The Near Death Experience refers to the sensory experience of millions of people who have been very close to death or clinically dead. The experiences reported include feelings of fear, serenity, security and warmth with the sensation floating separate from their body. Many have reported the presence of a tunnel of light as if it were a passage they were compelled to go through. Also, many report experiencing a replay of their life or the cliché “My life flashed before my eyes."
Interestingly, reports of near death experiences have been on the rise in recent decades possibly due to the advancement of life-saving techniques that can bring a person back from the very edge of death. This does not mean that the near death experience is a byproduct of modern medicine. The famous Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch's painting entitled “Ascent to Empyrean” (1500 – 1503) features a tunnel like passage with a bright light at the end. Plato's Republic gives an account of the NDE of an ordinary solider. The revived solder tells of a journey through darkness to light accompanied by guides. A final example concerns an account of the near drowning of Admiral Beaufort in 1795 telling how his life played out before him.
In modern times interest in near death experiences grew significantly in the early 1970’s with the release of the widely popular book “Life after Life” by Raymond Moody which gathered stories from those who had a near death experience and notated the similarities of the events. In general he found subjects reported the following:
A sense of well-being and peaceful detachment.
A sense/awareness of being dead.
Hearing a noise or music.
The experience of entering a tunnel or darkness.
Perception of one's body from an outside position.
Encountering deceased loved ones and sometimes spiritual being of lights.
Movement toward a powerful light.
A replay of the major events of one's life.
A sense that knowledge about nature of the universe was briefly known.
The conscious decision to return to the body.
To date, over eight million people in the US have reported a near death experience and the number may be far greater because many people may not be comfortable with reporting what they saw. Perhaps the stigma often associated with spiritual experiences has given pause to many who otherwise might be more willing to relate their stories.
Champions of spiritual explanations point to the similarity of the stories though they come from people of diverse backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. In some cases individuals that have experienced an out of body experience as they neared death have accurately described events occurring about them. Sometimes there is even no apparent brain activity. They also point out that the experiences reported by many closely align with various religious teachings.
Scientific research on the subject of near death experiences have focused on the brain itself and how it has reacted during similar situations. Most have theorized that lack of oxygen to the brain during this time period may be causing hallucinations. They also suggest that during sensory deprivation, where the brain is deprived of its normal outlets, will enter a state similar to dreaming for stimulation. Plus, they point out that some of the reported images of angels or other spiritual beings seem to vary depending the background and experiences of the subject, which would indicate that at least some of the imagery is being generated by the brain rather than some external force.
What give more credence to the scientific explanations is that there are indeed similarities to hallucinations and sensory deprivation reports from people who are nowhere near death. Plus, some of the images reported of angels for example seem to vary depending the background and experiences of the subject, which would indicate that at least some of the imagery is being generated by the brain rather than some external force.
The issue of near death experiences have sharply divided the spiritual and scientific communities and will likely continue to do so into the foreseeable future. Scientific explanations, though they may be true, offer little comfort while spiritual ones offer the comfort of possible immortality and a reunion with lost love ones. Strangely though, science may offer a glimmer of hope. Quantum theory holds that information cannot be lost or destroyed but can only be transformed or transferred into an inaccessible form. Is this true for our thoughts? Or do they go after death to join the quantum mind of God. These are admittedly fringed areas of science but then most new discoveries are.