Near Death Extrapolations

Question from Chris:
There are many near death experiences where the person goes to heaven and comes back. http://www.bettybowers.com/neardeath.html
How does this happen?
Are they making it up or what?
There are stories of people with the brain completely shut off so that there is no memory or ability to dream.
Any help would be great and I love your web site. Keep up the great work.

Answer by SmartLX:
Betty Bowers’ site is down right at the moment, but Bowers herself is actually a fictional character in a larger satire of fundamentalist religion called the Landover Baptist Church. There are plenty of real people with similar claims though.

Perhaps some are making it up for their own reasons (to make money selling books about their experiences, for example) but many are just describing what they think happened. Dreams and hallucinations during periods where the brain is almost dying can produce experiences which to the victims are indistinguishable from real supernatural out-of-body events.

The problem with the claims of zero brain activity is that if they’re telling the story, their brain function obviously returned at some point. Brains go through transitional states; between the initial loss of consciousness and the total cessation of brain function there’s at least a short period of partial brain function, and between restarting the brain and regaining consciousness there’s another period of partial function. If a claimed NDE happens in one of these two transitional periods, an unconscious victim with no sense of time might later think it happened right in the middle. It doesn’t make for good evidence of personal experiences not requiring brain function.

As I said in the previous post, I had a huge argument about this five years ago, and little has changed since then. Check it out if you like.

14 thoughts on “Near Death Extrapolations”

  1. NDEs are subjective experiences – thus difficult to prove.
    They are in all probability due to residual, unstructured brain activity in brains near death.

    I was till some time interested in NDEs where the subjects state that they were floating over the operating table / room they were dying in etc. and are able to recount, for e.g. what’s on the top of a shelf / counter. (Subjects recounting the events while they were out-of-body did not bother me too much as the sounds of the activity around the subject would have probably allowed the dying brain to conjure up a picture of what was happening).

    Then I realized that if during their almost brain dead state, the subjects’ hearing was functioning and someone in the room managed to bump into a shelf (say) causing it to rattle and the object on top to move and make a sound, then the brain could possibly conjure up an image of what’s on top of the shelf (a book/a hammer, a small tool-kit box etc) and place it in the “dream near death” that an NDE really is, in the same manner as it does sometimes in normal dreams we have.

    The sceptical inquirer has some good articles on NDE. For e.g. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/darkness_tunnels_and_light/

  2. Bleh, the whole topic of hallucinations/dreams as proof of the super natural is a little ridiculous to me. Let’s say I dreamt of sleeping with some random beautiful woman. Did it happen?

  3. Near death experiences are nothing more than the mind dealing with the shutdown of the bodies systems.Instead of going into sensory overload it instead creates a chemical reaction interpreted by the mind as something it can deal with.The senses are similar to the effects of Ketamine.

  4. Hi

    I had a discussion with a believer in Near-Death Experiences and he told me that they are proof of the soul/spirit and afterlife. I was skeptical about his many cases he threw at me and could rationally explain several of them but one that puzzles me is from Anita Moorjani because I could not find any rational explanation for this and even no skeptical answer to her claims on the Internet. I even post it on the Skeptical Society forum but so far no reply. I would be very happy if someone could find some rational explanation for her NDE. Here is the story taken from wikipedia NDE page:

    Anita Moorjani, an ethnic Indian woman from Hong Kong, experienced a truly remarkable NDE which has been documented on the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) website as one of the most exceptional accounts on their archives. She had end-stage cancer and on February 2, 2006, doctors told her family that she only had a few hours to live. Following her NDE, Anita experienced a remarkable total recovery of her health.

    Thanks for reading this and your time.

  5. Hi Lukas. You’ll be interested to know that Anita Moorjani’s case is one of those referenced by Michael Prescott as strong evidence for the supernatural.

    Here are the important points from where I’m standing:
    – During the NDE Moorjani describes, she did not experience anything which could be properly confirmed afterwards. She heard doctors talking, for instance, but of course the doctors would have been talking, and she doesn’t say she quoted them on anything specific.
    – It’s a non-sequitur to reason that because Moorjani recovered from her condition, the NDE was real. Even if the supernatural was at work, it’s possible that either she had a freak natural recovery while having a real NDE, or hallucinated her ecstatic NDE while she was miraculously healed. The only connection is that Moorjani claims that while “on the other side” she learned what she needed in order to recover; the only way to verify this is to find out whether people who she’s taught since have managed similar feats.
    – The one piece of concrete medical information the skeptics on that forum have managed to find is that Moorjani never got a confirmed diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma prior to her crisis point. After her experience, even in her own account she says they couldn’t find a lymph node big enough to indicate cancer, let alone check the status of a cancer they presumed she had. Therefore, even if it’s truly impossible to recover from end-stage Hodgkin’s that quickly AND if this part of the story is completely true, it still wasn’t necessarily a miracle because maybe she didn’t have Hodgkin’s.

    It’s an interesting story, to be sure, but alternatives to either a true NDE or a truly miraculous recovery have not been ruled out, so the fact that the experience and the recovery are both unexplained does not imply anything further. To establish the work of the supernatural we would need a verifiable supernatural explanation, not simply the (possibly temporary) absence of a natural one.

    1. “During the NDE Moorjani describes, she did not experience anything which could be properly confirmed afterwards. She heard doctors talking, for instance, but of course the doctors would have been talking, and she doesn’t say she quoted them on anything specific.”——–Not strictly accurate: ” I saw and heard the conversations between my husband and the doctors taking place outside my room, about 40 feet away down a hallway. I was later able to verify this conversation to my shocked husband.” – Anita Moorjani.

      1. Yes Arimor, I did read that bit. I took “verify this conversation” to mean that she simply verified that it occurred, not that she knew what anyone said. Even if she was able to pick the subject matter, would it have been that difficult to imagine that they were talking about her?

      2. Hi Arimor

        Another problem is if Anitas had a near-death experience and remembers it that means her brain had to function to some degree because her memories were stored in the brain. Also her ears were not taped shut. That means her brain could have recorded somehow the conversation. We have now some evidence that even patients who are vegetative can pay attention to sound or even learn:

        Patient in ‘Vegetative State’ Not Just Aware, but Paying Attention, Study Suggests:

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131031110558.htm

        Vegetative and minimally conscious patients can learn – ScienceBlog:

        http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2009/09/21/vegetative-and-minimally-conscious-patients-can-learn/

        Individuals In Vegetative States Can Learn, Scientists Find:
        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090920204457.htm

        So you see that it again proves little to nothing. If she had her ears shut and could not hear a thing and then heard something. This would be interesting but again this would not prove a soul..

  6. Hi

    I came across a new Near-Death Experience or this time its called a Out of body experience but its similar to a Near Death Experience which puzzles me a lot and I cant find any skeptical information about it:

    The case of one patient is particularly worth reporting. This
    patient, J.S., was 31 weeks pregnant when, on October 26, 2008, she
    woke up feeling short of breath and weak (J.S. was then 31-yearold).
    She was transported to Hôpital Sacré-Coeur by ambulance.
    Using transoesophagial echocardiography, physicians found out
    that she was suffering from an ascending aortic dissection.
    J.S. first underwent an emergency caesarean section. After having
    successfully delivered a baby boy, she was then transferred to
    a surgery room to undergo the replacement of the ascending aorta.
    She did not see or talk to the members of the surgical team, and it
    was not possible for her to see the machines behind the head section
    of the operating table, as she was wheeled into the operating
    room. J.S. was given general anesthesia and her eyes were taped
    shut. At one point during surgery, J.S. claims to have had an out-ofbody experience (OBE). From a vantage point outside her physical body, she apparently “saw” a nurse passing surgical instruments
    to the cardiothoracic surgeon. She also perceived anesthesia and
    echography machines located behind her head. We were able to
    verify that the descriptions she provided of the nurse and the
    machines were accurate (this was confirmed by the cardiothoracic
    surgeon who operated upon her). Furthermore, in the OBE
    state J.S. reported feelings of peace and joy, and seeing a bright
    light. Reports of independently corroborated veridical OBE perception during cardiac arrest have previously been published (for instance, see1). Here it cannot be determined with certainty whether the subjective experience reported by J.S. occurred precisely during the cardiocirculatory arrest (which lasted for 15 min).

    From: http://drmariobeauregard.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/beauregard-2012.pdf

    If someone could find a rational explanation for this please reply. Thanks for your time reading this and have a nice day..

  7. Okay, let’s have a look.
    – The story is in what appears to be a respectable medical journal, but it’s a letter to the editor, not a published article. Apparently this is a great way to get such a piece into such a journal without having it subjected to peer review.
    – The letter admits, “Here it cannot be determined with certainty whether the subjective experience reported by J.S. occurred precisely during the cardiocirculatory arrest (which lasted for 15 min).” In other words, they can’t say whether she had her out-of-body episode while her brain was dormant. With that in mind, there are many possible explanations for her apparent knowledge of the medical staff, for example a temporary failure of the anaesthetic or of the tape on her eyes.
    – Dr Beauregard claims to have no conflicts of interest, but the letter was printed in 2011 and in 2008 he released a book arguing for the existence of the soul from just such anecdotal evidence. He stood to gain financially from any increased interest in the topic. Perhaps that doesn’t meet the journal’s strict definition of a “conflict of interest” but it is one nonetheless.
    – Still on the doctor’s book, its co-author is Denyse O’Leary, an Intelligent Design proponent with no scientific qualifications. She’s the kind of evangelical Christian who would argue for the soul regardless of the evidence or lack thereof, and therefore she does just that.

    The most that the letter can claim by way of a conclusion is that the case raises questions, and this is true. The principal question raised is whether something supernatural happened to J.S. on the operating table. That doesn’t mean that the answer isn’t very likely to be, “No.”

    Anyone else care to pile on?

  8. Hi, I want to share the NDE I experienced and have people think about it! 25 years ago I had a major motorbike accident where I not only broke 15 bones but also had a head injury. While I was unconscious for a week I believe God visited me and lovingly said directly to me “I had done wrong”. We spoke for a bit then it was gone. At that time I was not a Christian let alone living my life as one. When I woke up it took near on a full year to go through Physical and Psychological Re-hab. I always held that visit from God in my mind and close to my heart. When I got out of hospital I was put in a share flat for further re-hab and met a friends parents whom I later found out went to church. So I asked then if they would take me to church with them (I thought I had to go to church to be forgiven) and it was there I gave my life to Jesus Christ. It took a number of years of learning when I finally got “it” that Jesus was God in the flesh and for me to get close to God I learn’t that for me and everybody else to get closer to God we need to sit at Jesus feet (Luke 10:38-42) and learn from Him.

    1. What would you have called it if a being in a white robe holding a lightning bolt appeared to you while you were unconscious? A dream? Hallucination? I don’t say this to be crass, but to point out the subjective nature of the material our brain processes. You almost died, and your brain knew this. Psychologically the human mind often seeks the idea of a protector, like a father or mother figure, in time of stress. We are mammals, and have strong bonds with authority figures. Folks like yourself that have traumatic NDEs often experience some kind of vision like you had. It’s the brain’s go-to guy if you will – the parent soothing the fear and telling you it’s all going to be OK. Instead of trying to make sense of the senseless, the brain can let it go.

      That’s the psychological side of it anyway. There are other things to consider too, such as why so many people experience these things unconsciously, as opposed to fully awake. Regardless, I’m not going to convince you of anything. Only you can look into it and explore the subjective nature of human experience in the state you were in. Good luck.

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