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Quantum Theory Supports Near-Death Experiences

Scientific knowledge is always in a state of flux. New scientific discoveries come along and overthrow long-held hypotheses. A good example of this is the attempt by humanity to explain the phenomenon of light. Before the dawn of science, humanity relied on religious experience and philosophy to understand light and the cosmos. The Bible declares the universe began when God said, “Let there be light.” Ancient religious texts throughout history have associated light with divine consciousness – a consciousness from which everything, including all other consciousness, originated. The Bible declares, “God is light.” Eminent physicist, David Bohm, viewed all matter as “condensed” or “frozen light.” Physicist Stephen Hawking once stated ,”When you break subatomic particles down to their most elemental level, you are left with nothing but pure light.” Science discovered light was pervasive at the beginning of the universe. Scientists recently discovered the so-called “God Particle” – the particle which bestows mass upon all other particles. This particle is very crucial to physics because it is our final understanding of the structure of all matter. Albert Einstein‘s great equation E=mc2 (where E is for energy, m for mass and c is the speed of light) describes the awesome power and energy holding all atoms together. Surprisingly, the Bible supports Einstein’s equation when it declares: “God is the invisible power holding all things together.” This transcendent view of consciousness is the basis for major world religions. So it shouldn’t be surprising why top quantum physicists were influenced by religion. Erwin Schrodinger, for example, studied Hinduism; Werner Heisenberg looked into Plato’s theory of the ancient Greeks; Niels Bohr was drawn to the Tao; Wolfgang Pauli to the Kabbalah; and Max Plank to Christianity.

Table of Contents

  1. The holistic merger of science and spirituality
  2. Quantum physics and the NDE
  3. Quantum interconnectivity and the NDE
  4. The holographic universe and the NDE
  5. The holonomic brain and the NDE
  6. Quantum consciousness and the NDE
  7. Nonlocal consciousness and the God spot
  8. Quantum superposition and the NDE
  9. The many-worlds theory and the NDE
  10. The many-minds theory and the NDE
  11. The zero-point field and the NDE
  12. Black hole physics and the NDE
  13. Biocentrism and the NDE
  14. Subjective experiences and the NDE
  15. Scientific articles on NDEs and its relationship to physics

1. The holistic merger of science and spirituality

The scientific discovery of the nature of light is the cornerstone of modern physics and natural law. It is also the cornerstone of near-death studies and modern consciousness research. Over the centuries, science has yielded some very unusual, almost “god-like,” properties of light. The recently discovered “God particle” – the elusive particle which gives mass to every other particle – is one of the greatest discoveries in science. Light was pervasive at the time of the Big Bang. Light is the fastest thing in the universe and travels at 671 million miles per hour. It takes an infinite amount of energy to move an object to the speed of light. At the speed of light, the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously. If a person could travel at the speed of light, they would become immortal. There is also the quantum theory of superposition where matter can exist in more than one dimension at the same time – making anomalous phenomena such as NDEs and OBEs possible. Physicists have experimentally demonstrated how two particles can be separated, and no matter by how far apart they are (even a billion miles apart), a change in one particle instantly creates a simultaneous change in the other as if they were connected. This phenomenon called “quantum entanglement” which Einstein called “spooky actions from a distance” and is suggestive of an underlying reality which physicists have not yet been able to explain although there are many theories. Light also has a “dual personality” existing as both a particle and a wave. The reason we can see anything at all is because our mere observation of things converts light waves into light particles thereby making human consciousness the main factor when it comes to reality.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) the Swiss psychologist and near-death experiencer who founded analytical psychology, is best known for his psychological concepts including archetypes, the collective unconscious, dream analysis, and synchronicity. His interest in philosophy and metaphysics led many to view him as a mystic. Following discussions with both Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli (two founding fathers of quantum physics) Jung believed there were parallels between synchronicity and the relativity of time and its connection to consciousness.

Scientists are discovering how objective reality is more of an illusion than a reality. At deeper levels, everything – atoms, cells, molecules, plants, animals, and people participate in a connected flowing web of information. At the quantum level, the observer becomes a part of the observed and the distinction between observer and object disappears. Space and time are concepts we bring with us to the quantum level but they do not seem to exist there. Time flows both forward and backward symmetrically according to relativity – a concept making time travel a possibility. And because all matter, including our brains and bodies, are mostly composed of empty space because of the structure of atoms held together by atomic energy, a metaphysical case can be made that we are mostly composed of non-physical “spirit.” At the quantum level, location becomes nonlocal and everything can be thought of as being in no particular place at no particular time. What we “see” out there has more to do with our own consciousness and subjective experience than anything “out there”. In light of these findings, we must conclude the notion of objective reality is in error. Physicists are discovering laws of physics are the laws of our own minds.

One of the most compelling theories is called the holographic principle which defines the universe as a single, gigantic hologram where everything is connected to everything else including our minds. The holographic principle is supported by one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century, David Bohm, who began the holomovement in physics. Neurophysiologist Karl Pribram synchronistically arrived at a holographic model of the mind and brain at the same time as David Bohm developed the holomovement in physics. Surprisingly, these holographic models may be the basis for all mystical experiences including the NDE. These holographic models are part of a new emerging paradigm called “holism” which is the opposite of reductionism. It is the paradigm where all natural systems – physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, etc. – and their properties, should be viewed as a whole and not the sum of its parts. A corresponding theory of quantum consciousness was developed by the joint work of theoretical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff. Like David Bohm and Karl Pribram before them, Penrose and Hameroff developed their theories synchronistically. Penrose approached the problem of consciousness from the view point of mathematics, while Hameroff approached it from his career in anesthesia which gave him an interest in brain structures. Quantum consciousness is the theory of an underlying consciousness connecting everyone and everything and is based upon quantum fields being interpreted as extending infinitely in space.

Carl Jung referred to this connection between all life as the “collective unconscious” also known as the “collective subconscious.” Jung theorized how synchronicity serves a role similar to dreams, with the purpose of shifting a person’s egocentric conscious thinking to greater wholeness. Jung was transfixed by the idea of life not being a series of random events but rather an expression of a deeper order, which he and Wolfgang Pauli referred to as “one world” – a term referring to the concept of an underlying unified reality of the universe from which everything emerges and returns to. Jung believed this principle of an underlying “world” can express itself through synchronicity and is the basis for quantum mysticism. Quantum theories such as the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and its corresponding many-minds theory supports this new paradigm. These quantum theories also supports the theory of quantum immortality which theoretically makes the immortality of a non-physical “soul” possible. If one views consciousness as a fundamental, non-physical, part of the universe, it becomes possible to conceive of consciousness continuing to exist after the death in a parallel universe. These quantum and holographic paradigms assume anomalous phenomena such as NDEs to certainly be within the realm of possibilities.

2. Quantum physics and the NDE

Just as surprising is how NDE encounters with an otherworldly light correspond with the new paradigm found in the principles of quantum physics. Classical mechanics involving observing, theorizing, and predicting doesn’t work very well when it comes to understanding light, consciousness, and subjective experiences – especially when it concerns the NDE. The old paradigm allowed materialists and skeptics to dismiss NDEs as being caused by brain anomalies – even though the cause of NDEs is not relevant to whether the experience is a real afterlife experience or not. Nevertheless, recent NDE studies have ruled out brain anomalies. Anyway, brain anomalies are side-effects of the near-death experience and not the cause of them. Skeptics must confront their unscientific logical fallacy of claiming NDEs are either hallucinations or are impossible since the brain is the origin of consciousness and a dead brain produces nothing. Even if one assumes NDEs to be merely a chemical reaction in the brain, there is no human experience of any description which cannot simply be reduced to a biological process, but this in no way offsets the meaning these experiences have for those who have them – whether it’s falling in love, or grieving, or having a baby, or coming close to death and having a transcendental experience.

3. Quantum interconnectivity and the NDE

Theoretical quantum physics supports the notion of our universe as being a conscious universe of which all other consciousness is a fractal. Many scientists no longer believe in a randomly generated universe from some sort of primal dust. Nobel prize winning molecular biologist Christian de Duve describes the universe as having a cosmic imperative to develop conscious life. The very structure of molecules composing living creatures dictates the evolution of conscious life. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle agreed how the fundamental laws of the universe governing the creation of planets, suns and galaxies implies conscious life will be the end result of those universal laws. Evolutionary biologist Rupert Sheldrake goes even further, describing how “morphic forms” – patterns of energy which first exist in the universe – results in life. If these compelling theories are true, then it is possible to apply them to other dimensions of reality made up of other elementary subatomic particles. Anomalous phenomena such as NDEs then becomes less like “fantasy” and more like the perceptions of conscious beings in other realties which can be predicted by modern science. NDEs may simply be clinical applications of the experiments physicists have discovered in the lab.

For example, a European astrophysicist by the name of Metod Saniga used NDE research to develop a mathematical model of time which seems to offer solutions to problems vexing scholars since Einstein. In brief, Dr. Saniga takes seriously the testimony of NDErs when they describe experiences in a realm where “time stops” and where some of them “see the past, present, and future all at once.” Dr. Saniga describes this realm as “the Pure Present.” Dr. Saniga used these anomalous experiences to describe a single mathematical model which can account for both the conventional and the extraordinary ways humans experience time.

4. The holographic universe and the NDE

The father of the new paradigm, Albert Einstein, may have had the old paradigm in mind when he said, “All knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it.” The old paradigm denies a whole range of valid subjective experiences such as NDEs, OBEs, and mystical experiences. Severe cracks in the old paradigm began to appear when, in 1982, a research team led by physicist Alain Aspect performed what may turn out to be one of the most important experiments of the 20th century. They discovered subatomic particles were able to remain in contact with one another regardless of the distance separating them – even if the distance is billions of miles. Aspect’s findings seemed to violate the long-held theory of the impossibility of faster-than-light travel. These findings are suggestive of a deeper level of reality where all things in the universe are infinitely interconnected. Aspect’s findings influenced one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century, David Bohm, to develop a profound mathematical theory where all the apparent separateness in the universe to be an illusion. Bohm’s theory, ultimately known as the Holographic Principle, describes the universe to be a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram.

An example of a hologram appears in the movie “Star Wars” when an illusionary holographic image of Princess Lea was projected by the robot R2D2. The notion of reality as illusionary goes back to ancient indigenous people who believed existence to be a dream or an illusion. Modern developments in science have led theoretical physicists to view reality in a similar manner – a reality composed of a matrix, grids, virtual reality, simulation and holograms.

A holographic universe explains the supersymmetry found in the universe and suggests how, at the quantum level, everything – atoms, cells, molecules, plants, animals, and people participate in a connected flowing web of information. For example, the electrons in a carbon atom in the human brain are connected to the subatomic particles comprising every other human brains – even with every star in the sky. All of nature can ultimately be viewed as one seamless web. In a holographic universe, time and space become an illusion. The past, present, and future all exist simultaneously suggesting the possibility of science to someday be able to reach into the holographic level of reality and extract scenes from the long-forgotten past – a phenomenon which has already been documented in NDE research from the life review.

Another aspect of a holographic universe is the mathematical proof of every part of a hologram contains all the information possessed by the whole. If we try to take apart something constructed holographically, we will not get the pieces of which it is made, we will only get smaller wholes. This “whole in every part” nature of a holographic universe may be the basis for mystical experiences such as the NDE. It also agrees with the view of eastern mysticism: all consciousness exists as a part of a single Whole and a single Whole within all consciousness. This holographic paradigm supports mathematical principles found in fractal geometry and the metaphysical concept of non-physical fractal souls existing in a fractal universe. A holographic universe could theoretically be viewed as a Matrix bringing into existence everything else in our universe: all matter and energy – from atoms, to solar systems, to galaxies, etc. Such a Matrix could be viewed as a kind of cosmic storehouse of “All That Is” or the metaphysical concept of an “akashic field.” Such a Matrix of “all information” could also be the basis for the NDE life review. David Bohm believed a holographic level of reality may be a “mere stage” beyond which lies “an infinity of further development.” According to physicist Fred Alan Wolf, NDEs can be explained using a holographic model where death is merely a shifting of a person’s consciousness from one dimension of the hologram to another. Craig Hogan, a physicist at Fermilab, generated even more interest in a holographic universe when he discovered proof of a holographic universe in the data of a gravitational wave detector.

Profound evidence supporting the fractal nature of consciousness within a fractal universe can be seen the image on the right. On March 16, 2006, the journal Nature published a report of the discovery of an unprecedented elongated double helix nebula (see the image on the right) near the center of our Milky Way galaxy using observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. According to Mark Morris, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, said, “Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the cosmic realm. Most nebulae are either spiral galaxies full of stars or formless amorphous conglomerations of dust and gas – space weather. What we see indicates a high degree of order.” Notice how closely the DNA molecule looks like a fractal of this nebula.

Other evidence supporting the fractal nature of consciousness can be seen in the images on the left. Mark Miller, a doctoral student at Brandeis University, researched how particular types of neurons in the brain are connected to one another. By staining thin slices of a mouse’s brain, Miller could then identify the connections visually. The result can be seen in the image on the left labeled “The Brain Cell” (courtesy of Dr. Clifford Pickover) showing three neuron cells on the left (two red and one yellow) and their connections. By comparing The Brain Cell image with The Universe image, we can easily see how these objects have the same structure. This begs the questions, “Do we exist within a gigantic brain?” and “Is the law of physics merely the laws of our own minds?” Learn more about the fractal nature of reality in Dr. Pickover’s outstanding book The Physics Book: From the Big Bang to Quantum Resurrection. His other books, The Math Book and The Medical Book, are equally outstanding. Visit his main website and Twitter site.

The Universe image above was created by an international group of astrophysicists called The Virgo Consortium using a computer simulation to recreate how the universe grew and evolved. The image is a snapshot of the present universe featuring a large cluster of galaxies (bright yellow) surrounded by thousands of stars, galaxies and dark matter. There are several theories of the universe within particle physics called “brane cosmology” where “brane” is a reference to “membrane” in M-Theory. In theoretical physics, a “brane” is a mathematical concept where our four-dimensional universe is restricted to a “brane” inside a higher-dimensional space composed of eleven theoretical dimensions – the three dimensions we can see, plus the dimension of time, plus the seven extra dimensions we can’t see but M-theory theorizes are all around us. Surprisingly, the number of these dimensions agree with the number of “afterlife realms” described by NDEs and the major ancient religions of the world.

The Internet image on the left is a visualization of the Internet showing the various routes through a portion of the Internet. Notice how the structure of a brain cell is the same as the structure of the Internet and the universe. Is this merely a coincidence? Or do these images graphically demonstrate the ancient principle of “as above, so below.” The Internet image was generated by The Opte Project (pronounced op-tee which is Latin word for “optical”) started by Barrett Lyon whose goal was to make an accurate representation of the extent of the Internet using visual graphics. The project was started in October 2003 in an effort to provide a useful network mapping of the Internet for the purposes of helping students learn more about the Internet. This map can also be used to visualize sites of disasters in the world by citing the significant destruction of Internet capabilities after a disaster. It can also be used as a gauge for the growth of the Internet and the areas of growth. But it also shows how the structure of the Internet is developing along the same lines as the structures of the human brain and the universe. The Universe image is featured at the Boston Museum of Science, the Museum of Modern Art and the Louvre.

5. The holonomic brain and the NDE

This “holistic” view of reality (as opposed to reductionist theories) can also be applied to the human brain. The holographic principle was a catalyst towards a theory of quantum consciousness called the “holonomic brain theory” which explains how the brain encodes memories in a holographic manner. This theory originated from neurophysiologist Karl Pribram who synchronistically arrived at a holographic model of the mind at the same time David Bohm was developing a holographic model of the universe. Taken all together, this holographic model is part of a new emerging paradigm called “holism.” Holism is the principle of a whole system being more than just the sum of its parts. The best way to study the behavior of many complex systems is to treat it as a whole.

One of the most amazing things about the human thinking process is how every piece of information seems instantly cross-correlated with every other piece of information within the brain – another feature intrinsic to the hologram. Because every portion of a hologram is infinitely interconnected with every other portion, the human brain is perhaps nature’s supreme example of a cross-correlated, holistic system.

A holistic storage of memory in the brain becomes more understandable in light of Pribram’s holographic model of the brain. Another holistic property of the brain is how it is able to translate the avalanche of frequencies it receives via the senses (light frequencies, sound frequencies, etc.) into the concrete world of our perceptions. Consciousness and perception processes sources of light energy. Encoding and decoding light frequencies is precisely what a hologram does best. Just as a hologram functions as a lens which translates meaningless blurs of frequencies into a coherent image, Pribram theorizes the brain also comprises a lens (e.g., the eye) and uses holographic principles to mathematically convert frequencies received by the senses into the inner world of our perceptions. An impressive body of evidence suggests the brain uses holographic principles to perform its operations. Pribram’s theory, in fact, has gained increasing support among neurophysiologists.

6. Quantum consciousness and the NDE

A corresponding theory of quantum consciousness known as Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch-OR) was developed by the joint work of theoretical physicist, was developed by the joint work of theoretical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff. Like David Bohm and Karl Pribram before them, Penrose and Hameroff developed their theories synchronistically. Penrose approached the problem of consciousness from the view point of mathematics, while Hameroff approached it from his career in anesthesia which gave him an interest in brain structures.

Mainstream theories assume consciousness emerged from the brain, so they focus particularly on complex computation at synapses allowing communication between neurons. Orch-OR assumes classical physics cannot fully explain consciousness. In the June 1994 issue of Discover Magazine, an article ran called “Quantum Consciousness” about how consciousness and quantum physics are intimately connected. This theory suggests consciousness can be found inside the microtubules of brain cells. At death, the information energy inside these microtubules – what some people refer to as the “soul” – doesn’t disappear; but instead, is retained in the universe. One of the fundamental laws in physics, the first law of thermodynamics, is energy cannot be created nor destroyed – it can only be converted. So if consciousness is indeed a form of energy, then according to the first law of thermodynamics, consciousness cannot be destroyed. Instead, it is converted into something else.

On September 6, 2011, National Geographic published the article, “9/11 and Global Consciousness” about how random number generators at Princeton University’s Global Consciousness Project detected a dramatic spike around the world before the time of the terrorist attack – an indication of global consciousness. The director of the project, Dr. Roger D. Nelson, describes in a YouTube video the details of this event. The media paid relatively little attention to this project until Nelson published his paper, “Coherent Consciousness and Reduced Randomness: Correlations on September 11, 2001.

These findings of a global consciousness are also supported NDE experiencers such as Ned Dougherty. During his NDE, Dougherty received visions of the future and were published six months before the September 11th terrorist attack. Here is what the prophecy stated as published in his book “Fast Lane to Heaven“:

“A major terrorist attack may befall New York City or Washington, DC, severely impacting the way we live in the United States.” (Ned Dougherty)

This prophecy given to Ned Dougherty is just one of the visions of the future he received during his NDE. Other near-death experiencers, such as Dannion Brinkley, were also visions of terrorist attack in New York and Washington. In fact, a great number of NDEs involve visions the future.

The old materialistic paradigm, prevalent mostly in the West, disregards the possibility of out-of-body dimensions; whereas, the new paradigm supports them. For this reason, open-minded scientists have acknowledged the time is now to abandon the old paradigm and focus on the new one. Disregarding the old paradigm became even more reasonable when, in December of 2001, The Lancet (the United Kingdom’s highly respected journal of medicine) published the results of a study by Dr. Pim van Lommel showing 18 percent of clinically dead patients having NDEs. Lommel’s study documented verified events observed by such patients from a perspective removed from their bodies – called “veridical perception” – suggesting the existence of a transcendent consciousness. Such studies beg the question of why the scientific community at large remains mostly silent about these facts. Perhaps this is the reason why.

Science may never be able to answer the question of whether or not consciousness survives bodily death; but current near-death studies, such as The AWARE Study (AWAreness during REsuscitation) is trying to find out. The director of this study, Dr. Sam Parnia M.D., is a critical care physician and director of resuscitation research at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York. Dr. Parnia is recognized as an authority on the scientific study of death, the human mind–brain relationship, and near-death experience. Dr. Parnia is also the author of What Happens When We Die (2006) and Erasing Death: The Science That is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death (2013). In the late 90s, Dr. Parnia and Dr. Peter Fenwick he set up the first study of NDEs in the UK. Since then, they have published several articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals [1] [2] [3] in the field of near-death studies. Since Dr. Parnia has been part of the AWARE study, launched by The Human Consciousness Project, twenty-five participating hospitals across Europe and North America have been examining reports of patients after their clinical death, several of whom are expected to have an out-of-body experience with physical perceptions of their surroundings. A major objective of the AWARE study is to test whether the perceptions reported by these patients can be verified. One method involves a visual target being placed near the ceiling where it can only be seen by someone reading it from above; patients who report OBEs are then asked to describe it. Read about the latest update of this study.

7. Nonlocal consciousness and the God spot

Consciousness and the possibility of its survival after death is perhaps the final frontier of science. Although a large body of knowledge exists about the brain, “The brain has not explained the mind fully” according to renowned brain surgeon Wilder Penfield. Materialistic science has yet to produce a conclusive model of consciousness. This is mainly due to its inability to quantify first-person, subjective experiences. Materialism views only objective, observable experiments verifiable by third parties to be valid. The current scientific method relies only upon repeatable experiments to verify a hypothesis; but its limit is reached when quantifying consciousness. Mainstream materialistic scientists claim consciousness is produced entirely by the brain. This is analogous to claiming television sounds and images are produced entirely by television sets, despite the fact television sounds and images are produced by TV stations transmitting nonlocal radio waves. This analogy describes consciousness based not upon the brain, but the brain based upon consciousness. There are a multitude of anomalous phenomena including NDEs which cannot be explained using the scientific method. These anomalous phenomena provides a theoretical basis for a nonlocal model of consciousness while materialistic scientists are unable to explain how immaterial, conscious, subjective experiences can arises from a material brain.

Medical scientists have discovered areas within the brain collectively known as the “God Spot” which permits communication with cosmic information outside of material bodies. Theoretical physicists call this “quantum nonlocality.” Psychologists call it the “collective unconscious.” Hindus call it “Brahman.” Buddhists call it “Nirvana.” Jews call it “Shekhinah.” Christians call it the “Holy Spirit“; Christ and his disciples are called the “light of the world.” New age adherents call it the “Higher Consciousness.” According to Dr. Melvin Morse, the children he has resuscitated from death simply call it “God.”

8. Quantum superposition and the NDE

Atoms and sub-atomic particles can exist in two or more locations simultaneously as multiple coexisting possibilities known as quantum superposition. The reason why we do not see quantum superpositions on a large scale in everyday life is known as the “measurement problem” which has led to various interpretations of quantum mechanics. Early experiments by quantum pioneer Niels Bohr and others seemed to show how quantum superpositions, when measured by a machine, stayed as multiple possibilities until a conscious human observed the results. Bohr concluded “conscious observation collapses the probability wave function” and unobserved superpositions continue to exist until being observed, at which time they too are collapsed to particular random states. According to Bohr, this “consciousness causes the collapse” of quantum possibilities places consciousness within the realm of science. But materialistic science views consciousness strictly on classical physics rejecting the possibility of quantum nonlocality in consciousness and equates the mind with the brain. Perhaps this is the reason Bohr made his famous statement, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”

However, recent evidence linking biological functions to quantum processes supports the possibility of consciousness having nonlocal quantum functions in the brain. This suggests the nature of conscious experience requires a world view in which consciousness has irreducible components of reality. This interpretation defines superpositions becoming separations in reality with each possibility evolving its own distinct universe – giving a multitude of universes. The difference between this theory and Bohr’s interpretation is how the separations are randomly selected from among the superpositioned possibilities. The superposition of these locations can then viewed as separations in the very fabric of reality. This theory posits such conditions have evolved within the brain – inside brain neurons – where microtubules process quantum superpositions giving us our subjective reality. This quantum process within the brain may be the basis for consciousness transcending and surviving physical death as revealed in NDEs. In such altered states, the quantum process of superpositions may shift consciousness to different dimensions of higher frequencies. When NDEs occur, it is possible the quantum information of which consciousness is made of could shift to an existence outside the brain nonlocally. This supports the idea of the mind not being a material brain.

9. The many-worlds theory and the NDE

An important principle of quantum physics is how human observation cannot be predicted absolutely. Instead, there’s a range of possible observations to chose from in the form of probability waves each having a different probability and reality. With every thought, observation and action we make, we are constantly choosing just one of these possible probabilities of reality. One mainstream explanation for this is the “many-worlds interpretation” where each of these possible observations corresponds to a different universe within a “multiverse.” This theory describes the existence of an infinite number of universes – including our own – which comprises all reality. This theory includes possible universe(s) where death doesn’t exist, for example. The theory includes all possible universes existing at the same time despite what happens in any of them. Many-worlds theorizes our continuous choice of reality from possible probabilities does not collapse the universal wave function of all the other possible probabilities. Many-worlds implies all possible alternative histories and futures are real. Before the many-worlds interpretation, reality had always been viewed as a single unfolding history. Many-worlds, however, views reality as a many-branched tree, wherein every possible quantum outcome is realized. In many-worlds, every possible outcome of every event defines or exists in its own universe.

This many-worlds interpretation supports the NDE phenomenon called “flash-forward” where the experiencer is shown visions of possible futures should the experiencer decide to remain in the light or return to life. This phenomenon has been reported to occur to convince the experiencer to return their life because of an incomplete mission in life. One great example is found in the NDE testimony of Karen Schaeffer:

“I could feel myself becoming lighter each moment. In a fit of fear and panic I began crying. No, I couldn’t be dead. What would happen to my son? … In an embrace of love, they calmed me by showing me that my son, my entire family would be okay after my death. My mother could lean on my grandmother. It would take time, but she would heal. My husband, hurt, sad, and lonely would also heal and eventually find love once again … I was shown my funeral … But wait, my son. I couldn’t leave my son … I was told others would be a mother for me. First grandparents, and then they showed me Jake’s life … I saw a new mom for Jake when he was about 7 or 8 … I couldn’t let go of my human life … Finally, my hysteria was calmed by a higher spirit who seemed to envelop me in love. My guides were instructed to allow me to return.” (Karen Schaeffer)

Dr. Kenneth Ring described two kinds of precognitive visions in the NDE: (1) the personal “flash-forward” and the (2) “prophetic vision.” A third category, defined by NDE researcher Craig Lundahl is the “otherworld personal future revelation” (OPFR). The OPFR resembles the personal flash-forward in how it previews the experiencer’s personal future, but differs from the personal flash-forward in how it is delivered to the experiencer by another personage in the otherworld rather than appearing in the visual imagery of a life review. The OPFR differs from the prophetic vision in having a personal rather than planetary focus. Lundahl cites four historic accounts to illustrate major features of the OPFR: (1) entrance into the otherworld, (2) encounter with (3) others who foretell the experiencer’s future, and (4) later occurrence of the foretold events.

10. The many-minds theory and the NDE

The many-minds interpretation of quantum mechanics is an extension of the many-worlds interpretation by proposing distinctions between worlds should be made at the level of the mind of an individual observer. This is the principle supporting the theory of quantum immortality – an interpretation of quantum mechanics which theoretically makes it possible for a human observer to have a continuous infinity of minds in communicating parallel universes. These observer states may then be assumed to correspond to definite states of awareness (i.e., many minds) as in the classical description of observation. In order to make this theory work, the mind must be a property which can separate from the body as suggested in NDEs and OBEs.

11. The zero-point field and the NDE

In quantum theory, the “zero-point field” is a quantum vacuum state or “void” which generally contains nothing but electromagnetic waves and particles popping into and out of existence. A zero-point field of the universe is supportive of the holographic principle where consciousness and memories are not localized in the brain but are distributed throughout a holographic universe. Brains, acting as receivers, access certain frequencies of quantum information to process. This universal zero-point field describes the world and universe as a dynamic web where everything is connected, where consciousness influences matter and creates reality, and where all things are possible. According to Albert Einstein, “Space and time are modes in which we think, not conditions in which we live.”

Dr. Ervin Laszlo, twice nominated for the Nobel Prize, is an integral theorist and champion of this zero-point field as instrumental when understanding consciousness and the universe. Laszlo is generally recognized as the founder of systems philosophy who emphasizes the importance of establishing a holistic perspective on the world and man through quantum consciousness. Lazlo’s groundbreaking book, “Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything” makes a compelling case for the zero-point field to be the substance of the entire universe. It can theoretically be viewed as the source of all consciousness and matter in the universe. Using the Hindu concept of a “cosmic memory” called the “akashic records,” Laszlo theorizes the zero-point field to be the fundamental energy and information-carrying field of the universe, past and present, including all possible parallel universes. Laszlo describes how such an informational field explains why the universe appears to be fine-tuned as to form conscious life forms. Laszlo’s zero-point akashic field theory solves several problems in quantum physics from nonlocality to quantum entanglement.

Laszlo’s theory agrees with revelations from the Christian mystic Edgar Cayce. When Cayce was asked where he received his psychic information, he answered it was from “the intelligent infinity” as it is “brought into intelligent energy” as a gateway to view the present. Cayce acknowledged this “gateway” to be equivalent to the Hindu concept of the “akashic records” and the Christian concept of the “Book of Life.” Cayce revealed these otherworldly records are stored in a heavenly “Hall of Records” which corresponds to the so-called “Temple of Knowledge” or the “Temple of Wisdom” appearing in many NDE testimonials.

Dr. Laszlo’s theory is supported by important scientific research. For example, biologist Paul Pietsch experimented with salamanders to locate where memories are stored in the brain. He removed their brains, grinded them up, even shuffling their brains around, and then placed them back in their heads. The astonishing result was their memories where unaffected although their brains were demolished. Pietsch’s conclusion was memory was not a local phenomenon, but is linked to something outside their bodies. His findings were published in his book, Shufflebrain: The Quest for the Hologramic Mind.

Neuroanatomist Harold Burr conducted similar experiments with salamanders and discovered a field of light surrounding their unfertilized eggs in the shape of an adult salamander. Burr also noticed fields of light surrounding plant seeds taking the shape of mature plants. Burr’s research supports Pietsch’s findings of physical bodies being connected to a surrounding energy field. Burr’s findings where published in his book, The Fields of Life: Our Links with the Universe. This energy field may account for the salamander parts growing back when they are removed. This energy field may also explain why human amputees sometimes feel “phantom pain” from their amputated body part as described by NDE expert Robert Mays. This energy field also supports the phenomenon of people having undergone organ transplants taking on certain memories from the organ donor. The discovery of an “electromagnetic zero-point field” lends credibility to the possibility of having vast memory storage capabilities outside of the physical body. Phenomena such as these can be best understood if the zero point field can be “tapped” as a storage location for information and energy which can be accessed at any time.

This zero point field has parallels to “the void” and the “Omega Point” described in near-death research and championed by the near-death expert Dr. Kenneth Ring in his book, “Heading Toward Omega: The Search for the Meaning of Near-Death Experiences.” One example is the Omega Point is found in the NDE of Olaf Swenson who experienced a timeless spaceless realm when he nearly died of a botched tonsillectomy at age 14. He states:

“Suddenly I rolled into a ball and smashed into another reality. The forces that brought me through the barrier were terrific. I was on the other side. I realized that the boundary between life and death is a strange creation of our own mind, very real (from the side of the living), and yet insignificant.”

Swenson felt he was floating in a universe with no boundaries.

“I had total comprehension of everything. I stood at the annihilation point, a bright orange light. As I felt my mind transported back to my body, I thought, please let me remember this new theory of relativity.”

The information Swenson gained during his NDE inspired him to develop over 100 patents in molecular chemistry. (Dr. Kenneth Ring)

12. Black hole physics and the NDE

In the 1970s, Stephen Hawking put forward a theory of black holes which appeared to violate a major principle of physics – the law of the conservation of information – because it implied quantum information can permanently disappear within a black hole with the exception of “Hawking radiation.” Hawking’s inconsistent theory led to what was called the “Black Hole Information Paradox.” Physicist Leonard Susskind (pictured on the left) later solved this paradox with his development of M-theory using the holographic principle to show how information entering the edge of a black hole is not lost, but can entirely be contained on the surface of the horizon in a holographic manner. Susskind’s theory solved the paradox because the nature of a hologram’s two-dimensional information structure can be “painted” on the edge of the black hole thereby giving a three-dimensional black hole where quantum information is not lost. Susskind’s solution to the information paradox led to wide-spread acceptance of the holographic principle.

David Bohm was convinced all matter in the universe, including our physical body, is composed of light in a condensed “frozen” state. NDE experiencers have often described their spirit bodies as “bodies of light.” During an NDE the experiencer transitions from the material world which operates at speeds less than the speed of light to a dimension which operates at faster-than-light speed. The NDE experiencer may first observe the earth or the universe from space before this transition. In transitioning from the material to the spiritual dimension, the experiencer may first enter a “NDE tunnel” much in the same way a “body of light” might experience what astrophysicists call a “black hole.” As previously mentioned, Leonard Susskind’s theory of black holes allows for light particles to travel through a black hole without being destroyed. At faster-than-light speed, a “body of light” could enter into a time and spaceless dimension where this body of light can move forward and backward through space-time. This NDE tunnel, like a black hole, appears to be a “portal” to another dimension of reality.

In the late 1980’s, theoretical physicist Kip Thorne described how objects known as wormholes can exist in space which theoretically allows for time travel. Such wormholes could essentially be two connecting black holes whose mouths make up a tear in the fabric of space-time. NDE experiencers have observed such a tunnel described as “two huge tornadoes appear in the form of an immense hourglass” (P.M.H. Atwater, Beyond the Light.) The upper tornado spins clockwise and outward, while the lower tornado spins counter-clockwise and inward which is an excellent description of a wormhole. The Science Channel documentary “Through The Wormhole” has an excellent segment on NDEs. Rev. George Rodonaia‘s also has an excellent description of this NDE/Black Hole:

“I was so happy to be in the light. And I understood what the light meant. I learned that all the physical rules for human life were nothing when compared to this unitive reality. I also came to see that a black hole is only another part of that infinity which is light. I came to see that reality is everywhere. That it is not simply the earthly life but the infinite life. Everything is not only connected together, everything is also one. So I felt a wholeness with the light, a sense that all is right with me and the universe.” (Rev. George Rodonaia)

13. Biocentrism and the NDE

Dr. Robert Lanza is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. He is a medical researcher at the forefront of developments in cloning, organ transplantation, and stem-cell transplantation. His mentors described him as a “genius” and the “Bill Gates of Science.” As a young preteen, Lanza caught the attention of Harvard Medical School researchers when he successfully altered the genetics of chickens as a class project. Eventually, he was discovered and mentored by such scientific giants as psychologist B.F. Skinner, immunologist Jonas Salk, and heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard. A Fulbright Scholar, Lanza was part of the team cloning the world’s first human embryo for the purpose of generating stem cells. Dr. Lanza’s work has been crucial to our understanding stem cell biology. A year after receiving his medical degree Lanza published a book on heart transplantation. In 2009, he published a book entitled, “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe.” Reviews of his work include Nobel laureate E. Donnall Thomas who stated “Any short statement does not do justice to such a scholarly work. The work is a scholarly consideration of science and philosophy bringing biology into the central role in unifying the whole.”

Biocentrism‘s main tenet is biology being the most important science in understanding life and the universe. Other sciences require a more deeper understanding of biology – specifically life and consciousness – to make their theories of everything complete. The areas of biological research playing a central role in understanding life and consciousness must include neuroscience, brain anatomy, NDE and OBE consciousness studies, and even artificial intelligence – all of which will eventually force materialistic scientists to seriously confront the issues biocentricism raises. Robert Lanza also uses his theory of Biocentrism to explain the possibility of consciousness surviving death by such articles as: (1)What Is It Like After You Die?,” (2)Is Death the End? Experiments Suggest You Create Time,” (3)Does Death Exist?: Life Is Forever, Says Theory,” and (4)What Happens When You Die? Evidence Suggests Time Simply Reboots.”

Biocentrism also explains a major scientific paradox of how the laws of physics fits so precisely allowing for conscious life to exist. There are over 200 precise parameters in physics describing the universe which suggests the universe is fine-tuned for an environment which life and consciousness requires. There are four explanations for this paradox: (1) it is an astonishingly improbable coincidence, (2) God created it – an explanation which science cannot quantify even if it is true, (3) the “Anthropic Principle” which assumes a fine-tuned universe exists because this is just the way it is, and (4) Biocentrism’s theory of a biologically aware universe created by biologically aware life. Physician Deepak Chopra agrees with biocentrism being “consistent with the most ancient wisdom traditions of the world which says that consciousness conceives, governs, and becomes a physical world. It is the ground of our Being in which both subjective and objective reality come into existence.”

14. Subjective experiences and the NDE

Physicalism is a theory which posits only physical things exist. Materialism is a related theory which posits only matter and energy exist; and everything is composed of these materials; and all phenomena are the result of physical interactions. In other words, reality is limited to states of energy and matter. Applied to consciousness, it holds that all aspects of subjective experience is explainable purely by objective states within a physical brain. But the problem with materialism, as applied to the consciousness, is it does not distinguish between mind and brain. This explanation problem of materialism suggests there exists a metaphysical, non-physical component to subjective experiences philosophically known as “qualia“.

The person who has arguably done more to support the subjective nature of consciousness is Dr. David Chalmers, the distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness in Australia, who specializes in the area of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. Chalmers has authored an amazing number of resources on topics related to consciousness and philosophy. He is the author of a directory of online philosophy papers, and co-directed the development of a wealth of online philosophy articles called PhilPapers. Chalmers is also the blogmaster of Fragments of Consciousness and the author of the book, “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.”

Chalmers defined this explanatory problem of materialism as the “hard problem of consciousness.” Chalmers illustrated this problem using the thought experiment of a “brain in a vat” (see the graphic on the left). If a person’s brain is suspended in a vat of life-sustaining liquid and its neurons connected to a supercomputer providing it with electrical impulses identical to those the brain normally receives, the computer could then simulate reality and the person with the “disembodied” brain could continue to have perfectly normal conscious experiences without being related to objects or events in the real world. In this case, because the experience of being in a vat and the experience of being in a skull would be identical, it would impossible to tell from the brain’s perspective of whether it is in a skull or a vat. Yet when the brain is in a skull and running on a beach, most of the brain’s beliefs may be true. But when the brain is in a vat, the brain’s beliefs are completely false. Therefore, because the brain cannot make such a distinction, there cannot be solid ground for the brain to believe anything it believes.

This Brain-in-a-Vat Argument is similar to the “Dream Argument” which suggests the brain’s ability to create simulated realities during REM sleep means there is a statistical likelihood of our own reality being simulated. Lucid dreams also supports this. There is also a long philosophical and scientific history to the underlying thesis of reality being an illusion which is centered on the assumption we do not experience the environment itself but rather a projection of it created by our own minds. A serious academic debate within the field of transhumanism centers around a related argument called the “Simulation Argument” which proposes reality to be a simulation and our current paradigm of reality to be an illusion. Physicists have even developed a scientific experiment to determine if our universe is a computer simulation. Also, as previously mentioned, several interpretations of quantum mechanics, such as the Holographic Principle, suggests our perception of reality to be holographically an illusion.

Near-death studies supports these arguments and goes even further. The life review process is often described by NDE experiencers in terms of viewing “television-like” screen(s) where they review every second of their life instantaneously – including the perceptions of everyone on earth they ever came into contact with throughout their life. Another aspect of NDEs supporting simulism is the out-of-body component to the NDE. Experiencers have described out-of-body conditions where they view their physical body from above in a different “body” – a phenomenon known as autoscopy. Sometimes these perceptions are verified later by third-parties – a phenomenon known as veridical perception. Veridical dreams have also been reported. See [1] [2] [3]. Veridical NDEs are reports of veridical perception during the out-of-body component of the NDE which are later confirmed to be accurate. See [4] [5] [6] [7]. Often, these perceptions are very detailed and specific. Some reports of veridical out-of-body perception involve detailed observation of events too distant for the physical body to perceive. See [8] [9] [10]. Also, while some NDE experiencers are having their out-of-body component, they may become aware of an even “higher” version of themselves (see Dr. Dianne Morrissey’s NDE for a good example). This also explains why some NDE experiencers have reported seeing “higher versions” of living people on earth. See Carl Jung’s NDE for the ultimate example where he sees the “avatar” of his friend during his NDE. While such evidence may not persuade the skeptics, the millions of individuals who have experienced an NDE are absolutely convinced of consciousness surviving bodily death.

Near-death studies contain multiple reports of veridical perception of events which were outside the range of the NDE experiencer’s sensory perception and, therefore, of brain mediation (See Sabom, 1998; Ring, 2006; Sharp, 2003; Ring & Cooper, 2008; and van Lommel, van Wees, Meyers, & Elfferich, 2001). In some cases, such perceptions occur while the NDE experiencer is experiencing the brain inactivity following within 10 seconds of cessation of heartbeat (van Lommel et al, 2001). Over 100 such cases are published on www.iands.org, www.nderf.org, www.oberf.org and www.near-death.com. More discussion of veridical perception is presented in a response to the article entitled, “Does the Arousal System Contribute to Near-Death Experience?: A Response” (PDF). in the Journal of Near-Death Studies. Taken altogether, the evidence strongly suggests the possibility of NDE and OBE perception occurring without the help of the physical senses or the brain. Therefore, for skeptics to refer to NDEs and OBEs in general as “illusions” or “delusions” is jumping the gun. Mainstream materialistic scientists have yet to fully quantify the mind; while near-death researchers provide veridical evidence reported in NDEs and OBEs as examples suggesting the mind can function independent of the physical brain. According to veridical NDE experts Jan Holden and Jeffrey Long:

“Even if future research convincingly demonstrated that electrical stimulation of a particular area of the brain consistently induced typical OBEs, this finding would not explain veridical perception associated with OBEs.” (Jan Holden and Jeffrey Long)

One particular NDE experiencer, a neurosurgeon by the name of Eben Alexander III, MD, FACS, (also www.eternea.org) has a profound understanding of the physiological aspects to the NDE he experienced. Dr. Alexander currently practices with a private neurosurgical group in Lynchburg, Va., and travels extensively, making presentations about revelations from his coma experience elucidating the nature of consciousness. According to Dr. Alexander:

“… the reductive materialist (physicalist) model, on which conventional science is based, is fundamentally flawed. At its core, it intentionally ignores what I believe is the fundament of all existence – the nature of consciousness … From their [Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr and Erwin Schrodinger] experiments one could infer that consciousness has a definite role in creating reality. And those experimental results have only become more bizarre in recent years. (Witness the “quantum eraser experiment” performed in 2000.) I believe that the core of that mystery is that consciousness itself is deeply rooted in quantum processes.

“Even the physicists and scientists who proselytize the materialistic model have been forced to the edge of the precipice. They must now admit to knowing just a little bit about 4% of the material universe they know exists, but must confess to being totally “in the dark” about the other 96 percent. And that doesn’t even begin to address the even grander component that is home to the “consciousness” that I believe to be the basis of it all.

“That we can know things beyond the ken of the “normal” channels is incontrovertible. An excellent resource for any scientist who still seeks proof of that reality is the rigorous 800-page analysis and review of all manner of extended consciousness, “Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century.” This magnum opus from the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia catalogues a wide variety of empirical phenomena that appear difficult or impossible to accommodate within the standard physicalist way of looking at things. Phenomena covered include, in particular, NDEs occurring under conditions such as deep general anesthesia and cardiac arrest that – like my coma – should prevent occurrence of any experience whatsoever, let alone the profound sorts of experiences that frequently do occur. Also noteworthy, the American Institute of Physics sponsored meetings in 2006 and 2011 covering the physical science of such extraordinary channels of knowledge.” (Dr. Eben Alexander III)

Such quantum eraser experiments mentioned by Dr. Alexander reveal an astonishing fact about how consciousness is the supreme factor in quantum physics. These experiments reveal how an experimenter is able to successfully chose and predict the random outcome of an event even after the outcome has already taken place. They prove how the outcome of such experiments – whether a photon of light is a wave or a particle – can be predicted after the fact by the experimenter making a random mental choice of the experiment’s outcome. In other words, the experimenter’s after the fact choice of the outcome actually determines the experiment’s outcome. These astonishing findings dramatically suggest the possibility of our choices made today may determine the outcome of the past.

For these reasons and more, consciousness cannot be explained entirely as objective events experienced the brain. Consciousness must also be explained in terms of the subjective events experienced in the brain. This leads to such questions as, “Why is there a personal, subjective component to experience?” and “Why aren’t we all philosophical zombies?” This “brain in a vat” argument shows how subjective experience cannot be reduced to the functional properties of physical processes in the brain. A complete definition of consciousness must include a component describing subjective, conscious experiences which have not been explained in materialistic terms. This brain in a vat argument is a contemporary version of the argument given in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

The dream argument also applies to the subjective nature of NDEs and OBEs championed by Dr. Vernon Neppe, Director of the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute. In his paper, “Reality Begins with Consciousness: A Paradigm Shift that Works,” Neppe uses a hypothesis on the neurophysiological implications of parapsychology of:

“… a timeless, spaceless universe in which all things or events exist but in a more dormant sense, where drugs such as LSD may free the cerebral cortex from the ‘modulating effect of the brain stem reticular activating system,’ allowing the cortex to run free.'” (Dr. Vernon Neppe)

Neppe described the possibility where, under such circumstances, an individual exposed to a purely mental universe, independent of matter, containing all mental events, may experience overlap or be entangled with the physical universe. This is supported by similarities existing between elements of NDEs and the quantum field concept of subjectivity. They suggest all events are related and influence each other instantaneously and in reciprocity, and only subjectivity remains..

These arguments of subjectivity support the holistic paradigm of the illusionary “separation” between the subjective observer’s experience and the objective object being observed. Because the old materialistic paradigm is unable to explain conscious experiences, it leads many scientists to simply ignore it altogether as being a problem. This ignorance is demonstrated by pseudoskeptics (such as “old paradigm cops“) of anomalous conscious experiences and by materialistic critics of subjective experiences including NDEs and OBEs. Materialism cannot explain how consciousness arises from “goo” or how atoms in the brain comprises consciousness. The new holistic paradigm views reality to be in the eye and mind of the observer/beholder. Philosopher Thomas Nagel also makes a compelling case against materialism, in principle, developing an objective explanation of consciousness.

15. Scientific articles on NDEs and its relationship to quantum physics

Beck, TE & Colli, J.G. (2003). A Quantum Biomechanical Basis for Near-Death Life Reviews. Journal of Near-Death Studies.

Belaustegui, GD. (2010). Phenomenology of the Transcendence of Space-time Coordinates: Evidence from Death Announcements. Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche.

Brian, RA. (2003). What can Elementary Particles Tell Us About the World in Which We Live? NeuroQuantology..

Brumblay, RJ. (2003). Hyperdimensional Perspectives in Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences. Journal of Near-Death Studies.

Facco, E.& Agrillo, C. Near-Death Experiences Between Science and Prejudice. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Fracasso, C., Friedman, H. (2012). Electromagnetic Aftereffects of NDEs: A Preliminary Report on a Series of Studies Currently Under Way. Journal of Transpersonal Research.

Greene, FG. (2003). At the Edge of Eternity’s Shadows: Scaling the Fractal Continuum from Lower into Higher Space. Journal of Near-Death Studies.

Greyson, B. (2011). Cosmological Implications of Near-Death Experiences. Journal of Cosmology.

Hameroff, S., Chopra, D. (2012). The “Quantum Soul”: A Scientific Hypothesis. Exploring Frontiers of the Mind-Brain Relationship.

Jourdan, JP. (2011). Near-Death Experiences and the 5th Dimensional Spatio-Temporal Perspective. Journal of Cosmology.

Laws, E Perry. (2010). Near Death Experiences: A New Algorithmic Approach to Verifying Consciousness Outside the Brain. NeuroQuantology.

Lundahl, CR & Gibson, AS. (2000). Near-Death Studies and Modern Physics. Journal of Near-Death Studies.

Mays, RG & Mays, SB. (2011). A Theory of Mind and Brain that Solves the “Hard Problem” of Consciousness. The Center for Consciousness Studies.

Mukherjee, K. (2012). Three Cases of NDE. Is it Physiology, Physics or Philosophy? Annals of Neurosciences.

Pilotti, j. (2011). Consciousness and Physics: Towards a Scientific Proof that Consciousness is in Space-Time Beyond The Brain. Journal of Transpersonal Research.

Pratt, D. (2007). Consciousness, Causality, and Quantum Physics. NeuroQuantology.

Ratner, J (2012). Radiant Minds: Scientists Explore the Dimensions of Consciousness. NeuroQuantology.

Ray, K. & Roy, MK. (2010). A Theoretical Basis for Surges of Electroencephalogram Activity and Vivid Mental Sensation During Near-Death Experience. International Journal of Engineering Science and Technology.

van Lommel, P. (2006). NDE, Consciousness, and the Brain: A New Concept About the Continuity of Our Consciousness Based on Recent Scientific Research on NDE in Survivors of Cardiac Arrest. World Futures.

van Lommel, P. (2013). Non-Local Consciousness: A Concept Based on Scientific Research on NDEs During Cardiac Arrest. Journal of Consciousness Studies.

Venselaar, M. (2012). The Physics of Near-Death Experiences: A Five-Phase Theory. Noetic Now Journal.

Categories
Evidence Science

People See Verified Events While Out-Of-Body

The scientific method requires all phenomena to be reproducible, provide veridical details (i.e., details which cannot be explained away, which are found to be true), and undergo rigorous tests to rule out all the known alternative explanations, for a theory to be proven as scientific fact. Using the scientific method, near-death experiences have been proven to be a real scientific phenomenon because they are reproducible. Near-death experiences were first shown to be reproducible during studies involving the subjection of fighter pilots to extreme gravitational forces in a giant centrifuge. But the question is not, “Are near-death experiences real?” Even skeptics now concede that it is a real phenomenon. The question to ask is, “Are near-death experiences a phenomenon of a person’s consciousness being outside of their body?” And if this can be proven true, then the next question is, “Can consciousness survive bodily death?” This last question likely cannot be proven true to the satisfaction of the skeptics using near-death research alone. This is because no matter how you define “death,” the only kind of definition that satisfies the skeptics is “irreversible” death. Just the very nature of the phrase “near-death” suggests that it is not true death – where nobody comes back. However, good scientific evidence for survival can be found in other realms of research such as psychic studies, quantum physics, consciousness studies, and remote viewing – not to mention the mountain of circumstantial evidence.

Table of Contents

  1. Veridical Perception in Near-Death Experiences
  2. Dr. Moody’s Exceptional NDE Testimony
  3. Further Evidence for Veridical Perception During NDEs
    a. Abstract
    b. Introduction
    c. Case One
    d. Case Two
    e. Case Three
    f. Discussion
  4. References

1. Veridical Perception in Near-Death Experiences

At this point in near-death studies, researchers are particularly interested in studying those NDEs that may provide an answer to the question of whether the mind can function outside the physical body. This is the first step in determining whether consciousness can survive bodily death. One way is to discover this is to examine those NDEs which are “veridical” (verifiable). Veridical NDEs occur when the experiencer acquires verifiable information which they could not have obtained by any normal means. Often, near-death experiencers report witnessing events that happen at some distant location away from their body, such as another room of the hospital. If the events witnessed by the experiencer at the distant location can be verified to have occurred, then veridical perception would be said to have taken place. It would provide very compelling evidence that NDEs are experiences outside of the physical body. Visit the NDE and Out-Of-Body research conclusions to read a large collection of veridical NDEs.

Besides his ground-breaking book, Life After Life (1975), Raymond Moody is the author of the excellent NDE books, Reflections (1985), The Light Beyond (1989), Reunions (1994), Coming Back (1995), The Last Laugh (1999), Life After Loss (2002), Paranormal (2013), and Making Sense of Nonsense (2020). In Life After Life, Moody documents a number of veridical near-death experiences which will be described here. This veridical evidence suggests the possibility that consciousness can exist away from the body. In light of such veridical evidence, other NDE theories fall by the wayside because they cannot account for these veridical details. And although the available veridical NDE evidence does not constitute scientific proof of consciousness surviving bodily death, it does qualify as very powerful circumstantial and anecdotal evidence, the kind of evidence that is upheld every day in courts of law all around the country.

Whether or not there will ever be scientific evidence for the survival of consciousness may depend upon science itself and how such phenomenon as NDEs can be quantified. Using the strict demands of science, we can only conclude as Dr. Raymond Moody does when he had this to say:

“I don’t have any idea whether there’s life after death or not. I’ve been a follower of science all of my life, but I also have a Ph.D. in philosophy, and it really seems to me that the question of life after death is not yet ripe for scientific inquiry because it’s not formulatable in a way that fits into the scientific method. I also think it’s the most important question. If you think of the big questions of existence, this is the biggie.”

The following are some examples of veridical NDEs documented by Moody:

Example 1:  An elderly woman had been blind since childhood. But, during her NDE, the woman had regained her sight and she was able to accurately describe the instruments and techniques used during the resuscitation her body. After the woman was revived, she reported the details to her doctor. She was able to tell her doctor who came in and out, what they said, what they wore, what they did, all of which was true. Her doctor then referred the woman to Moody who he knew was doing research at the time on NDEs.

Example 2:  In another instance a woman with a heart condition was dying at the same time that her sister was in a diabetic coma in another part of the same hospital. The subject reported having a conversation with her sister as both of them hovered near the ceiling watching the medical team work on her body below. When the woman awoke, she told the doctor that her sister had died while her own resuscitation was taking place. The doctor denied it, but when she insisted, he had a nurse check on it. The sister had, in fact, died during the time in question.

Example 3:  A dying girl left her body and into another room in the hospital where she found her older sister crying and saying:

“Oh, Kathy, please don’t die, please don’t die.”

The older sister was quite baffled when, later, Kathy told her exactly where she had been and what she had been saying during this time.

“After it was all over, the doctor told me that I had a really bad time, and I said, “Yeah, I know.”

He said, “Well, how do you know?”And I said, “I can tell you everything that happened.”

He didn’t believe me, so I told him the whole story, from the time I stopped breathing until the time I was kind of coming around. He was really shocked to know that I knew everything that had happened. He didn’t know quite what to say, but he came in several times to ask me different things about it.

When I woke up after the accident, my father was there, and I didn’t even want to know what sort of shape I was in, or how I was, or how the doctors thought I would be. All I wanted to talk about was the experience I had been through. I told my father who had dragged my body out of the building, and even what color clothes that person had on, and how they got me out, and even about all the conversation that had been going on in the area.

And my father said, “Well, yes, these things were true.”

Yet, my body was physically out this whole time, and there was no way I could have seen or heard these things without being outside of my body.

2. Dr. Moody’s Exceptional NDE Testimony

In his book, Life After Life, Moody documents what he calls “a rather exceptional account” which embodies many of the elements of the NDE that he describes and has an interesting veridical near-death experience. I think you will agree that it is rather exceptional:

Jack’s NDE: “At the time this happened I suffered, as I still do, a very severe case of bronchial asthma and emphysema. One day, I got into a coughing fit and apparently ruptured a disk in the lower part of my spine. For a couple of months, I consulted a number of doctors for the agonizing pain, and finally one of them referred me to a neurosurgeon, Dr. Wyatt. He saw me and told me that I needed to be admitted to the hospital immediately, so I went on in and they put me in traction right away.

“Dr. Wyatt knew that I had bad respiratory diseases so he called in a lung specialist, who said that the anesthesiologist, Dr. Coleman, should be consulted if I was going to be put to sleep. So the lung specialist worked on me for almost three weeks until he finally got me to a place where Dr. Coleman would put me under. He finally consented on a Monday, although he was very much worried about it. They scheduled the operation for the next Friday. Monday night, I went to sleep and had a restful sleep until sometime early Tuesday morning, when I woke up in severe pain. I turned over and tried to get in a more comfortable position, but just at that moment a light appeared in the corner of the room, just below the ceiling. It was just a ball of light, almost like a globe, and it was not very large, I would say no more than twelve to fifteen inches in diameter, and as this light appeared, a feeling came over me. I can’t say that it was an eerie feeling, because it was not. It was a feeling of complete peace and utter relaxation. I could see a hand reach down for me from the light, and the light said:

“Come with me. I want to show you something.”

“So immediately, without any hesitation whatsoever, I reached up with my hand and grabbed onto the hand I saw. As I did, I had the feeling of being drawn up and of leaving my body, and I looked back and saw it lying there on the bed while I was going up towards the ceiling of the room.

“Now, at this time, as soon as I left my body, I took on the same form as the light. I got the feeling, and I’ll have to use my own words for it, because I’ve never heard anyone talk about anything like this, that this form was definitely a spirit. It wasn’t a body, just a wisp of smoke or a vapor. It looked almost like the clouds of cigarette smoke you can see when they are illuminated as they drift around a lamp. The form I took had colors, though. There was orange, yellow, and a color that was very indistinct to me – I took it to be an indigo, a bluish color.

“This spiritual form didn’t have a shape like a body. It was more or less circular, but it had what I would call a hand. I know this because when the light reached down for me, I reached up for it with my hand. Yet, the arm and hand of my body just stayed put, because I could see them lying on the bed, down by the side of my body, as I rose up to the light. But when I wasn’t using this spiritual hand, the spirit went back to the circular pattern.

“So, I was drawn up to the same position the light was in, and we started moving through the ceiling and the wall of the hospital room, into the corridor, and through the corridor, down through the floors it seemed, on down to a lower floor in the hospital. We had no difficulty in passing through doors or walls. They would just fade away from us as we would approach them.

“During this period it seemed that we were traveling. I knew we were moving, yet there was no sensation of speed. And in a moment, almost instantaneously, really, I realized that we had reached the recovery room of the hospital. Now, I hadn’t even known where the recovery room was at this hospital, but we got there, and again, we were in the corner of the room near the ceiling, up above everything else. I saw the doctors and nurses walking around in their green suits and saw the beds that were placed around in there. This being then told me – he showed me:

“That’s where you’re going to be. When they bring you off the operating table they’re going to put you in that bed, but you will never awaken from that position. You’ll know nothing after you go to the operating room until I come back to get you sometime after this.”

“Now, I won’t say this was in words. It wasn’t like an audible voice, because if it had been I would have expected the others in the room to have heard the voice, and they didn’t. It was more of an impression that came to me. But it was in such a vivid form that there was no way for me to say I didn’t hear it or I didn’t feel it. It was definite to me.

“And what I was seeing – well, it was so much easier to recognize things while I was in this spiritual form. I was now wondering, like, “Now, what is that that he is trying to show me?” I knew immediately what it was, what he had in mind. There was no doubt. It was that bed – it was the bed on the right just as you come in from the corridor – is where I’m going to be and he’s brought me here for a purpose. And then he told me why. It came to me that the reason for this was that he didn’t want any fear when the time came that my spirit passed from my body, but that he wanted me to know what the sensation would be on passing that point. He wanted to assure me so that I wouldn’t be afraid, because he was telling me that he wouldn’t be there immediately, that I would go through other things first, but that he would be overshadowing everything that happened and would be there for me at the end.

“Now, immediately, when I had joined him to take the trip to the recovery room and had become a spirit myself, in a way we had been fused into one. We were two separate ones, too, of course. Yet, he had full control of everything that was going on as far as I was concerned. And even if we were traveling through the walls and ceilings and so forth, well, it just seemed that we were in such close communion that nothing whatsoever could have bothered me. Again, it was just a peacefulness, calmness, and a serenity that have never been found anywhere else.

“So, after he told me this, he took me back to my hospital room, and as I got back I saw my body again, still lying in the same position as when we left, and instantaneously I was back in my body. I would guess that I had been out of my body for five or ten minutes, but passage of time had nothing to do with this experience. In fact, I don’t remember if I had ever even thought of it as being any particular time.

“Now, this whole thing had just astounded me, took me completely by surprise. It was so vivid and real – more so than ordinary experience. And the next morning, I was not in the least afraid. When I shaved, I noticed that my hand didn’t shake like it had been doing for six or eight weeks before then. I knew that I would be dying, and there was no regret, no fear. There was no thought, “What can I do to keep this from happening?” I was ready.

“Now, on Thursday afternoon, the day before the operation the next morning, I was in my hospital room, and I was worried. My wife and I have a boy, an adopted nephew, and we were then having some trouble with him. So I decided to write a letter to my wife and one to my nephew, putting some of my worries into words, and to hide the letters where they wouldn’t be found until after the operation. After I had written about two pages on the letter to my wife, it was just as if the floodgates had opened. All at once, I broke out in tears, sobbing. I felt a presence, and at first I thought maybe that I had cried so loud that I had disturbed one of the nurses, and that they had come in to see what was the matter with me. But I hadn’t heard the door open. And again I felt this presence, but I didn’t see any light this time, and thoughts or words came to me, just as before, and he said:

“Jack, why are you crying? I thought you would be pleased to be with me.”I thought, “Yes, I am. I want to go very much.”

And the voice said, “Then why are you crying?”

I said, “We’ve had trouble with our nephew, you know, and I’m afraid my wife won’t know how to raise him. I’m trying to put into words how I feel, and what I want her to try to do for him. I’m concerned, too, because I feel that maybe my presence could have settled him down some.”

Then the thoughts came to me, from this presence, “Since you are not asking for someone else, and thinking of others, not Jack, I will grant what you want. You will live until you see your nephew become a man.”

“And just like that, it was gone. I stopped crying, and I destroyed the letter so my wife wouldn’t accidentally find it.

“That evening, Dr. Coleman came in and told me that he was expecting a lot of trouble with putting me to sleep, and for me not to be surprised to wake up and find a lot of wires and tubes and machines all around me. I didn’t tell him what I had experienced, so I just nodded and said I would cooperate.

“The next morning the operation took a long time but went fine, and as I was regaining my consciousness, Dr. Coleman was there with me, and I told him:

“I know exactly where I am.”

He asked, “What bed are you in?”

I said, “I’m in that first bed on the right just as you come in from the hall.”

“He just kind of laughed, and of course, he thought that I was just taking from the anesthetic.

“I wanted to tell him what had happened, but just in a moment Dr. Wyatt came in and said:

“He’s awake now. What do you want to do?”

And Dr. Coleman said, “There’s not a thing I can do. I’ve never been so amazed in my life. Here I am with all this equipment set up and he doesn’t need a thing.”

Dr. Wyatt said, “Miracles still happen, you know.”

“So, when I could get up in the bed and see around the room, I saw that I was in that same bed that the light had shown me several days before.

“Now, all this was three years ago, but it is still just as vivid as it was then. It was the most fantastic thing that has ever happened to me, and it has made a big difference. But I don’t talk about it. I have only told my wife, my brother, my minister, and now you. I don’t know how to say it, but this is so hard to explain. I’m not trying to make a big explosion in your life, and I’m not trying to brag. It’s just that after this, I don’t have any doubts anymore. I know there is life after death.”

3. Further Evidence for Veridical Perception During Near-Death Experiences

Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., (www.kenring.org) is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut, and Madelaine Lawrence, R.N., Ph.D., is Director of Nursing Research at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. This article was published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, Volume 11, Number 4, Summer 1993.

a. Abstract

We briefly survey research designed to validate alleged out-of-body perceptions during near-death experiences. Most accounts of this kind that have surfaced since Michael Sabom’s work are unsubstantiated self-reports or, as in claims of visual perception of blind persons, completely undocumented or fictional, but there have been some reports that were corroborated by witnesses. We briefly present and discuss three new cases of this kind.

“What if you slept, and what if in your sleep you dreamed, and what if in your dream you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower, and what if when you awoke you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge

b. Introduction

Despite repeated expressions for the need to verify out-of-body perceptions during near-death experiences (NDEs) (for example, Blackmore, 1984, 1985; Cook, 1984; Holden, 1988, 1989; Holden and Joesten, 1990; Kincaid, 1985; and Krishnan, 1985), the last decade has produced virtually nothing of substance on this vital issue. Michael Sabom’s pioneering work (Sabom, 1981, 1982) is now recognized as essentially the only evidence from systematic research in the field of near-death studies that suggests NDErs can sometimes report visual perceptions that are physically impossible and not otherwise explicable by conventional means. To be sure, Sabom’s data remain controversial, but the point is that they are still the only extensive body of evidence that bears on the question of veridical perception during near-death states.

Subsequent investigators, such as Janice Miner Holden and Leroy Joesten (1990), have attempted to follow Sabom’s lead, but their work has been inconclusive, a casualty of various bureaucratic and methodological complications. What has emerged instead in the aftermath of Sabom’s research is largely a miscellany of unsubstantiated self-reports as tantalizing as they are unverifiable. These reports dot the landscape of near-death studies like so many promising trails (for example, Grey, 1985, pp. 37-38; Moody and Perry, 1988, pp. 134-135; and Ring, 1984, pp. 42-44), but efforts to pursue their tracks to definite conclusions almost always prove disappointing. This is particularly true for precisely those cases that hold out the greatest hope for confounding the challenge of skeptics, namely those where blind persons are alleged to have seen accurately during their NDEs.

For example, more than a decade ago, one of us (K.R.) learned of three such elusive cases from Fred Schoonmaker, one of the first physicians to conduct an extensive investigation of NDEs. In a telephone conversation Schoonmaker mentioned that he had come across three blind persons who had furnished him with evidence of veridical visual perceptions while out-of-body, including one woman he said had been congenitally blind. On hearing the details of this last story, I (K.R.) became very excited and urged him to publish an article on these extraordinary NDEs. Regrettably, he never did.

Another example of a blind person purportedly having detailed visual perception during an NDE was described by Raymond Moody and Paul Perry (1988, pp. 134-135). Intrigued to learn more about this case, not long ago I (K.R.) asked Moody to share with me some further particulars about its evidentiality. Unfortunately, he could only tell me that he had learned of this story as a result of another physician’s playing a tape about it following one of Moody’s lectures. He didn’t remember the physician’s name and therefore could do no more than relate the brief account his book attested to (R. A. Moody, Jr., personal communication, February, 1991).

Perhaps the most disappointing outcome of this kind of search was in response to the astonishing case of a woman named Sarah, with which still another physician, Larry Dossey, began a recent book (Dossey, 1989). According to Dossey, Sarah had had a cardiac arrest during gall bladder surgery, but had been successfully resuscitated. Upon recovery she had “amazed the.., surgery team” by reporting

“a clear, detailed memory of … the OR layout; the scribbles on the surgery schedule board in the hall outside; the color of the sheets covering the operating table; the hairstyle of the head scrub nurse, and even the trivial fact that her anesthesiologist that day was wearing unmatched socks. All this she knew even though she had been fully anesthetized and unconscious during the surgery and the cardiac arrest. But what made Sarah’s vision even more momentous was the fact that, since birth, she had been blind.” (Dossey, 1989, p. 18)

This sounds like the ideal case of its kind; and that, in a sense, is exactly what it is, in a different sense. Kindly responding to an inquiry for more information about this case, Dossey confessed to me (K.R.) that he had “constructed” it on the basis of a composite description of the out-of-body testimony of NDErs such as that found in Sabom’s and Moody’s books. With this example we seem to have come full circle, to where the mere lore of NDE veridicality subtly shades into a dangerous self-confirming proposition-and to another dead end.

That skeptical conclusion is the impression left by this cursory review of the cases that have come to light since Sabom’s trailblazing efforts. However, there have been some subsequent reports that seem to represent evidence that Dossey’s fiction may in the end prove indeed to be substantiated NDE fact: the testimony of NDErs that has been supported by independent corroboration of witnesses.

Perhaps the most famous case of this kind is that of Maria, originally reported by her critical care social worker, Kimberly Clark (1984). Maria was a migrant worker who, while visiting friends in Seattle, had a severe heart attack. She was rushed to Harborview Hospital and placed in the coronary care unit. A few days later she had a cardiac arrest and an unusual out-of-body experience. At one point in this experience, she found herself outside the hospital and spotted a single tennis shoe sitting on the ledge of the north side of the third floor of the building. Maria not only was able to indicate the whereabouts of this oddly situated object, but was able to provide precise details concerning its appearance, such as that its little toe was worn and one of its laces was stuck underneath its heel.

Upon hearing Maria’s story, Clark, with some considerable degree of skepticism and metaphysical misgiving, went to the location described to see whether any such shoe could be found. Indeed it was, just where and precisely as Maria had described it, except that from the window through which Clark was able to see it, the details of its appearance that Maria had specified could not be discerned. Clark concluded:

The only way she could have had such a perspective was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe. I retrieved the shoe and brought it back to Maria; it was very concrete evidence for me. (Clark, 1984, p. 243)

Not everyone, of course, would concur with Clark’s interpretation, but assuming the authenticity of the account, which we have no reason to doubt, the facts of the case seem incontestable. Maria’s inexplicable detection of that inexplicable shoe is a strange and strangely beguiling sighting of the sort that has the power to arrest a skeptic’s argument in mid-sentence, if only by virtue of its indisputable improbability. And yet it is only one case and, however discomfitting to some it might temporarily be, it can perhaps be conveniently filed away as merely a puzzling anomaly, in the hope that some prosaic explanation might someday be found.

Such a response is understandable and seems rational. However, there are more cases like Maria’s, and we have found some. Since our search for conclusive cases of blind NDErs had thus far proven unavailing, we directed our efforts to tracking down instances of the “Maria’s shoe” variety, where improbable objects in unlikely locations were described by NDErs and where at least one witness could either confirm or disprove the allegation. So far we have found the following three such cases, two of which, oddly enough, involve shoes!

c. Case One

In 1985, Kathy Milne was working as a nurse at Hartford Hospital. Milne had already been interested in NDEs, and one day found herself talking to a woman who had been resuscitated and who had had an NDE. Following a telephone interview with me (K.R.) on August 24, 1992, she described the following account in a letter:

She told me how she floated up over her body, viewed the resuscitation effort for a short time and then felt herself being pulled up through several floors of the hospital. She then found herself above the roof and realized she was looking at the skyline of Hartford. She marvelled at how interesting this view was and out of the corner of her eye she saw a red object. It turned out to be a shoe … [S]he thought about the shoe…, and suddenly, she felt “sucked up” a blackened hole. The rest of her NDE was fairly typical, as I remember. I was relating this to a [skeptical] resident who in a mocking manner left. Apparently, he got a janitor to get him onto the roof. When I saw him later that day, he had a red shoe and became a believer, too. (K. Milne, personal communication, October 19, 1992)

One further comment about this second white crow, again in the form of a single, improbably situated shoe sighted in an external location Of a hospital: After my (K.R.) initial interview with Milne, I made a point of inquiring whether she had ever heard of the case of Maria’s shoe. Not only was she unfamiliar with it, but she was utterly amazed to hear of another story so similar to the one she had just recounted for me. It remains an unanswered question how these isolated shoes arrive at their unlikely perches for later viewing by astonished NDErs and their baffled investigators.

d. Case Two

In the summer of 1982, Joyce Harmon, a surgical intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Hartford Hospital, returned to work after a vacation. On that vacation she had purchased a new pair of plaid shoelaces, which she happened to be wearing on her first day back at the hospital. That day, she was involved in resuscitating a patient, a woman she didn’t know, giving her medicine. The resuscitation was successful, and the next day, Harmon chanced to see the patient, whereupon they had a conversation, the gist of which (not necessarily a verbatim account) is as follows (J. Harmon, personal communication, August 28, 1992):

The patient, upon seeing Harmon, volunteered, “Oh, you’re the one with the plaid shoelaces!”

“What?” Harmon replied, astonished. She says she distinctly remembers feeling the hair on her neck rise.

“I saw them,” the woman continued. “I was watching what was happening yesterday when I died. I was up above.”

e. Case Three

In the late 1970s, Sue Saunders was working at Hartford Hospital as a respiratory therapist. One day, she was helping to resuscitate a 60ish man in the emergency room, whose electrocardiogram had gone flat. Medics were shocking him repeatedly with no results. Saunders was trying to give him oxygen. In the middle of the resuscitation, someone else took over for her and she left.

A couple of days later, she encountered this patient in the ICU. He spontaneously commented, “You looked so much better in your yellow top.”

She, like Harmon, was so shocked at this remark that she got goose-bumps, for she had been wearing a yellow smock the previous day.

“Yeah,” the man continued, “I saw you. You had something over your face and you were pushing air into me. And I saw your yellow smock.”

Saunders confirmed that she had had something over her face – a mask – and that she had worn the yellow smock while trying to give him oxygen, while he was unconscious and without a heartbeat (S. Saunders, personal communication, August 28, 1992).

f. Discussion

The three cases we have presented briefly attest to three important observations:

(1) Patients who claim to have out-of-body experiences while near death sometimes describe unusual objects that they could not have known about by normal means;

(2) These objects can later be shown to have existed in the form and location indicated by the patients’ testimony; and

(3) Hearing this testimony has a strong emotional and cognitive effect on the caregivers involved, either strengthening their pre-existing belief in the authenticity of NDEs or occasioning a kind of on-the-spot conversion.

We are not suggesting, of course, that the cases we have described here constitute proof of the authenticity of NDEs or even that they necessarily demonstrate that patients have been literally out of their bodies when they report what they do. We only submit that such cases add to the mounting evidence that veridical and conventionally inexplicable visual perceptions do occur during NDEs, and the fact of their existence needs to be reckoned with by near-death researchers and skeptics alike.

We hope that our small collection of cases will motivate other investigators to search for and document their own, so that this body of data will increase to the point where it becomes generally accepted, whatever its explanation may ultimately be. Until such time as more studies like those undertaken by Sabom and Holden are actually conducted by near-death researchers, or a genuine case of corroborated visual perception by a blind NDEr is reported, perhaps instances of the kind we have offered here will constitute the strongest argument that cases like Dossey’s Sarah are by no means as fictional as skeptics might think.

4. References

Blackmore, S. J. (1984). Are out-of-body experiences evidence for survival? Reply to Cook [Letter]. Anabiosis: The Journal of Near-Death Studies, 4, 169-171.

Blackmore, S. J. (1985). Are out-of-body experiences evidence for survival? Reply to Krishnan [Letter]. Anabiosis: The Journal of Near-Death Studies, 5(1), 79-82.

Clark, K. (1984). Clinical interventions with near-death experiencers. In B. Greyson and C. P. Flynn (Eds.), The near-death experience: Problems, prospects, perspectives (pp. 242-255). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Cook, E. W. (1984). Are out-of-body experiences evidence for survival? [Letter]. Anabiosis: The Journal of Near-Death Studies, 4, 167-169.

Dossey, L. (1989). Recovering the soul: A scientific and spiritual search. New York, NY: Bantam.

Grey, M. (1985). Return from death: An exploration of the near-death experience. London, England: Arkana.

Holden, J. M. (1988). Visual perception during the naturalistic near-death out-of-body experience. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 7, 107-120.

Holden, J. M. (1989). Unexpected findings in a study of visual perception during the naturalistic near-death out-of-body experiences. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 7, 155-163.

Holden, J. M., and Joesten, L. (1990). Near-death veridicality research in the hospital setting: Problems and promise. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 9, 45-54.

Kincaid, W. M. (1985). Sabom’s study should be repeated [Letter]. Anabiosis: The Journal of Near-Death Studies, 5(2), 84-87.

Krishnan, V. (1985). Are out-of-body experiences evidence for survival? [Letter]. Anabiosis: The Journal of Near-Death Studies, 5(1), 76-79.

Moody, R. A., Jr. (1975). Life After Life, pages 101-107, New York, NY: Bantam.

Moody, R. A., Jr., and Perry, P. (1988). The light beyond. New York, NY: Bantam.

Ring, K., and Lawrence, M. (1993). Further evidence for veridical perception during near-death experiences. The Journal of Near-Death Studies, 11,(4), pages 223-229.

Ring, K. (1984). Heading toward omega: In search of the meaning of the near-death experience. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Sabom, M. B. (1981). The near-death experience: Myth or reality? A methodological approach. Anabiosis: The Journal of Near-Death Studies, 1, 44-56.

Sabom, M. B. (1982). Recollections of death: A medical investigation. New York, NY: Harper and Row

Categories
Evidence Science

People Born Blind Can See During a Near-Death Experience

Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., (www.kenring.org) is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, where Sharon Cooper, M.A., was Research Assistant at the time of this study. This study was funded in part by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, to which the authors express their deep thanks for its support. They also acknowledge their deep thanks to Lucienne Levy for her invaluable help in connection with this research.

The authors are also indebted to the following organizations for their collaboration in this study: the American Council of the Blind; the American Foundation for the Blind; Blindskills, Incorporated; the Massachusetts Association for the Blind; the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind; the National Braille Press; the National Federation for the Blind; the National Federation for the Blind in Connecticut; Newsreel Incorporated; the Theosophical Book Association for the Blind; and the Ziegler Magazine for the Blind. Reprint requests should be addressed to Dr. Ring at 19A Stadium Way, Kentfield, CA 94904. This paper was originally published as “Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind: A Study of Apparent Eyeless Vision” in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, 16(2) Winter 1997, and is reprinted her by permission.

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Method
    A. Procedure
  4. Subjects
    A. Experiential Status
    B. Sight Status
  5. Results
    A. NDEs in the Blind
    B. Vicki Umipeg
    C. Brad Barrows
  6. Visual Aspects of NDEs and OBEs in the Blind
  7. Corroborative Evidence for OBE and NDE Visions
    A. Frank
    B. Nancy
  8. Discussion
    A. An Overview of Our Findings
    B. Some Possible Explanations for Apparent Sight in the Blind
    C. The Dream Hypothesis
    D. Retrospective Reconstruction
    E. Blindsight
    F. Skin-Based Vision
    G. An Assessment of the Evidence for Alternative Explanations
    H. Apparent Vision in the Blind: Is It Really Seeing?
    I. Eyeless Vision and Transcendental Awareness
    J. Theories of Transcendental Awareness
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

1. Abstract

This article reports the results of an investigation into near-death and out-of-body experiences in 31 blind respondents. The study sought to address three main questions:

(1) Whether blind individuals have near-death experiences (NDEs) and, if so, whether they are the same as or different from those of sighted persons;

(2) Whether blind persons ever claim to see during NDEs and out-of-body experiences (OBEs); and

(3) If such claims are made, whether they can ever be corroborated by reference to in dependent evidence.

Our findings revealed that blind persons, including those blind from birth, do report classic NDEs of the kind common to sighted persons; that the great preponderance of blind persons claim to see during NDEs and OBEs; and that occasionally claims of visually-based knowledge that could not have been obtained by normal means can be independently corroborated. We present and evaluate various explanations of these findings before arriving at an interpretation based on the concept of transcendental awareness.

2. Introduction

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not thro’, the eye.
William Blake, “The Everlasting Gospel” (circa 1818)

The question of whether blind individuals can actually see during out-of-body experiences (OBEs) while close to death has long in trigued researchers in the field of near-death studies. In part, the idea that this seemingly impossible event could really occur has been fueled by occasional anecdotal reports by prominent researchers (e.g., Kubler-Ross, 1983; Moody and Perry, 1988) that they have come across such cases in the course of their investigations. Lesser known physicians interested in near-death experiences (NDEs), such as Fred Schoonmaker of Denver’s St. Luke’s Hospital, have also mentioned that they have heard such claims from their blind patients (Schoonmaker, personal communication, 1981). Similarly, another physician, Larry Dossey, opened his book Recovering the Soul (1989) with the dramatic case of a woman named Sarah, blind from birth, who had detailed visual perception during surgery when her heart had stopped.

As a result of these accounts in the literature, other researchers and writers who have taken an interest in NDEs have used such cases to make a powerful argument on behalf of the authenticity of near-death phenomena (Anderson, 1980; Habermas and Moreland, 1992; Iverson, 1992; Wilson, 1987; Woodward, 1976). Representative of this view is a passage in a recent book by a leading figure in transpersonal psychology, the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof:

There are … reported cases where individuals who were blind be cause of a medically confirmed organic damage to their optical system could at the time of clinical death see the environment. … Occurrences of this kind, unlike most of the other aspects of near-death phenomena, can be subjected to objective verification. They thus represent the most convincing proof that what happens in near-death experiences is more than the hallucinatory phantasmagoria of physiologically impaired brains. (1994, p. 31)

Yet there is reason, we think, not to leap too quickly to the conclusion that the evidence supporting visual perception in the blind is as solid as Grof’s statement would imply. In fact, when one begins to look into the basis for these claims, they appear to dissolve into the mists of hearsay, unsubstantiated anecdote and other dead ends – and even, in one case, outright fabrication. For example, Kubler-Ross and Schoonmaker have never documented the cases they have mentioned or published any details concerning them. Similarly, when one of us (K. R.) pressed Raymond Moody for further particulars about the blind person he described in one of his books, he could only remember that he had heard that account on an audio cassette provided to him by an elderly physician, but he no longer had the tape and could not recall the physician’s name (R. Moody, personal communication, 1992). And the compelling case of Sarah, so vividly portrayed by Dossey, turned out, as he confessed in a letter to K. R., to be a complete fiction, though Dossey justified it on the grounds that such cases seemed to be implied by the literature on NDEs (L. Dossey, personal communication, 1990). Indeed, Susan Blackmore (1993) has recently reviewed all this evidence and concluded that none of it holds up to scrutiny. In short, according to her, there is no convincing evidence of visual perception in the blind during NDEs, much less documented support for veridical perception (Blackmore, 1993).

Nevertheless, while there may be reason to concur with Blackmore’s assessment, there was at least one study that did attempt to inquire whether any evidence for this proposition could be gathered by systematically interviewing a sample of blind respondents. In that investigation, Harvey Irwin (1987) had field workers survey a sample of 21 blind persons in Australia. The focus of Irwin’s project was to see whether any such persons had had an OBE and, if so, to get an account of it. Among his 21 respondents, three persons did indeed report having had an OBE. Unfortunately, as Irwin ruefully had to admit, all of these persons had either some residual or peripheral vision, so they did not in the end constitute anything like a stringent cohort in terms of which to evaluate the hypothesis that the blind can see. Irwin’s own conclusion at the time was that neither his own survey nor the work of anyone else had demonstrated that persons blind from birth even have OBEs, and therefore no evidence existed that such individuals could see under such circumstances. “It now remains,” he wrote, “for further surveys to locate an OBE in a congenitally totally blind person” (Irwin, 1987, p. 57).

This is precisely what we have attempted to do in this study. In what follows we describe the results of a research project in which an effort was made to locate and interview blind persons, including those blind from birth, who believed they had undergone either an NDE or an OBE not related to any near-death incident. The principal underlying aim of this study, however, will already be apparent: we were concerned to determine whether in fact any reliable evidence could be educed from such a sample that the blind really do see under such conditions.

The significance of such findings, should they be established, has largely been implicit in our discussion thus far, but obviously the validation of such claims, or alternatively, the confirmation of all these rumors over the years, would have far-reaching and possibly baleful consequences for a conventional materialist view of science. By the same reasoning, empirical support for sight in the blind would be consistent with various “New Paradigm” visions of science that are rooted in nonlocal, nondual or holonomic perspectives in which consciousness is the primary reality. Furthermore, such findings would raise profound questions, from any scientific perspective, about mind/body relationships, the role of the brain in vision, and indeed the very mechanisms of sight.

Even within the more limited confines of parapsychological thought, such data would have a critical bearing on hypotheses having to do with the nature of OBEs and NDEs themselves. For example, V. Krishnan (1983) has argued that the perceptions reported during OBEs may have a physical basis. As a test of this hypothesis, Krishnan has proposed that the OBEs of congenitally blind persons should be distinct from those with sight. Irwin, in his discussion of this issue, framed the implications neatly:

Specifically, because people who surgically regain their sight take some time to learn visual identification of objects, the initial OBEs in the congenitally blind should exhibit the same property if the experience depends upon the visual pathways of the nervous system. The content of a congenitally blind subject’s OBE therefore may speak to Krishnan’s notion of the physical basis of out-of-body visual impressions. (Irwin, 1987, p. 54)

Our data will thus provide a crucial test of Krishnan’s hypothesis, as well as speak to the long-standing controversy in parapsychology over whether the OBE represents some kind of true extrasomatic state or only a retrospective reconstruction based on sensory cues and imaginal processes. In any case, the possible epistemological and metaphysical implications of our findings potentially touch on deep conundrums and perennial concerns in the history of both normal and anti-establishment science.

Insofar as the specific and limited objectives of this study are concerned, however, there were three that formed the basis of this inquiry. Each can be phrased as a question. First, because we were chiefly interested in NDEs in this research, there is a necessary preliminary question we need to answer to which no previous systematic investigation has even been addressed: do blind persons in fact have NDEs and, if they do, are they the same as or different from those of sighted persons? Second, do blind persons, if they do report either NDEs or OBEs, claim to have visual perceptions during these experiences? And, finally, if such claims are made, is it ever possible to corroborate them through independent evidence or the testimony of other witnesses? In other words, can one establish that these claims are something other than mere fantasies or hallucinations?

These were the issues, then, this study was designed to probe.

3. Method

A. Procedure

In order to recruit qualified participants for this study, that is, blind persons who believed they had had either an NDE or an OBE, we first made contact with 11 national, regional, and state organizations for the blind, to solicit their help in locating potential respondents among their membership. Toward this end, we provided a notice to these organizations about our research that was then included in their respective publications, most of which were distributed in Braille or in the form of an audio cassette, providing our phone number and address and inviting interested individuals who believed they qualified to take part in this study to call or write us. A similar announcement was also published in Vital Signs, the newsletter of the International Association for Near-Death Studies. Finally, we alerted a few of our colleagues in the field of near-death studies about our project and asked them to refer any potentially eligible candidates to us.

After an individual made contact with us, we conducted a screening interview over the telephone to make sure that he or she had the appropriate qualifications for our study. Specifically, we determined the sight status of the person and made sure that he or she had undergone either an NDE or one or more OBEs, not necessarily associated with a near-death crisis. Once the person’s eligibility for the study was established, we either then continued with the formal interview or scheduled a second call for that purpose. In a few cases, one or more follow-up calls were necessary to clarify some aspects of the respondent’s account. In the interview, we took a detailed sight history from the individual and then conducted an in-depth probe about his or her relevant experiences. This portion of the interview was modeled on the format originally devised by Kenneth Ring (1980), but was tailored to the specific interests of this study and the special characteristics of our respondents. In the course of this interview, particular attention was given to obtaining information about events or perceptions that in principle could be corroborated by external witnesses or medical records. Where those witnesses could be specifically identified or relevant records secured, we made efforts to gain access to them and, when possible, to interview the witnesses about their own recollections of the events or perceptions
described by the respondent.

All conversations were tape recorded with the permission of the respondent, and transcripts based on these conversations were later prepared, to permit detailed analysis of our findings. Finally, each participant who expressed an interest to receive information about the findings of this study was sent a summary at its conclusion.

4. Subjects

Of the 46 persons who were screened for this study, 31 qualified for inclusion and were interviewed. All but three of this final sample had heard about our study through the notices we had distributed. The exceptions were two persons referred to us by professional colleagues and one individual who came fortuitously to the attention of one of us as a result of meeting her husband while traveling to a professional conference.

Demographically, our sample consisted of 20 females and 11 males whose ages ranged from 22 to 70 years. They were all Caucasian, overwhelmingly Christian with respect to their original religious tradition, but varied greatly regarding their educational attainment and occupation.

A. Experiential Status

Sixteen of our respondents had survived an NDE, while an additional five persons had undergone both an NDE and one or more OBEs on other occasions not associated with their near-death incident. Thus, the total number of near-death experiencers (NDErs) in this sample was 21. The remaining 10 were per sons who had one or more OBEs only.

Of our NDErs, 13 had their experience in connection with an illness or a surgical procedure; six as a result of an accident, usually involving an automobile; two were mugged; one was nearly killed by being raped; one almost perished in combat; and one survived a suicide attempt. (The totals here are 24 experiences since three persons had two separate NDEs each and were therefore counted twice in these tabulations.)

Most of the OBEs reported occurred during states of bodily quiescence or relaxation, though some were occasioned by traumas, such as falls or rapes. The great majority of these episodes were not deliberately induced, though a few persons in our sample did try on occasion to bring them about through an act of will.

B. Sight Status

Not quite half of our total sample, 14, was comprised of persons blind from birth. A few of our respondents classified as blind from birth either had some limited light perception as children or have retained some as adults, but a distinct majority of persons in this category were without even any light perception at the time of their NDE or OBE. An additional 11 persons fell into the category of adventitiously blind, which means they lost their sight sometime after 5 years of age. The remaining six persons in our study were individuals who were severely visually impaired, most of them having at best only minimal non-delineated vision.

With respect to our two main experiential categories, NDEs and OBEs, the breakdown on sight status is as follows: among the 21 NDErs, 10 were blind from birth, nine adventitiously blind, and two severely visually impaired; among the remaining 10 out-of-body experiencers (OBErs), four were blind from birth, two adventitiously blind, and four severely visually impaired.

Of the 14 respondents blind from birth, two were congenitally blind and one had both his eyes removed by the time he was 41/2 years old. The remaining 11 were born prematurely between 1946 and 1958 and all were placed in incubators where they received excessive concentrations of oxygen resulting in blindness. These individuals developed retrolental fibroplasia (RLF), now commonly referred to as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

Of our 11 adventitiously blind respondents, seven lost their vision between the ages of 16 and 41 as a result of illness or accident. In some cases, it was their near-death event itself that caused their blindness. The other four lost their vision between the ages of 13 and 52 due to slow degenerative eye diseases including retinitis pigmentosa (RP), glaucoma, and aging.

Three of our six visually impaired respondents developed RLF; two had RP, both of whom had limited peripheral vison (14 and 20 degree field, respectively); and one was born with cataracts and developed glaucoma as a teenager. All six have been legally blind from birth and only three of these individuals have been able to read any print at all.

5. Results

A. NDEs in the Blind

To examine the nature of NDEs in the blind, we must of course restrict ourselves to the 21 respondents in our sample, 12 women and nine men, who reported NDEs. Our findings with respect to this issue are unequivocal: blind persons, even those blind from birth, recount experiences that clearly conform to the familiar prototype of the beatific NDE first popularized in Moody’s book, Life After Life (1975). Their narratives, in fact, tend to be indistinguishable from those of sighted persons with respect to the elements that serve to define the classic NDE pattern, such as the feelings of great peace and well-being that attend the experience, the sense of separation from the physical body, the experience of traveling through a tunnel or dark space, the encounter with the light, the life review, and so forth.

Before we turn to a statistical summary of our findings, however, it will be helpful to present a couple of illustrative cases in order to provide a sense of the actual narrative texture of these experiences. In doing so, we will unavoidably discover some unmistakable evidence pertaining to our second, but primary, question, having to do with whether the blind see during their NDEs. Nevertheless, we must defer a detailed consideration of this issue for the time being since our purpose here is chiefly to report what some of our respondents told us they remembered when they found themselves hovering between life and death. Because of space limitations, we will be able to present only one case in depth, but we will follow it up with a synopsis of a second comparable instance. Cases that we recount below with complete names are used with the respondent’s permission; if only a first name is given to identify a case for purposes of reference, it is a pseudonym.

B. Vicki Umipeg

Vicki Umipeg is a married 43-year-old woman who has had two near-death experiences. The first, when she was 12 years old, occurred as a result of appendicitis and peritonitis. Her second NDE took place almost exactly a decade later, when she was seriously injured in an automobile accident.

Vicki was born very prematurely, having been in the womb only 22 weeks at delivery, and weighed just three pounds at birth. Afterward, her weight dropped precariously to one pound, 14 ounces. As was common for premature babies in the 1950s, she was placed in an airlock incubator through which oxygen was administered. Unfortunately, because of a failure to regulate the concentration of oxygen properly, Vicki was given too much and, along with about 50,000 other premature babies born in the United States about the same time, suffered such optic nerve damage as to leave her completely blind. As she made clear in an initial interview with another researcher, Greg Wilson, who kindly provided his tapes and transcripts to us, she has never had any visual experience whatever, nor does she even understand the nature of light:

INTERVIEWER:  Could you see anything?

VICKI:  Nothing, never. No light, no shadows, no nothing, ever.

INTERVIEWER:  So the optic nerve was destroyed to both eyes?

VICKI:  Yes, and so I’ve never been able to understand even the concept of light.

Interestingly, the overall form of Vicki’s two experiences, which were separated by a period of 10 years, was extremely similar, almost as though they were replays of one another, albeit with some variations owing to the particularities of Vicki’s life circumstances on each occasion. To minimize redundancy, we will present a fairly full exposition here only of Vicki’s second NDE, since according to her own testimony, it was the more detailed and vivid of the two.

In early 1973, Vicki, then 22, was working as an occasional singer in a nightclub in Seattle. One night, at closing time, she was unable to call for a taxi to drive her home and circumstances forced her to take the only other option: a ride with a couple of inebriated patrons. Not surprisingly, a serious accident ensued during which Vicki was thrown out of their van. Her injuries were extensive and life-threatening, and included a skull fracture and concussion, and damage to her neck, back, and one leg. In fact, it took her a full year after being released from the hospital before she could stand upright with out the risk of fainting.

Vicki clearly remembers the frightening prelude to the crash itself, but she has only a hazy recall of finding herself alternately out of her body and then back inside of it at the accident scene. Her only definite recollection of anything external to herself while out-of-body is a very brief glimpse of the crumpled vehicle. Although this aspect of her experience was confusing, she does claim that while in her out-of-body state she was aware of being in a nonphysical body that had a distinct form and that was, as she put it, “like it was made of light.”

She has no memory of the her trip to Harborview Hospital in the ambulance, but after she arrived at the emergency room, she came again to awareness when she found herself up on the ceiling watching a male doctor and a woman – she is not sure whether the woman was another physician or a nurse – working on her body. She could overhear their conversation, too, which had to do with their fear that because of possible damage to Vicki’s eardrum, she could become deaf as well as blind. Vicki tried desperately to communicate to them that she was fine, but naturally drew no response. She was also aware of seeing her body below her, which she recognized by certain identifying features, such as a distinctive wedding ring she was wearing.

According to her testimony, Vicki first had a very fleeting image of herself lying on the metal table and she was sure, she said, that “it was me,” although it took her a moment to register that fact with certainty. As she later told us:

I knew it was me. … was pretty thin then. I was quite tall and thin at that point. And I recognized at first that it was a body, but I didn’t even know that it was mine initially. Then I perceived that I was up on the ceiling, and I thought, “Well, that’s kind of weird. What am I doing up here?” I thought, “Well, this must be me. Am I dead?… ” I just briefly saw this body, and … I knew that it was mine because I wasn’t in mine. Then I was just away from it. It was that quick.

Almost immediately after that, as she recalls, she found herself going up through the ceilings of the hospital until she was above the roof of the building itself, during which time she had a brief panoramic view of her surroundings. She felt very exhilarated during this ascension and enjoyed tremendously the freedom of movement she was experiencing. She also began to hear sublimely beautiful and exquisitely harmonious music akin to the sound of wind chimes.

With scarcely a noticeable transition, she then discovered she had been sucked head-first into a tube and felt that she was being pulled up into it. The enclosure itself was dark, Vicki said, yet she was aware that she was moving toward light. As she reached the opening of the tube, the music that she had heard earlier seemed to be transformed into hymns, similar to those she heard during her previous NDE, and she then “rolled out” to find herself lying on grass.

She was surrounded by trees and flowers and a vast number of people. She was in a place of tremendous light, and the light, Vicki said, was something you could feel as well as see. What the light conveyed was love. Even the people she saw were bright and reflected the light of this love. “Everybody there was made of light. And I was made of light. There was love everywhere. It was like love came from the grass, love came from the birds, love came from the trees.”

Vicki then became aware of five specific persons she knew in life who were welcoming her to this place. Debby and Diane were Vicki’s blind schoolmates, who had died years before, at ages 11 and 6, respectively. In life, they had both been profoundly retarded as well as blind, but here they appeared bright and beautiful, healthy and vitally alive, and no longer children, but, as Vicki phrased it, “in their prime.” In addition, Vicki reports seeing two of her childhood care takers, a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Zilk, both of whom had also previously died. Finally, there was Vicki’s grandmother, who had essentially raised Vicki and who had died just two years before this incident. Her grandmother, who was further back than the others, was reaching out to hug Vicki. In these encounters, no actual words were exchanged, Vicki says, but only feelings of love and welcome.

In the midst of this rapture, Vicki was suddenly overcome with a sense of total knowledge

I had a feeling like I knew everything … and like everything made sense. I just knew that this was where … this place was where I would find the answers to all the questions about life, and about the planets, and about God, and about everything. … It’s like the place was the knowing.

And then she was indeed flooded with information of a religious nature as well as scientific and mathematical knowledge. She came to understand languages she didn’t know. All this overwhelmed and astonished her:

I don’t know beans about math and science. … all of a sudden understood intuitively almost things about calculus, and about the way planets were made. And I don’t know anything about that. … I felt there was nothing I didn’t know.

As these revelations were unfolding, Vicki noticed that now next to her was a figure whose radiance was far greater than the illumination of any of the persons she had so far encountered. Immediately, she recognized this being to be Jesus, for she had seen him once before, during her previous NDE. He greeted her tenderly, while she conveyed her excitement to him about her newfound omniscience and her joy at being there and with him again.

Telepathically, he communicated to her: “Isn’t it wonderful? Everything is beautiful here, and it fits together. And you’ll find that. But you can’t stay here now. It’s not your time to be here yet and you have to go back.”

Vicki reacted, understandably enough, with extreme disappointment and protested vehemently, “No, I want to stay with you.” But the being reassured her that she would come back, but for now, she had to “go back and learn and teach more about loving and forgiving.”

Still resistant, however, Vicki then learned that she also needed to go back to have her children. With that, Vicki, who was then childless but who “desperately wanted” to have children -a nd who has since given birth to three – became almost eager to return and finally consented.

However, before Vicki could leave, the being said to her, in these exact words, “But first, watch this.”

And what Vicki then saw was “everything from my birth” in a complete panoramic review of her life, and as she watched, the being gently commented to help her understand the significance of her actions and their repercussions.

The last thing Vicki remembers, once the life review had been completed, are the words, “You have to leave now.” She then experienced “a sickening thud” like a roller-coaster going backwards, and found herself back in her body, feeling heavy and full of pain.

C. Brad Barrows

A second case is that of Brad Barrows, a 33-year-old man living in Connecticut, who had a near-death experience in the winter of 1968 when he was only 8 years old. At the time, he was a student at the Boston Center for Blind Children, and had contracted a severe case of pneumonia and eventually had severe breathing difficulties. Afterward, he was told by nurses that his heart had stopped, apparently for at least four minutes, and that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) had been necessary to bring him back.

Brad remembers that when he couldn’t breathe any longer, he felt himself lifting up from the bed and floating through the room toward the ceiling. He saw his apparently lifeless body on the bed. He also saw his blind roommate get up from his bed and leave the room to get help. (His roommate later confirmed this.) Brad then found himself rapidly going upward through the ceilings of the building until he was above the roof. At this point, he found that he could see clearly.

He estimates that it was between 6:30 and 7:00 in the morning when this happened. He noticed that the sky was cloudy and dark. There had been a snowstorm the day before, and Brad could see snow everywhere except for the streets, which had been plowed, though they were still slushy. He was able to give us a very detailed description of the way the snow looked. Brad could also see the snow banks that the plows had created. He saw a street car go by. Finally, he recognized a playground used by the children of his school and a particular hill he used to climb nearby.

When asked if he “knew” or “saw” these things, he said: “I clearly visualized them. I could suddenly notice them and see them. … I remember … being able to see quite clearly.”

After this segment of this experience, which happened very fast, was over, he found himself in a tunnel and emerged from it to find himself in an immense field illuminated by a tremendous, all-encompassing light. Everything was perfect.

Brad could clearly see in this domain, too, though he commented that he was puzzled by the sensation of sight. He found himself walking on a path surrounded by tall grass, and also reported seeing tall trees with immense leaves. No shadows were visible, however.

While in this field, Brad became aware of beautiful music, like nothing he had ever heard on earth. Walking toward the sound, he came to and climbed a hill, eventually encountering a glittering stone structure so brilliant that he thought it might be burning hot. But it wasn’t, and he entered it. The music continued here as well and, to Brad, seemed to be praising God. In this structure, Brad encountered a man whom he didn’t recognize but from whom emanated an overwhelming love. The man, without a word, gently nudged Brad backward, initiating a reversal of his experience, ending with his finding himself in bed gasping for air, attended by two nurses. Brad, like Vicki, has been blind from birth.

These two cases, which took place a continent apart and before the advent of modern near-death studies, show an obvious structural similarity and clearly exemplify the familiar Moody-type pattern of NDEs. To be sure, not all of the NDEs described by our blind respondents are as rich in their narrative line as those of Vicki and Brad, but there is no question that the great preponderance of these experiences conform to the classic form of the NDE.

To examine this point from a statistical perspective and help to provide something of an overview of our findings here, we can list a number of the common features of NDEs and state how often they are mentioned in the interviews of our 21 respondents in the NDEr category. Feelings of peace, well-being, or being loved were reported in 20 interviews; a sense of separation from the physical body, or an actual out-of-body experience (OBE), in 14; seeing one’s own physical body, in 10; going through a tunnel or dark space, in eight; meeting others, such as spirits, angels, or religious personages, in 12; seeing a radiant light, in eight; hearing noise or music, in seven; a life review, in four; encountering a border or limit, in six; and a choice or being told to return to life, in 10.

In general, although the numbers in the various sight categories (that is, blind from birth, adventitiously blind, and severely visually impaired) were too small to permit statistical tests, inspection reveals no obvious differences among sight subgroups with respect to the frequency of NDE elements. Thus, whether one is blind from birth, loses one’s sight in later life, or suffers from severe visual impair ment, the type of NDE reported appears to be much the same and is not structurally different from those described by sighted persons.

With these facts established, we can now turn our attention to our principal interest in this study, namely, whether and to what extent blind persons claim to be able to see during their NDEs and OBEs.

6. Visual Aspects of NDEs and OBEs in the Blind

We have already had evidence from the summaries of Vicki’s and Brad’s narratives that there appear to be clear visual representations, both of things of this world and of an otherworldly nature, during the NDEs of blind persons. The question we face here, how ever, is how common such testimony is among our respondents as a whole.

First, let us look at how many of our respondents report being able to see during their NDEs or OBEs. Of our 21 NDErs, 15 claimed to have had some kind of sight, three were not sure whether they saw or not, and the remaining three did not appear to see at all. All but one of those who either denied or were unsure about being able to see came from those who were blind from birth, which means that only half of the NDErs in that category stated unequivocally that they had distinct visual impressions during their experience. Nevertheless, it is not clear by any means whether those respondents blind from birth who claimed not to have seen were in fact unable to, or simply failed to recognize what seeing was. For instance, one man whom we classified as a nonvisualizer told us that he could not explain how he had the perceptions he did because “I don’t know what you mean by ‘seeing.'” He was not the only such person to admit such perplexity, so that even among those cases we felt obliged to classify as not involving sight, the possibility is not entirely foreclosed. As a whole, however, our data here are quite consistent in indicating that the preponderance of our blind NDErs do indeed report vision during their near-death encounters, while only a minority are unsure about the matter or, in some cases, have no clear sense of sight.

Evidence of vision is even stronger among the OBErs in our sample. Nine of our 10 OBErs claimed sight, and if we include the five persons who had both an NDE and one or more OBEs on other occasions, the figures are 13 out of 15. In this connection, one of the NDErs whom we classified as a nonvisualizer during her NDE did report vision during her OBEs.

Overall, the number of persons who indicated they had some kind of vision, either during an NDE or OBE, was 25, which was 80 per cent of our entire sample. Even for those blind from birth, 9 of 14, or 64 percent, likewise reported sight.

Given that some kind of vision is the rule for the blind, we can go on to ask, just what do they see?

In general, they report the same kinds of visual impressions as sighted persons do in describing NDEs and OBEs. For example, 10 of our 21 NDErs said they had some kind of vision of their physical body, and seven of our 10 OBErs said likewise. Occasionally, there are other this-worldly perceptions as well, such as seeing a medical team at work on one’s body or various features of the room or surroundings where one’s physical body was. Otherworldly perceptions abound, too, and for NDErs, as we have already seen, they seem to take the form characteristic for transcendental NDEs of sighted persons: radiant light, otherworldly landscapes, angels or religious figures, deceased relatives, and so forth. Somewhat similar otherworldly perceptions are sometimes found for OBErs as well, though these, when they occur, are usually limited to seeing light, beautiful colors, and meeting others. None of our OBErs recounted a life review.

How well do our respondents find they can see during these episodes? We have already noted that the visual perceptions of Vicki and Brad appeared extremely clear and detailed, especially when they found themselves in the otherworldly portions of their near-death journeys. While not all of our blind NDErs had clear, articulated visual impressions, nevertheless enough of them did so that we can conclude that the NDE cases like Vicki’s and Brad’s are fairly typical in this regard. For instance, one of our interviewees whose sight perished completely as a result of a stroke at age 22, and was near-sighted before that, told us in connection with seeing her body, her doctor, and the operating room during her NDE: “I know I could see and I was supposed to be blind. … And I know I could see everything. … It was very clear when I was out. I could see details and everything.”

Another man, who lost his vision in a car accident at the age of 19, had a comforting vision of his deceased grandmother across a valley during his NDE. In commenting on his clarity, he said: “Of course I had no sight because I had total destruction of my eyes in the accident, but [my vision] was very clear and distinct. … I had perfect vision in that experience.”

Still another man, this one blind from birth, found himself in an enormous library during the transcendental phase of his NDE and saw “thousands and millions and billions of books, as far as you could see.” Asked if he saw them visually he said, “Oh, yes!” Did he see them clearly? “No problem.” Was he surprised at being able to see thus? “Not in the least. I said, ‘Hey, you can’t see,’ and I said, ‘Well, of course I can see. Look at those books. That’s ample proof that I can see.'”

Typically, vision is reported as clear, even acutely so, by our respondents in the otherworldly domain, where seeing is often described as “perfectly natural” or “the way it’s supposed to be.” However, sometimes the initial onset of visual perception of the physical world is disorienting and even disturbing to the blind. This was true for Vicki, for example, who said:

I had a hard time relating to it [i.e., seeing]. I had a real difficult time relating to it because I’ve never experienced it. And it was something very foreign to me. … Let’s see, how can I put it into words? It was like hearing words and not being able to understand them, but knowing that they were words. And before you’d never heard anything. But it was something new, something you’d not been able to previously attach any meaning to

Later, in commenting on the shock of these initial visual impressions, she even used the word “frightening” to characterize them. She also told us that she was never able to discriminate colors as such, but only “different shades of brightness,” about which impressions she could only wonder afterward whether they represented what sighted people meant by color.

However, after this brief and confusing period of adjustment, the experiencer’s perception quickly seems to become self-organizing and coherent; then it is as if the individual has been seeing his or her whole life. As Brad commented on the naturalness of his own perception in the otherworldly domain:

It was like it was always there. … It was so natural it was almost as if I should have always been able to see like that. … I could never understand why I never could do that back in my own body, yet it was so unbelievably natural. … I thought to myself I should be able to carry this right back with me. It’s just something I’ve always had. … I was very comfortable with it.

To conclude this section, we would like to bring all of these visual threads together in one specific illustrative case of still another of our blind respondents, a woman we’ll call Marsha. Marsha is a 40 year-old married woman living in Connecticut who had an NDE on January 16, 1986, when she was 32, as a result of complications in her pregnancy.

Like Vicki, Marsha was a premature baby, having been born after only a six month pregnancy, and, as a result, had developed a condition of retinopathy of prematurity. Unlike Vicki, however, she has always had some limited vision. In this respect, Marsha told us: “I have some vision in my left eye, not a whole lot. I don’t have any reading vision-I can’t read print at all, but I can see, like, people and stuff, but they look. … blurry.” We classified Marsha in the severely visually impaired category, as her actual vision was extremely poor and she uses a guide dog.

Marsha’s case is mainly of interest here in showing how the visual perception of a severely visually impaired individual during an NDE is not only enhanced, but can become virtually perfect. In her interview with us, she made it plain that her heightened acuity pertained both to her out-of-body perception as well as to that which she experienced in the otherworldly portion of her experience. As to the former, Marsha told us that when she was coming back, she was aware of seeing her body:

INTERVIEWER:  Could you describe it? Could you see it in detail?

MARSHA:  Yeah, it just looked like me. I was, like, asleep.

INTERVIEWER:  And how was your vision, if I could put it that way, when you were looking down on yourself?

MARSHA:  It was fine…. It was normal.

INTERVIEWER:  When you say normal, you mean clear?

MARSHA:  Yeah, everything. There was no problem with it.

Concerning the quality of her otherworldly perception, she commented:

INTERVIEWER:  Were you able to see better than you could in the physical world?

MARSHA:  Oh, yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  What was your visual perception like in this room [in the otherworldly portion of her NDE]?

MARSHA:  Everything, I could see everything. … All the people, all the way back. Everything.

INTERVIEWER:  In what way? Could you be a little more specific?

MARSHA:  It was perfect. It would not be like that here. There was no problem. It was, like, you know – everything, you could see everything. It was not like your eyes. I don’t know what normal vision would feel like. It was not like your eyes see. It couldn’t be my eyes because my eyes were back over here. I could see gold in the room. Gold on the walls. There [were] white birds and angels and all these people.

INTERVIEWER:  When you saw birds and the people and the room, were you seeing it in detail or just like you see now?

MARSHA:  No, no. It was detail. It was white light. Everything was white light in there. And there was gold on the walls.

Later on, in elaborating on her perception of colors during this part of her experience, Marsha was similarly definite about what she was aware of:

INTERVIEWER:  And could you see it [color] clearly in the experience?

MARSHA:  Yes. Everything was the way it was supposed to be.

Finally, when the interviewer probed to get Marsha’s further thoughts on her visual experience during her NDE, this exchange occurred:

INTERVIEWER:  If you had to say how much sight you actually had at the time of your experience, is there a way for you to describe it?

MARSHA:  It was, like, perfect. I don’t see how it could not be perfect. I can’t say I could see like I see now. … I could see everything [then].

INTERVIEWER:  Do you have any thoughts on the fact that you had vision during this experience?

MARSHA:  Well, see, it was vision, but I don’t think it was my eyes. I don’t know how it works because my eyes were back here, and since they are not right and I could see everything right, there had to be more special vision somehow.

Although Marsha still has some residual physical vision, it is clear that her comments echo both those of Vicki and Brad concerning the quality of her visual perception, especially in the otherworldly realm. There, she saw perfectly and in detail that was astonishing to her and for which she had no explanation. And like Vicki and Brad, who had also noted the naturalness of their otherworldly vision, Marsha used a phrase we have encountered before, namely, “everything was the way it was supposed to be.” Likewise, her visual impression of her physical body seemed clear and distinct, in contrast to her everyday vision. Overall, her testimony was as striking as it was consistent and showed that severely visually impaired persons, too, may find that coming close to death appears to restore their sight to nor mal, and perhaps even superior, acuity.

In summary, as a whole our interviews with both NDErs and OBErs offered abundant testimony that reports of visual perception among the blind are common, that their impressions concern both things of this world and otherworldly domains, and that they are often clear and detailed, even in narratives furnished by those who have been blind from birth.

7. Corroborative Evidence for OBE and NDE Visions

Obviously, in order to demonstrate that the perceptions described by our blind experiencers are something other than mere fantasies or even complex hallucinations, it will be necessary to provide some kind of confirming evidence for them, preferably from other independent witnesses or from reliable documentation. But just here, not surprisingly, is where it proves difficult to gather the type of indispensable corroboration that would help to cinch the argument that what they report seeing is indeed authentic. In many cases, such as those of Vicki and Brad, the reported NDEs or OBEs took place so long ago that it is no longer possible to know precisely who the witnesses were or where to locate them. In other instances, potential informants have died or were not accessible to us for interviews. As a result, much of the testimony of our respondents is dependent on their own truthfulness and the reliability of their memories. As a rule, we did not have cause to question the sincerity of our respondents, but sincerity is not evidence and one’s own word is hardly the last word when it comes to evaluating the validity of these accounts.

Nevertheless, in at least some instances, we are able to offer some evidence, and in one case some very strong evidence, that these claims are in fact rooted in a direct and accurate, if baffling, perception of the situation. In this section, we will present two of our cases in which we could document some measure of evidentiality for the visual perceptions of the blind.

A. Frank

Our first example is one of apparently veridical perception during an OBE in which a respondent claimed to have seen himself. What makes this case of special interest, however, is that he also saw something he couldn’t have known about by normal means. Furthermore, he told us that a friend of his was in a position to confirm his testimony. Frank is 66 years old, but lost his sight completely in 1982. He cannot see anything now, including light or shadows. He has had several OBEs, however, since becoming totally blind. What follows is his recall of one of them.

Around 1992, a friend of Frank’s was going to be driving him to the wake of a mutual friend. As Frank remembered the incident:

And so I said to her that morning, I said: “Gee, I haven’t got a good tie to wear. Why don’t you pick me up one?” She said, “Yeah, I’ll pick you up one when I get down to Mel’s [a clothing store].” So she picked it up and dropped it off and said, “I can’t stay. I’ve got to get home and get ready to pick you up to go to the wake.” So I got dressed and put the tie on. She didn’t tell me the color of the tie or anything else. I was laying down on the couch and I could see myself coming out of my body. And I could see my tie. The tie that was on. And it had a circle on it – it was a red – and it had a gray circle, two gray circles on it. And I remember that.

The interviewer then probes for further details and clarification:

INTERVIEWER:  Now just for the chronology of it, you were lying down with this tie on, you saw yourself going out of the body, and then you saw the tie?

FRANK:  I saw the tie ’cause I told her the color.

INTERVIEWER:  You told your friend who was driving you?

FRANK:  Yeah, when she came back to pick me up. … And when she came down to pick me up, I said to her, “Are the circles gray in this tie?” And she says, “Yes.”

INTERVIEWER:  Was she surprised that you knew?

FRANK:  Yes. She said, “How did you know?” She said, “Did anyone come here?” I said, “No, nobody came here.” You know, you can’t tell ’em [laughs], ’cause they just don’t accept, they don’t believe in it.

INTERVIEWER:  And do you remember what the tie looked like even now?

FRANK:  Yeah. It’s a rose-colored tie with circles on it and dots in the middle of the circle. Whitish/grayish circle around there. And it’s a beautiful tie, ’cause every place I go they remark on it. So she said to me, “Who told you?” And I said, “Nobody.” I said, “I just guessed.” I didn’t want to tell because, like I said before … you can’t say things to certain people.

Naturally, after hearing this story, we were eager to see if we could track down the woman involved in this incident. That proved difficult, since Frank had lost contact with her, but eventually he was able to locate her and, without telling her exactly why we were interested to talk with her, put us in touch with her. One of us (S.C.) did conduct an open-ended interview with this woman shortly afterward and summarized it as follows in her notes:

I independently called his friend who said she did purchase a tie for Frank that day and did pick him up for the wake. However, she didn’t have a clear recollection of the sequence of events that day to confirm the accuracy of Frank’s story and didn’t remember the exact design and colors of the tie. She added that Frank is a down-to-earth guy who in her experience does not embellish stories. And even though she couldn’t independently corroborate his account, she tended to think he was probably accurate in recounting the details.

So here, although we lack the crucial confirming facts we need from the witness involved, we nevertheless have a highly suggestive instance that this man’s recall of his experience is essentially accurate. However, the obvious weaknesses in and ultimate inconclusiveness of this case were overcome in our second example, in which a direct and independent corroboration of the respondent’s own testimony was obtained.

B. Nancy

The next respondent was a 41-year-old woman we will call Nancy who underwent a biopsy in 1991 in connection with a possible cancerous chest tumor. During the procedure, the surgeon inadvertently cut her superior vena cava, then compounded his error by sewing it closed, causing a variety of medical catastrophes including blindness, a condition that was discovered only shortly after surgery when Nancy was examined in the recovery room. She remembers waking up at that time and screaming, “I’m blind, I’m blind!”

Shortly afterward, she was rushed on a gurney down the corridor in order to have an angiogram. However, the attendants, in their haste, slammed her gurney into a closed elevator door, at which point the woman had an out-of-body experience.

Nancy told us she floated above the gurney and could see her body below. However, she also said she could see down the hall where two men, the father of her son and her current lover, were both standing, looking shocked. She remembers being puzzled by the fact that they simply stood there agape and made no movement to approach her. Her memory of the scene stopped at that point.

In trying to corroborate her claims, we interviewed the two men. The father of her son could not recall the precise details of that particular incident, though his general account corroborated Nancy’s, but her lover, Leon, did recall it and independently confirmed all the essential facts of this event. Here is an excerpt from our interview with him, which bears on this crucial episode.

LEON:  I was in the hallway by the surgery and she was coming out and I could tell it was her. They were kind of rushing her out.

INTERVIEWER:  Rushing her out of where?

LEON:  Of the surgery suite where she had been in the recovery area, I think. And I saw these people coming out. I saw people wheeling a gurney. I saw about four or five people with her, and I looked and I said, “God, it looks like Nancy,” but her face and her upper torso were really swollen about twice the size it should have been. At that point I looked and I said, “Nancy, Nancy,” and they just – she didn’t know, I mean. She was out of it. And they told me they were taking her down for an angiogram.

INTERVIEWER:  Who told you that?

LEON:  I believe a nurse did. I’m not quite sure. I think I was still in a state of shock. I mean, it had been a long day for me. You’re expecting an hour procedure and here it is, approximately 10 hours later and you don’t have very many answers. I believe a nurse did. I know I asked. And I think Dick [the father of Nancy’s child] was there at the same time. I think he and I were talking in the hallway.

INTERVIEWER:  Do you know how far you were from Nancy?

LEON:  When I first saw her she was probably, maybe about 100 feet and then she went right by us. I was probably no more than 3 to 5 feet away from her. And I believe Dick was right next to me as well.

INTERVIEWER:  And do you know how they took her out? She was on the gurney?

LEON:  She was on the gurney. There were IVs. … I’m not sure – I think she had some sort of a breathing apparatus. I’m not sure if it was an Ambu bag or what it was.

INTERVIEWER:  And then where did they take her?

LEON:  They took her downstairs to do an angiogram.

INTERVIEWER:  How?

LEON:  They took her down in the gurney in the service elevator. They didn’t take her in a regular elevator. They took her around the corner to the service elevator.

INTERVIEWER:  And did you see that whole process?

LEON:  Yes, I did.

INTERVIEWER:  Did you see her go into the elevator?

LEON:  Yes, I did because I walked around to watch her enter the elevator.

INTERVIEWER:  Was there any disturbance that you remember in getting her into the elevator?

LEON:  I think there was a real sense of urgency on the staff. I’ve worked in hospital emergency rooms as well and I can really relate to that. I think somebody was, like, trying to get into the elevator at the same time and there was some sort of a “Oh, I can’t get in, let’s move this over a little bit,” kind of adjusting before they could get her into the elevator. But it was very swift.

INTERVIEWER:  Did you have a good look at her face?

LEON:  Yeah, it really kind of shocked me. She was just really swollen. She was totally unrecognizable. I mean, I knew it was her but – you know, I was a medic in Vietnam and it was just like seeing a body after a day after they get bloated. It was the same kind of look.

Leon’s account accorded with Nancy’s in virtually every significant respect, despite the fact that he was very worried about her condition, and could scarcely recognize her because of her edema when he did see her. Yet, despite his evident state of shock at the time, his interview appeared to corroborate her story, as much as any external witness could be expected to. It should be noted that this witness has been separated from our participant for several years and they had not even communicated for at least a year before we interviewed him. Furthermore, even if Nancy had not been totally blind at the time, the respirator on her face during this accident would have partially occluded her visual field and certainly would have prevented the kind of lateral vision necessary for her to view these men down the hall. But the fact is, according to indications in her medical records and other evidence we have garnered, she appeared already to have been completely blind when this event occurred.

After a detailed investigation of this case and a review of all pertinent documentation, we have concluded that in all probability there was no possibility for Nancy to see what she did with her physical eyes which, in any event, were almost surely sightless at that time. Yet the evidence suggests that she did see, and, as the corroborative testimony we have quoted shows, she apparently saw truly.

The question, of course, is how she was able to do that, and not only how Nancy saw, but how any of the blind persons in our study saw what they certainly could not possibly have seen physically. Our findings in this section only establish a putative case that these visions are factually accurate, and not just some kind of fabrication, reconstruction, lucky guess, or fantasy; but they leave unexplained the paradox of our discovery that the rumors some of us have been hearing all these years, that the blind can actually see during their NDEs, appear to be true. Whether and how this can be so is the mystery we must next be prepared to probe.

8. Discussion

A. An Overview of Our Findings

Before tackling the perplexing and difficult questions we have just posed, it will be helpful to summarize our principal findings. To do so, we will return to the three issues this study was designed to address. The first of these was whether blind persons do report NDEs and, if they do, whether those NDEs are the same or different from those of sighted persons. Our findings here were unequivocal in the affirmative. There is no question that NDEs in the blind do occur and, furthermore, that they take the same general form and are comprised of the very same elements that define the NDEs of sighted individuals. Moreover, this generalization appears to hold across all three categories of blindness that were represented in this study: those blind from birth, those adventitiously blind, and those severely visually impaired.

The second issue, and the one that was the driving force of this study, was whether the blind claim to have visual impressions during their NDEs or OBEs. On this point, too, our data were conclusive. Overall, 80 percent of our respondents reported these claims, most of them in the language of unhesitating declaration, even when they had been surprised, or even stunned, by the unexpected discovery that they could in fact see. Like sighted experiencers, our blind respondents described to us both perceptions of this world and other worldly scenes, often in fulsome, fine-grained detail, and sometimes with a sense of extremely sharp, even subjectively perfect, acuity.

The last issue hinged on the second, and that had to do with at tempting to corroborate these claims of sight in an effort to show that they represented something other than fantasies or hallucinations. This was the weakest part of our study since, for a variety of methodological reasons, it was often not possible to locate relevant witnesses or gain access to potentially helpful documentation. Nevertheless, we did offer two illustrative and highly suggestive cases that seemed to indicate these claims are indeed authentic and not explicable by conventional means.

B. Some Possible Explanations for Apparent Sight in the Blind

With this summary of our findings we are now ready to explore the questions of central interest to us. The simplest way to frame the issue might be to ask: “How is it that the blind can see during these experiences?” But, however natural it might be to put the question in this form, doing so implies that we have already concluded that we can reasonably infer from our data that the blind do in fact see. That is certainly possible, perhaps even plausible, but not all readers would be prepared to concede the point. Indeed, we have already implied that from an epistemological point of view, it might be better to rephrase our basic question as: “If it can legitimately be said that the blind in some sense do see, in precisely what sense would that be?” Putting the question in this way, then, leaves open the issue of the nature of apparent sight in the blind. However, even before we can properly address this question, there is plainly still another one that must exert a prior claim on our attention, and that is: “Might there be some non-retinal-based mechanisms that could in principle account for the results of this study and thus demonstrate that vision in the blind is indeed only apparent and not actual?”

Thus, by a series of interrogative declensions, we find ourselves facing first the possibility of various alternative explanations that would avoid having to posit some kind of eyeless vision to subsume our findings. Before resorting to possible unconventional theories such as those rooted in New Paradigm science or even esoteric thought to interpret our findings, we must first make sure that no already recognized natural or prosaic mechanism cannot provide a superior or more parsimonious explanation.

C. The Dream Hypothesis

One fairly obvious possibility that has often been advanced in connection with the NDEs and OBEs of sighted persons is that this experience is some kind of a dream, perhaps a lucid or exceptionally vivid dream, which has such realistic properties that it is easily misinterpreted and thus given an ontological status it does not deserve. To evaluate this hypothesis, we first need to inquire into what is known about normal oneiric processes in the blind. Fortunately, there has been a great deal of research devoted to the dreams of the blind, some of it going back more than a hundred years. As a result of these investigations, certain generalizations about the presence of visual imagery in dreams appear to stand up quite well. Among these “empirical cornerstones” (Kirtley, 1975) are that (1) there are no visual images in the dreams of the congenitally blind; (2) individuals blinded before the age of 5 also tend not to have visual imagery; (3) those who become sightless between the age of 5 to 7 may or may not retain visual imagery; and (4) most persons who lose their sight after age 7 do retain visual imagery, although its clarity tends to fade with time. In addition, various researchers have found that audition tends to be the primary sense involved in dreams of the blind, with tactile and kinesthetic elements next (Kirtley, 1975).

In our interviews, we routinely asked our respondents about the nature of their dreams, and what we found in our sample accords with the generalizations just described. In addition, however, and particularly pertinent to the hypothesis under consideration, our respondents usually went on to say that not only were their NDEs unlike their usual dreams, but in the case of those blind from birth, they stood out as radically different precisely because they contained visual imagery, whereas their dreams had always lacked this element. Vicki, one of our NDErs blind from birth, provides a good case in point:

INTERVIEWER:  How would you compare your dreams to your NDEs?

VICKI:  No similarity, no similarity at all.

INTERVIEWER:  Do you have any kind of visual perception in your dreams?

VICKI:  Nothing. No color, no sight of any sort, no shadows, no light, no nothing.

INTERVIEWER:  What kinds of perceptions are you aware of in your typical dreams?

VICKI:  Taste – I have a lot of eating dreams [laughs]. And I have dreams when I’m playing the piano and singing, which I do for a living, anyway. I have dreams in which I touch things. … I taste things, touch things, hear things, and smell things – that’s it.

INTERVIEWER:  And no visual perceptions?

VICKI:  No.

INTERVIEWER:  So that what you experienced during your NDE was quite different from your dreams?

VICKI:  Yeah, because there’s no visual impression at all in any dream that I have.

These remarks, along with similar asseverations from other participants in our study, make it abundantly clear that from our respondents’ point of view, the NDE, especially its visual aspect, has nothing in common with their usual dreams. It is instead something in a class by itself and not to be conflated with dreams. Since there is no support whatever from our interviews for the dream hypothesis of NDEs, we may confidently reject it as a potential explanation for our findings.

D. Retrospective Reconstruction

Another possibility, at least for the kind of visual perceptions respondents report during the out-of-body phase of NDEs, is that individuals are not really seeing at that time, but talking afterward as if they did. Instead, according to this hypothesis, they have actually reconstructed a plausible account after the fact of what might be expected to have happened while they were close to death, although they may sincerely but erroneously believe that they witnessed it at the time. From a combination of prior expectations, familiarity with hospital routines, overheard conversations or other sensory cues at the time, information gleaned afterward, or even simply by lucky guesses, it might be possible for an NDEr to construct imaginatively a pictorial representation of events during an NDE. Thus, this hypothesis would contend that what appears to be vision is in reality a product of the mind’s inventiveness.

The chief proponent of this hypothesis is Susan Blackmore (1993), who used it chiefly to discount some of the pioneering work by Michael Sabom (1982), in his study of apparently veridical, though seemingly impossible, visual perception in a sample of NDErs. In discussing, for example, how a patient could unconsciously use auditory information available during an operation, Blackmore indicated how naturally such a false representation could be generated:

It does not take much information from such sounds for a person to piece together a very convincing and realistic visual impression of what is going on. This will provide the best model they have and seem perfectly real. They may have no idea that the model was constructed primarily from things that they have heard. … It is very hard to assess just how much information any patient would have available. We can only remember the general point that people who appear unconscious may still be aware of some of the things going on around them and they can easily build these up into a good visual picture of what was happening (1993, pp. 124-125).

Blackmore’s reasoning is logical and her hypothesis has a certain plausibility, but we have not been able to find any significant support for it among our interviewees. In fact only one of our 31 respondents even alluded to it, and at that merely as one theoretical possibility among several. Furthermore, a review of our transcripts affords no basis for arguing that retrospective reconstruction was likely to have played a role in most or even some of our cases. This same conclusion was reached by Sabom and independently by Scott Rogo (1989), in an evaluation of the former’s work in regard to the possible relevance of this hypothesis.

And there are additional reasons for finding it inadequate here. For one, when one considers that it is an after-the-fact hypothesis that virtually cannot be disproved, the almost complete lack of direct evidence from our study in its behalf is particularly telling. Second, this hypothesis clearly founders when it comes to accounting for instances where unusual objects, ones that could not easily have been predicted or otherwise anticipated, such as the design and color of Frank’s tie, are described by the blind. Third, it is completely impotent when it comes to accounting for the otherworldly segments of NDEs, which is especially clear in visual form for many of our respondents.

On the basis of these considerations, we find scant evidence in favor of this hypothesis, and a number of cogent reasons not only to reject it, but to be tempted to regard it almost as a kind of all-purpose refuge for the skeptically-minded, rather like the “super-ESP” hypothesis in parapsychology, which, in principle, is always capable of explaining away in a pseudoscientific fashion findings that threaten to disturb prevailing ideas of the possible.

E. Blindsight

In the early 1970s, Lawrence Weiskrantz began to study a curious phenomenon he was later to call “blindsight” (Weiskrantz, 1986), in which patients suffering from extensive cortical blindness appeared to be able to “see.” In his experiments, for example, Weiskrantz was able to show that in the absence of any visual sensation, patients, if asked to reach for a nearby object about whose exact location they were ignorant, tended to move in the right direction. Furthermore, when asked to grasp objects the nature of which was not disclosed to them beforehand, their hands tended spontaneously to assume the appropriate form necessary to hold the object. Weiskrantz’s work has since been replicated by others (Humphrey, 1993) and the phenomenon has even been found in monkeys after extirpation of the visual cortex.

Is it possible, then, that what our respondents report is actually a form of blindsight?

Further scrutiny of the results of research into blindsight shows very quickly that although it seems to be a legitimate form of perception, it can by no means account for our findings. First of all, patients manifesting the effect typically cannot verbally describe the object they are alleged to see, unlike our respondents who, as we have noted, were usually certain about what they saw and could describe it often without hesitation. In fact, a cortically blind patient, even when his or her object identification exceeds chance levels, believes that it is largely the result of pure guesswork. Such uncertainties were not characteristic of our respondents. Second, even when performance is better than chance would allow, even the best of these patients still make many errors (Humphrey, 1993). While we cannot of course provide an overall figure of accuracy of object identification in our study, it is not obvious from our findings that errors were made in regard to reports of visual perception in those portions of the environmental visual field where attention was focused. Finally, and perhaps most crucially of all, blindsight patients, unlike our respondents, do not claim that they can “see” in any sense. As Humphrey wrote: “Certainly the patient says he does not have visual sensation. … Rather he says, ‘I don’t know anything at all but if you tell me I’m getting it right I have to take your word for it'” (1993, p. 90). This kind of statement is simply not found in the testimony of our respondents who, on the contrary, are often convinced that they have somehow seen what they report.

Thus, the blindsight phenomenon, however fascinating it may be in its own right, cannot explain our findings. Indeed, the term itself seems to be a bit of an unintentional misnomer, since in such patients there does not seem to be any conscious sense of visual perception at all.

F. Skin-Based Vision

The idea that we may have a kind of eyeless visual back-up system based on dermal sensitivity is an old one, although at first blush the notion may seem preposterous. Yet the retina itself is just a specialized piece of skin, which through evolution has come to be the “vision specialist” for the body. Therefore, it is certainly conceivable that in our skin itself there might be a residual basis for visual detection, which has simply atrophied and become nonfunctional through disuse, like a vestigial organ.

In fact, when one begins to explore the empirical basis for this hypothesis, one finds considerable evidence for it. The earliest work along these lines seems to have been done three-quarters of a century ago by Jules Romains. In 1920, he published a now nearly forgotten book called La Vision Extra-Retinienne et la Sens Paroptique, which described his experiments in skin-based perception and became available in 1924 in an American translation under the title of Eyeless Sight: A Study of Extra-Retinal Vision and the Paroptic Sense. Romains’ general purpose was to determine if individuals could “see” without the use of their eyes. To investigate this possibility, he first blindfolded his subjects in such a way as to ensure that no light could penetrate their eyes. He then ran them through a series of experiments to assess their visual capabilities under these conditions. In some, he would present them with a newspaper and ask them to read the headlines. In others, he would ask his subjects to “read” a set of numbers. In still others, as in modern blindsight experiments, he would invite them to describe an object he placed in front of or behind them, or ask his subjects to identify the colors of objects or to distinguish the colors of papers under glass.

In general, and quite astonishingly, Romains reported that his subjects performed remarkably well, far exceeding what would have been possible by chance. Furthermore, these experiments were witnessed by many observers, some of them quite eminent, and therefore do not depend solely on his own word. Romains found, however, that several conditions affected the probability of correct identification. First, even though the subjects were blindfolded, light had to be present in the room for them to be able to “see.” Second, his subjects could not perceive the object or “read” the number or letters on a paper when an opaque screen or door was placed between them and the object. Finally, the greater the area of the skin actually exposed, the more accurate subjects tended to be in their descriptions.

Romains developed some elaborate theories to explain his findings, but however intriguing his discoveries were, for several distinct reasons they do not seem to have much bearing on what we found in our study. To begin with, in Romains’ experiments, shielding the object from view prevented it from being “seen.” Yet, in our study, even the presence of walls or ceilings proved to be no impediment to our respondents’ apparent vision, as cases such as Vicki’s and Brad’s, among others, attest. In addition, whereas Romains found that the degree of skin exposure was directly related to accuracy of perception, there was no evidence of that in our study, and in fact some evidence that would contravene it. Remember, for instance, that in some of our cases the respondent’s body was covered with bedsheets or was clothed at the time of an NDE or OBE, yet vision seemed to occur without difficulty. Most telling of all, however, is that Romains’ subjects generally took a long time to achieve whatever degree of visual accuracy they did demonstrate. Indeed throughout his book, Romains frequently commented that the kind of eyeless vision he obtained from his subjects was piecemeal, gradual, with the elements of perception coming together slowly, as a result of laborious effort, at least at the beginning. Eyeless vision, he wrote, is successive, a matter of trial-and-error, and tends at first to discern only objects near at hand. In our study, visual perception seemed to be immediate, unlearned, and was not restricted to objects close to the individual. Therefore we conclude, as we did with the later experiments in blindsight, that Romains’ findings, even if valid, have no relevance for ours and must depend on entirely different mechanisms.

Incidentally, the insight underlying Romains’ work, that there may be non-retinal mechanisms that afford a kind of vision, has been followed up by a succession of modern researchers (Bach-y-Rita, 1972; Duplessis, 1975; Grinberg-Zylberbaum, 1983), but their findings, although generally consistent with Romains’, fail to explain ours. In general, this more modern research parallels Romains’ observation that it takes a considerable amount of time and training for subjects to show even a modest proficiency of object recognition. That fact alone disqualifies the hypothesis of skin-based vision as a possible explanatory vehicle for our results.

The rejection of this hypothesis also implies that similar views, such as V. Krishnan’s (1983), which contend that the vision reported in NDEs and OBEs may be a function of some kind of obscure physical mechanism are without support. For instance, Krishnan’s position requires that congenitally blind persons, on seeing for the first time, have inchoate perception, as do those whose sight is restored through an operation (Gregory, 1966; Sacks, 1993; Valvo, 1970; von Senden, 1960). But, clearly, that is not the case. The brief surprise or disorientation a blind NDEr may experience when confronted with visual impressions before adjusting to them does not begin to compare with the hours of training that a newly sighted individual needs to undergo in order to transform visual information into meaningful patterns. Relatively speaking, then, sight is virtually immediate in our blind NDErs, and although there may be some confusion over the fact of sight and uncertainty about color, object perception seems stable from the outset. Moreover, when never-before-seeing NDErs find themselves in the transcendental portions of their experience, some of them remark that seeing was perfectly natural in that state; it was if they could always see. Any mechanism that could explain that baffling fact is, to us, truly obscure. In any event, the hypothesis that it might be rooted in some kind of skin-based vision, as Krishnan has also suggested, is without a shred of evidence.

G. An Assessment of the Evidence for Alternative Explanations

Our search for a non-retinal-based mechanism that could in principle account for the results of this study and thus demonstrate that vision in the blind is indeed only apparent and not actual has considered theories and data relating to dreams, retrospective reconstruction, blindsight, and skin-based vision, and has come up empty. Of course, it would be absurd to claim that we have exhausted the list of naturalistic or conventional possibilities or eliminated all conceivable artifacts, but we believe we have ruled out some of the most obvious candidates for explanatory honors. At the very least, we have perhaps managed to cast some doubt on the tenability of this type of explanation for our findings, and consequently increased the like lihood that however they might be accounted for, we would do best to seek elsewhere for our answers.

In any case, having addressed this basic issue, we can now revert to the question we posed earlier about whether or in what sense it can be said that the blind do see. Clearly, before any explanation for vision in the blind can be accepted, it must first be established that their reports reflect the operation of something that can legitimately be called “true sight.” That assumption has of course been implicit throughout this article and may perhaps appear to some to be self-evident by now. But it is not, and our next task is to demonstrate just why it is not.

H. Apparent Vision in the Blind: Is It Really Seeing?

We as researchers can never have access to the NDE or OBE in itself. Rather, every such experience is coded in a certain way as it occurs and afterward, and comes to us only later as a report in a linguistic form. Therefore, by the time we interview our respondents, the original experience has already been processed through several distinct filters and necessarily undergone a series of virtually unconscious transformations until it reaches us as a distinct and coherent narrative. Therefore, it will prove helpful to discern how this narrative comes to be shaped, and how the experience may be coded in the first place. Doing so will in turn shed light on the pivotal question of this section, namely: is what we discovered in our blind respondents truly a form of seeing? That is, is it in any sense something that might be conceived of as analogous to physical sight?

To answer these questions, we reviewed our transcripts as sedulously as possible for insights into the formative processes that ultimately gave rise to the verbal report of the NDE or OBE. And what we discovered in a finer reading of these documents were a brace of factors that together sounded a tocsin against an overly literal interpretation of these reports as indicative of “seeing” as such. For one thing, our scrutiny of these transcripts frequently revealed a multifaceted synesthetic aspect to the experiencer’s perception that seemed to transcend simple sight. A number of our interviewees, for example, were hesitant to assert that what they were able to describe was incontestably visual, either because they were blind from birth and did not know what vision was like or because they knew they could not possibly be seeing with their physical eyes. The following comments were typical of this vein:

It wasn’t visual. It’s really hard to describe because it wasn’t visual. It was almost like a tactile thing, except that there was no way I could have touched from up there. But it really wasn’t visual because I just don’t have vision any more. … It [was] sort of a tactile memory or something. It’s not really like vision is. Vision is more clear, but it’s also more tied down.

I think what it was that was happening here was a bunch of synesthesia, where all these perceptions were being blended into some image in my mind, you know, the visual, the tactile, all the input that I had. I can’t literally say I really saw anything, but yet I was aware of what was going on, and perceiving all that in my.mind. … But I don’t remember detail. That’s why I say I’m loath to describe it as a visual.

What I’m saying is I was more aware. I don’t know if it’s through sight that I was aware. … I’m not sure. All I know is … somehow I was aware of information or things that were going on that I wouldn’t normally be able to pick up through seeing. … That’s why I’m being very careful how I’m wording it, ’cause I’m not sure where it came from. I would say to you I have a feeling it didn’t come from seeing, and yet I’m not sure.

Even Brad, whose initial testimony seemed so clear on this point, in a subsequent interview eventually qualified and clarified his earlier remarks about his memory of seeing snow on the streets outside his school:

I was quite aware of all the things that were physically mentioned in there [i.e., his earlier description]. However, whether it was seen visually through the eyes, I could not say. … I mean, you have to remember, being born blind, I had no idea whether those images were visual. … It was something like a tactual sense, like I could literally feel with the fingers of my mind. But I did not remember actually touching the snow. … The only thing I can really state about those images was that they came to me in an awareness and that I was aware of those images in a way I did not really understand. I could not really say that they were visual per se because I had never known anything like that before. But I could say that all my senses seemed to be very active and very much aware. I was aware.

Brad, too, seemed to be telling us now that he could not be certain his representation of the snow was in any definitive sense “visual” as such, especially since he had no real understanding of what a visual image was. Instead, as with others in our study, a complex multisensory awareness seems to have been involved, and, in a remarkable similarity with one of the respondents quoted above, Brad made an almost identical statement to hers about the tactile quality of his impression, again suggesting that this modality may be a key feature in the coding of these experiences by the blind, as it certainly is in their daily life.

Vicki as well, in recent exchanges with us, eventually clarified her previous statements concerning whether her experiences could be properly thought of as examples of pure seeing. In our interview with her on May 27, 1994, she allowed, “It was scary at first. … I had trouble relating things to one another, what I was seeing and perceiving versus what I had touched and known the way I had known things all my life.” And in a telephone conversation the following year, on July 18, 1995, when one of us (K. R.) asked her whether in her opinion it was a matter of seeing or knowing in her experience, she unhesitatingly replied, “It’s both, Ken, it’s both seeing and knowing.”

As this kind of testimony builds, it seems more and more difficult to claim that the blind simply see what they report. Rather, it is beginning to appear it is more a matter of their knowing, through a still poorly understood mode of generalized awareness based on a variety of sensory impressions, especially tactile ones, what is happening around them. The question that immediately confronts us now, however, is as unavoidable as it is crucial: Why is it that these reports, when casually perused, nevertheless often seem to imply that the blind do see in a way akin to physical sight?

As we have already observed, however these experiences may have been coded originally, by the time we encounter them they have long come to be expressed in a particular linguistic form. And that form is a language of vision, since our ordinary language is rooted in the experiences of sighted persons and is therefore biased in favor of visual imagery. Because the blind are members of the same linguistic community as sighted persons, we can certainly expect that they will tend, and indeed will be virtually compelled, to phrase their experiences in a language of vision, regardless of its appropriateness to the qualities of their own personal experience.

And there is another clue from our transcripts that mitigates against an overly literal interpretation of our data on apparent vision in the blind. Examination of language usage by our respondents reveals that they tend to use vision verbs far more casually and loosely than do sighted persons, a finding that other researchers who have studied language in the blind (Cook, 1970; Rathna, 1962) have confirmed. Vicki, for example, said that she loves to “watch” television and uses phrases, such as “look at this,” that clearly cannot be taken literally. Although this observation does not necessarily invalidate the testimony in our reports, it does send up another amber flag of caution when it comes to the interpretation of the narratives of our blind respondents.

In summary, what we have learned from our respondents is that although their experiences may sometimes be expressed in a language of vision, a close reading of their transcripts suggests some thing closer to a multifaceted synesthetic perception that seems to involve much more than an analog of physical sight. This is not to say that as part of this awareness there cannot be some sort of pictorial imagery as well; it is only to assert that this must not be taken in any simplistic way as constituting vision as we normally under stand it.

I. Eyeless Vision and Transcendental Awareness

Even if we cannot assert that the blind see in these experiences in any straightforward way, we still have to reckon with the fact that they nevertheless have access to a kind of expanded supersensory awareness that may in itself not be explicable by normal means. Furthermore, notwithstanding the cases of indistinct and nebulous “sight” we have just reviewed, we must not overlook the ineluctable and very unequivocal claims on the part of most of our respondents that they did seem to possess a type of vision that was very keen, detailed, and even “crystal clear” at times. Even if these reports may not be analogous to retinal vision as such, they clearly represent something that must be directly addressed. Thus, it remains for us to grapple with the question of what these reports represent, if not vision.

To pursue this line of inquiry, the first point we must note is that the blind simply represent a kind of limit case in research dealing with alleged perceptions while in a near-death or out-of-body state. If blind persons report what they cannot possibly see, since they have no physically-mediated sight, or what they cannot know by other nor mal means, as seems to be so in at least some instances in our study, then we have clearly identified a phenomenon that threatens to cast a dark shadow on the house of conventional science. But it is equally plain that whenever we can show that such perceptions are physically impossible, whether with blind persons or not, the same kind of shadow appears, as indeed it already has, many times, in other research dealing with NDEs and OBEs. So to begin to focus more clearly on precisely what it is we need to explain here, let us look for a moment at a few illustrative cases one step removed from those we have considered in this report where “impossible perceptions” of great acuity are described by the poorly sighted.

One type of case that has long intrigued us is when such individuals are seemingly able to report such fine and improbably noticed features as, for example, “dust on the light fixtures” in an operating room when, from the location of their physical body at the time as well as their eyesight, such perceptions would manifestly be impossible. Here, then, are a couple of such instances from our previous research.

One of them came from a woman interviewed in the early 1980s who was 48 years old at the time (Ring, 1984). She had had her NDE in connection with a surgical procedure in 1974. What was especially noteworthy about her account at the outset, however, was her mention of her unusually garbed anesthesiologist. As she explained, he was a physician who often worked with children. And because he had found that his young patients often were confused by a team of similarly clad green-garmented doctors, he had taken to wearing a yellow surgical hat with magenta butterflies on it so he, at least, could easily be recognized. All this will, of course, be highly relevant to this woman’s account of her experience which will now be described in her own words. She had gone into shock when she heard her physician exclaim, “This woman’s dying!” At that point:

Bang, I left! The next thing I was aware of was floating on the ceiling. And seeing down there, with his hat on his head, I knew who he was because of the hat on his head [i.e., the anesthesiologist with the magenta butterfly cap].. . it was so vivid. I’m very near-sighted, too, by the way, which was another one of the startling things that happened to me when I left my body. I see at fifteen feet what most people see at four hundred. … They were hooking me up to a machine that was behind my head. And my very first thought was, “Jesus, I can see! I can’t believe it, I can see!” I could read the numbers on the machine behind my head and I was just so thrilled. And I thought, “They gave me back my glasses. . .” (Ring, 1984, p. 42)

She went on to describe further details of her operation, including how her body looked, the shaving of her belly, and various medical procedures that her surgical team were performing upon her, and then found herself looking at another object from a position high above her physical body:

From where I was looking, I could look down on this enormous fluorescent light. … and it was so dirty on top of the light. [Could you see the top of the light fixture?] Yes, and it was filthy. And I remember thinking, “Got to tell the nurses about that.” (Ring, 1984, p. 43)

One of the striking features of this case is this woman’s observation that she was able to see so clearly during her NDE despite the fact that, as she averred, she was very nearsighted. In this respect, too, this woman’s testimony is far from unique in our records. Another very similar story was told, for example, in a letter from an audiologist who likewise reported seeing dust on the light fixtures of the operating room where his NDE took place. This incident occurred in a Japanese hospital during the Korean war. In addition, this same man, who became interested in NDEs as a result of his own experience, also learned of another case, involving a nurse at the same hospital, which had a remarkable correspondence to his. On this point, as he wrote in his letter:

The odd thing about both of our experiences is that we are both extremely myopic, i.e., thick glasses and blind as bats 6″ from our noses. And yet we were both able to describe accurately events, dials, details, expressions in our OBEs, without our glasses.

Such highly acute visual perceptions on the part of the poorly sighted are hardly limited to those who are apparently hovering above their bodies during NDEs. Other nonordinary states of consciousness, such as meditation, can also sometimes evoke them. Here is a particularly compelling example from a book by an optometrist whose uncorrected eyesight was 20/200:

[At this time] I was meditating every day. … During one of these deep meditative states, I had a very profound and startling experience. Although my eyes were closed, I could suddenly see everything – the whole room and myself in it – and I couldn’t tell where I saw seeing from! I wasn’t seeing from my eyes or from any single point of view. I seemed to be seeing everything from everywhere. There seemed to be eyes in every cell of my body and in every particle surrounding me. I could simultaneously see from straight on, from above, from below, from behind, and so on. … There seemed to be no observer separate from what was seen. There was simply awareness. (Liberman, 1995, p. 47)

Here we have an important clue about the nature of this kind of “seeing.” It may not be limited to the kind of concentrated focus we sometimes encounter in cases of NDEs, where one’s perceptual attention sometimes seems restricted to the physical body. Instead, as this account shows, one’s awareness can be omnidirectional. In fact, this type of perception is sometimes reported by those having NDEs or OBEs, and it is precisely this feature that suggests that “awareness” is a more appropriate term for this experience than is “seeing,” as the writer just quoted also implied. In this new context, then, consider this account from an NDEr whose experience occurred as a result of pneumonia during her second pregnancy. During this crisis, the woman was rushed to the hospital by her husband and, upon arrival, lost consciousness. Still, she was able to hear the nurses talking about her, saying that she was “dead meat.” Nevertheless, she herself was elsewhere at the time. As she related her experience:

I was hovering over a stretcher in one of the emergency rooms at the hospital. I glanced down at the stretcher, knew the body wrapped in blankets was mine, and really didn’t care. The room was much more interesting than my body. And what a neat perspective. I could see everything. And I do mean everything! I could see the top of the light on the ceiling, and the underside of the stretcher. I could see the tiles on the ceiling and the tiles on the floor, simultaneously. Three hundred sixty degree spherical vision. And not just spherical. Detailed! I could see every single hair and the follicle out of which it grew on the head of the nurse standing beside the stretcher. At the time I knew exactly how many hairs there were to look at. But I shifted focus. She was wearing glittery white nylons. Every single shimmer and sheen stood out in glowing detail, and once again I knew exactly how many sparkles there were.

In this narrative, we notice again not only this astonishing feature of omnidirectional awareness, but also a type of knowledge that stretches our concept of ordinary “vision” beyond the breaking point.

Clearly, this is not simple “vision” at all as we are wont to understand it, but almost a kind of seeming omniscience that completely transcends what mere seeing could ever afford. Indeed, what we appear to have here is a distinctive state of consciousness, which we would like to call transcendental awareness. In this type of awareness, it is not of course that the eyes see anything; it is rather that the mind itself sees, but more in the sense of “understanding” or “taking in” than of visual perception as such. Or alternatively, we might say that it is not the eye that sees, but the “I.”

Celia Green, in an important survey of OBEs (Green, 1968), found evidence for much the same concept as we are calling transcendental awareness among her respondents, too. To cite one brief relevant instance, she quoted one of her subjects as saying, “having no eyes, I ‘saw’ with whole consciousness” (Green, 1968, p. 70). Indeed, her survey is full of cases showing many of the features we have found in our study of the blind, including instances of keenly detailed perceptions, which some of her subjects, like ours, characterized as “crystal clear,” saying things like, “I could see the room in great detail, even the specks of dust” (Green, 1968, p. 72). Green also reported examples of apparent sight through physical obstacles and multisensory or synesthetic experiences. Therefore, what students of OBEs tend to call extrasomatic vision seems to be identical to what we have labeled here transcendental awareness.

Still another domain of research that appears to involve this type of awareness is that of pre- and perinatal psychology. In some investigations of early childhood memories, for example, there are reports by adults of events they appeared to have witnessed prior to birth (Chamberlain, 1977; Cheek, 1986). In a popular book David Chamberlain (1988) wrote on apparent birth-related memories, he recounted a story that came from a 3 1/2-year-old boy named Jason. Riding home one night, Jason spontaneously said that he remembered being born. He told his mother that he had heard her crying and was doing everything he could to get out. He said that it was “tight,” he felt “wet,” and he felt something around his neck and throat. In addition, something hurt his head and he remembered his face had been “scratched up.” Jason’s mother said she had “never talked to him about the birth, never,” but the facts were correct. The umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck, he had been monitored by an electrode in his scalp, and he had been pulled out by forceps. The photograph taken by the hospital showed scratches on his face (Chamberlain, 1988).

Another girl, not quite 4, in speaking of her own birth, knew a “family secret” that had never been divulged to her. In this case, a friend of the mother and later an occasional babysitter named Cathy had been present at the birth, assisting the midwife. After the birth, the midwife had been busy and the mother had by then been helped into a bath, leaving Cathy temporarily alone with the baby. As the baby began to whimper, Cathy reflexively let the baby suck from her own breast. By the time the mother had returned, the baby was already asleep, and Cathy, feeling somewhat guilty about being the first person to nurse the child, elected to say nothing to the mother about it.

Nearly four years later, Cathy was babysitting this same child, and, just out of curiosity, happened to ask the child if she remembered being born. As Chamberlain related what Cathy later told him,

She answered, “Yes!,” and proceeded to give an accurate account of who was present and their roles during labor and delivery. She described the dim light of the womb and the pressures felt during birth. Then the child leaned up close and whispered in a confidential tone, “You held me and gave me titty when I cried and Mommy wasn’t there.” At that, she hopped up and went off to play. Says Cathy, “Nobody can tell me babies don’t remember their birth!” (Chamberlain, 1988, pp. 103-104)

Hearing such suggestive anecdotes as these, Chamberlain felt obliged to see whether he could confirm such reports through systematic research into the question. For this purpose, he eventually studied a paired set of 10 mothers and children and independently hypnotized them, asking them for details about the birth from their separate perspectives. Only mothers who could assure Chamberlain that they never shared details about the birth with their child were eligible for the study. For the purposes of evaluation, Chamberlain assumed that the report given by the mother would be at least an approximately accurate description of the circumstances of the birth against which the child’s testimony could then be measured.

When comparing these independent accounts, Chamberlain found that in general the respective stories of mother and child agreed impressively, corresponding on specific points of detail in an almost uncanny fashion:

Mother and child reports were coherent with each other, contained many facts that were consistent and connected, and were appropriately similar in setting, characters, and sequences. The independent narratives dovetailed at many points like one story told from two points of view. … Generally, reports validated each other in many details like time of day, locale, persons present, instruments used (suction, forceps, incubator) and type of delivery (feet or head first). Sequences of receiving bottled water, formula, or breast milk, appearance and disappearance of fathers, and moving in and out of different rooms were often consistent. … Considering all the facts, objectively gathered birth memories appear to be genuine recollections of experience. (Chamberlain, 1988, pp. 106 and 120)

In all the areas we have mentioned-studies of NDEs, OBEs, meditation, and pre- and perinatal psychology – a single unified concept such as transcendental awareness can provide the basis for a parsimonious explanation for the entire and seemingly diverse array of “impossible perceptions” that research into these phenomena has disclosed. Furthermore this term seems more faithful to the nature of these experiences than one that emphasizes only the visual component.

Returning now to its specific application to our research, the reason we prefer to invoke the concept of transcendental awareness hinges on our previous discussion about the ubiquity of the language of vision. In effect, we argue that the blind, like other persons reporting OBEs and NDEs, have entered into a state of transcendental awareness, which confers access to a realm of knowledge not available in one’s normal waking state, but then are forced, again just like others, to translate their experiences into visual metaphors. Thus, the supersensory kind of knowing that the experience provides becomes seeing when it undergoes the necessity of linguistic transformation. That is why NDErs and OBErs, including some of our blind respondents, speak as if they have seen, even though, we conclude, it is an almost unavoidable distortion required by common language us age.

Thus, in answer to our earlier question as to what these individuals experience, if not seeing, we submit that it is transcendental awareness, a distinctive state of consciousness and mode of knowing in its own right, which is operative in blind and sighted persons alike during their experiences and which now stands in need of explanation. But at least we have, we believe, finally identified the phenomenon itself that seems to underlie and make possible the claims that the blind can “see” during their NDEs and OBEs, and why it is that their apparent “vision” can sometimes be so extraordinarily detailed and fine as to be, in their mind, “perfect.” Since transcendental awareness by definition must transcend the limitations of the senses, it is possible, at least at times, for one to have access to a state of consciousness in which, with “the doors of perception cleansed,” things present themselves in true Blakean fashion, “as they are, infinite.”

J. Theories of Transcendental Awareness

When confronted with the evidence for transcendental awareness we have presented in this paper, both from our own study and from the research of others, it is obvious that the generally accepted theories of human perception and cognition that derive from mainstream science will not, without some extraordinary extrapolations, be able to account for such findings. If, however, we turn instead to some recent theoretical developments in New Paradigm Science we can quickly discern the shape of the explanation we need to seek.

In recent years, a number of thinkers, influenced by developments in modern physics, have elaborated a variety of theories of consciousness which, despite their somewhat different basic postulates, all either predict or imply that blind persons should be able to have something like visual perception during NDEs and OBEs. In addition, all of these theories explicitly address the phenomenon of the NDE in general and also posit the existence of a state of consciousness that corresponds to what we have called here transcendental awareness. Among such formulations are Kenneth Arnette’s “Theory of Essence” (Arnette, 1992, 1995a, 1995b), Larry’s Dossey’s “Nonlocality Theory of Consciousness” (Dossey, 1989), Amit Goswami’s “Quantum Theory of Consciousness” (Goswami, 1993, 1994), Michael Talbot’s “Holographic Theory of Consciousness” (Talbot, 1991), and Jenny Wade’s “Holonomic Theory of Consciousness” (Wade, 1996).

As indicated, the ground philosophic assumptions of these theories vary. For instance, Arnette’s position is one of explicit dualistic in teractionism, Goswami’s, a monistic idealism that nevertheless is able to incorporate some of the insights of dualistic theories without having to resort to dualism per se, while Wade’s approach represents an uncompromising nondualism. Nevertheless, these theorists all agree about certain properties of consciousness itself, and on this basis they can serve as a kind of collective expression of the point of view we believe best articulates our own theoretical convictions. Let us examine next, then, this list of the common postulates of these theories having to do with the nature of consciousness.

The first postulate on the nature of consciousness that these diverse theories share is that consciousness itself is primary and is the ground of all being. Goswami’s statements are indicative of this position and sum it up succinctly:

All events are phenomena in consciousness. Beyond what we see as immanent reality, there is a transcendent reality; ultimately all reality is comprised of consciousness. The division of reality into transcendental and immanent is an epiphenomenon of experience. (Goswami, 1994, p. 1)

The second common postulate is that consciousness is nonlocal. What this assertion implies is that the mind, rather than being located in the individual and bounded by time (that is, birth and death) is fixed neither in time nor in space. In fact, in this view, it is not really appropriate, except as a shorthand convenience, to speak of the mind; instead there is, as our first proposition implies, only Mind. This insight, though derivative from a nonlocality position, may be stated as a separate assumption, namely, the third common postulate: that consciousness is unitive. That is, there is only one consciousness, which we call Mind, and the notion of individual minds is at bottom nothing more than a useful fiction that Dossey pointedly called “the illusion of a separate self and the sensation of an ego that possesses a separate mind” (Dossey, 1989, p. 98).

The fourth common postulate is that consciousness may and indeed must sometimes function independently of the brain. This is a key assumption, especially for understanding how the blind may become aware of something that seems like visual perception. Dossey again stated the matter concisely:

If the mind is nonlocal, it must in some sense be independent of the strictly local brain and body. … And if the mind is nonlocal, unconfined to brains and bodies and thus not entirely dependent on the physical organism, the possibility of survival of bodily death is opened. (Dossey, 1989, p. 7)

Of course, as Dossey elsewhere pointed out and as all of the other theorists under consideration would agree, although Mind is neither confined to the brain nor a product of it, it may of course work through the brain to give us our representation of the phenomenal world. According to Goswami, our ordinary perception of time and space comes about as a result of a quantum-mechanical process whereby consciousness self-referentially “collapses” what are called “possibility waves” so as to give rise to actuality: “In the process of collapse, one undivided consciousness sees itself as apparently divided into dualities such as life and environment, subject and object” (A. Goswami, personal communication, 1995).

Thus, what we have here is an adumbration of a process that begins with Mind fully independent of brain becoming self-referential, that is, becoming identified with consciousness itself, and then converting this noumenal consciousness into a dualistic modality that generates the familiar phenomenal world. What we have called transcendental awareness is at least the beginning of the reversal of that process by which, even though the traces of an everyday dualism remain, the individual is enabled, however temporarily, to experience the world from a perspective independent of brain functioning and the operation of the senses. Each of these theories formally entails such a state of awareness, and specifically in blind persons, during NDEs or OBEs; we direct the interested reader to the citations we have provided in order to confirm our assertion that these New Paradigm theories are perfectly capable of elegantly subsuming our find ings as derivations from their stated premises.

9. Conclusion

In the introduction to this paper, we alluded to an account of an NDE of a blind woman who afterward reported that she could see during her experience. At first blush, because this case was recounted by a well-known physician, we were probably inclined to take it at face value, perhaps also influenced by our desire to believe in the miraculous. Almost immediately, however, we learned that the story that had so beguiled us into entertaining such an appealing possibility was fictitious. But by the end of our inquiry, we came to understand that in this tale there resided still another paradox besides the one it seemed initially to represent: namely, that this was a story that was simultaneously true and false. Or perhaps we might better say it was a fictitious story that turned out to be true after all, just as the author all along had felt it just had to be. In this sense, at least, perhaps this author has received a measure of justification after the fact for his convictions, even if we cannot embrace, in this one instance, his penchant for prematurely converting belief into apparent fact.

Nevertheless, as we have seen, there is still another level of subtlety in this story, because although in a sense it is true, it is not entirely true. The story of Sarah implied that she really could see during her NDE, in the way that a sighted person might. We have shown this is an unwarranted inference. What seemed like an analog to physical sight really was not when examined closely. It is a different type of awareness altogether, which we have called transcendental awareness, that functions independently of the brain but that must necessarily be filtered through it and through the medium of language as well. Thus, by the time these episodes come to our attention, they tend to speak in the language of vision, but the actual experiences themselves seem to be something rather different altogether and are not easily captured in any language of ordinary discourse. Indeed, our work has shown the need to exercise critical discernment before taking these reports at face value. To be sure, they make good stories, in books or in tabloid headlines, as the case may be, but they are not always necessarily what they seem. They are more remarkable still.

What the blind experience is more astonishing than the claim that they have seen. Instead, they, like sighted persons who have had similar episodes, have transcended brain-based consciousness altogether and, because of that, their experiences beggar all description or convenient labels. For these we need a new language altogether, as we need new theories from a new kind of science even to begin to comprehend them. Toward this end, the study of paradoxical and utterly anomalous experiences plays a vital role in furnishing the theorists of today the data they need to fashion the science of the 21st century. And that science of consciousness, like the new millennium itself, is surely already on the horizon.

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Rogo, D. S. (1989). The return from silence: A study of near-death experiences. Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press.

Romains, J. (1924). Eyeless sight: A study of extra-retinal vision and the paroptic sense. New York, NY: Putnam.

Sabom, M. B. (1982). Recollections of death: A medical investigation. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Sacks, O. (1993, May 10). A neurologist’s notebook: To see and not see. The New Yorker, pp. 59-73.

Talbot, M. (1991). The holographic universe. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Valvo, A. (1971). Sight restoration after long term blindness. New York, NY: American Foundation for the Blind.

von Senden, M. (1960). Space and sight. New York, NY: Free Press.

Wade, J. (1996). Changes of mind: A holonomic theory of the evolution of consciousness. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Weiskrantz, L. (1986). Blindsight. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.

Wilson, I. (1987). The after death experience: The physics of the non-physical. New York, NY: Morrow.

Woodward, K. L. (1976, August). There is life after death. McCalls, pp. 134-139.

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Articles Science

Near-Death and UFO Encounters as Shamanic Initiations

Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut and past president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). He is the author of Life At Death (1980), Heading Toward Omega (1984), The Omega Project (1992), Mindsight (1999), Lessons from the Light (2000), Waiting to Die (2019), and over forty articles in the fields of social psychology, transpersonal psychology, and near-death studies. Dr. Ring received his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Minnesota. This article is reprinted from ReVision, Vol. 11, No. 3, Winter 1989.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Prototypic NDEs and UFOEs
  3. NDEs and UFOEs as Shamanic Initiations
  4. Shamanic Initiations: Doorway to the Mundus Imaginalis
  5. Some Evolutionary Speculations
  6. Notes
  7. References

1. Introduction

In recent years, there has been an effort, particularly by American folkloric scholars (e.g., Hufford 1982; Rojcewicz 1986), to bring some conceptual order to a disparate array of paranormal and transcendental experiences whose academic study has heretofore tended to be associated with distinct and somewhat insular disciplines.

Included in this set of non-ordinary occurrences are such phenomena as out-of-body experiences (traditionally the province of parapsychology), near-death experiences (near-death studies, medicine), shamanic experiences (anthropology), psychedelic experiences (transpersonal psychology), night terrors (folklore), and UFO encounters (ufology). That there are significant similarities among subsets of these experiences, both in terms of phenomenology and aftereffects, has long been recognized, but so far there has been no sustained scholarly effort to build conceptual bridges between these experiential domains or to foster their comparative study, despite some expressions of interest in such undertakings (e.g., Ring and Agar 1986). In the spirit of this kind of endeavor, the need for which has been persuasively set forth by Rojcewicz (1986), I would like to present here a framework for a partial conceptual integration of two non-ordinary experiences previously held to be quite separate and unrelated. I am referring to near-death experiences (NDEs) and alleged UFO encounters (UFOEs),[1] between which I believe there are some hitherto unsuspected links.

This paper has second purpose as well. After delineating certain commonalities between these types of experiences, I intend to explore their possible joint significance for the evolution of human consciousness. This will involve an attempt to embed these and other types of non-ordinary experiences in a second kind of conceptual matrix that will provide a still more encompassing perspective in terms of which to view the implicit connections among the variety of experiences we will be concerned with.

Before setting out on the first of these conceptual journeys, I need to enter a couple of caveats. First, in stressing certain linkages between NDEs and UFOEs, I make no claim that all varieties of these two phenomena are thus entwined. UFOEs especially cover an extraordinary range, and therefore no one model is likely to do even nominal justice to them all. In this instance, however, I will be dealing with a particular and nowadays increasingly well-known type of UFOE, the nature of which I will specify shortly.

Second, the kind of integrative model I will offer here attempts to join these experiences only in terms of their archetypal patterning and functional significance. At the phenomenological level, NDEs and UFOEs are of course quite dissimilar, but it is in their deep structure, as it were, rather than in their surface contentual manifestations that important commonalities can be discerned.

2. Prototypic NDEs and UFOEs

Research on modern NDEs has been carried on for more than a decade; thus the prototypic pattern for this type of non-ordinary experience will be quite familiar to most readers of this journal. This pattern is made up of such elements as (1) a psychological sense of separation from the physical body; (2) a feeling of overwhelming peace and well-being; (3) a sense of movement through a dark but not frightening space, sometimes described as a tunnel; (4) the perception of a brilliant white or golden light by which one is (5) gradually encompassed and from which one (6) feels a sense of total love and unconditional acceptance; (7) an encounter with a being of light or other spiritual entities who (8) may afford the occasion for a panoramic life review following which (if it occurs) one (9) may decide or be told to return to one’s body, thereby (10) terminating the NDE. Such experiences tend to cohere in a highly meaningful way for the individual, are almost always said to be hyper-real (i.e., not like a dream or hallucination), and usually have a profound transformative effect on the survivor (e.g., Ring 1980, 1984; Sabom 1982; Grey 1985; Flynn 1986; Atwater 1988). In any event, this is the kind of NDE that will be of focal relevance here.

Another type of experience that, owing to the popularity of such books as Communion (Strieber 1987) and Intruders (Hopkins 1987a), is likewise coming to be increasingly well known to a broad segment of the American public is the so-called UFO abduction experience.[2] This is an encounter for which the prototypic pattern can be, for our purposes at least, reduced to the following four elements: (1) a sense of being taken away, usually against one’s will, by one or more humanoid beings, and (2) brought into a strange, alien environment where (3) one is subjected to an invasive physical examination that in some instances seems to have to do with one’s reproductive organs, following which (4) one is returned to the physical world, though not necessarily to exactly the same location where the abduction apparently originated. These experiences often lack the coherence of NDEs, are not infrequently temporarily repressed or forgotten but when recalled are re-experienced as traumatic, and often entail a period of time for which one cannot account (e.g., Lorenzen and Lorenzen 1977; Fowler 1979; Rogo 1980; Hopkins 1981, 1987a; Strieber 1987, Bullard 1987). Again, it is this kind of UFO encounter with which we will be especially concerned in this paper.

Now, when one reads accounts of these two types of prototypic experiences or, better yet, has a chance to talk directly to persons who report having undergone them, one cannot fail to be impressed with the obvious differences between them. The typical NDE, for example, is usually recounted in such a way as to impress the reader or listener with its ineffable beauty, transcendental influx or knowledge, and spiritual profundity. In my own work with NDErs, I confess to having often been struck and indeed deeply affected by the radiant glow and strong positive emotions that emanate from NDErs while in the throes of describing their experiences to me. With UFO abductees, on the other hand, both the content and tone are radically different. Here, for instance, one senses one is reading about or listening to people who may feel especially in the immediate aftermath of their experience that they have been the victims of a form of psychological rape. Their reactions afterward are indicative in any case of some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder (Spiegel, Hunt, and Dondershine 1988; Laibow 1988), and their difficulties in dealing with their experience are only compounded by the knowledge of others’ likely reactions to learning about the incredible (in the literal sense) circumstances and bizarre events associated with the abduction.

Nevertheless, when one begins to probe beneath the divergent phenomenological surfaces of these two types of experiences, one sees that for all their dissimilarities there does appear to be a common structural basis for them both a shared archetypal patterning that binds them. And if I were to try to encapsulate this common element in a single phrase, the one I’d choose is the shamanic journey. To see this more clearly now, we need to examine these prototypic experiences from an explicit shamanic perspective. When we do so, it will become apparent that most of the defining features of NDEs and UFOEs can be coordinated to a model of shamanic initiation.

3. NDEs and UFOEs as Shamanic Initiations

To begin, we need a template of sorts for shamanic initiations in order to appreciate the extent to which such a template might indeed overlap with the underlying form of NDEs and UFOEs. Needless to say, given the enormous wealth of anthropological literature on shamanic initiation, any one model will be a patent oversimplification.

Nevertheless, even a crude and over-generalized outline of some of the main features of this kind of initiation will prove workable for our purposes. In any case, the following account is based chiefly on Eliade (1958, 1964), Nicholson (1987), and Kalweit (1988).

Typically, an individual who may be somewhat unusual because of his (or her) sensitivities or exceptional giftedness or because he has survived a serious illness, accident, or other ordeal is selected for shamanic training. He is then separated from his community and put into the hands of his shamanic trainer. The apprentice is required to undergo various ordeals, both physical and psychological, as his training progresses. Often, as is well known, these rites involve powerful dismemberment (and reconstitutive) motifs as the candidate undergoes a death-and-rebirth ordeal a necessary component for all true initiations, of course, as well as the experiential foundations for a new sense of identity as a shaman. Sacred mysteries are disclosed to the individual as he learns to enter into otherworldly realms and acquires his particular shamanic skills, his power animals, sacred songs, secret language, and so forth. After his initiation is complete, he returns to his community as a healer, a psychopomp, a master of ecstasy, a mystic and visionary as a man (or woman), in short, who now knows how to live in two worlds: the world of the soul as well as that of the body. And though indispensable to the welfare of his community, he often remains somewhat apart from it precisely because of his special knowledge and his unusual and sometimes disturbing presence.

Now, taking this sketch of shamanic initiation as our template, let us see how well it maps onto the underlying form of the prototypical experiences of interest to us. We begin with the NDE. Here, we find ourselves with an individual who has by whatever means been brought to the threshold of apparent imminent biological death, a condition that, as we have seen, is often preludic to a shamanic career. This state of affairs means that at least psychologically and in some cases physically (as when he is removed to a hospital), the individual is separated from his community of peers. Inwardly, he, too, embarks on a journey of initiation, and he is not long into it before he meets the equivalent of his shamanic trainer. A luminous figure a true psychopomp will appear to guide the individual in his journey. This figure represents what I call the archetype of the cosmic shaman. For in this role he is not merely a guide in the passive sense of escort but is, rather, a man (or woman) of knowledge. He is a being who appears to know all about the life of the individual undergoing this experience and all about the realm into which the individual has entered. And while in this realm, the NDEr will receive instantaneously and telepathically the answers to all of his questions from this being, this cosmic shaman. Knowledge will simply flood into his soul as the mysteries of life and death are finally and fully illuminated.

The NDE literature is, of course, replete with such testimonies, and I myself have published quite a few of them (Ring 1984), 19. Here, however, I will simply use one illustrative case to indicate the extraordinary clarity and emotional depth of these encounters. Jayne Smith was in the process of giving birth to her second child when she had her NDE. Hers was a very deep experience of ecstatic gratitude and cosmic knowledge during which she almost immediately lost all body awareness and says she existed, while cradled in the light, as pure consciousness. When she later came back to her sense of individualized identity as Jayne, she found herself at the top of a hill where she encountered a group of men. She then said (mentally) to one of them.

I know what has happened to me. I know that I’ve died. And [she says] one man in the group did all the talking to me. He was taller than the rest and he had an absolutely marvelous face. It was very noble, very kind. He also had about him a great deal of authority In order to talk, we didn’t have to move our mouths. I only know that I only had to have the impulse of what I wanted to say and he immediately would get that and answer it. I could hear the sound of his voice in my inner ear.

I said, Everything [here] is so beautiful, everything is so perfect. What about my sins?

And he said, There are not sins, not the way you think of them on Earth. The only thing that has any meaning here is what you think. And then he asked me a question: What is in your heart?

And in some incredible way I was enabled to look deeply inside myself, really into the core of me, into my essence, and I saw what was there was love and nothing else. My core was perfect love, loving perfection. I had complete love and acceptance for everything.

And I said to him, Of course! And I had the feeling that I was connecting with knowledge that I had known before. And I wondered how on Earth I had ever forgotten anything that important

And then I said, Can you tell me what everything is all about?

And he said, Yes. And he told me and it took maybe three sentences at the most. It was so simple. I understood that immediately. I had total comprehension of what he was saying to me.

And I remember again saying to him, Of course!

And then I said to him, Since I’m not going to be able to stay may I take this all back with me?

And he said, You may take the answer to the first question back that was the one about sin but the answer to the second one you are not going to be able to remember.

At that point, Jayne heard a sudden bang, like an electronic click in her ear, and her experience ended. Reflecting on it years afterward, she said:

I have never been able to remember those specific two or three sentences that I was told and I have tried and tried and I never could. But I think that I do know what he was telling me, even though I can’t recall the actual [words]. I know that it has to do with love and I believe it has to do with what I was enabled to see when he said, What is in your heart? and I looked inside myself and saw that I was perfect love.

Now, you know, that doesn’t apply just to me that applies to all human beings. That is what we are. That is our core this perfect love. And I believe that what it’s all about is [that] as we learn to bring that into our consciousness and have it remain there all the time our connection with God our consciousness of who we really are, I think that’s what the journey is. (Jayne Smith 1987)

In any event, following this kind of revelatory encounter, the individual is sent back or in some cases chooses to return to his physical body. And how does his otherworldly initiation change him? Anyone familiar with the now extensive NDE literature on this subject (e.g., Ring 1984; Grey 1985; Flynn 1986; Atwater 1988) will know that many NDErs return with apparently enhanced psychic sensitivities. Furthermore, quite a few (including Jayne) claim to have acquired healing gifts as a result of their NDE (as the NDE-based film, Resurrection, depicts), and most of them report an increased concern with the welfare of others and indeed with the welfare of all life on this planet.

Finally, I should note that though NDErs as a rule are more concerned with others, others may shy away from them. Many NDErs soon learn to their sorrow that a person who lives in two worlds however one is initiated into a second world tends to make one-worlders a trifle, if not distinctly, uncomfortable.

All in all, then, there seems to be a pretty good fit here between the shamanic initiation model and the structure of the NDE. These parallels, of course, are evident not just from the perspective of NDE research. Students of shamanism such as Harner (1987) and Kalweit (1988) have also drawn explicit connections between these two domains, and Kalweit’s book even gives pride of place to the NDE as a modern empirical exemplification of the timeless truths of the shamanic journey.

Nevertheless, a note of caution about these parallels is in order here. Specifically, by claiming that NDErs undergo a kind of shamanic initiation, I do not mean to imply that they are therefore fully accomplished shamans.

On the contrary, they have simply received their first initiation; they have not completed the course, which for a shaman-to-be in a traditional society often takes years of effort. Therefore, while NDErs may return with some shamanic skills and something of a shamanic orientation, it would be best to view them as shamans-in-training, still learning their craft.

Turning now to UFO encounters, we need to discover how well our model fits the case of the typical abductee.

Let’s review, then, in somewhat greater detail than before the usual progression of events in these experiences in an attempt to test the utility of this model here.

In UFO abductions, the individual is taken (and I don’t mean this in a physical sense, though abductees themselves sometimes do) when he is usually in some kind of an altered state of consciousness asleep, in a state of helpless paralysis, or otherwise somehow entranced. Here, however, the figure of the cosmic shaman this time in the form of a space-age E.T., as it were, but playing the selfsame role albeit in new garb may make his appearance early on, or the abductee may be brought into his presence by a set of clone-like assistants. The next stage of the journey is the examination in which the individual, already usually highly uneasy if not frightened to the core, is forced to endure a variety of intrusive procedures apparently the UFO equivalent of the initiatory ordeal or dismemberment ceremony. It’s noteworthy, by the way, how often the abductee will say that this examination took place in a round or curved chamber. We know of course that a round hut or circular enclosure of some kind is a staple in traditional initiations, as Kannenberg (1986), herself a UFO abductee, has pointed out.

Rotunda-like structures can be taken to symbolize a womb or a place of new beginnings. In any event, following this ordeal, certain specific I suppose one might say classified information may be imparted telepathically as part of another act in the initiatory drama. Eventually, however, the abductee is somehow returned to his ordinary space/time world, though, as I have said, he may not have any immediate conscious recall of his traumatic adventure.

Yet he, too, like the NDEr, may come back shaken from his experience but with the seeds of transformation already sown in his psyche. While there are, to my knowledge, no careful long-term studies of the aftereffects of these UFO encounters,[3] preliminary work by Sprinkle (1981, 1983), Davis (1985), and others (e.g., Decker 1986) suggests that despite the grueling nature of these experiences, the after-effects, though variable, often show striking resemblances to the characteristics of NDEs.

And once more in common with NDErs, the UFO abductee may learn that his experience, though it has conferred upon him certain new skills, insights, and understandings, has also served to isolate him somewhat from his community. Like the NDEr, he, too, has had his passport stamped with an extramundane imprint and returns from his strange sojourn with divided and complicated allegiances to that world. As a result, he may find that he is inwardly conflicted and frequently estranged from his family and fellows, something of an alien himself.

Before looking more closely at what precisely one is initiated into during these NDEs and UFOEs, I want to add a couple of comments about the characteristics of the cosmic shaman himself. First, it is clear from the literature of abduction cases that the appearance and behavior of the cosmic shaman in UFOEs tend to be disturbing and indeed frightening to most of those who encounter him. This is in marked contrast, of course, to the loving and benign qualities of the cosmic shaman in NDEs. Once more, it seems, we have an antipodal relationship between these two categories of experience at the phenomenological level but one that again obscures an important functional similarity. The point here is this: It doesn’t matter what the cosmic shaman looks like or how he behaves. His function is simply to educate the soul. Whether he does this by acting out the role of the trickster, the masked demon, or the sage is irrelevant. His ways are protean, but his objective is the same through a thousand disguises.Second, as I’ve just implied, appearances may be deceiving, especially in the exotic mindscape of UFOEs. What I am alluding to here I will shortly tell.

4. Shamanic Initiations: Doorway to the Mundus Imaginalis

Given that NDEs and UFOEs may be forms of shamanic initiation, we must now take this inquiry one step further and ask: What is it that those who have these experiences are being initiated into when they pass through these otherworldly domains?

In my view, whenever an individual undergoes a shamanic journey whether through nearly dying, UFO abduction, or by other means he is vaulted into the world of the imagination or, to use Henri Corbin’s (1976) equivalent phrase, a mundus imaginalis. Let me be clear at the outset what I understand by this expression, whether it be the English or the Latin. James Hillman (1975) has insisted, and NDErs and shamans everywhere would quickly concur, that in the world of imagination, persons and places are fully real; they are as real in that domain as our physical world is to our senses.[4] So in using this expression, I am not implying that such experiences are imaginary, but rather that they are imaginal (again to use Corbin’s helpful term). Imagination in this sense is, as Coleridge argued, a creative power, and the world that it reveals is, as Blake knew, a supersensible reality that can be directly apprehended.

Shamans, who see with the eyes of their soul, have also penetrated into this world and have given us peerless descriptions of its fabulous and infinitely varied regions and denizens. Indeed, the idea that shamanic experiences thrust individuals into this realm has lately started to serve as a unifying formulation for a number of writers. For instance, in Shirley Nicholson’s excellent anthology on shamanism (1987), there are quite a few articles that articulate this notion admirably (see, for example, the pieces by Harner, Houston, Achterberg, and Noll). Likewise, in Carol Zaleski’s brilliant book, Otherworld Journey (1987), she follows a similar interpretative line for NDEs.

Finally, Terrence McKenna (1982, 1984), another student of shamanism, has also argued for the primacy of the imagination in understanding UFO phenomena. These collective efforts, centered on the imaginal world and the power of the imagination to shape human experience, may eventually spawn a conceptual net of sufficient breadth to capture and order meaningfully the variety of non-ordinary experiences we considered at the beginning of this paper.

At any rate, this approach appears to be a most promising direction for conceptual work in this area, and deserves even more attention.

All this notwithstanding, what is important for us at this point in our inquiry is not just the recent popularity of this kind of formulation but rather the fact that through it we are led all the way back to Heraclitus the father of psychology and the seeming priority of the soul. From this perspective, of course, NDEs, UFOEs, and shamanic journeys in general are all explorations in the domain of soul, which, as Heraclitus seems to have been the first to assert, is infinite.[5] And, as Roberts Avens (1980) has pointed out, soul is not only inseparable from imagination, soul is imagination (p. 103).

Therefore, if shamanic experiences are to educate the soul, as I have claimed, they must necessarily do this by propelling us into the infinitude of the human imagination. The mundus imaginalis is our true home, which we are once more beginning to see and to experience directly. Again, as Avens has said: Only soul (the imaginal realm) is not reducible to anything else and so constitutes our true, ontological reality (p. 102).

5. Some Evolutionary Speculations

In my book Heading Toward Omega (Ring 1984), I argued that NDEs and other transcendental experiences may be serving as an evolutionary catalyst for humanity’s collective psychospiritual development. I still adhere to that view, but here I’d like to extend this thesis in a new direction. That direction has already been suggested in Michael Grosso’s The Final Choice (1985), where, in speaking of out-of-body experiences, he indicates that they may represent the matrix for the next environment in the psychosocial evolution of man (p. 102, his emphasis). I embrace that position, too, but would like to elaborate on it briefly.[6]

We now know that millions of persons have already had out-of-body experiences, NDEs, and other similar experiences (see, e.g., Rogo 1983; Gallup 1982; Hay 1982), and there are various reasons to suppose that their numbers have increased dramatically in recent years (e.g., Ferguson 1980; Russell 1983; Ring 1984). Likewise, the number of UFOEs not just sightings seems to be growing exponentially, too. Budd Hopkins (1987b), for example, estimates that there may be hundreds of thousands of such cases hidden among us. And shamanic journeys of one sort or another also seem to be increasingly common and commonly sought after in our contemporary world.

Altogether, we seem to be undergoing a period of mushrooming growth in the occurrence of what Carol Zaleski has called the otherworld journey for which the traditional shaman has long been the prototype.

If this is actually so, might it be that what we are witnessing is the beginning stages in the shamanizing of modern humanity? And what that would mean is precisely this: that humanity would be finding its way back to its true home in the realm of the imagination, where it would be liberated to live in mythic time and would no longer be strictly bound to the prison of historical time. In short, I am suggesting that in this period of apparently accelerated psychospiritual evolution these two worlds may be drawing nearer to each other so that we, too, like the shaman, will be able easily to cross over and live in both worlds.

These are, to be sure, fairly extravagant extrapolations; indeed, I am acutely aware of how wildly inflated they may appear. At the same time, I take some measure of comfort from the fact that I am very far from being the first or only researcher to advance such evolutionary possibilities. Indeed, for investigators who have concerned themselves in recent years with NDEs, UFOEs, and similar phenomena, there have already been several who have put forward very similar ideas. Whitley Strieber, for example, whose implicit sympathy with shamanic interpretations of UFOEs is obvious in his book Communion (Strieber 1987), speculates toward its end that the veil between matter and mind is now growing thin (p. 289) and that the universe of the visitors and our own are spinning each other together (p. 295) in an act of cosmic communion. Keith Thompson, who has also recently articulated an initiation model for UFO encounters based on some of the ideas of Joseph Campbell and Arnold Von Gennep (Thompson 1988), has likewise found himself wondering whether it’s possible that UFO’s, the near-death experience, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, and other shamanic visionary encounters are as much of a prod to our next level of consciousness as rapidly blooming sexual urges are a prod to a teenager’s move from childhood to adolescence. (p. 14)

Interestingly, Thompson’s ideas mirror almost exactly those expressed in Grosso’s The Final Choice, which considers in depth the collective evolutionary significance of precisely the phenomena that Thompson is concerned with. Similarly, Terence McKenna, who is certainly one of our most original and provocative visionary thinkers with a long-standing interest in the relationship between psychedelic shamanism and the UFO, has been eloquent in his insistence that we are coming to the end of historical time when, as he puts it, we will live in hyperspace, having interiorized the body and exteriorized the soul, and dwell in the realm of full imaginative possibility (McKenna 1982). Finally, English NDE researcher Margot Grey has also concluded from her studies that the ever-increasing frequency of NDEs is a direct reflection of an evolutionary trend that is propelling humanity toward higher consciousness (Grey 1985), a hypothesis that is virtually identical to the one I offered in Heading Toward Omega, thus completing the circle (or should I say, the Ring?).

Of course, having company along the road doesn’t necessarily mean one is walking in the right direction. None of us can see that far ahead in any case, but to me it is at least noteworthy that a number of thinkers and I have listed only a small sample of them here who have had occasion to ponder the implications of NDEs and UFOEs have felt that they point to some profound transformative possibilities for modern humanity and planetary culture.

While we are still in this speculative mode, however, let us just consider for a moment what we would experience as part of our soul’s education if this evolutionary perspective does have any merit. In this context, I’d like to refer to a couple of experiences that were shared with me by friends experiences that may contain some hints as to what our common realization might be.

Earlier I mentioned in connection with the role of the cosmic shaman in UFOEs that appearances may be deceiving. Here’s the story that prompted that remark. A friend of mine, who has had an NDE, recently sent me a cassette tape in which she recounted a UFOE that had just happened to her. The circumstances were typical: she had awakened at 3:30 one morning and distinctly perceived an alien form by her bed. It had the appearance that is commonly described in the literature on abduction: small body, large head in relation to the torso, huge black eyes, and so forth. My friend then became aware that she was receiving a telepathic communication from this being, but what she heard served to reassure her.

She was told that the ugly, bug-like eyes (that so many abductees have reported) are not eyes at all they are shields. The shields, she was further informed, are necessary to protect human beings from what they would otherwise be exposed to. This would overwhelm them. But just what is this dangerous force to which they would be exposed?

The being then allowed some of it leak out. My friend felt an influx of universal knowledge and infinite love pour into her. She was then told that as we grow and as we raise in our level of understanding of what we truly are, more and more will be shown to us and we will receive all this knowledge and be able to be one with them.

Following this message, she felt another wave of that unconditional love NDErs so often speak of and fell peacefully asleep.

Such a story even if it is only a story makes us wonder what we would actually experience if we could look into the infinitude of those eyes. A possible answer comes from another NDEr friend of mine. This is a woman who, in 1975, while in her twenties, had three cardiac arrests within a period of four hours as a result of anaphylactic shock. During this time, she knew with certitude that she was dying. Her experiences during this life-threatening episode were extremely profound and revelatory, but here I have to confine myself just to one phase of her NDE that occurred toward its end.

At this point, she felt that she was rocketing through layers upon layers of realities, seemingly to the heart of the universe itself, and she was terrified. She thought she had gone too far and would be lost forever. Then: Oh my God. I was picked up as if by an ENORMOUS pair of hands, and as I looked up I found myself looking into a gigantic EYE, out of which flowed a tear of all consuming, profound ineffable love and compassion, and I KNEW without a doubt, that I was looking into the heart of my self, who is all selves, whatever it is that God is. And I was brought into the EYE, and was home.

Let us hope that, lifted by the wings of a planet-wide initiation into the realm of transcendental experience, we will all be carried home to live again in the land of the soul the Imagination.

6. Notes

[1]  Bowing to the widespread use of the phrase UFO encounter, I will defer to it here, but I do want to state at the outset that I myself find this expression both misleading and unhelpful. In my judgment, what is encountered in these experiences has nothing to do with unidentified flying objects as we commonly understand this designation. Perhaps one benefit of attempting to bring some conceptual coherence to the set of phenomena of which UFO encounters are one important category will be to rid ourselves of this unfortunate and somewhat embarrassing term, UFO.

[2]  This is the most frequently used designation for this experience both in the popular literature on UFOEs and in scholarly treatments of the phenomenon (e.g., Bullard 1987). It is, however, not favored by some of those who have had this kind of traumatic encounter. Strieber (1987), for example, prefers the expression visitor experience and has been emphatic in this rejection of any label for it that implies a sense of victimization (e.g., Strieber 1988).

[3]  I have recently inaugurated a research project designed to provide data on this matter that will also afford a direct comparison between NDErs and UFOErs on a variety of different measures.

[4]  Thus Corbin: It must be stressed that the world [of imagination] is perfectly real. Its reality is more irrefutable and more coherent than that of the empirical world, where reality is perceived by the senses (p. 17, his emphasis).

[5]  Fragment 42 in Wheelwright’s (1962) version reads: You could not discover the limits of the soul, even if you traveled every road to do so; such is the depth of its meaning (quoted in Avens 1980, 21).

[6]  Since NDEs represent a specific form of OBE, Grosso‘s argument can easily be extended to NDEs and to other similar transcendental experiences.

7. References

— Achterberg, J. 1987. The shaman: Master healer in the imaginary realm. In Shamanism, ed. S. Nicholson, 103104. Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House.

— Atwater, PMH 1988. Coming Back to Life. New York: Dodd Mead.

— Avens, R. 1980. Imagination is Reality. Dallas: Spring Publications.

— Bullard, T. E. 1987. Comparative Analysis of UFO Abduction Reports. Mt. Rainier, Md.: Fund for UFO Research.

— Corbin, H. 1976. Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginal and the Imaginary. Ipswich, England: Golgonooza Press. (Originally published in Spring, 1972.)

— Davis, L.. 1985. How the Unidentified Flying Object Experience Compares with the Near-Death Experience as a Vehicle for the Evolution of Consciousness. M.A. thesis, John F. Kennedy University.

— Decker, R. M. 1986. Long-Term Effects of Close Encounters. MUFON UFO Journal 229:811.

— Eliade, M. 1958. Rites and Symbols of Initiation. New York: Harper and Row.

— Ferguson, M. 1980. The Aquarian Conspiracy. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher.

— Flynn, Charles P. 1986. After the Beyond. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

— Gallup, George, Jr. 1982. Adventures in Immortality. New York: McGraw-Hill.

— Grey, Margot 1985. Return From Death. London: Arkana.

— Grosso, Michael 1985. The Final Choice. Walpole, N.H.: Stillpoint.

— Harner, M. 1987. The Ancient Wisdom in Shamanic Cultures. In Shamanism, ed. S. Nicholson, 316. Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House.

— Hay, D. 1982. Exploring Inner Space. New York: Penguin.

— Hillman, J. 1975. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper and Row.

— Hopkins, Budd 1981. Missing Time. New York: Berkeley Books.

— Hopkins, Budd 1987a. Intruders. New York: Random House.

— Hopkins, Budd 1987b. Personal communication. November.

— Houston, J. 1987. The Mind and Soul of Shamanism. In Shamanism, ed. S. Nicholson, vii-xiii. Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House.

— Hufford, D. J. 1982. The Terror That Comes in the Night. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

— Kalweit, H. 1988. Dreamtime and Inner Space. Boston: Shambhala.

— Kannenberg, I. 1986. How to Come to Terms with Your UFO/Alien Encounter. Unpublished manuscript.

— Laibow, R. 1988. “UFO Abduction Scenarios in Patients Exhibiting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.” Privately circulated manuscript.

— Lorenzen, J., and Lorenzen, C. 1977. Abducted! New York: Berkeley Books.

— McKenna, Terrence 1982. New and Old Maps of Hyperspace (audio cassette). Big Sur, Calif.: Dolphin Tapes.

— McKenna, Terrence. 1984. True Hallucinations (audio cassette). Berkeley, Calif.: Lux Natura.

— Nicholson, S. ed. 1987. Shamanism. Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House.

— Noll, R. 1987. The Presence of Spirits in Magic and Madness. In Shamanism, ed. S. Nicholson, 4761. Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House.

— Ring, Kenneth 1980. Life at Death. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghehan.

— Ring, Kenneth 1984. Heading Toward Omega. New York: William Morrow.

— Ring, Kenneth and A. Agar 1986. The Omega Project. ReVision 8:8788.

— Rojcewicz, P. M. 1986. The Extraordinary Encounter Continuum Hypothesis and Its Implications for the Study of Belief Materials. Folklore Forum 19:13152.

— Rogo, D. Scott 1980. Alien Abductions. New York: Signet.

— Rogo, D. Scott 1983. Leaving the Body. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

— Russell, P. 1983. The Global Brain Awakens. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher.

— Sabom, Michael 1982. Recollections of Death. New York: Harper and Row.

— Smith, Jayne 1987. Moment of Truth (video). Springdale, Ark.: Ozark Video.

— Spiegel, D., T. Hunt, and H. E. Dondershine 1988. Dissociation and Hypnotizability in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 145: 301305.

— Sprinkle, R. L. ed. 1982. Proceedings, Rocky Mountain Conference on UFO Investigation. Laramie, Wyoming.

— Sprinkle, R. L. 1983. Signs of the Times: Human Consciousness and UFO Experiences. Paper presented at the II Congress International Ufologia, Brazil, April.

— Strieber, Whitley 1987. Communion. New York: Beech Tree Books.

— Strieber, Whitley. 1988. Address delivered at Rocky Mountain Conference on UFO Investigation, Laramie, Wyoming, 1 July.

— Thompson, K. 1988. The Stages of UFO Initiations. Magical Blend 18:916.

— Wheelwright, P. 1962. Metaphor and Reality. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.

— Zaleski, Carol 1987. Otherworld Journeys. New York: Oxford University Press.

Categories
Experiences Gay and Lesbian

Experiences of Light in Gay and Lesbian Near-Death Experiences

Liz Dale, Ph.D. (www.lizdale.com) is a clinical psychologist whose expertise is near-death experience (NDE) research within the LGBT community. Upon learning that no such research existed, she contacted the LGBT community over a two-year period and published her findings in a groundbreaking book entitled, “Crossing Over and Coming Home: Twenty-One Authors Discuss the Gay NDE as Spiritual Transformation.” Throughout 2018 and 2019, Dr. Dale is asking anyone who has had a near-death experience — but especially those in the LGBT community — to participate in a quick online survey regarding their experience and its consequences. Survey results will inform a groundbreaking study and a new book to be published by Balboa Press, a division of Hay House. The survey is live now at www.lizdale.com/survey.html. Surveyees will have access to a free ebook library of over 1,300 NDE related ebooks to download, as well as links to LGBT-focused articles on About.com, Wikipedia , Google, Amazon, and the Open Directory Project, among other information repositories. Dr. Dale anticipates that her new survey will make important contributions to the literature, as well as pave the way for future investigations.

By Liz Dale, Ph.D., San Pablo, CA

ABSTRACT: This article illustrates the concept of divine light in stories of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) near-death experiences.

KEY WORDS: near-death experiences; gay / lesbian / bisexual / transgender; spirituality; divine light.

SOURCE: Journal of Near-Death Studies 24(3), Spring, 2006 @ 2006 IANDS (PDF file)

In Crossing Over and Coming Home, I recorded numerous personal accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs) from within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community (Dale, 2001). In his endorsement of that book, Stanislav Grof wrote that the…

“..study of near-death experiences in the gay community … is also a major contribution to the general understanding of the phenomenology of near-death states and their effects on survivors” (Grof, 2001, unpaged frontispiece).

Before describing examples of the impact of divine light within gay NDEs, let me address the reason it is important to document LGBT near-death stories. Christian de la Huerta wrote in his groundbreaking book, Coming Out Spiritually, that there was a time when gay people…

“..were the shamans, the healers, the visionaries, the mediators, the peacekeepers, the ‘people who walk between the worlds,’ the keepers of beauty” (1999, p. 3).

As can be seen by the following excerpts from their stories, the men and women who wrote accounts of their NDEs were very courageous. Melvin Morse wrote:

“The near-death experiences that gays and lesbians report are powerful reminders that all human beings share a common truth: We will have near-death experiences when we die …. Gay or straight, brown skin or white skin, or rich and poor alike, we will all have one when we die.” (Morse, 2001, p. i)

The concept of light is one of the key images one experiences in an NDE. The Dalai Lama described the metaphor of light as:

“…a common image in all the major religious traditions. In the Buddhist context, light is particularly associated with wisdom and knowledge; darkness is associated with ignorance and a state of misknowledge.” (1999, p. 304)

Within the stories of the LGBT near-death experiences, divine light is an essential component. The majority of LGBT near-death experiencers whose accounts I collected (73 percent) reported such experiences. For example, one experiencer who had taken an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol wrote the following:

“All of a sudden I felt as though I was moving through a corridor. It was dark but not at all frightening. I sensed the presence of others. Some of these ‘spirit entities’ were moving more slowly than others toward the light Suddenly, I was in a place that appeared to be room suffused with light. There were no walls or ceilings or floors. Light seemed to extend into infinity.” (Dale, 2001, p. 100)

LGBT near-death experiencers offered a reason for the presence of light. The majority of experiencers whose accounts I collected (73 percent) felt a sense of comfort within the light. The divine light emanated either from the NDEr or from others in the NDE scenery. One woman described her childhood NDE from a near-drowning in the following way:

“I do not remember struggling or being afraid. I felt only deep peace and happiness. While my body was at the bottom of the river, I remember looking up toward the surface. I enjoyed watching a beautiful array of dancing, brilliant sparkles of color from the yellow sunlight coming through the river water. I was calm and fascinated by the beauty of the light and the reeds coming through the mud.” (Dale, 2001, p. 40)

These LGBT NDE stories illustrate the message of a powerful connection between light, love, and spirituality, over and over. Why do LGBT near-death experiencers consider the NDE to be so inspiring? Historically, there was a time when gays and lesbians were looked upon favorably by society. But in recent times, quoting again from Christian de la Huerta:

“Many [gays) have attempted to reject their spirituality — a tragic and fruitless endeavor as ludicrous as waking up one day and deciding that one no longer needs to breathe because someone, somewhere decreed that breathing is an evil, sick, sinful or immoral act.” (Christian de la Huerta, 1999, p. 5)

Malidoma Patrice Some of the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso described gays as having a higher “vibrational” level that enables them to be guardians of the gateways of the spirit world. In an interview in 1993 at the Mendocino Men’s Conference, he described indigenous people’s view of gay men:

“[A]t least among the Dagara people, gender has very little to do with anatomy. It is purely energetic. In that context, a male who is physically male can vibrate female energy, and vice versa. That is where the real gender is … In the culture that I come from … these people are looked on, essentially, as people…

“The earth is looked at, from my tribal perspective, as a very, very delicate machine or consciousness, with high vibrational points, which certain people must be guardians of in order for the tribe to keep its continuity with the gods and with the spirits that dwell there … Any person who is at this link between this world and the other world experiences a state of vibrational consciousness which is far higher, and far different, from the one that a normal person would experience. This is what makes a gay person gay.” (Some, cited in Hoff, 1993, pp. 1-2)

The LGBT persons whose accounts I collected “came out of the closet,” so to speak, so that we can all see what is true and beautiful to the NDE: that there is a world just beyond this one in which all people, regardless of skin color, gender, age, lifestyle, or sexual orientation, are viewed as equal. The cross-cultural context within each of these stories, although highly valuable to the reader of NDE accounts, can reveal more than some LGBTs would be willing to expose. For instance, when it came time to publish my book, some of the contributors refused to have their stories published. Although the accounts were all anonymous, some potential authors felt that there might be a way they could be identified or that there was something “wrong” with recording such spiritual stories. Unfortunately, these stories have remained unpublished.

The LGBT NDE stories I have collected contain account after account of deeply meaningful experiences. Some of the most deeply inspiring of these accounts provide examples of this newfound spiritual growth. For example, one man who had had an NDE during an extended coma following an emergency appendectomy at age 17, wrote:

“I will say that my near-death experience dramatically changed who I was and how I lived. I live not by what I read and ‘think’ is right; I live by what I ‘know’ is right for me. This doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. I still go to church and worship God but God doesn’t ‘need’ people to worship Him. One doesn’t have to do anything to go to heaven …

“We are here on earth to learn from each other and help each other. If we want to ‘learn,’ we must keep an open mind.

“Just like everyone else here, I am not simply a human being. I am a spirit with a human shell. Someday I will leave my body and continue in the spiritual, non-material realm again.” (Dale, 2001, p. 121)

I would like to conclude this paper with a perspective on the concept of divine light from Ken Wilbur‘s book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality:

“The observer in you, the Witness in you, transcends the isolated person in you and opens instead — from within or from behind, as Emerson said — onto a vast expanse of awareness no longer a respecter or abuser of persons, no longer fascinated by the passing joys and set-apart sorrows of the lonely self, but standing still in silence as an opening or clearing through which light shines, not from the world but into it — ‘a light shines through us upon things.’ That which observes or witnesses the self, the person, is precisely to that degree free of the self, the person, and through that opening comes pouring the light and power of the Self, a Soul, that as Emerson puts it, ‘would make our knees bend.'” (2000, p. 289)

References

Dalai Lama. (1999). The path to tranquility. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.

Dale, L. (2001). Crossing over and coming home: Twenty-one authors discuss the gay near-death experience as spiritual transformation. Houston, TX: Emerald Ink.

de Ia Huerta, C. (1999). Corning out spiritually. New York, NY: Tarcher/Putnam.

Grof, S. (2001). [Endorsement]. In Dale, L., Crossing over and corning home (unpaged frontispiece). Houston, TX: Emerald Ink.

Hoff, B. H. (1993, September). Gays: Guardians of the gates [an interview with Malidoma Some). Men Magazine, pp. 1-2. Retrieved October 19, 2005, from the MenWeb website: http://www.menweb.org/somegay.htm

Morse, M. (2001). Foreword. In Dale, L., Crossing over and coming home (pp. i-iii). Houston, TX: Emerald Ink.

Wilbur, K. (2000). Sex, ecology, spirituality. Boston, MA: Sharnbhala.

About The Author

Liz Dale, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in private practice. Her website is www.lizdale.com.

Reprint requests should be addressed to:
Dr. Liz Dale, 95 Christine Court, San Pablo, CA 94806
Email: lizsanpablo@aol.com