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The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation

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Abstract

As the worldwide population ages, and modern medical techniques for resuscitation advance, near-death experiences (NDEs) are more and more frequently reported. NDEs include more than the popular notions of moving through a tunnel or seeing a light at the end. They also include people, once revived, knowing things the knowledge of which can't currently be explained. Co-editor Janice Holden tells us, for example, about a woman who was brought to the hospital clinically dead. After revival, said she said that during her death state, she had "seen" a shoe on a ledge outside a sixth floor window of a second building of the hospital campus. A social worker checked. The shoe was still there, not visible from the street, and on the opposite side of the campus from where the woman had been brought in by ambulance. Great controversy exists in the medical and psychological fields surrounding such NDEs, which have been reported by adult, teen, and child patients after life-threatening crises including heart attack, stroke, blood loss from car accidents, near-drownings, anaphylactic shock, and attempted suicide. Are NDEs caused by physiological changes in the brain or are they biological reactions to oxygen loss or impending death? Are they a product of changing states of consciousness? Or are they caused by something else altogether? In this unique volume, experts from around the world and across the U.S. share the history and current state of NDE research, controversies in the field, and their hopes for the future of investigation into this fascinating phenomenon. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
This fine anthology of scholarly yet readable essays centres on Christian perspectives
and resources for deepening current discussions of dying. The editors write: ‘One
way of summing up this book is that it is intended to offer alternative and
complementary images that will re-fund the imagination of Christian caregivers in
ways that are liberating, transformative and healing’ (p. 273). The ‘alternative’ is to
the images and concepts and assumptions of medicalised dying, which all
contributors agree has dominated the way contemporary persons, lay and
professional, view the end of life. While none of these authors disputes the basic
value of medical care, or the advancements in technology, they do wish to re-vision
the human situation and meanings of dying. They wish to provide resources that
show how long-term Christian practices for ‘living well’ will make a goal of ‘faithful
dying’ possible, for those who die and those who care for and accompany them.
Therefore, this book does not duplicate the genre of pastoral care manuals, or
contribute to the technical debates over particular biomedical ethics issues. Its
authors do, however, reframe some of the concerns that are frequently discussed by
those disciplines. Some of the themes focus on ‘alternatives’. For instance, if dying is
the last stage of ‘living well’, practices that are already established and communities
that support these make for less isolation for the dying from the rest of their lives and
the world beyond the hospital. Yet authors note how inadequate a job churches
seem to make of lament, of support for the dying and of grieving Christianly. Among
the most interesting essays, however, are those which take a particular ‘virtue’ or
ideal and examine what these terms can mean, what Christian understandings of
them highlight, and how these can be ‘practiced’ within the context of end-of-life
care. While some public usages of these ideals have become overly familiar, these
essays try to undo the assumption that we really understand ‘dignity’ or
‘compassion’ or ‘patience’, and all share the same ideas of them.
Is this book just for healthcare specialists and chaplains? No, absolutely not. The
essays are readable, jargon-free, and of interest to those who seek a deeper and
more religiously-grounded vision of how faith can interpret the human situation of
dying today. Refusing to relegate religion to some interior privacy of individuals,
this perspective can help many in and out of religious communities to see
differently. We are already familiar with the many critiques of medical care’s
human shortcomings that seem wedded to its technological breakthroughs. This
collection of essays does not play a blame-game with the health care industry, nor
does it isolate Christians from the total society and environment within which they
act, think and pray. Instead, it makes a major substantive contribution to
rethinking Christianity and dying today.
Lucy Bregman
Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
The handbook of near-death experiences: thirty years of investigation,
edited by Janice Miner Holden, Bruce Greyson and Debbie James, Santa Barbara,
CA, Praeger, 2009, 316 pp., £34.95 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-313-358-7
180 Book Reviews
This handbook provides an overview of the studies that have been carried during
the past 30 years on one of the most fascinating and life-transforming experiences
that humans can have: the ‘near-death experience’ (NDE). It collects the original
papers of some of the most influential NDEs researchers delivered at the annual
conference of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) at
the University of Texas in 2006. It beautifully incorporates the fundamental
arguments of over 600 scholarly publications, which have appeared since
Raymond Moody coined the term ‘near-death experience’ in 1975. In his book,
Life after Death, Moody describes the most universal aspects of the NDE such as a
sense of leaving the body, being at peace, sensation of moving from one reality to
another, seeing a tunnel with a Light at the end, and the encounters with luminous
beings and deceased relatives and friends, which are well examined in Chapter 1
by Holden, Greyson and James.
The book offers various accounts of such journeys, including the experiences of
children outlined in Chapter 5 by Sutherland. References to the first attempts at
collecting and the measuring NDEs, including the less known works of Bozzano
and Muldoon are made in Chapter 2 by Zingrone and Alvarado. A rigorous and
informative review of cross-cultural accounts of NDEs has been provided by
Kellehear in Chapter 7. At present there is no proven trait that can accurately
predict who will have an NDE, examined in Chapter 6 by Holden, Long and
MacLurg.
There are a number of theories that try to explain NDEs, such as the
‘reductionist view’ and the ‘survivalist hypothesis’, according to which a
detachable soul leaves the body at the moment of the NDE. These among other
possible explanations are discussed in Chapter 9 by Holden and Chapter 10 by
Greyson, Kelly and Kelly. However, as it emerges from Chapter 3 by Noyes,
Fenwick and Holden, the value of these experiences goes far beyond neuro-
reductionism, the question of scientific proof of an afterlife being much more
connected with the sense of meaning and purpose in life that people experience
after an NDE.
This does not mean that NDEs are always blissful experiences. Arguments on
negative experiences, including their religious implications, are explored in
Chapter 4 by Bush. A detailed comparison between NDEs and the spiritual values
addressed in the sacred texts of world’s major religions is given in Chapter 8 by
Masumian. NDEs have various practical applications in other related fields, such
as grief counselling, terminal illness and dying, which are explored in Chapter 11
by Foster, James and Holden.
Taken together, the works collected in this book facilitate a multidisciplinary
debate among scholars, educators, researchers and the general public on a new
and fertile topic of study. This book is a precious tool of inquiry into the most
hidden aspects of our human nature; definitely not to be left unread on a
bookshelf.
Ornella Corazza
SOAS, University of London, UK
Book Reviews 181
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... The supernaturalist, on the other hand, has a broader metaphysics that includes material objects as well as souls and deity. From the perspective of people who hold this philosophical position, some NDEs are veridical: observations of another reality that reveal the initial moments of an afterlife (Alexander, 2012;Burpo, 2010;Greyson, 2021;Habermas & Moreland, 1998;Holden, 2009;Long, 2014). I will refer to this position as the Afterlife Thesis. ...
... 6;Habermas & Moreland, 2004, pp. 155-164, 210-216;Holden, 2009;Rivas et al., 2016;Sabom, 1982). Examples of veridical perception include NDErs who have conversations with deceased family members they did not know but later recognized in old family photos and with deceased people whom the NDEr thought were alive and are subsequently discovered to have died unbeknownst to the NDEr. ...
... Second, the naturalistic account of NDEs is unlikely because of the phenomenon of veridical perception. Whereas over 100 cases of verified-as-accurate AVP associated with NDEs have been collected, extremely few cases exist of presumed AVP later shown to involve some error; based on these data, many researchers have concluded that the mind can function independent of the body (Holden, 2009;Sabom, 1982;Sartori, 2008). Skeptics have argued that because a few hospital studies designed to capture AVP under controlled circumstances have failed, AVP must not be a real phenomenon (Augustine, 2007;Fischer & Mitchell-Yellin, 2020, p. 153). ...
Article
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Among the phenomena of near-death experiences (NDEs) are what are known as aftereffects whereby, over time, experiencers undergo substantial, long-term life changes, becoming less fearful of death, more moral and spiritual, and more convinced that life has meaning and that an afterlife exists. Some supernaturalists attribute these changes to the experience being real. John Mar-tin Fischer and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin, on the other hand, have asserted a naturalist thesis involving a metaphorical interpretation of NDE narratives that preserves their significance but eliminates the supernaturalist causal explanation. I argue that Fischer and Mitchell-Yellin's psychological thesis fails as an explanation of NDEs.
... The supernaturalist, on the other hand, has a broader metaphysics that includes material objects as well as souls and deity. From the perspective of people who hold this philosophical position, some NDEs are veridical: observations of another reality that reveal the initial moments of an afterlife (Alexander, 2012;Burpo, 2010;Greyson, 2021;Habermas & Moreland, 1998;Holden, 2009;Long, 2014). I will refer to this position as the Afterlife Thesis. ...
... 6;Habermas & Moreland, 2004, pp. 155-164, 210-216;Holden, 2009;Rivas et al., 2016;Sabom, 1982). Examples of veridical perception include NDErs who have conversations with deceased family members they did not know but later recognized in old family photos and with deceased people whom the NDEr thought were alive and are subsequently discovered to have died unbeknownst to the NDEr. ...
... Second, the naturalistic account of NDEs is unlikely because of the phenomenon of veridical perception. Whereas over 100 cases of verified-as-accurate AVP associated with NDEs have been collected, extremely few cases exist of presumed AVP later shown to involve some error; based on these data, many researchers have concluded that the mind can function independent of the body (Holden, 2009;Sabom, 1982;Sartori, 2008). Skeptics have argued that because a few hospital studies designed to capture AVP under controlled circumstances have failed, AVP must not be a real phenomenon (Augustine, 2007;Fischer & Mitchell-Yellin, 2020, p. 153). ...
... Near-death experiences are profound subjective experiences reported by some individuals who have been close to death, including being 'clinically dead' and subsequently resuscitated (Holden, Greyson et al., 2009). These experiences feature common phenomenological aspects, including ineffable peace and joy (affective features), a sensation of being outside of one's body (paranormal features), a sense of time distortion and sudden understanding (cognitive features), and encounters with deceased relatives or religious figures (transcendental features) (Greyson, 1983a;Moody, 1975;Zingrone & Alvarado, 2009). ...
... The phenomenon was first introduced to the English-speaking public under the term 'near-death experience' by Moody (1975), but such accounts of the phenomenon can be traced back to antiquity, and have been reported in the medical and research literature as early as the 19 th century (Holden, Greyson et al., 2009). In the intervening decades since the publication of Moody's popular book, NDEs have gathered considerable attention in both popular media through books and movies and in academic research (Holden, Greyson et al., 2009;Sleutjes et al., 2014). ...
... The phenomenon was first introduced to the English-speaking public under the term 'near-death experience' by Moody (1975), but such accounts of the phenomenon can be traced back to antiquity, and have been reported in the medical and research literature as early as the 19 th century (Holden, Greyson et al., 2009). In the intervening decades since the publication of Moody's popular book, NDEs have gathered considerable attention in both popular media through books and movies and in academic research (Holden, Greyson et al., 2009;Sleutjes et al., 2014). Such interest is warranted because, despite challenges in estimating the prevalence and incidence of NDEs, these experiences are not rare. ...
Article
Death is a common existential concern, and fear of death is widespread at subclinical levels. Near-death experiences (NDEs) are profound mystical experiences that may occur close to death, and they are usually followed by dramatic reductions in fear of death. The content of these experiences varies in each case, but NDEs tend to have common features among individuals and across cultures. While many studies using different tools to measure fear of death and death anxiety have documented their reduction after NDEs, we do not know the influence of specific NDE features on this effect. This research presents statistical correlations between features of NDEs and post-experience death attitudes, both negative and positive. We found that encountering mystical beings and having a life review during one’s NDE are the strongest predictors of reduced fear of death. Contrary to theoretical predictions, a sense of disembodiment is not associated with change in death attitudes. These findings can be used to design interventions aimed at reducing fear of death in vulnerable populations, including people at end-of-life. We also discuss these findings in the context of Terror Management Theory regarding death awareness as a motivator of human behaviour.
... In NDEs, -an acronym coined by Dr. Raymond Moody (1975) -the body is a key element (Holden et al., 2009). This non-ordinary state of consciousness emerges in response to a real or perceived proximity to death and entailsamong other phenomenological correlates (Greyson, 1983) -the perception of leaving the body boundaries, traveling through a tunnel, and of being in front of an irreversible threshold (Martial et al., 2020). ...
... Enhanced sense of connectedness, meaning in life, positive affect (e.g., more compassion toward self and the others) or a deeper sense of identity. Greyson, 2000Greyson, , 2006Greyson, , 2015Simpson, 2001;Holden et al., 2009 Altered state of consciousness on the (real or perceived) threshold of death. Major focus on the peculiar feeling of leaving the physical body and encountering non-physical entities/ environments. ...
Article
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The concept of transformative experience (TE) has been widely explored by several disciplines from philosophy to neurobiology, and in different domains, from the spiritual to the educational one. This attitude has engendered heterogeneous models to explain this phenomenon. However, a consistent and clear understanding of this construct remains elusive. The aim of this work is to provide an initial comprehensive interdisciplinary, cross-domain, up-to-date, and integrated overview on the concept of TEs. Firstly, all the models and theories on TEs were reviewed to extract and analyze TEs’ main components emerging from different disciplines. Then, this preliminary analysis was integrated with an in-depth examination of redundancies and particularities across domains and disciplines, to provide an integrated theoretical framework of TEs and a preliminary interdisciplinary operational definition of TEs. This examination, in turn, can help organize current research and theories, thus providing suggestions for operationalizing TEs as well as encouraging new interdisciplinary research endeavors.
... These NDE-like experiences would represent a variety of human experiences that (p. 10 At no point do they discuss empirical data contradicting their categorical view. For example, Owens and colleagues compared the medical records of 58 people who had had an NDE, checking the circumstances of its onset. ...
... However, Holden argues that this hypothetical sequence does not account for cases where individuals simultaneously experience a struggle for survival in the here-and-now and a detachment into the elsewhere. 10 An integration of these two hypotheses could be achieved by considering that the NDE is a heterogeneous experience of consciousness precipitated by the disjunction of processes usually combined in normal mental activity. 11 Thus, conditioning NDEs on a prerequisite period of loss-of-consciousness 1 (p. ...
Article
In their recent paper, Parnia and colleagues propose a new label for the near‐death experience (NDE): recalled experience of death. They claimed NDEs are “authentic” only when an objective danger is present and that authentic NDEs have a proven core phenomenology. We consider that these claims are insufficiently supported by empirical data. NDEs appear as a continuum of heterogeneous experiences of consciousness precipitated by the disjunction of processes usually combined in normal mental activity. The “core phenomenology” of NDEs is also opened to several criticisms. Closeness to “real” death does not appear to be a decisive criterion for characterizing NDEs. The author's adhesion to Raymond Moody's NDE model produces a biased partition of this field of research that is unable to provide the basis for a consensus.
... In the past decades, there has been an increasing interest in alleged veridical perceptions during a specific type of spiritual experience: near-death experience. An example of this claim of 'veridical idiophany' during cardiac arrest was reported by van Lommel et al. (16) Holden published a review of reported veridical perceptions in near-death experience (17). For a recent review of experimental evidence for parapsychological phenomena in general, see Cardena, 2018 (18). ...
Chapter
It is not uncommon for patients with mental disorders to have symptoms with religious or spiritual (R/S) contents, and, on the other hand, spiritual experiences often involve psychotic-like phenomena. This frequently creates difficulties in differentiating between a non-pathological R/S experience and a mental disorder. Clinical differentiation between a non-pathological R/S experience and a mental disorder with R/S content brings risks in both extremes: to pathologize normal R/S experience (promoting iatrogenic suffering) or neglecting pathological symptoms (delaying proper treatment). In order to mitigate these risks, this chapter will gather the best current scientific evidence and propose clinical guidelines to help the distinction between R/S experiences and mental disorders with R/S content. Scientific studies in people who have spiritual experiences should be encouraged, especially investigations of the phenomenology, neurobiology, precipitants, and outcomes in order to enlarge the empirical base needed to advance the criteria for this differential diagnosis.
... Termed an NDE, this state is defined as a transcendental experience precipitated by a confrontation with death; it does not seem to be adequately explained as the phenomenology of a dying or medically-compromised body (for a review, see Greyson et al., 2009). NDEs are among the most dramatic of anomalous experiences (Holden et al., 2009), with many percipients interpreting them partly or wholly as 'mystical, spiritual or paranormal' occurrences (Greyson, 2021). To be sure, the type of brain activity necessary for complex conscious experience is assumed to be abolished during the psychophysiological conditions in which NDEs are commonly reported Parnia et al., 2014). ...
Article
Full-text available
The idea of ‘life after death’ transcends philosophy or religion, as science can test predictions from claims by both its advocates and skeptics. This study therefore featured two researchers with opposite views, who jointly gathered hundreds of research studies to evaluate the maximum average percentage effect that seemingly supports (i.e., anomalous effects) or refutes (i.e., known confounds) the survival hypothesis. The mathematical analysis found that known confounds did not account for 39% of survival-related phenomena that appear to attest directly to human consciousness continuing in some form after bodily death. Thus, we concluded that popular skeptical explanations are presently insufficient to explain a sizable portion of the purported evidence in favor of survival. People with documented experiences under conditions that overcome the known confounds thus arguably meet the legal requirements for expert witness testimony. The equation that led to our verdict can also purposefully guide future research, which one day might finally resolve this enduring question scientifically. Keywords: anomalous experience, empiricism, paranormal belief, probability, survival
... Termed an NDE, this state is defined as a transcendental experience precipitated by a confrontation with death; it does not seem to be adequately explained as the phenomenology of a dying or medically-compromised body (for a review, see Greyson et al., 2009). NDEs are among the most dramatic of anomalous experiences (Holden et al., 2009), with many percipients interpreting them partly or wholly as 'mystical, spiritual or paranormal' occurrences (Greyson, 2021). To be sure, the type of brain activity necessary for complex conscious experience is assumed to be abolished during the psychophysiological conditions in which NDEs are commonly reported Parnia et al., 2014). ...
Chapter
This chapter presents the main scientific evidence relevant to the hypothesis of survival of consciousness after the death of the body: studies on mediumship, near-death and out-of-body experience, and cases of the reincarnation type. First, we present a brief history and cultural aspects concerning these subjects. Then, the main scope of this chapter, we present and discuss the main scientific evidence encompassing studies from the second half of the nineteenth century until nowadays. Finally, we discuss the strengths and limitations of the main explanations alternative to the survival hypothesis (e.g., fraud, chance, neuropsychological automatisms or disorders, and extrasensory perception) regarding the presented studies. Well-conducted studies (with strict controls and statistical analysis) show that mediums can provide accurate information and demonstrate nonverbal skills and that these pieces of information hardly could be explained by leakage, chance, extrasensory perception, or emotional fragility of a bereaved sitter. Large longitudinal studies and in-depth consistent reports of sharp mental function and veridical perceptions in out-of-body experiences during near-death experiences, despite a severely dysfunctional or nonfunctional brain, corroborate the hypothesis of an independent mind. Thousands of similar cases around the globe of very young children who spontaneously start making accurate statements about alleged previous lives, exhibiting behavior, emotional reactions, skills, and birth defects in accordance with the alleged personality (often unknown to them) strengthen the hypothesis of survival of consciousness.KeywordsSurvivalSoulMindConsciousnessDeathMediumshipNear-death experienceOut-of-body experienceReincarnationLife after deathEvidencePast lives
Thesis
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This thesis aims to identify challenging aftereffects of near-death experiences (NDEs), to explore how these are lived by near-death experiencers (NDErs), and to study the impacts of these challenging aftereffects on psychological wellbeing. This thesis also aims to identify what aids integration of these aftereffects, particularly so that when NDErs come to mental health professionals for help, these professionals have a framework with which to work. Per a review of the literature, there has been research on certain aspects of NDEs in relation to wellbeing, such as satisfaction with life or post-traumatic growth, but not as looking at factors that make up psychological wellbeing as a whole. Furthermore, the literature review identified only two studies which mapped challenging aftereffects with limited information on how the data were analyzed. Thus, a mixed-method study was developed to identify challenging NDE aftereffects and examine further the impact of these on wellbeing. A questionnaire utilizing the NDE Scale, multiple choice questions measuring wellbeing outcomes, and open response questions to further describe how challenges were experienced by participants was employed. The quantitative analysis discovered that the deeper the NDE, particularly if the NDE had a transcendental component, the more someone reports positive long-term changes in mood. It also identified that the more an NDEr reports positive changes in one’s current sense of happiness and life satisfaction, the more one reports ongoing positive changes in their perception of life’s purpose, social relationships, and mood. The analysis also presented the finding that people who had their NDE when they were teenagers or children report more struggles socially than compared to people who had their NDEs as adults. The thematic content analysis conducted on the written answers from the questionnaire illuminated the variety of psychological changes following an NDE and categorized them as negative, neutral, and positive depending on how the participants presented them. However, the thematic content analysis also showcased how even if changes are viewed positively, this does not negate the fact they could still be challenging to accommodate. For instance, the majority of participants discussed how discovering their life’s purpose through their NDE was a positive thing but trying to live their life’s purpose was often a struggle, particularly when, for example, they could not easily change jobs without sacrificing financial stability for their family. Interviews to further illuminate challenges experienced by the participants were conducted and analyzed via interpretative phenomenological analysis. The analysis showcased key themes while presenting and respecting the subtle nuances of each interviewee’s personal experience. Each theme had at least two subthemes: Relationship with Reality – “life is temporary; we are forever,” and, “life is an assignment/has purpose;” Relationship with NDE/Its Aftereffects – “community/sharing the experience,” and “time to comprehend the/live with it;” Relationship with Self – “strong sense of responsibility for/of Self,” and, “pursued integration/development;” and lastly, Relationship with Other People – “being compassionate with boundaries,” “family/friend support,” and “loneliness/hard to relate with other people.” These themes/subthemes were then placed within the framework of the Six-Factor Model of psychological wellbeing as a way to gauge how certain aftereffects impact wellbeing. This thesis is the first research to map challenges caused by NDEs using a multi-method approach involving statistical analysis, thematic analysis, content analysis, and interview examined via interpretative phenomenological analysis. It is also the first to frame these challenges within a wellbeing model. The findings of this thesis have pragmatic uses, particularly for mental health professionals when working with NDErs. It adds to the clinical as well as the parapsychological, thanatological, and health literature.
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