Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center (http://rhine.org)
Near-death experiences is a growing area of research and speculation, particularly as it relates to its implications about consciousness. Many publications on the subject have appeared in recent years. This includes, among several titles, Ornella Corazza’s Near-Death Experiences: Exploring the Mind-Body Connection (New York: Routledge, 2008), Allan Kellehear’s Experiences Near Death: Beyond Medicine and Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), Mahendra Perera, Karuppiah Jagadheesan, and Anthony Peake (eds.), Making Sense of Near-Death Experiences: A Handbook for Clinicians (London: Jessica Kingsley, 2012), Sam Parnia’s (with Josh Young), Erasing Death: The Science that is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death (New York: HarperOne, 2013), and Pim van Lommel’s Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience (New York : HarperOne, 2010).
But perhaps the most important publication, in terms of showing the existence of an organized NDE research field (even if it is a small specialty), and presenting comprehensive summaries of work done in various areas, is Janice Miner Holden, Bruce Greyson, and Debbie James’s (eds.), The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2009).
More important than books—at least when it comes to penetrate academia and science in general—are the many articles on the topic which have appeared in refereed scientific and scholarly journals. Some examples of these publications, coming from 2000, are such varied journals as Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Art Therapy, Critical Care, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, General Hospital Psychiatry, Indian Journal of Anesthesia, International Journal of Engineering Science and Technology, Journal of Cosmology, Lancet, NeuroQuantology, Omega, Professional School Counseling, Psychological Science, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Qualitative Research in Psychology, Resuscitation, Review of General Psychology, and Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
This trend continues, as seen in the following astracts of articles published in journals during 2013.
Khanna, S., & Greyson, B. (2013). Near-Death Experiences and Spiritual Well-Being. Journal of Religion and Health, Apr 30. [Epub ahead of print]. First author’s email: email@example.com
People who have near-death experiences often report a subsequently increased sense of spirituality and a connection with their inner self and the world around them. In this study, we examined spiritual well-being, using Paloutzian and Ellison’s Spiritual Well-Being Scale, among 224 persons who had come close to death. Participants who reported having near-death experiences reported greater spiritual well-being than those who did not, and depth of spiritual well-being was positively correlated with depth of near-death experience. We discussed the implications of these findings in light of other reported aftereffects of near-death experiences and of spiritual well-being among other populations.
Thonnard M, Charland-Verville V, Brédart S, Dehon H, Ledoux D, Laureys S, Vanhaudenhuyse A. (2013). Characteristics of near-death experiences memories as compared to real and imagined events memories. PlosOne, 8(3). Available online: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3609762/pdf/pone.0057620.pdf
Since the dawn of time, near-death experiences (NDEs) have intrigued and, nowadays, are still not fully explained. Since reports of NDEs are proposed to be imagined events, and since memories of imagined events have, on average, fewer phenomenological characteristics than real events memories, we here compared phenomenological characteristics of NDEs reports with memories of imagined and real events. We included three groups of coma survivors (8 patients with NDE as defined by the Greyson NDE scale, 6 patients without NDE but with memories of their coma, 7 patients without memories of their coma) and a group of 18 age-matched healthy volunteers. Five types of memories were assessed using Memory Characteristics Questionnaire (MCQ–Johnson et al., 1988): target memories (NDE for NDE memory group, coma memory for coma memory group, and first childhood memory for no memory and control groups), old and recent real event memories and old and recent imagined event memories. Since NDEs are known to have high emotional content, participants were requested to choose the most emotionally salient memories for both real and imagined recent and old event memories. Results showed that, in NDE memories group, NDE memories have more characteristics than memories of imagined and real events (p<0.02). NDE memories contain more self-referential and emotional information and have better clarity than memories of coma (all ps<0.02). The present study showed that NDE memories contained more characteristics than real event memories and coma memories. Thus, this suggests that they cannot be considered as imagined event memories. On the contrary, their physiological origins could lead them to be really perceived although not lived in the reality. Further work is needed to better understand this phenomenon.
Hou, Y., Huang, Q., Prakash, R., Chaudhury, S. (2013). Infrequent near death experiences in severe brain injury survivors – A quantitative and qualitative study. Annals if Indian Academy of neurology, 16, 75-81. Available here: http://www.annalsofian.org/article.asp?issn=0972-2327;year=2013;volume=16;issue=1;spage=75;epage=81;aulast=Hou
Background: Near death experiences (NDE) are receiving increasing attention by the scientific community because not only do they provide a glimpse of the complexity of the mind-brain interactions in ‘near-death’ circumstances but also because they have significant and long lasting effects on various psychological aspects of the survivors. The over-all incidence-reports of NDEs in literature have varied widely from a modest Figure of 10% to around 35%, even up to an incredible Figure of 72% in persons who have faced close brush with death. Somewhat similar to this range of difference in incidences are the differences prevalent in the opinions that theorists and researchers harbor around the world for explaining this phenomena. None the less, objective evidences have supported physiological theories the most. A wide range of physiological processes have been targeted for explaining NDEs. These include cerebral anoxia, chemical alterations like hypercapnia, presence of endorphins, ketamine, and serotonin, or abnormal activity of the temporal lobe or the limbic system. In spite of the fact that the physiological theories of NDEs have revolved around the derangements in brain, no study till date has taken up the task of evaluating the experiences of near-death in patients where specific injury has been to brain. Most of them have evaluated NDEs in cardiac-arrest patients. Post-traumatic coma is one such state regarding which the literature seriously lacks any information related to NDEs. Patients recollecting any memory of their post-traumatic coma are valuable assets for NDE researchers and needs special attention. Materials and Methods: Our present study was aimed at collecting this valuable information from survivors of severe head injury after a prolonged coma. The study was conducted in the head injury department of Guangdong 999 Brain hospital, Guangzhou, China. Patients included in the study were the ones Recovered from the posttraumatic coma following a severe head injury. A total of 86 patients were chosen. Near death experience scale (NDES) score of 7 or more was used as the criteria of screening NDE experiences. After identifying such individuals, the Prakash-modification of the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to interview and record the data for qualitative analysis. Results: We found that contrary to earlier incidence reports, NDEs in post head injury patients were markedly low. Only 3 out of 86 of the patients recruited had a clear and confident experience of NDE. We conducted a qualitative study to explore further into these experiences. IPA of these 3 patients revealed four master themes: 1. Unique light visions 2. Intense feelings of astonishment, pleasure, and fear 3. The sense of helplessness 4. Supernatural but rationality of experience. Conclusion: NDE is uncommon in head-injury cases as compared to other near-death conditions. But the persons experiencing it have immense impacts on their belief systems and emotions. This experience should be further explored by studies of larger samples.
Rauh, T. (2013). Near-death experiences: A potential problem for physicalism. Compos Mentis, 1, 36-44. Available here: http://www.cognethic.org/cm/cmv1i1.pdf#page=39
Near-death experiences have been known to exist for centuries, yet their philosophical significance remains unknown. An overview of the research of near-death experiences is compiled and the various cognitive, transcendental, affective, and paranormal components of near-death experiences are explored. Included in these are accounts of people meeting deceased relatives, having out-of-body experiences, sensations of tranquility, and believing one has traveled to another realm. The verifiability of these experiences are explored, particularly the account of a woman who had an out-of-body experience during a brain surgery in which her brainwaves and most other bodily functions were measured at zero. It is then explored what this may mean for physicalist frameworks of mind. It is proposed that if the out-of-body experiences are indeed real, then problems for physicalism arise given our current neurological paradigms. How exactly can the mind be reduced to physical states if the physical body is not functioning? Anticipated replies from physicalists are then given including theoretical hallucinogenic neurotransmitters, abnormal oxygen levels, and impaired functioning of the temporo-parietal junction in the brain. It is then concluded that each explanation is not adequate to explain every facet of the near-death experience, but they may be capable of doing so in the future with a more complete neuroscience. Regardless of what it may mean for physicalism, near-death experiences should be further researched within the confines of philosophy due to their possible implications and potential questions regarding the nature of consciousness.
van lommel, P. (2013). Non-local consciousness: A concept based on scientific research on near-death experiences during cardiac arrest. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 20, 7-48.
In this article a concept of non-local consciousness will be described, based on recent scientific research on near-death experiences (NDEs). Since the publication of several prospective studies on NDEs in survivors of cardiac arrest, with strikingly similar results and conclusions, the phenomenon of the NDE can no longer be scientifically ignored. In the last thirty years several theories have been proposed to explain an NDE. The challenge to find a common explanation for the cause and content of an NDE is complicated by the fact that an NDE can be experienced during various circumstances, such as severe injury of the brain as in cardiac arrest to conditions when the brain seems to function normally. The NDE is an authentic experience which cannot be simply reduced to imagination, fear of death, hallucination, psychosis, the use of drugs, or oxygen deficiency. Patients appear to be permanently changed by an NDE during a cardiac arrest of only some minutes duration. According to these aforementioned studies, the current materialistic view of the relationship between consciousness and the brain as held by most physicians, philosophers, and psychologists is too restricted for a proper understanding of this phenomenon. There are good reasons to assume that our consciousness does not always coincide with the functioning of our brain: enhanced or non-local consciousness can sometimes be experienced separately from the body.