Have you ever had a close brush with death, or been brought back to life after having been declared “clinically dead”? If so, you may have had a near death experience (“NDE”). The term was coined in 1975 by Dr Raymond Moody in his book Life After Life, in which he sets out the following elements of a composite “model” NDE:
- Hearing sounds such as buzzing
- A feeling of peace and painlessness
- Having an out-of-body experience
- A feeling of travelling through a tunnel
- A feeling of rising into the heavens
- Seeing people, often dead relatives
- Meeting a spiritual being such as God
- Seeing a review of one’s life
- Feeling a reluctance to return to life
Dr Moody based his book on about 150 case histories. Many more cases have been reported since the book was published, and there have been no doubt innumerable unreported cases since the dawn of history. In fact, the earliest report of an NDE can be found in The Republic, written by Plato in around 380 BC.
My copy of Dr Moody’s book has the following tag line on the front cover:
“Actual case histories reveal that there is life after death.”
Is this true? Is that what these (and other) case histories reveal?
Well, as with any other paranormal research, the answer is – maybe! Certainly it seems that anyone who has been through an NDE believes that he has had a glimpse of an afterlife. On the other hand, super-sceptics such as Dr Susan Blackmore, whom I have mentioned before, will tell you that:
- By definition no-one who has had an NDE has actually died; and
- NDE phenomena are hallucinations caused by medicinal drugs and the malfunctions of a dying brain.
Perhaps the most convincing – to non-sceptics – published case is that of Pam Reynolds, who featured prominently in a BBC documentary (you can currently find the segment on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNbdUEqDB-k ) and in the 1998 book Light and Death by Dr Michael Sabom. Pam was rendered “dead” for a difficult brain operation – her body was chilled and her brain completely shut down – before being successfully resuscitated. During the operation she experienced an NDE and was later able to give a detailed description of the surgical procedures. Sceptics have argued that the NDE took place before Pam’s brain was flatlined, and this may well have been the case for at least part of it. She did however describe one event which took place while her brain was inactive and in any case the rest of her experience is extremely difficult to explain away (especially as her eyes were taped shut and her ears blocked). Both Pam and her neurosurgeon were interviewed for the BBC documentary; Pam describes her experience and the surgeon comments that he is unable to explain her description of the surgical procedures. So far it’s the closest that we have come to an experimentally induced and controlled NDE and I recommend the YouTube clip if you haven’t seen it before.
Like the other paranormal phenomena which I have discussed in my earlier blogs, NDEs may not be conclusive proof of an afterlife – but taken together with reincarnation studies, mediumship and out-of-the body experiences – not to mention ESP, which I haven’t covered yet – one gets the strong impression that it can’t all be explained away…