Near-death experiencers are often afraid to report on their experiences. They fear that they are not taken seriously or even are declared mad. Who told his doctor, encounterd often lack of understanding or the comment “you have dreamed only”. One patient was even told by one of the nuns, all of this is “Work of the devil” (see here). However in contrast to a dream, near-death experiencers almost always have the secure lifelong feeling that they here have experienced something real.
The world splits into two camps, those who believe, and those who do not believe.
Monism – current science
The current science is based on the hypothesis of monism: there is only that which we can see and touch. There is nothing except that which consists of matter and can be measured with physical instruments. The body is a very complicated biological machine, the consciousness is seated in the brain. A soul is there only in the sense of a “psyche”, i.e. in the sense of the emotional components of self-awareness. Neuroscience has made great progress since the development of the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). With this technique activities in different places of our brains can be pictorially represented and connected to psychic experiences by suitably applied researches. We can represent a map of our brain, we know where the language center is seated, where centres for positive feelings and bad feelings are seated, we know that any human activity is preceded by an activity in a certain region of the brain. It is assumed that all memories, experiences and all knowledge are stored in the brain, but we do not know in which manner – in which format? electric or biological? how is it coded? The exact location of the self-awareness has not found either. According to an enumeration of the german philosopher David Precht there actual science knows instead of one single center of self-awareness eight different instances, which are assigned to the self-awareness. For me no really satisfactory explanation of my Ego. But this means also that both the monism and the assumption that the brain is the place and reason of our consciousness, both are hypotheses meaning generally recognized but unproven assumptions. One must as well distinguish between consciousness and personality, as for personality traits in the brain see here.
From the point of view of the monism near-death experiences are as follows: man has a need to look for meaning and feeling of security. Out of this need he developed the religions. Out of this need, he now forms in his imagination such experiences that satisfy his desire for a higher purpose and also for a life after death. By observing people and different tribes, one can observe this need and conclude that this need actually exists in many places. This, of course, is no proof that near-death experiences are only a hallucination formed by these needs.
German representatives of the monistic interpretation of near-death experiences: Michael Schröter-Kuhnhardt (psychiatrist), Prof. Huber Knoblauch (sociologist)
Dualism – another model
In contrast, there is the age-old hypothesis of dualism: there is a body and a soul. The soul lives in a subtle world outside of our material dimension and therefore can not be detected by our senses of perception and our measuring instruments. At death, the soul separates from the body and lives on.
Esoteric say that one had already lived in the otherworldly world before the birth and therefore one has the feeling to be at home at such near-death experiences. Young children still have some connection to or memory of this otherworldly world. These memories would disappear when they grow up, around at the age of six, and then they will only exist unconsciously. However, this is the basis for the formation of religion and for the need of man for a higher meaning and for a life after death.
When listening to the reports of near-death experiences, one has the impression that the experiencers are actually experiencing and seeing how the soul separates from their body for a time and then returns to it.
Representatives of the dualistic interpretation of near-death experiences: Raymond A. Moody (philosopher and psychiatrist), Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Michael Sabom (cardiologist, USA), Prof. Kenneth Ring (psychologist, USA), Pim van Lommel (cardiologist, the Netherlands), Walter van Laack (orthopedist, Germany) and many more.
[Machine-made translation without garantee of correctness]
Do such otherworldly “hallucinations” arise because a basic need for meaning of life is genetically determined, or do we have the need for meaning and go on living because we have an otherworldly soul? A decision as to which of these two hypotheses is true is not possible and is like the question of what came first, chicken or egg. It leads to a circular conclusion. The dispute between these two views is ancient and already took place among the ancient Greeks.
By the way, these camps are distributed among the normal population in Western countries about 50% – 50% (deviations depending on country and age of respondents). Among American doctors only 18% believe in near-death experiences. In Asia, Africa and probably also South America the belief in an immortal soul is common knowledge.
One thing is for sure: regardless of which camp you belong to, or which hypothesis you have adopted, near-death experiences are a serious phenomenon that has been investigated in numerous studies. These are by no means signs of incipient madness, as some near-death experienced people fear. There is not a single case in which a near-death experience has later developed into a psychiatric illness.
Monistic explanation attempts
Are these near-death experiences real and can they be proved or are they simply certain malfunctions of our brain?
Starting from the monistic thesis, there are now the following objections to reality of near-death experiences:
Hormones: the feeling of happiness in NDE is generated by certain endorphins, so happiness-producing messengers of the nervous system. In particular, at the moment of cardiac arrest, the brain releases ketamine-like substances that both create a feeling of happiness and prolong the survival of brain cells.
But: In an accident or during surgery, the body is under constant stress due to the injuries. According to all the experience one has with operations this does not lead to a feeling of happiness. If only the fact of cardiac arrest leads to an endorphin release, then the brain would have to be full of endorphins for every dead person, because every dead person’s heart has stopped. That would be to check for this hypothesis.
However, as soon as the near-death experiencers are awake or in their body again, they feel their pain again, and the feeling of happiness exists only in their memory. If it were a hormone effect, then it would have to last longer, because it takes some time until the hormones are degraded. This can be observed in NDE cases during traffic accidents, where immediately after the end of the NDE, ie the “return to the body”, the awake 3-D consciousness is there and the people report pain in their body, the Happiness is gone then and only exists in the memory. In many other NDE cases, where patients regain normal consciousness only hours after resuscitation or after surgery, this particular question of the after-effects of any hormones can not be answered.
But even if the feeling of happiness was a consequence of hormones, then the hormone would explain only this small part and not many other details. It is not a sufficient explanation for the near-death experience.
Separation of one’s own body, out-of-body-experience (floating experience over the own body): the brain is connected with the own body via certain switching points, a center for the perception of own body lies in the temporal lobe (parietal lobe of the brain). The electrical stimulation of this brain region creates a feeling of detachment from one’s own body. At the moment of the cardiac arrest, these switching points would no longer work and therefore create the illusion of a detachment from one’s own body. Drugs like LSD and the anesthetic Ketamine can create a feeling of detachment from the body.
However: This theory does not explain why one is not only detached from the body, but hovers on the ceiling and sees his own body from a bird’s eye view below. The correct observations at remote locations during an NDE can not be explained in this way. Moreover, this theory does not explain the numerous out-of-body experiences of people who are not clinically dead and who don’t have a cardiac arrest, when they are for example just lying relaxed in a deck chair. By what mechanism should these people now switch off the body-center in the temporal lobe?
Knowledge of resuscitation processes from the television: Materialists claim that the processes during a resuscitation are indeed well-known from television and that near-death-experiencers simply build their history out of this knowledge.
To exclude this effect, M. Sabom in his study interviewed 25 resuscitated patients who had no near-death experience about their resuscitation. Each of them reported at least one aspect that did not coincide with reality. By contrast, all reports of true near-death experiencers were correct.
Tunnel experience: Neuroscientists argue that in the situation of cardiac arrest brain function is centralized, so that even in the visual cortex, the focus is only on the center of the eye, everything else around it appears blurry and forms the wall of the tunnel.
Light experience: inhibitory nerve impulses on the visual cortex in the posterior part of the nucleus would be abolished by the cardiac arrest, resulting in an overreaction of the visual cells, which simulate a bright light.
Life review: inhibitory nerve influences on the memories in the cerebral cortex are canceled, so one now has free access to all memories.
However: These hypotheses are unproven, no one can say why in the energy-deficiency state, one brain cells suddenly should generate less electricity, but the other cells should generate more. It is utterly illogical viewing the brain in a materialistic, neuroscientical way that in a cardiac arrest in which the brain is cut off from the energy supply, the brain should function better than in the normal waking state. We must not forget that at this time, normally no brain waves are measurable in the EEG. In the state of a cardiac arrest, the human being does not have oversized consciousness, but is in a coma. In emergency medicine, it is assumed that the brain suffers irretrievable damage no later than ten minutes after a cardiac arrest.
Deceased relatives: Here one tries to explain psychologically that many people simply have the desire to see deceased relatives again and now imagine this meeting.
However: this theory can not explain why children in a near-death experience do not encounter their beloved, still living mother, but, for example, a long-dead grandmother, whom they have never seen and only know from photos. Dreams are almost always about living loved ones or about people you had dealings with that day. There are also some cases where people in near-death experience meet a relative who died shortly before, even though people have not received any news of this relative’s death.
Imagination construct or faulty memory, conditioned by cultural conditioning: many skeptics say that near-death experiences, especially the transcendental part, simply mirror what we have learned in our faith education. And indeed in many NT experiences there is talk of an ever living soul, of God, of angels.
However, on the other hand, it is true that people from all cultures and religions around the world have the same near-death experiences: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Aborigines, Eskimos, etc. This resulted in both the study of Pim van Lommel and the NDERF study by Dr. med. Jeffrey Long. And also children under the age of 5 experience the same before being educated and shaped in their respective religion. I myself would expect, according to my Roman Catholic Catechism, that after death we will first lie in the grave for a few hundred years until the last judgment and only then resurrect. Or, according to a common Christian conception: we go to the heavenly gate after death, there Peter stands and either lets us in or not, and then he assigns us a place on a cloud. But in the near-death experiences, there is no Peter and no winged angels sitting on clouds playing harp. The near-death experiences that are reported to us from all cultures worldwide in a similar way have nothing, nothing at all to do with the known Christian belief and certainly nothing to do with that of many other cultures. They even contradict many Christian interpretations and are combatted by some churches, even though they report a soul living on. I knew a Baptist pastor who vehemently rejected these near-death reports and used neuro-scientific explanations of energy-depleted brain, and there are certainly many other pastors and priests with the same attitude. The near-death experience would most likely correspond to some contents in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but who knows this or has even read it?
More arguments in favor of Dualism
Medically, in cardiac arrest, the following occurs: After a cardiac arrest, the blood supply to the brain is interrupted within 1 second, the person loses consciousness and falls into a deep coma: he has no more reflexes, the pupils become wide and react no longer on light, the ancient reptilian reflexes of the brain stem and even the respiratory center cease. On average, 15 seconds after a cardiac arrest, and in any case after 20 seconds at the latest, no cerebral electricity is measurable in the EEG, as there is a zero line. According to the current understanding of medicine, a person who is in a coma or even in the death situation of cardiac arrest, no longer has consciousness, since in the conventional belief this is seated in the brain and the brain stops working. Even in a well-organized intensive care unit, it takes 1 to 2 minutes for effective resuscitation to begin. During a resuscitation (cardiac massage), only blood pressure of 40mmHG is generated, which has been proven experimentally. This pressure is not enough for brain cells to function again. The brain will not function again until the heart beats on its own initiative. In many cases, however, the brain first has to recover from the consequences of cardiac arrest and to subside. The fact that someone opens his eyes immediately after the heart massage, occurs only in Hollywood movies. If consciousness is a complex function of brain activity, then there can be no awareness during the period of resuscitation.
The patients in this study of P. v. Lommel had been clinically dead for between 2 and 8 minutes. However, the patients who reported on near-death experiences reported very differentiated experiences.
If skeptics now claim that the whole hallucination takes place during the first 15 seconds, during which electrical activity in the brain is still detectable, then it can not be explained that near-death reported details of the resuscitation, which took place undoubtedly afterwards, ie during a time of completely missing electrical brain activity. Based on the observations of near-death experiencers about their own resuscitation it can be demonstrated that the near-death experience takes place for the most part during the time of lack of brain activity.
Medically completely inexplicable are now cases of cardiac arrest during surgery. In these cases, there cannot be no awareness for two reasons: first, because of general anesthesia and second, because of cardiac arrest. Normally people have no memory of anesthesia nor of cardiac arrest.
There are some instances where the ND-experiencer can report details to which he, according to a monistic view, could not have any access. Example:
The 9-year-old Katie, drowned in the pool, revived and unconscious in the hospital, was able to tell exactly what happened at her home during that time. This was confirmed by her parents. (Dr. Melvin Morse and Paul Perry, “The Light – What we can learn from children who were close to death”)
If this does not suffice to you as proof, go on reading: namely, that even blind, even blindborn, during near-death experiences or out-of-body experiences can actually see visually and pictorially!
[translation revised August 2019]