Near-Death Experiences
Individuals who have shown many of the characteristics of
death (stopped heart, flat brain scan, etc.) but have survived
and been brought back to consciousness often report experiences
that seem to have a bearing on the questions of individual
survival of death and the possible existence of a human soul
or surviving individual consciousness. Such experiences have
been studied in modern times under the category of ‘‘neardeath
experiences.’’
Common to many such experiences is the powerful sensation
of rushing through a long dark tunnel with a bright light
at the end. This light brings an ecstatic feeling of joy, peace,
and freedom from the body. Often the tunnel experience is
preceded by a detached awareness in which some higher reality
is interfused with perception of the physical environment surrounding
the body, which may be perceived from a detached
viewpoint, in which the self can look down on its own body, as
in out-of-the-body travel. [Crucial to understanding the accounts
of such experiences is separating the elements of the experience
from the interpretation placed upon it by the person
who has had the experience.]
Psychologists and doctors who have studied near-death experiences
have also examined reports of out-of-the-body experiences,
and have found enough commonalities to suggest that
they are varieties of the same experience, the near-death experience
often being distinguished by its intensity, its vividness,
and its impact upon the person having the experience. For example,
tunnel experiences are common to both, and as is the
experience of viewing the physical body from a perspective outside
of it. Many individuals find that such experiences are a
powerful vindication of religious beliefs such as the existence
of a soul as a separate entity from the body and the possibility
of the continuation of the soul beyond the experience of bodily
death. Clergy who undergo the experience are likely to change
their views and teachings.
Various mundane theories have been offered to account for
near-death and out-of-the-body experiences in terms of hallucination.
For example, the tunnel sensations might be a reliving
of the powerful experience of passing through the birth
canal, since the baby usually emerges head first. Another psychological
explanation centers upon the behavior of cells in the
visual cortex when the brain is hyperactive through lack of oxygen.
For a thoughtful examination of psychological theories,
see the 1989 article, ‘‘Down the Tunnel’’ by Susan Blackmore.
Blackmore has studied out-of-body experiences as a psychological
phenomenon, but unlike most psychologists who theorize
about such experiences, she has actually had such an experience
herself. She rightly draws attention to the fact that skeptical
explanations ignore the intense insightful and spiritual aspects
of such experiences.
Investigators from different disciplines will emphasize their
own bias. Allan Kellehear, who comes from a sociological perspective,
compares the experience to crisis situations that happen
to those lost at sea or trapped in a mine. Melvin Morse is
a pioneer working with children who have NDEs and he finds
that experiencers in this group to be contaminated by the life
experiences that adults have accumulated.
Since 1981, research on the near-death experience has been
focused by the International Association for Near-Death
Studies founded in 1981 and headed by Kenneth Ring. It published
a monumental study of the phenomenon in 1980 and
has an active presence on the web. Whether the phenomenon
is completely understood or not it has become increasingly important
because half the recipients of medical procedures are
likely to have a near-death experience.
Sources
Atwater, P. M. H. Coming Back to Life The After Effects of the
Near-death Experience. New York Dodd, Mead, 1988.
Blackmore, Susan J. Beyond the Body. London Heinemann,
1982.
———. ‘‘Down the Tunnel.’’ British and Irish Skeptic 3, no. 3
(MayJune 1989).
———. Dying to live Near-death experiences. Buffalo, N.Y.
Prometheus Books, 1993.
Near-Death Experience Project Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
1094
Crookall, Robert. Out-of-the-Body Experiences A Fourth Analysis.
New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1970.
———. The Techniques of Astral Projection Denouement After
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Gallup, George, Jr., with William Proctor. Adventures in Immortality.
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Greyson, Bruce. ‘‘The Near-Death Experience as a Focus of
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Groth-Marnat, G. and J. Schumaker. ‘‘The Near-Death Experience
A Review and Critique.’’ Journal of Humanistic Psychology
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Kellehear, Allan. Experiences Near Death Beyond Medicine and
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Moody, Raymond. Life After Life. New York Bantam Books,
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Morse, Melvin. Closer to the Light. New York Villard, 1990.
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April 10, 2000.
Ring, Kenneth. Life at Death A Scientific Investigation of the
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———, and Evelyn E. Valarino. Lessons from the Light What
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BooksPlenum Press, 1998.
SpiritWeb NDE, Near Death Experiences. http
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Wilson, Ian. The After Death Experience. London Sidgwick &
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Zaleski, Carol G. Otherworld Journeys Accounts of Near-Death
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