienced an unusual NDE. He described falling into a dark void a high speed, hovering over a sea of nothingness, then pushing himself back out of the void. As he traveled upward through the void, his surroundings were illuminated, and eventually he saw his body lying on the ground (Abramovitch 177-178). As his NDE progressed, other 'astral beings' appeared, more and more by the minute, "all in motion, ever taking on new forms, expanding, revolving, and contracting in their movements, merging and penetrating, passing and affecting one another" (178). He had an experience of light, communicated with another being, and noticed a steep hill above a misty area. While walking toward the hill, he encountered his deceased father and brother, but after his father told him to return to the body before it was "too late," he experienced intense pain and saw their faces fade away. Next he appeared to be hovering over his body on the ground again, then finally woke up in the recovery room.

Abramovitch cites two reasons why he thinks that expectation cannot account for the content of Ralbag's NDE. First, Ralbag was taught that Adam (from the Garden of Eden) would appear to the dying, much as some Christians are taught that St. Peter will appear to them at the Pearly Gates; but this did not happen in his NDE. Second, he was taught that he would face judgment in the afterlife, but again, there was no element of judgment or life review in his experience (182-183). That an individual's visions of the afterlife do not exactly mirror what he was taught by his cultural upbringing, however, hardly requires an encounter with the afterlife to explain it.

The real issue in such cases is not whether experiences like those of Chaim Ralbag conflict with the cultural doctrines one was taught in childhood, but whether they actually conflict with an individual's personal expectations. And there are two further issues here. First, what a person consciously claims to expect of the afterlife says nothing of his subconscious expectations, which would surely come into play during an altered state of consciousness like an NDE. Think of how many dreams that you can recall whose content has nothing to do with what you consciously think about during your waking hours. Second, many individuals do not simply accept whatever dogma was taught to them in childhood, but grow to elaborate upon, modify, or reject what they were taught, subject to influence from a variety of alternative traditions, even some only vaguely known (e.g., Westerners' understanding of Eastern beliefs like reincarnation), and personal inclinations.

In his collection of Thai NDE reports, Todd Murphy found clear evidence of this in one of his cases, an NDE reported by the Chinese-Thai Kodien. During his NDE,

He noticed that some groups [of deceased people] had food and water, while others had only piles of ash.... He asked for something to eat. Kodien asked "Is this your food?" His friend said "Yes, but you can't eat any of it because it doesn't belong to you.... Your food is over there." Kodien's friend pointed to a pile of ash.... His friend said that those who made merit by donating food to the monks during their lives would have food [in the afterlife], while those who only helped their own ancestors (by burning joss-paper replicas of food according to Chinese tradition) would only have piles of ash. Kodien realized that his friend was suggesting that he create merit according to the Thai custom, but during his life he had not believed in the practice. He had thought that the Chinese forms of religious observance were better, and had only made joss-paper offerings (Murphy, "Thailand" 168-169).

Here is a likely hallucinatory NDE, almost entirely shaped by cultural influences, where the NDEr nevertheless experiences something contrary to his conscious beliefs. Does the presence of 'cultural dissonance' imply that this NDE was not expectation-driven? Of course not. As Murphy explains:

His NDE seemed to reveal that he was actually more drawn to the Thai ways of creating merit than to those of his own family and subculture.... [This] suggests that it is not culture alone that determines NDE phenomenology. Rather, NDEs may be determined more by one's expectations concerning what death will be like, even when those expectations are held subconsciously or are influenced by more than one culture (169).

A much more impressive case of cultural dissonance would be finding a sheltered Midwestern boy who has never had contact with anyone from Asia or Southeast Asia, but nevertheless reports encountering Yamatoots during an NDE.

Greyson goes on to argue that "children too young to have received substantial cultural and religious conditioning about death report the same kinds of [NDEs] as do adults" (Greyson 332). But what is the basis of this argument? Several details need to be filled in here. First, how young is "too young" for a child to be affected by cultural conditioning? Children younger than 3 years old, at least, clearly learn concepts from sources as ubiquitous as television advertising. Second, how confident can we be that children's NDE reports have not been contaminated by parental influence or interviewer feedback? We already have good reason to suspect such influences on adult NDE reports; all the more so for children, who are much more susceptible to influence from authority figures, and who have much richer imaginative lives than adults. The risk of direct contamination from parents or researchers on childhood NDE reports could be minimized by closing the gap between the time of the NDE itself and when it is reported. But such information is rarely published for evaluation. Were any of the cases Greyson has in mind, for instance, reported within a week of the experience itself?
Random Memories

Another feature which suggests that NDEs are not perceptions of an external afterlife reality is the random nature of the life review. The glamorized picture provided by Moody's artificial composite NDE portrays the life review as a personally significant 'learning experience' where one is either judged by other beings or by oneself for past wrongdoings. While this characterization does fit some cases--and indeed is found even in people who face life-threatening danger but never really come close to death (e.g., see Blackmore 183)--the frequency of 'learning experience' type life reviews appears to have been exaggerated by some near-death researchers. At least one researcher sympathetic to the survival hypothesis has found that most near-death life reviews do not fit this pattern.

Several researchers have found that life reviews are generally rare in NDEs. Fenwick found recalled memories in only 15% of his 350 person sample--i.e., the number of NDErs in his sample that had recalled memories was about the same as the number of NDErs who had encountered living persons in their NDEs.

Fenwick's 350 person survey is one of the largest retrospective surveys of NDEs ever compiled (a survey done well after the experiences occurred). Fenwick's findings about the near-death life review contrast sharply with portrayals of the life review popularized by Moody and others.

(1) For example, Fenwick found only one person in his sample of 350 NDErs who had recalled a 'learning experience' type life review during his NDE. Here is a more representative case of the sort of life review typically found in Fenwick's sample:

The seconds that went by as the car was turning [over repeatedly] for me seemed an eternity.... Then, suddenly, I became detached from my worldly body--I was seeing my life flash before me, recalling my family, friends, the man on the bus, the lady in the shop--and feeling confused but happy. At this time I was in a tunnel-like black space. Just beyond a light was glowing invitingly (Fenwick and Fenwick 57).

This is hardly a description of the 'morality play' style life review we've come to expect from the popularized picture of the NDE provided by some near-death researchers. In fact, Blackmore acknowledges that a physiological explanation of such a coherent life review would appear implausible to many:

[In the NDE] there is generalized amplification of [brain] activity and so lots of memories can be invoked all at once or in sequence. You might then object that such generalized activity could only produce random memories and not the connected and meaningful experiences of the near-death life review (Blackmore, "Dying" 216).

But, remarkably, Fenwick almost always found random memories in his sample of life reviews:

Although 15 per cent of the people we questioned said that scenes or memories from the past came back to them during the [near-death] experience, most of these were simply fragments of memory, sometimes quite random memories. Only about half said the memories that came back to them were [even] 'significant' (Fenwick and Fenwick 116).

Fenwick concludes that near-death life reviews "are not necessarily particularly significant memories. They seem just as likely to be random moments plucked haphazardly from memory, trivial events or people or places" (118).

Fenwick's findings imply that the memories recalled during NDEs are barely distinguishable from the flashbacks of temporal lobe seizures. While this isn't flatly inconsistent with a survivalist interpretation, it is clearly readily explicable on physiological models of the NDE, making a survivalist interpretation unnecessary.

Is the Temporal Lobe Implicated in NDEs?

As Christopher C. French points out, there have long been indications that the temporal lobe is implicated in NDEs:

The temporal lobe is almost certain to be involved in NDEs, given that both damage to and direct cortical stimulation of this area are known to produce a number of experiences corresponding to those of the NDE, including OBEs, hallucinations, and memory flashbacks. It is worth noting that both the temporal lobes and the limbic system are sensitive to anoxia, and that release of endorphins lowers the seizure threshold in the temporal lobes and the limbic system (French 357).

That OBEs could be induced by electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe has been known at least since 1941 (Tong 104-105). Additionally, French notes that peace or euphoria and mystical feelings "are often reported by temporal lobe epileptics just prior to a seizure," quoting a patient stating that nonepileptics "can't imagine the happiness that we epileptics feel during the second before our attack" (French 358). Some epileptics "even see apparitions of dead friends and relatives" (Blackmore, "Dying" 206). So several NDE elements--including feelings of peace, OBEs, life reviews, and encounters with others--suggest a role for the temporal lobe in the phenomenology of the experience.

Willoughby B. Britton and Richard R. Bootzin offer similar observations implicating the temporal lobe in NDEs. First, "electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe and seizures in temporal lobe epileptics can evoke similar mystical experiences." Second, "acute stress or hypoxia during a life-threatening event may hypersensitize neurons and lower seizure thresholds, especially in the temporal lobe." Finally, both NDErs and temporal lobe epileptics "share the tendency to be transformed by their experiences and take on new spiritually oriented interests and values" (Britton and Bootzin 254).

Against such observations, Greyson argues that "key features of NDEs ... have not in fact been reported either in clinical seizures or in electrical stimulation of [temporal lobe] brain structures" (Greyson 335). But contrary to Greyson, the observations above illustrate that many key features of NDEs are found in such circumstances. Moreover, those advocating a role for the temporal lobe in the production of NDEs are not claiming that NDEs 'just are' temporal lobe seizures, but rather that similar temporal lobe activity, in conjunction with other activity in a dying brain, is implicated in NDEs.

Fox has uncovered further evidence that temporal lobe activity may bring about NDEs. He notes that when he examined complete NDE accounts from the RERC archives, rather than the incomplete extracts published by major near-death researchers, he found signs of temporal lobe epilepsy in a significant number of NDErs. In particular, he found signs of hypergraphia, a compulsion to write extensively about spiritual realities. In one case from the RERC archives, for example, a man reported an OBE, a tunnel experience, encounters with deceased relatives, and a life review, followed by 11 pages of speculative hypergraphic testimony about the meaning of life, the purpose of existence, the soul, and the beginning of the universe (Fox 161). Fox concludes that:

hypergraphia has long been recognized as a symptom of temporal lobe epilepsy. Whilst the presence of hypergraphia within NDErs' reports has been hidden from view often because of the editing of accounts carried out by near-death researchers themselves, an examination of original accounts ... reveals that hypergraphia is a significant feature of a significant number of accounts (161).

More direct evidence is noted by Alvarado, who reports one study which found "a significant positive correlation" between temporal lobe symptoms and reports of 'paranormal' experiences, including OBEs. Another study "found a positive correlation between epilepticlike signs ... [and] participants' reported experiences of 'leaving the body' and feeling 'detached' from it in the laboratory" (Alvarado 197).

Recently, Britton and Bootzin carried out a more systematic investigation of the relationship between NDEs and the temporal lobe, comparing their NDE group to a control group. The NDE group included subjects who had experienced "life-threatening physical distress as the result of an accident or other injury and [received] a minimum score of 7 on the [Greyson] Near-Death Experience Scale" (Britton and Bootzin 254). Their non-NDE control group consisted of age- and gender-matched individuals who had not come close to death and who had scored below 7 on the Greyson NDE Scale. Despite having used a less-than-ideal control group, the authors provide convincing evidence that their findings confirm a role for the temporal lobe in the production of NDEs. These findings include:

* NDErs were about four times as likely to have temporal lobe epileptiform EEG activity during sleep than non-NDErs (255).
* NDErs "reported significantly more temporal lobe symptoms" than non-NDErs, such as "frequent anomalous experiences, sleepwalking, olfactory hypersensitivity, and hypergraphia," and scored significantly higher than non-NDErs on a measure of epileptic signs typical of temporal lobe seizures or electrical stimulation of the temporal lobes, including "feelings of intense personal significance and unusual olfactory, auditory, or visual perceptual experiences" (255).
* Not only did NDErs take longer to enter REM sleep than non-NDErs (255), but there was a positive correlation between the depth of a subject's NDE (as measured by the Greyson NDE scale) and the delay in REM sleep onset, so that the deeper the NDE, the greater the delay in the onset of REM sleep (256).
* NDErs scored significantly higher on measures of coping skills than non-NDErs (256).
* NDErs scored marginally higher than non-NDErs on the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES), and significantly higher than non-NDErs on the Amnestic subscale of the DES--the latter of which measures things like not remembering how you arrived at your destination. These findings indicate that NDErs show a greater (but nonpathological) tendency to dissociate than non-NDErs (256).

Some might object that Britton and Bootzin's findings are equivocal because they used the second-best control group available: non-NDErs. Indeed, their findings would have been more decisive if they had used the ideal control group: non-NDErs who came close to death. As they concede, it is possible that the general trauma of coming close to death--not whether subjects had an NDE--is what accounts for the differences between the two groups. However, they anticipate this objection and provide substantial evidence that generalized trauma does not account for the differences between the two groups, implying that it is the occurrence of the NDE itself that is correlated with these differences (257). This correlation, in turn, implies that certain people are physiologically prone to have NDEs, whereas others are not.

First, the authors note that there was a significant correlation between Greyson NDE Scale scores and both the temporal lobe epileptiform EEG activity and the delayed onset of REM sleep; but these characteristics were not correlated with any of the collected scores for measures of trauma (257). If the trauma of coming close to death had caused the epileptiform EEGs in the NDE group, then those EEGs should have been correlated "with trauma-related factors to a similar degree," but they were not. Instead, left temporal lobe activity was more highly correlated with Greyson NDE Scale scores than with scores on measurements of posttraumatic stress disorder or dissociative disorders, or with a history of head trauma (256-257). Second, although their NDE group included a few subjects with head trauma, a regression analysis found that head trauma was unrelated to epileptiform EEG activity (257). Additionally, the general incidence of epileptiform EEG activity in those who become unconscious without head trauma is 5.7%, as compared to the significantly higher rate of 22% in Britton and Bootzin's NDE group (257). Third, that the epileptiform EEG activity in the NDE group was almost entirely limited to the left temporal lobe is atypical of any other group, implying that NDErs are neurophysiologically unique (257-258). Finally, unlike typical trauma survivors, the physiological differences between the NDE group and the non-NDE control group "were not associated with negative stress reactions" but "instead with positive coping styles" (258). A preponderance of the evidence, then, implicates the temporal lobe in the production of NDEs. Britton and Bootzin conclude:

Taken together, the temporal lobe, sleep, and psychological findings are not consistent with posttraumatic symptomatology. However, they may be indicative of a preexisting condition that predisposes individuals to unusual reactions to acute stress. These data are the first objective evidence of neurophysiological differences in near-death experiencers (258).
Threshold Crossings: Returns From the Point of No Return

In some NDEs the experiencer encounters a barrier or divide felt to be a threshold between life and death--a fence, gate, door, river, line, mist, even 'the light at the end of the tunnel' itself. Kenneth Ring even found a case where a woman ferried across the River Styx during her NDE (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 149). Those NDErs who encounter some sort of barrier or threshold typically state that they are told or otherwise somehow know that if they cross the threshold, they cannot turn back and return to life. This feature of some NDEs has prompted Fenwick to ask: "If the whole [near-death] experience is psychological, then why hasn't someone crossed the barrier and come back to tell the tale?" (Fenwick and Fenwick 111).

Fenwick actually speculates that perhaps the reason no one has come back once they've crossed the NDE barrier is because we cannot psychologically form an image of our own deaths--this may be why we never 'die' in our dreams, for example (111). But his favored explanation is that NDEs are literally glimpses of an afterlife, an explanation flatly inconsistent with some of the features we've seen here in the very NDEs he has found.

A better answer than either of these possibilities, however, is that some NDErs have indeed crossed a divide thought to be a point of no return or otherwise decided to stay in the 'NDE world' when given a choice and yet still returned to life.

(1) Fenwick himself presents the case of the NDEr cited earlier who was beckoned to board a blue train 'into the afterlife' and did so (though his experience ended when the sensation of being resuscitated was incorporated into his NDE). Didn't boarding the blue train seem a lot like crossing a 'point of no return'? But if this NDEr had really crossed a final threshold in another realm for which there was no turning back, why did he eventually 'come to' on the deck of the frigate?

In this case the NDEr reported that the passengers had beckoned him to board the train, implying that doing so would be a significant decision to cross a point of no return. Moody, for example, reports the case of a nurse giving birth for the first time who found herself sailing across a large waterway being beckoned by dead relatives to join them. The nurse reported immediately telling them that she wasn't ready to die, implying that she automatically knew crossing over to the shore on the other side of the waterway would be going past a point of no return (Blackmore, "Dying" 193). In the NDE Fenwick reports, however, the NDEr actually did board the blue train--he did appear to cross a point of no return--yet still returned to tell the tale anyway.

Even though this NDEr doesn't explicitly describe boarding the train as crossing a point of no return, it certainly seems reminiscent of the one-way boat trip across a river felt to be a point of no return described by other NDErs (e.g., Moody's case above and the childhood NDE reported by Morse where living playmates are seen on the other side of a river).

Ultimately, even Fenwick concedes this:

David Whitmarsh meets no barrier. When people on the train beckoned to him he was actually able to go aboard. Nothing seemed to be holding him back or preventing him from boarding. One feels that David was well on his way [to the afterlife?] when resuscitation intervened (Fenwick and Fenwick 155-156).

But if a soul or astral double had detached from his normal physical body long ago, and he was well on his way to 'the other side,' how could he have felt his resuscitation, and how could it have brought him back into his body? These are features we would expect if during his NDE he had 'been inside' his body the entire time and bodily sensations eventually became part of his hallucination.

(2) Serdahely reports a case where an NDEr explicitly says she crossed a barrier between life and death and yet still was restored to life:

One of the three [NDErs told to return] was instructed apparently by a deceased grandmother not to cross a line in front of her. The OBEr did cross the line, at which point the grandmother said, 'I told you not to cross the line.' The older woman 'got right in [her] face' and said, 'You are to go back now!' (Serdahely 191).

(3) After undergoing a panoramic life review during his NDE in 1978, Tom Sawyer was both given a choice and decided not to return to life by entering the light at the end of the tunnel, but was nevertheless 'returned' to life:

I was given a choice. I could return to normal life or become part of this light.... I chose to stay and become part of that light. I then had the feeling of going through the tunnel in reverse, and I slammed back down into my body (Harris and Bascom 129).

Now if the NDE is a brain-generated hallucination, there is no reason why some people couldn't decide not to return or cross a 'point of no return' in an NDE and still end up being restored to life anyway--and in these cases we find exactly that.

Who Makes the Decision to Return?

Blackmore reports being impressed by the fact that so many different NDErs are uncertain about just who made the decision for them to return to life (Blackmore, "Dying" 230). Moody also found that many of his Life After Life subjects were unsure of how or why they returned to life:

The accounts I have collected present an extremely varied picture when it comes to the question of the mode of return to physical life and of why the return took place. Most simply say that they do not know how or why they returned, or that they can only make guesses (Moody 79).

Many NDErs appear to be reaching, after the fact, for some sort of explanation for why they returned to life, when none is apparent in the NDE itself. Some of the NDErs in Fenwick's sample openly wondered why they were 'sent back' because they could not find any reason for them to continue living--after their NDEs they continued working menial jobs, for instance.

Blackmore's conclusion about the 'decision to return' is poignant here:

So who does make the choice to return to life?... There does not seem to be a clear answer. It could be that there are genuine choices available to some NDErs and not others; that some can really make a choice and others have it made for them. To me this seems unlikely. It seems more likely that they are all trying, and with difficulty, to describe something that is not either their own choice, nor someone else's choice (Blackmore, "Dying" 232).

When you wake up from a dream, do you suppose that one of your dream characters decided to wake you up? Or that you woke up because in this dream world you yourself made a decision to wake up? Or does your dream end simply because your brain is no longer in the right electrochemical state for the dream to continue? I think most of us would concede that this last explanation is the best one, even in lucid dreams where the dreamer has some control over the content of the dream. Occasionally, a dream character may even pronounce that a dream is coming to an end, or a lucid dreamer may seem to have the ability to end a dream. In such cases, it is likely that a physiological change--from an external sound to a change in one's wakefulness--causes dream content to coincide with actually waking up.

A similar explanation seems plausible for the so-called 'decision to return' in near-death experiences, where NDErs often seem to struggle with trying to figure out who made the decision. In the van Lommel study only 5 out of the total 62 NDErs (8%) even reported encountering a border between life and death--this was the least common NDE element found (van Lommel et al. 2041). Most NDErs simply find themselves 'back in their bodies' with no idea of how they got there--of how they transitioned back to normal consciousness from the near-death experience. We would expect this if NDEs are hallucinations, for then NDEs must end when the physiological conditions necessary to maintain hallucinations disappear.
Hallucinatory Imagery

(1) One feature rarely noted in popular accounts of NDEs is hallucinatory imagery seen in the experience. For example, when one man was accidentally electrocuted, he encountered a mythological creature during an NDE:

The next thing I remember, there was a cloud and a male, related to Jesus, 'cause he looked like the pictures of Jesus. He was in this chariot type [thing]... the torso was a horse, everything above the torso was a man with wings; sort of like a Pegasus except instead of a horse's head it was a man... and he was beckoning to me... and I kept backing up... I remember telling him no, I had too many things to do and there was no way I could go now. Then the clouds sort of filled over and as it filled over I hear Him say, "O.K.!" [ellipses original] (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 116).

Perhaps a centaur with the head of a man resembling depictions of Jesus and the body of a winged horse is waiting to guide us into the afterlife in a chariot; but the fantastic quality of this and other NDEs strongly suggests that NDEs are hallucinations.

(2) In one of Fenwick's cases a man who had a heart attack while in the hospital reported having an out-of-body experience where he was flying as a 'junior member' in a formation of swans he'd seen earlier; while flying the landscape below him appeared to quickly regress backward in time. He 'saw' a cathedral being built and men in medieval garb sailing on large lakes (Fenwick and Fenwick 128). Such fantastic imagery suggests that this NDE was a hallucination; it seems absurd, for example, to seriously ask whether the swans he saw earlier were really flying with him backward in time.

(3) In his 1982 study Recollections of Death, Michael Sabom found a rather bizarre case which also suggests that NDEs are hallucinations. In case I-21, Sabom's subject reported feelings of peace, bodily separation, traveling through a dark void, and encountering a light after a heart attack (Sabom, "Recollections" 197, 204, 206). The NDEr also encountered "four unknown nurses" who interrogated him "about possible 'subversive activities'" (210).

Like Morse and Fenwick, Sabom also found encounters with living persons during NDEs. In case I-8, a woman encountered her living children in her NDE but didn't communicate with them (53-54). Though no other details are published in the study, case I-24 includes an encounter with a living granddaughter (210).

(4) From time to time Western NDE reports describe the world encountered during NDEs in terms that are uncomfortably familiar, mirroring the transient technological advances of the present-day living. After being resuscitated from a heart attack, for instance, one woman reported "watching details of her life being noted down ... [by] a computer" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 129).

(5) In a case from the RERC archives (RERC account 3583), a hospitalized woman had an unusual NDE that started as an out-of-body experience. After moving through the ceiling, instead of seeing her Australian hospital from above, she reported finding herself on a Russian battlefield "piled with dead men," Russian tanks, and machines. Then she found herself in a hospital run by nuns where a screaming woman giving birth was silenced by nuns "stuffing a pillow on to her head to stop her cries" (Fox 283). Next she reported being back in her hospital bed and feeling ill, wondering if her NDE was a hallucination caused by medication.

(6) In another of Fenwick's cases, a woman had an NDE during a particularly bad case of the flu. She reported having an out-of-body experience, floating up to a green field containing a large tree "with a brilliant white light on top," and meeting her deceased father. When her father waved her away, she returned to her body, opened her eyes, and saw that "there was steam coming out of my hands" (Fenwick and Fenwick 29). Fenwick concedes that the steam was one of the "hallucinatory qualities" of her experience and speculates that her high temperature might have produced it (30).

(7) Sometimes a prototypical NDE will incorporate terrifying hallucinatory features. After skimming on black ice, wrecking his car, and pulling out other passengers, a student collapsed and had to be resuscitated at the scene of the accident. While on life support in the hospital, he had two heart attacks and reported the following distressing NDE:

I was in a tunnel and sensed I was travelling towards a brightish light hidden behind a bend in the cave.... I felt I was simply floating--I did not have the use of my arms or legs at all....

As I passed round the bend in the cave I saw a giant Dracula-type of mouth opening. I say 'Dracula' because there were two monstrous fangs with blood dribbling off them.... I gained the instant impression that if I proceeded towards the mouth, it would shut and the teeth would slice me in two and kill me (Fenwick and Fenwick 190-191).

The student woke up screaming for his mother, was comforted by her, was given a tranquillizer, and then slept for a few hours.

(8) Morse provides an NDE account from a boy who was 4 years old when he almost drowned after the car he was in skidded on ice and plunged to the bottom of a river. The boy reported accidentally going to 'animal heaven' and speaking to a bee after losing consciousness:

I went into a huge noodle.... It wasn't like a spiral noodle, but it was very straight, like a tunnel.... When I told my mom about nearly dying, I told her it was a noodle, but now I am thinking that it must have been a tunnel, because it had a rainbow in it....

I was being pushed along by a wind, and I could kind of float. I saw two small tunnels in front of me. One of them was animal heaven and the other one was the human heaven. First I went into the animal heaven. There were lots of flowers and there was a bee. The bee was talking to me and we were both smelling flowers. The bee was very nice and brought me bread and honey because I was really hungry (Morse and Perry, "Parting" 4).

Next he reports going to 'human heaven'--which he describes as a 'regular old castle,' encountering his dead grandmother, hearing loud music, then finally simply 'waking up' in the hospital surrounded by nurses (4-5).

Interpreted at face value as evidence for survival, this NDE implies that life after death is not limited to human beings, mammals, or even vertebrates. While we cannot rule out the possibility that human beings may encounter insects in the afterlife and have discussions with them, it seems more likely that this childhood NDE was a hallucination. It also seems unlikely that one's double would feel a bodily sensation like hunger in the afterlife which could only be satisfied by astral nourishment.

(9) In another case a childhood NDE was also triggered by nearly drowning. In this NDE an 8-year-old girl encounters seven other children, a butterfly, and a deer:

I was in a garden, right behind a bush.... [T]here was this one, big, large tree and there were children playing a game [ring-around-the-rosey].... I saw a bunch of flowers, there was a butterfly and a deer next to me who I felt lick my face.... The children saw me and they beckoned me to come over.... [W]hen I finally decided to step over.... then I felt this heavy tug, like a vacuum and then I was forced out and the next thing I knew I was back in my own body (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 112).

Here another favorite insect of children is encountered in an NDE (cockroaches and mosquitoes are not reported) along with a very popular wild animal.

(10) In other NDEs sentient plants are encountered--one woman reported worrying about the flowers she was stepping on in her NDE, when the flowers telepathically communicated to her that they were alright! (Fenwick and Fenwick 86-87).

(11) Occasionally even dead celebrities are encountered in NDEs. In one of Moody's cases a middle-aged woman from the Midwestern US who shook hands with Elvis Presley as a child reported encountering Elvis in her NDE. After having an OBE during surgery, she reported:

I then entered into a dark round tube or hole. I could call it a tunnel. I seemed to go headfirst through this thing and suddenly I was in a place filled up with love, and a beautiful bright white light....

As I walked through this meadow I saw people separated in little bunches. They waved to me, and came over and talked to me. One was my father who had died about two years before....

Just as I turned to go, as I felt myself being drawn back, I caught sight of Elvis. He was in this place of an intense bright light. He just came over to me, and took my hand, and said: 'Hi Bev, do you remember me?' (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 109-110).

While an Elvis sighting in an NDE may not be as problematic for a survivalist interpretation as an encounter with a living person, it seems unlikely that a real glimpse of the afterlife would include a greeting from a deceased celebrity.

leo: unless elvis knew that they were a fan of his

(12) In a case sent to Kenneth Ring from a Canadian researcher, another NDEr describes an exceptionally detailed NDE world where he encounters Albert Einstein. After touring spotless streets "that appeared to be paved in some kind of precious metal," talking to a street sweeper, listening to a choir of angels, and viewing an art gallery:

Next we materialized in a computer room. It was a place of great activity, yet peace prevailed. None of the stress of business was present, but prodigious work was accomplished. The people seemed familiar to me, like old friends. This was confusing, because I knew there to be present those who lived on earth still, and those who had passed on. Some of them I knew by name, others by reputation; and all had time for me, to teach me if I ever need help understanding. One of them was Albert Einstein.... He asked me if I would care to operate the computer (Kellehear 14).

There is a fantastic quality to this story, such as transferring from place to place 'instantly,' as if by magic. The fact that this NDEr claims to see people who are still alive in this supposed afterlife environment also points to its hallucinatory nature.

(13) But if encounters with conscious plants, talking insects, and dead celebrities doesn't give you pause about accepting NDEs as visions of an objective afterlife reality, perhaps NDEs that include encounters with fictional characters will. Morse reports that a 10-year-old boy had an NDE where he encountered a video-gaming wizard who loved Nintendo and said to him: "Struggle and you shall live" (Abanes 116). Karl Jansen similarly reports finding childhood NDEs that include encounters with video game and comic book characters:

Claims that near-death experiences are always identical, regardless of the set and setting, are contradicted by the variety actually found in published reports. They differ between people and cultures. For example, instead of a tunnel and angels, East Indians may describe the River Ganges and a particular guru. A child having a NDE may "see" his or her still-living friends and teachers, or Nintendo and comic book characters, rather than God (Jansen 96).

(14) In a collection of pediatric near-death experiences published in 1990, Serdahely even found a case where a girl encountered a favorite toy during her NDE--an old stuffed animal. Morse summarizes the case as follows:

A 10-year-old girl had a full cardiopulmonary arrest while in the intensive care unit after spinal surgery. She described her experience 2 years later. Stating she was "peaceful and relaxed, and remembered seeing a whitest blue light at the end of the tunnel. She saw the shadow of a dog, and also a white lamb that was loving and gentle, which led her back to her body." Her parents reported at age 2, she had a lamb that doubled as a music box that was her favorite stuffed animal (Morse 62).

(15) One of the most bizarre types of NDEs are the 'meaningless void' experiences that often occur during childbirth. In a typical case, a 28-year-old woman became unconscious when given nitrous oxide during the birth of her second child, but when her blood pressure suddenly dropped, she reported:

I was aware ... of moving rapidly upward into darkness. Although I don't recall turning to look, I knew the hospital and the world were receding below me, very fast.... I was rocketing through space like an astronaut without a capsule, with immense speed and great distance.

A small group of circles appeared ahead of me, some tending toward the left. To the right was just a dark space. The circles were black and white, and made a clicking sound as they snapped black to white, white to black. They were jeering and tormenting--not evil, exactly, but more mocking and mechanistic. The message in their clicking was: Your life never existed. The world never existed. Your family never existed. You were allowed to imagine it. You were allowed to make it up. It was never there. There is nothing here. There was never anything there. That's the joke--it was all a joke.

There was much laughter on their parts, malicious. I remember brilliant argumentation on my part, trying to prove that the world--and I--existed.... They just kept jeering.

"This is eternity," they kept mocking. This is all there ever was, and all there ever will be, just this despair....

Time was forever, endless rather than all at once.... Yes, it was more than real: absolute reality. There's a cosmic terror we have never addressed (Greyson and Bush 102).

Since meaningless void experiences paint a far from gleaming picture of what the dying sometimes experience, many New Age near-death researchers are reluctant to accept them as visions of another world. Ring, for example, ultimately concludes that meaningless void experiences "are not true NDEs as such but are essentially emergence reactions to inadequate anesthesia" (Ring, "Frightening" 20-21).

There is something disingenuous about Ring taking this position. On the one hand, Ring and like-minded researchers have argued that prototypical Western NDEs are evidence for an afterlife at least in part because they are consistent across accounts, feel real, and have a transformative effect. At the same time, Ring argues that meaningless void experiences are merely reactions to anesthetics, even though they are also consistent across accounts (different people report similar experiences), feel real, and have a transformative effect--albeit a negative one: "our preliminary observations indicate that ontological fear is a common result of the experience" (Greyson and Bush 109).

In fact, meaningless void experiences probably are reactions to anesthesia, given their rare incidence and tendency to occur during childbirth, when anesthetics are almost always administered. The point is that meaningless void experiences have the same characteristics that have been used to justify viewing more standard NDEs as glimpses of an afterlife, yet are rarely themselves seen as actual visions of another world.

Ring's argument that meaningless void experiences are hallucinatory episodes triggered by anesthesia is significant. It is a tacit admission by a major near-death researcher that a person can have an experience near death that has commonalities with the others' experiences near death, feels incredibly real, and produces lasting transformations, even though it is only a hallucination. If meaningless void experiences can be reasonably viewed as hallucinations, so can prototypical Western NDEs.

In her 1997 book In A World of Their Own: Experiencing Unconsciousness, Madelaine Lawrence has also acknowledged that persons sometimes experience hallucinations near death after finding reports of visions of the Grim Reaper in her cardiac patients.

(16) In 1926 Heinrich Klüver systematically studied the effects of mescaline (peyote) on the subjective experiences of its users. In addition to producing potent hallucinations characterized by bright, 'highly saturated' colors and vivid imagery, Klüver noticed that mescaline produced recurring geometric patterns in different users. He called these patterns 'form constants' and categorized four types: lattices (including honeycombs, checkerboards, and triangles), cobwebs, tunnels, and spirals (Blackmore, "Dying" 68-70; Bressloff et al. 474).

Klüver's form constants have appeared in other drug-induced and naturally occurring hallucinations, suggesting a similar physiological process underlying hallucinations with different triggers. But what is particularly interesting is that Klüver's form constants also appear in near-death experiences.

After a heart attack, one man from the Evergreen Study had an NDE that included seeing a lattice ('grid') or cobweb, one of Klüver's form constants:

The more I concentrated on this source of light the more I realized that it was a light of a very, very peculiar nature... it was more than light. It was a grid of power... if you could imagine the finest kind of gossamer spider web that was somehow all pervading, that went everywhere [ellipses original] (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 111).

A similar NDE is reported in Johann Christophe Hampe's early To Die is Gain, where NDE cases were compiled without knowledge of Moody's Life After Life:

I was moving at high speed towards a net of great luminosity. The strands and knots where the luminous lines intersected were vibrating with tremendous cold energy. The grid appeared as a barrier that I did not want to move through, and for a brief moment my speed appeared to slow down. Then I was in the grid (Hampe 65, cited in Fox 57-58).

Other form constants have also periodically appeared in NDEs. Zaleski notes that, among the variety of 'paths' that NDErs have taken to the NDE world, some NDErs have found themselves "spinning in vertiginous spirals" rather than traveling through a tunnel or darkness (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 122). While tunnel experiences are well-represented in Western NDE reports, the occasional presence of other hallucinatory form constants in these reports (e.g., lattices, cobwebs, and spirals) suggests that NDEs are hallucinations.
Unfulfilled Predictions: Psychic Inability

Despite the contributions of serious neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists to the field, 'near-death studies' is rife with wildly irresponsible claims about NDErs gaining psychic abilities, healing powers, and accurate prophetic visions of the future after their NDEs. These unsubstantiated assertions recall those of crop circle researchers who have 'discovered' that the wheat found in crop circles has been genetically altered. Phyllis Atwater, for example, claims that NDErs look younger after NDEs when before and after pictures are compared and claims that NDErs' 'energy fields' interfere with electronic devices like watches and microphones (though apparently not with the much more sensitive computers NDErs use).

Sadly, the most prominent representatives of the field--Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, Melvin Morse, Phyllis Atwater, and Margaret Grey--make all sorts of unsubstantiated and fanciful claims about NDErs' paranormal abilities. While this alone seriously damages the credibility of their own work and mars near-death studies as a whole, the damage is exacerbated by wild New Age speculations on the meaning of the NDE from the very same researchers. Given such fringe claims, it should be no surprise that the mainstream medical community has viewed research into the near-death experience with suspicion.

In Heading Toward Omega, for instance, Ring claimed that many of his NDErs had 'prophetic visions' of the future of humanity, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, marked climate change, economic collapse, and humanity on the verge of nuclear annihilation. 'Massive upheavals' were to start in the 1980s and end with world peace just after the dawn of the new millennium (Fox 40-41).

But despite repeated assertions of widespread and even quite frequent paranormal abilities manifesting after NDEs (reported by NDErs themselves and endorsed by many near-death researchers), not a single experiencer, so far as I am aware, has ever volunteered for a controlled experiment to test their alleged psychic powers. Given that such a demonstration would easily validate their claims, one simple question begs for an answer: Why not?

Cases where NDErs' predictions have failed to come to pass suggest that experiencers have not attempted to demonstrate their psychic powers experimentally because they have no powers to demonstrate. Apparently NDErs' predictions are no different than those of other modern-day prophets--either vague enough to cover almost any event, or specific but unfulfilled.

(1) Dannion Brinkley's self-reported psychic abilities after his NDE are an excellent example of unfulfilled predictions. After lightning struck the telephone line he was using in 1975, he was thrown across the room, laying on the floor looking up. His searing pain was replaced with a feeling of peace and he found himself looking down on his body until paramedics loaded him onto an ambulance. Next he reported seeing a tunnel forming in the ambulance which came to him and engulfed him while he heard rhythmic chiming. He noticed a light ahead and rapidly approached it until it surrounded him. A silver form emerged which he identifies as an empathetic 'being of light' emitting all the colors of a rainbow. The being engulfed him, causing him to review the events of his life. Next they both 'flew' into a city of crystalline cathedrals where Brinkley arrived at a 'cathedral of knowledge.' His guide disappeared, only to be replaced by 13 others behind a podium when he sat down on a bench. As each being approached him, a 'box' appeared on its chest which 'zoomed' out toward his face showing a 'television picture' of a future world event. Brinkley was restored to normal consciousness in the morgue just shy of half-an-hour since he was struck by lightning (Brinkley and Perry 4-31). He also claims to have gained spectacular psychic abilities since his NDE, but these have never been tested in any controlled experimental setting.


Leo:So he must apply to the bogus james randi challenger oh my gosh it must be invalid until mr .randi says it does true anyways because to him this stuff is impossible.

The prophetic visions shown to Brinkley during his NDE were often given dates in his best-selling Saved by the Light. They included visions of an Israeli settlement spreading into Jordan until Jordan was replaced by a new country (34). This was to be followed by a war between Israel and an alliance of Russia and a "Chinese-and-Arab consortium" over 'some incident' in Jerusalem (35). An alliance between Saudi Arabia, Syria, and China was to be made in 1992 to destroy the American economy, while Saudis were to give money to North Korea in order to destabilize Asian markets (35). By 1993 Iran and Iraq were predicted to have both chemical and nuclear weapons, including an Iranian submarine with nuclear missiles on a religious mission to stop the shipment of oil from the Middle East (41).

Brinkley claims to have foreseen the Chernobyl incident in 1986 and the 1991 Gulf War during his NDE, but these events occurred well before the publication of his book. Chernobyl was supposed to be followed by another nuclear accident in 1995 which contaminated a northern sea to the point that ships would not travel through it (36-37).

He also saw "border disputes and heavy fighting between Soviet and Chinese armies" over a railroad ultimately taken by the Chinese. The Chinese then invaded the Soviet Union and took over half of the USSR, including Siberian oil fields (39). Brinkley confesses that when he had these visions in 1975, he didn't know that the Soviet Union would fall.

The collapse of the world economy "by the turn of the century" resulting in "feudalism and strife" was also predicted (39). The government closing of banks in the 1990s was to be followed by "the bankruptcy of America by the year 2000" (40). America would cease to be a superpower "sometime before the end of the century" due to two horrific earthquakes, perhaps near some body of water. Rebuilding after the quakes was to weaken the economy to the point that starving Americans waited in long lines for food, again, before 2000 (40).

Brinkley envisioned a terrorist attack on France prior to 2000 where a chemical was to be released into a French city's water supply, killing thousands, in response to the French publication of "a book that infuriates the Arab world" (41).

Brinkley also saw the collapse of democracy and its replacement with a fundamentalist government in Egypt in 1997 (41). In his final visions he saw people in towns all over the world eating their dead out of desperation, "weeping as they cooked human meat" (42). Meanwhile, wars in Central America and South America broke out, leading to the formation of socialist governments in all of the countries of this region before 2000. As a result, millions of refugees crossed the American border, forcing the US government to deploy troops to the border to push the refugees back across the Rio Grande, destroying the economy of Mexico (45). Again, all of this (and more) was predicted to happen before 2000.

Elaborate as these visions are, none of the events predicted to occur after Saved by the Light was published in 1994 have come to pass. The prophetic visions Brinkley gained during his NDE appear to be no different than those of any other run-of-the-mill prophet. Even Fenwick comments that while "pre-publication happenings came into Dannion's head with pinpoint accuracy," "those events due to take place after 1994 are foretold with less precision" (Fenwick and Fenwick 167). Brinkley did tend to be vague in places--omitting dates or using phrases like "some incident" or "sometime before the end of the century." But his predictions were precise enough for us to recognize not only that they never came to pass when he predicted they would, but that nothing even close to those events came to pass.

Leo: let's look at the ones that were furfilled no one is perfect and keith augustine should know that

NDE Prophecies That Were Actually Fulfilled

In 1975, the following prophecies were given to Dannion Brinkley during his NDE.
(1)

An actor will become president whose initials are R. R. and will project the image of being a cowboy to the rest of the world.



Shortly after his NDE in 1975, Brinkley told Raymond Moody that perhaps this person was Robert Redford. It turned out to be Ronald Reagan. This demonstrates that experiencers can receive visions of the future, but they may not be able to interpret them.

(2)

In the area of the Middle East, anger and hatred will reach a boiling point. Religion will play a large role in these problems, as will the economy. Israel will become isolated from the rest of the world. Saudi Arabia will give money to countries, such as North Korea, and make deals and shake hands.

One look in today's newspaper will tell you this has happened.
(3)

In 1986, a nuclear explosion of a massive cement structure, near a river in Russia, will occur. Hundreds of people will die. This disaster has something to do with the word Wormwood.

The Russian word, Chernobyl, literally means Wormwood, a type of plant. The nuclear explosion Dannion foresaw was the Chernobyl explosion of the nuclear reactor in Russia.
(4)

The Soviet Union will collapse because of economic problems. The Russian people will lose faith in communism. Great food shortages will happen. The Russian mafia will gain much power. Soviet-style communism will die. The Being of Light told Dannion the following:



"Watch the Soviet Union. How the Russian people go, so goes the world. What happens to Russia is the basis for everything that will happen to the economy of the free world."

The collapse of the Soviet Union occurred in 1989 due to economic problems. There were great shortages of food and the power of the Russian mafia became stronger.
(5)

In 1990, a great desert war will be fought. Armies will race toward one another and lightning-like explosions will occur.

The U.S. military operation called Desert Storm occurred in 1990 where the U.S. army squashed the Iraqi army for occupying Kuwait.
(6)

Missiles with chemical warheads will occupy the desert of the Middle East. There will be worldwide fear of the intentions of the Arab nations that have them.

It is common knowledge today that chemical weapons exist in Middle East.

One point of great interest is that the Being of Light gave Dannion this warning:

If you follow what you have been taught and keep living the same way you have lived the last 30 years, all of this will surely be upon you. If you change, you can avoid the coming war. If you follow this dogma, the world by the year 2004 will not be the same one you now know. But it can still be changed and you can help change it.
(7)

A biological engineer from the Middle East will find a way to alter DNA and create a biological virus that will be used in the manufacture of computer chips."

A recent technological breakthrough occurred when two Israeli Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers, discovered a process in which strands of DNA are incorporated into a working electronic component.
(8)

On September 1st, ten days before the New York terrorist attacks, Dannion announced that the world is on the verge of a:

"spiritual awakening which calls for deep self-examination."



He called for a global Day of Truth to occur on September 17th where people could:



"... take time before this date to personally examine our own lives and priorities as citizens of earth in this time of transition. This is a wake-up call. For it is only as we are willing to see and to embrace all of our deeply human fragmented realities that the light of grace can shine upon us."

Something certainly awoke Dannion to make this announcement and it is reasonable to assume it was the September 11 terrorist attack. Dannion isn't the only experiencers who received a vision of this terrorist attack. Ned Dougherty also received visions of the future during his NDE. One of Ned's visions was published in his book, Fast Lane to Heaven, six months before September 11th. It states:

"A major terrorist attack may befall New York City or Washington, DC, severely impacting the way we live in the United States."

It would not be surprising for NDErs to come back from 'the other side' with vague or false predictions if near-death experiences are really a particular kind of brain-generated hallucination. But if NDEs were literally journeys of one's soul or double into 'the next world,' it would be surprising for denizens of that realm to offer false information. In Brinkley's case particularly, it would be surprising for otherworldly beings to provide him with accurate predictions about future events occurring before the publication of his book, but false predictions about future events occurring after the book is published. Dare I suggest that Brinkley just might have exaggerated claims about the accuracy of his pre-publication predictions?

(2) Exaggerated claims of psychic power are not limited to NDErs who write best-selling books about their experiences. In an interview with a woman who had three NDEs, journalist Art Levine sought to test her reputed psychic powers. Among other things, the woman claimed to have predicted the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Levine notes that, although he carelessly supplied some information about his life to the woman, she revealed nothing about him that couldn't have been guessed by the average person and many of the details she provided were flat wrong:

[G]ood psychic readings--though still unproven by the hard tests of science--should have more hits than misses, without any cue from the client....

Her initial results were promising. During that first interview, for instance, she casually demonstrated her skills by asking, "How's your low-back pain doing?" and mentioning in a vague way problems I'd had with my father. I didn't know whether to be amazed or just chalk it up to a lucky guess anybody could make about a middle-aged Jewish guy....

After a long wait, she began speaking. "You had two avenues of education, but you took a break in one and totally shifted gears," she pronounced. Since I always intended in college to be a writer, even though I dropped a course or two along the way, Shoemaker's reading wasn't off to a very promising start. Later, when discussing my work, she claimed that I once planned to have a medical career, but now, as an investigative reporter, "you've gone into medicine through the back door." Wrong again: I never once in my life thought of becoming a health professional....

I became worried when she claimed that I was developing Crohn's disease, a serious, painful inflammation of the small intestine. But because she also asserted that I suffered from regular headaches, I felt relieved--that's one health complaint I don't have. But since I'm actually at risk of digestive problems because of an anti-inflammatory medication I take, I didn't take chances: I later asked my doctor to look for signs of the dreaded Crohn's disease. There weren't any.

She didn't seem to be much more accurate when discussing my parents. "I get a missing of the father. It's almost like he's not around; you're not able to converse as much. The brilliance of his mind isn't the same," she said. Later, she gave additional poignant insights: "Your father's health is wavering." There is, as it turns out, a good reason for all this: He's dead, a little detail that she missed. She also described my mother: "I get your mother as spunky. She can be quite feisty, and she has her own set of rules." Perhaps, in the afterlife, she has adopted this new personality. She died several years ago in a tragic accident, but when she was alive, she was generally bossed around by my domineering father (Levine).

These cases demonstrate that some NDErs are given false visions of the future in their NDEs or get a false sense of having psychic powers they do not have. Of course this isn't flatly inconsistent with a survivalist interpretation of the NDE; perhaps otherworldly beings supply us with false information during NDEs or NDErs become more skilled at self-deception than ESP after their experiences. But false prophecy and psychic inability are exactly what we would expect to obtain if NDEs were not really journeys into another realm. Moreover, the proclivity of many NDErs to claim paranormal abilities they do not have should make us suspicious of uncorroborated claims of veridical paranormal perception during out-of-body experiences in NDEs.
Conclusion

The majority of near-death researchers clearly interpret NDEs as evidence for survival of bodily death. Because many people would like to know that there is an afterlife rather than simply take the notion on faith, it not surprising that 'near-death studies' tends to attract researchers who already believe that NDEs provide evidence for survival. I think it is rather obvious that most near-death researchers have entered the field in order to (1) bolster their belief in survival after death and (2) find out what exactly is going to happen to them when they die. Thus it is hardly a revelation that most of the researchers investigating the phenomenon are confident that NDEs point toward the reality of survival of bodily death.

But how do near-death researchers obviously sympathetic to the survival hypothesis explain NDE characteristics which are clearly hallucinatory? Their typical strategy involves a rather ad hoc rationalization: whenever culturally conditioned or other clearly hallucinatory features are found in NDEs, the NDEr must have made a mistake. For example, one could argue that when NDErs encounter someone who is alive and normally conscious 'on the other side,' they must be misidentifying the person seen. When a Christian sees Jesus in an NDE while a Hindu sees Yamaraj, the standard explanation near-death researchers give is that both are seeing the same spiritual being but 'interpreting' it as a specific religious figure. But how do we know that the Christian didn't really encounter a being that looks exactly like portraits of Jesus, or that the Hindu didn't encounter a being with the specific features his culture ascribes to Yamaraj?

Aside from cases where the persons encountered during NDEs are obviously culture-bound projections or could not possibly reside in the afterlife at the time of the experience, most near-death researchers urge us to take what NDErs report at face value. If an NDEr reports feelings of peace, an OBE, traversing a tunnel, and entering an illuminated garden where he encounters his deceased grandfather, researchers typically advocate interpreting the account literally as a vision of the afterlife. In such cases we are urged to think that the NDEr really left his physical body, traveled through the physical world in a disembodied or astrally embodied state, traversed a tunnel from the physical world to the afterlife, and actually communicated with his deceased grandfather. It is only when an NDE obviously contains hallucinatory features that most near-death researchers resist interpreting it as a literal glimpse of the afterlife.

Here survival proponents urge us not to take NDErs' accounts at face value; at the same time, they expect us to accept the 'core NDE' as reflecting some afterlife reality. The standard explanation of NDE features inconsistent with literal glimpses of an afterlife is that such features are embellishments, but that the core NDE--whatever that is said to be--really reflects another reality which awaits us after death. Morse, for example, explicitly endorses this sort of rationalization. Evidence which otherwise appears to falsify a survivalist interpretation of NDEs is given a new spin: "The core NDE is then secondarily interpreted according to the age and culture of the person experiencing the event" (Morse 70).

While some near-death researchers weave elaborate schemes to explain away inconsistent evidence, others deride those who disagree with their questionable conclusions by impugning their motivations. For instance, Charles Tart, a parapsychologist well-known for conducting OBE experiments, implicitly accuses all researchers who view NDEs as hallucinations of 'scientism.' 'Scientism' usually refers to a dogmatic adherence to the prejudices, paradigms, or presuppositions 'fashionable' among contemporary scientists. Such an accusation is intended to convey the idea that mainstream scientists have been 'blinded' by their prejudices from acknowledging the 'obvious' evidence that we do in fact continue on after death.

Scientism is an epithet typically hurled at anyone who defends a mainstream scientific position against the views of an unconventional minority. But Tart gives scientism a more specific definition: "a dogmatic commitment to a materialist philosophy that 'explains away' the spiritual rather than actually examining it carefully and trying to understand it" (Tart 74). Right off the bat, it is evident that Tart presumes (1) that materialism is false, (2) that a spiritual realm actually exists (if our goal is "trying to understand it" we must presume it exists), (3) that there are 'spiritual data' which cannot adequately be explained by materialism and (4) that anyone who rejects the existence of a spiritual reality has failed to carefully examine the evidence.

As will become clear shortly, the only purpose of an appellation of scientism in Tart's discussion is to persuade an audience to dismiss the views of researchers who view NDEs as hallucinations on the grounds that they are biased by prior beliefs (as if Tart doesn't have any prior beliefs that incline him toward a survivalist interpretation of NDEs). But this is just a distraction from the real issue; the real issue is whether or not OBEs and NDEs provide unambiguous evidence for survival of bodily death. If they did, Tart would not have to resort to accusations of bias; he could simply document the evidence showing that survival of bodily death occurs, just as biologists can document the evidence showing that species evolve over time. But, in fact, the issue remains a contentious one, even among parapsychologists. As Carlos Alvarado, a former president of the Parapsychological Association, concedes:

The dominant model in OBE studies, by far, is the psychological one.... There are many reasons for the domination of this model. One is the fact that contemporary psychology, as well as science at large, is hesitant to propose explanations that contradict current paradigms. But in all fairness, it should be noted that little evidence exists to support the projection model [i.e., that something leaves the body during an OBE]; furthermore, this model presents myriad obstacles to scientific testing (Alvarado 201).

Indeed, most parapsychologists today are not convinced by the available evidence that survival of bodily death is likely to occur, even if they would like to believe that it will. For example, John Beloff, a parapsychologist who certainly cannot be accused of scientism and who has no sympathy at all for materialism, writes specifically of NDEs that:

[The near-death experience] remains open to a wide variety of psychological and physiological explanations--such as cerebral anoxia, or oxygen starvation of the brain, a self-defensive strategy in the face of imminent extinction, and so forth. At all events, it would be premature to interpret it at face value as affording a vision of the next world [emphasis mine] (Beloff 267).

The rhetoric pervading Tart's account implies that scientism or dogmatic materialism is the only obstacle to accepting a survivalist interpretation of NDEs. But this is simply not the case. First, it is crucially important to note that one could have good reasons for disbelieving that NDEs are visions of an afterlife without accepting materialism. For instance, this essay has actually presented data which suggests that NDEs are not glimpses of another world after death. One need not have any commitment to materialism--dogmatic or otherwise--to doubt that genuine glimpses of an afterlife would involve train rides, false out-of-body perceptions, or encounters with living persons, fictional characters, and mythological creatures. It is entirely possible that an afterlife exists but that NDEs are not glimpses of it--a view similar to the Buddhist belief that the dying pass through several illusory bardo states generated by their own minds before entering the 'real' afterlife (Fox 94-96).

Second, there may be good independent grounds for holding materialism to be true, such as the massive amount of evidence for the dependence of consciousness on the brain. A commitment to materialism, then, need not be based on "an emotional attachment to a totally materialistic view of the world" (Tart 75). One may come to believe that materialism is probably true--as many contemporary scientists and philosophers have--simply because physicalistic explanations of uncontroversial phenomena have been so successful. The conclusion that materialism is probably true may simply be an eminently reasonable inference to the best explanation.

Further along in his discussion, Tart's rhetoric becomes even more blatant. In his discussion of scientism, he implies that anyone who denies that NDEs provide evidence for survival or rejects the reality of survival after death altogether must be blinded by scientism[10]:

They don't recognize that their belief that everything can be explained in purely material terms should be treated like any scientific theory, i.e., it should be subject to continual test and modified or rejected when found wanting (75).

As already noted, though, one can believe that NDEs are not good evidence for survival or even that survival after death never happens without believing that "everything can be explained in purely material terms." David Chalmers, for instance, has recently defended a version of property dualism (in The Conscious Mind) that denies that the mind can be explained in purely physical terms while also denying that the mind can exist independently of the brain (or some physical substrate); but the latter is a prerequisite for the sort of life after death Tart envisions.

Moreover, even those who believe that "everything can be explained in purely material terms" might acknowledge that this belief is just a hypothesis capable of being falsified. That is, one can accept materialism while simultaneously acknowledging that some evidence--if present--would refute it. The issue for these open-minded materialists, then, is not whether any evidence could refute materialism, but whether the sort of evidence that could refute it has actually been produced. And most materialists, I suspect, would deny that such evidence actually exists, even though they could imagine what sorts of evidence would falsify materialism[11].

By implying that those who reject NDEs as evidence for survival are advocates of some pernicious scientism, Tart presumes that the very issue of contention has already been resolved: that NDEs really are evidence for survival of bodily death. But, of course, this conclusion has not been established beyond a reasonable doubt; in fact, it is not even clear that the survivalist interpretation of NDEs is more likely to be true than false. Moreover, Tart fails to recognize that there are perfectly legitimate reasons for maintaining that NDEs are not visions of an afterlife--reasons that I have outlined in this essay because few people who've thought about NDEs have even been aware of them.

Endnotes

[1] The findings of the life-change inventory questionnaire at 2-year and 8-year follow-ups for NDErs and non-NDErs who come close to death are nicely summarized in Table 5 (van Lommel et al. 2042). From this table it is obvious that there are significant changes in social, religious, death, and other attitudes in NDErs between the 2-year and 8-year follow-ups. A similar pattern applies to non-NDErs, but NDErs reported higher initial scores (at the 2-year follow-up) than non-NDErs for the 13 categories listed. Generally, non-NDErs who came close to death did not believe in life after death at the 2-year follow-up and this belief had not changed at the 8-year follow-up. Non-NDErs' interest in spirituality had also significantly decreased between the 2-year and 8-year follow-ups. By contrast, belief in life after death had increased slightly while interest in spirituality had markedly increased in NDErs between the 2-year and 8-year follow-ups. NDErs' social attitudes and interest in the meaning of life had also markedly increased between the 2 and 8-year follow-ups.

[2] It is also notable in this regard that, in general, claims that NDErs had their experiences during a period of flat EEG are highly dubious for a variety of reasons. First, patients' EEGs are rarely being recorded when a near-death episode occurs. Second, even in those rare cases where there actually are accompanying EEG recordings during such a crisis, standard EEG monitors only measure surface brain activity, failing to register the activity of deep cortical structures (e.g., the brainstem). Finally, as in the Pam Reynolds case, even when more comprehensive EEG monitors are used in a controlled setting where a near-death episode is intentionally induced, there is no reason to believe that any resulting NDEs occurred during such periods, rather than before or after. See "Cardiac Arrest and Near-Death Experiences" by G.M. Woerlee in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Summer 2004): 235-249, esp. 239-241 ("Brain Activity and Consciousness").

[3] That Sabom's description of the case in Light and Death is the source of these misunderstandings is evident in Braude's comments. Despite his erroneous belief that Pam's experience occurred during the standstill state, Braude goes on to state that in this case "it would be hasty to conclude that ... mental activity clearly persisted independently of bodily activity" (Braude 274). Moreover, he concludes that in general "the case for survival receives very little independent support from OBEs, NDEs, and apparitions" (280-81). Obviously, then, Braude has no vested interest in portraying the Pam Reynolds case as strong evidence for survival of bodily death. His mistaken belief that her experience occurred during standstill was almost certainly derived directly from the source he cites--Light and Death.

[4] My timeline of Pam Reynolds' experience during general anesthesia is derived from Sabom's reported times in Light and Death and his commentary on this paper in the Journal of Near-Death Studies. Page numbers from Light and Death are indicated in parentheses:

* Pam goes under general anesthesia around 7:15 AM in August 1991 (38), about 90 minutes before her OBE (185). This places her OBE at about 8:45 AM.
* By 8:40, Pam's body is completely draped except for her head (40).
* Cooling of her blood begins at 10:50 AM (43).
* Cardiac arrest is completed at 11:05 AM (43).
* Somatosensory cortical EEG flattens at 11:10 AM.
* Brainstem EEG flattens at 11:24 AM.
* At 11:25 AM the bypass machine cooling her blood shuts down at 60°F so that her brain can be drained of blood and her aneurysm clipped (43).
* Warming of her blood begins at 11:30 AM.
* Mechanical warming of her blood ends at 12:32 PM (46).
* Postoperative anesthesia wears off sometime after 2 PM. Pam wakes up to the song "Hotel California" (46).
* Sometime after 4 PM, Pam reports her NDE in the recovery room (46-47).
* Sabom interviews Pam on November 11, 1994 (186).
* Sabom transcribes the taped interview in March 1996 (186).

[5] I would like to thank Richard Carrier for suggesting all of these points concerning the possibility that Pam Reynolds learned that her head would be shaved prior to her experience. I would also like to thank Gerald Woerlee for many useful comments concerning the Pam Reynolds case.

[6] I have excluded an early study of deathbed visions from India and the United States by Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson because their results were obtained by interviewing or sending questionnaires to medical staff tending to deathbed patients. None of the findings were based on first-hand interviews with patients claiming to have had near-death experiences. Rather, the deathbed study analyzed the second-hand reports of medical personnel about what patients who later died told them years ago. In any case, the Osis and Haraldsson study (detailed in their book, At the Hour of Death, first published 1977) found far more (culture-bound) differences than similarities between deathbed visions in the US and India, which is consistent with what subsequent comparisons of NDEs in the US and India have found.

[7] Blackmore reported that of 8 NDEs she collected from India, 4 included feelings of peace, 3 involved experiencing "a tunnel or dark space," and 4 involved visions of a world of light or (alternatively) seeing several colored lights (Blackmore, "Dying" 19). However, as Kellehear points out, her respondents were obtained by answering an advertisement in an English-language newspaper (the Times of India) rather than a more representative Hindi paper (Kellehear 26-27). Because Blackmore's respondents did not constitute a typical Hindi-only sample of Indians, their accounts are more likely to have been contaminated by knowledge of Western NDE motifs.

[8] As Kellehear points out, Zhi-ying and Jian-xun's data on NDEs that occurred in 1976 in China is suspect because "they did not include descriptive cases that we can analyze for content" (Kellehear 25). Moreover, they may have even offered NDErs something like a checklist of various NDE elements to choose from, contaminating their reports: "For example, although Zhi-ying and Jian-xun assert that 'a tunnel-like dark region' was reported by their respondents, this is, in fact, a response to a prior descriptive category offered to them" (25). Ironically, Kellehear then reports corroborating the existence of prototypical Western NDEs in China in his own 1990 study, which offered "a typical Anglo-European vignette of an NDE to a sample of 197 Chinese in Beijing" and then asked the respondents if they had ever had an experience like the one offered (26). Although 26 (or 13%) answered affirmatively, finding Chinese NDErs unexposed to the Western vignette prior to offering accounts or answering surveys (e.g., by asking about both prototypical Western NDE elements and non-NDE elements) would've provided far more persuasive evidence.

[9] Although NDEs predate Raymond Moody's Life After Life, aside from Hieronymous Bosch's 14th-century painting "Ascent in the Empyrean" and Gustave Doré's 1868 painting "Vision of the Empyrean" (an illustration of Canto 31 of Dante's Paradise), there is scant evidence of prototypical Western NDE motifs prior to the 20th century. One exception, as far as accounts of experiences near death are concerned, dates back prior to the turn of the century, when, after surviving a fall himself, the Swiss geologist Albert Heim published the accounts of over 30 mountain-climbing fall survivors in 1892. The survivors reported experiencing clarity of thought, time slowing down, euphoria, beautiful music, heavenly scenes, and life reviews during their falls (Blackmore, "Dying" 61). And about a decade before Moody's Life After Life, Robert Crookall documented 30 OBEs among those who had purportedly come close to death, several of which included prototypical Western NDE elements. A handful of Crookall's accounts predated World War II, including an account from 1935 in which a British man reported an OBE, life review, traveling through "a long tunnel" with a "tiny speck of light at the far end," seeing others traveling through the tunnel, encountering an uncrossable barrier, then finally returning to his body (Crookall 89). But one account dates as far back as 1851 and includes both a clear OBE and life review (86). Nevertheless, as both Carol Zaleski's Otherworldly Journeys and the final chapter of Jan N. Bremmer's The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife make clear, classical and medieval accounts of 'afterlife experiences' are nothing like contemporary NDEs. As Bremmer points out, in medieval accounts "most of the modern elements, such as the feelings of peace, the tunnel, the hovering above the body, the life review, and meetings with deceased relatives, or even brethren, are generally missing" (Bremmer 99-100). Bremmer concludes that contemporary NDE reports reflect a modern Western individualism absent from earlier afterlife accounts:

[In modern NDE reports] the normal experience seems to be a feeling of being separated from the body by passing through a dark place, often explained as a tunnel.... The description, though, seems typically modern. How many people in earlier periods would have known of a tunnel? Is it pure chance that in India and China the tunnel is absent from NDEs? Does this experience say something about the way we experience deep down the passing through a tunnel and the feeling of relief when we, literally, see the light at the end?...

Unlike classical and medieval visions, the meeting with relatives or close friends is experienced by about half of the nearly-dead. This surely is a reflection of the disappearance of the separate worlds of man and women and the emergence of the nuclear family as the centre of our affection in the course of the last two centuries.... Whereas earlier generations were immediately certain that they had met angels, modern people lack this certainty, unless they are brought up strongly religiously....

[T]he experiencer often sees his life pass by in a moment. This so-called 'life review' or 'life film' was already noted [by Albert Heim] before modern NDEs.... [and is] non-judgemental.... one more testimony to the disappearance of hell from the modern imagination.... Can it be that the relatively late appearance of reports of the life film have something to do with the development of the diorama and its reinforcement by the train in the nineteenth century, which enabled people to see a fast succession of scenes as they had never been able to do before?...

What do the modern NDEs tells [sic] us about afterlife? In opposition to what has often been suggested, they do not seem to prove the existence of the 'life everlasting', but.... [are] a clear reflection of the modern world, where the development of the individual more and more becomes the main goal of life (101-102).

While the legend of Er concluding the final book of Plato's Republic is often cited as the oldest NDE on record, it is, of course, entirely fictional, as are all of Plato's dialogues. And in any case, no modern prototypical Western NDE motif other than a possible OBE (and a vague one at that) is present in this account (though Er observes others being judged, he does not experience anything like a modern life review in Plato's story).

[10] Tart never says this explicitly, but it is implied by his failure to acknowledge any alternative possibilities for why someone would reject survival of bodily death or deny that NDEs are evidence for survival.

[11] A survey conducted by Richard Carrier indicates that most materialists believe that materialism can be falsified--and even go so far as to offer examples of possible falsifying evidence--but that, as a matter of fact, no unambiguous evidence falsifying materialism has ever been produced. Thus Tart's implication that materialists don't recognize that materialism "should be treated like any scientific theory" distorts the reality of the situation. In fact, most materialists do recognize this, but fail to be convinced that the inconclusive parapsychological evidence Tart relies on has actually falsified it. To suggest otherwise it to attack a caricature of contemporary materialists for polemical purposes. See Richard Carrier's "Defending Naturalism as a Worldview: A Rebuttal to Michael Rea's World Without Design." Carrier's discussion is specifically about naturalism, but naturalism can be seen as roughly equivalent to materialism for our purposes (strictly speaking, materialism is a specific kind of naturalism, but the evidence that would falsify naturalism would also falsify materialism). Carrier's survey of what naturalists (and the materialists among them) really believe is discussed at length in the section "A Brief Ethnography of Contemporary Naturalism."



Precisely! Except that, of course, Pam didn't need to guess what the bone saw sounded like, since she probably heard it as anesthesia failed. An out-of-body discrepancy within Pam's NDE prima facie implies the operation of normal perception and imagination within an altered state of consciousness. Indeed, this explanation is so straightforward that Sabom considers it before all others. And it is telling that the one visual observation that Pam (almost) could not have known about other than by leaving her body was the very detail that was not accurate.

Let us turn to the report of Pam's final visual observation during her OBE, her comment that the bone saw used "interchangeable blades" placed inside something "like a socket wrench case." This detail was also accurate; however, one need not invoke paranormal perceptual capabilities to explain it. As Woerlee notes,

[S]he knew no-one would use a large chain saw or industrial angle cutter to cut the bones of her skull open.... Pneumatic dental drills with the same shapes, and making similar sounds as the pneumatic saw used to cut her skull open, were in common use during the late 1970s and 1980s. Because she was born in 1956, a generation whose members almost invariably have many fillings, Pam Reynolds almost certainly had fillings or other dental work, and would have been very familiar with the dental drills. So the high frequency sound of the idling, air-driven motor of the pneumatic saw, together with the subsequent sensations of her skull being sawn open, would certainly have aroused imagery of apparatus similar to dental-drills in her mind when she finally recounted her remembered sensations. There is another aspect to her remembered sensations--Pam Reynolds may have seen, or heard of, these things before her operation. All these things indicate how she could give a reasonable description of the pneumatic saw after awakening and recovering the ability to speak (Woerlee, "Anaesthesiologist" 18).

And, predictably enough, the dental drills in question also used interchangeable burs stored in their own socket-wrench-like cases.

During anesthesia awareness, and as far from standstill as a person under general anesthesia can be, Pam could have heard her surroundings, but not seen them, since her eyes were taped shut. And the facts of her case strongly suggest that this is exactly what happened. Information that she could have obtained by hearing was highly accurate; at the same time, information that was unavailable to her through normal vision was the very information which was inaccurate. More precisely, her visual descriptions were only partially accurate: accurate on details she could have plausibly guessed or easily learned about subsequent to her experience, and inaccurate on details that it would be difficult to guess correctly.

In other words, OBE imagery derived from hearing and background knowledge, perhaps coupled with the reconstruction of memory, fully accounts for the most interesting details of Pam Reynolds' NDE report. After being awoken from inadequate anesthesia by the sound of the bone saw revving up, her mind generated a plausible image of what the bone saw used during her operation looked like, rendered from her prior knowledge of similar-sounding dental drills. But her best guess about the appearance of the bone saw was inaccurate regarding the features of the bone saw that only true vision could discern: whether there was a true groove in the instrument, and where it was located.

Moreover, the fact that Pam's NDE began during an entirely nonthreatening physiological condition--under general anesthesia at normal body temperature--implies that there was no particular physiological trigger for the experience (such as anoxia/hypoxia). Rather, it appears that her NDE was entirely expectation-driven. Before going into surgery, Pam was fully aware that she would be taken to the brink of death while in the standstill state. Being awoken from general anesthesia by the sound of the bone saw appears to have induced a fear response, which in turn caused Pam to dissociate and have a classic NDE. Indeed, this makes sense of her otherwise odd report of being pulled out of the top of her head by the sound of the saw itself.

At least five separate studies (Gabbard, Twemlow, and Jones 1981; Stevenson, Cook, and McClean-Rice 1989-1990; Gabbard and Twemlow 1991; Serdahely 1995; Floyd 1996) have documented cases where fear alone triggered an NDE. As Stevenson, Cook, and McClean-Rice conclude, "an important precipitator of the 'near-death experience' is the belief that one is dying--whether or not one is in fact close to death" (Stevenson, Cook, and McClean-Rice 45). They go on to label those (otherwise indistinguishable) NDEs precipitated by fear of death alone "fear-death experiences" (FDEs). Physiologically, such NDEs might be mediated by a fight-or-flight response in the absence of an actual medical crisis. In a case reported by Glen Gabbard and Stuart Twemlow, an NDEr dislodged the pin of a dummy grenade he thought to be a live one, producing a classic NDE similar to the one Pam experienced:

A marine sergeant was instructing a class of young recruits at boot camp. He stood in front of a classroom holding a hand grenade as he explained the mechanism of pulling the pin to detonate the weapon. After commenting on the considerable weight of the grenade, he thought it would be useful for each of the recruits to get a "hands-on" feeling for its actual mass. As the grenade was passed from private to private, one 18-year-old recruit nervously dropped the grenade as it was handed him. Much to his horror, he watched the pin become dislodged as the grenade hit the ground. He knew he only had seconds to act, but he stood frozen, paralyzed with fear. The next thing he knew, he found himself traveling up through the top of his head toward the ceiling as the ground beneath him grew farther and farther away. He effortlessly passed through the ceiling and found himself entering a tunnel with the sound of wind whistling through it. As he approached the end of this lengthy tunnel, he encountered a light that shone with a special brilliance, the likes of which he had never seen before. A figure beckoned to him from the light, and he felt a profound sense of love emanating from the figure. His life flashed before his eyes in what seemed like a split-second. In midst of this transcendent experience, he suddenly realized that grenade had not exploded. He felt immediately "sucked" back into his body (Gabbard and Twemlow 42).

Gabbard and Twemlow conclude that "thinking one is about to die is sufficient to trigger the classical NDE" (42). After comparing experiences that occurred in nonthreatening conditions with those where subjects were actually close to death, they also concluded that no particular elements were "exclusive to near-death situations," but "several features of the experiences were significantly more likely to occur when the individual felt that death was close at hand" [emphasis mine] (42). That expectation alone can trigger NDEs in certain individuals, then, is well-documented.

If Pam had truly been out of body and perceiving, both her auditory and visual sensations should've been accurate; but when it came to details that could not have been guessed or plausibly learned after the fact, only her auditory information was accurate. Moreover, it is significant that as her narrative continues beyond the three visual observations outlined above, the remainder of her reported out-of-body perceptions are exclusively auditory. Finally, it is interesting that Pam reports uncertainly about the identity of the voice she heard when her OBE began: "I believe it was a female voice and that it was Dr. Murray, but I'm not sure" (Sabom, "Light" 42).

These facts strongly imply anesthesia awareness, and tend to count against the idea that Pam's soul left her body during the operation. If her soul had left her body, the fact that her account contains out-of-body discrepancies doesn't make much sense. But it makes perfect sense if she experienced anesthesia awareness, particularly when one looks at which sorts of information that she provided were accurate and which were not. Pam Reynolds did not report anything that she could not have learned about through normal perception, and this is exactly what we would expect if normal perception alone was operating during her OBE. It is little wonder that Fox concludes that "the jury is still very much out over this case" (Fox 210).
NDEs in the Blind?

As Susan Blackmore reported in Dying to Live, as of 1993, even Kenneth Ring conceded (in his own words) that there hadn't been a single "case of a blind NDEr reported in the literature where there was clear-cut or documented evidence of accurate visual perception during an alleged OBE" (Blackmore, "Dying" 133). But Blackmore's unsuccessful search for such cases prompted Ring and a doctoral student, Sharon Cooper, to endeavor upon a search of their own.

The results of their search are published most prominently in their joint 1999 book Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind. There they document 31 cases of blind persons who had NDEs or OBEs, 10 of which were not medically close to death at the time of their experiences. These cases were garnered from responses to an advertisement in the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) Newsletter Vital Signs, as well as from contacts in 11 different organizations for the blind. Of the 31 persons in the sample, 14 were born blind, 11 lost their sight after they were five years old, and 6 were highly visually impaired. 25 of the 31 reported visual sensations during their experiences, as did 9 of the 14 persons blind from birth. The most startling claim made in Mindsight is not simply that some blind NDErs testify to gaining knowledge of facts they could only have learned through a faculty like vision, but that relevant eyewitnesses can corroborate their testimony.

But is there actually strong evidence of veridical paranormal perception in Ring and Cooper's sample of blind NDErs? One reason Fox questions the significance of this study is that those known to acquire sight for the first time, or reacquire it after a very long time, have difficulty making sense of their visual sensations. He notes the case of a 52-year-man who, after receiving corneal grafts, could not visually identify a lathe that he was otherwise well-acquainted with--by touch--unless he was given the opportunity to touch it. Continually frustrated at his inability to interpret his visual sensations, he eventually took his own life a full two years after the operation (Fox 225-226). By contrast, Ring and Cooper's blind NDErs are said to have "virtually immediately [gained] the ability to perceive accurately just such things as hospitals and streetlights with virtually no difficulty whatsoever" (226). While Ring and Cooper interpret this as evidence of a previously unknown sort of synesthetic perception 'transcending' normal human vision (224), Fox points out that more mundane sources--such as learning from mass media or NDE researchers that OBEs, tunnels, and lights are to be expected during near-death crises--might more satisfactorily explain the blind NDErs' testimonies (239). Harvey Irwin notes similar possibilities:

[These cases] may be inspired by accounts of other people's NDEs that have been widely disseminated in various forms of the media. That is, might a blind person have heard that people see certain things in a near-death encounter and unconsciously generated a fantasy that conformed to this belief?... [Blind NDErs might also] learn about what to expect in an afterlife from diverse sociocultural sources, and they may rely extensively on these expectations in generating a near-death fantasy.... Thus, the blind may commonly have a belief that they will suffer no visual affliction in an afterlife, and this belief may influence the content of NDEs in the blind (Irwin, "Mindsight" 112).

Fox adds that Ring and Cooper's two most impressive cases are suspect as evidence for paranormal perception in the blind. In one of these cases, for instance, though an NDEr was said to have superior perceptual capabilities--like "omnidirectional awareness" of the environment--her out-of-body 'perceptions' were colorblind. But surely, Fox interjects, "we should expect in such a situation to see in colour. Indeed, we might reasonably expect to appreciate more, deeper and greater colour in such a condition, not less colour or none at all" (Fox 232). In the other case, a 33-year-old man reported an NDE when he was 8-years-old. But, Fox adds, one "might seriously question whether the testimony, twenty-five years after the event, of an episode that occurred to an 8-year-old boy, should qualify as one of their two most impressive cases" (231). Most significantly, though, Fox notes the statistical improbability of NDE researchers finding any genuine cases of NDEs in the blind:

Further, the reader may wonder at the statistical improbability of some of the events that Ring and Cooper present. NDEs seem quite rare, despite the recent publicity that has surrounded them. In this context, for example, it is worth noting that a recent study organized by British theologian Paul Badham and neuroscientist Peter Fenwick, which attempted to gain empirical support for the hypothesis that something leaves the body during an NDE, foundered because of a paucity of cases in the hospital chosen for the study. To find NDEs in the blind, therefore, would seem to be an incredibly difficult task. That Ring and Cooper found twenty-one [sic: 31] such cases is an extraordinary achievement. That one of their two best cases [the colorblind one] was referred by the same social worker [Kimberly Clark] as was involved in the celebrated 'tennis shoe' case, and indeed came from the same hospital, seems most striking--and incredibly statistically improbable (Fox 232).

But Fox's analysis does not end here. What of the alleged cases of veridical paranormal perceptions in these blind NDErs? While Ring and Cooper recognize the need for corroboration from others of the events NDErs report, and indeed present cases claiming exactly that, Fox notes that "a critical reading of the quality of the data presented reveals the need for caution in accepting them unreservedly" (232). He points out, for instance, that in one case passed on to Ring and Cooper by another NDE researcher, no one appears to have ever followed-up with potential witnesses (232). In another seemingly impressive case, a man who had been blind for 10 years reported an OBE after laying down on a couch where he could see a tie that he was wearing purchased for him by a friend who had never described it to him. The NDEr reported how amazed his friend was when he accurately described the patterns on the tie to her (233). But upon interviewing the friend, Ring and Cooper found that she could not really corroborate his recollection:

Although Ring and Cooper present this as a 'corroborative' case of sight during a blind respondent's out-of-body experience, it is clear that it is not. The witness does not remember clearly the events or the tie. She thus cannot corroborate the detail of the episode in question, but merely presents a testimony to Frank's apparent truthfulness and simply thinks that he was 'probably accurate' in the details given.... Once again, therefore, we must exercise care with the quality of the data presented.... More cautious commentators may be forgiven for suggesting that much stronger data are needed before they agree that existing scientific paradigms need to be hauled down and news ones erected (Fox 234).

Thus Blackmore's conclusion about paranormal perception during NDEs (including NDEs in the blind) prior to Ring and Cooper's study is just as poignant today as it was over a decade ago:

I think it would not be surprising if there were many claims of paranormal perception in NDEs even if it never happened. It is my impression that it probably never does happen.... [F]or the moment at least, these claims present no real challenge to a scientific account of the NDE (Blackmore, "Dying" 134-135).
NDE Target Identification Experiments

The cutting edge of near-death research lies in controlled tests of veridical paranormal perception during the out-of-body phase of those NDEs that include OBEs. The detection of remote visual targets during out-of-body NDEs has the potential to provide decisive evidence of consciousness functioning independently of the body, conceivably answering the survival question once and for all. Alternatively, if NDErs are given ample opportunities to identify remote visual targets during their experiences yet fail to do so, veridicality studies offer the prospect of confirming the hallucinatory nature of these experiences. Given the importance of such experiments in either establishing or falsifying veridical paranormal perception during NDEs, it would seem remiss to conclude this section without a survey of the results of NDE veridicality research conducted to date.

Thus far there have been five separate studies in which remote visual targets were placed in presumably NDE-conducive hospital environments. Although earlier experiments with OBEs induced at will have failed to provide compelling evidence of any paranormal processes operating during induced OBEs (see Alvarado 199-200 and especially Blackmore, "Beyond" 189-199 & 213-224 for a survey of the results of these experiments), one might anticipate a greater likelihood of paranormal activity during spontaneous out-of-body NDEs. The first NDE target identification experiment was carried out in the mid-1980s by Janice Minor Holden in the emergency room (ER), each room of the coronary care unit (CCU), and each room of the intensive care unit (ICU) at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois (Holden and Joesten 46). As Holden and Leroy Joesten report, visual targets were placed

in the corners of hospital rooms in which near-death episodes were most likely to occur.... in such a way as to be visible only from a vantage point of looking down from the ceiling. No living person was to know the exact content of the stimuli, thus rendering the design double-blind. Once the patient was resuscitated from a near-death episode in one of the "marked" rooms, knowledge of the content of the visual stimulus would be assessed (Holden and Joesten 46).

The authors go on to explain what would constitute a positive result in their study: "If [out-of-body NDErs] accurately identified card content with significantly greater frequency than other NDErs and non NDErs ... the hypothesis that [out-of-body NDErs] have veridical perception ... would be supported" (Holden and Joesten 48). Unfortunately, however, in the entire year of the study, only 1 cardiac resuscitation occurred in the hospital areas covered by the study, to an Armenian immigrant with poor English who declined to give an interview about his resuscitation. At the same time, at least one NDE occurred in a hospital area not covered by the study (Holden and Joesten 51). With no experiences to test, inevitably no positive results were reported.

A second experiment was conducted by Madelaine Lawrence at Hartford Hospital, Connecticut until early November 1994, when Lawrence was Director of Nursing Education and Research. A scrolling LED display placed in the cardiac electrophysiology lab--though occasionally turned off--was up and running for a total of about 6 months (M. Lawrence, personal communication, August 7, 2006). Lawrence reports:

I placed an electronic sign high on a cabinet in the room [of the electrophysiology lab], not visible to anyone standing on the floor. In order to read the sign a person needed to use a ladder or be out of his body. It contained a nonsense statement like, "The popsicles are in bloom," and I changed it randomly. It was nonsense so that no one could say he overheard a conversation about the words on the sign. All subjects who became unconscious during the EP [electrophysiology] studies were interviewed and asked to describe their experiences. We were hoping they had had an NDE and had read the sign (Lawrence 158-159).

Unfortunately, although "three patients reported the early stages of an out-of-body experience," no one had an OBE extensive enough to see the sign (159). So the results of this study, too, can only be considered negative.

A third experiment was set up in "the medical, emergency, and coronary care units of Southampton General Hospital" in the United Kingdom by Sam Parnia from August 1997 to August 1998 (Parnia et al. 150; S. Parnia, personal communication, August 3, 2006). For one year "boards were suspended from the ceiling of the wards.... [with] various figures on the surface facing the ceiling which were not visible from the floor" (Parnia et al. 151). Of the 63 cardiac arrest survivors interviewed during that time, 7 had some recall of the period after they lost consciousness. Of these 7, 4 had NDEs as defined by the Greyson NDE Scale, 2 had NDE-like memories (e.g., feelings of peace or seeing deceased relatives), and 1 had memories unlike NDEs (e.g., seeing "some unknown people jumping off a mountain"). Though two of the four NDErs "lost awareness of their bodies," none of them had full-blown OBEs (151-153).

Under the supervision of neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick and Religious Experience Research Centre (RERC) Director Paul Badham, Penny Sartori conducted a fourth target identification experiment, also in the United Kingdom, at Morriston Hospital, Swansea from January 1998 to January 2003 (Sartori 34). As Sartori explains:

At each patient's bedside in ITU [the intensive therapy unit], mounted on the wall, is a cardiac monitor. Symbols which were mounted on brightly coloured day glow paper to attract attention were placed on the top of each monitor. These symbols were above head height and concealed behind ridges to prevent them being viewed from a standing position, thus ensuring they could only be viewed from an out-of-body perspective (Sartori 35).

Sartori adds that the symbols were inconspicuously changed every two months and covered by a card removed away from her sight, "ensuring that not even the author knew which symbol was on which monitor" (35). Though all ITU patients were interviewed in the first year of the study, for logistical reasons interviews in the remaining four years were limited to cardiac arrest survivors, those who came so close to death that their survival was unexpected, and spontaneous OBErs and NDErs (36). Consistent with van Lommel and colleagues' findings, about 18% of the cardiac arrest survivors reported NDEs; about 5% of them reported OBEs (37-38). In the entirety of Sartori's 5-year study, 15 patients reported NDEs or NDE-like experiences, and 8 OBEs were reported (37-38). Nevertheless, Sartori reports, this study also yielded negative results, as "not all of the patients rose high enough out of their bodies and some reported viewing the situation from a position opposite to where the symbols were situated" (Sartori 38).

The fifth and most recent veridicality study was conducted by Bruce Greyson, Janice Minor Holden, and J. Paul Mounsey at the University of Virginia Health System Electrophysiology Clinic from January 2004 to July 2006 in order to demonstrate that "patients during cardiac arrest have perceptions that they could not have had normally from the position of their bodies," as this would provide profound "evidence for the independent functioning of the mind while the brain was physiologically impaired" (Greyson, Holden, and Mounsey 93). Following Lawrence's precedent, the University of Virginia study was premised on cardioversion, the controlled administration of an electric shock to the heart to restore normal heart rhythm. But whereas only about 30% of Lawrence's electrophysiology patients required cardioversion in order to restore a normal heart rhythm (of which 9% reported NDEs) (Lawrence 158), all 25 of the University of Virginia patients experienced at least two episodes of induced cardiac arrest in order to test implantable cardioverters/defibrillators (ICDs) (Greyson, Holden, and Mounsey 90).

During the two-and-a-half-year period of the study, a ceiling-facing laptop computer visible only from a perspective far above eye level was opened and laid flat on top of a cabinet or video monitor before patients entered the procedure room for ICD implantation and testing. The laptop generated clear and simple but unpredictable cartoon animations (e.g., a jumping frog) of varying colors quasi-randomly selected by the computer based on when it was turned on and unknown to any living person prior to the completion of the study (88-89). Although 5 patients (20% of the sample) acknowledged some recall of events while unconscious--such as a sense of timelessness, feelings of peace, vaguely being somewhere unfamiliar, and possibly sensing the presence of a deceased relative--no NDEs were reported, and thus no out-of-body NDEs were available to test (91-92).

Given that controlled studies of veridical paranormal perception during NDEs have only been attempted intermittently and on a small scale, it is imperative that further target identification experiments are simultaneously carried out at multiple hospitals over a period of several years. For, as Sartori notes,

If hundreds of patients report an OBE there is a greater potential for the symbols being viewed. Equally, if hundreds of patients report an OBE but none correctly identify the symbols then it could lead to the conclusion that the OBE is a mind model (Sartori 39).

In a related but hardly surprising development, similar long-term multicenter research has already established that distant prayer (i.e., prayer unknown to the prayed-for) has absolutely no effect on the health of hospitalized patients (Benson et al. 934). If past experience is any guide at all, NDE veridicality research is no more likely to overthrow our current scientific understanding of humanity's place in the universe. In the meantime, at any rate, existing veridicality research presents no challenge to the current scientific understanding of near-death experiences as hallucinations.

What Are Out-of-Body Experiences?

In order to assess the viability of particular psychophysiological models of OBEs and NDEs, it is essential to survey the data collected on those who have undergone such experiences. As will become evident shortly, taken as a whole such studies strongly imply that whatever these experiences are, they are characterized by features that one would expect of internally generated fantasies, but not of any putative "disembodied existence."

Few dispute that OBEs and NDEs are altered states of consciousness (ASCs)--temporary departures from the normal (alert) waking state. During ASCs, a variety of mental faculties appear to be altered, including arousal, attention, perceptual functions, imagery skills, memory, cognition, and sense of identity. Other ASCs include REM dreaming, hypnagogic and hypnopompic dreams (when falling asleep or waking up, respectively), lucid dreams (where the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming), hypnosis, meditation, religious and mystical experiences, experiences during prolonged sensory deprivation, states induced by psychoactive drugs, and drug or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) flashbacks. Sometimes ASCs follow a period of unconsciousness, but they are often triggered during normal consciousness. ASCs are typically understood to involve turning one's attention inward, into the contents of one's own mind, rather than than revealing anything about the external world. For example, dreams are ASCs that are typically understood to call up internally generated imagery; that is, the world encountered during dreaming is not typically taken to involve any real terrain. Similarly, to say that alien abduction experiences involve ASCs (e.g., sleep paralysis) is to imply that such experiences do not really involve extraterrestrials physically kidnapping unlucky human subjects. Thus, insofar as OBEs and NDEs are such altered states, there is already a reasonable presumption that they do not reflect any objective existence outside of the normal physical body. But let us turn to the specific psychological traits of those who have OBEs and NDEs--traits which strongly imply that some psychophysiological model of OBEs and NDEs must be correct.

First, there is the discovery of statistically significant correlations between dissociation and both OBEs and NDEs. Dissociation is the structured separation of mental processes, so that thoughts, feelings, memories, and sense of identity "may appear to proceed independently" of each other (Irwin, "Disembodied" 261). The classic example of dissociation is "highway hypnosis," daydreaming or consciously focusing on anything other than driving and yet still arriving at your destination, evidently subconsciously engaging in the required driving skills (262). Across studies, dissociation has been consistently positively correlated with OBEs using the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) (Alvarado 192-193). Irwin found that NDErs were more likely to have suffered childhood trauma than non-NDErs, and consequently theorized that NDErs are predisposed to dissociate during unexpected highly stressful situations in order to "escape" from the pain or anxiety of their environments (Greyson 322-323). Similarly, Ring found that NDErs have significantly greater dissociative tendencies than non-NDErs, and suggested that childhood trauma makes victims more prone to dissociation and thus NDEs. Although Ring views such dissociative tendencies as a psychological defense mechanism to "tune out" physical threats to one's well-being while simultaneously opening a door to "alternative realities," their hypothetical status as a defense mechanism makes much more sense if OBEs and NDEs do not literally involve any form of disembodiment. For if such experiences literally involved some double leaving the body, why would psychological mechanisms--as opposed to, say, physiological crises alone--trigger the release of the soul?

Such nonpathological dissociation exists on a continuum best measured by absorption, the capacity to become highly engrossed in the imagination, including through books or movies (Irwin, "Disembodied" 263; Blackmore 35). One way to think of the distinction is this: Dissociation is the shutting out of sensory stimuli, while absorption is focusing on the imagination--but they tend to go hand-and-hand (Greyson 323). Cumulatively, several studies have found a moderate correlation between absorption and OBEs (Alvarado 191-192). For instance, in previous studies Irwin showed both that OBErs are highly absorbed, and that highly absorbed people can artificially induce OBEs more easily than people who are not particularly absorbed (Irwin, "Disembodied" 263). Interestingly, Gabbard and Twemlow compared NDErs with those who had OBEs in non-life-threatening conditions and found that NDErs were more absorbed than other OBErs (Blackmore, "Dying" 35). This is not surprising given that NDEs are typically more elaborate than OBEs in other contexts. So both OBErs and NDErs tend to have high rates of absorption--a trait which Irwin notes "might usefully be thought of as a capacity for imaginative involvement" (Irwin, "Disembodied" 263). Again, such a psychological correlation makes little sense if OBEs and NDEs represent something actually leaving the body.

Fantasy proneness is "characterized by a strong investment in fantasy life, vivid hallucinatory ability, intense sensory experience, and excellent eidetic [i.e., vivid visual] memory" (Greyson 324). Across studies, fantasy proneness has also been consistently positively correlated with OBEs (Alvarado 192). In other words, several studies indicate that fantasy proneness is higher among OBErs than non-OBErs (Irwin, "Disembodied" 264). Similarly, James R. Council and Bruce Greyson found that NDErs were both more absorbed and more fantasy prone than a control group, and that the extent of absorption and fantasy proneness among NDErs was greater the "deeper" the NDE reported (Greyson 325). Yet again, such psychological correlations are rather puzzling if OBEs and NDEs represent the soul actually exiting the body, but make perfect sense if they have a psychophysiological explanation.

Interesting correlations between imagery skills and OBEs have also been discovered. Compared to non-OBErs, for instance, Blackmore found that OBErs "are better at detecting the viewpoint from which a three-dimensional object is seen and are better able to switch viewpoints in their imagination" (Blackmore, "Dying" 180). Moreover, those who habitually dream in a bird's-eye view or see themselves during their dreams are more likely to have OBEs (180). Additionally, those who can induce OBEs at will have better dream control skills than spontaneous OBErs--a fact anticipated by psychophysiological models given that OBE-inducers would be expected to have "mastered" the required psychological abilities compared to "novice" spontaneous OBErs (Alvarado 202). Blackmore nicely summarizes these findings:

OBErs are better than others at switching from one viewpoint to another (especially to the viewpoint above the head), [are] more proficient at producing clear and detailed images from different viewpoints, and tend to use the observer viewpoint in dream recall (Blackmore, "Where" 64, cited in Alvarado 193).

Finally, compared to non-OBErs, OBErs tend to have more hallucinatory experiences, perceptual distortions, distortions of body image, illusory experiences of changes in body size, and floating sensations (Alvarado 194). Cumulatively, such studies lead Alvarado to conclude that the best predictors of OBEs are dissociation, hypnotic susceptibility, absorption, and fantasy proneness (Alvarado 193-194).

Of course, none of these findings are inconsistent with the view that something leaves the body during OBEs and NDEs. But they are clearly not predicted by that view, whereas such correlations are anticipated by psychophysiological models. Those who insist upon a survivalist interpretation of such experiences, then, can surely fit these findings within their particular theoretical frameworks. But they do not fit well, requiring various ad hoc modifications to account for them. Prima facie, at least, existing studies of OBErs and NDErs, taken as a whole, make psychophysiological models of such experiences much more likely to be true than their spiritualistic alternatives. That is, extant research strongly implies that OBEs are just one of many different kinds of distortions of body image along a continuum of altered states of consciousness.

But now it is time to return to the question prefacing this section. What, exactly, are OBEs? Several theories have been postulated, but three are particularly promising. The first is Irwin's theory:

Circumstances associated with extreme (either high or low) levels of cortical arousal evoke a state of strong absorption, particularly in the case of a person with a requisite level of absorption capacity and need for absorbing experiences.... If this state of absorbed mentation is paralleled by a dissociation from somatic (somaesthetic and kinesthetic) stimuli, an OBE may occur (Irwin, "Disembodied" 272).

In other words, OBEs are a form of "dissociation between sensory processing of somatic (somaesthetic and kinesthetic) events and the sense of self or identity" characterized by a high level of absorption (265). Though this theory is based on Irwin's own findings over the years, Etzel Cardeña's independent studies confirm that disruptions in sensory input are underlying causes of OBEs, influenced by the hypnotizability and attentional deployment of the subject (Alvarado 204).

A second intriguing theory has been developed by Blackmore: Under stress or when sense input is disrupted, one's normal model of reality is replaced by one based on memory and imagination. OBEs, perceptual distortions, lucid dreams, and other ASCs are all different models of reality (Alvarado 202). Several confirmed predictions support this theory. First, OBErs should have better imagery skills than non-OBErs, particularly those involving manipulating one's spatial perspective (202). And as already noted, OBErs are indeed better at identifying the viewpoints of placed objects and imagining changes in perspective. Second, those who induce OBEs at will should have better visual-spatial skills than those who have OBEs spontaneously; and again Blackmore found this to be the case for dream control (202). Third, bird's-eye-view dreamers should be more likely to have OBEs than those who dream from other perspectives--as both Irwin and Blackmore have found (202-203). Finally, OBErs should have more hallucinations and ASCs than non-OBErs; and four separate studies have confirmed this to be the case (203).

A third interesting theory, which may complement rather than compete with those of Irwin and Blackmore, has a more physiological focus. Few consistent findings on correlations between OBEs or NDEs and physiological factors have been found, but those that have been discovered implicate the temporal lobe in such experiences (see Is the Temporal Lobe Implicated in NDEs? below). Olaf Blanke theorizes that OBEs are "culturally invariant neuropsychological phenomena or deviant self models" resulting from abnormal brain activity centered around the temporo-parietal junction (Bünning and Blanke 332). This unusual neural activity produces a dual failure of multisensory integration that leads to an OBE. Conflicting proprioceptive, tactile, and visual information, coupled with a conflict between the vestibular feeling of where the body is and the visual representation of the body's location, yields an OBE:

[D]uring an OBE the integration of proprioceptive, tactile, and visual information of one's body fails due to discrepant central representations by the different sensory systems. This may lead to the experience of seeing one's body ... in a position (i.e., on a bed) that does not coincide with the felt position of one's body (i.e., under the ceiling ...) (Bünning and Blanke 334).

Blanke argues that just as the phantom limb phenomenon exemplifies a tactile body part illusion, OBEs exemplify a visual whole body illusion (332). Multisensory disintegration is implicated in OBEs by, among other things, Blanke's experiments with OBEs induced through electrical stimulation of the brain:

Initial stimulations (n = 3; 2.0-3.0 mA) [of the right angular gyrus] induced vestibular responses, in which the patient reported that she was "sinking into the bed" or "falling from a height". Increasing the current amplitude (3.5 mA) led to an OBE ("I see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk"). Two further stimulations induced the same sensation, which included an instantaneous feeling of "lightness" and "floating" about two metres above the bed, close to the ceiling (Blanke et al. 269).

So for one of Blanke's patients, progressively intensifying the electrical stimulation of the same area of the brain started out with simple vestibular sensations and ended with a full-blown OBE. And electrical stimulation of the right temporo-parietal junction has long been known to induce OBEs (Bünning and Blanke 334; Tong 104-105).

Another factor implicating multisensory disintegration in OBEs, particularly vestibular disturbances, is their frequency in sudden body accelerations or decelerations, such as falls from great heights, car accidents, and sudden altitude changes during flight (Bünning and Blanke 337). The latter is exemplified by the "break-off phenomenon," where disoriented pilots report a cluster of OBE-like sensations, such as "a feeling of detachment, isolation, and remoteness from their immediate surroundings" (338). Some pilots describe "being all of a sudden outside the aircraft or outside themselves watching themselves while flying the aircraft" (338). And OBEs during flight are most common during absorbing experiences, such as "when pilots are relatively unoccupied with flight details" or on "long cross-country missions over featureless terrain" (338).

Blanke classifies OBEs as one of three different types of autoscopic phenomena--experiences where one typically sees one's own body. (Though, as already noted, OBErs do occasionally appear to see from a vantage point near the ceiling without seeing their bodies below.) In autoscopy, a subject feels like he is in his own body and has an internal vantage point, but sees an apparitional mirror image of himself (a double or doppelgänger) in the external environment. In OBEs, a subject feels like he is outside of his body, seeing an image of his normal body and its surroundings from an external vantage point. In heautoscopy, the subject has difficulty localizing where 'he' is, sometimes alternating between an 'internal' and 'external' vantage point, sometimes experiencing both vantage points simultaneously (Bünning and Blanke 333). Whereas in autoscopy the double is typically just an image, in heautoscopy "the double is often experienced as a three-dimensional person" (333). Thus, one feels 'inside the body' in autoscopy, 'outside the body' in OBEs, and simultaneously 'inside' and 'out'--or alternating between them--in heautoscopy (333). The extent to which these experiences are related remains to be seen.

Interestingly, Blanke's theory suggests an answer to a question posed by V. Krishnan: Why is it that OBErs "nearly always" find themselves looking down on the body from above? Krishnan suggests that this feature of the experience lends itself to psychophysiological explanation:

If the mediator of out-of-body vision is an element that functions independently of the body, I find no reason why it should position itself only above the body; it seems reasonable to expect instances of observation of oneself from other positions to be no less frequent. For example, in the case of a person undergoing an OBE when sitting or standing or falling from a height, self-observation is possible from the front at eye-level or below it (Krishnan 23).

Whereas subjects are typically sitting or standing during autoscopy and heautoscopy, OBEs predominantly occur when subjects are laying on their backs, as when preceded by sleep or general anesthesia. Accordingly, Blanke suggests that "OBEs are faciliated by the somato-sensory coding of a supine body position" (Bünning and Blanke 337).

Whichever model turns out to be correct, a preponderance of the evidence suggests that that model will be a psychophysiological one. For if OBEs and NDEs truly represent the detachment of a person's soul from his body, why would people with certain psychological characteristics have a greater ability to leave the body? That is, if there is some mechanism that can be activated to achieve such a detachment, why would that mechanism have any connection to purely psychological traits? The "projection theory" does not make much sense of the extensive psychological data collected on OBErs and NDErs. But that data clearly makes sense on a psychophysiological understanding of OBEs.
Bodily Sensations

(1) In other NDEs bodily sensations are incorporated into an experience that, on the survivalist interpretation, is assumed to take place in a soul or double that separated from the normal physical body long ago. Fenwick reports an NDE during a hernia operation where a bodily sensation is felt well into the experience:

I left my body and went walking towards a very bright white light which was at the end of a long tunnel. At the same time I could see three figures standing at the end of the bed and I kept wishing they would go away so that I could go to the light, which to me was lovely and warm. Just as I neared the light I felt a stab in my thigh (Fenwick and Fenwick 91).

With that stab in the thigh this near-death experience ended. But if NDEs were literally journeys of one's 'spiritual double' traveling through the physical world, free of the normal physical body, and entering a tunnel into the afterlife, one should not have any sensations arising from the normal physical body during any part of an NDE.

Also notice that although this NDEr reports leaving his body, 'walking' toward a bright light at the end of a long tunnel, and finally getting close to the light, he immediately feels a sharp pain and the experience ends. He does not report 'backtracking' through the tunnel and back into his body. At one moment he is close to entering the light, at the next he is back in his bed. If it was necessary for this person's double to 'travel' to get from his body to the light, wouldn't he have to travel back from the light to return to his body? The lack of a 'return trip' also suggests that this experiencer was undergoing a hallucination that was suddenly interrupted by a sharp pain.

(2) Fenwick provides us with another case where bodily sensations are incorporated into an NDE. While on a Royal Navy ship, a sailor leaning against some chains was accidentally electrocuted when testing the power supply by plugging in a badly connected portable fan. After hearing himself screaming, seeing flashes of electricity 'licking around' his body, and hearing a roar, the flashes disappeared and everything went silent. While his body was motionless on the ship's deck, he reported:

I seemed to be floating in a beautiful velvet-like darkness, feeling completely at peace away from the frightening flashes. I seemed to be going through a tunnel angled slightly downwards when suddenly I found myself standing in a field of beautiful yellow corn.... I felt comfortable and appeared to be wearing a blue gown.

Suddenly, on the distant horizon I saw something that appeared to be a train, in fact a blue train. At first.... I hadn't noticed gentle music in the background plus the quiet rumble of the blue train.

For some unexplained reason I appeared to get closer to the train, which stopped in front of where I was standing. I could see people in the carriages beckoning to me and telling me to climb aboard....

Then, again almost as if by magic, I was in the train compartment with the faceless passengers, who, I noticed, seemed to be dressed in the same way as I was....

Then it began to happen. I felt a pressure on my shoulders and a strange sensation as I began to rise. It didn't make any sense--I felt I was being pushed down yet I was going up....

The speed of my ascent became faster and I felt a feeling of anger mixed with regret. I didn't want to go back. Suddenly I came to and was lying face down on the deck of the frigate passageway. My colleague was pushing on my shoulder blades in the old Holger-Nielson method of resuscitation (Fenwick and Fenwick 154-55).

Clearly a real bodily sensation is being incorporated into an NDE. What didn't make any sense to this NDEr at the time was why he was rising up out of this train when he felt he was being pushed down. But it makes perfect sense if the NDE is a brain-generated hallucination whose imagery is primarily internally generated but which sometimes allows information from the senses to be incorporated into it, just as a person can occasionally dream about going to the bathroom when sleeping with a full bladder.

(3) Remarkably, Morse mentions a childhood NDE that occurred while the child was conscious and talking to nurses--but a person relating an experience to nurses could hardly be supposed to be simultaneously leaving his normal physical body and traveling elsewhere:

Boston Children's Hospital described a total of 13 pediatric NDEs. Seven of these experiences were told to nurses immediately after recovery, and one was reported during the experience [emphasis mine] (Morse 70).

Unfortunately, Morse provides no further details about this NDE and the researchers who discovered it reported it at a "Perspective on Change" conference at Children's Hospital in Boston in October 1990. So far as I can determine, there are no published reports about this NDE and Children's Hospital does not have a written version of this presentation archived.
Living Persons

(1) Some NDErs report seeing living persons in their NDEs. Fenwick reports the case of a woman who encountered her live-in partner after a hysterectomy had caused heavy bleeding and an NDE:

I was outside my body floating overhead. I saw doctors and nurses rushing me along the corridor....

I recall floating in a very bright tunnel. Everything seemed so calm and peaceful. At the end of the tunnel [was] my father, who had died three years previously....

As I said, the feeling of calmness was indescribable. I heard music.... I heard someone calling me. I turned and saw his face at the other end of the tunnel. It was Fabio [the man she was living with]....

Like most people, I had a tremendous fear of death. Now ... I have lost that fear of the unknown because I truly believe I have had a preview [brackets original] (Fenwick and Fenwick 32-33).

But Fabio was alive and normally conscious during his girlfriend's NDE, so he could not have possibly really been calling her inside a tunnel to another world. Clearly we can encounter both the living and the dead in NDEs, just as we can in dreams. This implies that it would be just as irrational to suggest that real people inhabit the NDE world as it would be to suggest that they inhabit the world you encounter in your dreams.

(2) William Serdahely has presented many examples of NDEs that include classic NDE components but which do not quite fit the popularized Moody model of the NDE. For example, Serdahely reports a case of a woman whose NDE was triggered by a sexual assault: "One of the female NDErs saw a living female friend in her 'windsock' tunnel. The friend told her to go back to her body" (Serdahely 189). Serdahely provides more details about this NDE as well as a psychological explanation for what triggered it:

The NDE or OBE is tailored specifically to fit the needs of that person. For example, the woman who was sexually assaulted was able to dissociate from the trauma by having an out-of-body experience. The [living] friend she encountered in her experience was a 'big woman' who worked for the sheriff's department that had jurisdiction for the county in which the assault took place and appeared to the NDEr in her sheriff's uniform (194).

As encounters with living persons repeatedly crop up in NDEs, the less NDEs start to look like visions of another world and the more they appear to be brain-generated hallucinations triggered by a real or perceived threat to the experiencer's well-being.

(3) Encountering living persons during NDEs is more common in children than in adults. Melvin Morse reports the following NDE of a young Japanese boy:

Japanese children similarly describe simple experiences of seeing a bright light or seeing living teachers and playmates. A 4-year-old boy, who had fulminant pneumonia, described floating out of his body and coming to the edge of a river. His [living] playmates were on the other side, urging him to go back. There was a misty bright light on the other side (Morse 70).

(4) Fenwick cites an intriguing case of a childhood NDE which lacked the most common element of the classic NDE--feelings of peace or euphoria--where a living person was also present in the experience. When Richard Hands was 9 years old his appendix was removed but complications led to an NDE:

The first [image I recall] is of looking down on a body on the operating table, being fussed over by green-clad surgeons and nurses. I couldn't actually see the face--someone was in the way--but I assume it was mine. This image is particularly vivid, and despite its goriness is not associated with any pain or distress, even in recall.

[Then I saw] a blackness with a pinpoint of light far off in the distance. I feel drawn towards the light, but there is a terror and a feeling that I do not wish it to pull me towards it. My [living] mother is with me in this scene, trying to pull me back from the light. There is also a wind rushing past, towards the light (Fenwick and Fenwick 173).

Clearly his mother was not actually present in this 'blackness' with light, since she was alive and normally conscious at the time of his experience. Interestingly, this experiencer attached no spiritual significance to his NDE either at the time it occurred or since. Initially he thought it might have been a reaction to the anesthetics he was on at the time, before he had heard of the NDE; now he is inclined to see it as a physiological event that did not depend on anesthetics. He is now a scientific journalist and atheist who is generally skeptical of paranormal claims (173).

Fenwick found that in his sample only 50% of those who have NDEs when they are between 3-9 years old report becoming more religious after the experience; by 16 or older this rises significantly to 90% (185). Given that adults have more complex religious concepts than children, it is not surprising that adults are more likely to attach religious significance to an unusual experience that occurred when they narrowly escaped death.

(5) Susan Blackmore reports that a woman who was suffocating after an operation had an NDE where she encountered the medical staff who had been trying to resuscitate her in the light at the end of the tunnel:

[I was] struggling along a dark tunnel in which someone was trying to hold me back. The figures in the bright light at the end of the tunnel proved to be the ward sister and her staff trying to resuscitate me (Blackmore, "Dying" 227).

As Blackmore points out, cases like these don't "make much sense if you think the beings seen in NDEs are 'real entities' inhabiting another realm" (227). But they make perfect sense if NDEs are brain-generated hallucinations. The fact that living persons are occasionally encountered in NDEs severely undermines survivalist interpretations of the NDE.

(6) Fenwick also reports a case where doctors are carting an NDEr 'into the afterlife.' This case is a second-hand report from the NDEr's son of what he remembers his father telling him after he was unconscious for three days due to multiple strokes:

He told me how, on the previous evening, he'd been taken to the operating theatre. He remembered having difficulty in getting on to the theatre trolley--it had taken three or four porters to lift him from his bed. He recalled travelling down the hospital corridor towards the theatre.... He remembered seeing the light of the theatre at the bottom of the corridor and as he got nearer to it he could feel it getting warmer and he recalled hearing music coming from inside the theatre.

When eventually he entered the theatre it was very large and bright and was occupied by one doctor, whom he described as being a big man with a beard, who was wearing an ill-fitting white doctor's coat.... The doctor asked him why he was in the theatre and my father's reply was that he had just been brought there by the porters. The doctor then told my father that he 'was not ready for him yet,' and that he would have to be taken back to the ward.... The doctor ... subsequently arranged for him to be taken back to the ward. My father finally recalls the cold corridors once again, when he was returned to the ward, and then waking in his bed (Fenwick and Fenwick 152).

When this NDEr's son asked his doctor about the scheduled operation and which day his father had been carted into the operating theater by mistake, the doctor told him that his father had never been moved from his bed and that he didn't need an operation (152). Fenwick wonders why, if his father had merely had a dream, it incorporated so many elements of the NDE (153).

(7) Interestingly, Serdahely has also found cases where rather prosaic medical imagery was seen in NDEs, though no living persons are reported in this particular account:

One male respondent said he traveled through a tunnel on a cart or gurney on his way to being greeted by his deceased father, godfather, and coworkers, all of whom beckoned him into the light. I had previously come across an NDEr who indicated he had been transported to the light in an ambulance-like vehicle (Serdahely 189).

Fenwick reports that 14% of his total 350 person sample of NDErs--about 50 people--encountered living persons in their NDEs (Fenwick states that 38% of his total sample encountered other persons; a further 38% of those encounters were with living people; hence roughly 14% of the people in his total sample encountered living persons during their NDEs) (Fenwick and Fenwick 79).

Morse and others have found that encounters with living persons are more commonly reported in childhood NDEs than in the NDEs of adults. This is not surprising given that children generally know far fewer people who have died than adults do. While NDEs where living persons are encountered are relatively rare, apparently they still make up a significant fraction of all reported NDEs. As previously noted, Fenwick found that more than 1 out of every 10 of his NDErs encountered living persons in their NDEs.
Cultural Differences

(1) In the industrialized West, where Christian imagery dominates, people who encounter religious figures in their NDEs typically encounter Christian religious figures. In one of Fenwick's cases a woman who reported seeing a light form above her bedroom door just before 'floating' over her body encountered Jesus:

Jesus came walking up to me with arms outstretched. He was dressed in a long white robe, his hair to his shoulders, ginger-auburn, and he had a short beard.... I was trying to speak with him but I could only croak because my mouth was dry and my tongue swollen (Fenwick and Fenwick 62).

While we have no idea what the historical Jesus actually looked like, it would be very surprising if he looked exactly as he appears in standard artists' depictions of him today. The culturally determined appearance of Jesus in this NDE recalls cases of stigmata where the nail wounds of Jesus appear in the hands--exactly where artists' depictions of Jesus on the cross put them--but not where nails must be placed (in the wrists) in order to successfully crucify someone.

It also seems unlikely that one's double would suffer astral dry mouth while functioning separately from the normal physical body. But it would not be very surprising to hallucinate having dry mouth while in an imaginary realm.

(2) By contrast, the dominant religious imagery of India is Hindu, and predictably NDEs from India typically involve encounters with Hindu religious figures. Satwant Pasricha provides us with the following case from one of the largest surveys of non-Western NDEs conducted so far:

"Don't send me back, just give me some work to do right here," cried Chhajju Bania, 34, crouching before Yamaraj, the god of death who sported a flowing white beard and sat on a high chair.

He looked around and saw a little old lady, apparently a clerk, wielding a pen; several clerks leafed through books.

"You have brought the wrong Chhajju," said a clerk. "Push him back and bring the right one." (Riti).

Here an NDEr is seated near Yamaraj, the Hindu god of death, whose appearance also corresponds to the god's portrayal in Hindu tradition. While Western NDErs tend to encounter dead friends and relatives more often than religious figures, Hindu religious figures are prominent in NDEs from India: "Almost every person [Pasricha] interviewed here ... met either Yamaraj or his emissaries" (Riti).

Here we see that NDErs from different cultures also give different reasons for why they are sent back. Western NDErs are often 'sent back' in order to take care of immediate family or for some assumed purpose unknown to them; NDErs from India report meeting clerks in an impersonal afterlife bureaucracy who process the dead and send them back because they have been sent the wrong person due to paperwork mistakes.

(3) Cultural conditioning is even evident in children's NDEs. In the West, children's culturally determined encounters with other beings during NDEs tend to be more imaginative than encounters in adult cases. Morse paraphrases one girl's encounter with Jesus during an NDE as follows:

He was in a very bright light that she could not describe other than by saying that it made her feel good. He was sitting there with a round belly and a red hat, looking like Santa Claus (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 125).

Morse notes that in other cases children have reported encountering wizards, doctors, guardian angels, living teachers, living playmates, pets, and other animals during their NDEs (Morse 70).

(4) Buddhist theologian Todd Murphy translated 11 published accounts of NDEs in Thailand into English; three of these published accounts reported two NDEs from the same subject, yielding a total of 14 cases (Murphy, "Eleven"). Because one of the published accounts was so similar to another, Murphy presented an analysis of 10 of them in his 2001 paper (T. Murphy, personal communication, January 24, 2006). Like NDEs from India, Thai NDEs contrast starkly with those reported in the West.

While deceased friends and relatives are encountered in Thai NDEs (in 4 of the 10 accounts), rather than greeting the NDEr (as in the West), they inform the NDEr "of the rules governing the afterlife" (Murphy, "Thailand" 175). And, like Indian NDErs, Thai NDErs were far more likely to encounter religious figures than deceased friends and relatives: 9 out of 10 of Murphy's Thai NDErs met messengers of Yama, the god of death, known as Yamatoots (164). The 'mistaken identity' motif appears here as well: Half of the Thai NDErs reported "being told that they were the wrong person, and being ordered back to life" (175).

While OBEs are rather common early on in Western NDEs, being visited by a Yamatoot is "the most common initial phase" of Thai NDEs (170). For those Thai cases where OBEs do occur, "OBEs in Thai NDEs tend immediately to precede meetings with Yamatoots" (171). Tunnels are "largely absent in Thai NDEs" (with one exception unlike the tunnel experiences found in Western NDE reports), and feelings of peace or euphoria and experiences of light are not reported at all (172). Thai NDErs are sometimes judged, but their deeds are recounted by reviewing the records of one's life events, or through the testimony of others. The following case is typical:

I ... found myself in the judgment hall of Yama's palace. I knew that they were ready to judge me for my sins. A giant rooster appeared who told Yama that I had killed him. He emphasized that I had tried to kill him again and again. The rooster also said that he remembered me exactly. An entire flock of roosters also [appeared] and testified that I had killed them, as well. I remembered my actions, and I had to admit that the roosters had told the truth. Yama said that I had committed many sins, and sentenced me to many rebirths both as a chicken, and many other types of birds as well.... But, quite suddenly, an enormous turtle appeared. It screamed at Yama, saying "Don't take him; he is a good human, and should be allowed to live." Yama answered the turtle "What did he do to help you?" [ellipses original] (Murphy, "Thailand" 167).

But such life events are not viewed or re-experienced as a memory flashback, as in Western cases. Landscapes are common in Thai NDEs, but typically unpleasant, as in the tours of the various hells. And while "Western NDErs may reach a 'point of no return' and choose to return to life, Thai NDErs are typically told they were taken because of a clerical mistake and told to return to the body" (177). Regarding the alleged cross-cultural consistency of NDE accounts, Murphy concludes:

The fact that Thai (and Indian) NDEs do not follow the typical Western progression reflected by Kenneth Ring's temporal model seems to rule out the possibility that there is an ideal or normal NDE scenario, except within a particular cultural context (169).

Bolstering this point, Murphy adds that "Accounts of Western NDEs would seem to be useless in helping Thais know what to expect at their deaths" (170). He concedes, nonetheless, that there may be vague cross-cultural commonalities "in which individuals commonly use culturally-derived patterns to confabulate individualized death-process phenomena that serve common psychological functions" (177). However, these commonalities are readily explicable as expressions of common beliefs across societies, such as the idea that individuals are judged for their actions in some manner after death, coupled with the expectation or sense of being dead which accompanies NDEs.

(5) Japanese journalists Hiroshi Tanami and Takashi Tachibana originally reported their study of 400 Japanese NDEs on NHK television (Morse 70). Details of the study are reported in the Japanese-only book Near Death Experience by Takashi Tachibana (Tokyo: Bungeishunjusha, 1994), which includes a chapter on the cultural differences between NDEs from Japan and from elsewhere. The study found that Japanese NDErs often report "seeing long, dark rivers and beautiful flowers, two common symbols that frequently appear as images in Japanese art" (Mauro 57).

Morse claims that despite such 'cultural embellishments,' a common core NDE can be found across cultures which includes "leaving the body, seeing angelic people or dead relatives, having a life review, and experiencing a warm and loving light" (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 127).

But another study from Japan found that even these supposedly 'core' elements were absent from their sample of NDEs. Yoshia Hata and a team of researchers at Kyorin University interviewed 17 patients who went into comas with "minimal signs of life" after heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, and drug poisoning. 8 of the 17 reported 'dreams' where rivers and ponds were prominent, while the remaining 9 had no experiences. 5 of the 8 NDErs reported "fear, pain and suffering," unlike typical NDEs from the West. While one of the patients from the Kyorin study reported repeatedly doing handstands in the shallows of a reservoir,

Another patient, a 73-year-old woman with cardiac arrest, saw a cloud filled with dead people. 'It was a dark, gloomy day. I was chanting sutras. I believed they could be saved if they chanted sutras, so that is what I was telling them to do.' (Hadfield 11).

(6) University of Zambia physician Nsama Mumbwe collected 15 NDE reports from Africa in order to determine if the elements of the prototypical Western NDE were cultural products of the Western media (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 120-24).

In one case, after being attacked by a lioness protecting her cubs, a 60 year old truck driver reported that a highway opened up for him going endlessly into the sky, surrounded by stars; when he tried to go on to the highway, the stars blocked his way, and he stood there until the highway and stars disappeared (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 122).

In another African case, an 85 year old woman reports an NDE that sounds a little more like a prototypical Western NDE:

I was suffering from a stroke. During this time I felt I was put into a big calabash [the hollow shell of a gourd] with a big opening. But somehow I couldn't get out of it. Then a voice from somewhere said to me, 'be brave. Take my hand and come out. It is not yet your time to go.'

After some time of being in the calabash I managed to get out on my own [brackets original] (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 122-123).

In the first case the man attributed his NDE to a 'bad omen'; in the second the NDEr thought someone was trying to 'bewitch her' into death. Clearly these are culture-bound interpretations of the experience; but what of the reports of what was experienced?

The single report of being caught inside a calabash or 'hollow gourd' with a large opening has widely been interpreted as the tunnel experience of a prototypical Western NDE. This is a reasonable interpretation, but it is not the only one. The calabash reference may indicate the NDEr's feeling of being caught inside of something more like a bowl or pot with only one opening, rather than something more tunnel-like with two openings. After all, the NDE report with the calabash reference explicitly refers to a single large opening rather than two openings. So we have a single African NDE which may or may not include a tunnel experience. There is little reason to describe the other African case where a 'highway' through the stars opens up as either a tunnel experience or an OBE, since there is no indication of being enclosed in the report or of looking down at one's body or the ground.

(7) In the South Pacific region known as Melanesia, the province of Western New Britain lies just east of mainland Papua New Guinea. Here even the hunter-gatherer culture of the Kaliai cannot escape the influence of Western globalization. In her survey of near-death experiences from this region, anthropologist Dorothy Counts found that the NDE world "is a land that is described as having factories and wage employment. It has an appearance that reminds me of the view approaching Los Angeles from the air" (Counts 130).

One Kaliai NDEr reports walking through a flower field to a road that forked in two. In each fork of the road a man was standing persuading the NDEr to come with him (119-120). The NDEr picked one of the forks at random and he and his guide traveled to a village:

The man took my hand and we entered a village. There we found a long ladder that led up into a house. We climbed the ladder but when we got to the top I heard a voice saying, "It isn't time for you to come. Stay there. I'll send a group of people to take you back."....

As I was walking around, trying to see everything, they took hold of me and took me back down the steps. I wanted to go back to the house, but I couldn't because it turned and I realized that it was not on posts. It was just hanging there in the air, turning around as if it were on an axel [sic]. If I wanted to go to the door, the house would turn and there would be another part of the house where I was standing.

There were all kinds of things inside this house, and I wanted to see them all. There were some men working with steel, and some men building ships, and another group of men building cars. I was standing staring when this man said, "It's not time for you to be here. Your time is yet to come. I'll send some people to take you back.... [Y]ou must go back."

I was to come back, but there was no road for me to follow, so the voice said, "Let him go down." Then there was a beam of light and I walked along it. I walked down the steps, and when I turned to look there was nothing but forest....

So I walked along the beam of light, through the forest and along a narrow path. I came back to my house and re-entered my body and was alive again (120).

The world the Kaliai encounter in their NDEs conforms to a Kaliai complex of beliefs known as the cargo belief, whose central assumption is that white people are 'spirit people' or ancestors that have returned from the dead. This belief complex is partially based on the Kaliai's awareness of more advanced Western technology, for the Kaliai believe that spirits or ancestors give technology to human beings. In their belief system, the afterlife is "rich with divinely given technology," including "factories, automobiles, highways, airplanes, European houses and buildings in great numbers, and manufactured goods" (130).

After discovering such major differences in the descriptions of the NDE world encountered in Western and non-Western cultures, Counts concludes:

[T]he place that [people] perceive as being the world of the dead often is a pleasant, happy place. However, the content of paradise varies and seems to be culturally defined.... North Americans and Europeans see a beautiful garden, while Kaliai find an industrialized world of factories, highways, and urban sprawl....

The culturally structured nature of these experiences is consistent with the explanation that out-of-body and near-death experiences are the result of a psychological state known as hypnagogic sleep. The Kaliai data presented here suggest that this, rather than an objectively experienced "life after death," is the most reasonable explanation for the phenomena (132-133).

How Consistent Are NDE Features Across Cultures?

Reading the testimonies of NDErs in the West, we find that beyond a few core elements--such as having an OBE, going through a tunnel, encountering a light, and meeting deceased relatives--descriptions of the world encountered during NDEs are nearly as variable as dreams. Even the identity of 'the light' is not consistent within Western NDEs: in some cases it has a personality, in others it does not; sometimes it has a specific identity that varies between people--a 'bright angel' in one case, Jesus in another; in other cases it is a path or simply the illumination of another world at the other end of a tunnel (Fox 106, 118). Even the function of light in the NDE varies significantly between individuals:

Indeed, as regards the light's identity, we cannot even ... attempt to identify it by function, for it appears to do a number of things ... sometimes merely acting as a destination, sometimes lighting the way, sometimes judging, sometimes asking questions, and sometimes simply returning NDErs to where they came from (Fox 140).

So what features, exactly, are thought to be the consistent or core elements of the prototypical Western NDE? The answer you receive depends on which researcher you ask (see Fox 101), but the list below seems to encompass most of the elements suggested by different near-death researchers:

* Feelings of peace or euphoria, lack of pain
* An out-of-body experience (OBE)
* Traveling through a tunnel or darkness
* Encountering a sun-like light
* Meeting others
* A life review where one's own life events are viewed/felt and sometimes judged
* Seeing some sort of landscape
* Encountering a barrier or threshold between life and death

Most Western NDEs do not include all of these elements; consequently, I will define the prototypical Western NDE (functionally) as an experience containing at least two of the elements listed above. Since prototypical Western NDEs can occur when subjects only think that they are going to die, such NDEs must be defined in terms of their experiential elements rather than their actual proximity to death. Nevertheless, in the bulk of Western NDE accounts the expectation of dying, at least, clearly precipitated the experience. Thus in non-Western contexts an NDE should be understood as an experience occurring during an altered state of consciousness where the subject is either medically near death or expects to die.

Consistency between different NDE accounts in the West has been well-established by near-death research. The primary question remaining, then, is whether the consistency between Western NDE reports extends to non-Western cultures as well. And to determine this we must search existing accounts of non-Western NDEs for elements of the prototypical Western NDE. The chart below summarizes the findings of 10 studies of non-Western NDEs:

NDE Elements Across Cultures*
Culture;
Study;
# of NDEs Peace OBE Tunnel Light Meeting others Life
review Landscape Barrier/ Threshold
India;
Pasricha 1993,
Pasricha and
Stevenson 1986;
total 45 cases No Yes: in only
1 case No No Yes No:
written
records
read No:
office No
Thailand;
Murphy 1999;
14 cases** No Yes Yes: in only
1 case No Yes No: records read, others testify Yes: gardens, palace, torture chambers No: Yamatoots force one back
China;
Zhi-ying and
Jian-xun 1992;
32 cases Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Japan; Hata (in
Hatfield 1991);
8 cases No No No No Yes No Yes:
ponds,
rivers No
Japan; Tanami
and Tachibana (in
Morse 1994);
400 cases*** No Yes No Yes Yes No Yes:
rivers Yes:
river
Zambia;
Mumbwe (in
Morse 1992);
15 cases**** No No Maybe: calabash No Yes No Yes Yes:
stars
blocking
road
Melanesia;
Counts 1983;
3 cases No No No:
roads No: man
lit with
flashlight Yes No:
sorcerers
judged Yes:
urban
sprawl Yes: door
approach
thwarted
Guam;
Green 1984;
4 cases No Yes:
OB
visits No No Yes No Yes Yes: door,
field
entrance
Native America;
Schorer 1985;
2 cases No Yes No No Yes No Yes No
* Yes/no responses are to the question: "Is this element reported in this study?"
** Murphy 1999 reviews the accounts of 11 subjects, three of which recount two NDEs.
*** Responses based on the 1 paraphrased case reported in Morse 1994 (of the 400 collected).
**** Responses based on the 5 African cases reproduced in Morse 1992 (of the 15 collected).

A cross-cultural comparison based on the available non-Western NDE studies where more than a single case was collected has found just how variable NDEs are across cultures. Out of the 10 available studies of NDEs (with 2 studies in India[6] and 2 in Japan), 8 different non-Western cultures were considered. Of these 8 non-Western cultures, very few elements of the prototypical Western NDE are universally present:

* (1) Feelings of peace have only been reported in NDEs from China. A single Thai NDEr did report feeling "a deep sense of beauty" after an OBE, followed by walking down a road, encountering Yamatoots, and desperately trying to escape from them.
* (2) OBEs are widely present, but absent from NDEs in Zambia and Melanesia, and only 1 OBE is reported out of the 45 reports of NDEs from India. Moreover, the OBEs from Guam did not involve looking down on one's body or the area around it, but of out-of-body 'flights' to relatives living in America. That OBEs are not universal in NDEs is somewhat surprising, given the ease of imagining a scene from above; but perhaps this is because "not all cultures recognize OBEs as a herald of death" (Murphy, "Thailand" 171).
* (3) Tunnel experiences were virtually limited to NDEs from China[7]; one may be present in 1 case out of 15 from Zambia, depending on whether 'calabash' should be interpreted as 'tunnel'. And though a tunnel is encountered twice in one NDE from Thailand, it is not traversed in the beginning of the experience due to 'bad weather'; an elevator to Yama's hall of judgment is taken instead. Later, a tunnel is opened to "access" the first level of Hell, where people with the "heads of chickens, buffalos, and cows" are encountered, but Thai NDErs typically traverse roads in their experiences.
* (4) An experience of a sun-like light was only reported in NDEs from Japan, though a "light that was too bright to bear" is encountered where "the cries of those being tortured" can be heard in the fourth level of Hell (reserved for arsonists) in a single Thai NDE.
* (5) Meeting others is the only truly universal element found in every non-Western NDE study, but this general element hardly lends support for the existence of any substantial core NDE across cultures, as it would not be surprising to find encounters with others in many hallucinatory human experiences. Moreover, this general element covers much variation: meeting deceased friends or relatives, strangers, religious figures, animals, and even living persons or mythological creatures.
* (6) A life review where one's own life events are viewed or felt and sometimes judged was only reported in NDEs from China, although NDEs from India and Thailand often included readings of written records of the events of one's life. 'Record reading' was found only in NDEs from India and Thailand and reflects traditional Hindu and Thai beliefs that such an event is to be expected in the afterlife (Pasricha and Stevenson 168; Murphy, "Thailand" 166). Thai NDErs were often judged for specific actions and whether their good deeds outweighed their bad ones, as Yama would accuse them of wrongdoings; but those affected by their actions (including a rooster and a turtle in one case) would testify for or against them. With the exception of some Chinese NDEs, no sensory "memory flashbacks" were reported by any non-Western NDEr in these studies[8]. One Melanesian NDEr reported witnessing a sorcerer being judged via loudspeaker and destroyed by fire during his NDE, but the NDEr himself never reviewed the events of his own life (Counts 121-122).
* (7) Encountering a landscape of some sort is nearly universal, but absent from NDEs in India, where NDErs typically enter a sort of administrative office and are sent back because clerks find that they have been sent the wrong person. This motif is also found in Thai NDEs, occasionally preceding an experience which also includes some sort of landscape. The most common features of the NDE world in Thai NDEs were visions of Yama's palace and various tortures being inflicted on wrongdoers in the various hells, and gardens or land strewn with jewels in various heavens. Moreover, the landscapes encountered in NDEs themselves vary considerably across cultures--bodies of water are prominent in NDEs from Japan, fields in NDEs from Guam, and brightly lit cities with factories, cars, roads, planes, and buildings in NDEs from Melanesia.
* (8) A barrier or threshold was reported in NDEs from Japan (rivers), Zambia (stars blocking a highway), Melanesia (a house would turn if a door was approached), and Guam (a field entrance, a door, a hill in the distance the NDEr is prevented from traveling to). In Thai NDEs, Yamatoots often forced NDErs back into their bodies after they were recognized to be the wrong person (i.e., mistaken identity), but no barrier was encountered preventing them from going further, and no choice to stay or return was ever offered.

Of the 8 elements of the prototypical Western NDE, only 'meeting others' is truly universally reported in non-Western cultures. Landscapes are nearly universal, but quite variable when the details of the landscapes are considered. Even the OBE appears to be far from a universal NDE element, though it is more common than many of the other elements sought in non-Western NDEs. Encountering some sort of barrier one cannot cross was almost as prevalent as the OBE. Perhaps most surprising of all is the absence of feelings of peace, a clear tunnel experience, an experience of light, and a life review in almost all of the non-Western NDE reports, given their prominence in the prototypical Western NDE.

Presumably cross-cultural consistency could be explained in terms of either similar physiological events occurring in a dying brain or in terms of different encounters with the same objective afterlife reality. But the cross-cultural studies of the NDE that have been done suggest that either sort of explanation is unnecessary. They demonstrate that most near-death researchers have simply assumed that the consistency between Western accounts is merely a specific instance of what is really a cross-cultural consistency. But, in fact, this assumption has not been borne out by existing cross-cultural studies of NDEs; rather, existing studies suggest that if any cross-cultural core to NDEs exists, it consists of a very small number of elements. Thus sociologist Allan Kellehear suggests a very general and rather meager 'core NDE' after his survey of cross-cultural NDE accounts:

In every case discussed, deceased or supernatural beings are encountered. These are often met in another realm.... [which] is a social world not dissimilar to the one the percipient is from. The major difference is that this world is often much more pleasant socially and physically. Clearly, the consistency of these reports suggests that at least these two features of the NDE are indeed cross-cultural (Kellehear 33).

Simply reviewing the existing cross-cultural literature on NDEs led Kellehear to the surprisingly modest conclusion that "the major cross-cultural features of the NDE appear to include encountering other beings and other realms on the brink of death" (34). No other features identified with the prototypical Western NDE appear to be universal.

But if the only truly universal feature of NDEs is encountering other beings in other realms, such little cross-cultural consistency hardly cries out for either a neuroscientific or survivalist explanation. We would expect near-death experiences precipitated by some sort of medical crisis or an expectation of imminent death to produce the feeling that one is dying. In that context it would not be surprising for different persons to hallucinate images of deceased friends and relatives, religious figures prominent in one's own culture, and afterlife vistas that--aside from being a better place to live--appear exactly like the world of the living.

Mark Fox suggests, however, that a more specific core NDE can be discerned:

[I]t seems clear that certain motifs do recur within NDErs' testimonies with some regularity, both cross-culturally and pre-Moody. The presence of some kind of light motif seems very widespread ... as does the experience of a period of darkness en route or prior to it (Fox 136).

While there do seem to be recurrent motifs across Western NDE accounts, including traveling through a darkness or tunnel toward a light, there really is little evidence that the motifs of the prototypical Western NDE exist in NDEs from non-Western cultures. NDEs from India, for example, are well-documented in large numbers yet are markedly different from those reported in the West.

Existing studies have simply failed to find traversing a tunnel or space toward a light in most non-Western NDE accounts. In fact, given Fox's assertion that a darkness and light motif is prominent cross-culturally, it is notable that Kellehear (who himself suggests that darkness may be cross-cultural) failed to even create a category for either 'darkness' or 'light' in his "Summary of Non-Western NDE Features" table (Kellehear 32).

If existing cross-cultural studies had found that more specific NDE elements did occur universally, a special explanation for the consistency between Western NDEs in particular would not be necessary. But since far more differences than similarities have been found between Western and non-Western accounts, a special explanation is called for. Given that cross-cultural studies have found very little consistency between Western and non-Western NDE accounts, what could possibly explain consistency between Western accounts but not cross-cultural consistency?

Leo: i remember keith augustine saying that if the nde were consistent in every culture wth the same stuff like tunnels and light then they could be easily explained away by psychological means then he says maybe someone in other cultures are just adding someone to there culture that could explain the differences big assumption there just to hold up to his materialistic worldview.

Here a sociological explanation is called for rather than a neuroscientific or survivalist one. The most obvious response is to suggest that the instant popularity of Raymond Moody's 1975 Life After Life and the widespread media dissemination of Moody's ideas accounts for the consistency across Western NDE accounts. The consistency between the reports within Moody's own study could be due to selection bias--omitting reports not conforming to Moody's model--and interviewer bias, such as asking leading questions (see Fox 199 for a discussion of Moody's admission of leading subjects on in his Life After Life study).

But Fox has revealed never-before published pre-Moody NDEs from the Religious Experience Research Centre (RERC) archives. The RERC was established in September 1969 and contains over 6000 reports of religious experiences from 1925 to present (Fox 243-44). One particular report, RERC account 2733, was written in August 1971 (before Moody had even coined the term 'near-death experience') and refers to traveling down a long, whirling black tunnel toward a bright light at the end (Fox 118). At the end of the tunnel the woman reported floating in a warm golden mist in bliss and faces coming out of the mist, smiling, then fading away. The experience ended with 'waking up' being slapped by a doctor hard on both sides of the face (this NDE had occurred just after giving birth; no OBE was reported).

The evidence for consistency between Western NDEs is not limited to this single pre-Moody case from the RERC archives. At about the same time that Moody had published Life After Life in 1975, German minister Johann Christophe Hampe was independently working on a little-known book titled To Die is Gain, published in English in 1979 (Fox 55). In contrast to Moody, Hampe's collection of NDEs (garnered from both psychical research literature and testimonies from mountain-climbing fall survivors) included 'return trips' back through tunnels, did not include ringing noises, and rarely included encounters with deceased relatives (58-61). Nevertheless, Hampe independently found many elements of the prototypical Western NDE that Moody and others later found--the 'realness' feel of the experience, lucid thought during it, OBEs, tunnel experiences, experiences of light, life reviews, and transformations (61).

The discovery of pre-Moody NDE accounts with major elements of the prototypical Western NDE thus rules out the popularity of Moody's ideas as the cause of the consistency between all NDE accounts in the West[9]. This is not to deny that the slew of books on NDEs since 1975 has probably contaminated NDE reports since then; by the turn of the century few Westerners hadn't heard of near-death experiences. But it does mean that Moody's work and that of subsequent near-death researchers cannot possibly explain the consistency between all Western NDE reports.

But we should be clear about just how different NDEs are between individuals in the West, even as we acknowledge the commonalities. As Kellehear wisely cautions:

[T]he full image of the NDE is an artifact of the composite picture put together by Moody and repeated endlessly in the NDE literature. Few people actually experience all of these images.... In Ring's study of clinical NDEs, for example, 60 percent of NDErs experienced a sensation of peace but only 23 percent "entered a darkness" and only 10 percent experienced supernatural scenes. People who are bereaved are probably more likely than NDErs to see deceased relatives or friends....

Our understanding of the NDE has been shaped not by the diversity of NDEs but by a collective portrayal of features seldom occurring all together but immortalized by Moody's medical vignette (Kellehear 162).

Kellehear points out that about 66% of widows and 75% of parents who lose children experience bereavement hallucinations where their lost loved ones are briefly seen or heard. By contrast, in the recent van Lommel study published in Lancet, where NDErs were interviewed within a week of their experiences, only about one-third (32%) of those who had NDEs reported meeting deceased persons. Even fewer--about a quarter (24%)--reported out-of-body experiences. In fact, only two out of the ten elements listed were found in half or more of the NDErs in the study: positive emotions occurred most commonly, in 56% of the NDE subjects, followed by an awareness of being dead in 50% of them. Meeting deceased persons was the next most common element at 32% (van Lommel et al. 2041). Thus even the sort of imagery we would expect to find in hallucinations near death is not nearly as common as our image of the prototypical Western NDE suggests.

Moreover, the discrepancies between different researchers' accounts of the order of NDE elements--whether an OBE is directly followed by a tunnel experience or instead by otherworldly scenes, for instance--is an artifact of different researchers trying to "create a pattern out of the welter of various tunnels and paths, lights and presences, gardens and edifices" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 123). In other words, in order to portray different NDEs as following a common blueprint, researchers have extracted features from several different NDE accounts from the West and put them back together into one coherent (but artificial) story where the stages of the NDE are clearly defined and follow a "developmental sequence" (123). Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Western NDEs really are "patterned phenomena" marked by similar elements, as the authors of the Evergreen study point out. However, they also wisely caution that "all [of] these stages are not perceived by everyone and that they are not necessarily consecutive levels of experience" (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 105). But even so, the clichéd commonalities between dreams--dreams of falling or flying, for instance--do not seem nearly as similar between individuals as NDEs do.

With that caveat duly noted, we must return to our original question: How do we explain the consistency between Western NDE accounts? The next obvious reply is to suggest that NDE motifs are found in some part of the Western cultural background other than the NDE literature since Moody. At this point, however, one is nagged by a poignant issue raised by Fox:

[I]n the cases where NDEs with classic features such as tunnels and lights are reported, we might wish to question where NDErs actually derive their cultural-linguistic NDE pattern from.... For it is clear that such experiences, complete with recurring motifs such as traversing a period of darkness towards a light, do not represent part of any of the religious traditions of the West (Fox 117).

Fox is certainly right about this--specific NDE motifs are absent from the standard depictions of the afterlife provided by Western religious traditions. To my knowledge, the only systematic survey of Western stereotypes of the afterlife was carried out by Irwin precisely to test the hypothesis that NDE motifs derive from social conditioning (Irwin, "Images" 2). Irwin puts that hypothesis as follows: "[I]n a situation of sudden confrontation with death people might draw upon their common cultural heritage to generate comparatively uniform hallucinatory images about a state of existence that is independent of the physical body" (1). The first sociological source Irwin considers is the biblical depiction of Heaven, particularly that offered in Revelation 21. But as he quickly notes, biblical sources are not merely inadequate to account for the uniformity of Western NDE motifs, but are actually at variance with them:

The difficulty here is that the biblical account is somewhat at odds with the descriptions of the afterlife realm given by subjects of the NDE.... [T]he general public would be well aware of [the biblical] representation of heaven as a city of buildings and streets of pure gold and a surrounding high wall with [pearly] gates. In the NDE on the other hand, the post-mortem realm commonly is reported to comprise a pastoral setting, one with rolling green hills, trees, flowers, perhaps a stream and a blue sky above (Irwin, "Images" 1-2).

As Irwin notes, prima facie "this disparity does not sit well with the view that the near-death experient's image of the afterlife springs largely from social conditioning" (2). However, he cautions that such biblical imagery does indeed feature in some NDE reports, but more importantly, it is questionable "that the portrayal of heaven in Revelation 21 forms the popular stereotypical image [of the afterlife] in our culture" (2).

Consequently, Irwin set out to determine the most common Western visions of the afterlife by administering a questionnaire survey to 96 introductory psychology students at the rural University of New England in Australia. The survey concerned such variables as the appearance, inhabitants, and means of travel of the afterlife, as well as its auditory features (2). He found that (of each questionnaire item) the most common Western images of the afterlife included a cosmic existence simultaneously everywhere and nowhere in the universe (40%), a pastoral scene of "lush green hills, trees, flowers and streams" (30%), and a formless void of pure being (29%) (2, 3). A mere 7% of respondents selected the biblical image, and 9% expected large gardens to figure prominently in the afterlife (3).

Irwin draws three key conclusions on the basis of this data. First, there are several different Western visions of the afterlife, not just one. Second, the biblical image of Heaven--though widely known--is not widely held. Thus sociological sources of NDE motifs "can not be denied on the grounds that the account of the afterlife in NDEs fails to correspond to the biblical representation" (3). Finally, the image of the afterlife as a pastoral scene--an image often represented in NDEs--is quite commonplace, even though respondents' questionnaire answers indicate that "the pastoral stereotype generally is not based on familiarity with NDEs" [emphasis mine] (3). Like the image of looking down upon the Earth from the clouds in the afterlife, a pastoral scene appears to have an obscure but clearly Western cultural source independent of NDE reports themselves. And in turn this image--like that of a garden or the pearly gates--appears to have influenced the content of some Western NDE reports. As Irwin notes, religious indoctrination is one possible source for the pastoral image: "the Bible frequently appeals to pastoral metaphors ... [and] Sunday School classes often include exposure to pictures of Christ standing in a grassy, sunlit field" (3-4). And interestingly enough, it is notable that the 'cosmic' image of the afterlife, which Irwin suggests is "rooted in diverse mystical and non-Christian traditions," appears to have played a role in one of those rare 'meaningless void' experiences documented by Bruce Greyson and Nancy Evans Bush. In that experience, a 28-year-old woman reported encountering a small group of jeering circles 'clicking' back and forth from black to white, and vice versa, and noted that she later discovered they embodied the Taoist yin-yang symbol--a symbol she likely was subconsciously aware of but had consciously forgotten about.

Though Irwin makes no note of it, one prototypical Western NDE element is represented in two items in his questionnaire (#6 and #7), which combined indicate that a full 57% of respondents anticipated some sort of illuminating light in the afterlife (3). This is significant because, if we do combine those two items (namely, being "bathed in perpetual sunshine," and being "illuminated by a soft, diffuse light with no apparent source"), respondents anticipated illuminating light more than any other particular item concerning the appearance of the afterlife, and this was the only feature anticipated by a majority of the respondents. And, of course, the presence of illuminating light is a major Western NDE motif--perhaps the most prominent feature of NDEs in the popular imagination.

Though no other NDE elements are evident in Irwin's survey, OBEs appear to represent the most natural way to imagine what will happen to your soul immediately after the death of the body (as noted in Veridical Paranormal Perception During OBEs? above). Moreover, Heaven--which polls indicate the vast majority of people expect to end up in--is explicitly conceived to be a place of bliss and peace. Tunnels might be the most natural representation of transition for Westerners, as Kellehear has argued. And, as is evident in one of the creation accounts in Genesis, light is often associated with what is good in Judeo-Christian tradition, and God is conceived of as perfectly good. It is not much of a leap to associate God with light, and to think that God would be found on the other side of a transition between life and death. Individuals universally expect to meet others in the afterlife, and most contemporary religious traditions posit some sort of accounting or judgment of one's actions during earthly life. Consequently, it is possible that NDErs are interpreting their experiences of specific physiological events unfolding in a dying brain--such as a flood of endorphins, body-image distortions caused by multisensory disintegration, disinhibition in the visual cortex, and abnormal temporal lobe activity--in terms of their cultural expectations.

But what of alternative sources of such motifs? Kellehear suggests one possible cultural source for Western NDE imagery other than religious tradition:

The Velveteen Rabbit contains many of the classic images of the NDE. However, it is not unique in this respect. In The Wizard of Oz, for example, Dorothy is transported inside the "tunnel" of a tornado to another place, where she meets the "good witch of the east." In Alice in Wonderland, Alice begins her adventure by a long fall down a dark rabbit hole. Children's literature is replete with tunnels, extraordinary beings, life reviews, flying experiences, and tales of reunion (Kellehear 153).

The suggestion that well-known children's stories could be the source of NDE motifs in the West is an intriguing one, for it offers a possible explanation for the obvious consistency of Western NDEs in the absence of compelling evidence for cross-cultural consistency. However, this particular sociological explanation is ultimately unconvincing. The similarities between the imagery described in these children's stories and NDE imagery are superficial at best. Moreover, the stories Kellehear mentions are not stories about what to expect when you die. As a sociological explanation a great deal is still left unexplained--such as why so many different people would, upon gaining an awareness of dying, derive NDE imagery specifically from children's stories rather than from better-known and more context-appropriate afterlife imagery from Western religious traditions. Thus any suggestion of a cultural connection between NDE motifs and imagery from children's literature seems rather strained.

Existing studies leave us with many unanswered questions. We have well-documented evidence for consistency between different NDEs in the West, but little evidence for cross-cultural consistency. This opens up two particularly interesting directions for future research:

(1) A sociological search for more compelling links between NDE motifs and possible cultural sources within Western tradition and

(2) More anthropological studies of NDEs in a greater variety of non-Western cultures and with larger sample sizes.

The latter avenue of research is paramount. On one hand, if more robust studies confirm the existence of little or no cross-cultural consistency between NDE reports (as current evidence suggests), the need to search for a sociological source for NDE motifs in Western tradition will become more pressing. On the other hand, if more robust studies establish that specific NDE elements are cross-culturally consistent after all, searching for a Western source of NDE motifs will become unnecessary and we'll know exactly which NDE motifs really are universal or at least widespread. And that information would provide us with better data to test specific neuroscientific explanations against.

Ultimately, the absence of a convincing sociological explanation for common NDE motifs in the West means that we shouldn't foreclose the possibility of a cross-cultural core NDE. Should future cross-cultural studies find universal elements of a core NDE after all, the hallucinatory features of NDEs suggest that only some sort of neuroscientific explanation could plausibly account for such consistency. But should future studies fail to find any substantial cross-cultural consistency in NDE elements, a sociological explanation for NDE consistency within the West would still be required.

In any case, our best evidence shows that regardless of how NDEs are ultimately explained, a survivalist explanation will not do. Despite the commonalities, there is clearly wide variation in the specific details of NDEs reported by different individuals. Such variation cannot plausibly be accounted for in survivalist terms, for reading NDE reports reveals that in most cases what is experienced is what differs between individuals. While one person actually sees Jesus, another sees the Hindu god Yamaraj. The glossed explanation that different people simply use different language to describe the same experience--an encounter with the same 'being of light,' for instance--does not do justice to the NDE reports that have actually been collected, where Jesus and Yamaraj have very different appearances and functions.

When NDErs provide very different descriptions of their experiences, there is no reason to assume that different NDErs are simply using different labels to describe the same experience. The most straightforward reason why different NDErs would provide very different descriptions of their experiences is because different NDErs actually have very different experiences. The standard survivalist explanation makes the ad hoc stipulation that despite appearances, different NDE reports really are similar.

But it is important to recognize that this assumption is exactly that--a principle that survivalists assume to be true ahead of time. The principle is assumed in order to maintain that NDEs provide evidence for survival of bodily death in virtue of their specific consistency across accounts. The argument is that different people report similar experiences because they are all experiencing the same afterlife reality. The more diversity there is between different NDE accounts, the less convincing the argument from NDE consistency for survival becomes. Hence the need for such a principle to make different NDE accounts more consistent than they first appear.

The reality is that NDE reports themselves do not support this principle, and in fact often contradict it. We have already seen this with the claim that encounters with Jesus or Yamaraj are really just encounters with the same being of light. But we can see this even in cases where presumed core elements are involved. Kellehear, for example, suggests that perhaps:

tunnel experiences are not cross-cultural but that a period of darkness may be. This darkness is then subject to culture-specific interpretations: a tunnel for Westerners, subterranean caverns for Melanesians, and so on. NDErs who do not report darkness may not view this aspect of the experience as an important part of their account or narrative.... Why is the frequently reported sensation of traveling through a darkness by Western NDErs so often described as a tunnel experience? (Kellehear 35-36).

In fact, most near-death researchers simply disregard the most straightforward interpretation of such reports--that Westerners actually see tunnels in their experiences, while Melanesians actually see underground caverns. The most straightforward interpretation of apparent diversity in NDE accounts is actual diversity. But since acknowledging actual diversity tends to undermine arguments for survival based on NDE consistency, and most near-death researchers have a vested interest in providing evidence for survival, it is not surprising that most near-death researchers prefer to interpret markedly different NDE reports in terms of the 'same experience, different descriptions' principle. The less NDE accounts from different people are made to be consistent, the less persuasive survival arguments based on NDE consistency become.

Fox is another case in point. After finding many accounts of visiting outer space in the RERC archives, Fox asserts that many experients "were found to use the descriptor 'space' to describe the episode of darkness" (Fox 265). Soon after he writes: "The significance of the word 'space' to describe the darkness encountered in these experiences will be returned to" (265). Finally, Fox skews what is actually reported by NDErs by concluding that many of his RERC respondents "describe an encounter with some sort of darkness motif in terms seemingly suggestive of a visit to outer space" (277).

Fox is speaking as if he knows ahead of time what these different people have experienced. But of course assuming that these reports are describing the same thing regardless of what they actually say begs the question--for that is the very issue of contention. Fox asserts that the episode of darkness is what is encountered, but that it is being described as 'space'--but how does he know that it was not space that was actually encountered? Of course he doesn't know; he just assumes. But there is really no evidence that this principle holds true in this case or in most others.

If we accept testimony where one person reports encountering a tunnel and another reports encountering space, shouldn't we take each at his word instead of assuming that both are encountering the same darkness in order to fit our artificial NDE models? Just because space is dark, tunnels are dark (openings aside), and underground caverns are dark does not mean that astronauts, motorists, and miners are using different terminology to describe traveling to the same place. One wonders just how much consistency is being derived from NDE reports rather than simply being read into them.

Worse still for the 'same experience, different descriptions' principle are NDE accounts where it cannot possibly apply. For example, many NDErs report encountering tunnels with physical properties, such a being made of bricks. Consider a case reported by one of Fenwick's female NDErs:

[T]he tunnel was made of polished metal, jointed and held together with something like rivets.... I felt it should have been more ethereal somehow ... My feet felt like lead but as I walked back to life the light threw my shadow on to the floor of the tunnel as I walked away from it (Fenwick and Fenwick 55).

Clearly a case like this could not simply be a culturally embellished description of a mere 'episode of darkness.' The obvious explanation for such discrepancies is that different NDErs actually experience different things--traveling down tunnels, floating in 'outer space,' walking down a road, being caught in a calabash, etc. We have already seen just how variable NDEs can be; it is hardly surprising that even supposedly core NDE elements might not be as consistent across accounts as we have been led to think.

Bruce Greyson has conceded such stark cross-cultural variation, but argues that the fact that some NDErs have "experiences which conflict their specific religious and personal expectations of death" constitutes evidence against the view "that NDEs are products of imagination, constructed from one's personal and cultural expectations" (Greyson 332). As I will proceed to show, this is a particularly poor argument against what Greyson calls "the expectancy model." Moreover, even if the argument were persuasive, a few cases of apparent 'cultural dissonance' in NDEs certainly does not outweigh an abundance of evidence for the predominant role of expectation in NDEs from different cultures, such as those from India and Thailand.

Greyson cites the case of the Jewish NDEr Chaim Ralbag, recounted by Henry Abramovitch. After going into cardiac arrest, Ralbag experienced an unusual NDE. He described falling into a dark void a high speed, hovering over a sea of nothingness, then pushing himself back out of the void. As he traveled upward through the void, his surroundings were illuminated, and eventually he saw his body lying on the ground (Abramovitch 177-178). As his NDE progressed, other 'astral beings' appeared, more and more by the minute, "all in motion, ever taking on new forms, expanding, revolving, and contracting in their movements, merging and penetrating, passing and affecting one another" (178). He had an experience of light, communicated with another being, and noticed a steep hill above a misty area. While walking toward the hill, he encountered his deceased father and brother, but after his father told him to return to the body before it was "too late," he experienced intense pain and saw their faces fade away. Next he appeared to be hovering over his body on the ground again, then finally woke up in the recovery room.

Abramovitch cites two reasons why he thinks that expectation cannot account for the content of Ralbag's NDE. First, Ralbag was taught that Adam (from the Garden of Eden) would appear to the dying, much as some Christians are taught that St. Peter will appear to them at the Pearly Gates; but this did not happen in his NDE. Second, he was taught that he would face judgment in the afterlife, but again, there was no element of judgment or life review in his experience (182-183). That an individual's visions of the afterlife do not exactly mirror what he was taught by his cultural upbringing, however, hardly requires an encounter with the afterlife to explain it.

The real issue in such cases is not whether experiences like those of Chaim Ralbag conflict with the cultural doctrines one was taught in childhood, but whether they actually conflict with an individual's personal expectations. And there are two further issues here. First, what a person consciously claims to expect of the afterlife says nothing of his subconscious expectations, which would surely come into play during an altered state of consciousness like an NDE. Think of how many dreams that you can recall whose content has nothing to do with what you consciously think about during your waking hours. Second, many individuals do not simply accept whatever dogma was taught to them in childhood, but grow to elaborate upon, modify, or reject what they were taught, subject to influence from a variety of alternative traditions, even some only vaguely known (e.g., Westerners' understanding of Eastern beliefs like reincarnation), and personal inclinations.

In his collection of Thai NDE reports, Todd Murphy found clear evidence of this in one of his cases, an NDE reported by the Chinese-Thai Kodien. During his NDE,

He noticed that some groups [of deceased people] had food and water, while others had only piles of ash.... He asked for something to eat. Kodien asked "Is this your food?" His friend said "Yes, but you can't eat any of it because it doesn't belong to you.... Your food is over there." Kodien's friend pointed to a pile of ash.... His friend said that those who made merit by donating food to the monks during their lives would have food [in the afterlife], while those who only helped their own ancestors (by burning joss-paper replicas of food according to Chinese tradition) would only have piles of ash. Kodien realized that his friend was suggesting that he create merit according to the Thai custom, but during his life he had not believed in the practice. He had thought that the Chinese forms of religious observance were better, and had only made joss-paper offerings (Murphy, "Thailand" 168-169).

Here is a likely hallucinatory NDE, almost entirely shaped by cultural influences, where the NDEr nevertheless experiences something contrary to his conscious beliefs. Does the presence of 'cultural dissonance' imply that this NDE was not expectation-driven? Of course not. As Murphy explains:

His NDE seemed to reveal that he was actually more drawn to the Thai ways of creating merit than to those of his own family and subculture.... [This] suggests that it is not culture alone that determines NDE phenomenology. Rather, NDEs may be determined more by one's expectations concerning what death will be like, even when those expectations are held subconsciously or are influenced by more than one culture (169).

A much more impressive case of cultural dissonance would be finding a sheltered Midwestern boy who has never had contact with anyone from Asia or Southeast Asia, but nevertheless reports encountering Yamatoots during an NDE.

Greyson goes on to argue that "children too young to have received substantial cultural and religious conditioning about death report the same kinds of [NDEs] as do adults" (Greyson 332). But what is the basis of this argument? Several details need to be filled in here. First, how young is "too young" for a child to be affected by cultural conditioning? Children younger than 3 years old, at least, clearly learn concepts from sources as ubiquitous as television advertising. Second, how confident can we be that children's NDE reports have not been contaminated by parental influence or interviewer feedback? We already have good reason to suspect such influences on adult NDE reports; all the more so for children, who are much more susceptible to influence from authority figures, and who have much richer imaginative lives than adults. The risk of direct contamination from parents or researchers on childhood NDE reports could be minimized by closing the gap between the time of the NDE itself and when it is reported. But such information is rarely published for evaluation. Were any of the cases Greyson has in mind, for instance, reported within a week of the experience itself?
Random Memories

Another feature which suggests that NDEs are not perceptions of an external afterlife reality is the random nature of the life review. The glamorized picture provided by Moody's artificial composite NDE portrays the life review as a personally significant 'learning experience' where one is either judged by other beings or by oneself for past wrongdoings. While this characterization does fit some cases--and indeed is found even in people who face life-threatening danger but never really come close to death (e.g., see Blackmore 183)--the frequency of 'learning experience' type life reviews appears to have been exaggerated by some near-death researchers. At least one researcher sympathetic to the survival hypothesis has found that most near-death life reviews do not fit this pattern.





Several researchers have found that life reviews are generally rare in NDEs. Fenwick found recalled memories in only 15% of his 350 person sample--i.e., the number of NDErs in his sample that had recalled memories was about the same as the number of NDErs who had encountered living persons in their NDEs.

Fenwick's 350 person survey is one of the largest retrospective surveys of NDEs ever compiled (a survey done well after the experiences occurred). Fenwick's findings about the near-death life review contrast sharply with portrayals of the life review popularized by Moody and others.

(1) For example, Fenwick found only one person in his sample of 350 NDErs who had recalled a 'learning experience' type life review during his NDE. Here is a more representative case of the sort of life review typically found in Fenwick's sample:

The seconds that went by as the car was turning [over repeatedly] for me seemed an eternity.... Then, suddenly, I became detached from my worldly body--I was seeing my life flash before me, recalling my family, friends, the man on the bus, the lady in the shop--and feeling confused but happy. At this time I was in a tunnel-like black space. Just beyond a light was glowing invitingly (Fenwick and Fenwick 57).

This is hardly a description of the 'morality play' style life review we've come to expect from the popularized picture of the NDE provided by some near-death researchers. In fact, Blackmore acknowledges that a physiological explanation of such a coherent life review would appear implausible to many:

[In the NDE] there is generalized amplification of [brain] activity and so lots of memories can be invoked all at once or in sequence. You might then object that such generalized activity could only produce random memories and not the connected and meaningful experiences of the near-death life review (Blackmore, "Dying" 216).

But, remarkably, Fenwick almost always found random memories in his sample of life reviews:

Although 15 per cent of the people we questioned said that scenes or memories from the past came back to them during the [near-death] experience, most of these were simply fragments of memory, sometimes quite random memories. Only about half said the memories that came back to them were [even] 'significant' (Fenwick and Fenwick 116).

Fenwick concludes that near-death life reviews "are not necessarily particularly significant memories. They seem just as likely to be random moments plucked haphazardly from memory, trivial events or people or places" (118).

Fenwick's findings imply that the memories recalled during NDEs are barely distinguishable from the flashbacks of temporal lobe seizures. While this isn't flatly inconsistent with a survivalist interpretation, it is clearly readily explicable on physiological models of the NDE, making a survivalist interpretation unnecessary.

Is the Temporal Lobe Implicated in NDEs?

As Christopher C. French points out, there have long been indications that the temporal lobe is implicated in NDEs:

The temporal lobe is almost certain to be involved in NDEs, given that both damage to and direct cortical stimulation of this area are known to produce a number of experiences corresponding to those of the NDE, including OBEs, hallucinations, and memory flashbacks. It is worth noting that both the temporal lobes and the limbic system are sensitive to anoxia, and that release of endorphins lowers the seizure threshold in the temporal lobes and the limbic system (French 357).

That OBEs could be induced by electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe has been known at least since 1941 (Tong 104-105). Additionally, French notes that peace or euphoria and mystical feelings "are often reported by temporal lobe epileptics just prior to a seizure," quoting a patient stating that nonepileptics "can't imagine the happiness that we epileptics feel during the second before our attack" (French 358). Some epileptics "even see apparitions of dead friends and relatives" (Blackmore, "Dying" 206). So several NDE elements--including feelings of peace, OBEs, life reviews, and encounters with others--suggest a role for the temporal lobe in the phenomenology of the experience.

Willoughby B. Britton and Richard R. Bootzin offer similar observations implicating the temporal lobe in NDEs. First, "electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe and seizures in temporal lobe epileptics can evoke similar mystical experiences." Second, "acute stress or hypoxia during a life-threatening event may hypersensitize neurons and lower seizure thresholds, especially in the temporal lobe." Finally, both NDErs and temporal lobe epileptics "share the tendency to be transformed by their experiences and take on new spiritually oriented interests and values" (Britton and Bootzin 254).

Against such observations, Greyson argues that "key features of NDEs ... have not in fact been reported either in clinical seizures or in electrical stimulation of [temporal lobe] brain structures" (Greyson 335). But contrary to Greyson, the observations above illustrate that many key features of NDEs are found in such circumstances. Moreover, those advocating a role for the temporal lobe in the production of NDEs are not claiming that NDEs 'just are' temporal lobe seizures, but rather that similar temporal lobe activity, in conjunction with other activity in a dying brain, is implicated in NDEs.

Fox has uncovered further evidence that temporal lobe activity may bring about NDEs. He notes that when he examined complete NDE accounts from the RERC archives, rather than the incomplete extracts published by major near-death researchers, he found signs of temporal lobe epilepsy in a significant number of NDErs. In particular, he found signs of hypergraphia, a compulsion to write extensively about spiritual realities. In one case from the RERC archives, for example, a man reported an OBE, a tunnel experience, encounters with deceased relatives, and a life review, followed by 11 pages of speculative hypergraphic testimony about the meaning of life, the purpose of existence, the soul, and the beginning of the universe (Fox 161). Fox concludes that:

hypergraphia has long been recognized as a symptom of temporal lobe epilepsy. Whilst the presence of hypergraphia within NDErs' reports has been hidden from view often because of the editing of accounts carried out by near-death researchers themselves, an examination of original accounts ... reveals that hypergraphia is a significant feature of a significant number of accounts (161).

More direct evidence is noted by Alvarado, who reports one study which found "a significant positive correlation" between temporal lobe symptoms and reports of 'paranormal' experiences, including OBEs. Another study "found a positive correlation between epilepticlike signs ... [and] participants' reported experiences of 'leaving the body' and feeling 'detached' from it in the laboratory" (Alvarado 197).

Recently, Britton and Bootzin carried out a more systematic investigation of the relationship between NDEs and the temporal lobe, comparing their NDE group to a control group. The NDE group included subjects who had experienced "life-threatening physical distress as the result of an accident or other injury and [received] a minimum score of 7 on the [Greyson] Near-Death Experience Scale" (Britton and Bootzin 254). Their non-NDE control group consisted of age- and gender-matched individuals who had not come close to death and who had scored below 7 on the Greyson NDE Scale. Despite having used a less-than-ideal control group, the authors provide convincing evidence that their findings confirm a role for the temporal lobe in the production of NDEs. These findings include:

* NDErs were about four times as likely to have temporal lobe epileptiform EEG activity during sleep than non-NDErs (255).
* NDErs "reported significantly more temporal lobe symptoms" than non-NDErs, such as "frequent anomalous experiences, sleepwalking, olfactory hypersensitivity, and hypergraphia," and scored significantly higher than non-NDErs on a measure of epileptic signs typical of temporal lobe seizures or electrical stimulation of the temporal lobes, including "feelings of intense personal significance and unusual olfactory, auditory, or visual perceptual experiences" (255).
* Not only did NDErs take longer to enter REM sleep than non-NDErs (255), but there was a positive correlation between the depth of a subject's NDE (as measured by the Greyson NDE scale) and the delay in REM sleep onset, so that the deeper the NDE, the greater the delay in the onset of REM sleep (256).
* NDErs scored significantly higher on measures of coping skills than non-NDErs (256).
* NDErs scored marginally higher than non-NDErs on the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES), and significantly higher than non-NDErs on the Amnestic subscale of the DES--the latter of which measures things like not remembering how you arrived at your destination. These findings indicate that NDErs show a greater (but nonpathological) tendency to dissociate than non-NDErs (256).

Some might object that Britton and Bootzin's findings are equivocal because they used the second-best control group available: non-NDErs. Indeed, their findings would have been more decisive if they had used the ideal control group: non-NDErs who came close to death. As they concede, it is possible that the general trauma of coming close to death--not whether subjects had an NDE--is what accounts for the differences between the two groups. However, they anticipate this objection and provide substantial evidence that generalized trauma does not account for the differences between the two groups, implying that it is the occurrence of the NDE itself that is correlated with these differences (257). This correlation, in turn, implies that certain people are physiologically prone to have NDEs, whereas others are not.

First, the authors note that there was a significant correlation between Greyson NDE Scale scores and both the temporal lobe epileptiform EEG activity and the delayed onset of REM sleep; but these characteristics were not correlated with any of the collected scores for measures of trauma (257). If the trauma of coming close to death had caused the epileptiform EEGs in the NDE group, then those EEGs should have been correlated "with trauma-related factors to a similar degree," but they were not. Instead, left temporal lobe activity was more highly correlated with Greyson NDE Scale scores than with scores on measurements of posttraumatic stress disorder or dissociative disorders, or with a history of head trauma (256-257). Second, although their NDE group included a few subjects with head trauma, a regression analysis found that head trauma was unrelated to epileptiform EEG activity (257). Additionally, the general incidence of epileptiform EEG activity in those who become unconscious without head trauma is 5.7%, as compared to the significantly higher rate of 22% in Britton and Bootzin's NDE group (257). Third, that the epileptiform EEG activity in the NDE group was almost entirely limited to the left temporal lobe is atypical of any other group, implying that NDErs are neurophysiologically unique (257-258). Finally, unlike typical trauma survivors, the physiological differences between the NDE group and the non-NDE control group "were not associated with negative stress reactions" but "instead with positive coping styles" (258). A preponderance of the evidence, then, implicates the temporal lobe in the production of NDEs. Britton and Bootzin conclude:

Taken together, the temporal lobe, sleep, and psychological findings are not consistent with posttraumatic symptomatology. However, they may be indicative of a preexisting condition that predisposes individuals to unusual reactions to acute stress. These data are the first objective evidence of neurophysiological differences in near-death experiencers (258).
Threshold Crossings: Returns From the Point of No Return


Leo: Temporal lobe and the connection with that with nde's have been greatly exaggerated for example in the book irreducible mind

And there is the view, propounded most notably by M.A. Persinger, that electrical stimulation of the brain can reproduce NDEs on demand:

Persinger has also claimed that "a vast clinical and surgical literature ... indicates that floating and rising sensations, OBEs, personally profound mystical and religious encounters, visual and auditory experiences, and dream-like sequences are evoked, usually as single events, by electrical stimulation of deep, mesiobasal temporal lobe structures". His sole reference for this strong claim is a paper by Stevens (1982). That paper, however, is confined entirely to descriptions of certain physiological observations made in studies of epileptic patients, and it contains no mention whatever of any subjective experiences or of electrical stimulation studies, much less of "a vast clinical and surgical literature" supporting Persinger's claim. Persinger goes on to claim that, using weak transcranial magnetic stimulation, he and his colleagues have produced "all of the major components of the NDE, including out-of-body experiences, floating, being pulled towards a light, hearing strange music, and profound meaningful experiences." However, we have been unable to find phenomenological descriptions of the experiences of his subjects adequate to support this claim, and the brief descriptions that he does provide in fact again bear little resemblance to NDEs (e.g., Persinger, 1994, pages 284-285)....

Neurologist Ernst Rodin stated bluntly: "In spite of having seen hundreds of patients with temporal lobe seizures during three decades of professional life, I have never come across that symptomatology [of NDEs] as part of the seizure." [Pages 382-383]

As the authors explain, the similarities between hallucinations produced by electrical stimulation of the brain and NDEs have been greatly exaggerated:

As we mentioned earlier, research frequently cited in support of a model in which abnormal temporal lobe electrical activity produces an OBE is that of neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield. Penfield is widely reported as having produced OBEs and other NDE-like phenomena in the course of stimulating various points in the exposed brains of awake epileptic patients being prepared for surgery. Only two out of his 1132 patients, however, reported anything that might be said to resemble an OBE: One patient said: "Oh God! I am leaving my body". Another patient said only: "I have a queer sensation as if I am not here... As though I were half here and half there". In later studies at the Montréal Neurological Institute (where Penfield had conducted the study's), only one of 29 patients with temporal lobe epilepsy reported "a 'floating sensation' which the patient likened at one time to the excitement felt when watching a football game and at another time to a startle" (Gloor et al., 1982, pages 131-132). Such experiences hardly qualify as phenomenologically equivalent to OBEs. [Page 396]

Also there was a woman with epelypsy done by Dr.Olaf Blanke

A comparison of the Swiss and English patients’ OBE accounts reveals these important differences:
Swiss Patient’s OBE English Patient’s OBE
Spontaneously reported viewing only part of body (legs and lower trunk) Spontaneous report implied viewing the entire body
Viewed body areas not involved in health concern and medical procedure (did not report seeing head or brain) Viewed body area involved in health concern and medical procedure (leg, cast, etc.)
Reported distortion of body image (legs became shorter; arm shorter) No reported distortion of body image
Reported illusion of bodily movement: legs and arm moving toward face; upper body moving forward No reported illusion of bodily movement

In a nutshell, the English patient’s experience seemed quite realistic, whereas the Swiss patient’s experience was unrealistic— fragmentary, distorted, and illusory. In fact, a thorough review by one of us (Holden) of three classic books reporting extensiveOBE research [Green (1968), Gabbard & Twemlow (1984), and Irwin (1985)] and one very recent review of the entire OBE research literature (Alvarado, 2000) reveals that the English patient’s OBE is quite characteristic of OBEs in general, while the Swiss patient’s is highly uncharacteristic. Regarding bodily distortion, for example, Holden found only one reference to bodily distortion during OBEs: a single instance reported by a person diagnosed with schizophrenia (Blackmore, 1986). Also Gabbard & Twemlow (1984, p. 118) after reviewing hundreds of OBEs, concluded that “body image disturbances [are] unusual” during OBEs, even though such disturbances are commonly experienced whenever we fall asleep or are just beginning to wake up from sleep.

The absence of body distortion in spontaneous OBEs is substantiated by another one of us (Long), who reviewed hundreds of first-person accounts of spontaneous OBEs and NDEs submitted to his research websites (www.oberf.org and www.nderf.org); none of them included either distortion of body image or illusion of bodily movement.

A second important difference revealed by comparing the Swiss and English patients’ experiences is the factor of lucidity, defined by Webster’s dictionary as “having full use of one’s faculties” and finding an experience “clear to the understanding.” Presumably, the Swiss patient would have been surprised or confused when, right after taking evasive action, the physicians discontinued electrostimulation and she found that her limbs were not at all where she had just perceived them to be. By comparison, the English patient’s description conveyed psychological continuity—his OBE perceptions were followed by perceptions in bed that confirmed each another—indicating that during his OBE he had full use of his faculties and found that experience clear to his understanding. He was lucid. Furthermore, Long reports that most spontaneous OBEs, and the great majority of OBEs within NDEs, reported to his website have involved lucidity.

In some NDEs the experiencer encounters a barrier or divide felt to be a threshold between life and death--a fence, gate, door, river, line, mist, even 'the light at the end of the tunnel' itself. Kenneth Ring even found a case where a woman ferried across the River Styx during her NDE (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 149). Those NDErs who encounter some sort of barrier or threshold typically state that they are told or otherwise somehow know that if they cross the threshold, they cannot turn back and return to life. This feature of some NDEs has prompted Fenwick to ask: "If the whole [near-death] experience is psychological, then why hasn't someone crossed the barrier and come back to tell the tale?" (Fenwick and Fenwick 111).

Fenwick actually speculates that perhaps the reason no one has come back once they've crossed the NDE barrier is because we cannot psychologically form an image of our own deaths--this may be why we never 'die' in our dreams, for example (111). But his favored explanation is that NDEs are literally glimpses of an afterlife, an explanation flatly inconsistent with some of the features we've seen here in the very NDEs he has found.

A better answer than either of these possibilities, however, is that some NDErs have indeed crossed a divide thought to be a point of no return or otherwise decided to stay in the 'NDE world' when given a choice and yet still returned to life.

(1) Fenwick himself presents the case of the NDEr cited earlier who was beckoned to board a blue train 'into the afterlife' and did so (though his experience ended when the sensation of being resuscitated was incorporated into his NDE). Didn't boarding the blue train seem a lot like crossing a 'point of no return'? But if this NDEr had really crossed a final threshold in another realm for which there was no turning back, why did he eventually 'come to' on the deck of the frigate?

In this case the NDEr reported that the passengers had beckoned him to board the train, implying that doing so would be a significant decision to cross a point of no return. Moody, for example, reports the case of a nurse giving birth for the first time who found herself sailing across a large waterway being beckoned by dead relatives to join them. The nurse reported immediately telling them that she wasn't ready to die, implying that she automatically knew crossing over to the shore on the other side of the waterway would be going past a point of no return (Blackmore, "Dying" 193). In the NDE Fenwick reports, however, the NDEr actually did board the blue train--he did appear to cross a point of no return--yet still returned to tell the tale anyway.

Even though this NDEr doesn't explicitly describe boarding the train as crossing a point of no return, it certainly seems reminiscent of the one-way boat trip across a river felt to be a point of no return described by other NDErs (e.g., Moody's case above and the childhood NDE reported by Morse where living playmates are seen on the other side of a river).

Ultimately, even Fenwick concedes this:

David Whitmarsh meets no barrier. When people on the train beckoned to him he was actually able to go aboard. Nothing seemed to be holding him back or preventing him from boarding. One feels that David was well on his way [to the afterlife?] when resuscitation intervened (Fenwick and Fenwick 155-156).

But if a soul or astral double had detached from his normal physical body long ago, and he was well on his way to 'the other side,' how could he have felt his resuscitation, and how could it have brought him back into his body? These are features we would expect if during his NDE he had 'been inside' his body the entire time and bodily sensations eventually became part of his hallucination.

(2) Serdahely reports a case where an NDEr explicitly says she crossed a barrier between life and death and yet still was restored to life:

One of the three [NDErs told to return] was instructed apparently by a deceased grandmother not to cross a line in front of her. The OBEr did cross the line, at which point the grandmother said, 'I told you not to cross the line.' The older woman 'got right in [her] face' and said, 'You are to go back now!' (Serdahely 191).

(3) After undergoing a panoramic life review during his NDE in 1978, Tom Sawyer was both given a choice and decided not to return to life by entering the light at the end of the tunnel, but was nevertheless 'returned' to life:

I was given a choice. I could return to normal life or become part of this light.... I chose to stay and become part of that light. I then had the feeling of going through the tunnel in reverse, and I slammed back down into my body (Harris and Bascom 129).

Now if the NDE is a brain-generated hallucination, there is no reason why some people couldn't decide not to return or cross a 'point of no return' in an NDE and still end up being restored to life anyway--and in these cases we find exactly that.

Who Makes the Decision to Return?

Blackmore reports being impressed by the fact that so many different NDErs are uncertain about just who made the decision for them to return to life (Blackmore, "Dying" 230). Moody also found that many of his Life After Life subjects were unsure of how or why they returned to life:

The accounts I have collected present an extremely varied picture when it comes to the question of the mode of return to physical life and of why the return took place. Most simply say that they do not know how or why they returned, or that they can only make guesses (Moody 79).

Many NDErs appear to be reaching, after the fact, for some sort of explanation for why they returned to life, when none is apparent in the NDE itself. Some of the NDErs in Fenwick's sample openly wondered why they were 'sent back' because they could not find any reason for them to continue living--after their NDEs they continued working menial jobs, for instance.

Blackmore's conclusion about the 'decision to return' is poignant here:

So who does make the choice to return to life?... There does not seem to be a clear answer. It could be that there are genuine choices available to some NDErs and not others; that some can really make a choice and others have it made for them. To me this seems unlikely. It seems more likely that they are all trying, and with difficulty, to describe something that is not either their own choice, nor someone else's choice (Blackmore, "Dying" 232).

When you wake up from a dream, do you suppose that one of your dream characters decided to wake you up? Or that you woke up because in this dream world you yourself made a decision to wake up? Or does your dream end simply because your brain is no longer in the right electrochemical state for the dream to continue? I think most of us would concede that this last explanation is the best one, even in lucid dreams where the dreamer has some control over the content of the dream. Occasionally, a dream character may even pronounce that a dream is coming to an end, or a lucid dreamer may seem to have the ability to end a dream. In such cases, it is likely that a physiological change--from an external sound to a change in one's wakefulness--causes dream content to coincide with actually waking up.

A similar explanation seems plausible for the so-called 'decision to return' in near-death experiences, where NDErs often seem to struggle with trying to figure out who made the decision. In the van Lommel study only 5 out of the total 62 NDErs (8%) even reported encountering a border between life and death--this was the least common NDE element found (van Lommel et al. 2041). Most NDErs simply find themselves 'back in their bodies' with no idea of how they got there--of how they transitioned back to normal consciousness from the near-death experience. We would expect this if NDEs are hallucinations, for then NDEs must end when the physiological conditions necessary to maintain hallucinations disappear.
Hallucinatory Imagery

(1) One feature rarely noted in popular accounts of NDEs is hallucinatory imagery seen in the experience. For example, when one man was accidentally electrocuted, he encountered a mythological creature during an NDE:

The next thing I remember, there was a cloud and a male, related to Jesus, 'cause he looked like the pictures of Jesus. He was in this chariot type [thing]... the torso was a horse, everything above the torso was a man with wings; sort of like a Pegasus except instead of a horse's head it was a man... and he was beckoning to me... and I kept backing up... I remember telling him no, I had too many things to do and there was no way I could go now. Then the clouds sort of filled over and as it filled over I hear Him say, "O.K.!" [ellipses original] (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 116).

Perhaps a centaur with the head of a man resembling depictions of Jesus and the body of a winged horse is waiting to guide us into the afterlife in a chariot; but the fantastic quality of this and other NDEs strongly suggests that NDEs are hallucinations.

(2) In one of Fenwick's cases a man who had a heart attack while in the hospital reported having an out-of-body experience where he was flying as a 'junior member' in a formation of swans he'd seen earlier; while flying the landscape below him appeared to quickly regress backward in time. He 'saw' a cathedral being built and men in medieval garb sailing on large lakes (Fenwick and Fenwick 128). Such fantastic imagery suggests that this NDE was a hallucination; it seems absurd, for example, to seriously ask whether the swans he saw earlier were really flying with him backward in time.

(3) In his 1982 study Recollections of Death, Michael Sabom found a rather bizarre case which also suggests that NDEs are hallucinations. In case I-21, Sabom's subject reported feelings of peace, bodily separation, traveling through a dark void, and encountering a light after a heart attack (Sabom, "Recollections" 197, 204, 206). The NDEr also encountered "four unknown nurses" who interrogated him "about possible 'subversive activities'" (210).

Like Morse and Fenwick, Sabom also found encounters with living persons during NDEs. In case I-8, a woman encountered her living children in her NDE but didn't communicate with them (53-54). Though no other details are published in the study, case I-24 includes an encounter with a living granddaughter (210).

(4) From time to time Western NDE reports describe the world encountered during NDEs in terms that are uncomfortably familiar, mirroring the transient technological advances of the present-day living. After being resuscitated from a heart attack, for instance, one woman reported "watching details of her life being noted down ... [by] a computer" (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 129).

(5) In a case from the RERC archives (RERC account 3583), a hospitalized woman had an unusual NDE that started as an out-of-body experience. After moving through the ceiling, instead of seeing her Australian hospital from above, she reported finding herself on a Russian battlefield "piled with dead men," Russian tanks, and machines. Then she found herself in a hospital run by nuns where a screaming woman giving birth was silenced by nuns "stuffing a pillow on to her head to stop her cries" (Fox 283). Next she reported being back in her hospital bed and feeling ill, wondering if her NDE was a hallucination caused by medication.

(6) In another of Fenwick's cases, a woman had an NDE during a particularly bad case of the flu. She reported having an out-of-body experience, floating up to a green field containing a large tree "with a brilliant white light on top," and meeting her deceased father. When her father waved her away, she returned to her body, opened her eyes, and saw that "there was steam coming out of my hands" (Fenwick and Fenwick 29). Fenwick concedes that the steam was one of the "hallucinatory qualities" of her experience and speculates that her high temperature might have produced it (30).

(7) Sometimes a prototypical NDE will incorporate terrifying hallucinatory features. After skimming on black ice, wrecking his car, and pulling out other passengers, a student collapsed and had to be resuscitated at the scene of the accident. While on life support in the hospital, he had two heart attacks and reported the following distressing NDE:

I was in a tunnel and sensed I was travelling towards a brightish light hidden behind a bend in the cave.... I felt I was simply floating--I did not have the use of my arms or legs at all....

As I passed round the bend in the cave I saw a giant Dracula-type of mouth opening. I say 'Dracula' because there were two monstrous fangs with blood dribbling off them.... I gained the instant impression that if I proceeded towards the mouth, it would shut and the teeth would slice me in two and kill me (Fenwick and Fenwick 190-191).

The student woke up screaming for his mother, was comforted by her, was given a tranquillizer, and then slept for a few hours.

(8) Morse provides an NDE account from a boy who was 4 years old when he almost drowned after the car he was in skidded on ice and plunged to the bottom of a river. The boy reported accidentally going to 'animal heaven' and speaking to a bee after losing consciousness:

I went into a huge noodle.... It wasn't like a spiral noodle, but it was very straight, like a tunnel.... When I told my mom about nearly dying, I told her it was a noodle, but now I am thinking that it must have been a tunnel, because it had a rainbow in it....

I was being pushed along by a wind, and I could kind of float. I saw two small tunnels in front of me. One of them was animal heaven and the other one was the human heaven. First I went into the animal heaven. There were lots of flowers and there was a bee. The bee was talking to me and we were both smelling flowers. The bee was very nice and brought me bread and honey because I was really hungry (Morse and Perry, "Parting" 4).

Next he reports going to 'human heaven'--which he describes as a 'regular old castle,' encountering his dead grandmother, hearing loud music, then finally simply 'waking up' in the hospital surrounded by nurses (4-5).

Interpreted at face value as evidence for survival, this NDE implies that life after death is not limited to human beings, mammals, or even vertebrates. While we cannot rule out the possibility that human beings may encounter insects in the afterlife and have discussions with them, it seems more likely that this childhood NDE was a hallucination. It also seems unlikely that one's double would feel a bodily sensation like hunger in the afterlife which could only be satisfied by astral nourishment.

(9) In another case a childhood NDE was also triggered by nearly drowning. In this NDE an 8-year-old girl encounters seven other children, a butterfly, and a deer:

I was in a garden, right behind a bush.... [T]here was this one, big, large tree and there were children playing a game [ring-around-the-rosey].... I saw a bunch of flowers, there was a butterfly and a deer next to me who I felt lick my face.... The children saw me and they beckoned me to come over.... [W]hen I finally decided to step over.... then I felt this heavy tug, like a vacuum and then I was forced out and the next thing I knew I was back in my own body (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 112).

Here another favorite insect of children is encountered in an NDE (cockroaches and mosquitoes are not reported) along with a very popular wild animal.

(10) In other NDEs sentient plants are encountered--one woman reported worrying about the flowers she was stepping on in her NDE, when the flowers telepathically communicated to her that they were alright! (Fenwick and Fenwick 86-87).

(11) Occasionally even dead celebrities are encountered in NDEs. In one of Moody's cases a middle-aged woman from the Midwestern US who shook hands with Elvis Presley as a child reported encountering Elvis in her NDE. After having an OBE during surgery, she reported:

I then entered into a dark round tube or hole. I could call it a tunnel. I seemed to go headfirst through this thing and suddenly I was in a place filled up with love, and a beautiful bright white light....

As I walked through this meadow I saw people separated in little bunches. They waved to me, and came over and talked to me. One was my father who had died about two years before....

Just as I turned to go, as I felt myself being drawn back, I caught sight of Elvis. He was in this place of an intense bright light. He just came over to me, and took my hand, and said: 'Hi Bev, do you remember me?' (Morse and Perry, "Transformed" 109-110).

While an Elvis sighting in an NDE may not be as problematic for a survivalist interpretation as an encounter with a living person, it seems unlikely that a real glimpse of the afterlife would include a greeting from a deceased celebrity.

(12) In a case sent to Kenneth Ring from a Canadian researcher, another NDEr describes an exceptionally detailed NDE world where he encounters Albert Einstein. After touring spotless streets "that appeared to be paved in some kind of precious metal," talking to a street sweeper, listening to a choir of angels, and viewing an art gallery:

Next we materialized in a computer room. It was a place of great activity, yet peace prevailed. None of the stress of business was present, but prodigious work was accomplished. The people seemed familiar to me, like old friends. This was confusing, because I knew there to be present those who lived on earth still, and those who had passed on. Some of them I knew by name, others by reputation; and all had time for me, to teach me if I ever need help understanding. One of them was Albert Einstein.... He asked me if I would care to operate the computer (Kellehear 14).

There is a fantastic quality to this story, such as transferring from place to place 'instantly,' as if by magic. The fact that this NDEr claims to see people who are still alive in this supposed afterlife environment also points to its hallucinatory nature.

(13) But if encounters with conscious plants, talking insects, and dead celebrities doesn't give you pause about accepting NDEs as visions of an objective afterlife reality, perhaps NDEs that include encounters with fictional characters will. Morse reports that a 10-year-old boy had an NDE where he encountered a video-gaming wizard who loved Nintendo and said to him: "Struggle and you shall live" (Abanes 116). Karl Jansen similarly reports finding childhood NDEs that include encounters with video game and comic book characters:

Claims that near-death experiences are always identical, regardless of the set and setting, are contradicted by the variety actually found in published reports. They differ between people and cultures. For example, instead of a tunnel and angels, East Indians may describe the River Ganges and a particular guru. A child having a NDE may "see" his or her still-living friends and teachers, or Nintendo and comic book characters, rather than God (Jansen 96).

(14) In a collection of pediatric near-death experiences published in 1990, Serdahely even found a case where a girl encountered a favorite toy during her NDE--an old stuffed animal. Morse summarizes the case as follows:

A 10-year-old girl had a full cardiopulmonary arrest while in the intensive care unit after spinal surgery. She described her experience 2 years later. Stating she was "peaceful and relaxed, and remembered seeing a whitest blue light at the end of the tunnel. She saw the shadow of a dog, and also a white lamb that was loving and gentle, which led her back to her body." Her parents reported at age 2, she had a lamb that doubled as a music box that was her favorite stuffed animal (Morse 62).

(15) One of the most bizarre types of NDEs are the 'meaningless void' experiences that often occur during childbirth. In a typical case, a 28-year-old woman became unconscious when given nitrous oxide during the birth of her second child, but when her blood pressure suddenly dropped, she reported:

I was aware ... of moving rapidly upward into darkness. Although I don't recall turning to look, I knew the hospital and the world were receding below me, very fast.... I was rocketing through space like an astronaut without a capsule, with immense speed and great distance.

A small group of circles appeared ahead of me, some tending toward the left. To the right was just a dark space. The circles were black and white, and made a clicking sound as they snapped black to white, white to black. They were jeering and tormenting--not evil, exactly, but more mocking and mechanistic. The message in their clicking was: Your life never existed. The world never existed. Your family never existed. You were allowed to imagine it. You were allowed to make it up. It was never there. There is nothing here. There was never anything there. That's the joke--it was all a joke.

There was much laughter on their parts, malicious. I remember brilliant argumentation on my part, trying to prove that the world--and I--existed.... They just kept jeering.

"This is eternity," they kept mocking. This is all there ever was, and all there ever will be, just this despair....

Time was forever, endless rather than all at once.... Yes, it was more than real: absolute reality. There's a cosmic terror we have never addressed (Greyson and Bush 102).

Since meaningless void experiences paint a far from gleaming picture of what the dying sometimes experience, many New Age near-death researchers are reluctant to accept them as visions of another world. Ring, for example, ultimately concludes that meaningless void experiences "are not true NDEs as such but are essentially emergence reactions to inadequate anesthesia" (Ring, "Frightening" 20-21).

There is something disingenuous about Ring taking this position. On the one hand, Ring and like-minded researchers have argued that prototypical Western NDEs are evidence for an afterlife at least in part because they are consistent across accounts, feel real, and have a transformative effect. At the same time, Ring argues that meaningless void experiences are merely reactions to anesthetics, even though they are also consistent across accounts (different people report similar experiences), feel real, and have a transformative effect--albeit a negative one: "our preliminary observations indicate that ontological fear is a common result of the experience" (Greyson and Bush 109).

In fact, meaningless void experiences probably are reactions to anesthesia, given their rare incidence and tendency to occur during childbirth, when anesthetics are almost always administered. The point is that meaningless void experiences have the same characteristics that have been used to justify viewing more standard NDEs as glimpses of an afterlife, yet are rarely themselves seen as actual visions of another world.

Ring's argument that meaningless void experiences are hallucinatory episodes triggered by anesthesia is significant. It is a tacit admission by a major near-death researcher that a person can have an experience near death that has commonalities with the others' experiences near death, feels incredibly real, and produces lasting transformations, even though it is only a hallucination. If meaningless void experiences can be reasonably viewed as hallucinations, so can prototypical Western NDEs.

In her 1997 book In A World of Their Own: Experiencing Unconsciousness, Madelaine Lawrence has also acknowledged that persons sometimes experience hallucinations near death after finding reports of visions of the Grim Reaper in her cardiac patients.

(16) In 1926 Heinrich Klüver systematically studied the effects of mescaline (peyote) on the subjective experiences of its users. In addition to producing potent hallucinations characterized by bright, 'highly saturated' colors and vivid imagery, Klüver noticed that mescaline produced recurring geometric patterns in different users. He called these patterns 'form constants' and categorized four types: lattices (including honeycombs, checkerboards, and triangles), cobwebs, tunnels, and spirals (Blackmore, "Dying" 68-70; Bressloff et al. 474).

Klüver's form constants have appeared in other drug-induced and naturally occurring hallucinations, suggesting a similar physiological process underlying hallucinations with different triggers. But what is particularly interesting is that Klüver's form constants also appear in near-death experiences.

After a heart attack, one man from the Evergreen Study had an NDE that included seeing a lattice ('grid') or cobweb, one of Klüver's form constants:

The more I concentrated on this source of light the more I realized that it was a light of a very, very peculiar nature... it was more than light. It was a grid of power... if you could imagine the finest kind of gossamer spider web that was somehow all pervading, that went everywhere [ellipses original] (Lindley, Bryan, and Conley 111).

A similar NDE is reported in Johann Christophe Hampe's early To Die is Gain, where NDE cases were compiled without knowledge of Moody's Life After Life:

I was moving at high speed towards a net of great luminosity. The strands and knots where the luminous lines intersected were vibrating with tremendous cold energy. The grid appeared as a barrier that I did not want to move through, and for a brief moment my speed appeared to slow down. Then I was in the grid (Hampe 65, cited in Fox 57-58).

Other form constants have also periodically appeared in NDEs. Zaleski notes that, among the variety of 'paths' that NDErs have taken to the NDE world, some NDErs have found themselves "spinning in vertiginous spirals" rather than traveling through a tunnel or darkness (Zaleski, "Otherworldly" 122). While tunnel experiences are well-represented in Western NDE reports, the occasional presence of other hallucinatory form constants in these reports (e.g., lattices, cobwebs, and spirals) suggests that NDEs are hallucinations.
Unfulfilled Predictions: Psychic Inability

Despite the contributions of serious neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists to the field, 'near-death studies' is rife with wildly irresponsible claims about NDErs gaining psychic abilities, healing powers, and accurate prophetic visions of the future after their NDEs. These unsubstantiated assertions recall those of crop circle researchers who have 'discovered' that the wheat found in crop circles has been genetically altered. Phyllis Atwater, for example, claims that NDErs look younger after NDEs when before and after pictures are compared and claims that NDErs' 'energy fields' interfere with electronic devices like watches and microphones (though apparently not with the much more sensitive computers NDErs use).

Sadly, the most prominent representatives of the field--Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, Melvin Morse, Phyllis Atwater, and Margaret Grey--make all sorts of unsubstantiated and fanciful claims about NDErs' paranormal abilities. While this alone seriously damages the credibility of their own work and mars near-death studies as a whole, the damage is exacerbated by wild New Age speculations on the meaning of the NDE from the very same researchers. Given such fringe claims, it should be no surprise that the mainstream medical community has viewed research into the near-death experience with suspicion.

In Heading Toward Omega, for instance, Ring claimed that many of his NDErs had 'prophetic visions' of the future of humanity, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, marked climate change, economic collapse, and humanity on the verge of nuclear annihilation. 'Massive upheavals' were to start in the 1980s and end with world peace just after the dawn of the new millennium (Fox 40-41).

But despite repeated assertions of widespread and even quite frequent paranormal abilities manifesting after NDEs (reported by NDErs themselves and endorsed by many near-death researchers), not a single experiencer, so far as I am aware, has ever volunteered for a controlled experiment to test their alleged psychic powers. Given that such a demonstration would easily validate their claims, one simple question begs for an answer: Why not?

Cases where NDErs' predictions have failed to come to pass suggest that experiencers have not attempted to demonstrate their psychic powers experimentally because they have no powers to demonstrate. Apparently NDErs' predictions are no different than those of other modern-day prophets--either vague enough to cover almost any event, or specific but unfulfilled.

(1) Dannion Brinkley's self-reported psychic abilities after his NDE are an excellent example of unfulfilled predictions. After lightning struck the telephone line he was using in 1975, he was thrown across the room, laying on the floor looking up. His searing pain was replaced with a feeling of peace and he found himself looking down on his body until paramedics loaded him onto an ambulance. Next he reported seeing a tunnel forming in the ambulance which came to him and engulfed him while he heard rhythmic chiming. He noticed a light ahead and rapidly approached it until it surrounded him. A silver form emerged which he identifies as an empathetic 'being of light' emitting all the colors of a rainbow. The being engulfed him, causing him to review the events of his life. Next they both 'flew' into a city of crystalline cathedrals where Brinkley arrived at a 'cathedral of knowledge.' His guide disappeared, only to be replaced by 13 others behind a podium when he sat down on a bench. As each being approached him, a 'box' appeared on its chest which 'zoomed' out toward his face showing a 'television picture' of a future world event. Brinkley was restored to normal consciousness in the morgue just shy of half-an-hour since he was struck by lightning (Brinkley and Perry 4-31). He also claims to have gained spectacular psychic abilities since his NDE, but these have never been tested in any controlled experimental setting.

The prophetic visions shown to Brinkley during his NDE were often given dates in his best-selling Saved by the Light. They included visions of an Israeli settlement spreading into Jordan until Jordan was replaced by a new country (34). This was to be followed by a war between Israel and an alliance of Russia and a "Chinese-and-Arab consortium" over 'some incident' in Jerusalem (35). An alliance between Saudi Arabia, Syria, and China was to be made in 1992 to destroy the American economy, while Saudis were to give money to North Korea in order to destabilize Asian markets (35). By 1993 Iran and Iraq were predicted to have both chemical and nuclear weapons, including an Iranian submarine with nuclear missiles on a religious mission to stop the shipment of oil from the Middle East (41).

Brinkley claims to have foreseen the Chernobyl incident in 1986 and the 1991 Gulf War during his NDE, but these events occurred well before the publication of his book. Chernobyl was supposed to be followed by another nuclear accident in 1995 which contaminated a northern sea to the point that ships would not travel through it (36-37).

He also saw "border disputes and heavy fighting between Soviet and Chinese armies" over a railroad ultimately taken by the Chinese. The Chinese then invaded the Soviet Union and took over half of the USSR, including Siberian oil fields (39). Brinkley confesses that when he had these visions in 1975, he didn't know that the Soviet Union would fall.

The collapse of the world economy "by the turn of the century" resulting in "feudalism and strife" was also predicted (39). The government closing of banks in the 1990s was to be followed by "the bankruptcy of America by the year 2000" (40). America would cease to be a superpower "sometime before the end of the century" due to two horrific earthquakes, perhaps near some body of water. Rebuilding after the quakes was to weaken the economy to the point that starving Americans waited in long lines for food, again, before 2000 (40).

Brinkley envisioned a terrorist attack on France prior to 2000 where a chemical was to be released into a French city's water supply, killing thousands, in response to the French publication of "a book that infuriates the Arab world" (41).

Brinkley also saw the collapse of democracy and its replacement with a fundamentalist government in Egypt in 1997 (41). In his final visions he saw people in towns all over the world eating their dead out of desperation, "weeping as they cooked human meat" (42). Meanwhile, wars in Central America and South America broke out, leading to the formation of socialist governments in all of the countries of this region before 2000. As a result, millions of refugees crossed the American border, forcing the US government to deploy troops to the border to push the refugees back across the Rio Grande, destroying the economy of Mexico (45). Again, all of this (and more) was predicted to happen before 2000.

Elaborate as these visions are, none of the events predicted to occur after Saved by the Light was published in 1994 have come to pass. The prophetic visions Brinkley gained during his NDE appear to be no different than those of any other run-of-the-mill prophet. Even Fenwick comments that while "pre-publication happenings came into Dannion's head with pinpoint accuracy," "those events due to take place after 1994 are foretold with less precision" (Fenwick and Fenwick 167). Brinkley did tend to be vague in places--omitting dates or using phrases like "some incident" or "sometime before the end of the century." But his predictions were precise enough for us to recognize not only that they never came to pass when he predicted they would, but that nothing even close to those events came to pass.

It would not be surprising for NDErs to come back from 'the other side' with vague or false predictions if near-death experiences are really a particular kind of brain-generated hallucination. But if NDEs were literally journeys of one's soul or double into 'the next world,' it would be surprising for denizens of that realm to offer false information. In Brinkley's case particularly, it would be surprising for otherworldly beings to provide him with accurate predictions about future events occurring before the publication of his book, but false predictions about future events occurring after the book is published. Dare I suggest that Brinkley just might have exaggerated claims about the accuracy of his pre-publication predictions?

(2) Exaggerated claims of psychic power are not limited to NDErs who write best-selling books about their experiences. In an interview with a woman who had three NDEs, journalist Art Levine sought to test her reputed psychic powers. Among other things, the woman claimed to have predicted the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Levine notes that, although he carelessly supplied some information about his life to the woman, she revealed nothing about him that couldn't have been guessed by the average person and many of the details she provided were flat wrong:

[G]ood psychic readings--though still unproven by the hard tests of science--should have more hits than misses, without any cue from the client....

Her initial results were promising. During that first interview, for instance, she casually demonstrated her skills by asking, "How's your low-back pain doing?" and mentioning in a vague way problems I'd had with my father. I didn't know whether to be amazed or just chalk it up to a lucky guess anybody could make about a middle-aged Jewish guy....

After a long wait, she began speaking. "You had two avenues of education, but you took a break in one and totally shifted gears," she pronounced. Since I always intended in college to be a writer, even though I dropped a course or two along the way, Shoemaker's reading wasn't off to a very promising start. Later, when discussing my work, she claimed that I once planned to have a medical career, but now, as an investigative reporter, "you've gone into medicine through the back door." Wrong again: I never once in my life thought of becoming a health professional....

I became worried when she claimed that I was developing Crohn's disease, a serious, painful inflammation of the small intestine. But because she also asserted that I suffered from regular headaches, I felt relieved--that's one health complaint I don't have. But since I'm actually at risk of digestive problems because of an anti-inflammatory medication I take, I didn't take chances: I later asked my doctor to look for signs of the dreaded Crohn's disease. There weren't any.

She didn't seem to be much more accurate when discussing my parents. "I get a missing of the father. It's almost like he's not around; you're not able to converse as much. The brilliance of his mind isn't the same," she said. Later, she gave additional poignant insights: "Your father's health is wavering." There is, as it turns out, a good reason for all this: He's dead, a little detail that she missed. She also described my mother: "I get your mother as spunky. She can be quite feisty, and she has her own set of rules." Perhaps, in the afterlife, she has adopted this new personality. She died several years ago in a tragic accident, but when she was alive, she was generally bossed around by my domineering father (Levine).

These cases demonstrate that some NDErs are given false visions of the future in their NDEs or get a false sense of having psychic powers they do not have. Of course this isn't flatly inconsistent with a survivalist interpretation of the NDE; perhaps otherworldly beings supply us with false information during NDEs or NDErs become more skilled at self-deception than ESP after their experiences. But false prophecy and psychic inability are exactly what we would expect to obtain if NDEs were not really journeys into another realm. Moreover, the proclivity of many NDErs to claim paranormal abilities they do not have should make us suspicious of uncorroborated claims of veridical paranormal perception during out-of-body experiences in NDEs.
Conclusion

The majority of near-death researchers clearly interpret NDEs as evidence for survival of bodily death. Because many people would like to know that there is an afterlife rather than simply take the notion on faith, it not surprising that 'near-death studies' tends to attract researchers who already believe that NDEs provide evidence for survival. I think it is rather obvious that most near-death researchers have entered the field in order to (1) bolster their belief in survival after death and (2) find out what exactly is going to happen to them when they die. Thus it is hardly a revelation that most of the researchers investigating the phenomenon are confident that NDEs point toward the reality of survival of bodily death.

But how do near-death researchers obviously sympathetic to the survival hypothesis explain NDE characteristics which are clearly hallucinatory? Their typical strategy involves a rather ad hoc rationalization: whenever culturally conditioned or other clearly hallucinatory features are found in NDEs, the NDEr must have made a mistake. For example, one could argue that when NDErs encounter someone who is alive and normally conscious 'on the other side,' they must be misidentifying the person seen. When a Christian sees Jesus in an NDE while a Hindu sees Yamaraj, the standard explanation near-death researchers give is that both are seeing the same spiritual being but 'interpreting' it as a specific religious figure. But how do we know that the Christian didn't really encounter a being that looks exactly like portraits of Jesus, or that the Hindu didn't encounter a being with the specific features his culture ascribes to Yamaraj?

leo: no that would not be there explanation keith augustine it would be something you don't take seriously is that the soul can imagine something that they materialized in physical reality but was real to them but was not there.


Okay. Now let's see if we can put these two things together and come up with some explanation for the strange mix of accurate and inaccurate perceptions in out-of-body experiences and related phenomena.

We'll begin at the beginning – with the nature of reality. Let's imagine that the reality we see around us is only a construction put together out of the raw materials of a deeper reality, much in the way that a hologram is constructed out of the information encoded in the wave-interference patterns preserved on a holographic plate. This is physicist David Bohm's theory, which he developed at length. Like any analogy it is imperfect, but it does have its interesting features.

A hologram is created when a focused beam of light passes through (or reflects off) the holographic plate. In Bohm's theory, consciousness plays the role analogous to the light beam. Consciousness decodes the encoded data and constructs a multidimensional space-time reality out of it.

One interesting thing about holographic plates is that a very large number of wave-interference patterns can be superposed on the same plate. Which pattern is decoded depends on the angle of the light beam. A shift in the light beam can construct a new image. (This theory and its implications for psi phenomena are discussed at length in Michael Talbot's The Holographic Universe.)

Now let's say that the amount of information that our consciousness decodes is normally limited by the built-in restrictions of the central nervous system. Since the central nervous system has limited capacity, and the information must be "piped through" it in order to allow us to function in the physical world, there is a sharp limit to how much we can perceive of the world around us.

But in an out-of-body experience, consciousness is set free of the body and is no longer restricted by the constraints of the nervous system. Thus, vastly more information can be decoded and passed along to the mind. (For our purposes, consciousness is what perceives, while the mind is what labels and conceptualizes.)

Not only does extracerebral perception entail much more information than consciousness normally processes, but it is possible that consciousness, liberated from the body, may roam more freely "across the dial," so to speak. Varying our analogy for a moment, body-restricted consciousness is locked in, for the most part, to a particular channel on the radio spectrum, while bodiless consciousness can pick up other frequencies.

These other frequencies correspond to the superposed wave inference patterns in the holographic plate. That is, consciousness ordinarily is directed at a specific angle that constructs a certain specific hologram. But out-of-body consciousness is free to explore other angles of view and to construct other holograms that are normally outside our range of perception.

Now, if this is anything like the true situation, then we would expect to encounter some problems in out-of-body experiences and related phenomena. During these experiences, consciousness will be decoding enormously more data than usual - data gathered not only from its regular plane of perception, but from adjacent planes, as well. Many of these new data will be unfamiliar, difficult to label and categorize. This will inevitably lead to errors as the mind struggles to integrate unfamiliar data/impressions into the overall picture.

Thus, consciousness may pick up something of a particular shape which the mind cannot identify. The mind finds the nearest match or fit for this impression, and the nearest match is a barbecue. The mind then chooses to identify the perception as a barbecue in the neighbor's yard, and to really "see it" that way, even though there is no barbecue.

Or for instance, consciousness may detect an aura around the body, but the mind, unaccustomed to seeing auras, chooses to see it as long johns covering the body.

Where consciousness detects what is familiar and expected, there is no error. Where it detects something unfamiliar and difficult to integrate, it seeks a match. This match may be wrong.

In near-death experiences people may see Jesus or Hindu deities; conceivably a dying child could see Santa Claus; in his book The Golden Ass, the Roman writer Apuleius relates the story of his entranced vision of the goddess Isis. We need not believe that consciousness is literally perceiving these things – that Santa or Isis is actually real. Consciousness is perceiving something unfamiliar, and the mind matches it to the nearest item in the mental catalog. Different people have different catalogs, different image sets to choose from. It's almost like doing a Google image search under different search parameters. The parameters you set will determine the matches you get.

For this reason, Buddhists warn us that what is perceived -- whether in ordinary life, in trance, in out-of-body experiences, in near-death experiences, or in death -- is to some extent a product of our own preconceptions. The mind matches unfamiliar data to their nearest familiar analogs from the mental memory banks.

We do this even in regular life when we encounter something "unprocessable." Someone seeing a UFO in the Middle Ages might have seen it as a floating castle or a flying dragon. Today we would probably see it as a spaceship. Something is being perceived, but if it is outside normal categories of thought and perception, we reduce it to a familiar, easily labeled idea/image. And we really do "see it" that way. We can even photograph what we see. The photograph itself is just another thing that we see and is processed by the mind in precisely the same way.


Here is more speculations in part of keith augustine

With vastly more information to process in extracerebral perception, and with access to entirely unfamiliar realms, the chance of making errors of this type is greatly increased. Note, too, that perception includes all modalities, not just sight. Our entire experience is a stream of perceptions mediated by familiar categories of thought. When bafflingly unfamiliar elements intrude into the experience, we have a tendency to reduce them to the familiar. In short, our mind makes errors because it is unable to properly integrate the new perceptions. The experiences are real, but they vary according to the interpretation of the individual mind.

Aside from cases where the persons encountered during NDEs are obviously culture-bound projections or could not possibly reside in the afterlife at the time of the experience, most near-death researchers urge us to take what NDErs report at face value. If an NDEr reports feelings of peace, an OBE, traversing a tunnel, and entering an illuminated garden where he encounters his deceased grandfather, researchers typically advocate interpreting the account literally as a vision of the afterlife. In such cases we are urged to think that the NDEr really left his physical body, traveled through the physical world in a disembodied or astrally embodied state, traversed a tunnel from the physical world to the afterlife, and actually communicated with his deceased grandfather. It is only when an NDE obviously contains hallucinatory features that most near-death researchers resist interpreting it as a literal glimpse of the afterlife.

Here survival proponents urge us not to take NDErs' accounts at face value; at the same time, they expect us to accept the 'core NDE' as reflecting some afterlife reality. The standard explanation of NDE features inconsistent with literal glimpses of an afterlife is that such features are embellishments, but that the core NDE--whatever that is said to be--really reflects another reality which awaits us after death. Morse, for example, explicitly endorses this sort of rationalization. Evidence which otherwise appears to falsify a survivalist interpretation of NDEs is given a new spin: "The core NDE is then secondarily interpreted according to the age and culture of the person experiencing the event" (Morse 70).

While some near-death researchers weave elaborate schemes to explain away inconsistent evidence, others deride those who disagree with their questionable conclusions by impugning their motivations. For instance, Charles Tart, a parapsychologist well-known for conducting OBE experiments, implicitly accuses all researchers who view NDEs as hallucinations of 'scientism.' 'Scientism' usually refers to a dogmatic adherence to the prejudices, paradigms, or presuppositions 'fashionable' among contemporary scientists. Such an accusation is intended to convey the idea that mainstream scientists have been 'blinded' by their prejudices from acknowledging the 'obvious' evidence that we do in fact continue on after death.

Scientism is an epithet typically hurled at anyone who defends a mainstream scientific position against the views of an unconventional minority. But Tart gives scientism a more specific definition: "a dogmatic commitment to a materialist philosophy that 'explains away' the spiritual rather than actually examining it carefully and trying to understand it" (Tart 74). Right off the bat, it is evident that Tart presumes (1) that materialism is false, (2) that a spiritual realm actually exists (if our goal is "trying to understand it" we must presume it exists), (3) that there are 'spiritual data' which cannot adequately be explained by materialism and (4) that anyone who rejects the existence of a spiritual reality has failed to carefully examine the evidence.

As will become clear shortly, the only purpose of an appellation of scientism in Tart's discussion is to persuade an audience to dismiss the views of researchers who view NDEs as hallucinations on the grounds that they are biased by prior beliefs (as if Tart doesn't have any prior beliefs that incline him toward a survivalist interpretation of NDEs). But this is just a distraction from the real issue; the real issue is whether or not OBEs and NDEs provide unambiguous evidence for survival of bodily death. If they did, Tart would not have to resort to accusations of bias; he could simply document the evidence showing that survival of bodily death occurs, just as biologists can document the evidence showing that species evolve over time. But, in fact, the issue remains a contentious one, even among parapsychologists. As Carlos Alvarado, a former president of the Parapsychological Association, concedes:

The dominant model in OBE studies, by far, is the psychological one.... There are many reasons for the domination of this model. One is the fact that contemporary psychology, as well as science at large, is hesitant to propose explanations that contradict current paradigms. But in all fairness, it should be noted that little evidence exists to support the projection model [i.e., that something leaves the body during an OBE]; furthermore, this model presents myriad obstacles to scientific testing (Alvarado 201).

Indeed, most parapsychologists today are not convinced by the available evidence that survival of bodily death is likely to occur, even if they would like to believe that it will. For example, John Beloff, a parapsychologist who certainly cannot be accused of scientism and who has no sympathy at all for materialism, writes specifically of NDEs that:

[The near-death experience] remains open to a wide variety of psychological and physiological explanations--such as cerebral anoxia, or oxygen starvation of the brain, a self-defensive strategy in the face of imminent extinction, and so forth. At all events, it would be premature to interpret it at face value as affording a vision of the next world [emphasis mine] (Beloff 267).

The rhetoric pervading Tart's account implies that scientism or dogmatic materialism is the only obstacle to accepting a survivalist interpretation of NDEs. But this is simply not the case. First, it is crucially important to note that one could have good reasons for disbelieving that NDEs are visions of an afterlife without accepting materialism. For instance, this essay has actually presented data which suggests that NDEs are not glimpses of another world after death. One need not have any commitment to materialism--dogmatic or otherwise--to doubt that genuine glimpses of an afterlife would involve train rides, false out-of-body perceptions, or encounters with living persons, fictional characters, and mythological creatures. It is entirely possible that an afterlife exists but that NDEs are not glimpses of it--a view similar to the Buddhist belief that the dying pass through several illusory bardo states generated by their own minds before entering the 'real' afterlife (Fox 94-96).

leo: data that be explained in a number of ways not just the hallunication theory that keith augustine likes to think because it is a materialist explanation.
Second, there may be good independent grounds for holding materialism to be true, such as the massive amount of evidence for the dependence of consciousness on the brain. A commitment to materialism, then, need not be based on "an emotional attachment to a totally materialistic view of the world" (Tart 75). One may come to believe that materialism is probably true--as many contemporary scientists and philosophers have--simply because physicalistic explanations of uncontroversial phenomena have been so successful. The conclusion that materialism is probably true may simply be an eminently reasonable inference to the best explanation.

Further along in his discussion, Tart's rhetoric becomes even more blatant. In his discussion of scientism, he implies that anyone who denies that NDEs provide evidence for survival or rejects the reality of survival after death altogether must be blinded by scientism[10]:

They don't recognize that their belief that everything can be explained in purely material terms should be treated like any scientific theory, i.e., it should be subject to continual test and modified or rejected when found wanting (75).

As already noted, though, one can believe that NDEs are not good evidence for survival or even that survival after death never happens without believing that "everything can be explained in purely material terms." David Chalmers, for instance, has recently defended a version of property dualism (in The Conscious Mind) that denies that the mind can be explained in purely physical terms while also denying that the mind can exist independently of the brain (or some physical substrate); but the latter is a prerequisite for the sort of life after death Tart envisions.

Moreover, even those who believe that "everything can be explained in purely material terms" might acknowledge that this belief is just a hypothesis capable of being falsified. That is, one can accept materialism while simultaneously acknowledging that some evidence--if present--would refute it. The issue for these open-minded materialists, then, is not whether any evidence could refute materialism, but whether the sort of evidence that could refute it has actually been produced. And most materialists, I suspect, would deny that such evidence actually exists, even though they could imagine what sorts of evidence would falsify materialism[11].

By implying that those who reject NDEs as evidence for survival are advocates of some pernicious scientism, Tart presumes that the very issue of contention has already been resolved: that NDEs really are evidence for survival of bodily death. But, of course, this conclusion has not been established beyond a reasonable doubt; in fact, it is not even clear that the survivalist interpretation of NDEs is more likely to be true than false. Moreover, Tart fails to recognize that there are perfectly legitimate reasons for maintaining that NDEs are not visions of an afterlife--reasons that I have outlined in this essay because few people who've thought about NDEs have even been aware of them.

Endnotes

[1] The findings of the life-change inventory questionnaire at 2-year and 8-year follow-ups for NDErs and non-NDErs who come close to death are nicely summarized in Table 5 (van Lommel et al. 2042). From this table it is obvious that there are significant changes in social, religious, death, and other attitudes in NDErs between the 2-year and 8-year follow-ups. A similar pattern applies to non-NDErs, but NDErs reported higher initial scores (at the 2-year follow-up) than non-NDErs for the 13 categories listed. Generally, non-NDErs who came close to death did not believe in life after death at the 2-year follow-up and this belief had not changed at the 8-year follow-up. Non-NDErs' interest in spirituality had also significantly decreased between the 2-year and 8-year follow-ups. By contrast, belief in life after death had increased slightly while interest in spirituality had markedly increased in NDErs between the 2-year and 8-year follow-ups. NDErs' social attitudes and interest in the meaning of life had also markedly increased between the 2 and 8-year follow-ups.

[2] It is also notable in this regard that, in general, claims that NDErs had their experiences during a period of flat EEG are highly dubious for a variety of reasons. First, patients' EEGs are rarely being recorded when a near-death episode occurs. Second, even in those rare cases where there actually are accompanying EEG recordings during such a crisis, standard EEG monitors only measure surface brain activity, failing to register the activity of deep cortical structures (e.g., the brainstem). Finally, as in the Pam Reynolds case, even when more comprehensive EEG monitors are used in a controlled setting where a near-death episode is intentionally induced, there is no reason to believe that any resulting NDEs occurred during such periods, rather than before or after. See "Cardiac Arrest and Near-Death Experiences" by G.M. Woerlee in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Summer 2004): 235-249, esp. 239-241 ("Brain Activity and Consciousness").

[3] That Sabom's description of the case in Light and Death is the source of these misunderstandings is evident in Braude's comments. Despite his erroneous belief that Pam's experience occurred during the standstill state, Braude goes on to state that in this case "it would be hasty to conclude that ... mental activity clearly persisted independently of bodily activity" (Braude 274). Moreover, he concludes that in general "the case for survival receives very little independent support from OBEs, NDEs, and apparitions" (280-81). Obviously, then, Braude has no vested interest in portraying the Pam Reynolds case as strong evidence for survival of bodily death. His mistaken belief that her experience occurred during standstill was almost certainly derived directly from the source he cites--Light and Death.

[4] My timeline of Pam Reynolds' experience during general anesthesia is derived from Sabom's reported times in Light and Death and his commentary on this paper in the Journal of Near-Death Studies. Page numbers from Light and Death are indicated in parentheses:

* Pam goes under general anesthesia around 7:15 AM in August 1991 (38), about 90 minutes before her OBE (185). This places her OBE at about 8:45 AM.
* By 8:40, Pam's body is completely draped except for her head (40).
* Cooling of her blood begins at 10:50 AM (43).
* Cardiac arrest is completed at 11:05 AM (43).
* Somatosensory cortical EEG flattens at 11:10 AM.
* Brainstem EEG flattens at 11:24 AM.
* At 11:25 AM the bypass machine cooling her blood shuts down at 60°F so that her brain can be drained of blood and her aneurysm clipped (43).
* Warming of her blood begins at 11:30 AM.
* Mechanical warming of her blood ends at 12:32 PM (46).
* Postoperative anesthesia wears off sometime after 2 PM. Pam wakes up to the song "Hotel California" (46).
* Sometime after 4 PM, Pam reports her NDE in the recovery room (46-47).
* Sabom interviews Pam on November 11, 1994 (186).
* Sabom transcribes the taped interview in March 1996 (186).

[5] I would like to thank Richard Carrier for suggesting all of these points concerning the possibility that Pam Reynolds learned that her head would be shaved prior to her experience. I would also like to thank Gerald Woerlee for many useful comments concerning the Pam Reynolds case.

[6] I have excluded an early study of deathbed visions from India and the United States by Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson because their results were obtained by interviewing or sending questionnaires to medical staff tending to deathbed patients. None of the findings were based on first-hand interviews with patients claiming to have had near-death experiences. Rather, the deathbed study analyzed the second-hand reports of medical personnel about what patients who later died told them years ago. In any case, the Osis and Haraldsson study (detailed in their book, At the Hour of Death, first published 1977) found far more (culture-bound) differences than similarities between deathbed visions in the US and India, which is consistent with what subsequent comparisons of NDEs in the US and India have found.

[7] Blackmore reported that of 8 NDEs she collected from India, 4 included feelings of peace, 3 involved experiencing "a tunnel or dark space," and 4 involved visions of a world of light or (alternatively) seeing several colored lights (Blackmore, "Dying" 19). However, as Kellehear points out, her respondents were obtained by answering an advertisement in an English-language newspaper (the Times of India) rather than a more representative Hindi paper (Kellehear 26-27). Because Blackmore's respondents did not constitute a typical Hindi-only sample of Indians, their accounts are more likely to have been contaminated by knowledge of Western NDE motifs.



[8] As Kellehear points out, Zhi-ying and Jian-xun's data on NDEs that occurred in 1976 in China is suspect because "they did not include descriptive cases that we can analyze for content" (Kellehear 25). Moreover, they may have even offered NDErs something like a checklist of various NDE elements to choose from, contaminating their reports: "For example, although Zhi-ying and Jian-xun assert that 'a tunnel-like dark region' was reported by their respondents, this is, in fact, a response to a prior descriptive category offered to them" (25). Ironically, Kellehear then reports corroborating the existence of prototypical Western NDEs in China in his own 1990 study, which offered "a typical Anglo-European vignette of an NDE to a sample of 197 Chinese in Beijing" and then asked the respondents if they had ever had an experience like the one offered (26). Although 26 (or 13%) answered affirmatively, finding Chinese NDErs unexposed to the Western vignette prior to offering accounts or answering surveys (e.g., by asking about both prototypical Western NDE elements and non-NDE elements) would've provided far more persuasive evidence.

[9] Although NDEs predate Raymond Moody's Life After Life, aside from Hieronymous Bosch's 14th-century painting "Ascent in the Empyrean" and Gustave Doré's 1868 painting "Vision of the Empyrean" (an illustration of Canto 31 of Dante's Paradise), there is scant evidence of prototypical Western NDE motifs prior to the 20th century. One exception, as far as accounts of experiences near death are concerned, dates back prior to the turn of the century, when, after surviving a fall himself, the Swiss geologist Albert Heim published the accounts of over 30 mountain-climbing fall survivors in 1892. The survivors reported experiencing clarity of thought, time slowing down, euphoria, beautiful music, heavenly scenes, and life reviews during their falls (Blackmore, "Dying" 61). And about a decade before Moody's Life After Life, Robert Crookall documented 30 OBEs among those who had purportedly come close to death, several of which included prototypical Western NDE elements. A handful of Crookall's accounts predated World War II, including an account from 1935 in which a British man reported an OBE, life review, traveling through "a long tunnel" with a "tiny speck of light at the far end," seeing others traveling through the tunnel, encountering an uncrossable barrier, then finally returning to his body (Crookall 89). But one account dates as far back as 1851 and includes both a clear OBE and life review (86). Nevertheless, as both Carol Zaleski's Otherworldly Journeys and the final chapter of Jan N. Bremmer's The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife make clear, classical and medieval accounts of 'afterlife experiences' are nothing like contemporary NDEs. As Bremmer points out, in medieval accounts "most of the modern elements, such as the feelings of peace, the tunnel, the hovering above the body, the life review, and meetings with deceased relatives, or even brethren, are generally missing" (Bremmer 99-100). Bremmer concludes that contemporary NDE reports reflect a modern Western individualism absent from earlier afterlife accounts:

[In modern NDE reports] the normal experience seems to be a feeling of being separated from the body by passing through a dark place, often explained as a tunnel.... The description, though, seems typically modern. How many people in earlier periods would have known of a tunnel? Is it pure chance that in India and China the tunnel is absent from NDEs? Does this experience say something about the way we experience deep down the passing through a tunnel and the feeling of relief when we, literally, see the light at the end?...

Unlike classical and medieval visions, the meeting with relatives or close friends is experienced by about half of the nearly-dead. This surely is a reflection of the disappearance of the separate worlds of man and women and the emergence of the nuclear family as the centre of our affection in the course of the last two centuries.... Whereas earlier generations were immediately certain that they had met angels, modern people lack this certainty, unless they are brought up strongly religiously....

[T]he experiencer often sees his life pass by in a moment. This so-called 'life review' or 'life film' was already noted [by Albert Heim] before modern NDEs.... [and is] non-judgemental.... one more testimony to the disappearance of hell from the modern imagination.... Can it be that the relatively late appearance of reports of the life film have something to do with the development of the diorama and its reinforcement by the train in the nineteenth century, which enabled people to see a fast succession of scenes as they had never been able to do before?...

What do the modern NDEs tells [sic] us about afterlife? In opposition to what has often been suggested, they do not seem to prove the existence of the 'life everlasting', but.... [are] a clear reflection of the modern world, where the development of the individual more and more becomes the main goal of life (101-102).

While the legend of Er concluding the final book of Plato's Republic is often cited as the oldest NDE on record, it is, of course, entirely fictional, as are all of Plato's dialogues. And in any case, no modern prototypical Western NDE motif other than a possible OBE (and a vague one at that) is present in this account (though Er observes others being judged, he does not experience anything like a modern life review in Plato's story).

[10] Tart never says this explicitly, but it is implied by his failure to acknowledge any alternative possibilities for why someone would reject survival of bodily death or deny that NDEs are evidence for survival.

[11] A survey conducted by Richard Carrier indicates that most materialists believe that materialism can be falsified--and even go so far as to offer examples of possible falsifying evidence--but that, as a matter of fact, no unambiguous evidence falsifying materialism has ever been produced. Thus Tart's implication that materialists don't recognize that materialism "should be treated like any scientific theory" distorts the reality of the situation. In fact, most materialists do recognize this, but fail to be convinced that the inconclusive parapsychological evidence Tart relies on has actually falsified it. To suggest otherwise it to attack a caricature of contemporary materialists for polemical purposes. See Richard Carrier's "Defending Naturalism as a Worldview: A Rebuttal to Michael Rea's World Without Design." Carrier's discussion is specifically about naturalism, but naturalism can be seen as roughly equivalent to materialism for our purposes (strictly speaking, materialism is a specific kind of naturalism, but the evidence that would falsify naturalism would also falsify materialism). Carrier's survey of what naturalists (and the materialists among them) really believe is discussed at length in the section "A Brief Ethnography of Contemporary Naturalism."


leo: there's lot's of evidence to prove that materialism is wrong, also yes they realize it but there to cling on there faith for materialism to look at the evidence for survival.