I have very conflicting thoughts about near death experiences. On the one hand you could say that those who have experienced it, really did leave their bodies since there have been experiments which have possibly proven it.. but then there’s the scientific side of things which attributes these experiences to cerebral hypoxia.

There have been numerous experiments designed to better understand near death experiences (NDE) one of the more well known experiments started in 2008 and is set to fully end sometime this year. It has so far involved hospitals in the UK, USA and Austria and is lead by British medical professor and resuscitation specialist Sam Parnia. So far they have found that patient awareness occurred paradoxically some minutes after the heart stopped, at a time when the brain ordinarily stops functioning. If it wasn’t the brain that was creating the ‘hallucinations’ then where were these images and experiences coming from?

The skeptical scientists of this world believe that NDEs happen when the brain is starved of oxygen (cerebral hypoxia) it’s just a result of the dying brain. This theory sounds very plausible but it contradicts the many experiments that have shown that patients in hospitals whose hearts had stopped had somehow experienced things which a brain that was so starved of oxygen couldn’t possibly imagine or recall later once the patient was fully conscious again.

In reality we don’t have enough knowledge of how the brain works or how it functions when it’s starved of oxygen… we don’t even know what dreams are and why we have them. One major thing supports the theory of cerebral hypoxia being the cause of NDEs and it is that people tend to have slightly different experiences depending on their cultural background. If someone from a Christian background believes he went to heaven or hell and someone from a Hindu background sees Yamarāja (the Hindu god of the dead) it implies that NDEs are a product of our imagination and of course our cultural and religious backgrounds.

The one thing that keeps me from siding with the skeptical scientists is that even though people from around the world have different NDEs depending on their backgrounds, some elements are the same no matter where they’re from and what they believe. A bright light, a tunnel, seeing loved ones who have passed on are very common experiences. The fact that religious experiences coincide with these other experiences should not discredit them, since it could even be possible that all religions are correct or that the loved ones who have passed on could be projecting something comforting to the dying person so that their transition into death is peaceful. Another thought here is that some of the core elements of an NDE have even been reported by children of 3 years old and younger. In other words, they had NDEs at an age where they should not have been influenced by culture or tradition.

16 thoughts

  1. I think my only complaint here is the idea that children as young as three have had no cultural conditioning- which is pretty far from being true. Cultural conditioning starts at birth, and you can see clear influences of their dominant culture at the age of 3- though the conditioning might not be wholly solidified or complete at that age.

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    1. Very true, however children who are that young don’t fully understand the society they’re living in. They can’t even fully understand that they’re a separate person from the other people around them.

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      1. Idk if I’d agree with the idea that they don’t understand they’re distinct people, either. They definitely question themselves in relation to others. Though you’re certainly right they can’t fully understand the complexities- either of individuality, or of sociocultural trappings. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’ve no concept that these things exist, or that they aren’t affected by them, however.

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      2. I study psychology and Biology and would certainly not consider myself an expert in child development,. The last paragraph of my blog post is based off a paper written by professor Sam Parnia in which he talks about NDE as a cultural phenomenon.

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      3. I mean, I take no issue with the topic of NDEs as someone who OD’d, was dead for a minute, and had her own. My only issue is in relation to the claims that children, at 3, have no concept of individuality, and haven’t been influenced by culture and tradition at that age. But thank you for citing the paper, as it sounds like an interesting read on the overall topic of NDEs.

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      4. Well I was mainly referring to children under 3. It depends on the child, but self awareness comes between the ages of 2 and 3. For example the rouge test is a popular test that parents can do to test when their child has developed self awareness. It involves putting lipstick on a child’s cheek and then asking him/her to look in a mirror, if they wipe their face, then they are aware that they are an individual and separate from others. I’m sure that Professor Parnia did similar tests to see what level of development these children were at before publishing his findings associated with children who had had NDEs

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  2. My extremely atheist former husband died and saw the light and the tunnel before he was brought back. Like many, he said he was comfortable heading toward that light.

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    1. Thank you for sharing that, it’s amazing to hear stories of people’s near death experiences. It makes me less worried about the thought of dying. Did your former husband change his views after the experience then?

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  3. An interesting phenomenon. Once you strip away the cultural differences there do appear to be some commonalities, which is similar to other experiences such as abduction by unknown entities. I suspect though that the answer will ultimately be found in the deep recesses of the brain – as Joseph Campbell said, “All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us.” I think this is great – I have whole pantheons and universes within me!

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    1. Yes that’s true, When it comes to alien abductions, abductees often say they woke up and found themselves paralyzed then they saw unknown entities walk into their room. You could say that if so many people have the same experience, it proves it’s real.. but sufferers of sleep paralysis experience exactly the same sensations as an abductee, so you begin to question whether most people who claim to have been abducted by aliens were just experiencing sleep paralysis. As you say, the answer can often be found within us.

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  4. My dad who had heart bypass surgery told the family later that he saw what the surgeons were doing while he was on the operation table. The detail was quite accurate, and my dad didn’t have a science background at all to have imagined it in his unconscious state. He was a spiritual being, rather than a religious man. Since that day I do believe that out of body experience is a transcending state of a spiritual mind.

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    1. Wow that’s amazing that he could see what was happening in the operating room. It’s stories like that which make you think there must be another self, a spirit or soul.

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  5. A great post about something we all think about. I once read about a person who had a NDE and they said that they were made to feel all the pain they had caused to others. Whether true or not, a good thing to remember while on this earth. Thanks for the post.

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