I used to wonder about life after death and what lay beyond this reality we call life. When I was 20 years old I had a near death experience after complications with the flu. I kept my experiences from family and never spoke of it because I didn’t think anyone would believe me or understand. For many years I thought my experience was unique, but in fact people have been experiencing NDEs for more than a thousand years.
Today my close friend Scott Quimby, Ph.D offers insight into the ongoing NDE phenomenon. He has spent a lifetime of active interest in consciousness, religion, science, spiritual experience, and afterlife research. He spent 16 years as a university professor, and taught courses in mental health, death and dying, drug abuse, parapsychology, and Lakota medicine. During 4 of those, Scott was involved with Sioux medicine men on the Rosebud reservation. For 21 years he worked as a clinical psychologist in Ohio prisons. It was during this time some years ago where he helped me to understand my own experience.
Scott is the author of Help for a Troubled Time: Examining Our Spiritual Resources (2017), Alternate Resources For Our Challenged World: Mental, Psychic, Spiritual, Cosmic (2018), and currently being revised Promise: Rediscovering the Potential of Psychedelics and Marijuana https://www.amazon.com/s? He also hosts the website afterlifeinquiry.com.
Scott enjoys retired life in TN with his wife Sally, and their three dogs. It is with great pleasure to offer you his essay: Near-death Experiences.
Scott Quimby, PhD
Interest in near-death experiences (NDEs) pretty much began with the publication in 1975 of Life After Life by psychiatrist Raymond Moody where he described some 150 accounts. While no one experience coincided exactly with another, a broad theme with common elements ran through them. Moody’s book attracted enormous popular attention among general readers as well as stimulating considerable interest among researchers.
The first actual scientific study of near-death experiences was carried out by psychologist Kenneth Ring and reported in his 1980 book Life at Death. He was impressed with how similar the accounts he obtained were to those reported by Moody. Ring described NDEs as falling into two broad categories, those having more intense or core features and those having fewer of these.
Core experiencers emerge from their experience with a heightened sense of appreciation for life, determined to live life to the fullest. They have a sense of being reborn and a renewed sense of individual purpose in living, even though they cannot articulate just what this purpose is. They are more reflective and seek to learn more about the implications of their experience. They feel themselves to be a stronger, more self-confident person and adjust more easily to the vicissitudes of life. The things that they value are love and service to others; material comforts are no longer so important. They become more compassionate toward others, and more able to accept them unconditionally. They have achieved a sense of what is important in life and strive to live in accordance with their understanding of what matters.
Ring’s respondents also reported subsequent changes in their views on such perennial issues as religion and death including a heightened spiritual awareness that involved the sense of being closer to God, feeling more prayerful, taking less interest in formal religious services, but expressing greater tolerance for various forms of religious expression and endorsing an attitude of religious universalism. The experience significantly reduced or eliminated their fear of death and increased their belief in an afterlife, with a greater openness toward a reincarnation.
In 1982 the pollster George Gallup, Jr. found that some 15 percent of the American population said they had had a close brush with death and some five percent could be said to have experienced an NDE.
In addition to the above characteristics of more intense NDEs, several other remarkable features emerged from subsequent NDE accounts and research. Perhaps surprisingly, a very small number of reports involved negative, frightening, and even hellish elements. About one percent of those in Gallup’s poll described such features. In her 2000 book Blessings in Disguise physician Barbara Rommer discussed her investigation of 54 experiencers of ‘less than positive’ NDEs. What she found was that these experiences occur instead of or in addition to a blissful light NDE primarily to provide an impetus to reevaluate one’s previous choices, actions, reactions, thoughts, and belief systems.
I am privileged to have become friends with Howard Storm whose 1975 NDE contained as a major element one of the most intense negative and hellish encounters of anyone in the literature. Howard discussed his experience in detail with me and subsequently in his in 2001 book My descent into death and the message of love which brought me back. His hellish encounter was followed by a very powerful positive one that changed his life.
Children also have NDEs. Pediatrician Melvin Morse conducted the first scientific study of them, which he described in his 1990 book Closer to the Light. He developed two comparison groups, a control group consisted of 121 children who were critically ill, were hospitalized in an intensive care unit, but never had life-threatening episodes, and a small group of twelve who “had looked death in the face” as a result of cardiac arrests stemming from accidents, diseases and heart stoppages during surgery. Morse discovered that not one of the 121 children in the control group had anything resembling a near-death experience, whereas eight of the twelve survivors of heart attacks had visions of leaving their bodies and traveling to other realms. Their experiences included at least one of the standard NDE traits: being out of their physical bodies, traveling up some sort of tunnel, seeing a light, visiting with people who describe themselves as being dead, seeing a Being of Light, having a life review, and maybe even deciding consciously to return to their bodies.
Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper described in their 1999 book Mindsight an investigation of near death and out-of-body experiences (OOBEs) among a different and most unique population, people who are blind. The authors located 31 people, 14 who had been blind from birth, 11 who lost their sight sometime after five years of age, and the remaining six who were severely visually impaired. Twenty-one had NDEs, and 10 had one or more OOBEs. Through their interviews, Ring and Cooper found unequivocally that NDEs did occur among people in all three categories of blindness, and that they took the same general form and were comprised of the very same elements as those of sighted individuals. Overall, 80% of the respondents reported visual impressions during their NDEs or OBEs. Like sighted experiencers, blind respondents described both perceptions of this world as well as otherworldly scenes, often in full and fine-grained detail.
Researchers have pointed out that NDE studies involving patients who experience cardiac arrests in hospitals are of particular interest because what happens to brain function is known, and the physiology which is active during the time of the experience can be inferred. They note that signs of cardiac arrest are the same as clinical death. There is no cardiac output, no respiratory effort, and brain-stem reflexes are absent. Because the heart is no longer pumping blood to the brain, oxygen levels fall, blood pressure falls to zero, neural functioning is grossly disrupted, and the patient becomes unconscious. Loss of consciousness is rapid, as it is in fainting. Simultaneous recording of heart rate and brain electrical activity shows that within 11 seconds of the heart stopping, the brain waves go flat. You are, in fact, clinically dead. The flat EEG indicating no brain activity during cardiac arrest and the high incidence of brain damage afterwards both point to the conclusion that the unconsciousness in cardiac arrest is total.
Fenwick and Parnia in 2000 investigated 63 people who experienced cardiac arrest in hospitals Eighty-nine per cent had no memories during their arrest, and about 10 per cent reported conscious experiences that were similar to those NDEs reported in the literature. In 2001 a team of researchers studied 344 cardiac patients who were successfully resuscitated after cardiac arrest in ten Dutch hospitals. The patients were interviewed within a few days of resuscitation and asked whether they recollected the period of unconsciousness and what they recalled. Of the 344 patients interviewed, 62 or 18% reported elements of an NDE, and 41 or 12% reported a full core NDE.
These findings have profound implications for the way we understand the nature of our minds, consciousness, dying, and death. The brain may not be the producer of consciousness, as is universally assumed by scientists, and may not even be necessary at all for us to experience it. Furthermore, cardiac arrest NDE studies offer some of the strongest evidence for the reality of life after death.
NDEss are a type of mystical experience known for thousands of years, which provided the foundational event out of which most of the world’s religions developed. They affirm the basic teachings of almost all religious and spiritual systems, remind us of who we really are, and offer a beacon of hope in these dark times.