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The notion that death represents a passing to an afterlife, where we are reunited with loved ones and live eternally in a utopian paradise, is common in the anecdotal reports of people who have encountered a “near-death experience” (NDE). These experiences are usually portrayed as being extremely pleasant including features such as a feeling of peacefulness, the vision of a dark tunnel leading to a brilliant light, the sensation of leaving the body, or the experience of a life review. NDEs are increasingly being reported as a clearly identifiable physiological and psychological reality of clinical and scientific significance. The definition and causes of the phenomenon as well as the identification of NDE experiencers are still matters of debate. The phenomenon has been thoroughly portrayed by the media, but the science of NDEs is rather recent and still lacking of rigorous experimental data and reproducible controlled experiments. It seems that the most appropriate theories to explain the phenomenon tend to integrate both psychological and neurobiological mechanisms. The paradoxical dissociation between the richness and intensity of the memory, probably occurring during a moment of brain dysfunction, offers a unique opportunity to better understand the neural correlates of consciousness. In this chapter, we will attempt to describe NDEs and the methods to identify them. We will also briefly discuss the NDE experiencers’ characteristics. We will then address the main current explicative models and the science of NDEs.
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235© Springer International Publishing AG 2018
C. Schnakers, S. Laureys (eds.), Coma and Disorders of Consciousness,
DOI10.1007/978-3-319-55964-3_14
Chapter 14
Near-Death Experiences: Actual
Considerations
VanessaCharland-Verville, CharlotteMartial, HelenaCassol,
andStevenLaureys
Abstract The notion that death represents a passing to an afterlife, where we are
reunited with loved ones and live eternally in a utopian paradise, is common in the
anecdotal reports of people who have encountered a “near-death experience”
(NDE). These experiences are usually portrayed as being extremely pleasant includ-
ing features such as a feeling of peacefulness, the vision of a dark tunnel leading to
a brilliant light, the sensation of leaving the body, or the experience of a life review.
NDEs are increasingly being reported as a clearly identiable physiological and
psychological reality of clinical and scientic signicance. The denition and
causes of the phenomenon as well as the identication of NDE experiencers are still
matters of debate. The phenomenon has been thoroughly portrayed by the media,
but the science of NDEs is rather recent and still lacking of rigorous experimental
data and reproducible controlled experiments. It seems that the most appropriate
theories to explain the phenomenon tend to integrate both psychological and neuro-
biological mechanisms. The paradoxical dissociation between the richness and
intensity of the memory, probably occurring during a moment of brain dysfunction,
offers a unique opportunity to better understand the neural correlates of conscious-
ness. In this chapter, we will attempt to describe NDEs and the methods to identify
them. We will also briey discuss the NDE experiencers’ characteristics. We will
then address the main current explicative models and the science of NDEs.
V. Charland-Verville, Ph.D. (*) • C. Martial • H. Cassol • S. Laureys
Coma Science Group, GIGA Research Center and Neurology Department, University and
University Hospital of Liège, Liège, Belgium
e-mail: vanessa.charland-verville@ulg.ac.be; coma@chu.ulg.ac.be
236
Description ofthePhenomenon
After recovering from a coma caused by brain injury, patients can sometimes report
vivid perceptions and memories that have occurred during their period on seem-
ingly unconsciousness. Some of these memories have been popularized under the
expression “near-death experiences” (NDEs) [1]. NDEs can be dened as a set of
mental events including highly emotional, self-related, mystical, and spiritual
aspects occurring in an altered state of consciousness classically occurring in the
context of a life-threatening condition (e.g., cardiac arrest, trauma, perioperative
complications, intracerebral hemorrhage, septic or anaphylactic shock, near-
drowning or asphyxia, electrocution, attempted suicide) [13]. The NDE core fea-
tures most commonly include ranked by frequency feelings of peacefulness/
well-being, out-of-body experience (OBE), seeing a bright light, an altered time
perception, and entering some other, unearthly environment [4]. Despite their cir-
cumstances of occurrence, NDEs are generally experienced as extremely pleasant
and can induce life-changing consequences on the experiencers’ set of values and
attitudes toward death [3]. However, in addition to the ill-described relation between
the NDEs and the precipitating factors, the reliability of NDE accounts remains
controversial.
Without being designated as such, NDEs were already addressed in Plato’s
Republic [5] and represented in paintings by Hieronymus Bosch during the fteenth
century (Fig.14.1). The expression was unofcially rst formulated in the nine-
teenth century when Albert von St. Gallen Heim, a Swiss geologist and alpinist,
collected “near-death” testimonies from his fellow climbers and himself after climb-
ing accidents in the Alps [8]. He described these experiences as being similar in
their content including an expanded time perception, the review of past episodes of
one’s life, auditory perceptions containing music and various sounds, visions of
idyllic landscapes, and the absence of pain at the moment of impact. Following
Heim’s work, the equivalent French term Expérience de Mort Imminente was pro-
posed by the French psychologist and epistemologist Victor Egger. Some decades
later, Moody [1] popularized the expression “near-death experience—NDE”
through his best seller Life After Life in which he dened NDEs as “any conscious
perceptual experience occurring in individuals pronounced clinically dead or who
came very close to physical death.” Moody drew a list of the most frequently
recounted features by a recruited sample of 150 individuals coma survivors in inten-
sive care who had been hospitalized after a near-fatal incident of various etiologies
(Moody’s features are described in Table14.1). Later, NDEs have been dened as a
“profound psychological event including transcendental and mystical elements,
typically occurring to individuals close to death or in situations of intense physical
or emotional danger” [2]. More such broad denitions of NDEs have been proposed
like “transcendental experiences precipitated by a confrontation with death” [9] or
“responses to life-threatening crisis characterized by a combination of dissociation
from the physical body, euphoria, and transcendental or mystical elements” [10]
and not all agree on the investigated phenomenology associated with a “typical”
NDE rendering their scientic study difcult.
V. Charland-Verville et al.
237
Fig. 14.1 Reproduction of Hieronymus Bosch’s work “Ascent of the Blessed” (painted around
1490in the Netherlands). Palazzo Ducale, Venice. “The image evokes a symbolic imagery, reli-
gious or esoteric, where after the end of earthly life, souls saved, helped by angels, throw off the
last remains, and reborn in a different plane, rising almost without the support of its heavenly
guides, following by a corridor (or tunnel) where an intense light emerges from the darkness and
illuminates their path of ascension” [6]. Unfortunately, too little is known about the life of the
painter to provide a satisfactory explanation of this work on the basis of his biographical back-
ground [7]. File taken from the Wikimedia Commons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ascent_
of_the_Blessed.jpg#globalusage)
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
238
Identifying NDEs
According to a Gallup Poll, it was estimated that about 5% of the American popula-
tion have had such an experience (or at least experienced some NDE features) in the
context of a life-threatening situation [11]. More recently, surveys conducted in
Australia [12] and Germany [13] have yield a prevalence of 4–15%. However, these
values might not reect the absolute frequency since many NDE experiencers can
be uncomfortable of sharing their experience or might have forgotten about those
memories [14]. Moreover, it is not clear how NDE experiencers are identied. To
facilitate NDE identication, Ring [15] and Greyson [16] developed tools to use in
clinical and research settings. Ring’s “Weighted Core Experience Index (WCEI)”
[15] was developed based on a previous narrative collection of 102 individuals who
have been “close to death” from various contexts. The index aims at quantifying the
depth of a NDE according to ten arbitrarily weighted items with a maximum score
of 23 [15] (Table14.2). According to Ring, if the individuals’ scores are less than 6,
they are not considered to have had “enough” of an experience to be qualied as a
“core experiencer.” Respondents scoring between 6 and 9 are considered as “moder-
ate experiencers,” and nally, those who score more than 10 will be qualied as
“deep experiencers” [15]. Based on the narratives collected, he also proposed a
Table 14.1 Common elements recurring in adult NDEs and their aftereffects [1]
Elements occurring during NDEs Elements occurring as aftereffects
Ineffability Frustration relating the experience to others
Hearing oneself pronounced dead Subtle “broadening and deepening” of life
Feelings of peace and quiet Elimination of fear of death
Hearing unusual noises Corroboration of events witnessed while “out of
the body”
Seeing a dark tunnel
Being “out of the body”
Meeting “spiritual beings”
Experiencing a bright light as a “being of
light”
Panoramic life review
Experiencing a realm in which all
knowledge exists
Experiencing cities of light
Experiencing a realm of bewildered spirits
Experiencing a “supernatural rescue”
Sensing a border or limit
Coming back “into the body”
V. Charland-Verville et al.
239
ve- stage temporality sequence to describe NDEs: peace and contentment, detach-
ment from physical body, entering a transitional region of darkness, seeing a bril-
liant light, and entering through the light into another realm of existence [15].
However, the actual sequence of NDE features remains an unexplored area.
Although useful in quantifying the depth of an experience, Ring’s WCEI was
neither based on statistical analyses nor tested for coherence or reliability. Ring’s
scale limitations were addressed with Greyson’s construction of the “near-death
experience scale—NDE scale” [16]. He began by selecting 80 features from the
existing NDE literature and subsequently reduced these to a nal validated [17]
16-item multiple-choice tool used to quantify the intensity of the NDE (i.e., total
score ranging from 0 to 32) and to assess core content components of 16 NDE fea-
tures (Table14.3). For each item, the scores are arranged on an ordinal scale ranging
from 0 to 2 (i.e., 0 = “not present,” 1= “mildly or ambiguously present,” and
2=“denitively present”; 16–17). The latter scale is also, according to its author,
clinically useful in differentiating between individuals that have experienced NDEs
and in excluding organic brain syndromes and nonspecic stress responses [16].
The scale is subdivided into four psychologically meaningful clusters: cognitive,
affective, paranormal, and transcendental experiences. According to the scale, an
individual with a NDE scale score of 7 or higher on the maximum of 32 qualies as
a NDE experiencer [16]. The Greyson NDE scale is the most widely used tool to
standardize the identication of NDErs in research literature [18]. According to a
recent retrospective collection of data obtained from 354 individuals with self-
reported NDEs over a 7-year period using the NDE scale, the top three most reported
features were (1) a feeling of peace or pleasantness (92%), (2) a feeling of detach-
ment from the body (77%), and (3) seeing or feeling surrounded by a brilliant light
(74%) [19].
Table 14.2 Ring’s Weighted Core
Experience Index [15]Components Weight
Subjective sense of being dead 1
Feeling of peace, painlessness,
pleasantness, etc.
2
Sense of bodily separation 2
Sense of entering a dark region 2
Encountering a presence/hearing a voice 3
Taking stock of one’s life 3
Seeing, or being enveloped in, light 2
Seeing beautiful colors 1
Entering into the light 4
Encountering visible “spirits” 3
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
240
Table 14.3 Greyson’s NDE scale (1983)
Questions/features Response
Cognitive
1: Did time seem to speed up or slow down? 0=No
1=Time seemed to go faster or slower
than usual
2=Everything seemed to be happening at
once; or time stopped or lost all meaning
2: Were your thoughts speeded up? 0=No
1=Faster than usual
2=Incredibly faster
3: Did scenes from your past come back to you? 0=No
1=I remembered many past events
2=My past ashed before me, out of my
control
4: Did you suddenly seem to understand
everything?
0=No
1=Everything about myself or others
2=Everything about the universe
Affective
*5: Did you have a feeling of peace or
pleasantness?
0=No
1=Relief or calmness
2=Incredible peace or pleasantness
6: Did you have a feeling of joy? 0=No
1=Happiness
2=Incredible joy
7: Did you feel a sense of harmony or unity with
the universe?
0=No
1=I felt no longer in conict with nature
2=I felt united or one with the world
*8: Did you see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant
light?
0=No
1=An unusually bright light
2=A light clearly of mystical or
other-worldly origin
Paranormal
9: Were your senses more vivid than usual? 0=No
1=More vivid than usual
2=Incredibly more vivid
10: Did you seem to be aware of things going on
elsewhere, as if by extra sensorial perception/
telepathy?
0=No
1=Yes, but the facts have not been
checked out
2=Yes, and the facts have been checked
out
11: Did scenes from the future come to you? 0=No
1=Scenes from my personal future
2=Scenes from the world’s future
V. Charland-Verville et al.
241
NDEs Not “Near Death”
Unlike these “classical” NDEs associated with impeding death or coma, “NDE-
like” experiences have also been reported in situations where there was no genuine
threat to the individuals’ life. Only a few studies have assessed “NDE-like” phe-
nomena in non-life-threatening situations [2023]. Such accounts have also been
reported in epileptic patients [24], syncope [25], intense grief and anxiety [26],
Cotard’s syndrome [27], and during meditative state [28]. These NDE-like experi-
ences can be very strong and lead to profound life transformations just like “classi-
cal” NDEs. In a recent case study, the subject reported common NDE features in the
context of grief after a divorce (e.g., the vision of a supernatural light, peacefulness,
deep joy, and empathic fusion with the whole world) in the absence of critical cere-
bral or psychological disorders [20]. The subject reported no history of psychiatric
disorders, use of psychotropic drugs, or substance abuse. It remains unclear whether
some NDE features are exclusive to life-threatening or non-life-threatening situa-
tions and if they differ in intensity. It seems that NDE-like experiences are reported
more frequently than usually assumed. Recent retrospective data highlighted that
21% of the self-reported NDEs occurred during a non-life-threatening context
Table 14.3 (continued)
Questions/features Response
*12: Did you feel separated from your body? 0=No
1=I lost awareness of my body
2=I clearly left my body and existed
outside it
Transcendental
13: Did you seem to enter some other, unearthly
world?
0=No
1=Some unfamiliar and strange place
2=A clearly mystical or unearthly realm
14: Did you seem to encounter a mystical being or
presence or hear an unidentiable voice?
0=No
1=I heard a voice I could not identify
2=I encountered a denite being or a
voice clearly of mystical or unearthly
origin
15: Did you see deceased or religious spirits? 0=No
1=I sensed their presence
2=I actually saw them
16: Did you come to a border or point of no return? 0=No
1=I came to a denite conscious
decision to “return” to life
2=I came to a barrier that I was not
permitted to cross or was “sent back”
against my will
*Top three most reported features of our recent study are marked with an asterisk (Charland-
Verville etal. [4])
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
242
(e.g., during sleep, after a concussion) [19] and that according to the Greyson NDE
scale, no difference could be found in terms of intensity and reported content when
comparing “classical NDEs” vs. NDE-like experiences [4]. Gabbard and Twemlow [22]
have proposed that the expectancy of an incoming death or the strong belief of one’s
death would sufce to trigger NDEs.
Negative NDEs
Although NDEs are usually reported as being extremely pleasant, distressing or
hellish experiences can also occur. Previous estimations suggest an incidence of
1–2% [4, 11, 2931]. To document the frequency of frightening NDEs can be
challenging because individuals might be reluctant to report them due to its post-
traumatic stress component [32, 33]. Bush et al. [32] identied three types of
frightening NDEs. First, the “inverse experience” has a similar content as a pleas-
ant NDE (e.g., light, presences, knowledge, landscapes) but is perceived as an
alien reality out of control and is extremely stressful. The second type involves
perceptions of emptiness, the individual feels left alone, and nonexistent. The
third type is the prototypical “hellish” encounter, with threatening entities, and
various accouterments of the traditional hell, marked by perceptions of impend-
ing judgment and torment [32]. Whether the experience was perceived as being
pleasant or frightening, some individuals have reported psychological distress
related to the difculty in integrating the experience and its consequences into
their lives [34].
NDE Experiencers Characteristics
Previous work has aimed to investigate NDE experiencers’ characteristics. So far,
there is still no longitudinal study conducted, and the characteristics are assessed
after the individual lived the experience. Therefore, in those who report a NDE,
researchers aimed at (retrospectively) measuring personal characteristics that might
be related to the NDE features reported and (prospectively) assessing the character-
istics that might differentiate the individuals who report a NDE from those who
don’t [35]. According to age, studies performed among patients with cardiac arrest
have shown that NDEs seem to be reported more frequently before the age of 60 [3,
14]. This tendency could be explained by the possibility of a greater vulnerability of
older patients’ brain to cerebral ischemia and more susceptible to amnesia. The
same study highlighted the fact that having had a previous NDE could facilitate the
reoccurrence of such an experience, as individuals can report multiple NDEs [3].
Using Ring’s WCEI, van Lommel etal. [3] observed deeper NDEs in women, but
no other studies reported such a difference in gender. This gender observation might
V. Charland-Verville et al.
243
be partly explained by the fact that women might be less afraid to report a NDE [1]
or that women have been found to score generally higher on anomalous-perception
questionnaires than male subjects [36]. More demographic variables such as ethnic-
ity, social class, religiosity, educational level, and factors like prior psychiatric dis-
orders or psychiatric characteristics, suicidal behavior, or family history of suicidal
have not been shown to inuence the frequency of reported NDEs [3, 15, 3740].
Most of the NDE literature comes from Western cultures, but according to the pub-
lished data, taking into account religiosity and cultural background, these variables
seem to have an inuence on the NDEs’ content and the features’ interpretation [38,
41] (see Table14.4 for an overview of non-Western NDE features). While Western
experiencers might describe the presence perceived in their NDE as guardian angels,
Hindus might see them as messengers of the god of death [42, 43]. Some authors
have argued that NDEs would be culturally determined phenomena reecting cul-
tural and social inuences [41]. In fact, it appears that some NDE features may not
be universal like the tunnel vision [43]. The tunnel feature has been identied as a
“cultural contaminant not necessarily integral to NDEs” [44]. In fact, when investi-
gating NDE testimonials before and after Moody’s best seller release in 1975, the
only feature has been absent before 1975 was the tunnel vision. The authors
explained that by suggesting that the societal models might have inuenced this
feature [44]. Even though the sociocultural background might inuence the reported
content and interpretation, the overall reports show sufcient common content and
meaning to be considered a universal human experience of great interest for modern
neuroscience [41, 45].
Table 14.4 Descriptive overview of ve NDE features according to retrospective cases reported
anecdotally around in non-Western countries (adapted from Greyson etal. 2000a)
Countries/continents
N of
published
cases
NDE features
Tunnel OBE
Life
review
Encounters
with beings
Other
world
China 180 ± + + + +
India 109 + + + +
Thailand 10 ± + + + +
Tibet 16 + + + +
Hawaii 1 ± + + +
Guam 4 ++ +
New Zealand 1 ± + + +
South America 14 ++ +
Australia 1 − − + +
Africa 15 ± − − + +
Note that similar features seem to be experienced worldwide
Most of the represented data are still anecdotal since NDEs were not identied through a standard-
ized manner and the full narratives are not available. OBE out-of-body experience. China [99];
India [100]; Thailand [101]; Tibet [102]; Hawaii [103]; Guam [104]; New Zealand [105]; South
America [106]; Australia [107]; Africa [108]. Symbols “+” and “” used by the different authors
to report the presence (+) or absence () of the feature
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
244
Research onNDEs
So far, the majority of published work on NDEs is retrospective and sporadic. NDEs
are challenging to study as their occurrence is unpredictable, and they are generally
not reported at their moment of occurrence, but days, months, or even only years
later. The work of Moody [1] opened the way for scientic research on NDEs start-
ing with the establishment in 1981 of the International Association for Near-Death
Studies (IANDS) in the USA.The majority of the NDE studies aimed at identifying
the presence of NDEs among various populations. Empirical studies on NDEs can
be differentiated between retrospective and prospective designs (for a review of the
main retrospective and prospective studies, see Table14.5).
Retrospective research involves a convenient sample of individuals with so-
called self-reported NDEs that have responded to the researchers’ strategies of
recruitment to share their NDE account. This research design dominates the eld
of NDE research and has been conducted among various populations: after a coma
of different etiologies [4, 23, 46], cardiac arrest [14], suicide attempts [47], and
uremic coma before dialysis therapy [48]. The main advantages of retrospective
studies are that NDEs in various populations and from different contexts can be
studied and that larger samples of experiences can be included. On the other hand,
retrospective samples are always biased and include only NDEs of self-reporters,
whom might share different accounts from individuals more reluctant to share their
experience. Moreover, retrospectives NDEs are sometimes shared many years after
they originally took place leading to a possible exaggeration the experience’s con-
tent and intensity [49].
The prospective design usually follows a population of patients that are suscep-
tible of experiencing a NDE in the context of a life-threatening medical condition.
That way, researchers have access to complete medical information before and dur-
ing the supposed occurrence of the NDE.In addition, NDE accounts are collected
just a few days after the recovery. The prospective design reveals itself to be more
rigorous than the retrospective one. However, prospective studies are expensive,
heavy to set up, and only permit to recruit a narrower sample [35]. The prospective
design have mostly been conducted among resuscitated patients after a cardiac
arrest [3, 14, 39, 5052] and (albeit more rarely) in patients with severe traumatic
brain injury [53]. According to the NDE scale, 2–13% of the resuscitated patients
after a cardiac arrest report accounts that are compatible with a NDE when asked an
open question regarding any memories that could have occurred during the period
surrounding their cardiac arrest and period of unconsciousness [51, 52]. Cardiac
arrest survivors with NDEs cannot be distinguished by administered medications,
metabolic states, psychology, sociodemographic factors, resuscitative interventions,
or the duration of cardiac arrest or unconsciousness [3, 52, 54].
The choice of the study design can certainly have an impact on the collected data.
It has been observed that fewer cases of NDEs are recounted by individuals inter-
viewed prospectively than when the interviews are retrospectively conducted among
self-reported NDE experiencers [49]. On the other hand, Greyson [109] argues that
V. Charland-Verville et al.
245
Table 14.5 Overview of main NDE publications since Moody’s popularization of the phenomenon
References
Type of
material
Title of book/
journal
Peer reviewed
Medline/
PubMed
Study design
Time since NDE
N
Characteristics of
the sample and
inclusion criteria
NDEs
(%)
Scale used
to identify
NDE
minimum
score Reported features
Moody [1] Book
Life After Life
No Retrospective
NM
150
Individuals who
reported an
“unusual
experience” after
a coma of
different
etiologies
150 None Please refer to Table1in the
introduction section
Ring [15] Book
Life at Death:
A Scientic
Investigation
of the
Near-Death
Experience
No Retrospective
NM
102
Self-reported
NDEs of
individuals
claiming to have
been “close to
death”
49 (48) The author
introduces
his
scale—the
WCEI and
his ve
stages
Please refer to Table2in the
introduction section
Sabom [31] Book
Recollections
of Death: A
Medical
Investigation
No Retrospective
NM
111
Self-reported
NDEs of
individuals
claiming to have
been “close to
death” with a
majority of
cardiac arrest
survivors
47 (42) None NM
(continued)
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
246
Table 14.5 (continued)
Gabbard and
Twemlow
[21]
Journal article
Omega:
Journal of
Death and
Dying
Yes
Yes
Retrospective
NM
339
Individuals with
self-reported
OBEs after
life- threatening
and non-life-
threatening
situations
34 (5) None NM
Ring and
Franklin
[110]
Journal article
Omega:
Journal of
Death and
Dying
Yes
No
Retrospective
NM
36
Suicide survivors
of various
etiologies
17 (47) WCEI NM
Sabom [31] Book
Recollections
of Death: A
Medical
Investigation
No Retrospective
NM
116
Self-reported
NDEs of
individuals
claiming to have
been “close to
death”
33 (28) None NM
References
Type of
material
Title of book/
journal
Peer reviewed
Medline/
PubMed
Study design
Time since NDE
N
Characteristics of
the sample and
inclusion criteria
NDEs
(%)
Scale used
to identify
NDE
minimum
score Reported features
V. Charland-Verville et al.
247
Gallup and
Proctor [11]
Book
Adventures in
Immortality: A
Look Beyond
the Threshold
of Death
No Retrospective
NM
1500
Individuals from
the general adult
American
population
claiming to have
been “close to
death”
60 (4) None NM
Greyson [16] Journal article
The Journal of
Nervous and
Mental
Disease
Yes
Yes
Retrospective
18±16years
74
Self-reported
NDEs of
individuals
claiming to have
been “close to
death”
62 (84) The author
introduces
his
scale—the
Greyson
NDE scale
Please refer to Table3in the
introduction section
Greyson [47] Journal article
Journal of
Near-Death
Studies
Yes
No
Retrospective
~17days
61
Suicide survivors
of various
etiologies ranging
from minor to
potentially lethal
attempts
Subjects need a
score of 6 to be
included
16 (26) WCEI
6/30
NM
(continued)
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
248
Table 14.5 (continued)
Greyson [46] Journal article
Journal of
Near-Death
Studies
Yes
No
Retrospective
~18years
183
Self-reported
NDEs of
individuals
claiming to have
been “close to
death”
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
183 Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
The most reported features were the
feeling of peacefulness (92%) as
well as OBEs (86%). The least
reported features were the life
review (25%) and precognitive
visions (14%)
Schoenbeck
and Hocutt
[111]
Journal article
Journal of
Near-Death
Studies
Yes
No
Prospective
5–52days
11
Patients who have
undergone
cardiopulmonary
resuscitation
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
1 (1) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
The NDE was considered to be
“transcendental” (encounter with a
religious spirit; entering an unearthly
world and coming to a boarder)
References
Type of
material
Title of book/
journal
Peer reviewed
Medline/
PubMed
Study design
Time since NDE
N
Characteristics of
the sample and
inclusion criteria
NDEs
(%)
Scale used
to identify
NDE
minimum
score Reported features
V. Charland-Verville et al.
249
Zhi-ying and
Jian-xun
[112]
Journal article
Journal of
Near-Death
Studies
Yes
No
Retrospective
11years
81
Survivors of the
severe earthquake
in Tangshan,
China, in 1976
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
32 (40) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
Features’ frequencies are measured
among the whole sample (N=81).
The most reported features of
experiencers and non-experiencers
were the feeling of peacefulness
(52%) as well as thought
acceleration and life review (51%).
The least reported features were the
feeling of joy (10%) and
precognitive visions (14%)
Orne [113] Journal article
Research in
Nursing and
Health
Yes
No
Prospective
3–21days
44
Cardiac arrest
survivors
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
9 (20) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
NM
Pacciolla
[114]
Journal article
Journal of
Near-Death
Studies
Yes
No
Retrospective
3months–10years
64
Self-reported
NDEs of
individuals
claiming to have
been “close to
death”
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
24 (38) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
The most reported features were the
feeling of peacefulness and the
meeting with deceased or religious
spirits (>75%), while the least
reported features were the time
distortion and the extrasensory
perception (29%)
(continued)
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
250
Table 14.5 (continued)
Knoblauch
etal. [13]
Journal article
Journal of
Near-Death
Studies
Yes
No
Retrospective
NM
2044
Individuals from
the general adult
German
population
Subjects need to
report any
Moody’s features
to be included
82 (4) None Open-ended questions lead to these
main features (no ranking of
frequency mentioned): transcendent
reality, great feelings, contrast
between light and dark, out-of-body
experiences, panoramic memory or
life review experiences, descriptions
of landscapes
van Lommel
etal. [3]
Journal article
The Lancet
Yes
Yes
Prospective
74% of the sample
was interviewed
5days after
344
Cardiac arrest
survivors
Subjects need to
report any
memory of the
event to be
included
62
(18%)
with a
minimum
score of
141
(9%) with
a
minimum
score of
6/30
WCEI
scale
1/30
Positive emotions and the awareness
of being dead were the most
reported feature (56% and 50%),
while the life review and the nal
boarder/point of no return were the
least reported ones (13% and 8%)
Parnia etal.
[52]
Journal article
Resuscitation
Yes
Yes
Prospective
NM
63
Cardiac arrest
survivors
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
4 (6) Greyson
NDE scale
All four patients in the NDE group
sensed a nal boarder/point of no
return (100%), and three out of the
four also experienced seeing a bright
light and feelings of peace,
pleasantness, and joy (75%)
7/32
References
Type of
material
Title of book/
journal
Peer reviewed
Medline/
PubMed
Study design
Time since NDE
N
Characteristics of
the sample and
inclusion criteria
NDEs
(%)
Scale used
to identify
NDE
minimum
score Reported features
V. Charland-Verville et al.
251
Schwaninger
etal. [39]
Journal article
Journal of
Near-Death
Studies
Yes
No
Prospective
~2–3days after
30
Cardiac arrest
survivors and
coma survivors of
various etiologies
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
7 (23) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
The most reported features were the
feeling of peacefulness (100%) and
OBEs (90%), while the least
reported ones were time distortion,
thought acceleration, life review
(9%), and extrasensory perception
(0%)
Greyson [14] Journal article
General
Hospital
Psychiatry
Yes
Yes
Prospective
“Patients were
approached as
soon after
admission as their
condition had
stabilized”
1595
Cardiac arrest
survivors
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
27 (2) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
The most reported feature was the
feeling of peacefulness (85%), while
the least reported one was
precognitive visions (7%)
Greyson [37] Journal article
Psychiatric
Services
Yes
Yes
Retrospective
NM
832
Psychiatric
patients claiming
to have been
“close to death”
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
61 (7) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
NM
(continued)
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
252
Nelson etal.
[10]
Journal article
Neurology
Yes
Yes
Retrospective
NM
446
Self-reported
NDEs of
individuals
claiming to have
been “close to
death”
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
55 (12) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
NM
Lai etal.
[48]
Journal article
American
Journal of
Kidney
Diseases
Yes
Yes
Retrospective
7±13years
710
Dialysis patients
who have had a
previous close
brush with death
Some patients
had more than
one NDE/event
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
45 with
51 events
(6)
Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
WCEI
1/30
The most reported feature were the
feeling of peacefulness (75%) and
OBEs (73%), while the least
reported features were the awareness
of being dead, precognitive visions,
and tunnel vision (<10%). The
frequencies are based on the number
of NDEs (n=51)
Table 14.5 (continued)
References
Type of
material
Title of book/
journal
Peer reviewed
Medline/
PubMed
Study design
Time since NDE
N
Characteristics of
the sample and
inclusion criteria
NDEs
(%)
Scale used
to identify
NDE
minimum
score Reported features
V. Charland-Verville et al.
253
Klemenc-
Ketis etal.
[51]
Journal article
Critical Care
Yes
Yes
Prospective
NM
52
Out-of-hospital
cardiac arrest
survivors
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
11 (21) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
NM
Corazza and
Schifano
[115]
Journal article
Substance Use
& Misuse
Yes
Yes
Retrospective
1month in 30% of
the sample
125
Previous
ketamine
misusers
recollecting a
ketamine-related
NDE
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
50 (40) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
The most reported features were an
altered time perception (90%) and
OBE (88%), while the least reported
ones were the meeting with
deceased or religious spirits (14%)
and the nal boarder/point of no
return (8%)
Hou etal.
[53]
Journal article
Annals of
Indian
Academy of
Neurology
Yes
Yes
Prospective
>14days after
recovering
consciousness
86
Post-traumatic
coma
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
3 (4) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
Semi-structured oral interviews lead
to these main features: unique light
visions, intense feelings of
astonishment, pleasure and fear,
sense of helplessness, “supernatural
but logical experience,” and changes
in opinions about death
(continued)
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
254
Table 14.5 (continued)
Charland-
Verville
etal. [4]
Journal article
Frontiers in
Human
Neuroscience
Yes
Yes
Retrospective
25±17years
190
Self-reported
NDEs of coma
survivors of
various etiologies
n=140 and
n=50 after
non-life-
threatening
situations
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
190 Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
The most reported features for all
groups were the feeling of
peacefulness (89–93%) and OBEs
(74–80%), while the least reported
ones were the life review (18–37%)
and precognition (17–20%)
Charland-
Verville
etal. [90]
Journal article
Consciousness
and Cognition
Yes
Yes
Retrospective
19±9years
22
Patients with LIS
and after a coma
Subjects need a
score of 7 to be
included
8 (37) Greyson
NDE scale
7/32
The most reported features were: an
altered time perception (75%), life
review (75%), and OBEs (75%)
NDE near-death experience, OBE out-of-body experience, NM “not mentioned”; “close to death” and “various etiologies” situations can include: cardiac arrest,
shock in postpartum, hemorrhage, perioperative complications, septic or anaphylactic shock, electrocution, coma resulting from traumatic brain damage, intra-
cerebral hemorrhage or cerebral infarction, attempted suicide, near-drowning or asphyxia, and apnea
References
Type of
material
Title of book/
journal
Peer reviewed
Medline/
PubMed
Study design
Time since NDE
N
Characteristics of
the sample and
inclusion criteria
NDEs
(%)
Scale used
to identify
NDE
minimum
score Reported features
V. Charland-Verville et al.
255
reports of NDEs are not modied over time, even 20years after the original account.
To the best of our knowledge, these results were not replicated, and no study has yet
formally paid attention to the cognitive and phenomenological nature of such mem-
ories. In addition to the ill-described relation between the NDE and the precipitating
factor, the reliability of NDE accounts remains controversial [55, 56].
Explicative Models forNDEs
Transcendental, psychological, and neurobiological theories have been proposed to
account for the global phenomenon and more specically for its core features.
Transcendental Theories
The scientic study of consciousness indicates that there is an intimate relationship
between the mind and brain [57]. Interestingly, surveys conducted among highly
educated medical professionals and scientists have revealed that “dualistic” atti-
tudes toward the mind–brain relationship remain [58]. These are expressed through
beliefs that the mind/soul is separable from the body or by the conviction that some
spiritual part of us can survive after death [59]. Advocates of transcendental theories
argue that postulating the NDEs represents a different state of consciousness (tran-
scendence), in which the self, cognition, and emotions would function indepen-
dently from the brain, but would retain the possibility of non-sensory perception,
e.g., [60, 61]. To date, these theories lead the eld of NDE research. Quantum phys-
ics models of nonlocal consciousness have also been used to support the premise of
the continuation of mental function when the brain is apparently inactive or impaired
or when an individual is “near death” [62, 63]. For these authors and others, the
NDE phenomenon—especially the OBE core feature during which experiencers
report having viewed their bodies from a different point in space and are able to
describe accurately what was going on around them while they were considered
unconscious—poses a serious challenge to current scientic understandings of the
brain, mind, and consciousness [15, 31, 52]. However, protocols that have been set
up to test for that hypothesis are still failing to conrm the veracity of such OBEs.
For instance, a recent multicentric feasibility study had set up resuscitation and
operating rooms with shelves containing targets (i.e., a combination of nationalistic
and religious symbols, people, animals, and major newspaper headlines) that would
be possible to see only from an elevated perspective usually described by the expe-
riencers [116]. However, from the 2% of the patients’ sample with explicit recall of
“seeing” and “hearing” actual events related to their resuscitation, none of them
could report seeing the targets. Like we will discuss in the next sections, neurosci-
entically, it seems more probable that NDE features are the result of specic inter-
actions between psychological and neurological mechanisms precipitated by the
context of occurrence and an altered state of consciousness [18, 64].
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
256
Psychological Theories
The “awareness of being death” or very close to dying has been proposed to be an
important factor for triggering NDEs. In fact, as suggested by Owens etal. [23], “it
would seem that among individuals who were not near death their experiences could
be precipitated by their belief that they were.” The “expectation hypothesis” postu-
lates that NDEs take their origin from an altered state of consciousness triggered by
a life-threatening condition that could result in death without medical care. The
NDE phenomenology would reect the individual’s system of beliefs and expecta-
tions of dying and a possible afterlife [23, 65, 66]. According to the “depersonaliza-
tion and dissociation hypothesis,” when facing a life-threatening situation, an
individual would disconnect from the external world and engage in internally ori-
ented fantasies as a projective defense mechanisms to make the new reality more
intelligible and less distressing [67, 68]. Individuals with “fantasy-proneness per-
sonality” are described as having the propensity to focus their attention on imagina-
tive or selected sensory experiences and to exclude other events from the external
environment [69]. Finally, the NDE phenomenology has been proposed to be at
least in part imagined mixing information available during the context of occur-
rence, the experiencers’ prior knowledge, sociocultural background, fantasies or
dreams, lucky guesses, and information from the remaining senses [70]. In fact, the
brain is constantly trying to make sense of the information it receives. In order to
preserve a coherent interpretation of highly stressful events associated with epi-
sodes of altered consciousness, NDEs could be built as a result of the individual’s
attempt to interpret its confusing experience [71] and the experiencers’ the tendency
to tell a good story. However, a recent study using the memory characteristic ques-
tionnaire [72] showed that when comparing the phenomenological content of NDE
memories with imagined and real-life events memories, the NDEs are richer than
both types of memories in terms of sensorial, emotional, contextual, and self-related
characteristics [73]. Another hypothesis raises the possibility that at least some
NDEs may be the result of false memories, with the mind trying to retrospectively
“ll in the gap” after a period of unconsciousness [55].
Neurobiological Theories
These theories follow empirical ndings on the brain mechanisms that are associ-
ated behaviorally and neuronally with NDEs. Recently, a study recorded electro-
physiological state of rats’ brain following cardiac arrest [74]. The brain is assumed
to be hypoactive during cardiac arrest. However, results obtained by the researchers
showed a transient and global surge of synchronized gamma oscillations, displaying
high levels of interregional coherence and feedback connectivity. These results have
led to the highly mediatized and criticized hypothesis that heightened conscious
processing measured in rats after a cardiac arrest could serve as an explicative
V. Charland-Verville et al.
257
model for the rich and realistic experiences associated with NDEs reported in the
same context. Lempert etal. [25] while studying motor phenomena of vasovagal
syncope incidentally observed that the faints were accompanied by memories. Sixty
percent of the fainters reported vivid NDE-like features (e.g., feeling of peace,
OBE, entering another world, life reviews). Syncopes were induced via the combi-
nation of hyperventilation and Valsalva maneuver (i.e., a forced expiration against
the closed larynx) in healthy young adults [25, 75]. Harmless syncopes have since
been proposed to be a good model to study NDEs [76]. Another theory has postu-
lated that the transient impaired cerebral oxygen levels caused by a syncope (and
more dramatically as in the context of a cardiac arrest) lead to a disruption of the
physiological balance between conscious and unconscious states causing the
ascending arousal system to blend rapid eye movement (REM) sleep attributed
partly to the action of the locus coeruleus–noradrenergic system [10, 76]. The REM
state can intrude into wakefulness as visual hallucinations, and during crisis, the
atonia of REM intrusion could reinforce a person’s sense of being dead and convey
the impression of death to others. In line with that hypothesis, a cohort of NDE
experiencers have been found to be more sensitive to REM sleep intrusions and
sleep paralysis associated with hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences [10]. It
has also been suggested that NDEs would result from a massive release of endor-
phins in a condition of impeding death—at least for the positive feelings since the
endorphins do not have hallucinatory properties [77]. Other authors have suggested
that NDEs can be reported as hallucinatory experiences similar to what can be expe-
rienced with some drugs. Jansen etal. [78] have proposed the ketamine model for
studying NDEs. This dissociative anesthetic and recreational drug has a blockade
action on the glutamate N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors [79]. Likewise,
conditions which can precipitate NDEs (e.g., decreased brain oxygen, blood ow,
blood sugar) could increase the levels of glutamate release in the context of excito-
toxic brain damage, stimulating the release of a ketamine-like neurotoxin [80, 81].
The phenomenology of a recreational ketamine experience have highlighted many
similar features with NDEs: peace and tranquility, the conviction that one is dead,
trips through dark tunnels into light, OBEs, seeing spirits, telepathic communion
with God, and mystical states [82, 83].
The clinical core features of NDEs should provide an indication of their neuro-
physiologic basis. Altered blood gas levels (i.e., ischemia, hypoxia) has been sug-
gested to induce NDE-like features. The mechanisms involved have been proposed
to occur as a cascade of events, beginning by a neuronal disinhibition in early visual
cortex spreading to other cortical areas [70, 8486]. Blackmore [87] proposed that
the tunnel vision and the perception of bright lights could be linked to the loss of
bilateral peripheral visual eld and retinal ischemia. Based on previous neuroimaging
data, it seems clinically plausible that resuscitated patients with NDEs may suffer
from transient ischemic and/or hypoxic lesions or interferences with bilateral occip-
ital cortex and the optic radiation [23, 88, 89]. However, these speculations have to
be regarded with caution; as to date, no neurological, neuropsychological, and neu-
roimaging data exist to corroborate these hypotheses empirically. As stated by
Blackmore [70], the brain’s altered oxygen levels are probably one of several related
14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
258
mechanisms that lead to NDEs as it does not account for NDEs occurring in the
absence of damage attributable to this mechanism.
In line with neurobiological theories, recent work aimed at assessing whether the
etiology of the brain damage could inuence the reported content and intensity [4].
The study could reveal that according to the Greyson NDE scale, the reported inten-
sity and content of the NDE did not seem to vary across etiology groups. Another
nding from this study, and in parallel from previous work [49], highlights that the
study design (i.e., retrospective vs. prospective studies) seems to inuence the
reports of NDE, and in this case the content of what was reported (i.e., an altered
time perception, the feeling of harmony and unity, the sudden understanding of
everything, the heightened senses were more frequently reported retrospectively,
while encounters with deceased or religious spirits were more frequently reported
prospectively). In further work, authors assessed whether the brain lesion site would
inuence the reported Greyson NDE scale’s features of a NDE.For this purpose,
NDEs after a coma of patients with a locked-in syndrome (i.e., infratentorial brain
stem lesions) and patients with supratentorial cortical lesions were compared. The
results showed that the infratentorial lesions cohort reported less positive emotions
and had a tendency to report more life review—in contradiction with the “classical”
supratentorial cohort [90].
Studies with neurological patients have led to more hypotheses and ndings
about the neural correlates of NDE core features. For instance, it has been shown
that the stimulation of the right temporoparietal junction area, including the anterior
part of the angular gyrus and the posterior temporal gyrus, can produce OBEs
caused by a decient multisensory integration at the temporoparietal junction area.
Focal electrical stimulation protocols in patients with epilepsy, migraine, or tinnitus
have also been shown to induce repeated OBEs described from a visuospatial per-
spective localized outside the physical body and illusory transformations of the
patient’s limbs [91, 92]. Using a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, these
authors also showed that the OBE was related to increased activity in the right supe-
rior temporal and precuneal cortices [92]. The out-of-body illusions may be the
result of a complex illusory replication of one’s body based on ambiguous input
from proprioceptive, tactile, visual, and vestibular information and their integration
at the disrupted temporoparietal junction area [93]. To some extent, these body illu-
sions have also been reported in healthy individuals during microgravity conditions
(inversion illusion during space mission or the low gravity phase of parabolic
ights) [94], in the context of sleep paralysis [95] and virtual reality [96]. Behavioral
ndings have also included the left temporoparietal junction in a possible neural
correlate of NDE features for the “feeling of a presence.” Electrical stimulation of
this brain area in a patient who was undergoing presurgical evaluation for epilepsy
treatment provoked the strange sensation that somebody was nearby when no one
was actually present [97]. In parallel to those ndings, epileptiform activity was
observed in the left temporal lobe in a population of NDE experiencers as compared
to an age-matched population of individuals without NDEs [98].
In conclusion, there is currently no consensual or satisfying scientic explana-
tion for NDEs. Although the phenomenon attracts a lot of attention from the media
V. Charland-Verville et al.
259
worldwide, still just a handful of empirical studies are available. To date, transcen-
dental interpretations have led the discussion of these empirical ndings. These
have largely omitted discussing of any psychological and neurobiological bases for
these experiences and instead appear to prefer paranormal explanations over and
above scientic enlightenment. The claims that NDEs are evidence for life after
death may have contributed to the reluctance of designing rigorous empirical proto-
cols to study such a “pseudoscience” phenomenon. In fact, the latest neurosciences
evidence from consciousness research leads to the speculation that these experi-
ences would rather emerge from a modied or altered brain functioning in an altered
or modied state of consciousness resulting from various circumstances. We also
hypothesize that all NDE features could be generated from specic neural correlates
arranged in a biopsychosocial integrated phenomenon.
Acknowledgments The authors thank the IANDS Flanders and IANDS France (www.bijnadoo-
dervaring.be; www.iands-france.org) for their collaboration in recruiting NDE testimonies. This
research was supported by the Belgian National Funds for Scientic Research (FNRS) BIAL foun-
dation, the European Commission (European ICT Programme Projects FP7-247919 DECODER),
the Tinnitus Prize 2011 (FNRS 9.4501.12), the FEDER structural fund RADIOMED-930549, the
Fonds Léon Fredericq, the James McDonnell Foundation, the French Speaking Community
Concerted Research Action, and the University and University Hospital of Liège.
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14 Near-Death Experiences: Actual Considerations
... Based on 154 narratives, Martial et al. [25] examined the temporality of NDE features but, despite common and recurrent characteristics, did not find a specific temporal order, suggesting that NDEs are deeply personal and unique experiences. However, although authors commonly distinguish between "real" (or "classic") NDEs, arising in life-threatening situations, from "NDE-like" experiences in non-lifethreatening circumstances [1,27,28,48], NDEs and NDElike events are identical in terms of content and intensity [1,48], suggesting that they share the same biological mechanisms [1]. ...
... Based on 154 narratives, Martial et al. [25] examined the temporality of NDE features but, despite common and recurrent characteristics, did not find a specific temporal order, suggesting that NDEs are deeply personal and unique experiences. However, although authors commonly distinguish between "real" (or "classic") NDEs, arising in life-threatening situations, from "NDE-like" experiences in non-lifethreatening circumstances [1,27,28,48], NDEs and NDElike events are identical in terms of content and intensity [1,48], suggesting that they share the same biological mechanisms [1]. ...
... The field of NDE research is dominated by Western investigators [48,49] (Table 1). We found only two recent studies from non-Western cultures: one from Israel and one from Sri Lanka [19, 26•]. ...
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Purpose of Review Near-death experiences (NDEs) are conscious perceptual experiences, including self-related emotional, spiritual, and mystical experiences, occurring in close encounters with death or in non-life-threatening situations. The origin of NDEs remains unknown. Here, we review recent advances in the understanding of NDE semiology and pathophysiology. Recent Findings Recent prospective studies confirm that NDEs reflect a spectrum of highly distinctive memories which are associated with negative or positive emotions and can be influenced by the nature of the causal event, but the temporal sequence with which these images unfold is variable. Some drugs, notably ketamine, may lead to experiences that are similar or even identical to NDEs. New models extend previous neural network theories and include aspects of evolutionary and quantum theories. Summary Although the factual existence of NDEs is no longer doubted and the semiology well-described, a pathophysiological model that includes all aspects of NDEs is still lacking.
... NDEs are typically experienced in life-threatening conditions involving a disconnection from the environment, thereby corresponding to a state of disconnected consciousness . Despite the critical context in which brain physiology is impaired, "experiencers" report mental perceptions associated with an apparently clear sensorium (Charland-Verville et al., 2017). The NDE phenomenology is a set of distinguishable and identifiable mental eventsreferred to as "features"with self-related, highly emotional, mystical and/or spiritual aspects (Charland-Verville et al., 2014). ...
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As interest grows in near-death experiences (NDEs), it is increasingly important to accurately identify them to facilitate empirical research and reproducibility among assessors. We aimed (1) to reassess the psychometric properties of the NDE scale developed by Greyson (1983) and (2) to validate the Near-Death Experience Content (NDE-C) scale that quantifies NDEs in a more complete way. Internal consistency, construct and concurrent validity analyses were performed on the NDE scale. Based on those results and the most recent empirical evidence, we then developed a new 20-item scale. Internal consistency, explanatory and confirmatory factor, concurrent and discriminant validity analyses were conducted. Results revealed (1) a series of weaknesses in the NDE scale, (2) a 5-factor structure covering relevant dimensions and the very good psychometric properties of the NDE-C scale, including very good internal consistency (Cronbach α=0.85) and concurrent validity (correlations above 0.76). This new reliable scale should facilitate future research.
Thesis
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Forty-five years ago, the first evidence of near-death experience (NDE) during comatose state was provided, setting the stage for a new paradigm for studying the neural basis of consciousness in unresponsive states. At present, the state of consciousness associated with NDEs remains an open question. In the common view, consciousness is said to disappear in a coma with the brain shutting down, but this is an oversimplification. We argue that a novel framework distinguishing awareness, wakefulness, and connectedness is needed to comprehend the phenomenon. Classical NDEs correspond to internal awareness experienced in unresponsive conditions, thereby corresponding to an episode of disconnected consciousness. Our proposal suggests new directions for NDE research, and more broadly, consciousness science.
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The neurobiological basis of near-death experiences (NDEs) is unknown, but a few studies attempted to investigate it by reproducing in laboratory settings phenomenological experiences that seem to closely resemble NDEs. So far, no study has induced NDE-like features via hypnotic modulation while simultaneously measuring changes in brain activity using high-density EEG. Five volunteers who previously had experienced a pleasant NDE were invited to re-experience the NDE memory and another pleasant autobiographical memory (dating to the same time period), in normal consciousness and with hypnosis. We compared the hypnosis-induced subjective experience with the one of the genuine experience memory. Continuous high-density EEG was recorded throughout. At a phenomenological level, we succeeded in recreating NDE-like features without any adverse effects. Absorption and dissociation levels were reported as higher during all hypnosis conditions as compared to normal consciousness conditions, suggesting that our hypnosis-based protocol increased the felt subjective experience in the recall of both memories. The recall of a NDE phenomenology was related to an increase of alpha activity in frontal and posterior regions. This study provides a proof-of-concept methodology for studying the phenomenon, enabling to prospectively explore the NDE-like features and associated EEG changes in controlled settings.
Book
What is it going to be like when I die? Will I be lonely and frightened, in pain and in anger? Will the grim reaper thrust me into darkness and terror against my will? There are very few of us who have not thought about our own deaths, or pushed the thought steadfastly away. As young children we begin to think about dying. As we gain a strong sense of self and who we are the thought of death becomes more and more threatening. It is inconceivable that Mummy will ever be dead, let alone me. It is no wonder that we like to deny death. Whole religions are based on that denial. Turn to religion and you may be assured of eternal life. You cannot die, you have a soul, a spirit, an everlasting inner being that will not succumb to the ravages of worms and putrefaction. Of course, this comforting thought conflicts with science. Science tells us that death is the end and, as so often, finds itself opposing religion. Interestingly, the greatest conflict of all has been about our origins, not our end. Darwin’s The Origin of Species, first published in 1859, caused a controversy which is still not dead after a century and a half (44). He proposed that the simple process of natural selection could account for the evolution and diversity of living things. The idea is, I believe, the simplest and most beautiful in all of science. Indeed, it is so simple and obvious that it is sometimes hard to remember how important it is to understanding ourselves. It is just this. You need a system for reproducing things that is not exact copying – it produces variation. And you need an environment in which there is not room for all the things that are made. Obviously some things survive and some do not. And the ones that survive pass on copies more similar to themselves than to the dead ones. That’s all. Out of that simple principle comes the whole of evolutionary theory and our understanding of our own origins. The problem with evolution is, and has always been, that it leaves little room either for a grand purpose to life or for an individual soul. The environment moulds the progress of evolution and it in turn is part of that evolutionary process. In fact, the whole planet can be seen as an interdependent living system, as it is in the Gaia hypothesis (122). We are each just tiny parts of that living, evolving whole. As parts of the whole we are indispensable; as individuals each of us is eminently dispensable. There is no future heaven towards which evolution progresses. And no ultimate purpose. It just goes along. Yet our minds have evolved to crave purposefulness and cling to the idea of a self because that will more efficiently keep alive the body and perpetuate its genes. In other words, our evolution makes it very hard for us to accept the idea of evolution and our own individual pointlessness. It is perhaps not surprising that in the United States there are still powerful lobbies for equal time to be given to the theory of ‘creation’ in teaching biology in schools. The idea that God created us all for a special purpose is a lot more palatable than the idea that we just got here through the whims of ‘Chance and Necessity’, as the French biologist Jacques Monod (132) put it, even though it has no evidence to support it and provides no help in understanding the nature of the living world. And people will fight, and even die, for the ideas they like best. Death is an idea they do not like. The self is an idea they do like; an everlasting self they like even better. It is over a hundred and thirty years since science seriously tackled the nature of human origins. Is it ready to tackle the nature of human death? I think so. The past twenty years have seen great strides forward. The discovery and study of near-death experiences has taught us about the experience of nearly dying. Progress in medical science has increased our understanding of what happens when the brain begins to fail. Psychology is delving ever more deeply into the nature of that precious self. This book is an attempt to explore what psychology, biology and medicine have to say about death and dying. Are you ready to find out what it’s going to be like when you die?
Chapter
Near-death experiences (NDEs), profound events reported by people who have been close to death, often include feelings of peace, a sense of being outside the physical body, a life review, and meeting apparent nonphysical beings and environments; and they often precipitate profound changes in attitudes and values. Research on NDEs has focused on their epidemiology, psychophysiological correlates, and aftereffects, most commonly including increased spirituality, compassion, altruism, appreciation of life, and belief in postmortem existence. NDEs challenge the conventional assumption that consciousness is invariably linked to brain processes. Scientific discussions of the mind-brain problem must take these data into account.
Article
Reactions to claims of near-death experiences (NDE) range from the popular view that this must be evidence for life after death, to outright rejection of the experiences as, at best, drug induced hallucinations or, at worse, pure invention. Twenty years, and much research, later, it is clear that neither extreme is correct.
Article
Few scientists have taken seriously the interpretation of near-death experiences (NDEs) as evidence for survival after death, even though most people having such an experience have become convinced that they will survive death and several features of NDEs are at least suggestive of survival. This article compares survival and some nonsurvival interpretations of NDEs in light of one feature suggestive of survival, that of reports of having seen deceased persons during the NDE. Several features of 74 NDEs involving such reports were compared with those of 200 NDEs not involving such reports. Although some of the findings could support either a survival or a nonsurvival interpretation, several other findings may weaken the Primary nonsurvival hypothesis, that of expectation. Additionally, the convergence of several features suggesting survival and the convergence of features that require multiple kinds of alternative explanations, in individual cases as well as in large groups of cases, warrant our considering the survival hypothesis of NDEs more seriously than most scientists currently do.
Book
The expression "Near-Death Experience" is associated in the popular understanding with access to knowledge about our transition between the states of life and death. But how should such experiences be interpreted? Are they verifiable with scientific methods? If so, how can they be explained? Attempting to relate matters of scientific knowledge to subjective experience and the realm of belief is a difficult balancing act and has led to a variety of approaches to the topic. This work scrutinizes the diverse views and also myths, about near-death experiences and describes them from a scientific standpoint. Situated at the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy and religious studies this book will appeal to a broad audience of both scientists and general readers. © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014. All rights reserved.
Chapter
Out-of-body experiences (OBEs) and near-death experiences (NDEs) are complex phenomena that have fascinated mankind from time immemorial. OBEs are defined as experiences in which a person seems to be awake and sees his body and the world from a disembodied location outside his physical body. Recent neurological and neuroscientific research suggests that OBEs are the result of disturbed bodily multisensory integration, primarily in right temporo-parietal cortex. NDEs are more loosely defined, and refer to a set of subjective phenomena, often including an OBE, that are triggered by a life-threatening situation. Although a number of different theories have been proposed about the putative brain processes underlying NDEs, neurologists and cognitive neuroscientists have, so far, paid little attention to these phenomena, although several experimental investigations based on principles from cognitive neuroscience are possible. This might be understandable but is unfortunate, because the neuroscientific study of NDEs could provide insights into the functional and neural mechanisms of beliefs, concepts, personality, spirituality, magical thinking, and the self. Based on previous medical and psychological research in cardiac arrest patients with NDEs, we sketch a neurological framework for the study of the so-called NDEs.