The View from Outside (your body)

Question from Violeta:
I am currently an agnostic, and I do believe in evolution, the Big Bang, I am a big fan of Richard Dawkins, Laurence Krauss, Hawking, just to name a few atheists. I think that for the most part, science does its job when explaining the universe, and the world in general. However, the concept of Near Death Experiences and Out of Body Experiences causes me to scratch my head. Recently, Dr. Jeffrey Long published a book where he analyzed 1600 cases of NDEs and he claimed that they were all strikingly similar, regardless of cultural differences. For example, many people reported seeing a bright light, feeling a lot of love, meeting deceased relatives, having a life review. I am wondering if you have ever read the Dr. Jeffrey Long book Evidence of the Afterlife? In his book, he even debunks the ideas of the brain hallucinating, and the idea of chemicals being released in the brain to cause these experiences. About 95% of participants thought that these experiences felt more real than real life, and hallucinations cannot feel that real. Also, many claim to see A god, but without a particular title. If 1600 experiences are very similar, would you say that it could mean that these are in fact snapshots of an afterlife? I just don’t know how they can be so consistent, and how they can be so life changing if they are not real.
So, what is your opinion on Out of Body Experiences and Near Death Experiences in general?

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve had very long discussions about NDEs in particular (here’s one of the tamer ones) and I remain entirely unconvinced of their authenticity. I haven’t read Jeffrey Long’s work though I’ve read a little about it, but I’ll respond to what you’ve put forward with a set of discrete points rather than mash it all together.

– The specific experiences that commonly form part of a supposed NDE are likely to be images, actions and sensations that the human brain falls back on in times of great mental and physical stress on itself. A light in the distance is a simple image to conjure, the feeling of love may be caused by a flood of adrenaline, endorphins or other hormones released as a coping mechanism, the ancestors may be a result of being preoccupied with thoughts of mortality before losing consciousness.

– The timing of the experiences is impossible to determine after the fact. There may be a period of near-total inactivity during which the brain is unable to render anything like a dream, but there are periods before and after that state (assuming the person eventually comes to) when the brain is unable to be conscious but still active. This is important to remember when reading arguments about what chemicals were present at any given time.

– That the experiences feel real is nothing out of the ordinary for a dream; who hasn’t been surprised at least once when waking up from one? As for more real than real life, this is dubious given that it can only be claimed in retrospect about an experience that the person cannot easily or safely reproduce. That may simply be what a dream or hallucination feels like in that state. One’s memory of the event can also be very clouded, but unfortunately this can cause a person to reconstruct the event in more detail than they remembered at the start, and assimilate certain additions as true memories.

– Stories of accurate observations of the world around the unconscious patient are plentiful but so far impossible to confirm. Most commonly the details of what was happening are not available separately from the subject’s description, or the subject describes something obvious (like doctors talking or parents praying), or it simply turns out to be wrong upon examination. James Randi, the famous skeptic, talks here about an apparent out of body experience which he might very well have believed he had, had certain facts not come to light. If you’d like to comment with a particular case, we can discuss it in detail.

– In Evidence of the Afterlife, more than one featured subject was 3 to 5 years old at the time of the supposed NDE. At this age memories are difficult to describe and all too easy to influence. As with Colton Burpo, the Heaven is for Real kid, if they are asked leading questions by the first people they tell what they saw (often parents, friends or even clergy before the researcher gets there) they will actually shape their experience around them in retrospect. In fiction this is referred to as retcon, but it’s disturbingly easy to apply to real life.

2 thoughts on “The View from Outside (your body)”

  1. Violeta, not sure if you are aware of the phenomena of vivid/ lucid dreams. These are dreams that seem extremely real. On waking up, one remembers every detail of the dream – as if one was actually experiencing reality.
    Its very tempting to take these dreams as “signs” … as they are so real (I’ve experienced this phenomenon of lucid dream at-least twice in my youth … never in the past 10 years though).
    NDEs are qualitatively comparable to such stuff (vivid dreams, hallucinations etc.) – though the actual neural connections firing during NDEs may be different.
    The point is that the brain is perfectly capable of creating an alternate reality for itself and of fooling itself into believing that this created reality is “real”.

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