Near Death Experiences
Intro to the NDE Phenomena
Near Death Experiences Series, Article 1 (Reviewed by the Editorial Board)
Is it possible to die and be revived back to life? Even though the idea may seem contradictory at first, this is precisely what has been happening more and more due to the progress of resuscitation science. It is the birth of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and intensive care medicine, which dates back to the sixties, that has enabled people who had reached death (by cardiorespiratory criteria) to be resuscitated back to life and subsequently maintained alive through life-support measures (1). Hence, over the past 50 years many people have been brought back after they had died, and some have had very intense life changing experiences.
What is a near death experience?
Since the earliest times, in many cultures, there have been accounts of unusual experiences reported by those who have come close to death or in a situation of physical or emotional crisis giving rise to a pattern of perceptions, creating a recognizable overall event, that has been called an NDE. Though being in a life-threatening situation or having a cardiac arrest does not, by itself, constitute such an experience, since the term is used to describe specific cognitive (2) experiences and sensations such as including detachment from the body, total serenity, security…
It is thus no surprise that during the last twenty or thirty years, media outlets have been replete with articles on these accounts and that they have become the source of many debates and controversies all over the world. For the mystery of death has always fascinated mankind and rarely if ever, are people indifferent to such a topic.
Raymond Moody and near death experiences
Yet, it wasn't really until the 1970s that this subject entered the realms of science and the term
NDE was used for the first time. This occurred after Raymond Moody, an American psychiatrist with a background in philosophy, published his best selling book "Life after life", in which he had collected the accounts given by 150 survivors of near death encounters which he obtained while a medical student (3).
Obviously controversies abound regarding the causes of an NDE. Some believe near death
experiences can offer glimpses of the afterlife and will feel it is an opportunity to learn more about the mysteries of human existence. Others instead have a more skeptical approach and think an NDE is just an illusion which can be explained in scientific terms (for example brought about by an excess of carbon dioxide etc…). Their curiosity usually arises from wanting to find out the latest on the brain’s tricks or it may just be plain scientific curiosity.
Moving beyond controversy, perhaps, the most striking aspect of these experiences is not so much the features briefly summarized above, but rather the transformation those who have lived through it first hand, usually undergo. In a way similar to mystical, spiritual or religious experiences a near death experience often leaves a person with a positive life effect making him or her more altruistic, more pious, feeling greater empathy and responsibility toward others, less materialistic and less afraid of death, with an increased faith and interest in the meaning of life (4, 5, 6, 7). This effect seems to predominantly reflect the impact of the NDE itself rather than the experience of having come physically close to death. (6, 7) Surely, these long lasting and deep changes in attitudes and behaviors are a reality that can be socially observed unlike the more personal (subjective) experiences we have referred to above.
The Horizon Research Foundation’s website
Now, given the NDE phenomenon’s positive impact on people’s lives, It has been the object of scientific investigation and undoubtedly calls for further research. This is why current and past studies will be described in the articles present in this web site’s near death experiences section (8), along with articles on NDEs’ frequency, causes, and other describing the influence of personality, the influence of religion and culture …
(1) Eisenberg M.S., P. Baskett & D.A. Chamberlain. 2007. “A history of cardiopulmonary resuscitation”. In Cardiac Arrest: the Science and the Practice of Resuscitation Medicine, 2nd ed. N. Paradis, H.R. Halperin, K.B. Kern, V. Wenzel, D.A. Chamberlain, Eds.: 3-10. New York: Cambridge University Press
(2) Cognitive experiences : refer to experiences dealing with cognition, in other words to the mental process of knowing, formulating judgments, reasoning, perceiving and being aware.
(4) Moody, R.A. 1975. Life After Life. Bantam Press
(5) Fenwick, P. & E. Fenwick. 1995. The Truth in the Light. London. Hodder Headline
(6) Van Lommel, P., R. Wees Van, V. Meyers & I. Elfferich. 2001. Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands. Lancet. 358: 2039-2045
(7) Klemenc-Ketis, Z. 2013. Life changes in patients after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Intl. J. Behav. Med. 20:7-12