Are Near Death Experiences Real?

What Are Near Death Experiences?

A Near Death Experience (NDE) is sometimes also known as an Out Of Body Experience, although one doesn’t have to be actually approaching death to achieve an out of body experience.

A near death experience can occur when a person is close to death, through trauma, illness or anaesthesia. Most are described as a feeling of floating above your body, with perceptions you should not be able to experience from the position your physical body is in.

Of course, in order to relay the near death experience to anyone, the experiencer must survive the ordeal which gave rise to the experience.

Some near death experiences are described with bright lights above that the experiencer is encouraged to walk toward. Others talk of silver cords, usually extending from the umbilical region of what you experience as your non-corporeal body. Others talk of being met by relatives who’ve died – often with those relatives encouraging them to ‘cross over’ to be with them.

Are Near Death Experiences Real?

There is no doubt that the experience itself feels very real for the person who is in the situation. From this point of view, near death experiences are very real. But there’s very little science to back up whether the cause of a near death experience is based in reality or hallucination.

That is to say, there is no denying that many people, from all walks of life claim to have had a near death experience. Various studies put the percentage of people who’ve almost died and had a near death experience between 10%[1] and 17%[2] with that number being spread across almost all demographics of society.

But are these experiences actually based in reality, or are they nothing more than elaborate hallucinations conjured up by a change in brain chemistry when things start to go very wrong in the body. You can begin to see that the question of Are Near Death Experiences Real can be quite subjective.

Fortunately for us, more and more study is being done all the time. So with that, let’s dive in and find out.

Types Of Near Death Experience

According to a study in 2014[3] there are seven types of near death experience, some of which are not particularly pleasant. Of these experiences we’re only really interested in the 3 that are more commonly associated with Near Death Experience. But for reference, the study found that the seven types of experience were;

  • Fear;
  • Animals / Plants;
  • Bright Light;
  • Violence / Persecution;
  • Deja-vu / Life Review;
  • Meeting Family;
  • Recalling events post-Cardiac Arrest / Out Of Body Experience

Of these near death experiences, we’re going to concentrate on the Meeting Family, Life Review and Out Of Body Experience.

Meeting Family

Many of the stories around NDE do talk of seeing family members or friends who’ve passed. Often these experiences are coupled with the bright light and animals too. Sometimes the experience centres around messages that the loved ones pass on to the experiencer which are then taken back into the life of the person surviving the experience. At other times the family members are said to be welcoming the dying person and encouraging them to go with them.

Indeed, one of my friends from many years ago encountered a NDE on the operating table. He’d had multiple bowel surgeries and on this occasion he arrested on the operating table for somewhere approaching five minutes. During this time he met with his deceased family members who, he alleges were encouraging him to come with him. He states that initially he was quite willing to go but somewhat hesitant. He then states that towards the end of the experience he remembered his young daughter and started to turn away from his deceased family members and told them he cannot go with them yet because he must look after his daughter. They argued and he alleges he forcefully told them no way he was going and then he recovered.

Others though have told stories of family members meeting them and asking why they are here it is not their time yet. Often, anecdotally, these stories seem to involve suicidal patients though this is not always the case.

Life Review

Some of the stories told after a near death experience talk about a life review or deja-vu feeling. You’ve probably heard the saying yourself ‘My whole life flashed before me’. Most people who talk of this experience describe seeing their lives projected in front of them like onto a large movie screen.

Most of the stories also talk of seeing their lives, some significant events and some minor events. They describe seeing things that should take years to re-experience often happening in just a few minutes or even seconds.

These experiences can sometimes happen even if you’re not actually ‘near death’ in the traditional sense. That is to say, some of the stories we’ve heard can be focused around a person being in a highly stressful situation in which they think they’re going to die. For example, a very close call in a car crash, or an aeroplane making an emergency landing. Given how difficult it is to study this sort of experience it’s relatively unlikely we’ll ever get any decent answers to this particular phenomenon. Though we may get more answers as more study is done on patients who are actively in the process of dying and the get resuscitated.

Out Of Body Experience

This is the experience most people think of when they hear the term Near Death Experience. It’s also the least common type of NDE according to the AWARE study listed above with only 2% of cardiac arrest survivors in the study recounting out of body experiences.

A conversation thread on Reddit.com[4] 5 years ago elicited the response of other 1000 commenters when it asked for the experiences of people who’d been resuscitated from being clinically dead. The answers, although of course unverifiable, make for some interesting reading.

Some of the respondents of this comment thread indicate that people did have knowledge of the event that they shouldn’t be able to have.

The AWARE study also concluded that one participant in their study was able to recount verifiable information that they should not have been able to perceive during their resuscitation due to there being no recordable cerebral brain activity at the time. Further study on this is definitely warranted!

Evidence For Near Death Experience

Of the types of near death experience listed above, the only one that suitably lends itself to scientific verification is the Out Of Body Experience. This is because for most of the others the experience is so personal and does not transcend the reality boundary. That is to say, it all occurs inside the head of the experiencer.

The only other potentially viable option would be the family members visiting and passing on messages. But it’s difficult to determine if those messages are just subconscious memories from childhood resurfacing. The experiencer may awake and genuinely believe they were given information from a family member that they did not know – and indeed other family members may fully believe that the experiencer would not know that information either. But from a scientific perspective this is too easily confounded and offers very low level evidence.

The Out Of Body Experience however, can be verified simply by placing items within an environment that only the experiment organisers know about and are out of sight/hearing of the OOBEr. If the patients wakes up and states they saw one of these objects, then the proof can be considered pretty conclusive.

Dr Peter Fenwick[5], a Cambridge University graduate and neuropsychologist has been involved in various research projects regarding the OOB experiences of Near Death patients. Dr Peter Fenwick is one of the co-authors of the AWARE study. Dr Fenwick does attract some significant criticism from other medical doctors for his experiments and thoughts. Nevertheless, he does have some very interesting views and studies.

Evidence Against Near Death Experience

It should be pointed out that a lack of evidence for something is definitely not the same as evidence against something. So just because the evidence for the reality of near death experience is rather flimsy (but perhaps getting better) it doesn’t necessarily mean that Near Death Experience isn’t real.

There has however been a study performed in 2019 has found that experience of near death can likely be replicated through the use of psycho-active drugs such as N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) or Ketamine. The study, Neurochemical models of near-death experiences: A large-scale study based on the semantic similarity of written reports[6] investigated the stories that people recount when taking these drugs, and compared them to the stories recounted by people who’ve experienced Near Death Experience. The study concludes that NDEs could very easily be explained by endogenous (ie, from within) chemicals released into the brain as some sort of protection mechanism. Other studies have shown similar things[7].

However, this isn’t necessarily evidence against Near Death Experiences. It shows that the brain chemistry can be altered to produce similar results. It doesn’t address the underlying reason why the results occur.

Conclusion

There appears to be evidence both for and against the question of “Are Near Death Experiences Real?”.

Unfortunately the evidence for NDE is rather flimsy at present. But we also showed that the evidence against NDE is equally as flimsy at present.

This is largely due to the inability to produce repeatable, verifiable, randomised trials and studies to further investigate the phenomenon. The study into psychoactive drugs is the most promising way to produce repeatable and verifiable evidence. Perhaps ironically, the study appears to be framed around disproving the concept of Near Death Experience as actual reality.

We feel this is a shame because we believe that it could be that these chemicals are merely a way to lift the veil between the realms. At the time of death, the brain may release these chemicals naturally as a way of smoothing the transition. The notion that some people are told to go back in their near death experience may support this.

Nevertheless, more study is required to either prove or disprove the question of whether near death experiences are real or not. We’re not sure it can ever be disproved. But it might be nice if it were indeed proven.

Leave a comment below to let us know of your experiences with the subject or whether you believe it or not. Or indeed, any questions you may have. We look forward to hearing from you!

References

  1. One In Ten People Have ‘Near Death’ Experiences, According To New StudyEuropean Academy of Neurology – June 29 2019
  2. Near Death Experiences Evidence For Their Reality – Jeffrey Long – The Journal Of The Missouri State Medical Association – Sep – Oct 2014.
  3. AWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study – Sam Parnia, Ken Spearpoint, Gabriele de Vos, Peter Fenwick, Diana Goldberg, Jie Yang, Jiawen Zhu, Katie Baker, Hayley Killingback, Paula McLean, Melanie Wood, A. Maziar Zafari, Neal Dickert, Roland Beisteiner, Fritz Sterz, Michael Berger, Celia Warlow, Siobhan Bullock, Salli Lovett, Russell Metcalfe Smith McPara, Sandra Marti-Navarette, Pam Cushing, Paul Wills, Kayla Harris, Jenny Sutton, Anthony Walmsley, Charles D. Deakin, Paul Little, Mark Farber, Bruce Greyson, Elinor R. Schoenfeld – Resuscitation Journal – VOLUME 85, ISSUE 12, P1799-1805, DECEMBER 01, 2014
  4. Redditors who have been clinically dead and then revived/resuscitated: What did dying feel like? Did you see anything whilst passed on? – (Author now deleted) – reddit.com – April 18, 2015.
  5. Dr Peter Fenwick – Details from Wikipedia.
  6. Neurochemical models of near-death experiences: A large-scale study based on the semantic similarity of written reports – Charlotte Martial, Héléna Cassol, Vanessa Charland-Verville, Carla Pallavicini, Camila Sanz, Federico Zamberlan, Rocío Martínez Vivot, Fire Erowid, Earth Erowid, Steven Laureys, Bruce Greyson, Enzo Tagliazucchi – Consciousness and Cognition – March 2019
  7. DMT Models the Near-Death Experience – Christopher Timmermann, Leor Roseman, Luke Williams, David Erritzoe, Charlotte Martial, Héléna Cassol, Steven Laureys, David Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris – Frontiers In Psychology – 15 August 2018

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