Near Death Experiences
Recent and Historical Reports of Near Death Experiences Cases (Part I)
Near Death Experiences Series, Article 4 (Reviewed by the Editorial Board)
Are near death experiences a recent phenomenon or have they been observed throughout history?
In another article (1) we looked at the overall features of these experiences and presented an 'ideal' or 'complete' NDE, based upon all the common NDE features that are generally observed, and that had been described in Raymond Moody’s famous book “Life after life”. In this article we will start looking at specific experiences recounted by many people from throughout history.
Glimpse of the afterlife, hallucinations or fabrications?
Do these experiences provide a glimpse of the afterlife, or are they the result of hallucinations and possibly even fabrications? As already mentioned in a previous article (2), it wasn’t really until as late as the mid-1970s, after the publication of Raymond Moody’s book, that the study of near death experiences began to enter the realms of science. Before then it had been considered a matter for religion and philosophy only.
The years that followed saw a rise both in the (heated) debates about these experiences as well as in the number of out of body and near death experience reports. Some claimed that this was due to the recent publicity and that some of the accounts had been fabricated by attention-seekers. When researchers began to study these accounts in more detail, however, they found very little evidence to support this view, as many of the accounts predated the 1970s. In fact some of the cases went back decades, even centuries. Also, in the vast majority of cases the people involved consistently declined any publicity and were only prepared to share their experiences with researchers. Often they had not even mentioned them to their close family and friends.
Despite NDE-like recounts, resulting from a close brush with death, were found that could be traced back centuries (or millennia), these began to be described more precisely and also recorded, in the seventies as they also became more popular in society.
Are negative NDEs a reality?
Interestingly, in the 1980s reports had also started coming in of people who had experienced negative near death experiences. These people often described frightful vacuums, demons, zombie-like creatures, tortures and other unpleasant experiences. It wasn’t at all clear, though, whether these had really taken place when the people had been close to death or whether they had simply been due to the symptoms of a severe illness, such as excess carbon dioxide in the blood, which is known to sometimes give rise to such negative experiences. However, these so called negative experiences have not been reported in any prospective study during cardiac arrest and it is not clear whether they really are NDEs or some other subjective experience.
Near death experiences cases: historical reports
Looking back in the literature, this phenomenon has been the subject of many historical accounts in different cultures and throughout historical times. For example:
A near death experiences is described in Plato's Republic. Here, an ordinary soldier, Er, suffers a near fatal injury on the battlefield, is revived on the funeral parlor and describes a journey from darkness to light accompanied by guides, a moment of judgment, feelings of peace and joy, and visions of extraordinary beauty and happiness.
Hieronymus Bosch the Dutch painter who died in 1516 depicted a passage down a tunnel towards a bright light in a painting entitled "ascent to empyrean".
Another case is that of Admiral Beaufort, an admiral with the Royal Navy who had narrowly escaped drowning in Portsmouth harbor in 1795. He had gone on to describe his experience: ‘Though the senses were … deadened, not so the mind; its activity seemed to be invigorated in a ratio which defies all description, for thought rose above thought in rapid succession. The event just occurred … the awkwardness producing it … the bustle it must have occasioned ... the effect on my most affectionate father … the moment in which it would be disclosed to the family, and a thousand other circumstances minutely associated with home were the first reflections. Then they took a wider range, our last cruise … a former voyage and shipwreck, my school and boyish pursuits and adventures. Thus travelling backwards, every past incident of my life seemed to glance across my recollection in retrograde succession; not however in mere outline, as here stated, but the picture filled up with every minute and collateral feature. In short, the whole period of my existence seemed to be placed before me in a kind of panoramic review, and each part of it seemed to be accompanied by a consciousness of right or wrong, or by some reflection on its cause or consequences; indeed many trifling events which had been forgotten then crowded into my imagination, and with the character of recent familiarity.’
Universality of NDEs
It would appear from the above that, irrespective of the reason for their causation, this phenomenon is unlikely to be the result of fabrications but rather experiences that are universal and have existed throughout and in different cultures. It also seems that, for the majority of humans, there is a common experience at the end of their lives.
.......... If you are interested to know more, we encourage you to read the second part of this article (3) that can be found in the Near Death Experiences Section of our website (4), where you will also find many other articles