Frequently Asked Questions about NDEs

How many people have had this experience?

The Gallup Organization and near-death research studies have estimated that, as of 1982, some 13 million adults NDEs in the U.S. alone had had one or more NDEs. Add children's NDEs, all experiences worldwide, and all experiences since 1982, and the figure would be much larger. Near-death experiences are uncommon but not rare.

Why doesn't everybody close to death have one?

No one knows why, among people in similar circumstances, some people do and others do not report near-death experiences, and why most reported NDEs are pleasurable and a minority are distressing. NDEs, both pleasurable and distressing, occur to all types of people all over the world: all ages, races, backgrounds, and religions.

What causes a near-death experience?

More than a dozen theories have been put forward to explain the NDE and its associated physical mechanisms, but none of them singly or together fits all cases.

This is the nuttiest thing I ever heard.

Like other things that have no rational explanation at the present time, NDEs may at first seem "nutty." An NDE is a genuine experience, an event that one individual experiences and remembers, and it usually has aftereffects, but it cannot yet be explained in terms of what we usually think of as "normal."

This sure doesn't sound very scientific.

Science deals with objective matters that can be observed, tested, and measured by someone else. An NDE is a subjective experience: It can be felt and reported only by the person who has it. For this and other reasons, some people claim that the NDE cannot be scientifically "real." Conversely, other scientists consider NDEs as scientifically valid as any other intense personal experience. The difference may be that some scientists demand physical proof of reality, while others are less troubled by ambiguity. In any event, tens of thousands of NDEs are being reported from all parts of the world. Something does seem to be happening, whether or not everyone agrees that it is scientifically understandable.

My doctor says NDEs are dreams or hallucinations.

Everyone dreams, and most people remember their dreams at least occasionally. People who have had NDEs say their NDEs were totally different than their dreams. For example, upon awakening, a dreamer usually knows the dream was not "real," whereas upon returning to normal consciousness, NDErs usually say the NDE was more real than normal reality. Similarly, people who have experienced both an NDE and hallucination say the two experiences are quite different. Again, in retrospect, a hallucination is known to have been "unreal" whereas an NDE usually is perceived to have been "hyperreal." Your doctor may understand dreams and hallucinations more than (s)he does NDEs. In particular, extensive research has shown that NDEs are not an indication of mental disorder.

Don't NDEs prove that there is life after death?

Certainly this is a very popular interpretation, although there is no "proof" in a statistical sense and no consensus of opinion. A more cautious explanation is that NDEs suggest that some aspect of human consciousness may continue after physical death. No means currently exists to demonstrate whether this speculation is true.

Are the people who have NDEs very religious?

People who report NDEs are no better or worse, and no more or less religious than people in any cross-section of the general population. NDErs come from many religious backgrounds and from the ranks of agnostics and even atheists. The experience seems more closely related to a person's life afterwards than to what it was before. Similarly, NDEs occur in both adults and children.

How do people react when they come back?

A person who has just had a near-death experience probably has very mixed feelings. One person may express anger or grief at being resuscitated; another may express relief. Other typical reactions:

  • fear that the NDE signified some kind of mental disorder;
  • disorientation because reality has shifted;
  • euphoria, feeling special or "chosen";
  • withdrawal to ponder the experience.

Does an NDE really change a person's life?

Almost every near-death experiencer reports changes after the experience.  The changes may be numerous.  They may occur at the physical, psychological, and/or spiritual levels.  They may be very difficult or impossible for the NDEr to describe or explain.  The changes reflect a fundamental shift in the NDEr's ideas of what life is all about.  We have a page with more information about changes spawned by NDEs.

I had one of these experiences, but no one told me I was in danger. Was my doctor lying to me?

Probably not.  Dr. Raymond Moody, in his 1975 book Life After Life, created the term "near-death experiences" to describe the clinical death experiences of people he had interviewed.  However, although being close to death is a fairly reliable "trigger," identical experiences happen under very different circumstances, even to people who are in no way close to physical death.  The best known experiences are those of saints and religious mystics.  Deep prayer and meditation can produce events like NDEs, as can other altered states of consciousness, without the person being near physical death.

When my mother was dying, we thought she was hallucinating, what she described sounds like an NDE

When my mother was dying, we thought she was hallucinating, but what she described sounds like an NDE. Could this be true?
People who are dying frequently describe seeing a wonderful light or a landscape they want to enter.  They may talk with people who are invisible to everyone else, or they may look radiant and at peace.  Such "deathbed visions" may be related to NDEs.  We have a page with more information about these kinds of experiences.


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