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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

I just figured I'd post a link and try to get your ideas about near death experiences. For those who believe in them or who have friends, relatives, etc who had them what was it like? why do you believe in them? What are the implications of this?

And for those who don't believe in them what do you think is the explanation? What processes go on inside the brain to cause these experiences in some individuals?

Furthermore, I've heard this is all also linked to out of body experiences. Have any of you ever had one? and likewise how do we explain this particular mental state?

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NDE's, it has been speculated, are related to unique chemical processes occuring in the brain when a patient is near death. To cut a long story short - the feeling of 'bliss' that some people experience has been reported to coincide with a massive increase of endorphins. It's also worth noting that the 'white light' or 'tunnel' is almost exclusive to western, prodominently Christian people. The content of a NDE is a cultural phenomena. It's either that or something to do with god/s. You pays your money and make take your choice. When I tried to commit suicide I remember nothing - which I guess can be interpreted as I wasn't actually near death (which, seeing as I'm still alive, is a no-brainer), or there is 'nothing out there', or that I'm doomed to purgatory.

Which leads us nicely on to OBE's. OBE's are related to 'Awareness During Sleep Paralysis', or Hypnogotic Hallucinations - which is a medically explained phenomena. I've experienced Sleep Paralysis since I was a child, and while it's a frightening experience, I've learned to kind of enjoy it, and control it. Part of SP is, sometimes, the feeling of disconnection from your body, an OBE. I've had it. It's cool. I never do the full 'floating around the room' thing. The furthest I've got is my 'astral body' sliding off the bed - although I do remember an episode when I was about 8 years old, 'waking up' to find my face pressed against the ceiling.

While I'm paralysed on the bed, I can sometimes wave my 'astral arms' (they resemble very faint, wispy copies of my own arms) around. This is, I believe, because when you are in the paralysed state and struggling to move your arms, your brain is tricked into thinking that you are moving your arms, so it creates an image of them. The same kind of thing, sort of, as 'Phantom Leg Syndrome'. Nobody likes to listen to such cold unromantic notions of course, so they 'decide' that it has something to do with your soul/spirits/astral bodies/alien abduction, whichever is flavour of the month. You pays your money and makes your choice.

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Now I'm not a theist. But if we are going to discuss this we should get all the pertinent data out in the open. I think its interesting that regardless of religious background there were similiar experiences among people with NDE's. They are culturally specific, as in the God's, beings, or spirits that showed up in these experiences were specific to the religion of the person experiencing them. However, there have also been many people who were either vehemently atheist or were simply agnostic. Yet they experienced the feeling of being in the presence of "pure light being" or becoming "one with the universe."

Also, in order for it to be an NDE you have to have been clincally dead for some significant amount of time. There were people who were dead anywhere from a minute to, what seemed to be, over an hour. Near death is a bad term, because these people actually died, its just that they came back.

I agree with your ideas. They're all possibilites. Its just that I think these are experiences that are significant enough that they warrant an attempt at a complete explanation. As far as I'm aware, science hasn't been able to explain it.

EDIT: I'd like for you to personally destroy this last vestige of hope. Because I'll be sure of what I've always suspected, that we return to the void. We cease to exist and thats it, and somehow theres hope even in that certainty. But im suspicious and think that sometimes even skeptics become prey to a type of "dogma." To automatically deny without really observing. These are all subjective but to categorically deny a phenomena without careful analysis is as bad as simply believing in something.

Martinelv said:
NDE's, it has been speculated, are related to unique chemical processes occuring in the brain when a patient is near death. To cut a long story short - the feeling of 'bliss' that some people experience has been reported to coincide with a massive increase of endorphins. It's also worth noting that the 'white light' or 'tunnel' is almost exclu
what about NDEs and OBEs where the "extracted" soul can see information that they wouldn't have known had they not had the perspective of their soul being in that particular place, apart from their body?

for instance when I had an OBE I was able to see a friend of mine and tell him exactly what he was doing, where, and when, and with whom, even though I had no foreknowledge of any of it.

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Exactly crocodile. There are even some who have predicted future events through knowledge gained through these experiences. I'm sure there are plenty of logical explanations for this, its just that when you take the entire experience as a whole, I think the ability to explain it scientifically begins to falter. Science can't give a complete explanation for these occurences. Sure, Occam's Razor, why believe all these complicated spiritual and new age theories? Still, I think this warrants alot of future investigation and if a skeptic simply shrugs it off, it would seem to me that he would rather assume that it is false, and give into intellectual laziness. I'm saying this is worth looking into because it may be important. We would rather just assume certain things and I believe skeptics are the same way. At times they would rather just assume that these claims and experiences are false rather than really look into them. Not a personal attack on anyone. I'm just instigating so I can get some responses and some possible explanations.

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Yo !

But if we are going to discuss this we should get all the pertinent data out in the open
I never do this. Firstly because I'm too fat and lazy to be bothered to trawl the net for stats, and secondly because as we know - it's all lies, damn lies and statistics. If I posted an article from a medical journal someone would reply with a post from 'Alien Abduction Monthly'. It's pointless. I'm just giving an opinion, which I believe is true. If you don't believe me, check out the journals for yourself.

However, there have also been many people who were either vehemently atheist or were simply agnostic. Yet they experienced the feeling of being in the presence of "pure light being" or becoming "one with the universe."
Yes, that's true. But being human (and even the most ardhent atheist is still poisoned by a 'vestigial fear of hell') and on their dead bed, it isn't that surprising really, is it. Atheists sometimes convince themselves of the reality of an afterlife when a friend dies, or that their cat is 'watching over them' despite being underneath the tyres of a truck. But that doesn't make it true, does it. And most often, when someone 'returns' from the dead, a crowd of parapsychology students will swarm around them asking...'Did you see a bright light?', or 'Did you see Elvis?'. In their vunerable state, it's not really that surprising that they nod their heads (probably in fear, or relief, or possibly both) that they do.

Also, in order for it to be an NDE you have to have been clincally dead for some significant amount of time.
Not true. They all have, at the very least, some brain activity, otherwise they wouldn't come back to relate these miraculous tales. To be clinically dead, you must be 'brain stem dead' - a PVS.

As far as I'm aware, science hasn't been able to explain it
True again, but they can't predict exact weather patterns either. Yet it rains, and hurricanes deviate from predicted paths. Again, you are making the assumption that because science doesn't understand it 'yet', it must be something supernatural, even if you are not conscious of it. Are ye not ? categorically deny a phenomena without careful analysis is as bad as simply believing in something.
This is true as well, but what we sometimes forget is that the onus is on the person making a 'miraculous' claim, not for us to refute or even comment on it, until they have produced at plausable reason for it. They say soul, spirit, goblins, and I hear it, but what are they talking about ? Where do they get their evidence from ? And besides, it's intellectual suicide to argue the point. If I asserted that there was an invisible Leprachaun under my bed, it would be reasonable for you to ask for evidence - yet sneakily I would be able to skirt around this by simply saying that he's invisible. This is exactly why spiritual explanations are impossible to refute. Therefore - we must use our reason, our judgement, and come to the conclusion that they are either lying, deluded, or mistaken. What else can we do ?

what about NDEs and OBEs where the "extracted" soul can see information that they wouldn't have known had they not had the perspective of their soul being in that particular place, apart from their body?
What about it ?

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks for the reply. True, the person who is making the claim is obligated to provide some sort of evidence. Obviously the evidence I'm relying on is anecdotal and there is no real way to "prove" the validity of these claims or to disprove them. Because of that the thread should end. However, I'm a stubborn bastard. I want an answer. If you're an atheist I want you to post the article that puts this entire deal into perspective and gives me a plausible explanation. It makes me angry that a person can simply ignore a phenomena, attribute it to a very simplistic theory, and move on without a second thought. While I don't expect for there to be a real consensus at the end of this thread, at the very least I expect some sort of plausible explanation to whats occuring during an NDE specifically, and OBEs less so.

In my mind atheists have as much faith as theists. The idea that they can say with ABSOLUTE certainty that God does not exist is as perplexing to me as the idea that a theist can say the opposite. And thats why I'm agnostic. Please respond. :twisted:

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OK, well, I'm loathe to do this but here we go. From UTP Medical Sciences (1993)

'..neurophysiological processes must play some part in NDE. Similar experiences can be induced through electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe (and hence of the hippocampus) during neurosurgery for epilepsy, with high carbon dioxide levels (hypercarbia), and in decreased cerebral perfusion resulting in local cerebral hypoxia as in rapid acceleration during training of fighter pilots, or as in hyperventilation followed by valsalva manoeuvre. Ketamine-induced experiences resulting from blockage of the NMDA receptor, and the role of endorphin, serotonin, and enkephalin have also been mentioned, as have near-death-like experiences after the use of LSD, psilocarpine, and mescaline. These induced experiences can consist of unconsciousness, out-of-body experiences, and perception of light or flashes of recollection from the past. These recollections, however, consist of fragmented and random memories unlike the panoramic life-review that can occur in NDE. Further, transformational processes with changing life-insight and disappearance of fear of death are rarely reported after induced experiences.'

From Neurophyisiology of the Dying Brain

Near Death Experiences occur most frequently with cardiac arrest. This is because heart failure causes loss of blood flow to the brain. The cerebral cortex begins to undergo dysfunction and clinical death if deprived of blood supply for more than 10 seconds. (Wettach 2000)

? However, lower brain structures are capable of functioning in an unbalanced physiological state (hypothermia, acidosis, hypoxia, and/or hypoglycemia) for much longer periods of time.

? Fighter pilots undergoing high-acceleration centrifuge experiments experience short periods of blackout due to restricted cerebral blood flow. They often report tunnel vision and other aspects similar to Near Death Experiences. (Whinnery 1997)

? The human brain is capable of functioning without cerebral cortex activity under circumstances where the person is not near death such as sleep, coma, psychotic episodes, and hypnotic trances.

? If blood flow is not restored to the brain within four to six minutes, the cerebral cortex will fall into irreversible cellular death. Lack of blood flow for an estimated 15 to 60 minutes causes lower brain structures and the brain stem to become functionless and die. (Wettach 2000)

? Therefore, for people to undergo a Near Death Experience and be able to tell us about it afterward, their brain must be functioning at a low level continuously and blood flow must be restored to normal levels within six minutes to prevent cerebral cortex death.

There you go. Hope that helps. Of course, this all may be speculation, but isn't it slightly more reasonable to contemplate such explanations than to readily jump to the paranormal ?

In my mind atheists have as much faith as theists. The idea that they can say with ABSOLUTE certainty that God does not exist is as perplexing to me as the idea that a theist can say the opposite. And thats why I'm agnostic.
This drives me mad. Atheists do not say with ABSOLUTE certainty that god does not exist. We just deny his/her/it's existence - Atheism, (A)-(Theism), lack of faith - there is a difference. Nobody can prove ABSOLUTELY that god/s do not exist, much to the delight of the theists - who's entire argument rests on this. And how, as an atheist, can I have as much faith as a theist? Atheism is simply a lack of belief in god/s. Nothing more. Nothing less. It does not, despite what the religious may say, dictate how I live my life.

I have 'faith' in the consensual reality that we all, atheists, theists, agnostics, live in.

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Good information. Its much more reasonable to simply say that NDE's are the result of psychotic experiences or restricted oxygen to the brain. The reproduction of NDE like phenomena from the stimulation of the brain or induction through hallucinogenic or dissassociative drugs like ketamine may also show that these experiences are purely the result of physical or chemical processes. The key word here is that all of these various methods of inducing NDE's simply induce similiar or NDE-like experiences. None of these methods of induction create an NDE as it is understood by the people who experience them. Tunnel vision, flashes of light, feelings of great meaning, these can be induced. But these experiences are extremely fragmented and as you're information stated, they do not, as a rule, lead to life changing experiences or changed behavior in their aftermath.

NDE's as reported by a variety of people of differing nationalities, religion, and backgrounds share similiar traits. However, I'm more interested in the cohesiveness and extreme amount of detail that a person who has experienced an NDE can often recall. It doesn't seem plausible to me that any of the possible causes you listed can ever create such a cohesive, meaningful, and life changing experience.

EDIT: The life review process, experience with dead loved ones and other entities, the experience of becoming one with god and the universe, How do we begin to formulate an explanation of these things? It is also interesting that not all people who are near death have a near death experience. I would imagine if this were a physical process that normally occurs when the body is close to death and the brain is not receiving oxygen, then most if not all people who were in this state would experience an NDE. Yet there are still over 13 million in the US alone who have experienced this and many more around the world.

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Dear guys,
Its definitely occurred to me that NDEs are just physiological precursors to death. But that may not account for all of them. They arent quite as cut and dried as people would like to think. A doctor I knew of had one where he was going to hell. I'm pasting an article on here. The guy might be a bit of a nut, but its based on interviews with survivors of near death experiences.

Surprising Observations About the Near-Death Experience

(from the Spring '92 Journal of Near-Death Studies Vol.10, No.3)

P.M.H.Atwater, L.H.D., Ph.D. (Hon.) P. O. Box 7691 Charlottesville, VA 22906-7691

? 1992 P.M.H.Atwater, L.H.D., Ph.D. (Hon.)

ABSTRACT: The percentage of hell-like near-death experiences (NDEs) is probably much larger than has been previously claimed. In this article, I discuss current research into what are now termed "distressing" or "unpleasant" NDEs, and my own findings from interviews of over a hundred such cases. I compare this information with earlier reports from Maurice Rawlings (1978, 1980), mythological traditions about the concept of hell, and renderings from The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Evans-Wentz, 1957). Finally, I detail four types of NDEs -- initial, hell-like, heaven-like, and transcendental -- and what seems to be an attitudinal profile characteristic of each type.

My plane was late. That meant I had to run lengthy corridors at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., to catch my next flight. As I ran, another woman scurrying in the opposite direction yelled, "I know who you are; you're the woman I just saw on television. You're the gutsy one who talks about negative near-death experiences. Keep doing it. Don't stop."

I was so startled by her comment, I momentarily slowed my pace and yelled back, "Who are you? What do you mean by that?"

Her answer surprised me. "I'm a surgical nurse at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. We have lots of near-death cases there, and almost all of them are the negative kind. You know what I mean --people who wind up in hell!"

Before I could respond further, she was out of sight. I wanted to go after her and ask more questions-- What hospital? How many cases? How long has this been happening? Why haven't you reported it?&emdash;but my pressing need to hurry convinced me otherwise. I barely made my connection.

This incident happened in 1989, a year when I was nearly overwhelmed by reports from people who experienced a hellish environment at the brink of death, rather than a heavenly one.

Most researchers of the near-death experience (NDE) report that unpleasant cases are quite rare, numbering less than one percent of the thousands thus far investigated and of the eight million tallied by a Gallup Poll during a survey on the subject published in 1982 (Gallup and Proctor, 1982). Yet my experiences interviewing near-death survivors since 1978 have consistently shown me otherwise, suggesting an abundance of such cases: 105 out of the more than 700 I have queried.

At the 1990 Washington, D.C., conference of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS), Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist noted for his long-term commitment to near-death research, admitted that people like himself had not been asking the right questions to identify those who might have undergone "dark" or distressing episodes . He confessed: "We didn't try to find them because we didn't want to know." His comment underscored the fact that, for the most part, published reports of near-death studies have side-stepped "negative" accounts.

Greyson and Nancy Evans Bush, President of IANDS, have recently completed a descriptive study of 50 terrifying cases they have collected over the past 9 years (Greyson and Bush, 1992). Others whose work has acknowledged the existence of such experiences include British researcher Margot Grey (1985) and sociologist Charles Flynn (1986). Cardiologist Maurice Rawlings and myself, however, have actively pursued near-death reports of a hellish nature since the very beginning of our involvement in the field.

Beyond Death's Door, Rawlings' first book (1978), focused on his observations of people in the process of being resuscitated after clinical death. In it, he recounted story after story of near-death experiencers describing unpleasant or threatening scenarios: being surrounded by grotesque human and animal forms, hearing other people moaning and in pain, violence and demonic types of torture. He thought that because he was present when the phenomenon actually occurred, he was able to obtain pure and unrepressed reports. This led him to formulate his theory that at least half of the near-death cases begin as hell-like, then become heaven-like as the episode proceeds, with the average individual able to remember only the heavenly part once revived.

His second book, Before Death Comes (1980), added to these accounts and included his conviction that in order for people to die a good death and avoid the horrors of what must assuredly be hell, they should commit themselves to the doctrines of Christianity. Needless to say, Rawlings caused quite a stir among other researchers. So far no one has been able to substantiate either the extent of his anecdotal findings or his theory, even when present during ongoing resuscitation procedures conducted in clinical settings.

My first introduction to the NDE was in a hospital room listening to three somber people describe what they had seen while technically "dead." Each spoke of grayness and cold, and about naked, zombie-like beings just standing around staring at them. All three were profoundly disturbed by what they had witnessed. One man went so far as to accuse every religion on earth of Iying about the existence of any supposed "heaven." The fear these people exhibited affected me deeply.

A decade passed before I, too, had a personal opportunity to discover what might exist beyond the threshold of death. Not once did this happen to me, but three times. A miscarriage and hemorrhage precipitated my first encounter in January of 1977. Two days later the second occurred when a major thrombosis in my right thigh vein dislodged, accompanied by the worst case of phlebitis the specialist had ever seen. Three months afterward I suffered a complete and total collapse. On the occasion of each of these "deaths," I experienced uplifting and enlightening, heaven-like, near-death scenarios. Although each was different, one somehow led into the next as if the three were progressive. When my experiences were over, I determined to find out as much as I could about the phenomenon from as many different people as possible. This quest began an exploration of the subject that resulted in my book, Coming Back to Life: The After-Effects of the Near-Death Experience (1988 and 1989).

Since the heavenly version is well-known by now and so, too, its attendant positives, I think it is time that all aspects of the phenomenon be examined, including all the contrasting reports still commonly bunched together under the singular term "hell-like." What Rawlings spoke of a decade ago needs to be reconsidered, especially in light of observations that challenge how near-death experiences are categorized. To accomplish this, I'd like first to offer a context for broadening our understanding of the word "hell."

Historically "hell" is not Biblical, although many people think so. What came to be translated as "hell" was a peculiar idiom in the Aramaic language that used the name of a city dump where trash was burned to signify "mental torment" and "regret." Centuries later, and after numerous translations of the Bible, what was originally expressed as "Gehenna of Fire" was changed to "hell."

The word hell is actually Scandinavian and refers to Hel, the Teutonic queen of the dead and ruler of "the other world." According to myth, "to Hel" is where people went who were good, but not quite good enough to transcend to Valhalla, that heavenly hall reserved for heroes killed in battle and other special folk. Unlike more modern imagery depicting a Satan and being burned for one's sins, there was nothing evil or scary about the supposed hell or Hel herself, except her looks. She was said to be deformed, with half of her face human and the other half featureless. Allusions to Hel eventually connoted "an abode of the dead," but not some place of everlasting punishment.

Hell, as most people think of it today, was a European conceptualization used during the early days of Christianity to ensure the obedience of converts. Modernized versions were made popular in such classics as Dante's Divine Comedy (14th century/1955) and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843/1983). Even Our Town by Thornton Wilder (1938) served to illustrate how those who "cross over" might linger for a while in cemeteries before continuing their after death journeys. A reference to the hell an individual could encounter during the death process and after passing through death's "door" is found in The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Evans-Wentz, 1957). This ancient text described three stages to the bardo (the intermediate disembodied state said to follow death), and how each stage represents an opportunity for the departed to inhabit a different level of existence. The book claimed that heavenly visions, resembling what are now defined as states of consciousness, occur during the first week after death; hellish ones the second week; and various opportunities for judging one's life in the third. Unlike Dante's Divine Comedy (14th century/1955) this traditional Tibetan view chronicled the various gateways possible for one to enter after death and between incarnations. Specifically detailed was a period of 28 to 49 days after a person has died.

Heaven-like scenarios outlined in the book are strikingly similar to modern near-death reports: visions of pure light, vibrant landscapes as if in springtide, blindingly open clear sky, dazzlement. Equally so are the hell-like versions: terrifying deities, gruesome apparitions, racking and painful torture. Also described are the life-review process, judgment , and a disembodied state, then rebirth into this or other worlds for further growth and learning.

In 1980, Kenneth Ring reported the finding that those with prior knowledge of the NDE were less likely to experience it, while those with no prior knowledge were more likely to do so. A clue as to why this could be true was also mentioned in the Tibetan book, where the claim was made that all postmortem visions, regardless of type, are actually projections from the mind of the participant This implies that the next world may be structured by the subconscious mind, that mental imagery determines what is met after death. Also implied is that both heavenly and hellish scenarios might well represent part of the natural course of consciousness as it shifts from one state of awareness to another, and through numerous levels of existence.

Oddly, the realness of near-death experiences is not diminished by this claim, or others like it. The phenomenon becomes subjected instead to psychic rather than physical laws, which I believe accounts for the variation of details and descriptions from culture to culture.

During my own interviews of experiencers, for instance, I discovered little difference between heavenly and hellish near-death episodes in consideration of how elements unfolded in sequence. By that I mean the universal elements now identified as central to an NDE can and often do appear in both types and in the same basic sequence pattern: an out-of-body experience; passing through a dark tunnel or some kind of darkness; seeing a light ahead; entering into that light, and suddenly finding one's self in another realm of existence usually replete with people, landscapes, and occasionally animals.

Even the fact that experiencers of hellish visions often travel in a downward direction (down "the tunnel" as opposed to up) does not distinguish one type from another, simply because many experiencers of the heavenly kind also report downward passage when in the tunnel. Hellish episodes can also include dialogue with beings on the other side of death along with glimpses of the life just lived, elements once thought to occur only in heaven-like cases. Both types are, in fact, a lot alike. Yet they do differ, through the specific details given, and through the interpretation of individual responses.

To help examine these differences, here is a comparison from my original study that examines the language experiencers used to describe what they encountered. Notice consistent settings and elements, yet obvious contrasts in detail:

Heaven-Like Cases

friendly beings

beautiful, lovely environments

conversations and dialogue

total acceptance and an overwhelming sensation of love

a feeling of warmth and a sense of heaven

Hell-Like Cases

lifeless or threatening apparitions

barren or ugly expanses

threats, screams, silence

danger and the possibility of violence, torture

a feeling of cold (or temperature extremes) and a sense of hell

Of the hell-like cases 1 have found, I have yet to come across an individual who reported a fiery hot or burning sensation during the experience itself, although I have spoken with researchers who have. If a sensation of temperature was felt, the majority in the study I conducted commented on how cold it was, or clammy, or shivery, or "icy hard." Also mentioned was the dullness of the light, even grayness, as if overcast, foggy, or somehow "heavy." Many experienced a bright light beckoning to them initially, but when they entered the light it promptly dimmed or darkened.

Invariably an attack of some kind would take place in hellish scenarios or a shunning, and pain would be felt or surges of anxiety and fear. Any indifference to the individual's presence would be severe, as would the necessity of the experiencer to defend him- or herself and/or fight for the right to continued existence. Themes of good and evil, beings like angels and devils, I found commonplace, as well as hauntings once the individual revived. Examples of this are the numerous reports of a "devil" who physically manifests in broad daylight for the purpose of chasing the experiencer, supposedly to capture his or her soul, or to win "the battle." The manifestation of other threatening beings or creatures has also been claimed, quite similar to what was depicted in the movie Flatliners (Shumacher, 1990). Sometimes fearful scenes and sensations reoccur afterward, as when an experiencer is unexpectedly faced with the onslaught of some perceived cyclone, whirlpool, tidal wave, or perhaps an unchecked fall into a void.

Amazing as it may seem, I noticed that the same scene that one individual considers wonderfully positive another may declare negative or horrific. For instance, the light at the end of the tunnel can be terrifying to some while inviting to others, as can any voices or flashing lights experienced during states of darkness, even if nothing threatening is perceived from either the voices or the lights. Passing through a bright light into vast new landscapes can be an incredible shock to an individual, especially if aspects of creation and worlds within worlds are seen, even if what is experienced in no way puts the individual at risk. Meeting a being composed entirely of light can seem a trick of the devil or a punishment of some kind, especially if the experiencer tends to be more fundamentalist in his or her religious viewpoints.

One woman who described for me a light ray she rode through the vast reaches of time and space was thrilled beyond words to have been granted such a privilege. Yet another woman, in recounting what seemed to me a similar light-ray experience, expressed a sense of horror and revulsion at what had happened to her. Then there was the man overjoyed to tears by the "loving" darkness he encountered after death, in stark contrast to several reports I had previously received from people who felt cursed to have experienced a darkness that somhow seemed "alive."

Not one of the childhood experiencers I interviewed ever mentioned anything fearful or hell-like or threatening. Only the adults in my inquiry reported such stories. This puzzled me. Why would some adults describe the existence of a hell when children never did? Why would what appeared as episodes of equal content be labeled hell-like by one experiencer and heaven-like by another? And why would perfectly normal individuals who had lived what appeared as positive, constructive lives be scared witless by their near-death experience, while others with similar personalities and lifetime achievements be deliriously awestruck?

What made this dichotomy even more puzzling for me was a particular question and answer session held after a talk I had given in Williamsburg, Virginia. A man in the audience related his near-death story, one so positive and so inspiring it brought tears to the eyes of most of those attending. Yet, to everyone's surprise, he went on to reveal how cursed he felt to have had such an experience and how difficult his life had been ever since it had happened. Then a woman jumped up and excitedly recounted her story. Even though her scenario centered on a life-or-death struggle in semidarkness at the edge of a whirlpool, while high winds and the presence of evil threatened, she was overjoyed to have experienced anything so inspiring and so revealing about how life really worked and how salvation is guaranteed by our own willingness to correct our own mistakes. Here were two people: one traumatized by a heaven-like experience, the other uplifted and transformed by a hellish one.

After the Williamsburg affair, I started asking more questions of more people, probing questions I later cross-checked whenever possible with family members. Sometimes I used my own increased sensitivities to determine what track of questioning to pursue, and some times I used plain logic; for I, too, am a near-death survivor. Since apparently, at least from my study, one cannot ascertain heaven or hell by their appearance, my goal changed from focusing on the phenomenon to an investigation of what other factors I might have previously overlooked.

Thus far, this change of focus has enabled me to make the following observations, arranged by experience types and the psychological consistencies I noticed in each grouping. It is my hope that this new way to categorize near-death experiences, and the probability of a psychological profile for each type, will inspire other researchers to redesign their methodologies and pursue different approaches to the subject.
Four Types of Near-Death Experience

Initial Experience ("Non-Experience")

This type of NDE involves elements such as a loving nothingness or the living dark or a friendly voice. It is usually experienced by those who seem to need the least amount of evidence for proof of survival, or who need the least amount of shakeup in their lives. Often, this becomes a "seed" experience or an introduction to other ways of perceiving and recognizing reality.

Unpleasant and/or Hell-Like Experience (Inner Cleansing and Self-Confrontation)

This type of NDE involves an encounter with a bardo, limbo, or hellish purgatory, or scenes of a startling and unexpected indifference, or even "hauntings" --from one's own past. It is usually experienced by those who seem to have deeply suppressed or repressed guilts, fears, and angers, and/or those who expect some kind of punishment or accountability after death.

Pleasant and/or Heaven-Like Experience (Reassurance and Self-Validation)

This type of NDE involves heaven-like scenarios of loving family reunions with those who have died previously, reassuring religious figures or light beings, validation that life counts, affirmative and inspiring dialogue. It is usually experienced by those who most need to know how loved they are and how important life is and how every effort counts.

Transcendent Experience (Expansive Revelations, Alternate Realities)

This type of NDE involves exposure to otherworldly dimensions and scenes beyond the individual's frame of reference, and sometimes includes revelations of greater truths. It is usually experienced by those who are ready for a "mind-stretching" challenge, and/or who are most apt to use, to whatever degree, the truths that are revealed.

It has been my observation that all four of these types can occur during the same experience, exist in combinations, or be spread throughout a series of episodes for a particular individual. Generally, however, each represents a distinctive episode occurring but once to a given person.

When you keep a person's life in context with his or her brush with death, even a clinical death, you cannot help but recognize connections between the two, threads that seem to link what is met in dying with what that individual came to accept or reject about the depths of living. It is almost as if the phenomenon is a particular kind of growth event that allows for a "course correction," enabling the individual involved to focus on whatever is weak or missing in character development. With children, it is as if they receive advance instruction and/or have an opportunity to preview their lives.

In addition, what may seem negative or positive concerning any of the four types listed I found to be misleading, as value and meaning depend entirely on each person involved and his or her response to what happened during the near-death experience and its aftereffects.

Surprisingly, unpleasant or hell-like experiences really can be quite positive if individual experiencers are inspired to make significant changes in their lives because of them. But, pleasant or heaven-like experiences can be incredibly negative if individuals use them as an excuse to dominate or threaten others while engaged in self-righteous campaigns. Even heaven-like or transcendent experiences may be painful or hellish to an individual unfamiliar with the possibility of alternate realities or unwilling to have his or her worldview interrupted or challenged.

Furthermore, my listing of experience types read from top to bottom seems to parallel The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Evans-Wentz, 1957) and passages therein that detail the various gateways to after-death existences, gateways identified as mental projections from the mind of the participant. But, if we are willing to reconsider the Tibetan claim and those made by other ancient traditions, the listing begins to suggest something else even more extraordinary.

What emerges is a brief panorama of what could be the natural movement of conciousness as it evolves through the human condition on a journey of awakening. This journey extends from the first stirring of something greater and an initial awareness, to confrontations with the bias of perception followed by opportunities to cleanse and start anew, then progressing to the bliss and the ecstasy of self-validation and the discovery of life's worth, until the moment comes when at last the unlimited realms of truth and wisdom are unveiled.

This panorama of awakening consciousness indicates to me that the NDE may be part of an ongoing process within the human species and not some isolated or separate event, a process of growth shifting individual souls from one stage of awareness to another and/or from one state of embodiment to another, a process literally encoded within our makeup since our very beginnings. When viewed in this manner, the phenomenon takes on the characteristic of a preparatory adjustment that the transition of death affords -either literal death, where physical form alters, or symbolic death, where life phases alter. This adjustment would enable human systems to ready themselves for the new demands soon to be placed upon them when present form or consciousness capacity changes, thus insuring some form of life continuance and the steady growth of conscious awareness.

In his book, "Closer to the Light," pediatrician Melvin Morse wrote:

The near-death experience is the first psychological experience to be located within the brain.... By locating the area for NDEs within the brain, we have anatomy to back up the psychological experience. We know where the circuit board is. (Morse and Perry, 1990, p. 170) I have reexamined a generation of scientific research into higher brain function and have found that the soul hypothesis explains many "unexplained" events. It explains out-of-body experiences, the sensation of leaving the body and accurately describing details outside of the body's field of view. Events such as floating out of the physical body and giving accurate details of one's own cardiac arrest -things a person couldn't see even if their eyes were open- are virtually impossible to explain if we do not believe in a consciousness separate from our bodies that could be called a soul. (Morse and Perry,1990, p. 169)

It has been my experience that whatever we need to awaken the truth of our being will manifest when we need it. The way that happens is basically the same for all of us because, on some fundamental level of existence beyond conscious recognition, we all share space on the same upward spiral of evolutionary development. Surely the NDE illustrates this truth.

Yet maybe not. Other researchers have noted that those who have pleasant and/or heaven-like episodes experience far more permanent life changes than those who undergo unpleasant or hellish versions. Why? Do hellish experiencers repress their aftereffects, or do they have aftereffects that differ from the others? This needs to be researched; so far it hasn't been.

Once, when I was autographing copies of my book in a shopping mall, a man in his middle thirties stopped at my table, looked me straight in the eye, and with tight lips declared, "You've got to tell people about hell. There is one. I know. I've been there. All them experiencers on television telling their pretty stories about heaven -that's not the way it is. There's a hell, and people go there." I could not calm this man or the piercing power of his words, nor could I inspire him to consider other ways of interpreting his experience. He was adamant and firm. To him hell was real and to be avoided, no matter what.

That's what I've noticed with individuals like this man: either there is a special kind of fierceness about them, or an empty fear, or a puzzled indifference, or an unstated panic. If they show emotion at all, it is usually tears. Many feel betrayed by religion. Many resent the endless banter on television talk shows about "the Light," all that warmth and love and joy exuded from those who seemed to have experienced heaven. When I would ask why they weren't on television themselves telling their own stories, most would suddenly become quiet. Eventually I came to realize that they had spoken to no one else about what had happened to them. Most often they indicated feeling too ashamed or fearful or angry to talk about it; furthermore, the possibility of another's judgment or criticism bothered them.

The tremendous popularity of the movies Ghost (Zucker, 1990) and Flatliners (Shumacher, 1990) has inspired a host of near-death survivors to surface and be counted, especially those who experienced hellish visions. I hope this openness continues. Although researchers in the field of near-death studies have made tremendous strides, there are still relatively untapped aspects of the experience that must be addressed if we are ever going to understand the phenomenon and its aftereffects. Anything less perpetuates a myth that serves no one.

Is there a hell? To one who thinks he or she has been there, the answer is yes. To a person like myself, who has studied what evidence exists and has conducted countless interviews, the answer is this: there is more to the near-death experience than anyone currently knows. The phenomenon is vast in scope, its implications more important and more dynamic than most people are willing to admit. Heaven and hell may seem more conceptual than fact, but right now they are all we have to go on as we search further afield into what the mind and its mental imagery might reveal about the source of our being.

One fact is clear: people who experience an unpleasant and/or hell like near-death experience must be welcomed by researchers and relieved of any trace of stigma or judgment. They have a lot to tell us, and we need to hear what they have to say.
Atwater, P.M.H. (1988). Coming back: The After-effects of the Near-death Experience. New York, NY: Dodd, Mead. (1989) Ballantine Books.
Dante Alighieri. (1955). The Divine Comedy. New York, NY: Random. (Original work published 14th century)
Dickens, C. (1983). A Christmas Carol. New York, NY: Bantam. (Original work published 1843)
Evans-Wentz, W.Y. (Ed.). (1957). The Tibetan Book of the Dead. London, England: Oxford University Press.
Flynn, C. (1986). After the Beyond: Human Transformation and the Near-Death Experience. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Gallup, G., Jr., and Proctor, W. (1982). Adventures in Immortality: A look Beyond the Threshold of Death. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Grey, M. (1985). Return from Death: An Exploration of the Near-Death Experience. London, England: Arkana.
Greyson, B., and Bush, N.E. (1992). Distressing Near-Death Experiences. Psychiatry, 55, 95-110.
Morse, M., and Perry, P. (1990). Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near-Death Experiences of Children. New York, NY: Villard.
Rawlings, M. (1978). Beyond Death's Door. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. Rawlings, M. (1980). Before Death Comes. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Ring, K. (1980). Life at Death: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience. New York, NY: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan.
Schumacher, J. (Director). (1990). Flatliners [Film]. Hollywood, CA: Columbia. Wilder, T (1938). Our Town. [Play]. New York, NY: Coward, McCann.
Zucker, J (Director). (1990). Ghost [Film]. Hollywood, CA: Paramount.

Theologically, his idea that the heaven and the hell NDE are really the same thing expereinced different ways, can actually hold water. Some say that hell is the absence of God - but that would be an infinite punishment for a finite creature, and not only that, it would contradict omniscience. Others however, say that the "fire" of hell and the "bliss" of heaven are the same force. To one person, the expereince of God is painful because they dont want it, to the other, its ecstasy, because its what they've been searching for all along. I think that it makes the most sense to say that if they exist, they may be the same place. Its us who are different.


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I don't understand your reasoning Scattered. I offer you a more than reasonable explanation for NDE's, yet you still seem to yearn for some kind of underlying cohesive spiritual truth. If that is your intention, fine, but it is the same kind of reactionary fudge as Pantheism, Deism and so forth. It's like when I point out that spiritual experiences can be induced by surgical intervention in the cerebral cortex, and the religious respond with..'Yes, because god put that bit in your brain'. It exasperates me, there's no arguing with them. It's pointless. You can lead a horse to water....

You can apply as many human emotives as you like, but the facts speak for themselves.

The list of anecdotal and seemingly unexplainable NDE or OBE experiences are legion, like the one Homeskooled has posted. People lap them up - immediately latch on to the 'truth' of these tales, and ingore the myriad of possible cold and unromantic reasons for it. Is it surprising then, for someone who has experienced a NDE, to interpret their experience (not to mention to tremendous trauma of returning from near death) as something spiritual ? It's human nature, even for the ungodly.

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
And that is what I want if it exists, a cold and unromantic view of NDE's that offers a somewhat complete explanation of the NDE experience. I want you to come up with those reasons and explanation. The reasons and explanations you give are severely lacking in my mind. They lack the explanatory power of taking into acknowledgement the ENTIRE NDE experience. If you could give me a systematic explanation of the NDE experienece, hellish or heavenly or whatever else, then I would be satisfied. As of now it seems very uncovincincing and just affirms my view that this is something that science is nowhere near offering a complete and reasonable explanation.

If you want to chock this all up to my yearning for it to be true then fine. If you want to say that those who undergo NDEs are experiencing extremely elaborate hallucinations thats fine too. Its just that I believe you're falling back on inferior rationalizations in light of the fact that this is a phenomena that we can't explain. And if we can explain it, then please show me. Post the journal articles that you're reluctant to post.

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How much is enough ? How many journals would it take for you to, at the very least, accept that NDE's are an explainable phenomena ? Answer = it would never be enough. I'll just leave it as it is and we can all be supremely beguiled together.

We can all look at a wheel and say it's not round. It's so easy.

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
NDE's may be an explainable phenomena. I don't deny that. I just deny the fact that you've evaluated the different aspects of NDE's and have offered an explanation for them. Sure it may be explainable, but you haven't explained it. You've offered a few different theories that may account for certain aspects of the NDE experience. If this is enough for you to say that NDE's are explainable, then obviously the criteria you're using is very very simple to satisfy.

An NDE is a very complex puzzle in my mind. You gave me a few peices. I'm not saying to give me all the peices, because thats not possible. I'm saying to at least give me an idea of what the puzzle looks like, a general outline that begins to account for the variations and complexities of the NDE experience. If you cannot give me a general outline, a suitable foundation of an explanation that we can move forward from, then all I can assume is that either no such outline exists or you, personally, do not have the answers. If you do not have the answers then tell me you dont have them and aren't interested in finding them. Then we can put this discussion to rest. After thats clear, I'll know that NDE's are not something that you can explain. They're something you assume has an explanation, because of you're complete devotion to atheism and disbelief in anything that may contradict your worldview.

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Look, I was just offering what I think is a plausable explanation for NDE's, which, although not conclusive, fits in with the facts. That's all. My 'complete devotion' to Atheism has nothing to do with it. In fact, I've just converted to Judaism. Just this second.

In a world where everything we take for granted can still be only regarded as a plausable reality, isn't it more, well, reasonable to 'entertain' seemingly rational explanations ?

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Yes, its better to entertain reasonable explanations. Sure, you've offered something that fits in with the facts. It just seems a bit dissapointing to me, I thought you would put up more of a fight :D . Tell me how this was all spiritual bullshit, and give me alot of reasons why it made no sense. I think its a cop out though, to simply disregard entire areas of experience because it lies outside the realm of "science." To fall back on a small body of facts, and disregard the bigger picture seems to be a bit of a disservice to the topic. I mean if you're going to tear down beliefs and superstitions under the guise of reason, then offer a somewhat conclusive explanation of why their beliefs or superstitions are false.
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