Journal of Near-Death Studies

Published by Springer Verlag
Online ISSN: 1573-3661
Print ISSN: 0891-4494
Publications
This essay is a first-person account describing the profound impact of my near-death experience (NDE). I surrendered everything in response to a spiritual mandate to do something different with my new life after the NDE. Researchers may find that such intensive responses contain credible data of interest in evaluating the question of why we have NDEs.
 
The Journey Home is a book born of Phillip Berman's personal experience surviving a near-fatal sailing accident and the loss of an infant daughter, as well as his research as an oral historian. A Harvardeducated theologian, he collected hundreds of stories from Americans concerning "mystical" experiences, some of them evidently near-death experiences (NDEs), which form the basis for this book. The Journey Home is a combination of both personal and professional insights designed for popular instruction and inspiration about how to celebrate life in view of the wisdom gleaned from NDEs. At this level, the book is successful. For near-death researchers or readers already familiar with
 
We interviewed 81 survivors of the severe earthquake in Tangshan in 1976 and found that 32 (40 percent) reported near-death experiences (NDEs) as measured by Greyson's (1983) NDE Scale. The great majority of these NDEs were of the cognitive and transcendental types, and our observations were somewhat different from those of Greyson (1985) in the United States and of Pasricha and Stevenson (1986) in India. These differences suggest that the components, sequences, and types of NDE might differ with race, religion, psychological and cultural background, and kind of near-death event.
 
This paper reviews the research into a specific aspect of neardeath experiences (NDEs): the prophetic vision (PV). PVs are subjectively compelling flashforwards of planetary-wide cataclysms and eventual regeneration that sometimes occur during or in the immediate aftermath of an NDE. Previous research has shown that the most frequently mentioned year for the culmination of the geophysical calamities foreseen in PVs was 1988. I argue that PVs should be understood as manifestations of a collective prophetic impulse that historically tends to arise during periods of cultural crisis. PVs are thus expressions of the felt need for cultural renewal and therefore should not be taken literally as prognostic of drastic physical changes on Earth.
 
The text of an Israeli near-death experience (NDE) is presented in translation from the Hebrew. This account is contrasted with the traditional Hebrew sources on NDEs or their equivalents, which formed part of the NDEr's native subculture. In the present case, the lack of congruence between the reported NDE and the expected cultural form led to intense confusion described by the NDEr. Further study is needed of folk traditions of NDEs.
 
I compared five childhood near-death experiences (NDEs) reported by adults and another five NDEs reported by minors, in terms of Ring's five NDE stages, Greyson's four NDE components, Moody and Perry's 12 NDE traits, Sabom's 16 general characteristics, and Gallup and Proctor's 10 basic positive experiences. In this combined pool of 47 NDE characteristics (which were interdependent), only two relating to time sense showed significant differences between the adults' retrospective reports of childhood NDEs and the children's contemporary NDE reports, and that number of differences would be expected by chance. This study therefore supports the claims of previous researchers that adults' retrospective reports of childhood NDEs are not embellished or distorted.
 
Most mental health practitioners, and counseling psychologists in particular, possess skills for helping near-death experiencers. What is needed is a conceptual framework that is both familiar to practitioners and highly relevant to that client group. Cross-cultural counseling in general, and the consideration of world views more specifically, are suggested. Using that framework, the world view assimilated during the near-death experience (NDE) is viewed as being in contrast to that of the old self, significant others, and the majority culture. The difficulties reported by NDErs are considered analogous to those associated with culture shock. The world views of the practitioner, NDEr, and relevant others should be taken into account in the formulation of psychoeducational and therapeutic interventions.
 
The evidence for an afterlife is sufficiently strong and compelling that an unbiased person ought to conclude that materialism is a false theory. Yet the academy refuses to examine the evidence, and clings to materialism as if it were a priori true, instead of a posteriori false. I suggest several explanations for the monumental failure of curiosity on the part of academia. First, there is deep confusion between the concepts of evidence and proof. Second, materialism functions as a powerful paradigm that structures the shape of scientific explanations, but is not itself open to question. The third explanation is intellectual arrogance, as the possible existence of disembodied intelligence threatens the materialistic belief that the educated human brain is the highest form of intelligence in existence. Finally, there is a social taboo against belief in an afterlife, as our whole way of life is predicated on materialism and might collapse if near-death experiences, particularly the life review, were accepted as fact.
 
In Western culture, approaches to the afterlife have mutated throughout history, from shamanism and mythology to philosophy, spiritualism, and psychical research. For conceptual reasons, however, survival research seems to many to be languishing, despite some remarkable recent advances. I urge a return to a more experience-based approach, modeled after features of the near-death experience, for its practical benefits; I intend that approach to complement other forms of research, not displace them. Finally, I underscore the unique status of survival research as a scientific pursuit.
 
I appreciate the broad spectrum of viewpoints and the diversity of opinions included among the critiques of my manuscript, ~'Electromagnetic Radiation and The Afterlife," as they stimulate a deeper understanding of the problem and its further development. Many of the questions raised in those critiques are far beyond our power to answer, such as those posited by Stanley Krippner. I will respond first to comments on the empirical foundation of my hypothesis: the phenomenon of necrotic or degradation radiation, or ~death flash." Since 1984, when the hypothesis was formulated in the present form, I have performed further experiments on the reversible and nonreversible (that is, lethal) perturbations of homeostasis. In the case of rapid irreversible perturbations, the death flash is observed not only from plants, but also from lower animals. The results of those experiments provide additional evidence of the universality of the phenomenon. The discrete pattern of that radiation is being analyzed in order to ascertain whether it corresponds merely to a stochastic process reflecting increasing chaos in the dying organism, or whether it contains deterministic components possibly related to the conservation of intrinsic information coded within the spatiotemporal structure of the electromagnetic field (Slawinski, 1987). Nevertheless, I fully agree with Steven Rosen, Rupert Sheldrake,
 
Janusz Slawinski, a physicist, has written a commendable article in which he bravely attempts to bring the perennial search for the afterlife into the ongoing scientific enterprise. He focuses upon the body's electromagnetic field and describes ways in which other investigators have attempted to measure it. Slawinski cites data that purport to show that this electromagnetic field molds and controls the organism's biological growth and function. He wisely states that the crucial problem is whether this electromagnetic field, and other fields that may be waiting to be discovered, can store information (e.g., memories, intentions) of a dying organism and to survive the death of that organism. Implicit in this line of thinking is the assumption that electromagnetic fields are the best candidate that conventional science has for an aspect of the organism that would survive death (Burr, 1972). Those who reject this proposal, and still look favorably upon the survival hypothesis, need to suggest a different agency, such as Rupert Sheldrake's "morphogenetic fields," or propose that such an agency is incapable of being studied given the current status of scientific inquiry.
 
Among the traditions of theology we find the concepts of an objective existence for knowledge independent of the human body, and entities, spirit and soul, capable of comprehending that knowledge and acting upon it. At the moment of death, the acquisition of sense information is about to cease, and the body's material information storage locations are about to cease functioning. If this information of a lifetime is not to be lost forever, it must be accessed and ~'dumped" in a form appropriate to the knowledge-handling facilities of the spirit state. It is to this transition point between life and death that Janusz Slawinski's ~Electromagnetic Radiation and the Afterlife" addresses itself. On the death of an organism, its component body organs do not die immediately. Even after they have ceased to be the heart, liver, and kidneys of the deceased, they may be transplanted and remain viable under the control of another person's body and contribute to its essential vitality. Nature abhors hard boundaries. If there is any essential complementarity to all knowledge, then the natural sciences and what used to be called the queen of sciences still have much to learn from each other, especially from within their interdisciplinary regions. In the ~'wet" account of the creation as given in the Book of Genesis, light is given an important role. Slawinski attempts to sketch some of the bound
 
Among the traditions of theology we find the concepts of an objective existence for knowledge independent of the human body, and entities, spirit and soul, capable of comprehending that knowledge and acting upon it. At the moment of death, the acquisition of sense information is about to cease, and the body's material information storage locations are about to cease functioning. If this information of a lifetime is not to be lost forever, it must be accessed and ~'dumped" in a form appropriate to the knowledge-handling facilities of the spirit state. It is to this transition point between life and death that Janusz Slawinski's ~Electromagnetic Radiation and the Afterlife" addresses itself. On the death of an organism, its component body organs do not die immediately. Even after they have ceased to be the heart, liver, and kidneys of the deceased, they may be transplanted and remain viable under the control of another person's body and contribute to its essential vitality. Nature abhors hard boundaries. If there is any essential complementarity to all knowledge, then the natural sciences and what used to be called the queen of sciences still have much to learn from each other, especially from within their interdisciplinary regions. In the ~'wet" account of the creation as given in the Book of Genesis, light is given an important role. Slawinski attempts to sketch some of the bound
 
The question of survival of bodily death is often considered to be beyond contemporary scientific methods and conceptual categories. However, recent research into spontaneous radiations from living systems suggests a scientific foundation for the ancient association between light and life, and a biophysical hypothesis of the conscious self that could survive death of the body. All living organisms emit low-intensity light; at the time of death, that radiation is ten to 1,000 times stronger than that emitted under normal conditions. This deathflash is independent of the cause of death, and reflects in intensity and duration the rate of dying. The vision of intense light reported in near-death experiences may be related to this deathflash, which may hold an immense amount of information. The electromagnetic field produced by necrotic radiation, containing energy, internal structure, and information, may permit continuation of consciousness beyond the death of the body.
 
Allan Kellehear's article is a pioneering venture exploring features of the transcendent society and comparing it with J.C. Davis's typology of ideal societies. Kellehear assumed that in the life after life there is a sociocultural ordering that can be discussed via structural functional theory and concepts; and he also assumed internal and external validity, despite evidence to the contrary in his article. I think both of these assumptions are incorrect. What we need are alternative sociocultural frameworks and alternative research strategies, possibly from the new science.
 
Allan Kellehear's article raised four questions for me: (1) whether the near-death experience (NDE) presents enough data about the nature of a transcendent society for it to be a useful model for earthly societies; (2) the degree to which transcendent societies have to address the practical considerations of a material society; (3) whether NDEs are projections of experiencers' cultural concepts about the nature of the transcendent realm(s); and (4) the kind of hope offered by the growing awareness of the features of Western NDEs. I address these questions by referring to transcendent realm concepts and NDEs in the anthropological literature, particularly that of the North American Indian Prophet Movement.
 
Kenneth Ring (1991) argued that near-death experiences (NDEs) act as compensatory gifts helping individuals cope with and understand life's difficulties. He saw NDEs as conferring amazing grace on individuals whose lives were spinning out of control toward self-destruction. Expanding on Ring's contention that NDEs can be seen as healing gifts, this study presents evidence of seven categorical situations where participating in or knowledge of NDEs and nearing-death awareness experiences serve as healing agents in facing one's own death or the death of a significant other. NDEs and nearing death awareness seem to free persons from paralyzing death anxiety and, consequently, allow them to focus on additional ways to help each other face dying and grieving.
 
This paper illustrates the apparently providential timing and the healing character of near-death experiences (NDEs) and NDE-like episodes, through four case histories of persons whose lives, prior to their experiences, were marked by deep anguish and a sense of hopelessness. Spiritually, such case histories suggest the intervention of a guiding intelligence that confers a form of amazing grace on the recipient. Methodologically, these reports point to the importance of taking into account the person's life history as a context for understanding the full significance of NDEs and similar awakening experiences. The article ends with a retrospective account of a childhood NDE in which the big secret of these experiences is disclosed.
 
Although I became a parapsychologist in part to help me understand the near-death experience (NDE) I had in 1952 as an undergraduate, it was not until 1990 that I began to integrate my NDE into my life. Doing so alerted me to the role the larger cultural context plays in regard to NDEs and other exceptional human experiences (EHEs). I propose not only that we need to draw on cultural resources to amplify the meaning of our exceptional human experiences, but that EHEs themselves carry the seeds of cultural change.
 
The near-death experience (NDE), as an experience of whole-ness, an adventure in consciousness, and a metaphoric encounter with light, links theoretical physics with the occult, the Primordial Tradition, and various religious belief systems. Light as image, vehicle, and first cause ties the NDE to mystical experience. Where science sees mystery, religion sees metaphoric truth; the NDE as spiritual quest and physical encounter beckons to both disciplines for explanation.
 
I describe a near-death experience (NDE) followed by a religious experience 15 years later in which the subject was visited by the same angel-like figure that she saw in the NDE. I describe details of the NDE and of the subsequent visitation; note transformational changes in behavior and associated aftereffects; examine childhood experiences possibly related to the NDE; review the presence of angels in Biblical and mystical literature and in contemporary media; and suggest a possible relationship between latent paranormal abilities and the occurrence of a variety of exceptional experiences.
 
The literature on near-death experiences (NDEs) contains no substantive discussion of angels in NDEs, even though there are references to angels in several studies of these experiences. In this article I identify angels in NDEs and describe their functions in the NDE based on published NDE accounts. I conclude that angels are personages with whom the NDEr does not usually recall having previous acquaintance. Angels, serve as guides, messengers, or escorts in the NDE.
 
The role of anoxia in near-death experiences (NDEs) has been hotly debated. Some argue that anoxia can induce NDEs; others that its effects are quite different. Children suffering from reflex anoxic seizures (RAS) have repeated brief cardiac arrests. A questionnaire about their experiences was sent to members of the British RAS Support Group; 112 questionnaires were completed and 7 children were interviewed. Most recalled nothing from their seizures, but 24% reported some experience. A few were comparable to NDEs, with tunnels, lights, and out-of-body experiences.
 
This article reports the results of an investigation into near-death and out-of-body experiences in 31 blind respondents. The study sought to address three main questions: (1) whether blind individuals have near-death experiences (NDEs) and, if so, whether they are the same as or different from those of sighted persons; (2) whether blind persons ever claim to see during NDEs and out-of-body experiences (OBEs); and (3) if such claims are made, whether they can ever be corroborated by reference to independent evidence. Our findings revealed that blind persons, including those blind from birth, do report classic NDEs of the kind common to sighted persons; that the great preponderance of blind persons claim to see during NDEs and OBEs; and that occasionally claims of visually-based knowledge that could not have been obtained by normal means can be independently corroborated. We present and evaluate various explanations of these findings before arriving at an interpretation based on the concept of transcendental awareness.
 
In this article I argue that as scientific research provides an ever-more-complete physiological explanation of the near-death experience (NDE), popular interest in NDEs will wane, because the transcendental interpretation, which holds that the NDE provides proof of an immaterial soul, an afterlife, and assorted paranormal phenomena, has always been the magnet that has attracted widespread attention to the subject. Since the transcendental interpretation resonates with our culture's deepest wishes, dreams, and fears, the television and newspapers have tended to focus on that model almost exclusively. This unbalanced presentation of near-death research has reinforced the traditional image of science as a cold, heartless enterprise. I speculate that, in terms of its popular appeal, future near-death research may well have more impact on the field of psychotherapy than that of religion or the paranormal.
 
The literature on near-death experiences (NDEs) and their aftereffects has focused on the positive personality transformations and spiritual development that often follow an NDE, while it has neglected the emotional and interpersonal problems sometimes precipitated by the experience. We report general guidelines and specific interventions, developed at an interdisciplinary conference, to assist NDErs in coping with psychological difficulties following their experiences.
 
The author reviews aspects of the out-of-body experience (OBE) related to psychic experiences and personality traits, and describes a continuum of experiences of altered mind/body perception, from the prototypical OBE on the healthy end to schizophrenia and organic brain syndromes on the other end. The impact of the OBE on the individual's life is described, with suggestions for a psychoeducational approach to the clinical management of the patient with and OBE to allow maximum growth from the consciouness-expanding effects of the experience.
 
The objective of this study was to assess prospectively the frequency of near-death experiences (NDEs) in patients suffering a cardiac arrest, to characterize these experiences, and to assess their impact on psychosocial and spiritual attitudes. We prospectively evaluated all patients who suffered a cardiac arrest at Barnes-Jewish Hospital from April 1991 through February 1994, excluding those in the surgical intensive care unit, using a scale designed to specify criteria for NDEs, a recorded interview regarding the experience, an experience rating form, and a follow-up questionnaire regarding psychosocial attitudinal life changes. Of the 174 patients who suffered a cardiac arrest, 55 patients survived, of whom 30 patients were interviewable. Of those 30 patients interviewed, seven (23 percent) had a NDE, and four others (13 percent) reported an NDE during a prior life-threatening illness. The experiences were most frequently characterized by ineffability, peacefulness, painlessness, lack of fear, detachment from the body, and no sense of time or space. Significant differences were noted in the follow-up psychosocial assessment between patients who experienced an NDE and those who did not with regard to personal understanding of life and self, attitudes toward others, and changes in social customs and religious/spiritual beliefs. Of importance, patients reported it was beneficial to receive psychosocial support before hospital discharge after having an NDE. The results suggest that NDEs are fairly common in cardiac arrest survivors. The experiences consisted of a number of core characteristics and changed psychological, social, and spiritual awareness over both the short and long term.
 
Karl Jansen's interesting hypothesis that near-death experiences (NDEs) result from blockade of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor has several weaknesses. Some NDEs occur to individuals who are neither near death nor experiencing any event likely to upset cerebral physiology as Jansen proposed; thus his hypothesis applies only to a subset of NDEs that occur in catastrophic circumstances. For that subset, the clarity of NDEs and the clear memory for the experience afterward are inconsistent with compromised cerebral function. Jansen's analogy between NDEs and ketamine-induced hallucinations is weakened by the fact that most ketamine users do not believe the events they perceived really happened. Temporal lobe seizures do not resemble NDEs as Jansen postulated; they are confusional, rarely ecstatic, and never clear, as are NDEs, nor are they remembered afterward. Jansen's hypothesis assumes the standard scientific view that brain processes are entirely responsible for subjective experience; however, NDEs suggest that that concept of the mind may be too limited, and that in fact personal experience may continue beyond death of the brain.
 
Although ketamine can induce a state similar to a near-death experience (NDE), there is a striking difference between experiences induced by ketamine used in a recreational context and in an operating room. Ketamine is a noncompetitive antagonist of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, as is ibogaine, the main alkaloid of a shrub used in Central Africa to induce NDEs in a religious context. Ibogaine can also elicit different experiences when used in a hallucinatory context or in initiatic rituals, where a superficial state of coma is induced. These data raise the question of whether the chemically-induced NDE-like experience is related to the use of a particular kind of substance or to a genuine comatose state.
 
Near-death experiences (NDEs) can be reproduced by ketamine via blockade of receptors in the brain for the neurotransmitter glutamate, the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. Conditions that precipitate NDEs, such as hypoxia, ischemia, hypoglycemia, and temporal lobe epilepsy, have been shown to release a flood of glutamate, overactivating NMDA receptors and resulting in neurotoxicity. Ketamine prevents this neurotoxicity. There are substances in the brain that bind to the same receptor site as ketamine. Conditions that trigger a glutamate flood may also trigger a flood of neuroprotective agents that bind to NMDA receptors to protect cells, leading to an altered state of consciousness like that produced by ketamine.
 
We review strengths and weaknesses of Karl Jansen's approach to the near-death experience (NDE). Strengths include his limited goals and avoidance of the trap of explaining all features of the NDE with his theory, although he surprisingly misunderstood our previously published position. Additionally, we applaud the possible intersection of psychological and biological theories, demonstrated in Jansen's biochemical explanations for the individualized variations in manifestation and adaptive role of the NDE. However, he failed to take into account the pitfalls in the use of analogy, modeling oversimplification, and in taking association as causality and causes as meaningful, in the arguments for his theory.
 
This paper is a critique of Karl Jansen's hypothesis that near-death and ketamine experiences are caused by blockade of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors. An assumption that consciousness and its alterations are merely the product of neuronal activity is only one of many possible beliefs about reality. An alternative, which can be verified through one's own direct experience, is that consciousness is always a subject and body is only its object. The objects come and go; consciousness remains.
 
This article continues the construction of a dualistic interactionist theory of the near-death experience (NDE), the theory of essence, which was begun in two previous articles (Arnette, 1992, 1995). The present work represents an extension of the theory to the microscopic level of analysis, in order to specify in detail the mechanism of essence-brain interaction and to address some general and specific objections to interactionism and the theory of essence. In the theory construction process, a second issue is addressed: that of the apparent multiplicity of causes of NDEs or NDE-like experiences. I show that this multiplicity is simply a manifestation of the mode of essence-brain interaction and is accurately predicted by the theory.
 
Top-cited authors
Bruce Greyson
  • University of Virginia
Stuart Twemlow
  • Baylor College of Medicine
Nancy Evans Bush
  • International Association for Near-Death Studies
Titus PM Rivas
  • International Association for Near-Death Studies
Cheryl Fracasso
  • Saybrook University