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Key Facts about Near-Death Experiences

Correlations

  • No significant correlation has been found between religious beliefs and the likelihood or depth of the near-death experience.24
  • No significant correlation has been found between age, race, sexual orientation, economic status and the likelihood, content or depth of the near-death experience.25
  • No correlation between the life history, beliefs, behavior or attitudes of a person and the likelihood of having a radiant or harrowing NDE has been established.26
  • There is no evidence of a correlation between the means of coming close to death,    including suicide, and the likelihood of having a harrowing NDE.27,28,29

Explanations for the NDE

“No one physiological or psychological model by itself explains all the common features of NDE. The paradoxical occurrence of heightened, lucid awareness and logical thought processes during a period of impaired cerebral perfusion raises particular perplexing questions for our current understanding of consciousness and its relation to brain function. A clear sensorium and complex perceptual processes during a period of apparent clinical death challenge the concept that consciousness is localized exclusively in the brain."30

Aren’t NDEs hallucinations?

No. Hallucinations are usually illogical, fleeting, bizarre, and/or distorted, whereas the vast majority of NDEs are logical, orderly, clear, and comprehensible. People tend to forget their hallucinations, whereas most NDEs remain vivid for decades. Furthermore, NDEs often lead to profound and permanent transformations in personality, attitudes, beliefs and values, something that is never seen following hallucinations. People looking back on hallucinations typically recognize them as unreal, as fantasies, whereas, people often describe their NDEs as “more real than real.” Further, people who have experienced both hallucinations and an NDE describe them as being quite different.31,32

Aren’t NDEs the result of anoxia (lack of oxygen) in a dying brain?

No. Physicians have compared oxygen levels of cardiac arrest survivors who did and did not have NDEs and their findings discredit the anoxia hypothesis. In fact, in one study, the NDErs had higher oxygen levels than non-NDErs.33 People report near-death experiences from many situations when their brains are healthy—during childbirth, in accidents, in falls. People also report classical near-death-like experiences that have occurred during conversations or while holding a dying loved one. In those cases where anoxia is involved and monitored, such as in cardiac arrest, the effects are disorientation and poor memory.  The opposite is true for those patients who report near-death experiences following their cardiac arrest.34,35

Haven’t locations in the brain been found to produce an NDE? 

The right temporal lobe, the left temporal lobe, the frontal lobe attention area, the thalamus, the hypothalamus, the amygdala and the hippocampus each have been suggested by different neuroscientists as linked to the near-death experience. Although different parts of the brain may be involved at some point before, during, or following some NDEs, there is no empirical evidence that any one of these, or a combination of them, manufacture the NDE.  Every perception we have will be associated with activity in a specific part of the brain, but that doesn’t mean the activity caused the experience. For example, as you read these words, there is increased electrical activity in your occipital lobe, but we don’t conclude that these words are a hallucination caused by that brain activity. A Swiss neuroscientist, Olaf Blanke, claimed that stimulation of the right angular gyrus can trigger out-of-body experiences (OBEs).36 However, the stimulated experience involved only one patient. That patient’s experience was fragmentary, distorted and illusory, substantially different from OBEs occurring during NDEs.37

Haven’t certain drugs been shown to produce an NDE? 

Ketamine and psilocybin are two drugs that have reportedly triggered mystical experiences that appear to be different than hallucinations and have similar elements to NDEs. Karl Jansen, who has written more than anyone else on NDE-like ketamine experiences, says the following. 
“After 12 years of studying ketamine, I now believe that there most definitely is a soul that is independent  of experience. It exists when we begin, and may persist when we end. Ketamine is a door to a place we cannot normally get to; it is definitely not evidence that such a place does not exist.”38
NDEs are quantified by using Greyson's NDE Scale and Ring’s Weighted Core Experience Index. No such NDE measures are known to have been taken by the subjects involved in drug-related experiments in order to make a valid comparison. Scientists in the new field of neurotheology are researching psilocybin and its mystic state-inducing capabilities for its possible therapeutic effectiveness.39

Can an NDE be induced through meditation, shamanic drumming, yoga or other spiritual practices?

Near-death experiences occur by definition “near-death,” although as mentioned earlier, NDEs belong to a larger family of mystical or transpersonal experiences that transcend the usual limits of space and/or time and have the potential to be spiritually transformative. Practices such as meditation, shamanic drumming and yoga can trigger a variety of mystical experiences that appear identical to NDEs even though the experiencer is not physically close to death. 

 

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