Are ‘Near-Death Experiences’ Real?

They cannot prove the existence of heaven or hell, but they can give us hope.

Comments: 223

  1. Thank you for a wonderful article Professor Fischer. Do you take N.D.E.s. to ever provide any evidence of an afterlife? Or can they provide some evidence of an afterlife that just isn't decisive? Also, you mentioned "negative N.D.E.s." toward the end of the article. Are there ever N.D.E.s. (perhaps negative ones) that don't have the positive consequences you've identified? If so, do you know how (in)frequently those occur?

  2. @Travis Timmerman Thank you for your kind words. You ask a good question about the evidence. Frankly, I don’t think they provide any evidence of an afterlife, but I wouldn’t “go to the mat” on this. Does widespread experiences of “miracles” provide a little evidence, or none, for the alleged miracles? I think it is zero, even if there are patterns in the reported experiences. I believe this in part because we can explain the nature of the experiences and the patterns by reference to the experiencer, i.e, the subject, rather than the “object.” The patterns in the content reflects the similarities in the biology and psychology of human beings. Or at least this is a much more promising way of explaining the contents of the experiences--more plausible than positing a shared experience of an afterlife. And, very importantly, there is a wide variation in the reports of the nature of the afterlife; some report contact with Jesus, Eben Alexander is flying on a winged creature like a butterfly, Hindus see Hindu gods/goddesses: how could they all be right? And given their incompatibility at least in details, how could they provide evidence of an afterlife?

  3. @Travis Timmerman The term for negative NDEs in the literature is actually “distressing” NDEs. They have a similar structure, but different valences, to pleasurable NDEs. They provide similar lessons. One could say that the pleasurable NDEs are the carrots, and the distressing ones the sticks. Of course not everyone learns the lessons…

  4. @John Fischer "some report contact with Jesus, Eben Alexander is flying on a winged creature like a butterfly, Hindus see Hindu gods/goddesses: how could they all be right?" I personally had such an experience in my late teenage years. To specifically answer this question though, people are approached by the Divine in ways that are comfortable to their upbringing and belief system. I remember reading a couple of such accounts as described on a fascinating web page: http://www.nderf.org/Archives/exceptional.html. In one account a women describes an incredibly beautiful nature scene as her entrance scene to heaven, but adds the profound remark, that it may have just looked this way to her since this is what she finds quite attractive. In another account, a person describes a childhood experience where "God" takes various forms to the child including a large furry dog, until the child settles on the form that is most compelling! I hope that may answer this question and I heartily recommend the above website. SMA

  5. Thanks for the article! I have a similar question/comment to Travis's. Suppose someone, for antecedent reasons, is relatively sympathetic to some kind of supernaturalistic picture - they think some of the arguments for God, the soul, heaven, etc., are fairly plausible, but perhaps not decisive. Would someone in such a position be rational in thinking N.D.E.s provide evidence for an afterlife? Perhaps even enough additional evidence to convince them there's an afterlife? (As a Bayesian would put it, such an individual assigns a relatively high "prior" probability to God, the soul, heaven, etc., and then conditionalizes on N.D.E.s to get a high "posterior" probability.)

  6. What a great article! Professor Fischer distilled a lot of thought provoking substance into an entertaining short piece, all while being even-handed in his approach. Where may I find more from him on this and other topics?

  7. @David Moyer Thanks! Interested readers should check out the links to my books at the bottom of the article. I appreciate the interest!

  8. Interestingly, some (perhaps all, but I don't know) Buddhist philosophy talks about the "subtle body", neatly sidestepping the mind-body problem when it comes to after-death experience. In other words, it isn't claimed that the mind separates from the body, which would be philosophically philosophically. Personally, I'm agnostic on this.

  9. @TMJ Oops. Should say "which would be philosophically problematic".

  10. Mr. Fischer is a skeptic, so is right to be skeptical about the “reality” of NDEs in the second sense. However, to truly validate his skepticism, he must train it in equal share on his implied conclusion that death means oblivion, the death of the individual consciousness. He can no more prove that than the believers in NDEs can prove their own beliefs. In the (literal) end, there can be no proof of either.

  11. @Dennis Smith There is extensive evidence that our thoughts are generated in our brains, which are physical organs that cease showing activity and start to decay after we die. There is also incontrovertible evidence that changes in physiology and chemistry in the brain lead can lead to extreme changes in a person's thought patterns and personality. It is certainly possible to go on believing that "something else" happens after death and our personalities go rolling on after we die. It's possible to believe almost anything if we choose to ignore evidence. But the huge weight of evidence says brain death is final.

  12. @Dennis Smith Is there evidence that everything about our perceptions, personalities, feelings, and mental functioning is directly related to the physical processes within our brains? Say, if we are sleep deprived, starved, or dehydrated, do all of those functions change? Can our mental functions be changed or impaired with drugs? Does brain damage change our personalities, perceptions, memories, etc? Does certain damage cause certain predictable impairments? Are there neurological diseases that damage the brain in specific ways that cause specific outcomes? Is there evidence of anyone ever demonstrating personality, memory, etc., without a brain? All of this is very clear cut evidence against the claim of NDEs. That is not to say NDEs could somehow still be true. But every time they have been tested using falsifiable methodology, they fail. Stories are not evidence.

  13. @Dennis Smith Fischer nowhere says he is skeptical about an afterlife. He is skeptical that near death experiences are experiences of the afterlife or explained by there being an afterlife.

  14. We don't know how, exactly, the dying experience or process their final moments of brain activity. A blissful eternity could be perceived in those moments, at least by some (anecdotally, those with guilty consciences and/or certain physical conditions do not appear to have had that experience). I like to think that's a possibility.

  15. I have heard a number of sincere and interesting descriptions of "life after death." However, if you come back from "death" to report on it to the still living, you have not, in fact died. Rather, you have had a near-death experience, fueled in part by physiological biochemical processes, some in response to powerful medications. People who might have reliable reports about what happens after we died don't come back to tell us about it. Because they are dead.

  16. @Galen Tinder Thank you for putting this side of view about NDE out there. No one has ever come from the dead to tell us if there is an afterlife or anything for that matter, except if you talk to charlatans who will tell you one of your loved ones knows where you left your car keys (sic). It is comforting to many to go about their lives thinking this but I am not one of them. I live for today and enjoy as much of this short life as I can.

  17. Professor Fischer refers throughout the piece to the "arguments" for a supernaturalist interpretation of NDE's, which he says are bad, but I don't see much presentation (let alone charitable presentation) of the arguments in question. I agree with him that the arguments aren't great, but interested readers might look at section 4 of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on the "Afterlife," in particular the discussion of "the evidential aspect of NDEs": https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/afterlife/#ParNeaDeaExp

  18. @JDB Once you have experienced it, you don't need to argue for it. You know you were there. In my case, I don't even talk about it too much, because I feel bad for those who have not experienced it. They are just fearful humans who think that death will be horrible.

  19. @JDB I had a strict space limit! But please see a more thorough, and I hope charitable, exposition and discussion of the arguments of the supernaturalists in my two books with Oxford University Press (linked to at the bottom of the article). I appreciate your interest.

  20. @John Fischer please tell is where consciousness resides, how it arises and how it is measured. What kind of instrument measures and detects it? What property of matter creates it?

  21. There are, simply put, no empirical answers to such questions. But what we all need, when facing that final day, is the belief that there are answers. And that there is someone to walk with us that final lonely mile . . .

  22. This philosopher is ignoring the many cases in which people going out of their body have reported verifiable things in the nearby or distant physical world that they could not have witnessed in their bodily state on the operating table or in intensive care for example. He may be in for a big surprise when his time comes, but it will be too late to issue a retraction, or will it?

  23. @Horace Tellingly, you offer no specific examples. This is because none of them hold up to scrutiny. If remote viewing was real the world would be very different.

  24. @Horace Stories are not evidence.

  25. @Horace I don’t ignore these. Please have a look at my more comprehensive discussions of these issues in the books I link to in the article. In short: there are many veridical reports, but there is always the question of whether the (accurately reported) information could be acquired ONLY via non-physical or supernatural means. Just because the reports are accurate does not in itself imply that the individuals flew around the rooms, leaving their bodies. Each case has to be evaluated, and often one discovers perfectly mundane ways people acquire the relevant information.

  26. The explanation for N.D.E's is pretty obvious: It's nothing more than a thunderstorm in the brain, electrical signals wildly firing in an extreme situation for the individual. They are no different from a very vivid dream. But the affected person will forget such an ordinary dream after a few minutes, hours, or days. The N.D.E is not forgotten because of its extreme context that makes it appear uniquely meaningful.

  27. @GS Sorry, this rationale does not explain why so many people who have NDEs from different cultures have almost identical experiences.

  28. @GS You seem to be unaware that many NDEs are reported as occurring when there is no detectable brain activity. So, where do you get the "thunderstorm?" Try reading up before making judgment. I have personally never had anything like an NDE, but I've reading many viable convincing accounts that are not at all invalidated by arguments like these.

  29. @calannie They don't have almost identical experiences. This is just part of the story around this. Some people see family or friends. Some people see religious figures. Some see fictitious creatures like gnomes or elves. I had a similar experience as a child and experienced a heavenly football game. When I came to, a football game was on a nearby tv. I also had a dream once as a child where my mother appeared bathed in white light, and gave me the distinct feeling that everything would be ok. I felt so safe and secure knowing she was in a better place. As I slowly woke up, she slowly disappeared...and I realized my mother wasn't dead. She was asleep in the adjacent room. That was 40 years ago, and mom's still kicking. If she had been dead and I had that dream, or if I had been a terrible accident and then had the dream, I'd be on here adding my voice to how real it all is. And yet it wasn't real. And I know this because my experience was random and immediately subjected to falsifiability due to the fact that she was not dead, and I remembered that fact upon waking.

  30. I have watched many Youtube video's of people who have experienced NDE's and have concluded they are real. All these people who have no connection to each other all describe very similar experiences. Many describe details of what the people around their dying body are doing that is later verified. In the case of Eban Alexander, he saw his biological sister whom he never met in life who passed away, but recognised her photo when he reunited with his biological parents. Anita Moorjani experienced who was hours from death experienced a miraculous healing. Many meet deceased relatives. There are too many of these stories that are consistent to assume they are not true. Just because medical science can not prove NDE'S is more a reflection on the limitations of medical science rather than disproving NDE's aren't real.

  31. @Joseph B the number of cases and their similarity to each other may just as well speak to the fact that we all have what is in most aspects a human brain which cause us to experience all sorts of nonsense which can be comforting or terrifying as the circumstances demand. I can recall when I was two years old looking out of my bedroom window and seeing a 1/4 size train coming around the corner of the house. I was likely coming down with some childhood illness but the "reality" of the hallucination was convincing and made me feel very special indeed.

  32. @Joseph B People are terrified of death, and they seek comfort. Supernaturalistic interpretations of NDEs are part of a terror-management strategy. And there’s strength in numbers. But unfortunately just adding more and more (similar) reports does not establish that the contents are literally true. There is a much more plausible explanation of the patterns in NDEs: we human beings have similar biologies and psychologies. I believe that most of the reports are absolutely sincere. The question is how to interpret them, and in my books I give an interpretation that offers hope and captures the beauty and transformational power of NDEs. The mistake, in my view, is to think that only supernaturalism can do this.

  33. @John Fischer I am a logical person who has never experienced an NDE. However, In the case of Eben Alexander, as he points out his physical brain was essentially not functional, yet he had very vivid experiences including meeting someone he never met who turned out to be his biological sister. How does medical science explain how people can accurately describe what medical staff and family members are discussing while their hearts have stopped? This is more than a hallucination and no I do not think this is supernatural, but reality that consciousness exist outside the brain for which our medical science currently can not explain.

  34. What is "rational" to someone who has undergone a life transforming experience is different from what is rational to someone who hasn't. Spiritual experiences are like secret pieces to life's puzzle that show us that the puzzle is far richer and more wonderful than we previously realized. What's frustrating to science is that those pieces get handed to us as individuals for our personal benefit and they are non-transferable to others. Science can't stand is that these puzzle pieces get handed out unevenly, almost as though there were a conscious intent to take into account a person's particular needs and merit rather than by agency of an impersonal physical or biological law. The bottom line is that these experiences all have the character of a "privileged encounter" with the divine and the inability of science to force that encounter in a laboratory inevitably leads to scientists declaring that those spiritual grapes -- grapes they've never tasted -- are sour.

  35. You’ve reminded me of William James’ thoughts as expressed in “The Varieties of Religious Experience “. He envied those that had mystical experiences but though he hoped for one, never had one. He was not skeptical but remained respectful and open to questioning. As a physician and scientist myself, I think that’s a wise choice.

  36. Subjectively, all death is near death experiences because of quantum immortality. We all just go on and on, being eliminated into ever more improbable alternate worlds until we have had so many close calls that the only world we can still be in must be a simulation. So if you want to do real things in the real world do them early.

  37. @Robert David South That sounds like physics babble from a non-physicist.

  38. By nature, any experience is subjective and can be claimed for real only by the individual going through it. What my own glimpse on the 'beyond' (due to being hit by lightning) revealed, twisted my understanding of space and time. I did see my whole life pass by in less than a second; but time was not the measure, and 'after-life' seemed to have meaning only in a physical time-space context. Back in familiar space and time, I added a big grain of salt on what we call reality.

  39. Whether N.D.Es are real and a glimpse into the after life or a manifestation of the physical brain is just not known or even knowable. There is much we don't understand about our bodies, time, space and the universe around us.

  40. @Bear Lass It is as knowable as anything in our universe though that knowledge may not be as comforting as you would like. knowing that our losses are real should awaken us to the value of even the meanest among us.

  41. How do we know that this is supernatural? We don't even know what's natural. I've had out of body experiences since I was a child. I view these as neither routine nor inexplicable. I don't believe in god and don't hold these incidents to be divine, especially considering that I've had some corroboration of events from others. I still don't know enough to speak with conviction, and arguments pro and con both leave me dubious.

  42. Years ago I read an article about NDEs and a doctor/researcher attempt to prove whether it was real. He wanted to determine if people really floated above their bodies and looked down upon themselves in a hospital setting. He had small high shelves put just below the ceiling on top of each platform was a picture or words. The concept was that if you were high enough you could see these pictures or words. He thought that when you returned to your body and woke up and described what happened and what you saw at least one of these items would be in the individual’s description of what they saw. I thought it was a clever study design. Unfortunately, I could never find the results. I wonder if anyone has read about this study or seen the results

  43. @##A. Seeker Thanks for the question. Sam Parnia, M.D. (N.Y.U.), is doing similar research. He places screens in hospital wards (intensive care wards) where the patient cannot see them from the bed. The screens flash numbers, and the patients (who wake up!) are then asked whether they saw numbers (and what they were). This study is called the AWARE study, and it is still ongoing. The Templeton Foundation’s Immortality Project, of which I was the Project Leader, provided financial support to Dr. Parnia for this research (as did many others). It is fascinating, and we’re looking forward to the results. I cannot speak for Dr Parnia, but I’m unaware (sorry--pun intended) of definitive positive results (yet), but we’ll see..

  44. @John Fischer Haha! I mean if you believed in the accuracy of NDEs, you'd surely believe that this was in immoral way to intrude upon a meaningful experience with a trivial task. (Imagine if I went up to my father on his deathbed and said, "Dad, there's something I always wanted to ask you--will you take this n-back test?")

  45. @##A. Seeker I don't think anyone saw the object because as some NDE'ers explained, they are drawn to look at their bodies, not an object on the ceiling. Many do accurately described what loved ones and hospital staff are doing while they have flatlined.

  46. NDEs are so outside the norms of normal waking experience that much of what is perceived cannot be communicated, only hinted at. If you haven't had one, you're never going to understand. They're simply outside your level of perception.

  47. @CB This is true to an extent. It is true of all spiritual experiences that they are to some degree “ineffable”. Granted. But the literature is filled with descriptions of these NDEs--with supernatural contents, when interpreted literally. My project has been to give an interpretation of these experiences which is faithful to the reported contents, but emphasizes the “journey” part, and not so much the destination. In my view, they are indeed “real” in the sense that people really have these beautiful experiences. They are, in my view, not fundamentally about contact with other realms, but getting a different perspective on ours--specifically, the last part of our lives. People think of them as the trip of an afterlifetime. I give priority to the “trip” part, rather than the “afterlife” part. They are primarily stories of a voyage from the known to the unknown, guided by a loving mentor. This kind of story resonates deeply with human beings, and can point to a more humane way of dying--surrounded by loved ones.

  48. @CB For that matter, any experience of any kind had by any conscious living being is outside the ability of any one of us to perceive and understand. You can only speculate what it is like to be me, and vice versa. And who can fathom the experiences of a rhino, crow, fish, or beetle? We each have only one conscious life through which we perceive reality, and our perception likely wildly distorts what is actually going on and completely omits all sorts occurrences we are actually capable of perceiving as well as a vast amount that is beyond our perception. So in reality, none of us is no more or no less well positioned to contemplate the experiences of others. My point is that people's NDE's vary as much from each other as their actual life experiences. Just because you've had an NDE does not put you in an exclusive club that only fellow NDEers can relate to.

  49. @John Fischer I wonder if the tunnel people describe could be the Birkeland Currents that enter and exit our polar regions. Electromagnetism and the living-like qualities of plasma seem like a more plausible direction to explore than a supernatural one. I remember hearing Dr. James Ryder, former VP of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and head of a space tech R & D group, speaking in 2017 (before his death). He said when astrophysicists gather in homes, away from the press, they talk about consciousness, reincarnation and other mystical ideas because of their growing understanding of energy, frequency, vibration and magnetic fields in space. Even DNA is influenced by electric fields. And there was that wonderful video of the flash of light at conception from a couple of years ago.

  50. Oxygen deprivation narcosis. What happens to astronauts when they nearly run out of O2? It's trippy, man.

  51. If NDE's are caused by ingestion of psychedelic substances why do they apparently occur only in situations in which one's life is in jeopardy? NDE's sound terrific. Why should someone's life have to be placed in jeopardy in order to enjoy them? Or do some people have NDE's that are actually horrible and we just don't hear about them?

  52. @Jay Orchard Thanks, Jay. Some NDE researchers do indeed call spiritual experiences with the same structure as the experiences that take place in “near-death contexts” NDEs. That is, they use the term “NDE” broadly to include spiritual experiences, such as those induced by ingestion of psychedelic substances, such as LSD. There is an interesting report of such an LSD-induced experience reported by Oliver Sachs, in his book Hallucinations (not his experience, but one reported to him). I would prefer to call these “near-near-death experiences,” or “quasi-near-death experiences,” or something like that. But the terminology is not crucial. What is important is that experiences very much like “standard” NDEs can be induced by psychedelic substances. This at least calls into question the view that the only explanation for NDEs is supernaturalism.

  53. @John Fischer I have experienced regressing to childhood one time and forward to my funeral,in another experience after drinking Ayahuasca. While not a classic NDE, it certainly eased my fear of death. The boundary between life and death was very fluid and veiled in my experience. I didn't see relatives and friends yet I could sense their presence and knew exactly where I had traveled to in time. It was comforting yet mind blowing simultaneously.

  54. @Jay Orchard The author didn't say all NDE's are caused by psychedelics. I have had out of body experiences and don't know if they were "real" or hallucinatory, but I was not near death at the time not had I taken any substances. Are these experiences merely neurological artifacts or do they indicate something spiritual and an indication of things beyond our temporal plane and our understanding in "this life?" I don't know and I like not knowing.

  55. I have had one. I appreciate your analysis. You may contact me for details if you wish.

  56. Having almost died a couple of times it’s almost definitely lack of oxygen. That’s not to say it’s not spiritual. Some not so bad memories.

  57. Well, gosh, if the NDE's are real to the person (your words), and, not provably not real to everyone else (obvious to everyone), why bother hypothesizing that DE's are not provably real without being able to prove it? Seems like a waste of energy and time. I always figured I would let other people believe whatever they want to believe, and, then, maybe they give me the freedom to believe what I want to believe. Since, all the discussion in this article is outside provable reality, then, we might as well all just sit around and chat and be friends.

  58. As a geologist, I've been faced many times with confronting individual beliefs that are not supported by science (evolution as a real process, the age of the Earth, etc.) and I long ago learned to let others have their beliefs without having to hear any grousing from me. What does it matter, anyway? Thomas Jefferson, a Christian, said “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Another thought: If the afterlife is in another dimension that we cannot see or feel or measure, perhaps that's the whole point. It is the 96% of the universe we don't know and for which we can only have faith that it exists. Were we designed that way? Again, I would consult TJ.

  59. @Greg W Jefferson was a deist. He even edited out all the miracles in the Gospels, ending with Jesus dead in the tomb. You can call him a Christian if you like, but he didn't believe in the resurrection or any miracles, so not exactly what modern people think of when they think of "Christian".

  60. @Greg W - Unfortunately, believers in religion almost always want to FORCE everyone else to practice the dictates of their particular religious dogma. From abortion restrictions to blue laws to alcohol prohibitions to contraception restrictions to cow protection to same-sex marriage to veganism to the allowance of slavery to ... Religion ruins everything. P.S. An “afterlife” is just wishful thinking on the part of the masses and a very useful fiction for those in power. Sorry.

  61. They are as real as dreams.

  62. @Remarque and dreams are clues...ask jung..

  63. Mr. Fischer doesn't understand neuroscience like Dr. Eben Alexander nor has he had an NDE. Dr. Alexander's book makes one less of a skeptic about NDE's but no one knows the secret until they do.

  64. @Jacquie Yes, but I don’t think Dr. Alexander understands philosophy like I do! Granted, I don’t have answers to the existential questions, such as what happens after we die. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. But these are not questions in neuroscience or medicine; they are metaphysical questions, and scientists and doctors do not have special training in these questions. I’ve read Dr. Alexander’s two books carefully, and they do not convince me that he ever rode on the wings of a butterfly. I’m sure he is sincere, and he did have that experience; but I think it is most charitable not to interpret it literally. His work has offered hope to many, and that’s important and welcome. But I also think that many of us want genuine hope, not false hope, and thus we want to evaluate his and others’ stories and conclusions with care.

  65. @John Fischer Eben Alexander explained how it would be impossible for his brain to be functioning, yet he had a very vivid experience. He also described meeting a woman he never met who turned out be his biological sister that he recognised after his NDE when he met his biological parents. How does your philosophical studies explain that?

  66. @John Fischer I remember arguing that Berkeley in reference to his idea that there was no reality beyond what can be experienced in the moment was a matter of his attempt to inject a faith element into the philosophical realm. Then along came quantum physics and I had to rethink my critique.

  67. Looking forward to reading Professor Fischer's take on a more important topic -- solving the environmental crisis.

  68. The physical body, including the brain, is the vehicle through which the spiritual soul operates in this life. We know this because, even in these modern times, no scientist can explain what consciousness, or self awareness, is. When we procreate we only produce the physical body. God supplies the soul. When we die the soul returns to God.

  69. @Aaron Adams That is your theology. It is no more true or real than the theology of the Ancient Egyptian who believed death is a journey on which he would need sustenance.

  70. @Aaron Adams Just because scientists are still trying to understand consciousness does not prove the existence of a soul. That is an argument from ignorance: if we can't explain it, it must be supernatural.

  71. @rlschles How do you know what is true or what is not true? How does anyone? All I take issue with is the statement “is no more true or real than the theology of...”. Everything stands or dies on the basis of evidence and reasoning. What is the evidence to your assertion? All I can tell you authoritatively is you used to be dead. You were then created out a squidgy despised bit of goo into a thinking, feeling and living human being. You will live for a very short time and then die again, your body decaying back into dead stuff. This is the base nature of even the most powerful and arrogant Trump’s of this world. You are one of the most complicated machines in the known universe, intricately created out of infinitesimally tiny lego bricks. You weren’t created by another human being, but you were definitely designed, created and assembled. Everything seems to have been. When we try and make even really poor copies of living things, like robots, we have to design, create and assemble them. They never just occur spontaneously, so we know that is the basic process by which complicated things like ourselves come into existence. Those are the facts. And as Aaron Adams correctly pointed out, no scientist can explain what consciousness is and no one can replicate it (including this physicist and neuroscientist). I’ve spent my whole life learning, and the more I learn the more I am humbled and realise I know nothing.

  72. My spouse had a heart attack--a block in the left main artery, the mother of the widow-maker. When the paramedics arrived, there was no heart beat. CPR started the heart again, then failed again. They had to apply shock there in the kitchen then rush to the hospital. According to my spouse, being dead was incredibly easy. Everything in life is done. Just done. There is nothing to fear about the end of life.

  73. @DC having no heart beat isn't the same as being lifeless IN a medical setting people can go for rather extended periods with a flat EKG.

  74. This article demonstrates why philosophy cannot reason its way to understanding an experience that is beyond the conventional, conceptual mind. First, the author, who apparently has not had any NDE or any other out-of-body experience, argues that the experiences of others do not accurately depict the reality they describe. That's like someone who has never fallen in love saying that no one else's experience of love is evidence that love actually exists. Second, he relies on the fact that there are so many differences in their descriptions of the afterlife. Why presume that the description would be uniform? If you compared most people's descriptions of life on earth, you would find enormous differences. Does that mean that this world doesn't exist? Of course not. Perhaps what should be compelling evidence is how consistently those who have NDEs or other spiritual experiences describe a state of unity and love, but that commonality is given short shrift. Third, he complains that NDEs describe coming close to the afterlife without successfully entering it. Yes, that's the very definition of a NDE -- "near" death, but not death itself.

  75. @Paul Thanks for your thoughtful engagement. I do indeed take it that NDEs accurately report their contents; it is just that I contend that their primary contents are about a journey in the last part of our lives. They show that this journey can be guided by loving mentors; in short, they point to the possibility of a more human way of dying--a possibility of increasing interest to many. I do not give short shrift to the importance of “unity and love”--I think this is the lesson of NDEs! They are stories of hope and love. But they are not like a Hollywood love story in which we live happily forever after. Rather, they depict solidarity and love in facing the unknown.

  76. @Paul A man once showed me how to swing a small object attached to a string in a figure eight by my thought alone. I held the string but did not move it with my body, I just imagined that it moved, and it did. At home, I tried it again. Funny, I could not do it without my finger touching the string. Funny. I moved the string, very slightly and imperceptibly but I moved it. NDE are from the living brain perceiving sensations while alive, that;s all.

  77. @Casual Observer my view, casual, is that this view (the biochemical view) has not been proven, and is just as much about faith as regarding NDE's as actually occurring. We simply don't know, in a scientific sense There has been some evidence that Neuro activity continues in a "dead" brain for some time, but it is as big a leap to say that is what "causes" NDE's at to say that NDE's are actually occuring.

  78. This is always a very interesting topic. Perhaps most interesting is the meaning behind these events. From a theological perspective I find myself asking if there is a reason the God/Gods chose to allow these specific individuals a glance of heaven, hell, or anything in between. The rarity of these events in comparison to the vast amount of near death experiences that must occur on a daily basis around the world suggests that the God/Gods have a very specific criterion that must be fulfilled to be granted such a privilege. Thus the question of meaning is most interesting to me. Now departing from a theological perspective in pursuit of an agnostic one; I find myself pondering upon the credibility of these individuals and their stories. since one particular N.D.E seemingly cannot be determined to be more real or credible than another, what implications might this bring to an inquiring agnostic? Is an agnostic to believe that all of these experiences may be "real" in the second sense? Might this lead one to a religious hodgepodge of syncritism? These questions as well as many more only have me interested in learning more about N.D.Es Great article!

  79. I prefer to approach the world with wonder than with cynicism. Why? Because the improbability of me being born alone, in the 20th century, in North America is pretty damn crazy as it is. The vastness is the infinite universe and the infinite timeline are crazy enough as well. Trees “communicating” to each other via chemicals as reported in this very paper is crazy. Men in the moon, photos of Mars, the enduring one sick in the dryer mystery..... It’s too much. How NDE are happening can perhaps be described but they can’t fully be explained because everything is genuinely subjective. Who knowa the nature of reality? I don’t.

  80. Interesting that Hindu gods never appear to a N.D.E. Christian and announce "Buddy, are you in for a surprise."

  81. @LJB Okay I'll report my dream/vision was of Elephant Ganesh telling me that this was a figure of meaning for my daughter, not available to me, from my position in culture and generation. Im a Henry James Psychology of Religion fan, by the way. His daddy had a vision of Evil and became a Swedenborgian. I was raised in Ethical Culture Society. Just saying.

  82. i think it is trivializing the experience written about in this article to make an acronym an use it blithely throughout. i am P.A.B.T. I don't have a reason to jutify tht i am profoundly nnoyed by this, it just seems disrespectful.

  83. @kate What the heck is PABT? Are we to be impressed with this? I do not understand your comment.

  84. @Ellen A. i made so many typos you can be excused for now seeing it in the comment.'profoundy annoyed by this'. sorry.

  85. I thought I was going to die in a car crash I saw coming at me once and time slowed so that I could think and remember. I think our minds sometimes take control under extreme circumstances and we "see the light."

  86. I already had premonitory dreams. I already had a "Dejavu" (something that has already been seen). I had experiences of dying and having returned. And it was an intriguing experience, I'm a Catholic, I'm a Christian, I don't know anything about "spiritism", and today I value life a lot, vivier is good, but this experience outside the body I didn't have, but there's something that protects us, a good energy, I can say that it is God, I liked reading your article, it is a subject that undoubtedly generates a lot of controversy, because it goes against the belief of each one.

  87. Transient severe lack of oxygenated blood to the brain will produce the most interesting memories (assuming the deoxygenated organ is not too damaged for too long a time, and that it can recover its full functioning after the episode during which time memory development was still able to be accomplished). If you wish to anthropomorphize a physiologic reaction to transient poor oxygen levels, so be it. But it ain't supernatural.

  88. Someday science/medicine will figure out how to do this and bring us back safely and then it will be commercialized.

  89. @Monty LOL, yep, if pharmaceuticals can sell it, they will.

  90. I had the experience as a child. I seemed disembodied, I floated toward a light. I communicated with a spirit or something saying my parents would be very sad if I left them and I really should go back. It was quite vivid but I never took it as real. I was a vivid dreamer and I just thought of this as dreamlike. I was an adult before I heard of other people with these experiences. I didn't then and do not now take any hope from it for an afterlife.

  91. So you're basically saying Santa isn't real, but he's real to countless children and their parents who embrace the Christmas spirit. I'd rather just live a life trying to do my best, help others and die peacefully if possible. That's enough for me.

  92. @Mixilplix I think BHC is saying we can't assume Santa is real because, like everyone else who's had an NDE, he/she didn't quite make it to the North Pole.

  93. If the experience is real, it's real. And science is not the be-all and end-all. So near death experiences, like faith, do not require scientific proof.

  94. @David Actually, science is the be-all and end-all. NDEs and faith may not require scientific proof, but I do.

  95. So if you have an experience you require scientific proof that you had that experience? Fair enough.

  96. The author obviously hasn't had this experience. I am not religious, but I went to what could only be described as 'heaven,' and then I had a choice, and I chose to come back. I will go there/pass through that experience one more time when I die for good. There could be a biological explanation - hormonal surge or something - but I don't care. I just know that the experience of death is joyful. I am just very glad to know it is waiting for me. What most people would view as a miserable hospital experience, was for me the best day of my life. Erased my fear of death.

  97. @George Would that we could all lose our fear of death, but life provides more fear than consolation while conscious and walking around for the rest of us.

  98. @George I hope life can provide you that same joy.

  99. @George I also had a choice.

  100. of course. science and faith can never agree. this article is dumb. he might as well have written an article proving that Moses didn't cross the Red Sea or that Jesus isn't the literal Son of God.

  101. Many of those who have recently lost someone close will hear them calling especially in the middle of the night. They are correct in saying that they heard their loved one calling but they are fooling themselves if they believe that the call came from anywhere outside their own brain. Realizing this can be very comforting since it speaks of the great importance the relationship had for them

  102. "Choice" is an aspect of the divine. While the future isn't set, the probabilities are. And the probability that all souls reach their divine-self is 100%." ... Paul Selig

  103. Two experiences reported to me by friends: The first was not a NDE, but floating out of one's body. My friend fell asleep in a room at the end of a hallway. She floated "out of her body," and her spirit, or whatever one would call it, floated into the room at the other end of the house where two people were having a business discussion. When she woke up, she went down the hall to the room where the discussion was going on and to their astonishment, repeated, almost word for word, what the other two had been saying. The Second is more dramatic: as a desperate teenager, a friend had driven 100 mph into a cement wall to kill herself. Her body was taken to the hospital, she was pronounced dead, body taken to the morgue, toe tag. Meanwhile, she woke up to discover herself surrounded by beings of light who were so loving and kind, told her many things that she later could not recall but for the one instruction that she had to return to earth, she wasn't done yet, she had responsibilities to fulfill including children to bring to earth, and things would go well. The beings would watch over her. They finally convinced her to go back to earth. She woke up. At first she was furious at having to leave that loving place, and only partly recalled what the loving beings had said. But she was never suicidal again, her fear and depression vanished, She went on to recover from alcoholism, have a career, marry and have the two children.

  104. @Jim I'm still trying to fathom someone who drove "100mph into a cement wall" could possibly survive.

  105. The word to consider here is "near." You can be near a lot of things, without actually understanding or experiencing it. Worse, pseudoscientists and new age mystics have many techniques to obscure definitions, and make unfalsifiable, idiosyncratic claims that can't be tested. Often, they hide behind advanced degrees. If anyone besides a physicist uses the word "quantum", be very suspicious.

  106. It's a ridiculous conclusion to conclude that NDE's show us we can die well. There is a much larger and more important question to face. It is a revolutionary thought on a Copenicun scale to wonder if the brain creates consciousness. To avoid wanting to find a way to look deeper seems short-sighted. It is an extraordinary claim, but science is not a religion it is a tool that points in the direction of truth. The evidence, anecdotal and statistical, says there is something more to uncover.

  107. I'm glad to see this article because the topic is important. I have studied Near Death Experiences for over 20 years. This article claims that NDE's are "clear, vivid dreams and hallucinations". This is absolutely false and is not supported by any facts. He also says that NDErs "depict a journey towards an imagined guarded realm"- again this is absolutely false. The article presents long-ago debunked assumptions and prejudicial biases as facts, which is a bit frustrating. There is so much more evidence that NDE accounts are real as told than there is evidence against them (eg. dreams/hallucinations/or whatever other excuse) . Why believe the viewpoint of an armchair philosopher rather than people who have actually had the experience? Yes, there is absolutely life after death; we will all discover this soon enough. However, NDE experiencers also offer significant insights and important lessons. It's really worth watching some first-hand accounts on YouTube. I recommend Nancy Rynes, Jane Smith and Mary Neil. Enjoy!

  108. @Kristina Pelletier Thank you! I just knew the article would be a waste of time. So I have scanned the Reader Picks. And made a few notes. Yours is the only one I have responded to, though I consider many others worthy as well. I'll check the names you recommended. I recommend Gurumayi. Also recommend The Afterlife of Billy Fingers.

  109. @Kristina Pelletier Thank you! I just knew the article would be a waste of time. So I have scanned the Reader Picks. And made a few notes. Yours is the only one I have responded to, though I consider many others worthy as well. I'll check the names you recommended. I recommend Gurumayi.

  110. @Kristina Pelletier Near death experiences offer no actual insight into what happens when we die; they offer a view of what it's like to be almost gone, to almost enter the total, closed finality of death. I think there may in fact be an existance beyond this one, but near death experiences don't describe that. For all we know, the gates of hell lie just beyond the out of body phase.

  111. We gosh, if NDE's are real to the person having them (your words), and not provably real (or not) to everyone else (obvious to everyone), then, why bother forming the hypothesis, in this article, that they are not provably real, since, it is impossible to prove they are not real? Seems like a waste of time time and energy. I always figured I would let other people believe whatever they want to believe, and, then, they would leave me alone to believe what I want to believe. Because, as long as the conversation is in belief space, as this entire article is, then, anyone can believe anything that they want. Correct?

  112. Everything is supernatural until we figure it out. Then it is ordinary. I assume the same will be true of heaven if it exists.

  113. Ah, yet another issuance of the classic ignorant academic scientific naturalism that has been poisoning the world for at least three centuries now! Of course our author bypasses dealing with the actual evidence for NDE's by distracting us with his largely irrelevant neurophysiological, psychological, and philosophical musings about the unreality of heaven and hell. As if that were central to the issue at hand. How much more helpful it would have been had Fischer dared examine the abundant evidence for the reality of near death experiences, especially in relation to associated out-of-the-body experiences. It is now thoroughly well-documented that the consciousness of some hospital patients at the threshold of death becomes reoriented from inside their body to a vantage point outside of it, from which viewpoint they subsequently observe doings in the room by hospital staff that could not possibly have been seen from the patient's closed-eye bodily position. When, after recovering normal bodily awareness, those patients report their observations to hospital staff in some instances the staff confirm the very specific factualities presented to them. This has been clearly documented on numerous occasions. Of course, once you critically review the evidence for NDEs, OBEs, synchronicity, and the many other direct disproofs our the dominant scientific reductionism, you have to confront the fact that you-and our entire culture--has been deeply deceived for a very long time.

  114. Another bad take in the NYT unfortunately. The piece presents a a simple case of closed mindedness and limited thinking; it certainly does not somehow disprove NDEs are not accurate and real depictions of an external reality. Furthermore, there is no actual basis for the supposition that a reality beyond our normal living experience is not "plausible". It's a little depressing to see the pure materialist takes elevated in this way...

  115. @Jp I equally have no actual basis for the supposition that my room is currently not filled with miniature, invisible, flying pink elephants. But I am on *very* solid logical ground in making that supposition and it is the job of someone else to prove the rather fantastical truth that those elephants exist. I can not prove a nonexistence nor am I logically required to do so. However, all reports from the after-life are understandable as the functioning of or resilient brains in near death stress moments, most particularly in situations of reduced oxygen/blood flow. There was a fascinating piece on RadioLab some years ago about research pilots in a centrifuge experiencing clearly reported "out of body" experiences as a result of loss of blood flow to the brain. The pilots absolutely had those experiences. They absolutely did *not* "leave their bodies" and then return. So, yes, there *is* a basis for the supposition that a reality beyond normal living experience is not plausible. A very sturdy basis, in fact. (this comment is aimed at the lack of logic from Citizen Bill equally)

  116. @Paul Fisher explanations such as "functioning of or resilient brains" and "loss of oxygen/blood flow" weight materialist hypotheses very heavily relative to the experience of the individuals who have NDEs. Given the minuscule degree to which we understand how consciousness emerges from, or relates to our brains, believing these biology based explains without question is foolhardy. In the case of the pilots who did *not* leave their bodies, how was that determined definitively? The question in that scenario is "where" the consciousness of the pilot was at a given point in time...difficult to determine empirically to say the least. Which brings me to my final point; it sounds like "prove" to you means some type of demonstration consistent with our very limited materialist understanding of reality, or with your "normal living experience". I'm arguing that this is a limiting viewpoint that potentially cuts humanity off from explanations and information that could be of immense value. There very well may be aspects of reality that fundamentally fall outside materialist explanation. Believe it or not, I have a PhD in molecular biology, and continue to have success in academic science, where, to my frustration, I see the scientism perspective prevailing daily. Clearly biology and science in general is a powerful way of knowing for what it can know, but I believe for humanity to progress, we can't be unnecessarily limiting the scope of the reality we are willing to accept.

  117. @Jp Thank you for this reply to the materialists!

  118. In a Sunday NYT Magazine story a few months ago there was a lot of information about brain activity work being done at Yale, I believe. It was only briefly noted, however, that there is possibly some cognition even after the rest of the body ceases to function. Perhaps, briefly, we can actually "know" we have died, but only someone who is miraculously saved would remember it as an N.D.E

  119. @John B I think I know the answer to the question, "Can the brain continue to function briefly after the loss of all medical and external indications of life?" It would appear to be entirely plausible. I have had dreams of, "out of body," experiences but that is not proof of life after death. However, it may well be the same for NDEs. As my father once put it when I had my first inkling of the finality of death, "I don't know what happens for sure, but have you ever seen anyone come back to complain!"

  120. What people describe is the hallucination induced by the trauma of near-death. It is real, as in they indeed had the hallucination, and if they survived he N.D.E., lived to tell about it, which is how we know about it. It is quite possible that death is just a step in an eternal journey, or in an eternal cycle of births and deaths. It is equally possible that death is the end, with nothing beyond it. But those hallucinations, while fascinating and mystical, provide no evidence of anything eternal.

  121. I tend to agree with assertion that NDEs are symptomatic of a dying brain. I don’t think most of us realize the extent to which the body can behave independent of our consciousness. I began to think this way after an extended fasting diet. That period was unbearable. I thought about food constantly. Food smelled better, stronger; I read cookbooks all the time and I don’t like cooking. I thought I was just weak, that I should control my thinking better. At some later point I read a book about a man who survived at sea on a life raft for maybe 3 months. (My memory is hazy on that). He also thought about food constantly. It dawned on me that our brains are wired to encourage us to eat when the body is starving. The enhanced food aromas, the food obsession have nothing to do with conscious thought. They are symptoms of a starving brain, acquired through millions of years of human evolution. Perhaps we should consider what the purpose is of the NDE phenomenon. Does it somehow stimulate a return to “life?” Our will to survive, including the innovations and solutions that arise in dangerous situations, also may arise from something older and stronger than human consciousness.

  122. @Gabrielle Rose - An interesting thought, thanks! It also makes me sad to think that you, or anyone, would be in a position of doubting yourself because, during a long fast, you thought about food all the time! I mean, duh! We all need to better trust that our own feelings and body sensations are OK.

  123. As a critical care nurse, I was involved in many resuscitation efforts. I was always interested to listen to patients who wanted to describe the experience afterwards. Often they saw deceased friends and relatives, or religious figures. Sometimes there was the experience of the tunnel and a light. Some people said they had watched resuscitation efforts from above or through a window. Every once in awhile a patient would ring to tell me they had just seen a long dead relative in their room, and go into a cardiac arrest a short time later. I hold open the possibility that these experiences are as real as any other part of our existence. With the physicists talking about parallel and mirror universes, defining reality gets a bit more difficult.

  124. @CSB what an interesting comment. I read about how science predicts many different dimensions existing simultaneously so these near death experiences surely are a mystery and I'm glad they still are TBH.

  125. @CSB The Tunnel is fairly common in Western NDEs but much less so in Asian experiences, where they're more likely to cross a river.

  126. @CSB Your experiences are very interesting, and a good reminder that even though another may not have experienced some of these mysteries, they are out there--and not to be discounted.

  127. Unfortunately I suffer from frequent vasovagal reactions, otherwise know as fainting. Since I was a teenager I have probably fainted at least 15 times and every time I have had N.D.E.s in that I've had an "out of body" experience, seen the bright light, seen high speed images of my life, seen close friends and family, etc. As Fischer notes, N.D.E.s are real and people "really have these experiences, just like people really dream. So N.D.E.s are real in the sense of 'authentic' — they really occur." Are they evidence of an afterlife? No. They are simply incredibly deep and intense dreams caused by a physical and chemical reaction when a person loses consciousness. I'm guessing that if I were a deeply religious person, I might see something divine like many people do when they have N.D.E.s. But religion is not a part of my life and therefore doesn't become part of my dreams or N.D.E.s.

  128. @Rob me too! I have weird "dreams" when I am in a faint.

  129. Here's an interesting monograph (available from Amazon) on the matter under discussion: Illusory Souls G. M. Woerle The gist of his argument is that the "soul" is a construct of the living brain and has no separate existence of its own. He concludes the same for "out-of-body" experiences.

  130. Of course people will describe their experience differently! We each use the language and symbols we are familiar with to describe all sorts of things, why would this be any different? A variety of descriptions for a shared experience of phenomena are standard unless all parties agree to precise terms beforehand as, for example, do mathematicians communicating with one another in the course of solving a problem. That said, whether NDE provide "evidence" of consciousness and individual identity after death is not answerable. But I appreciate Professor Fischer's assertion that they are "real experiences" to most who report them.

  131. I had a motorcycle accident in 1981 and suffered multiple fractures, including back, neck, hip, & pelvis along with massive internal bleeding, suspected ruptured spleen, concussion and amnesia. I had a NDE in hospital, lying on a bed waiting for X-Rays when I saw myself looking down at me at the same time I was looking up at myself. There was no distinction, for I was both at the same time. I ‘knew’ I had the choice to ‘stay’ or ‘go’. It was not a religious experience for me, but transformed how I thought about death. For a period of 10 years or so following the accident i experienced almost déjà vu moments and often found myself somewhere where I had no recollection of how I got there. I consider my experiences to be the result of my accident where I was highly traumatized both physically and mentally with the severe concussion. I came to accept my NDE as my brains mechanism of self-protection, but that didn’t explain the powerful, almost daily déjà vu occurrences. I got into religion, since I thought ‘that must be it’, but after a while came to the conclusion that finding God was all too simple and convenient and eventually became an atheist. I no longer have any such moments, but feel changed forever by my NDE.

  132. I had a cardiac arrest a few years ago where my heart stopped for two minutes. Fortunately, I was at a medical clinic hooked up to a heart monitor so I was revived by defibrillator. There was no white light; no out of body experience. It was like before I was born: nothing. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

  133. @Frank Fortunato You quoted the Bible in your last line. It also says God knew us and all the days we would live before we were born (Psalm 139:16 & others). And that to be absent from our body (read: we are not just a body) is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) I’m betting my soul on what the Bible says. It proves too many things beyond a doubt.

  134. @Frank Fortunato Ummm - before your birth, nothing. I assume you are Pro-Choice, then?

  135. I was hoping the author of this Opinion was going to address the countless reports of unconscious patients reporting details of events and procedures taking place in the room - from vantage points physically impossible for the patient to witness - while close to death. These are hard to explain, regardless of their conscious state, without some kind of out-of-body phenomena taking place. I'm not saying NDEs are "real" in both senses described by the author. But something is going on in these reports that's beyond a mere dream (or delusion). Insisting otherwise is silly. FWIW, two (unrelated) members of my family insist they had deeply moving episodes of NDE while being resuscitated. The details of these events (decades apart) are strikingly similar even though they'd never met. Their sincerity and deeply-felt life-changing effects are hard to dismiss. Color me: Open-minded on NDEs.

  136. There are instances where people around the bedside of a dying person also experience the NDE. They see what the patient sees. How do you explain that? They are not having oxygen deprivation.

  137. Life after Death is a trivial question since all alive were once born. The NDE is interesting for other reasons and can be scientifically examined. Just not very well by philosophers. They use consciousness to study consciousness - like using the eye to see the eye; you end up nowhere. Daniel Dennett believes if you know synapses, you've got it all, that's it. A. J. Ayer was a disbeliever, until he had an NDE. But then he walked it back, saying he was just rather more flexible in his disbelief. MDs deal with death and see things philosophers do not. They're in the other camp, that there's a life after death. That's a stretch, but they absolutely say consciousness can survive, at least for a while. The Tibetan Book of the Dead agrees, after which the soul fades and individuality disappears. Shamans use plants to escape the confines of the everyday body and return with supra-physical knowledge that's practical and real; they might determine who stole what or return with a cure that works. NDEs on the operating table commonly know what's happening in the other room and what people were thinking while they were clinically dead. Those who collect NDEs scientifically conclude that mind and brain are separate. You can have one without the other. This is our common experience with dreaming. Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff's theory is that undifferentiated consciousness arises within the brain from quantum states in the microtubules. Sounds good to me.

  138. As a physicist I can assure professor Fischer that the concept of “reality” is as abstract as NDE. I find you patronize those who have experienced alternative realities but science is not on your side. We already know that matters pop in and out of existence but have no idea where it comes nor where it goes or how this happen. All evidence suggest that we live in a holographic universe; perhaps NDE is the closest we are to true reality.

  139. @Marc Exactly. Let someone prove that reality is "real". Is it true that when examined up close that matter is essentially almost entirely nothing?

  140. @Peter Well, not nothing, but merely an ‘instruction’ or ‘law’ to exist, if I can put it that way. This is the quantum field theoretic description of not just matter, but even space and time itself. The field is the most fundamental description of reality. And a field is just a law for a particle to obey in some part of spacetime. For example, every object on the Earth will obey the field law of gravity and will fall with exactly the same acceleration if dropped. In quantum field theory not just the forces, but even the particles and spacetime itself can be described by this field concept. Everything is just a ‘command’ to exist. From a religious perspective, God says ‘Be’ and it is.

  141. @Marc Thank you for your cogent response. The limited viewpoint of the logicians are driving me crazy!

  142. The experience around death (and coming back from it) means little in regards to what is out there, or not. For all we know, "we go back" into "the oneness" essence and then from there ..... a lack of solid evidence for a "life" beyond doesn't refute that or all of the other possibilities. The one thing I'm pretty sure of is that it was quite a trick to create a Universe (at least one) out of complete nothingness and then provide the building blocks for crazily complex life to evolve. I don't even need my own little soul to be pretty pleased about that.

  143. My husband suffered a massive heart attack in September 2016. He went into cardiac arrest, VFib five times and had to be defibrillated every time. He told me later that when he was unconscious, he saw a white light and a tree. There were two people and they were whispering something. He couldn’t see them though as the light was too bright.

  144. When my mother-in- law was dying in hospital, I witnessed an unusual experience when she appeared to have died. She flatlined for what was several minutes, the monitor tape showed no heartbeat, and the attending nurse could not detect a heart beat. Then, her heart would begin to beat, and she regained consciousness. She spoke with her husband, daughter, and myself about her being aware of us standing around her. bedside holding hands saying a prayer while she was thought to have died. This experience happened twice while in ICU. The nurse told us she had never witnessed an experience like this and asked us if she could retain the monitor tape. We agreed to let her take the tape. The attending doctor had her disconnected from the monitor and moved to another room where there was no monitor. She died after having two additional experiences similar to what we witnessed in ICU. My mother-in- law and her husband died over twenty years ago. My wife and I have no explanation for what we witnessed.

  145. I have repeatedly had these sorts of experiences under intense experimentation some of which were indeed true NDEs (i.e., my wife called 911, etc.) and most of them were a bit more under control. The experiences are so extreme (disassociatives + psychedelics + disassocative psychedelics at high doses---this is not your typical recreational tripping) that it's hard, even impossible, to distinguish them from any reality. That was more than a couple of decades ago. It's a distant memory now. As a scientist I agree with the reductionist review - there is no evidence for anything external beyond one's mind but man, the feelings and choices I had. I've seen a few other weird things that involve multiple people (synchrony) but these too have been explained as illusory effects. There's this episode of the Animatrix that gets at this. I was in Bangkok and I had met this guy from Australia...

  146. @RamS Back to synchrony again, in addition to coincidence (our brains are all the same, etc.) read up on the power of suggestion. I didn't realise how powerful it could be but in an altered state it is even more powerful and this can easily explain collective reactions. It almost feels like telepathy when it happens. Again, I'm a scientist but even I can't deny we all have this need to think about a creator/god/etc. Every culture has a god-like figure. Every human has thoughts about it. Jungian archetype stuff. Where does this universal portion of our consciousness come from?

  147. No they are not real. Its the mind working overtime. Are dreams real? No. Humans want to believe in something supernatural. I don't understand why. Nor do I care. What you see is what you get. Enjoy reality while you have it. The way to enjoy it is to be a good guy. Your conscience will be good to you and so will other humans.

  148. Before it was illegal I took some pure Sandoz labs LSD. Laying in bed, I looked down to where my body should have been and it wasn't there on the bed. I could tell from my view of the room my head had to be on the pillow, but couldn't see my body at all. And I panicked--what happened to my body? Where was my body? I NEEDED my body! And then suddenly I calmed down realizing this was death. This is what death is--losing the body. I'd lost my body--yet I was still there. My body was separate from who I AM. Just another suit of clothing to take off when no longer needed. Later I read in the journal reports of those studying LSD (when that was still possible) that something like 40% of those who took LSD had this "death" experience. If the body is just a suit of clothing for the being inside then racism makes no sense at all. There are no physical differences under the skin. And if we can go on without it then there HAS to be something else after. We don't get to KNOW what, but there is something. Because losing our bodies isn't the end.

  149. @calannie I certainly had a few out of body, one with the Universe experiences with LSD back in the day, especially the Orange Sunshine I had once. I still wonder about that feeling.

  150. They are quite real for the people who have them. What else matters?

  151. @wintersea -Thank you for that! The simplest way to explain it.

  152. I've never had a near death experience, but I have experienced manifestations of the Holy Spirit, in the Christian Pentecostal tradition. It seems to me that these experiences must be similar, as they both relate to a divine contact. According to the article: "In popular literature, N.D.E.s are almost always interpreted supernaturalistically.'" The interpretation of divine experiences will always depend upon your personal beliefs, or those of whatever group you associate with. Pentecostal groups might see the Holy Spirit, New Age groups might see Pleadians (aliens from the Pleiades), and Ouija board players might see a dead relative. Secular psychology has their own interpretations. It modern vernacular it might be called 'psychological agency'. In the depth psychology of C.G. Jung and others, it is called the 'God image'. As pointed out by Edinger (1996), products of the unconscious often seem to come from outside, even though they come from within. And we often attribute them to supernatural beings. If a healthy and well-adjusted brain can experience God, then we can only image what a brain might experience if starved of oxygen, or on a cocktail of drugs, or subjected to the electric shock of a cardiac defibrillator, or a person on severe mental stress might experience. Cite: Edinger, Edward F. The New God image : A Study of Jung’s Key Letters Concerning the Evolution of the Western God image. Chiron Publications, 1996.

  153. Near death experiences are real. I nearly drowned swimming in a gorge after an Autumn storm. I couldn't make it back to an exit point against the current. I was borderline hypothermic by the time I pulled myself back onto rock. I was sick for weeks afterwards. Near death, yes. A few minutes difference and I was done. My friends on the ledge would have unwittingly watched me drown. Not that they could have done anything about it. Awe inspiring, no. No dream state. No outer body experience. Not even panic. Cold hard mental calculations all the way down. I'm in trouble. What do I do? The solution was alternating elementary backstroke with short freestyle sprints. You reserve energy with the first. You gain ground against the current and keep your heart beat going with the second. I could have ended up on the bottom of a gorge troubleshooting the problem. I'd still be thinking about the problem the whole way down though. My only reflections in hindsight: Wouldn't that be a dumb way to die? I've got this stinking cold to prove it.

  154. I told my wife the other day that I had an out of body experience , she told me next time I have one to come back with a different body . Sorry , I just can 't help myself .

  155. Not to be picky, but in what senses does the word "real" apply to even the most common of internal experiences? That is a question that could be debated all day. "Real" like most common useful words has a necessarily vague meaning. English is, thankfully, not scientific jargon. Extremely anomalous events are rare, but do occur. Anyone who lives a very long life will have experienced a few. What they "mean" depends on what meaning we give to them.

  156. My experience taught me the body has a unique way it shuts down. My body lost all sense of weight and there was a "wall of white" my mind perceived. It was gentle, it was calm, it was peaceful. It was not however, in my perception at the time or after the event "heaven". It was an amazing experience of another way of "being".

  157. The local NBC affiliate in St. Louis did a feature on this (inevitably) in the early 1980's, with amusing results. They began with the usual story of a patient in an 'end of life' crisis, who explained she had died, and was rushing toward a series of lights, before being revived by doctors at the large non-profit hospital here. The ER doctors chuckled to explain the patient was semi-conscious and they rushed her through a long underground tunnel to the appropriate branch of the building for recovery.

  158. I believe it is impossible for someone who hasn't had an NDE to fully understand. I experienced one back in 1974 after a violent collision. The best I can say is that as I looked down from above at myself in the emergency room, I had an immediate sense of being surrounded by the most indescribable sense of peace and love possible (or impossible). I also felt immediately that I had returned "home" and recognized this remarkable peace and love as "home". There was far more to it than that, but I've given up talking about it much. It was the most important, mind-boggling event of my life. The author or anybody else doesn't need to accept or believe what I say. I fully understand. I never would have believed it either if it hadn't happened to me. Love to you all.

  159. @JMS You missed the point: the author is saying that an NDE is not evidence of an afterlife. Death = dead.

  160. If the moment of death is anything like the anesthesia I had in surgery, it's click, lights out. Which really doesn't seem that bad even though a MGM movie of my life with me as the star would fun to see also but please no religious stuff.

  161. Christian publishers, speakers, and ministers promote doctors who believe in the theological reality of NDE's because they want to connect the science and the belief and thereby give the beliefs more standing. A doctor certainly can speak from medical experience that it's a real phenomenon, and speak philosophically that the theological reality is possible, but they can't prove it any more than can anyone else. As for whether the visions are "real," as a Catholic Christian I believe God can communicate a message to an individual through images, but given that throughout history the images have been different it's the overall meaning not the specifics that matters. What does heaven or hell look like exactly? Not at all the point.

  162. They are a natural function of the brain in times of duress. Communing with “the old long haired man who lives in the sky and created the universe” is not what they are.

  163. Just my hypothesis: NDEs are neurological (electrochemical) activities in a dying/distressed brain. "Spiritual" explanations are whistling past the graveyard.

  164. From a more orthodox Christian viewpoint, NDEs are pretty much meaningless. When you die, you're dead. For the Christian, the hope is in the resurrection.

  165. I'm a healthy 46 year old male, raised Catholic although mostly agnostic these days. A year ago during a dinner party i had an overwhelming feeling that a friends deceased mother was near her as she described how much she was missing her. I tried to simply ignore the feeling. The result was a physical pain that would not subside until I blurted out "your mother is next to you". At that point the physical pain and feeling simply vanished. What came next were a series of medical exams(CT, MRI, Aura or other Epilipsy test, Neuro eval) that came back as clear with a clean bill of health. What I have experienced since has made me question everything. The feeling of "heaven" or the darkness where we reconcile for the challenges we had in our lives. Not a Hell per se, more of a contemplative purgatory. Knowing that there is a pure love on another plane that simply exists as a layer that we are not to see or experience yet. This and many other visions( although I hate to use that word) have made me not fear death. The experiences have changed my outlook on life and beyond. I have always lived my life to the fullest of my ability. I now see that I(we) should be helping others do the same. So my question is(coming from a fairly skeptical person): What happens when you have the "near death experience" without experiencing a physical NDE?

  166. Can you get Eban Alexander’ to reply to this opinion article???

  167. Might as well argue how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Those who know for sure ain't talking, and sooner or later you'll be one of them.

  168. Recommended reading to be found at the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, especially the "Exceptional NDEs" section. nderf.org

  169. How do people see things after they've left their bodies since they've left their eyes behind?

  170. On September fourth, 1962, I was hit by a train, in Lawton, Oklahoma. On that day, I left this world, but, I came back, unhappily. I was dead (I didn't know that, then), I had no history. I was headed toward a yellow and blue ark. I didn't know what it was, but I was so excited to be moving toward it, that I didn't care. The speed, in which I was traveling kept increasing, with every second. I had never been so happy, in my entire 22 years of Earthly life. I didn't think of the family, I had left behind. All I wanted to do was reach the Yellow-blue ark. My speed kept increasing, I was ecstatic. I was getting closer and closer to my destination. Then, it was I hit a wall. The next thing I recall, I opened my eyes. It was very bright. I closed my eyes, again, and reopened them. Iwas in a hospital, with people dressed in white with masks, hovering over me. I knew where I was. Instantly, I became very depressed. My skull, jaw, shoulder, ribs and other parts of my body where sending signals of extreme pain.I didn't care, I wanted to go back from whence I was brought. Oh, the pain and sorrow I felt from having been, forcibly, brought into the emergency room and back to this wretched existence. Pain or no pain, sorrow or no sorrow, I hated where I was. I missed the peace and joy, I had, previously, been experiencing. The road in front, was long and full of problematic issues, but with my newly learned sense of metaphysics, forget the pain my life changed. Today, I am a believer

  171. Easy answer, No. Your brain has been taught you over your life span , what you want to believe in and what you personally want to believe in. My mom before she passed had dreams of being together with my father. All that white light stuff is what you taught your self to believe. All after life was in invented by religions and people who wanted an afterlife, period! Thru the ages people have thought about after life. There is none, when it's proven, I'll look into it!

  172. I was paralyzed and unconscious and experienced nothing. That's as close to dead as I'd like to get.

  173. Dreams are all different, while these experiences share similar traits. I’m agnostic on all this, but I can report my mother’s experience at a major, reputable hospital here in Manhattan, some 30 years ago: She suffered a morphine overdose when her drip malfunctioned, 2 days post surgery. She became unconscious. A team rushed into the room and gave her a narcon like injection. It was in the middle of the night, so she had no visitors. She survived. She said she saw herself down below, as though she was floating near the ceiling. She was able to accurately describe everything they did to her, including where they injected her. AND, she freaked out the nurses the next day when she asked for, and accurately pointed out, the male nurse (who had never been assigned to her, so she did not know him previously) as the one who gave her the injection. She said she felt peaceful as she floated, watching her body below. Since then she never feared death, she had a hilariously relaxed attitude about it (some jokes, but I’ll spare the readers). She lived lightly and happily afterwards, until she passed away in her sleep in her beloved Manhattan apartment last year, at a ripe old age.

  174. @Lily Excellent description- and more or less matches that of my dad, after a sepsis and bp drop and before he was shocked and hydrated back to awareness in a major hospital ER. He reported a sense of floating above, accurate recall of who was around him, sense of peace, and of loving connection to his wife (who had followed the ambulance to the ER) and family members. He survived, was very interested in the experience, read about NDEs, talked to his minister. He was always religious, and interested in the mystery of faith. This experience, he concluded, led to a stronger perception that “it is all about love” - not a very precise, original, or theologically based conclusion, but one that did help him feel more joy and connection in life, and less concern about death, through his eventual widowerhood and final illness. That NDE was a blessing for all of us who loved him, too.

  175. @Lily As a young boy I often had dreams where I was floating above myself and looked down to see I was sleeping. I also had pneumonia and a fever of 104.6 and experienced floating above myself as the room twisted and turned and I saw sparkling lights in the air of my bedroom. Hardly a near death experience. Just a brain doing it's thing when under physical duress.

  176. Lily, there is a operating room somewhere that has a random word generator that cannot be seen from the floor or the table. Not one person that had a “near death experience” there has been able to identify the word, even when they experience the “floating above my body” syndrome. Most likely you mother was not dead and the hospital workers comments and actions were picked up by her subconscious.

  177. Some years ago, at an ICU, I was dead for almost two minutes. That's what my doctor told me. And there was nothing supernatural about it

  178. These experiences should not be referred to as NDE's. They don't necessarily have anything to do with being near death. I had one when I was 20 and I was driving a car when I began to feel something I could not explain come over me. Long story short, I felt as if I were moving at the speed of light and the last thing I remember was checking the speedometer which said I was only going 10 mph. In the next instant, I found myself about 5 feet above the car looking down at it. I somehow realized what was going on and felt that I could be anywhere just by thinking about it. Then I found myself several hundred feet above the car. I then remembered I was driving a car with a passenger in it and, instantaneously found myself back in the driver's seat. Although I tried to hold on to the feeling that precipitated this experience, by the time I arrived home about 10 minutes later, it was gone. I didn't think about it again until my early 30's when I told the woman who would soon become my wife about it. Another long story short, she suggested I get back into meditation. I did and had one very brief experience of floating just above my body (after months of trying). I didn't think much more about it until after my wife died and I began to think about the afterlife. I tried to analyze every nanosecond of that experience and concluded that what we call our spirit is nothing more than the quantum material our consciousness consists of. So, it's something natural we all have.

  179. For those who cannot believe that such experiences are "real," I would suggest that maybe you have not worked in hospitals with the dying, you have never listened to someone who coded describe to you what outside ledge of what floor of the hospital you can find where a discarded shoe lies or what was being said in the hallway outside the room where they almost died, etc. Sadly, you most likely have overlooked the supernatural you have encountered thus far. My guess is that you'll just have to wait.

  180. It seems to me that you and numerous others have missed the point here. The author says the NDEs ARE real insofar as the person did experience the “dream”. What he is trying to say, and does, in my opinion, is that this person’s or that person’s NDE does not prove anything. I think people clinging to religion, paying fealty to an invisible giant in the sky, have a vested interest in believing “there is more”. Otherwise all that time spent on religion is wasted.

  181. @Charlotte You have to experience death or near death to understand it. I'm not sure one should even call it an afterlife. it's not dramatic. It's more like a continuum.

  182. @Charlotte I have no doubt that these experiences are “real” in that they actually occur. The question is do they reflect an external reality pointing towards an “afterlife existence,” or an internal reality marking the manner of the extinction of our ego centric self? That question is not answered by any of the descriptions of the experiences, and in a scientifically based world that is the bottom line question that we need to answer.

  183. I have not had a near-death experience, but I have a deep spiritual life. One can travel any time, not only as death approaches. It is said that our soul travels as we sleep. Yes, I have. Also, I believe that all religious beliefs are valid (read David Bentley Hart, for clarification). Maybe read about the astral plane. There are other levels of existence (than our own). Finally, "heaven" is beyond these experiences, another existence altogether.

  184. Agree completely with NYT’s choices. If you haven’t experienced a NDE, pontificating is rather a priori.

  185. For a daily near death experience., try a drive on the 405 in LA Country on any given morning.

  186. @jmilovich :) For added flavour, try it on a motorcycle.

  187. Call me when you have a R.D.E. ( Really Dead Experience). No, not the kind Jerry and the band gave you.

  188. Uh. There is no evidence that the supernatural exists. But interestingly enough, those that have claimed to have one thinks, in many cases, that it confirms their religious beliefs whether they are Christian, Muslim, or Hindu.

  189. @David Bible... If NDE's are the result of a human soul or higher self or consciousness... something which is still unable to be measured by our kindergarten level of science and technology... then why wouldn't it make use of the spiritual vocabulary of the individual's current incarnation. I learned a long time ago that when one communicates it is important that one does so in a way that one will be able to be understood.

  190. @TOBY That's perspective. However it does not address the complete lack of evidence that any supernaturalness exists. Experiment after experiment after experiment has failed to prove the supernatural. So any claim of a NDA confirming a spiritual experience faces the problem that the rest of us must give the experiencer crediblilty for yet another belief in something not seen which seems to be the point, those that believe in the unseen and the unprovable others must be treated as if that belief is true inspite of all evidence to the contrary.

  191. Weak. Any commentary on NDEs must be left to those who have experienced them. They are something science must continue to stay in awe of.

  192. Prof. Fischer seems rather "sure" of his conclusions. He has clearly never had an NDE so how can he even presume to make such absolute statements such as "shows not there there is an afterlife". It is all conjecture on his part. One commenter, Joseph B., below states quite accurately: "Just because medical science can not prove NDE'S is more a reflection on the limitations of medical science rather than disproving NDE's aren't real." I have had an NDE and I can assure you they are real. The bliss that awaits is too narrow a term. That may sound hokey, but our experience on this physical plane cannot begin to grasp it. That said, the skeptics will always be skeptic. Their loss, but to be open minded is much more enriching and rewarding.

  193. @Joanne Klein... Doesn't String Theory support the concept of alternative dimensions other than our own?

  194. @Joanne Klein Being a skeptic and being open-minded are not mutually exclusive. Who was it who said that it's good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out?

  195. My sister and I met a ghost at a hotel in South Carolina, some years ago. The ghost was called half head. He was a cadet at the old citadel and he (accidentally?) blew half his head off. The other was a woman who had the high hair and clothes of the 1700s. Half Head bear-hugged my sister in bed in the middle of the night. The same night I awoke to feeling someone's hands around my throat. The second night Half Head was in my sister's bed again, but I was left alone. The third night, I complained to housekeeping and they admitted there was a ghost, but he'd never harm anyone, although there were a lot of incidents in the kitchen with cabinets opening and slamming and things being thrown across the room. I told her he tried to choke me. That night Half Head came into my bed and bear-hugged me, brought me out into the hall and introduced me to the 1700s woman. She was the one who tried to choke me. I awoke and told my sister not to worry because the ghost had already come. I showed her how he pinned me with this arms and she confirmed that was what happened to her. And I told her about the woman. At the same time there was a sickly sweet smell in the room and I knew it was her, but my sister couldn't smell anything. I've seen people die and I believe in Heaven and NDEs. We wondered why these ghosts couldn't (or wouldn't) go into the light and decided they must be in hell. Living forever without being seen in a world based in reality.

  196. @Geraldine Griffin WOW. That is some story. In the 1990s me, my wife and children lived in a house that neighbors said there was murder in a long time ago. When my son was born we used a bassinet my grandmother obtained many years ago, for my son to sleep in. The bassinet was in our master bedroom and I remember one night waking to hear the bassinet swinging as though it was being pushed. I do believe in spirits, ghosts.

  197. It seems you have set up a straw man argument by referring to proof of the existence of heaven and hell. Most of the literature on NDE's does not mention either. You are correct that those who have NDE's put NDE's in a relevant spiritual context because they have no other language available for them. Also, it would have been useful if you had fairly represented the arguments of neuroscientists who have experienced NDE's and then rebutted their arguments. But all of this is peripheral. As someone who has had a NDE I can tell you that describing it to someone is like having a discussion about Paris with someone who has never left their hometown. Forty years later it remains the most important event of my life and has made me a better husband, father, and person. I wish it was possible to share what I experienced.

  198. @ThirdWay... Thank you for your extremely sensible comment. My hypothesis is that people should be very careful about reaching conclusions much less judgments regarding experiences that they have never personally experienced. Especially if those experiences seriously threaten the excessive tyranny of Western Science. "To insist that the only reality are phenomena that can be submitted to the paradigm of classical science is itself a religion." Dietrick E. Thomson Senior Editor Science News

  199. The author did not really say anything that we did not know already. NDEs remain a mystery and their nature is still mostly unclear, but for those who experienced them they are real. These experiences are like love that is intangible but is no less real because of it and manifests itself through its transformative force. Not everything that is real is physical in nature. Has the author thought of that possibility?

  200. Well, " for we now 'see' through a glass, darkly" or something like that. One does not have to be dying in order to have a N.D.E., but most of us don't talk about it and I am NOT about to talk to the wind. There's a vast void between what we think we are while here and what we really are! There are a lot of experts about this world and maybe they think they know the "reality" of it but haven't even scratched its surface. The world will continue as is, with us coming and going. Most not knowing where from, or where to. There is an eternal caravan of consciousness in the Cosmic and this moment now is just a grain of sand!

  201. I suspect, as many commenters have stated, that NDEs are the result of brain hypoxia. I say this because having had general anesthesia several times, without hypoxia, I experienced no NDE, just a total gap in the timeline of my consciousness.

  202. A lot of these experiences sound much like what people experience after taking high doses of hallucinogens. Check out the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Anyway, it's a simple question: Are you a monist or a dualist? If you're a monist, these experiences exist only in the brain. That's not an insult. All perception exists there. Phenomenology has its limits. If you're a dualist, realms unfold beyond the limits of perception and existence. It's a question of individual culture, temperament, and as the author states, philosophy.

  203. @Locho 5-MeO-DMT (as found in Cane Toad venom, but best approached thru the synthetic compound) is the hallucinogen _par excellence_ in this regard. My reflection on the experience (once was enough) is totally down with the authors take... this is a real, maybe HYPER-REAL experience, the "shut down sequence" of a dying mind/brain, but not evidence of supernatural realms. 5-meo delivers NDE, death experience, "soul travel", and resurrection. As Terrance McKenna held, you may die of astonishment. But then you don't. Then you must live with it. Until you die.

  204. @Bemused "If you're a monist, these experiences exist only in the brain. " I suggest that you look up the definition of the word "monist". It does not necessarily imply a materialist explanation. In fact, historically, most monists have not been materialists; rather the opposite.

  205. @Bemused Thanks for contributing here. Hopefully the philosopher of this piece will do a piece next where he covers the evidence that our daily lived lives are "accurate," in the sense he uses that word for assessing NDEs. I'd be curious to hear your take on that, post-toad!

  206. I find the author terribly depressing. Dying is a part of life that comes to all of us. I would not discount or dismiss what I believe is the reality of near death. In 1969 my father suffered a massive heart while at his doctor's office. According to the doctor, Dr. R. Stanley Bank, a very well respected physician in Harrisburg, PA, and also from the observations of my mother, dad died. He was gone. They rushed him to Harrisburg Hospital working on him as they made the 3 mile trip to the ER. Dad made it. Later in the ICU when I briefly visited with him he looked at me and said "I see you survived!". I felt better after that remark and knew that he would go on to a full recovery. But, that's not the end of the story. Later he would relate to mom and us kids what happened on the way to the hospital. He could recall everything. Yet, he was gone. His hear stopped. His breathing stopped. His eyes were closed. But, he detailed every moment of the trip and everything that happened in the ER. He remembered being lifted onto the gurney in the doctors office and everything that else. Yes, I survived. And so did dad for two more years until a second heart attack struck in September 1971. Dad always believed there is a god and that god is the creator of everything. His heart attack affirmed that. I'm 72 now and I miss my dad everyday. I also know beyond doubt that he lives with god in heaven and watches over us. Dad did not have a near death experience. He experienced new life.

  207. I’m reluctant to comment because to those who have experienced NDE’s, they are the most real and true experience they have ever had. Those who have not, can’t possibly imagine the experience. There is another experience – what I’ve learned is sometimes called a “shared” death experience. The experience of a death of a loved one who may be physically close of distant. Forty years ago, when my father died in the middle of the night, I found myself suddenly sitting straight up in bed, “knowing” that someone was at the foot of the bed. I was completely enveloped in love and JOY. The message I felt was that everything was fine, my father had died, and he was fine – more than fine – and I should just go back to sleep. My father did not have a near death experience – he had a death experience. My experience may be inexplicable, but it was very real. Love and comfort may be expected at the death of a parent, but joy? Not only do I "know" that my experience at my father’s transition to death was real, I think it may be the ONLY real thing I know. It was a profoundly life-altering experience that I wish for those who haven’t experienced it. But I also believe that skepticism and doubts won’t matter - it’s a good thing to question and doubt after all. We’ll all eventually experience a joyful transition to death and whatever lies beyond. And if we are lucky enough to have had and NDE or shared experience, it can help us to be more loving while still living

  208. This is really interesting. If you read Marie Louise von Franz work, “On Dreams and Death,” you will find other examples of dreams where those facing death dream they are on a train. The unconscious seems to use the journey as a metaphor for dying. As Jung would say, this doesn’t prove the existence of an afterlife, but it does point to the fact that our unconscious has evolved to believe in an afterlife. And if this is how Nature has made us, wouldn’t it be simpler just to go with it? At any rate, I realize your dream was of the death of a loved one, but I think the unconscious dynamic still works. Thank you for sharing that!

  209. I completely agree. I was beckoned toward the light following a gastric bleed. It was beautiful and calm and yet those around me encouraged me not to go. I chose to return. To me, this portends the possibility of a good death when the time is right.

  210. Well of course NDEs are "real" in that many folks nearly die, but then don't, and retain some memory of the experience. A brain under extreme duress (lack of blood flow, lack of oxygen, or subject to other extreme toxic-metabolic derangement) can generate all sorts of images, sensations, thoughts, and feelings .... some of which may be recalled later in some cases. I'm shocked that any physician would be believe in a "supernatural" etiology of NDEs.

  211. When I was flown to hospital in the middle of what they called a "massive heart attack" that needed a 5 way bypass I didn't feel a thing. I looked out at the night from the helicopter and enjoyed the 45 minite flight. When I got to hospital, was checked and put to bed, a priest came around. I told him to go away; "This is a time for man's medical miracles," I said."I don't need your nonsense. If I die, I die, if I live, I live and it's all to do with how good an operation I have and hqw well I can take it. I survived, had 5 way and was home 10 days later. No, near death may be an experience, but no different from any other we may have;certainly there no angels, or Gods , other fairy , magical beings.

  212. "We can die in sterile, cold hospitals — alone. (There are negative N.D.E.s.) Or we can die in a more humane setting, surrounded by loved ones." the truth of the matter is there are people who will die comfortably surrounded by loved ones and there will also be those that will die alone in some cold sterile environment- if they are lucky enough that it's not worse than that. our goal should be for everyone to have as good a death as possible no matter who you are or where.

  213. The author seems to be asking the question: what is reality? He says that experience of NDE cam be real but the reality of the experience does not prove the reality of NDE. But would the author make the same argument if the experience in question is eating an apple? Would not most people say that both the experience and the apple are real? This shows our cultural bias about reality. In truth, neither can be proved. In fact, the only provable reaity is experience itself.

  214. Even after having one, it cannot be proven that it was not a dream. Just as one cannot prove that this so-called waking state is not a dream. What if mind is not bound by the human experience? Of course there is the personal mind with identity and thoughts about the person and the personal life story and such. But what if the brain is not a creator of consciousness, but the tool for interpreting consciousness? People talk about states of expanded consciousness. Yet, what if consciousness is constant and cannot expand? Maybe it is the mind that expands. Maybe NDEs are expanded mind experiences - the personal mind is absorbed into universal mind. Since all experiences are subjective, nothing can be proven to the objects perceived by the subject (other people). How does one know that this "reality" is not a simulation of some kind? Or that one is actually a brain in a vat? Self-realization has been pointed to by many as a path to Truth and the true nature of the Self. Then there is complete understanding and no more questions.

  215. I think that the bigger question is whether consciousness exists separate from the mind and body and if consciousness is eternal. Answering that question gives insight to the questions of NDEs and reincarnation. Amanda Gefter's " Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn" has help me in my spiritual quest for the true meaning of reality. HINT - Amanda summarizes all of the quantum physicist's theories into one book and draws a conclusion that "We are each the author of our own universe" There is compelling hard science evidence that consciousness is the only thing fundamental in our know universe. I highly recommend the book for truth seekers.

  216. The author is asking us to believe that the thousands of people who have had NDEs are unable to distinguish a real experience from an hallucination. I've read hundreds of accounts of NDEs, and the people who relate them don't seem irrational to me. When a sane, rational person tells me that she or he had an experience and that the experience was not a dream or hallucination, I should respect what that person tells me. It would be quite arrogant if I, a person who did not have an experience, would tell the person who did have the experience that I understand their experience better than they do. If NDEs make a philosophy professor feel uncomfortable, that's no reason for that professor to disrespect the people who share these experiences with us. These folks, many of whom are very well educated, often face ridicule from people who think that a PhD makes them better able to understand the experiences of others than the people who actually had the experiences. I respect people who have had NDEs and share them with us even though they know they will face ridicule from the "learned" who know better than others what reality is.

  217. @Kenneth One of the main points of the piece: NDEs are real, but their "proof" of other-worldly phenomena is not so real. In the meantime, I'll settle comfortably in the knowledge that I have never heard of anyone coming back to complain.

  218. @Glenn Thomas O you just aren't listening, honey.

  219. Imagine going to all the trouble of becoming an academic philosopher only to expend your talents on such a non-issue. (1) NDEs are meaningful for those who have them. (2) There isn’t a whisper of a prayer that NDEs tell us anything about reality. Done. That’s it. Finis. There is not a single thing worth adding that is of any philosophical interest. (Indeed, even these two claims are of no philosophical interest.)

  220. The word "spiritual" is used to describe N.D.E.s and other deep experiences, but no where is any insight provided in what this term means in general or, in specific, to the author. I find this word far too often misapplied and misunderstood. I'm waiting for someone to be insightful and use this term meaningfully.

  221. For eons people knew there was a spiritual side to them, for a long time people knew they were spirits. But that flew on the teeth of organized religion. How can you have terrified citizens paying tithes to the church or face eternal damnation, if they know that once dead they simply pick up another body? So the church set out to rid them selves of the competition, and any one not believing (and paying tithes), was a heretic tortured to dead. Still the spiritual side of men remained. Then came Otto Von Bismark, and the doctors at Leipzig, starting by Pabvlov on down the line. Bismark wanted his soldiers to do inconceivable acts of cruelty, but those with a heart in them would not do them. So he recruited psychiatry to remove the spiritual side of men, and now that every one was an animal, it was ok to butcher each other in new ways only he could dream of. By WWI this was in full display, the horrors of which are still in our minds. But yet humanity retains a tini sliver of spiritualism to them. Of course that goes against psychiatry who claims we are animals and nothing but a walking talking chunk of meat, who needs their pills to be acceptable in society. Humans are spirits. No matter who wants to kill that, they have not been able to. I hope they never win.

  222. Humanity has always loved a good story. It is ingrained at our mitochondrial level. Thus, when we go out, and the cell lysing begins, we give ourselves one last marvelous story. Note: instantaneous trauma to the brain does not allow the creation of a happy ending. Anyway, we have, as a species, been working on this story (of redemption, of a savior) since we first started to think. And when we go? We have a tremendous amount of memory that will, in seconds, be useless. Thus, we make the absolute most of everything we know or knew.

  223. I read about a hospital OR that has a display facing towards the ceiling and mounted high above the operating table. It is there so that patients who claim to have experienced a NDE might be able to recall the images they saw on the display while floating above their body on the operating table.