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S4E15 Near Death Experiences

Near Death Experiences

Near death experience, or NDE is an unusual, profound, personal experience taking place on the brink of death and recounted by a person after recovery, typically an out-of-body experience or a vision of a tunnel of light. Supposedly, when these experiences are positive, they may encompass a variety of sensations including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light. When they’re considered negative, these experiences may include sensations of anguish distress or peeing your pants.

Of course, we’re going to get super nerdy here so bear with us while Jeff snores in the background. Some explanations for NDEs range from scientific to religious. Oh boy! Neuroscience research suggests that an NDE is a subjective phenomenon resulting from "disturbed bodily multisensory integration" that occurs during life-threatening events, as per Olaf Blanke’s 2009 book, “The Neurology of Consciousness”, while some transcendental and religious beliefs about an afterlife include descriptions similar to NDEs.

The French term “expérience de mort imminente” which isn’t a delicious French dip sandwich, actually means “experience of imminent death” and was proposed by French psychologist and epistemologist Victor Egger as a result of discussions in the 1890s among philosophers and psychologists concerning climbers' stories of the panoramic life review during falls. Yes. falls. In 1892 a series of subjective observations by workers falling from scaffolds, war soldiers who suffered injuries, climbers who had fallen from heights or other individuals who had come close to death (like driving in a car with Moody) was reported by Albert Heim. This was also the first time the phenomenon was described as clinical syndrome. In 1968 Celia Green published an analysis of 400 first-hand accounts of out-of-body experiences in her book, boringly and obviously called “Out-of-the-body Experiences”. This was the first attempt to provide a classification of such experiences, viewed simply as anomalous perceptual experiences, or hallucinations. In 1969, Swiss-American psychiatrist and pioneer in near-death studies Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published her groundbreaking book On Death and Dying: What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy, and their own families. Fuck! These book names are so long! These experiences were also popularized by the work of psychiatrist Raymond Moody, which may or may not be Moody’s drunken uncle, in 1975 coined the term "near-death experience" (NDE) as an umbrella term for the different elements (out of body experiences, the "panoramic life review," the Light, the tunnel, or the border). Also, The term "near-death experience" had already been used by John C. Lilly in 1972.

Ok, let’s talk about some common traits of near death experiences.

Researchers have identified the common traits that define near-death experiences, according to Mauro, James Mauro in his book "Bright lights, big mystery.” Bruce Greyson argues that the general features of the experience include impressions of being outside one's physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of egotic and spatiotemporal boundaries. At this point, Some if you and especially Jeff are asking “what in the fuck is spatiotemporal boundaries!?!” Well, that shit refers to perception of continuous contours, shape, and global motion from sequential transformations of widely separated surface elements. How such minimal information in SBF can produce whole forms and the nature of the computational processes involved remain mysterious. YA GOT ALL THAT?!

Many common elements have been reported, although the person's interpretation of these events, obviously, often corresponds with the cultural, philosophical, or religious beliefs of the person experiencing it. For example, in the US, where 46% of the population believes in guardian angels, they will often be identified as angels or deceased loved ones (or will be unidentified), while Hindus will often identify them as messengers of the god of death, according to the Bruce Greyson book “The handbook of near-death experiences thirty years of investigation” and Mary J. Kennard‘s book, "A Visit from an Angel". Interestingly, NDEs are no more likely to occur in devout believers than in secular or nonpracticing subjects.

A 2017 study by two researchers at the University of Virginia raised the question of whether the paradox of enhanced cognition occurring alongside compromised brain function during an NDE could be written off as a flight of imagination. The researchers administered a questionnaire to 122 people who reported NDEs. They asked them to compare memories of their experiences with those of both real and imagined events from about the same time. The results suggest that the NDEs were recalled with greater vividness and detail than either real or imagined situations were. In short, the NDEs were remembered as being “realer than real.”

Ok, now! Some Common traits that have been reported by NDErs are as follows:

A sense/awareness of being dead.

A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness.

Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world.

An out-of-body experience. A perception of one's body from an outside position, sometimes observing medical professionals performing resuscitation efforts.

A "tunnel experience" or entering a darkness. A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.

A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light (or "Being of Light") which communicates with the person.

An intense feeling of unconditional love and acceptance.

Encountering "Beings of Light", "Beings dressed in white", or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.

Receiving a life review, commonly referred to as "seeing one's life flash before one's eyes".

Approaching a border or a decision by oneself or others to return to one's body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return.

Suddenly finding oneself back inside one's body.

Connection to the cultural beliefs held by the individual, which seem to dictate some of the phenomena experienced in the NDE and particularly the later interpretation thereof.

Let’s now talk about the Stages of a NDE

Kenneth Ring subdivided the NDE on a five-stage continuum. The subdivisions were:[21]


Body separation

Entering darkness

Seeing the light

Entering the light

Charlotte Martial, a neuropsychologist from the University of Liège and University Hospital of Liège who led a team that investigated 154 different NDE cases, concluded that there is not a fixed sequence of events. So, basically, she’s like “fuck that other guy.”

Kenneth Ring also argues that attempted suicides do not lead more often to unpleasant NDEs than unintended near-death situations. But, you know how Charlotte Martial feels about that dude and his shitty opinions.

In one series of NDE's, 22% occurred during general anesthesia.

The underlying neurological sequence of events in a near-death experience is difficult to determine with any precision because of the dizzying variety of ways in which the brain can be damaged. Furthermore, NDEs do not strike when the individual is lying inside a magnetic scanner or has his or her scalp covered by a net of electrodes! Interesting…

Ok so what exactly happened to your brain during an NDE?

It is possible to gain some idea of what happens by examining a cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating (the patient is “coding,” in hospital jargon). The patient has not died, because the heart can be jump-started via cardiopulmo-nary resuscitation.

Modern death requires irreversible loss of brain function. When the brain is starved of blood flow (ischemia) and oxygen (anoxia), the patient faints in a fraction of a minute and his or her electroencephalogram, or EEG, becomes isoelectric—in other words, flat. This implies that large-scale, spatially distributed electrical activity within the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain, has broken down. Like a town that loses power one neighborhood at a time, local regions of the brain go offline one after another. Similar to Jon's brain on a Saturday night after drinking alot or maybe like all of us when we do our high movie review! The mind, whose substrate is whichever neurons remain capable of generating electrical activity, does what it always does: it tells a story shaped by the person’s experience, memory and cultural expectations.

Given these power outages, this experience may produce the rather strange and idiosyncratic stories that make up the corpus of NDE reports. To the person undergoing it, the NDE is as real as anything the mind produces during normal waking. When the entire brain has shut down because of complete power loss, the mind is extinguished, along with consciousness. If and when oxygen and blood flow are restored, the brain boots up, and the narrative flow of experience resumes.

Scientists have videotaped, analyzed and dissected the loss and subsequent recovery of consciousness in highly trained individuals—U.S. test pilots and NASA astronauts in centrifuges during the cold war (recall the scene in the 2018 movie First Man of a stoic Neil Armstrong, played by Ryan Gosling, being spun in a multiaxis trainer until he passes out). Or like Jon on the Tilt A Whirl. At around five times the force of gravity, the cardiovascular system stops delivering blood to the brain, and the pilot faints. About 10 to 20 seconds after these large g-forces cease, consciousness returns, accompanied by a comparable interval of confusion and disorientation (subjects in these tests are obviously very fit and pride themselves on their self-control).

The range of phenomena these men recount may amount to “NDE lite”—tunnel vision and bright lights; a feeling of awakening from sleep, including partial or complete paralysis; a sense of peaceful floating; out-of-body experiences; sensations of pleasure and even euphoria; and short but intense dreams, often involving conversations with family members, that remain vivid to them many years afterward. These intensely felt experiences, triggered by a specific physical insult, typically do not have any religious character (perhaps because participants knew ahead of time that they would be stressed until they fainted).

By their very nature, NDEs are not readily amenable to well-controlled laboratory experimentation, cus you know, who the fuck would willingly want to be killed just to try and be brought back and see if they have any NDE. This isn't Flatliners people come on. It may be possible, however, to study aspects of them in the humble lab mouse—maybe it, too, can experience a review of lifetime memories or euphoria before death.

Many neurologists have noted similarities between NDEs and the effects of a class of epileptic events known as complex partial seizures. These fits partially impair consciousness and often are localized to specific brain regions in one hemisphere. They can be preceded by an aura, which is a specific experience unique to an individual patient that is predictive of an incipient attack. The seizure may be accompanied by changes in the perceived sizes of objects; unusual tastes, smells or bodily feelings; déjà vu; depersonalization; or ecstatic feelings. Episodes featuring the last items on this list are also clinically known as Dostoyevsky’s seizures, after the late 19th-century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who suffered from severe temporal lobe epilepsy. More than 150 years later neurosurgeons are able to induce such ecstatic feelings by electrically stimulating part of the cortex called the insula in epileptic patients who have electrodes implanted in their brain. This procedure can help locate the origin of the seizures for possible surgical removal. Patients report bliss, enhanced well-being, and heightened self-awareness or perception of the external world. Exciting the gray matter elsewhere can trigger out-of-body experiences or visual hallucinations. This brute link between abnormal activity patterns—whether induced by the spontaneous disease process or controlled by a surgeon’s electrode—and subjective experience provides support for a biological, not spiritual, origin. The same is likely to be true for NDEs. Why the mind should experience the struggle to sustain its operations in the face of loss of blood flow and oxygen as positive and blissful rather than as panic-inducing remains mysterious, especially since life sucks so bad. It is intriguing, though, that the outer limit of the spectrum of human experience encompasses other occasions in which reduced oxygen causes pleasurable feelings of jauntiness, light-headedness and heightened arousal—deepwater diving, high-altitude climbing, flying, the choking or fainting game, and, in Jeff's case, sexual asphyxiation.


NDEs are often associated with changes in personality and outlook on life, according to James Mauro. Ring has identified a consistent set of value and belief changes associated with people who have had a near-death experience. Among these changes, he found a greater appreciation for life, higher self-esteem, greater compassion for others, less concern for acquiring material wealth, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, desire to learn, elevated spirituality, greater ecological sensitivity and planetary concern, and a feeling of being more intuitive. However, not all after-effects are beneficial according to the book by RM Orne titled "The meaning of survival: the early aftermath of a near-death experience" and Greyson describes circumstances where changes in attitudes and behavior can lead to psychosocial and psychospiritual problems.

Here are some actual near death experiences taken from the book “Beyond The Light” by P.M.H Atwater

  1. Jazmyne Cidavia-DeRepentigny of Hull Georgia. She died on the operating table during surgery in late 1979.

"I must say that this experience was quite unsettling to say the least. I was floating over my body. I could see and hear everything that was being said and done. I left the room for a short while and then returned to where my body lay. I knew why I died. It was because I couldn't breathe. There was a tube down my throat and the medical staff did not have an oxygen mask on my nose. I had also been given too much anesthetic.

"In my out-of-body state, I'm using my mind to try and make my right arm and hand move - my arms are extended parallel to my physical body. I want my right hand to move, any thing to move. I was trying to pull the tube out of my mouth. I looked down at my face and tears were streaming. One of the nurses blotted the tears from my face but she didn't notice my breathing had stopped, nor did she see me next to her. At this point, I'm trying really hard to make my physical arm move, but it's like my whole body is made of lead."

"I could see my spirit standing before me. My spirit was so beautifully perfect, dressed in a white gown that was loose, free-flowing, and below the knee. From my spirit there emanated a bright, soft-white halo. My spirit was standing six to eight feet from my body. It was so strange, for I could see my spirit and my spirit could see my pathetic body. I had not an ounce of color and I looked all withered and cold and lifeless. My spirit felt warm and so, so celestial. As my spirit slowly moved away, my spirit told my body goodbye, for my spirit saw the light and wanted to go into it. The light was like a circular opening that was warm and bright."

  1. Robin Michelle Halberdier of Texas City, Texas, her near-death episode took place in a hospital when she was between one and two months of age. Born prematurely, and with Hyaline Membrane disease, she was not expected to live

"My first visual memory was looking forward and seeing a brilliant bright light, almost like looking directly at the sun. The strange thing was that I could see my feet in front of me, as if I were floating upward in a vertical position. I do not remember passing through a tunnel or anything like that, just floating in the beautiful light. A tremendous amount of warmth and love came from the light.

"There was a standing figure in the light, shaped like a normal human being, but with no distinct facial features. It had a masculine presence. The light I have described seemed like it emanated from that figure. Light rays shone all around him. I felt very protected and safe and loved.

"The figure in the light told me through what I now know to be mental telepathy that I must go back, that it was not time for me to come here. I wanted to stay because I felt so full of joy and so peaceful. The voice repeated that it wasn't my time; I had a purpose to fulfill and I could come back after I completed it.

"The first time I told my parents about my experience was right after I began to talk. At the time, I believed that what happened to me was something everyone experienced. I told my mom and dad about the big glass case I was in after I was born, and the figure in the light and what he said to me. They took my reference to the glass case to mean the incubator. My father was a medical student at the time, and he had read a book about near-death experiences. From comparing the information in the book with what I told them, they decided that's what I was describing. My mom told me all of this years later when I brought the subject up again.

"I began attending church at the age of five, and I would look at the picture of Jesus in the Bible and tell my mom that's who it was in the light. I still have many physical difficulties with my health because of being premature. But there is a strong need inside me that I should help others with what death is, and talk to terminally ill patients. I was in the other world and I know there is nothing to be afraid of after death."

  1. Bryce Bond, a famous New York City media personality turned parapsychologist, once collapsed after a violent allergic reaction to pine nuts and was rushed to a hospital.

"I hear a bark, and racing toward me is a dog I once had, a black poodle named Pepe. When I see him, I feel an emotional floodgate open. Tears fill my eyes. He jumps into my arms, licking my face. As I hold him, he is real, more real than I had ever experienced him. I can smell him, feel him, hear his breathing, and sense his great joy at being with me again.

"I put my dog on the ground, and step forward to embrace my stepfather, when a very strong voice is heard in my consciousness. Not yet, it says. I scream out, Why? Then this inner voice says, What have you learned, and whom have you helped? I am dumb-founded. The voice seems to be from without as well as within. Everything stops for a moment. I have to think of what was asked of me. I cannot answer what I have learned, but I can answer whom I have helped.

"I feel the presence of my dog around me as I ponder those two questions. Then I hear barking, and other dogs appear, dogs I once had. As I stand there for what seems to be an eternity. I want to embrace and be absorbed and merge. I want to stay. The sensation of not wanting to come back is overwhelming."

"I heard a voice say, 'Welcome back.' I never asked who said that nor did I care. I was told by the doctor that I had been dead for over ten minutes."

  1. Julian A. Milkes, almost hit by a car

"My mother and I were driving out to the lake one afternoon. My dad was to follow later when he finished work. We were having company for dinner, and, as we rode along, my mother spotted some wild flowers at the side of the road. She asked if I wouldn't stop the car and pick them as they would look nice on the dinner table. I pulled over to the right side of the road (it was not a major highway), parked the car, and went down a small incline to get off the road to pick the flowers. While I was picking the flowers, a car came whizzing by and suddenly headed straight for me.