Researchers have identified the common elements that define near-death experiences. Bruce Greyson argues that the general features of the experience include impressions of being outside one's physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of egotic and spatiotemporal boundaries. Many different elements have been reported, though the exact elements tend to correspond with the cultural, philosophical, or religious beliefs of the person experiencing it:
The traits of a classic NDE are as follows:
A sense/awareness of being dead.
A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world.
An out-of-body experience. A perception of one's body from an outside position. Sometimes observing doctors and nurses performing medical resuscitation efforts.
A "tunnel experience". A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.
A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light. Communication with the light.
An intense feeling of unconditional love.
Encountering "Beings of Light", "Beings dressed in white", or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.
Receiving a life review.
Receiving a "life preview" in the cases of George Ritchie and Betty Eadie, which Ring calls an NDE "Flash Forward.”
Receiving knowledge about one's life and the nature of the universe.
A decision by oneself or others to return to one's body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return.
Approaching a border.
The notice of unpleasant sound or noise (claimed by R. Moody).
Connection to the cultural beliefs held by the individual, which seem to dictate the phenomena experienced in the NDE and the later interpretation thereof
Kenneth Ring (1980) subdivided the NDE on a five-stage continuum. The subdivisions were:
He stated that 60% experienced stage 1 (feelings of peace and contentment), but only 10% experienced stage 5 ("entering the light").
We found to our surprise that neither the duration of cardiac arrest nor the duration of unconsciousness, nor the need for intubation in complicated CPR, nor induced cardiac arrest in electrophysiological stimulation (EPS) had any influence on the frequency of NDE. Neither could we find any relationship between the frequency of NDE and administered drugs, fear of death before the arrest, nor foreknowledge of NDE, gender, religion, or education. […]
NDE-like experiences have been reported after the use of drugs like ketamine (Jansen, 1996), LSD (Grof and Halifax, 1977), or mushrooms (Schroter-Kunhardt, 1999). These induced experiences can result in a period of unconsciousness, but can also sometimes consist of perception of sound, light, or flashes of recollections from the past. These recollections, however, consist of fragmented and random memories unlike the panoramic life-review that can occur in NDE. Also, exceptionally out-of-body experiences can occur during induced experiences. However, transformational processes are rarely reported after induced experiences. Thus, induced experiences are not identical to NDE.” - Wikipedia
Corroborated Veridical Perceptions
“One of the best known of these corroborated veridical NDE perceptions—perceptions that can be proven to coincide with reality—is the experience of a woman named Maria, whose case was first documented by her critical care social worker, Kimberly Clark.
Maria was a migrant worker who had a severe heart attack while visiting friends in Seattle. She was rushed to Harborview Hospital and placed in the coronary care unit. A few days later, she had a cardiac arrest but was rapidly resuscitated. The following day, Clark visited her. Maria told Clark that during her cardiac arrest she was able to look down from the ceiling and watch the medical team at work on her body. At one point in this experience, said Maria, she found herself outside the hospital and spotted a tennis shoe on the ledge of the north side of the third floor of the building. She was able to provide several details regarding its appearance, including the observations that one of its laces was stuck underneath the heel and that the little toe area was worn. Maria wanted to know for sure whether she had “really” seen that shoe, and she begged Clark to try to locate it.
Quite skeptical, Clark went to the location described by Maria—and found the tennis shoe. From the window of her hospital room, the details that Maria had recounted could not be discerned. But upon retrieval of the shoe, Clark confirmed Maria’s observations. “The only way she could have had such a perspective,” said Clark, “was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe. I retrieved the shoe and brought it back to Maria; it was very concrete evidence for me.”
This case is particularly impressive given that during cardiac arrest, the flow of blood to the brain is interrupted. When this happens, the brain’s electrical activity (as measured with EEG) disappears after 10 to 20 seconds. In this state, a patient is deeply comatose. Because the brain structures mediating higher mental functions are severely impaired, such patients are expected to have no clear and lucid mental experiences that will be remembered. Nonetheless, studies conducted in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States have revealed that approximately 15 percent of cardiac arrest survivors do report some recollection from the time when they were clinically dead. These studies indicate that consciousness, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings can be experienced during a period when the brain shows no measurable activity.”
“…Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper decided to undertake a search for cases of NDE-based perception in the blind. They reasoned that such cases would represent the ultimate demonstration of veridical perceptions during NDEs. If a blind person was able to report on verifiable events that took place when they were clinically dead, that would mean something real was occurring. They interviewed 31 individuals, of whom 14 were blind from birth. Twenty-one of the participants had had an NDE; the others had had OBEs only. Strikingly, the experiences they reported conform to the classic NDE pattern, whether they were born blind or had lost their sight in later life. The results of the study were published in 1997. Based on all the cases they investigated, Ring and Cooper concluded that what happens during an NDE affords another perspective to perceive reality that does not depend on the senses of the physical body. They proposed to call this other mode of perception mindsight.”
“Despite corroborated reports, many materialist scientists cling to the notion that OBEs and NDEs are located in the brain. In 2002, neurologist Olaf Blanke and colleagues at the University Hospitals of Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland […] stimulated the angular gyrus—a region of the brain in the parietal lobe that is thought to integrate sensory information related to vision, touch, and balance to give us a perception of our own bodies—the patient reported seeing herself “lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk.” She described herself as “floating” near the ceiling. She also reported seeing her legs “becoming shorter.[…]”
“It’s another blow against those who believe that the mind and spirit are somehow separate from the brain,” said psychologist Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society, which seeks to debunk all kinds of paranormal claims. “In reality, all experience is derived from the brain. […]
…Four patients reported an autoscopy—that is, they saw their own double from the vantage point of their own body. In this paper, the researchers describe an OBE as a temporary dysfunction of the junction of the temporal and parietal cortex. But, as Pim van Lommel noted, the abnormal bodily experiences described by Blanke and colleagues entail a false sense of reality. Typical OBEs, in contrast, implicate a verifiable perception (from a position above or outside of the body) of events…
…British psychologist Susan Blackmore has propounded the “dying brain” hypothesis: that a lack of oxygen (or anoxia) during the dying process might induce abnormal firing of neurons in brain areas responsible for vision, and that such an abnormal firing would lead to the illusion of seeing a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel.
Would it? Van Lommel and colleagues objected that if anoxia plays a central role in the production of NDEs, most cardiac arrest patients would report an NDE. Studies show that this is clearly not the case. Another problem with this view is that reports of a tunnel are absent from several accounts of NDErs. As pointed out by renowned NDE researcher Sam Parnia, some individuals have reported an NDE when they had not been terminally ill and so would have had normal levels of oxygen in their brains.
Parnia raises another problem: When oxygen levels decrease markedly, patients whose lungs or hearts do not work properly experience an “acute confusional state,” during which they are highly confused and agitated and have little or no memory recall. In stark contrast, during NDEs people experience lucid consciousness, well-structured thought processes, and clear reasoning. They also have an excellent memory of the NDE, which usually stays with them for several decades. In other respects, Parnia argues that if this hypothesis is correct, then the illusion of seeing a light and tunnel would progressively develop as the patient’s blood oxygen level drops. Medical observations, however, indicate that patients with low oxygen levels do not report seeing a light, a tunnel, or any of the common features of an NDE we discussed earlier.”
“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. […]
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.”
During this life review the subject feels the presence and renewed experience of not only every act but also every thought from one’s past life, and one realizes that all of it is an energy field that influences oneself as well as others. All that has been done and thought seems to be significant and stored. Because one is connected with the memories, emotions, and consciousness of another person, you experience the consequences of your own thoughts, words, and actions to that other person at the very moment in the past that they occurred. Hence there is during a life review a connection with the fields of consciousness of otherpersons as well as with your own fields of consciousness (interconnectedness).
Patients survey their whole life in one glance; time and space do not seem to exist
during such an experience. Instantaneously they are where they concentrate upon
(non-locality), and they can talk for hours about the content of the life review even
though the resuscitation only took minutes.
Quotation (Van Lommel, 2004):
All of my life up till the present seemed to be placed before me in a kind of
panoramic, three-dimensional review, and each event seemed to be accompanied
by a consciousness of good or evil or with an insight into cause or effect.
Also a Preview can be experienced, in which both future images from personal
life events as well as more general images from the future occur. And again it
seems as if time and space do not exist during this preview. If deceased relatives
are encountered in an otherworldly dimension, they are usually recognized by
their appearance, while communication is possible through thought transfer. Thus,
during an NDE it is also possible to come into contact with fields of conscious-
ness of deceased persons (interconnectedness). Sometimes persons are met whose
death was impossible to have known; sometimes persons unknown to them are
encountered during an NDE. Some patients can describe how they
returned into their body, mostly through the top of the head, after they had come to understand that “it wasn’t their time yet” or that “they still had a task to fulfill.” The conscious return into the body is experienced as something very oppressive. They regain
consciousness in their body and realize that they are “locked up” in their damaged
body, meaning again all the pain and restriction of their disease. About all people
who have experienced an NDE lose their fear of death.
This is due to the realization that there is a continuation of consciousness, retaining all thoughts and past events […]
“Dr. Lakhmir Chawla: I’m not referring to the literature and what the case definition is or isn’t. I mean, the case definition is that they all agree on what they’re using to describe it. What I’m saying is that everyone in our study died. They all died. And they all had this electrical spike. And all we’re suggesting is that people who survive who had this are likely to recall whatever that electrical energy is. That individual may recall that as an experience or as a memory that occurred as they died or nearly died. That’s all we’re saying.
I’m not suggesting that every person who has a near-death experience has to have this spike. Nor am I suggesting that this spike is the signature for all near-death experiences. All we’re proposing is that if this is recalled, this could form a very strong memory and so it may represent a specific subtype of people’s near-death experiences. I’m not suggesting that this is the end-all, be-all. We don’t have any kind of evidence to make that determination but I do think it’s very interesting that people have this.
What I find further interesting is that animals, when they’re killed, also have this electrical spike about 45 seconds to 60 seconds after death.
Alex Tsakiris: Uh-huh (Yes). It is a surprising finding and it’s an interesting finding. It’s also interesting to me though how the story kind of runs way ahead of itself. As you say, I think you’re being very straightforward and I appreciate you putting the spikes in the ground in terms of what you would sign up for and what you wouldn’t.
The story has kind of taken on a life of its own and it seems like this happens over and over again when near-death experience is thrown into the mix and we have some kind of conventional explanation for it. We get a lot of traction behind those ideas even if they haven’t been, I don’t know, researched quite as fully as we’d all like. Any thoughts on that?
Dr. Lakhmir Chawla: Well, I’ve been interviewed and have spoken to many people about this and I think it dramatically determines what the person’s previous position is. If I have this conversation with an Atheist, the Atheist tells me that you have proven that the near-death experiences are not divine intervention and you have given evidence for the fact that there is no God. And when I speak to very religious people they tell me that I have measured the soul leaving the body and it’s a divine event that we are capturing and experiencing and being able to observe.”