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Can near death experiences contribute to the debate on consciousness?

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Abstract

The near death experiences (NDEs) is an altered state of consciousness, which has stereotyped content and emotional experience. Some features of the experience are trans-cultural and suggest either a similar brain mechanism or access to a transcendent reality. Individual features of the experience point more persuasively to transcendence than to simple limited brain mechanisms. Moreover there are, so far, no reductionist explanations which can account satisfactorily for some of the features of the NDE; the apparent "sightedness" in the blind during an NDE, the apparent acquisition after an NDE of psychic and spiritual gifts, together with accounts of healing occurring during an NDE, and the accounts of veridical experience during the resuscitation after a cardiac arrest. Although nonlocal mind would explain many of the NDE features, nonlocality is not yet accepted by mainstream neuroscience so there is a clear explanatory gap between reductionist materialistic explanations and those theories based on a wider understanding of mind suggested by the subjective experience of the NDEr. Only wider theories of mind would be likely candidates to bridge this gap. © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012. All rights reserved.

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... In recent decades, typical features of these experiences have been described in many authors in the literature, with surprisingly converging findings (e.g., Agrillo, 2011;Charland-Verville et al., 2014;Fenwick, 2012;Greyson & Stevenson, 1980;Moody, 1975). Although every NDE is unique, some common features are out-of-body experiences; feeling as if entering a tunnel; high mood, sense of euphoria, happiness, or calmness; perception of a bright light; perception of a heavenly or hellish landscape; encounters with deceased relatives or friends, religious figures, or beings of light; experience of a life review; perception of being in a different time; presence of a border; decision or imposition to return (Agrillo, 2011;Fenwick, 2012). ...
... In recent decades, typical features of these experiences have been described in many authors in the literature, with surprisingly converging findings (e.g., Agrillo, 2011;Charland-Verville et al., 2014;Fenwick, 2012;Greyson & Stevenson, 1980;Moody, 1975). Although every NDE is unique, some common features are out-of-body experiences; feeling as if entering a tunnel; high mood, sense of euphoria, happiness, or calmness; perception of a bright light; perception of a heavenly or hellish landscape; encounters with deceased relatives or friends, religious figures, or beings of light; experience of a life review; perception of being in a different time; presence of a border; decision or imposition to return (Agrillo, 2011;Fenwick, 2012). ...
... As a phenomenon per se, the NDE challenges the ordinary models or heuristics adopted by common people, clinicians and scientists to interpret the physical world, the relationship between brain and consciousness, and the existence of an afterlife (Agrillo, 2011;Fenwick, 2012;Greyson, 2010;Rousseau, 2011). In the academic world, there is open debate on how to interpret them (Agrillo, 2011), along the lines of two main explanatory models: the "survivalist" interpretation and the "psychological/biological" one (for a review, see Agrillo, 2011). ...
... In recent decades, typical features of these experiences have been described in many authors in the literature, with surprisingly converging findings (e.g., Agrillo, 2011;Charland-Verville et al., 2014;Fenwick, 2012;Greyson & Stevenson, 1980;Moody, 1975). Although every NDE is unique, some common features are out-of-body experiences; feeling as if entering a tunnel; high mood, sense of euphoria, happiness, or calmness; perception of a bright light; perception of a heavenly or hellish landscape; encounters with deceased relatives or friends, religious figures, or beings of light; experience of a life review; perception of being in a different time; presence of a border; decision or imposition to return (Agrillo, 2011;Fenwick, 2012). ...
... In recent decades, typical features of these experiences have been described in many authors in the literature, with surprisingly converging findings (e.g., Agrillo, 2011;Charland-Verville et al., 2014;Fenwick, 2012;Greyson & Stevenson, 1980;Moody, 1975). Although every NDE is unique, some common features are out-of-body experiences; feeling as if entering a tunnel; high mood, sense of euphoria, happiness, or calmness; perception of a bright light; perception of a heavenly or hellish landscape; encounters with deceased relatives or friends, religious figures, or beings of light; experience of a life review; perception of being in a different time; presence of a border; decision or imposition to return (Agrillo, 2011;Fenwick, 2012). ...
... As a phenomenon per se, the NDE challenges the ordinary models or heuristics adopted by common people, clinicians and scientists to interpret the physical world, the relationship between brain and consciousness, and the existence of an afterlife (Agrillo, 2011;Fenwick, 2012;Greyson, 2010;Rousseau, 2011). In the academic world, there is open debate on how to interpret them (Agrillo, 2011), along the lines of two main explanatory models: the "survivalist" interpretation and the "psychological/biological" one (for a review, see Agrillo, 2011). ...
Article
This study aims to investigate the processes used by individuals to integrate a near-death experience (NDE), and to discuss the use of a meaning-making component to help people who have had such experiences. A psychotherapist interviewed six individuals who reported having had a NDE. Transcripts of the interviews were coded using an interpretative phenomenological analysis. We identified intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics implicated in the individuals' meaning-making processes, and the problems encountered during their integration of the experience. Meaning-based approaches are a feasible theoretical framework for shedding light on the NDE and providing support for people who have lived through them.
... Although NDEs are widely disseminated, to date, the mechanisms by which they occur have not yet been fully elucidated (Agrillo, 2011;Fenwick, 2012;Greyson, 2010;van Tellingen, 2008). Explanations for these experiences have ranged from confusional hallucinations and fanciful creations of the mind to manifestations of mind functioning independent of the brain and evidence of life after death (Blackmore, 1996). ...
... For van Lommel (2011) and for Trent-von Haesler and Beauregard (2013), it is a challenge for science to develop new hypotheses that might explain the clear functioning of consciousness during a period of apparent coma, raising the question of whether mind and consciousness may not result exclusively from brain activity. The possibility of a nonlocal mind that is mediated but not produced by the brain has been raised by several authors (Fenwick, 2012;Parnia, 2007). The NDE has also generated interest among the lay public, and many best sellers have been published in recent years (Alexander, 2012;Burpo and Vincent, 2010;Eadie and Taylor, 1994;Neal, 2012). ...
Article
This article reviews mainstream scientific publications on near-death experiences (NDEs). We searched near-death experience in titles, key words, and abstracts at the Web of Knowledge database published between 1945 and 2013. We identified 266 relevant documents, the oldest from 1977. There was a strong predominance of opinion articles (book reviews, commentaries, and editorials), review articles, phenomenological description articles, and articles that originated in the United States. Since 2000, the number of longitudinal and cross-sectional studies has increased; there has been a diversification in the countries that have published on the subject and more articles that discuss the implications of NDEs for the mind-brain relationship. The results indicate that most scholarly publications on NDEs are recent, usually have no original empirical data, and are concentrated in North America and Western Europe. Future studies should focus on increasing the cultural diversity in the field and on testing explanatory hypotheses based on high-quality empirical data.
... Pero no fui yo, medio que me pusieron el frente al portón y entonces la voz hablaba así solo que no es tu hora ahora, tipo ahora no es el momento […]. (E7) Todas esas características descriptas arriba, para Fenwick (2012), no ocurren necesariamente en un orden particular y no todas pueden estar presentes en una única experiencia. Opina también afirmando que existen sí influencias culturales presentes en el proceso de la experiencia. ...
Article
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Experiencia cercana a la muerte ocurre en una situación extrema, durante o muy próxima a la muerte clínica. Sus teorías son basadas en la neurofisiología, en la psicología, en la religión y en la filosofía. El objetivo principal comprenderá las distintas percepciones interculturales sobre la experiencia cercana a la muerte, porque, si el cerebro para de funcionar, no debería haber conciencia, vida mental y ni memoria. Si existe experiencia cercana a la muerte, ¿cómo y por qué ocurre? El diseño de investigación es no experimental, de tipo descriptivo con un enfoque multimodal. La muestra se dió por conveniencia, con once entrevistas, a través de entrevistas personales y cuestionarios online. El análisis de los resultados fue hecho por el análisis de contenido de Bardin. Contiene cuatro ejes, ocho categorías y veintidós subcategorías. En la cual se percibió la gran necesidad de incentivar mayores investigaciones para consubstanciar y refutar algunas hipótesis. Palabras clave: experiencia cercana a la muerte, análisis de relatos, hipótesis neurofisiologicas.
... Beyond anecdotal evidence, there is scholarly support for the idea that unconditional love may have some relationship with supernormal abilities. For instance, some individuals who report near-death experiences also report experiencing increased unconditional love as well as precognition (Fenwick, 2012;Greyson, 1998;Simpson, 2001). However, self-reports of supernormal experiences are suspect if not confirmed by laboratory evidence of supernormal performance. ...
... Although some studies find cultural variation on specific elements of near-death experiences (Belanti, Perera, & Jagadheesan, 2008, Corazza, 2008Kellehear, 2009), the essential characteristics of NDEs seem consistent across cultures. The most frequently reported core elements of NDEs are: awareness of being dead during the experience, pleasant feelings, out-of-body experiences (OBE), perceptions of a warm and bright light, encounters with deceased people or other beings, and the sight of a heavenly or hellish landscape (Agrillo, 2011;Charland-Verville et al, 2014;Fenwick, 2012;Greyson, 2010;Moody, 1975;Testoni, Facco, Perelda, 2017). 2 After NDEs, people report alterations in self-perceptions; increased empathy toward and acceptance of others; and, different attitudes towards life and death characterized by increased interest in understanding themselves and others, and the meaning of life. Moreover, belief in an afterlife is increased and fear of death is decreased (Noyes, Fenwick, Holden, & Christian, 2009;van Lommel et al., 2001). ...
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Near-death experiences (NDE) are intense events that can have profound psychological consequences. Although decreased fear of death after an NDE is a well-documented phenomenon, it is unclear what psychological factors are associated with reduced death anxiety. In this study, grounded in terror management theory, we compared 102 people who had an NDE with 104 individuals who did not. Participants completed measures of death anxiety, self-esteem, mindfulness, and death representation. Results indicated that people who had an NDE had lower fear of death, higher self-esteem, greater mindfulness, and viewed death more as a transition rather than as absolute annihilation. Subsequent analyses found that NDE had a direct effect on death anxiety, and that the effect of NDE on death anxiety was also mediated by indirect effects on self-esteem and death representation. Implications of these findings are considered, limitations of the present study are acknowledged, and suggestions for future theory and research are proffered.
... Our data might fit with Fenwick's (2012) conceptualization that despite three distinct existential or physiological situations, a subjective experience with certain recognizable features-an NDE-is the same across all three. This represents another avenue for future investigation. ...
Article
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The objective of this study was to explore the states of consciousness associated with various features of near-death experience (NDE). The sample comprised 23 Norwegian adult survivors of unconsciousness associated with life threatening medical conditions, either cardiac arrest (CA; n = 19) or surgery to address another type of trauma (OT; n = 4). Of these, 11 CA and 4 OT patients endorsed at least one item on the Near-Death Experience Scale-Norwegian translation. We individually interviewed each of the 23 patients to ascertain their perception of the phase of unconsciousness in which each endorsed item on the NDE Scale occurred. Although most features reportedly occurred during unconsciousness, at least one item was endorsed for four other phases related to unconsciousness: before, while awakening from, after (conscious), and after. Øystein Buer, cand.theol, is a hospital chaplain at Oslo University Hospital.
... This model explains why perception of the physical world formed by a consciousness entity in the case of veridical NDEs and by 'normal' waking consciousness do not differ in significant ways (van Lommel, 2011;Fenwick, 2012;Haesler and Beauregard, 2013;van Lommel, 2013), even though disparate ways of obtaining information are involved. This is because waking consciousness does not generate new information, it only "reads" information that has been generated by a consciousness entity. ...
... This model explains why perception of the physical world formed by a consciousness entity in the case of veridical NDEs and by 'normal' waking consciousness do not differ in significant ways (van Lommel, 2011;Fenwick, 2012;Haesler and Beauregard, 2013;van Lommel, 2013), even though disparate ways of obtaining information are involved. This is because waking consciousness does not generate new information, it only "reads" information that has been generated by a consciousness entity. ...
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The difficulty in solving the measurement problem may derive from a lack of thorough understanding of the nature of consciousness. Recent findings from parapsychological research and confirmed reports of veridical perceptions during near death experiences (NDEs) show that consciousness can acquire non-local information and may act as an independent entity outside of the body. But how apparent nonlocal properties of consciousness correlate with the measurement problem is unclear. Starting from the assumption that discrete states of consciousness are entangled with corresponding superposed eigenstates of an observed system, the findings of the double-slit experiment and delayed-choice quantum eraser experiment are reanalyzed and the non-locality of consciousness entity is derived from first principles. I propose experimental designs aimed at testing non-local entanglement between multiple consciousness entities that may help explain anomalous phenomena including telepathy, the role of "which-path information" in a measurement, and the nature of consciousness in non-human animals. Finally, I discuss the origin of the perception of time and the relationship between time and consciousness.
... This model explains why perception of the physical world formed by a consciousness entity in the case of veridical NDEs and by 'normal' waking consciousness do not differ in significant ways [38,39,47,48], even though disparate ways of obtaining information are involved. This is because waking consciousness does not generate new information, it only "reads" information that has been generated by a consciousness entity. ...
Preprint
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The difficulty in solving the measurement problem may derive from a lack of thorough understanding of the nature of consciousness. Recent findings from parapsychological research and confirmed reports of veridical perceptions during near death experiences (NDEs) show that consciousness can acquire non-local information and may act as an independent entity outside of the body. But how apparent nonlocal properties of consciousness correlate with the measurement problem is unclear. Starting from the assumption that discrete states of consciousness are entangled with corresponding superposed eigenstates of an observed system, the findings of the double-slit experiment and delayed-choice quantum eraser experiment are reanalyzed and the non-locality of consciousness entity is derived from first principles. I propose experimental designs aimed at testing non-local entanglement between multiple consciousness entities that may help explain anomalous phenomena including telepathy, the role of "which-path information" in a measurement, and the nature of consciousness in non-human animals. Finally, I discuss the origin of the perception of time and the relationship between time and consciousness.
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Near death experiences fascinate everyone, from theologians to sociologists and neuroscientists. This groundbreaking book introduces the phenomenon of NDEs, their personal impact and the dominant scientific explanations. Taking a strikingly original cross-cultural approach and incorporating new medical research, it combines new theories of mind and body with contemporary research into how the brain functions. Ornella Corazza analyses dualist models of mind and body, discussing the main features of NDEs as reported by many people who have experienced them. She studies the use of ketamine to reveal how characteristics of NDEs can be chemically induced without being close to death. This evidence challenges the conventional 'survivalist hypothesis', according to which the near death experience is a proof of the existence of an afterlife. This remarkable book concludes that we need to move towards a more integrated view of embodiment, in order to understand what human life is and also what it can be.
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With fifty-five peer reviewed chapters written by the leading authors in the field, The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness is the most extensive and comprehensive survey of the study of consciousness available today. Provides a variety of philosophical and scientific perspectives that create a breadth of understanding of the topic. Topics include the origins and extent of consciousness, different consciousness experiences, such as meditation and drug-induced states, and the neuroscience of consciousness.
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This introductory chapter attempts to clarify the philosophical, empirical, and theoretical bases on which a cognitive neuroscience approach to consciousness can be founded. We isolate three major empirical observations that any theory of consciousness should incorporate, namely (1) a considerable amount of processing is possible without consciousness, (2) attention is a prerequisite of consciousness, and (3) consciousness is required for some specific cognitive tasks, including those that require durable information maintenance, novel combinations of operations, or the spontaneous generation of intentional behavior. We then propose a theoretical framework that synthesizes those facts: the hypothesis of a global neuronal workspace. This framework postulates that, at any given time, many modular cerebral networks are active in parallel and process information in an unconscious manner. An information becomes conscious, however, if the neural population that represents it is mobilized by top-down attentional amplification into a brain-scale state of coherent activity that involves many neurons distributed throughout the brain. The long-distance connectivity of these 'workspace neurons' can, when they are active for a minimal duration, make the information available to a variety of processes including perceptual categorization, long-term memorization, evaluation, and intentional action. We postulate that this global availability of information through the workspace is what we subjectively experience as a conscious state. A complete theory of consciousness should explain why some cognitive and cerebral representations can be permanently or temporarily inaccessible to consciousness, what is the range of possible conscious contents, how they map onto specific cerebral circuits, and whether a generic neuronal mechanism underlies all of them. We confront the workspace model with those issues and identify novel experimental predictions. Neurophysiological, anatomical, and brain-imaging data strongly argue for a major role of prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, and the areas that connect to them, in creating the postulated brain-scale workspace.
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To carry out a prospective study of cardiac arrest survivors to understand the qualitative features as well as incidence, and possible aetiology of near death experiences (NDEs) in this group of patients. All survivors of cardiac arrests during a 1 year period were interviewed within a week of their arrest, regarding memories of their unconscious period. Reported memories were assessed by the Greyson NDE Scale. The postulated role of physiological, psychological and transcendental factors were studied. Physiological parameters such as oxygen status were extracted from the medical notes. Patients' religious convictions were documented in the interviews and hidden targets were used to test the transcendental theories on potential out of body claims. Those with memories were compared to those without memories. 11.1% of 63 survivors reported memories. The majority had NDE features. There appeared to be no differences on all physiological measured parameters apart from partial pressure of oxygen during the arrest which was higher in the NDE group. Memories are rare after resuscitation from cardiac arrest. The majority of those that are reported have features of NDE and are pleasant. The occurrence of NDE during cardiac arrest raises questions about the possible relationship between the mind and the brain. Further large-scale studies are needed to understand the aetiology and true significance of NDE.
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Electrophysiologic testing is important in the prognostication of patients who are comatose after cardiac arrest. Electroencephalography (EEG) and somatosensory evoked potentials can be critical in injury stratification and recovery tracking, but their susceptibility to artifacts must be considered. Electrophysiologic testing has promise in defining the anatomy and physiology of coma emergence after cardiac arrest. Quantitative EEG and automated evoked potentials may render these tools less subjective and more applicable for monitoring patients during and after resuscitation. Quantitative EEG also has potential for defining the time window for neuroprotective intervention and the means to track responses to such therapies in real time.
Article
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing neuroscience at the dawn of the 21st century is understanding the relationship between mind, consciousness and the brain. Editorials in recent years have highlighted the difficulties faced by cognitive neuroscience in attempting to answer questions regarding the nature, as well as the mechanism by which subjective experiences and our sense of consciousness may arise through neuronal processes. Current scientific views regarding the origin of consciousness vary widely and range from an 'epiphenomenon' arising from neuronal networks, to neuronal quantum processes, to a separate undiscovered scientific entity. Although there has been a lack of experimental studies to test these theories, recent studies have indicated that the study of the human mind during cardiac arrest may hold the key to solving the mystery of consciousness. Four published prospective studies of cardiac arrest survivors have demonstrated that paradoxically human mind and consciousness may continue to function during cardiac arrest. This is despite the well demonstrated finding that cerebral functioning as measured by electrical activity of the brain ceases during cardiac arrest, thus raising the possibility that human mind and consciousness may continue to function in the absence of brain function. In this article the broad theories for the causation of consciousness are reviewed as well as a novel method to study consciousness during cardiac arrest. This may provide a unique experimental method to determine the nature of human mind and consciousness as well as its relationship with the brain.
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