Near-death experience

From New World Encyclopedia

Ascent in the Empyrean painted by Hieronymus Bosch between 1500 and 1504 C.E.

A near-death experience (NDE) is the event of maintaining a conscious recognition of sensations, visions, or events after having been declared clinically dead and ultimately being resuscitated to reflect on what was experienced. Such events often include the vision of a white light, sometimes interpreted to be God; encounters with angels, ancestors, or other members of the deceased; out-of-body experiences; and a review of one's life, among other reported phenomena. NDEs can be either heavenly or hellish experiences.

With recent developments in cardiac resuscitation techniques, the number of NDEs reported continually increases. The scientific community remains divided on the matter, with skeptical scientists believing there to be a biological explanation for the phenomena,[1] while more paranormally inclined scientists claim these experiences to be evidence of a spiritual world.[2][3]

Many are fascinated with the prospect of NDEs being a glimpse into the afterlife. According to a Gallup poll, approximately eight million Americans claim to have had a near-death experience.[4] NDEs are among the phenomena studied in the fields of parapsychology, psychology, psychiatry,[5] and hospital medicine.[6][7] Testimonies from these individuals have given comfort to those seeking evidence of a life after death, as well as clues to the curious regarding the descriptions of the spiritual reality.


The phenomenology of an NDE usually includes physiological, psychological, and alleged transcendental affects.[8]Typically the experience follows a distinct progression: [9][10][11]

  1. a very unpleasant sound/noise is the first sensory impression to be noticed[12]
  2. an awareness of being dead
  3. pleasant emotions, calmness, and serenity
  4. a sensation of floating above one's own body and seeing the surrounding area
  5. a sensation of moving upwards through a bright tunnel or narrow passageway
  6. meeting deceased relatives or spiritual figures
  7. encountering a being of light, or a light (often interpreted as being the Christian God or another divine figure)
  8. being given a life review
  9. reaching a border or boundary
  10. a feeling of being returned to the body, often accompanied by a feeling of reluctance

However, some people have also experienced extremely distressing NDEs, which can manifest in a forewarning of "Hell" or a sense of dread towards the cessation of their life in its current state.

According to the Rasch Scale, a "core" near-death experience encompasses peace, joy, and harmony, followed by insight and mystical or religious experiences.[13] Some NDEs are reported to involve the subject being aware of things occurring in a different place or time, and some of these observations are said to have been evidential.

Clinical circumstances that are thought to lead to a NDE include conditions such as: cardiac arrest, shock in postpartum loss of blood or in perioperative complications, septic or anaphylactic shock, electrocution, coma, intracerebral haemorrhage or cerebral infarction, attempted suicide, near-drowning or asphyxia, apnoea, and serious depression.[14] Many NDEs occur after certain triggers (e.g., when a patient can hear that he or she is declared to be dead by a doctor or nurse), or when a person has the subjective impression to be in a fatal situation (e.g. during a near-miss automobile accident). In contrast to common belief, attempted suicides do not lead more often to unpleasant NDEs than unintended near-death situations.[15]

Research and history

Popular interest in the NDE phenomena was originally spurred by the research of such pioneers as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and George Ritchie, and by Raymond Moody, Jr.'s book Life After Life, which was released in 1975 and brought a great deal of attention to the topic of NDEs.[16].

The International Association for Near-death Studies (IANDS) was founded in 1978 in order to meet the needs of early researchers and those with NDE experiences within this field of research. Today the association includes researchers, health care professionals, NDE-experiencers and people close to experiencers, as well as other interested people. One of its main goals is to promote responsible and multi-disciplinary investigation of near-death and similar experiences.

Later researchers, including Bruce Greyson, Kenneth Ring, and Michael Sabom, introduced the study of near-death experiences to the academic setting. The medical community has been somewhat reluctant to address the phenomenon of NDEs, and money granted for research has been relatively scarce.[17] One notable development was the NDE-scale, aimed to help differentiate between "true" NDEs and syndromes or stress responses that are not related to an NDE, such as the similar incidents experienced by sufferers of epilepsy.

Other contributors to the research on near-death experiences come from the disciplines of medicine, psychology, and psychiatry. Greyson has also brought attention to the near-death experience as a focus of clinical attention,[18] while Morse and his colleagues have investigated near-death experiences in a pediatric population[19][20]

Neuro-biological factors in NDEs have been investigated by researchers within the field of medical science and psychiatry.[21][22] Among the researchers and commentators who tend to emphasize a naturalistic and neurological base, for the experience, are the British psychologist Susan Blackmore[23] and the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer.

Among the scientific and academic journals that have published, or are regularly publishing new research on the subject of NDEs, are: Journal of Near-Death Studies, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, British Journal of Psychology, American Journal of Disease of Children, Resuscitation, The Lancet, Death Studies, and the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Biological analysis and theories

In the 1990s, Dr. Rick Strassman conducted research on the psychedelic drug Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) at the University of New Mexico. Strassman advanced the theory that a massive release of DMT from the pineal gland prior to death or near-death was the cause of the NDE phenomenon. Only two of his test subjects reported NDE-like aural or visual hallucinations, although many reported feeling as though they had entered a state similar to the classical NDE. His explanation for this was the possible lack of panic involved in the clinical setting and possible dosage differences between those administered and those encountered in actual NDE cases. All subjects in the study were also very experienced users of DMT and/or other psychedelic/entheogenic agents. Some speculators consider that if subjects without prior knowledge on the effects of DMT been used during the experiment, that it is possible more volunteers would have reported feeling as though they had experienced an NDE.

Critics have argued that neurobiological models often fail to explain NDEs that result from close brushes with death, where the brain does not actually suffer physical trauma, such as a near-miss automobile accident. Such events may, however, have neurobiological effects caused by stress.

In a new theory devised by Kinseher in 2006, the knowledge of the Sensory Autonomic System is applied in the NDE phenomenon. His theory states that the experience of looming death is an extremely strange paradox to a living organism—and therefore it can trigger the NDE. According to this theory, during the NDE, the individual becomes capable of "seeing" the brain performing a scan of the whole episodic memory (even prenatal experiences), in order to find a stored experience that is comparable to the input information of death. All these scanned and retrieved bits of information are permanently evaluated by the actual mind, as it is searching for a coping mechanism out of the potentially fatal situation. Kinseher feels this is the reason why a near-death experience is so unusual.

The theory also states that out-of-body experiences, accompanied with NDEs, are an attempt by the brain to create a mental overview of the situation and the surrounding world. The brain then transforms the input from sense organs and stored experience (knowledge) into a dream-like idea about oneself and the surrounding area.

Spiritual viewpoints

Many view the NDE as suggestion of an afterlife, claiming that the phenomena cannot be completely explained by physiological or psychological causes, and that consciousness can function independently of brain activity.[24] This includes those with agnostic/atheist inclinations before the experience. Many former atheists, such as the Reverend Howard Storm[25][26] have adopted a more spiritual viewpoint after their NDEs.

Many NDE-accounts seem to include elements which, according to several theorists, can only be explained by an out-of-body consciousness. For example, in one account, a woman accurately described a surgical instrument she had not seen previously, as well as a conversation that occurred while she was under general anesthesia.[27] In another account, from a proactive Dutch NDE study [28], a nurse removed the dentures of an unconscious heart attack victim, and was asked by him after his recovery to return them. It is difficult to explain in conventional terms how an unconscious patient could later have recognized the nurse.[29] Dr. Michael Sabom reports a case about a woman who underwent surgery for an aneurysm. The woman reported an out-of-body experience that she claimed continued through a brief period of the absence of any EEG activity. If true, this would seem to challenge the belief by many that consciousness is situated entirely within the brain.[30]

Greyson claims that "No one physiological or psychological model by itself explains all the common features of an 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."[31]

There are many religious and physiological views about NDEs, such as the Tibetan belief of bardo; a transpersonal dimension that houses souls awaiting reincarnation.

Personal experiences

  • Return from Tomorrow by George G. Ritchie, M.D. with Elizabeth Sherrill (1978). Dr. George Ritchie has held positions as president of the Richmond Academy of General Practice; chairman of the Department of Psychiatry of Towers Hospital; and founder and president of the Universal Youth Corps, Inc. At the age of 20, George Ritchie was considered to have died in an army hospital, returning to life nine minutes later. In Return from Tomorrow, he recounts experiences that he considers to be an out-of-the-body encounter with other beings, his travel through different dimensions of time and space, and ultimately, his meeting with Jesus Christ.
  • Saved by the Light by Dannion Brinkley. Brinkley's experience documents one of the most complete near death experiences, in terms of core experience and additional phenomena from the NDE scale. Brinkley was clinically dead for 28 minutes and taken to a hospital morgue before resuscitating.
  • Anita Moorjani, an ethnic Indian woman from Hong Kong, experienced an NDE that has been documented on the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) website as one of the most exceptional accounts on their archives. She had end-stage cancer and on February 2, 2006 doctors told her family that she only had a few hours to live. Following her NDE, Anita experienced a remarkable total recovery of her health.
  • Goldie Hawn, an accomplished movie actress, reflected on her own near-death experience while giving a speech at the Buell Theater in Denver, Colorado. When she was younger, and starting out as an actress, she and a group of friends were in a severe car crash together. While she was unconscious, she remembers looking over herself while the paramedics were trying to revive her. She also mentioned seeing a bright light and being told it was not her time soon before she awoke.


  1. Susan Blackmore, Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1993. ISBN 0879758708).
  2. Neil Grossman, Who's afraid of life after death? Why NDE evidence is ignored, Indiana University and University of Illinois, Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS): IONS Review 61 (September-November 2002). Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  3. David Fontana, Does mind survive physical death? Cardiff University and Liverpool John Moores University. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  4. James Mauro, "Bright lights, big mystery," Psychology Today (July 1992).
  5. Bruce Greyson, "Near-death experiences in a psychiatric outpatient clinic population," Psychiatric Services 54(issue 12)(2003)
  6. Pim van Lommel et al. "Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: A prospective study in the Netherlands," The Lancet 358(9298)(2001):2039-2045.
  7. Pim van Lommel, "A reply to Shermer: Medical evidence for NDEs." Skeptical Investigations (2003).
  8. S. Parnia, D. G. Waller, R. Yeates, and P. Fenwick, "A qualitative and quantitative study of the incidence, features and aetiology of near-death experiences in cardiac arrest survivors," Resuscitation 48(2001):149-156.
  9. Mauro (1992).
  10. M. Morse, D. Conner, and D. Tyler, "Near-death experiences in a pediatric population. A preliminary report," American Journal of Disease of Children 139 (1985). PubMed abstract PMID 4003364
  11. van Lommel, et al. (2001)
  12. R. Moody, Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon - Survival of Bodily Death. (New York: Bantam, 1975. ISBN 0553100807).
  13. R. Lange, B. Greyson, and J. Houran, "A Rasch scaling validation of a 'core' near-death experience," British Journal of Psychology 95 (2004): 161-177
  14. Parnia et al. (2001)
  15. Kenneth Ring, Heading toward Omega. In search of the Meaning of Near-Death Experience. (New York: W. Morrow, 1984. ISBN 0688039103).
  16. Mauro, (1992)
  17. Ibid.
  18. B. Greyson, "The near-death experience as a focus of clinical attention," Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 185(5) (1997): 327-334. PubMed abstract PMID 9171810
  19. M. Morse, D. Conner, and D. Tyler, "Near-Death Experiences in a pediatric population. A preliminary report," American Journal of Disease of Children 139(1985) (PubMed abstract PMID 4003364).
  20. M. Morse, P. Castillo, D. Venecia, J. Milstein, and D. C. Tyler, "Childhood near-death experiences," American Journal of Diseases of Children 140(11)(1986): 1110-1114.
  21. K. L. R. Jansen, "Using ketamine to induce the near-death experience: Mechanism of action and therapeutic potential," Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness (Jahrbuch furr Ethnomedizin und Bewubtseinsforschung) 4(1995): 55-81.
  22. Shawn Thomas, "Agmatine and near-death experiences," (2004). Retrieved November 16, 2007.
  23. Susan Blackmore, Dying to Live: Science and Near-Death Experiences (London: Harper Collins, 1993). ISBN 0879758708.
  24. T. Rivas, "The survivalist interpretation of recent studies into the near-death experience," Journal of Religion and Psychical Research 26 (1) (2003): 27-31.
  25. L. A. Rodrigues, "Ex-atheist describes near-death experience," Standard Times C4, January 31, 2004 .
  26. Linda Andrade Rodrigues, "Ex-atheist describes near-death experience," South Coast Today (2004). Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  27. Michael Sabom, Light & Death: One Doctor's Fascinating Account of Near-Death Experiences. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998. ISBN 0310219922).
  28. IANDS, "Building global understanding of near-death experiences," IANDS. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  29. van Lommel, et al. (2001)
  30. Sabom, (1998)
  31. B. Greyson, "Incidence and correlates of near-death experiences in a cardiac care unit," Gen Hosp Psychiatry 25 (2003): 269-276.

Other references

  • American Psychiatric Association. 1994. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. (Code V62.89, Religious or Spiritual Problem).
  • Blanke, Olaf, Stéphanie Ortigue, Theodor Landis, and Margitta Seeck. 2002. "Stimulating illusory own-body perceptions. The part of the brain that can induce out-of-body experiences has been located." Nature 419.
  • Britton, W. B., and R. R. Bootzin. 2004. "Near-death experiences and the temporal lobe." Psychol Sci. 15(4): 254-258.
  • Carey, S. S. 2004. A Beginner's Guide to Scientific Method. Toronto: Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 0534528430.
  • Lukoff, David, Francis G. Lu, and Robert P. Turner. 1998. "From spiritual emergency to spiritual problem: The transpersonal roots of the new DSM-IV category." Journal of Humanistic Psychology 38(2): 21-50.
  • Moody, R. 1999. The Last Laugh: A New Philosophy of Near-Death Experiences, Apparitions, and the Paranormal. Hampton Roads Publishing Company. ISBN 1571741062.
  • Orne, R. M. 1995. "The meaning of survival: The early aftermath of a near-death experience." Research in Nursing & Health 18(3): 239-247. PubMed abstract PMID 7754094.Retrieved December 11, 2007.
  • Strassman, R. 2001. DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. Park Street Press. ISBN 0892819278.

External links

All links retrieved November 11, 2022.


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