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Research News

Distressing NDEs: A Detailed Investigation

DancingPastTheDarkCoverThe study of NDEs took a significant turn with Nancy Evans Bush's important work, Dancing Past the Dark: Distressing Near Death Experiences.  In a recent series of posts, Peter Hulme reviews this book in detail and provides an excellent summary of some of the important components of this book.

As Hulme states, "...of the 354 near-death experiences ... between the years 1975 and 2005 ... there were no unpleasant reports."  Dancing Past the Dark introduced the topic of distressing NDEs with an insightful discussion of the components of these experiences, methods for interpreting them, and ways to help people to integrate the experiences and move on with their lives.

In his first posting, Hulme provides an introduction to distressing NDEs and discusses why it is important to study these experiences.

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Religion Inspired by NDEs: See the video

Gregory ShushanDr. Gregory Shushan of Oxford University "...examines the relationship between afterlife conceptions and conceptually-related anomalous experiences in ethnohistoric indigenous traditions worldwide."  In 2012 he gave a lecture at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion which compared the components of NDEs to the religious texts of numerous ancient civilizations.  His work convincingly shows that NDEs have inspired afterlife conceptions among world cultures from ancient times.  That is, NDEs appear to be a causal inspiration of religious belief from ancient times, not an illusion produced as the result of religious belief.

He is also the author of the book Conceptions of the Afterlife in Ancient Civilizations.

 Dr. Shushan's full lecture can be seen online at this location.



What near-death experiences tell us

New York Open CenterNDE researcher Robert Mays moderated a symposium on near-death experiences in November 2013 called A Journey to Heaven and Back. The symposium was jointly sponsored by IANDS and the Open Center in New York City. The program featured NDErs Dr. Eben Alexander, Anita Moorjani and Lorna Byrne.

Robert offered the following perspective:

Dr. Eben AlexanderIn 2008, Eben Alexander came down with acute bacterial meningitis and was in deep coma for 6 days, with little chance for survival. Although his brain was severely compromised, he had a profound, ultra-real experience of an exquisite, heavenly realm. High above him shimmering angelic beings arced across the sky in glorious song, raising him higher and higher. He entered an immense void.

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Research request for NDErs: spontaneous mediumship experiences

Ryan Foster, Ph.D.If you have had, or think you might have had, a near-death experience (NDE): You are invited to participate in a research study examining whether or not you experienced being visited by a deceased person who communicated a message they wanted you to convey to another living person (termed spontaneous mediumship experiences, SMEs), prior to and/or after your NDE, and if so, the nature of those experiences. The research is being conducted by Ryan Foster, Ph.D. and Jan Holden, Ed.D., editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies.

Participation involves completing an online survey that should take you about 30 minutes. If you had, or may have had, an NDE; if you’re at least 18 years old; if you’re at least reasonably fluent in written English; and if you’re willing to participate in the study, please click here to take the survey. For more information, email Dr. Foster: rfoster(at)

Study on rats proposes a mechanism for NDEs

White ratJimo Borjigin, PhDA recent study by Jimo Borjigin and colleagues (University of Michigan) reports that highly coherent, global oscillations in the brains of rats occurred from about 12 to 30 seconds after cardiac arrest. The investigators found that near death, some of the electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state, providing "strong evidence for the potential of heightened cognitive processing in the near-death state." "The measureable conscious activity is much, much higher after the heart stops." They assert that this evidence provides "a scientific framework to begin to explain the highly lucid and realer-than-real mental experiences reported by near-death survivors."

How well do these assertions hold up to scrutiny?

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The Big Book of NDEs is back!

The Big Book of NDEsThe Big Book of Near-Death Experiences: The ultimate guide to what happens when we die by P.M.H. Atwater is back! This is a wonderful, comprehensive encyclopedic resource full of useful information about NDEs and related phenomena.

The Big Book is now available on-line from P.M.H. Atwater and from IANDS' Shopping Cart. IANDS is now offering a discount for The Big Book to IANDS members.

We also have The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation on the Shopping Cart, also with an IANDS member discount.

Researchers to investigate what happens when we die

Bruce Greyson, MDWTVR-com2Station WTVR in Richmond reports that beginning in January, Dr. Bruce Greyson and his team at the University of Virginia will participate in a research study where doctors will attempt to monitor near-death experiences as they occur in the hospital, using computers near the ceiling to project random images in places where people tend to go into cardiac arrest. The images will be visible only at the ceiling, looking down.

“We know that 10 percent of people who have cardiac arrest will say during the arrest, they left their bodies and many say they hovered above their bodies, looking down on it,” Greyson said. His team hopes to determine whether what the patient saw corresponds to what was shown on the computer.

The article also recounts the NDEs experienced by Dr. Eben Alexander and also Wayne Hart, who said, "There was a perfect sense of peace, of belonging, of being home... [Afterward], everything changed. I was a completely different person."

AWARE study & two others receive Templeton grants

Immortality ProjectThree studies relating to NDEs have been award grants in the Immortality Project, including the AWARE study directed by Sam Parnia of Stony Brook University, according to a University of California Riverside report. The size of the individual grants was not disclosed but they average $240,000.

Sam Parnia, MDThe AWARE study grant will be used to "examine the nature of human consciousness and mental processes during cardiac arrest and their relationship with brain resuscitation".

Another study by Ann Taves and Tamsin German of UC Santa Barbara will include a "quasi-experimental field study" of IANDS to examine the role that NDE accounts and experiences play in shaping and reinforcing the potency of afterlife beliefs in the NDE movement. In the third study related to NDEs, Shahar Arzy of Hadassah Hebrew University will examine the life-review experience reported in many near-death experiences, including its prevalence and relationship to life events.

Study finds NDE memories are not of imagined events

steven_laureys2Skeptics have long proposed that NDEs are dream-like memories of events that never happened or are altered memories of real events which are partly or fully imagined. A recently published study from the University of Liège in Belgium compared the memories of NDEs with memories of others who were in coma without an NDE. They found that memories of NDEs are significantly different from coma patients without an NDE. In particular they have significantly more characteristics, like visual details, memory clarity, self-referential information (being involved in the event) and emotional content.

The researchers propose that NDEs can't be considered as imagined events. which have significantly fewer characteristics. NDE events are really perceived but since the events did not occur in reality and likely result from physiological conditions (e.g., neurological dysfunction), the events are actually hallucinatory (see also ULg video). This conclusion is based on assumptions that are inconsistent with other evidence from NDEs. Other interpretations are possible.

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Parnia interviewed on Fresh Air about his book 'Erasing Death'

Dr. Sam ParniaErasing Death Dr. Sam Parnia was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air about his new book, Erasing Death: The science that is rewriting the boundaries between life and death, released in February. The book reveals that death is not a moment in time, but rather a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Dr. Parnia reveals how some form of "afterlife" may be uniquely ours, as evidenced by the continuation of the human mind and psyche after the brain stops functioning.

NPRIn the interview, Parnia relates some initial results of the AWARE study: only about 1 in 1,000 patients has remembered an NDE with an OBE component. A number of OBEs were reported but some occurred with no target images installed and some patients looked at events at a different angle from where the target was installed, but still described accurate details. The researchers are adjusting the study. See also excellent article in The Guardian.


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