Thursday, May 27, 2010

Near-death experiences - the real afterlife or just a hallucination?

Coming back to the theme of consciousness that I touched on a few weeks ago, I’ve been looking into the scientific literature on near-death experiences (NDEs) and out of body experiences (OBEs). I find it absolutely fascinating to consider the possibility that a person’s consciousness could exist separately from the body, even for a finite period of time. There are also some intriguing tie-ins with remote viewing, but that’s a topic that will have to wait for a post of its own. Even NDEs and OBEs as individual topics merit much more than a brief post.

An NDE by definition is an experience or any of a collection of experiences by an individual associated with impending physical death. These experiences consist of a range of phenomena which may include separation from the body, a sense of floating or levitating, feelings of calm/security/warmth, and the presence of an all-encompassing light. The majority of these phenomena are reported when the individual in question is either very close to death or once he or she has actually been pronounced clinically dead. Ironically enough, there have been a significant number of NDEs reported by individuals who have not experienced life-threatening circumstances.

Modern interest in NDEs can be traced to the publication of Life After Life by Raymond Moody, MD, PhD in 1975. For many people, this was their first exposure to a broad review and discussion of over 100 cases of clinical deaths and subsequent resuscitations. The interest sparked by this book led to the foundation of the Association for the Scientific Study of Near-Death Phenomena (now the International Association for Near-Death Studies) in 1978 by Moody, John Audette, MS, Ken Ring, PhD, Bruce Greyson, MD, and Michael Sabom, MD. Since that time, these individuals and others with an interest in NDEs have been involved with the founding of a number of similar research groups and programs, including the Near Death Experience Research Foundation and the Human Consciousness Project.

As with most other paranormal phenomena, the scientific community as a whole is divided on the issue of NDEs and what they represent versus what they actually are. Opinions vary from the entire experience being a hallucination brought on by the stress of the NDE at one extreme all the way to the experience being a definitive demonstration of the existence of an afterlife.

In my next post, I’ll examine the physiological correlates of the NDE and some of the pro- and con- afterlife viewpoints.

In the meantime, as always, I welcome your opinions on the subject!

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