I. Near-death experiences (NDE) are defined as a wide range of experiences, told by different people who had nearly died or who thought they were going to die. The experiences that are of most importance to parapsychologists are the “mystical experience”, the “light at the end of the tunnel” experience, the “life review” experience, and the out of the body experience (OBE) (Skeptic’s Dictionary). These most common types of experiences have been used to support the belief in our souls being separate from our bodies, and life after death. Typical examples are the buzzing or ringing noises, seeing your own body from above, seeing dead loved ones or religious icons, and having your life flash before your eyes. (Skeptic’s Dictionary)
II. Near-death experiences have been reported since before the 19th century. They have been reported in many different cultures/countries. However, NDEs did not start getting recognized publicly until around the 1900’s. The phenomenon of NDEs really started gaining publicity after different psychologists released books and studies supporting the theory that near-death experiences were of a supernatural state, and not a neurological one.
• One of the earliest supporters of the theory that out-of-body experiences were evidence that there was life after death, was Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. She was known mainly because of her work on death and dying. However, she eventually concluded that death did not exist. She then later wrote her own out-of-body experience. She inspired other people to investigate near-death experiences. (Skeptic’s Dictionary)
• Another person who believed in near-death experiences was psychologist Raymond Moody. Moody is considered, by many, the father of the modern NDE movement, so much so that he came up with the expression “near-death experience. During his lifetime, he also wrote several books about life after death and is known very well for his list of what he considered to be typical of the NDE. (Wikipedia)
• Bruce Grayson works as a researcher in the NDE field and has been so influential in his studies, that he is also referred to as the father of NDEs. He worked alongside Kenneth Ring, and Michael Sabom and they were inspired by Raymond Moody and other NDE researchers. Grayson is known for inventing a scale that would be used to measure the aspects of the experiences and since its creation, it has been widely used by many. (Wikipedia)
• Pim van Lommel was one of the first to conduct research on NDEs in an area of Hospital Medicine. In 1998, one of his studies spanned to 10 Dutch hospitals, with 344 survivors of cardiac arrest as their subjects. The purpose of the study was to the cause of the experiences and assess the variables connected. (Wikipedia)
• One group that tends to believe in NDEs are parapsychologists. A parapsychologist is a type of seer or someone who studies supernatural phenomenon. They tend to take the bad and good NDEs as evidence that there is an afterlife. Parapsychologists think that some souls leave their physical bodies so that they can go to another world for a period, and then return to their bodies. (Skeptic’s Dictionary)
• Another group that tends to believe in near-death experiences are religious groups, especially groups of the Christian faith. There have been numerous cases of NDEs and a lot of the religious people believe in them as a sign of God or Heaven and Hell, such as seeing the tunnel that leads towards the light (God).
III. Ever since near-death experiences became a debate between the skeptics and believers, various researchers have conducted different research studies, to try and provide evidence for their theory.
• “Studies seem to estimate that near-death experiences are reported by 5 percent of the adult American population (Wikipedia)”. IANDS conducted a survey in the USA, Australia, and Germany, which seems to show that 4 to 15 percent of the population have thought to have had experienced a near-death experience. (Wikipedia)
• The Near-Death Experience Scale, invented by Bruce Greyson, was found that it had a “high internal consistency, split-half reliability, and test-retest reliability (Wikipedia)”. It would address dimensions such as cognition, affect, paranormal experience, and transcendence. The scale would give a score, and if the score was a 7 or higher out of 32, they would conclude that it was a NDE. Greyson believed that his scale was extremely useful in showing the difference between a NDE or regular brain syndromes. (Wikipedia)
• A study at Southampton General Hospital in 2002 found that 11.1 percent of 63 survivors of cardiac-arrest, stated memories while they were unconscious. A lot of the memories they reported had features of NDEs. Another study soon after this one was by Pim van Lommel. Lommel was one of the first researchers to introduce NDE studies into. One of his studies in 1998 spread out to 10 Dutch hospitals, with 344 cardiac-arrest survivors were their patients. 62 patients explained that they had experienced a NDE. 41 of the patients explained that they had a “core” experience (Wikipedia). The reason for this study was to identify the causes of the NDEs and identify the variables involved. (Wikipedia)
IV. Since the 19th century, claims of near-death experiences has increased a lot. A dramatic increase in the percentage of claimed near-death experiences happened after Moody published his book stating that they were real. After that, a lot of people were coming forward and saying that they had experienced some sort of the criteria that was associated with near-death experiences. That was when the scientific community began looking into the experiences and trying to figure out if it was caused by neurological processes. Ever since then, the topic of NDE raised heated debate over whether they were a sign from God, physiological processes, or proof that someone’s soul is separate from one’s body. With advancements in medical science, the number of NDE cases increased worldwide. With new progressions in science and new changes in CPR, the amount of cases of NDE boosted worldwide.
V. Since near-death experiences are based mainly on a person’s anecdotal evidence, the theory that NDEs are signs from God, or are a sign of life after death, has not been deemed an actual experience. The idea that near-death experiences are a subject for scientific study, has been shot down by various medical professionals. There is a lot of skepticism towards NDE findings and how valid they are, and NDEs have been defined as a pseudoscience. Many different neurologists have performed tests and found medical explanations for these “NDEs”. There has been scientific evidence that shows that the different experiences during near-death experiences are just physiological. Medical tests show that the out-of-body experiences can be triggered by “stimulating the right temporoparietal junction in the brain (Scientific American)”. “The vision of the tunnel with the bright light can occur when blood and oxygen flow is depleted to the eye, which happens with extreme fear and oxygen loss, which are common to dying (Live Science)”. “Recent research also shows that medications and recreational drugs can simulate the euphoria usually felt with NDEs (Scientific American)”. “Another medical explanation for OBEs is the failure of anesthesia, which would allow for some awareness of surroundings (The Atlantic)”. “During surgery, if the anesthesia is improperly administered, then the patient might have some awareness, which can lead to false memories (The Atlantic)”. Therefore, because of the medical proof provided above, it is wise to believe that near-death experiences are not mystical or spiritual, but that they are just purely physiological. (The Atlantic)