Reincarnation Research

Dr. Kenneth Ring’s NDE Reincarnation Research

Amber Wells is a former student at the University of Connecticut and wrote a research paper based on her study of the near-death experience for her senior honors thesis under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Ring. Her paper was published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1 (PDF) in the fall of 1993. In her study, 70 percent of the group of near-death experiencers demonstrated belief in reincarnation. In contrast, a Gallup Poll found that only 23 percent of the general population endorse this belief. Previous research has indicated that, following a near-death experience, the group tended to exhibit a significant shift in their beliefs on a wide range of subjects including a general tendency toward an increased openness to the idea of reincarnation. Ms. Wells’ study was designed to examine the factors underlying this belief shift. The following are some excerpts from her study reprinted by permission.

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Reincarnation Beliefs Among NDErs
  3. Interview Data: NDErs’ Belief in Reincarnation
  4. The Nature of Reincarnation
  5. Factors Underlying the Shift Toward Belief in Reincarnation
  6. Discussion
  7. References

1. Abstract

Several researchers have found that near-death experiences (NDEs) tend to increase belief in reincarnation. This study was designed to examine the factors underlying this belief shift. I used a questionnaire to compare the tendency toward belief in reincarnation among NDErs, individuals merely interested in NDEs, and a non-experiencer, non-interest control group. In addition, I interviewed 14 NDErs to gain insight into the factors influencing NDErs’ beliefs. NDErs’ reincarnation belief shift appeared to be due to (a) direct knowledge of reincarnation gained by some NDErs in the NDE itself; (b) knowledge of reincarnation gained through a general psychic awakening following the NDE; or (c) exploration of alternative perceptions of reality following the NDE.

2. Reincarnation Beliefs Among NDErs

Previous research has indicated that following a near-death experience (NDE), experiencers tend to exhibit a significant shift in their beliefs on a wide range of subjects, including an increased acceptance of others, a significantly greater belief in life after death, and a decreased emphasis on material success. These belief changes have also included a general tendency toward an in creased openness to the idea of reincarnation (Gallup and Proctor, 1982; Ring, 1980, 1984, 1992; Sutherland, 1992). It is this belief shift that was the focus of the present study. The question of what precipitates the shift toward belief in reincarnation has not yet been systematically addressed in the literature. In this study, I attempted to answer this question and, additionally, to determine if a consistent picture of the purpose and process of reincarnation would emerge from the accounts of near-death experiencers. Previous researchers such as Kenneth Ring have suggested that near-death experiencers’ increased openness toward the idea of reincarnation may be less a factor of the NDE itself than a result of life changes following the experience:

“Of course, there is no reason why an NDEr’s openness toward reincarnation must stem directly from his NDE. In fact, I am quite convinced that in many cases it is more likely to be a response to an NDEr’s reading and other life experiences following an NDE.” (Ring, 1984, p. 160)

Ring’s study also suggested that belief in or openness to reincarnation among NDErs was often accompanied by a more general endorsement of Eastern religions. This has also been noted in the work of Cherie Sutherland (1992). Other researchers (Twemlow, Gabbard, and Jones, 1982) found a similar shift in religious beliefs among individuals having not near-death experiences but out-of-body experiences. Thus it is possible that the NDE is simply one of many catalysts for an increased openness to reincarnation. In fact, it has been suggested that simply an interest in near-death phenomena can serve as a catalyst for many of the value changes expressed by NDErs, including an increased openness to the idea of reincarnation (K. Ring, personal communication, 1991).

If it is true that the NDE influences individuals’ reincarnation beliefs simply by causing them to consider new religions or spiritual ideas, then one would expect that individuals who exhibited an interest in the NDE would also be prompted to undergo a similar belief shift. If, on the other hand, it is something inherent in the NDE itself that leads individuals to consider the possibility of reincarnation, then one would expect that individuals who were merely interested in such phenomena but who had not experienced it themselves would have reincarnation beliefs that differed significantly from those of near-death experiencers and would instead be similar to those of individuals who have no such interest in NDEs.

In this study, questionnaires were used to determine the reincarnation beliefs of a group of NDErs, a group of subjects who were interested in near-death experiences but had not had an NDE, and also a group of subjects who were chosen to represent the general non-experiencer, non-interest population. Interviews of NDErs were also conducted to gain a deeper insight into the origins and structure of their beliefs concerning reincarnation.

3. Interview Data: NDErs’ Belief in Reincarnation

A review of my interview data revealed that 13 of the 14 NDErs either believed in reincarnation or were at least open to the idea. Seven of the NDErs I interviewed did not believe in reincarnation before their experience, but did believe in it afterwards. Four individuals did not believe in reincarnation before their NDE or afterwards. However, although these respondents did not definitely believe in reincarnation, they were at least open to the possibility. Two individuals had considered reincarnation prior to their NDE, but the experience led them to change the way they looked at it; one subject now believed in reincarnation on more of a collective level rather than as an individual process, and the other came to think about reincarnation more seriously and consider it more in depth following his experience. One subject did not believe in reincarnation before her NDE, and the experience had no effect on her views.

No strong common pattern of beliefs about the process or purpose of reincarnation surfaced in my interviews. However, a few commonalities were seen in some of the respondents’ answers. No one claimed to have gained any direct understanding of the nature or process of reincarnation during his or her NDE. Three of the 14 respondents, however, claimed a “sense” or “perception” during their experience of having lived before. Only one respondent claimed to have had a past lives review, in which she re-experienced events from a past life, during an NDE.

4. The Nature of Reincarnation

In response to the question about the general process of reincarnation, four respondents mentioned one consciousness separating into individual souls to be embodied in matter. One respondent took this idea further, to state that reincarnation takes place more on a collective rather than an individual level. In other words, she felt that a collective energy recycles itself through matter and that our sense of individuality is a product of our present incarnation only. One respondent believed that a higher power created a finite number of individual souls, some of which then are placed in human embodiments in order to learn lessons.

A strong minority of respondents, six of 14, saw individual choice as the initiating force behind the reincarnation process. Three other individuals mentioned karmic patterns or ties to other souls as influencing the reincarnation process.

Eight of 14 subjects mentioned learning or enlightenment as the main purpose underlying reincarnation. One respondent said:

“The spirit needs to embody itself in matter to experience it and learn. There are karmic patterns to learn lessons and to work spirit in matter.”

Another commented, “Life itself is a series of learnings. The lessons are universal, the two most important being truth and forgiveness.”

Ten of 14 interviewees believed it is possible to remember past lives, while two remained unsure and one saw claims of past life remembrances as most likely the result of fantasy.

Eleven of 14 subjects believed in the concept of karma or at least were open to it. Five of the 11, however, qualified their affirmation with further explanation of their beliefs:

“Yes, but not in that sense. We progress at our own rate to reach the light. If you do things that take you away from the light, then you are perpetuating your time here.”

“[I] don’t believe in karma as some people do – that it is pre-destiny. We have karma but we can change it.”

“Karma is misunderstood; it’s not just negative. Everything is karma, even thoughts.”

“Consequences carry over to some degree, but the emphasis is not so much on the physical act, but more on what is going on inside.”

“Definitely, but there are no rights or wrongs – it just is. We all have light and dark and we need to balance them out.”

When asked what goes on during the period between incarnations, seven subjects mentioned learning as the main activity of the soul. Four mentioned resting, rejuvenation, and/or connecting with God, and one subject indicated that individuals are involved in setting up the circumstances of their next life during this time. When asked if one’s personal awareness and sense of personal identity remained intact in the afterlife realm and for how long, two subjects answered affirmatively, one believing that the personality would continue forever and the other unsure as to how long this sense of “self’ would remain.

The majority of respondents, however, eight out of 14, gave more qualified endorsements of this proposition. Here are three examples of their responses:

“Not intact. The inner quality is there, the inner self remains, but the external aspect that may have seemed very strong is dissolved.”

“Individuality wasn’t the same there. I was the same as everybody and everybody was me.”

“Your spirit is always you. You are not the personality that you are on earth. In the other realm you are everything, light is everything.”

Finally, eight of the 14 respondents said that they felt the cycle of reincarnation would eventually come to an end. They indicated that at this point there would be existence as pure spiritual being and/or a merging with God. One respondent said:

“Then you exist as pure spiritual form, as a pure spiritual being.”

Another responded, “You become an integral part of God. When everyone reaches that point it is nirvana.”

Two of 14 subjects indicated that the cycle of reincarnation would probably come to an end for earthly embodiments, but that one would continue to incarnate into other realms or dimensions.

5. Factors Underlying the Shift Toward Belief in Reincarnation

A more definite pattern emerged in the subjects’ responses to the question about which factors led to the change in their reincarnation beliefs. Three causes for changes in beliefs in a direction favorable to reincarnation were mentioned.

One cause for this belief shift, for which I found only limited evidence in this study, is direct knowledge imparted during the NDE itself. Three of my 14 interview subjects claimed to have a “sense” that they had lived before during their NDE. For two of my subjects this factor would qualify as the main event influencing their reincarnation beliefs. One subject, however, had several NDEs and also exhibited a significant psychic awakening, involving direct information concerning reincarnation, following her experiences. She claimed to have had a past-lives review during one NDE, but did not indicate which one. Therefore, I do not know which came first: the direct reincarnation knowledge through her psychic awakening, or the past-lives review. Thus, I do not know for certain which was the influencing factor in her belief shift. However, because her post-NDE experiences were so many, so extensive, and obviously so influential in her beliefs, it is more likely these experiences, rather than her NDE past-lives review, that shaped her beliefs, and she is consequently categorized as such.

The second cause for the reincarnation shift was found in events taking place after the NDErs’ experience that seemed to be part of a general psychic awakening. This general psychic awakening has been documented by other researchers as well (Greyson, 1983; Ring, 1985). Ring presented this idea as his “spiritual catalyst” hypothesis, which implies that NDEs tend to lead to psychic development. For five of the 14 subjects in this study it was this psychic awakening following their NDE, rather than the experience itself, that provided them with direct knowledge of reincarnation. One subject explained:

“Before any of these events, I call mine kind of a two-part event, because I had the NDE in 1979, and then another car accident in 1985 that brought about what I call a kundalini awakening, which is similar to an NDE without the death part of the physical body. So, what happened to me is, before either of these experiences happened I didn’t believe in reincarnation at all … After these experiences what one of the things that happened to me was I started getting memories of my own past lives. A lot of times just spontaneously something would trigger it and I’d get this memory, and I see visions, and then I started getting them of other people’s lives.”

Two other experiencers noted similar phenomena:

“This didn’t come about from the experience but afterwards, since then. [I’ve received] messages, my brother-in-law [deceased] had a message … that his soul would be reincarnated into my sister’s son.”

“I had ongoing experiences after the near-death experience. In that after process I experienced souls. On one occasion it’s like I followed a soul, went through a process with a soul, in how they were reborn, how it came about that they were reborn.”

Finally, as the third source of the reincarnation belief shift, the NDE opened the individual up to greater possibilities in his or her perception of reality. It made them more willing to explore a wider range of spiritual possibilities, including reincarnation. This exploration was manifest in the form of reading, discussions with others, and personal reflection. Six of my 14 subjects fell into this category. One respondent said of her NDE:

“It opened up a dimension that I never really knew existed.”

Another commented: “It [his NDE] didn’t help me conclude anything, it just threw the doors of possibility wide open.”

Still another said: “I didn’t even know what reincarnation was before I had an NDE. It was afterwards that I was led to find out what it was. Some of the things I’m telling you [about reincarnation] came out in other conversations and some in the reading that I’ve done, and some just thoughts I’ve had. And it made total sense to me.”

And finally one woman I interviewed said: “[I] hadn’t given it [reincarnation] much thought before that [her NDE]. I was brought up in a fairly conventional religion – Catholicism. I was not a particularly practicing Catholic at the time, but more or less hadn’t explored much Eastern philosophy. After the experience, I did. I read a great deal of different philosophies, not just Eastern, but all of them, and found that it [reincarnation] was plausible.”

6. Discussion

In this study, 70 percent of the sample of NDErs demonstrated belief in reincarnation. In contrast, a Gallup Poll (Gallup and Proctor, 1982) found that only 23 percent of the general population endorse this belief, while 30 percent of my control group help views favorable to reincarnation. These data confirm the findings of earlier studies with respect to NDErs’ reincarnation beliefs. While I found that the near-death experiencer group exhibited a significantly greater tendency toward belief in reincarnation than my general public sample, I also found that my NDE interest group exhibited beliefs that did not differ significantly from those of the NDErs. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that there is nothing inherent in the near-death experience itself that causes the shift in experiencers’ beliefs about reincarnation.

Additionally, my data failed to reveal any consistent pattern among NDErs’ beliefs about the purpose or process of reincarnation. There were, as I already noted, many similarities, but no one “truth” emerged. Furthermore, the beliefs expressed by the NDErs in my study are not unique; they tended to follow the standard view of reincarnation as expressed in much of the New Age literature. By way of example, the following excerpts taken from Irving S. Cooper’s book, Reincarnation.: A Hope of the World (1979), are representative of this view and are quite similar to many of the statements made by my NDE sample:

“The chief purpose of reincarnation is education. To this end we are born again and again on earth, not because of any external pressure, but because we, as souls, desire to grow.” (p. 14)

“It is a universal process, and prevails not only in the human kingdom but throughout the whole of nature. Whenever we find a living form, the consciousness of that form is also evolving, using temporarily for that purpose the physical form in order that it may gain physical experience.” (p. 19)

“In each incarnation we have a different physical body, a different name, and may have different souls acting as parents, but these changes do not in the slightest imperil our individuality.” (p. 24)

“Reincarnation is not an endless process, and when we have learned the lessons taught in the World-School we return no more to physical incarnation unless we come back of our own accord to act as Teachers of humanity or as Helpers in the glorious plan of evolution.” (p. 47)

With respect to the question of what in fact underlies the reincarnation belief shift, I can offer three possibilities suggested by my data, but which would require further research to verify. First, in some cases, it does seem to be the NDE itself that influences one’s reincarnation views. Although I did not find extensive evidence for this in my study, it has been documented by other researchers (Morse and Perry, 1992; Ring, 1985). In those cases, individuals claimed to have received direct knowledge of reincarnation during the NDE itself. An example of this type of knowledge can be seen in a letter written to Ring by John Robinson:

“It is a matter of personal knowledge from what the Being with whom I spoke during my NDE told me about my older son, that he had had 14 incarnations in female physical bodies previous to the life he has just had.”

Ring has also heard testimony of this kind of direct knowledge in some of his interviews. One NDEr, whose account is recorded in Ring’s audiotape archives, commented:

“My whole life went before me of things I have done and haven’t done, but not just of this one lifetime, but of all the lifetimes. I know for a fact there is reincarnation. This is an absolute. I was shown all those lives and how I had overcome some of the things I had done in other lives. There was still some things to be corrected.”

Another NDEr whose testimony is included in Ring’s audiotape archives gave this account:

“I had a lot of questions, and I wanted to know what they [light beings she encountered in her NDE] were doing – why are you just kind of milling around here? And someone stepped forward … it wasn’t just one … I got information from a number of them … that they were all waiting for reincarnation.”

Additionally, in a case documented by Melvin Morse, a girl who had her NDE when she nearly drowned at the age of 7 reported seeing during her experience two adults waiting to be reborn (Morse, 1983).

Second, some NDErs may gain direct knowledge of reincarnation through other psychic or mystical experiences following their NDE. In this way, the NDE becomes a catalyst for openness to reincarnation through its ability to propel the experiencer into a general psychic awakening.

Finally, for other NDErs their experience serves mainly to spark their interest in various “New Age” phenomena that leads to often extensive outside reading and research. It makes sense that when one becomes open to the idea of life after death, the idea of life after life becomes much more plausible.

The fact that my NDE interest group exhibited reincarnation belief scores so similar to those of my NDE sample can be explained by two hypotheses. First, it is possible that some of my NDE interest subjects may have gained direct knowledge of reincarnation through other psychic or mystical experiences even though they have not had an NDE. Second, my NDE interest group may be very similar to those in my NDE sample who were prompted to explore “New Age” material following their experience. Both groups became interested in the near-death phenomenon, one group through direct experience and the other through unspecified means, and thus were led to explore the concept of reincarnation. My study is limited by the fact that I have no data on the factors influencing the beliefs of the subjects in the NDE interest group.

Future research would be well directed towards determining what it is about an interest in near-death experiences that promotes an openness to reincarnation, or if in fact both the interest in NDEs and openness to reincarnation are the result of some other factor or occurrence. Using a larger, more randomly assigned subject pool would also help to strengthen the findings.

7. References

Atwater, P. M. H. (1988). Coming back to life: The after-effects of the near-death experience New York, NY: Dodd, Mead.

Cooper, I. S. (1979). Reincarnation: A hope of the world. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House.

Flynn, C. P. (1986). After the beyond: Human transformation and the near-death experience Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Gallup, G., Jr., and Proctor, W. (1982). Adventures in immortality: A look beyond the threshold of death. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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

Greyson, B. (1983). Increase in psychic phenomena following near-death experiences (PDF). Theta, 11, 26-29.

Morse, M. L. (1983). A near-death experience in a 7-year-old child. American Journal of Diseases of Children, 137, 959-961.

Morse, M. L., and Perry, P. (1992). Transformed by the light: The powerful effect of near-death experiences on people’s lives. New York, NY: Villard.

Ring, K. (1980). Life at death: A scientific investigation of the near-death experience New York: NY: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan.

Ring, K. (1985). Heading toward omega: In search of the meaning of the near-death experience New York: NY: Morrow.

Ring, K. (1992). The Omega Project- Near-death experiences, UFO encounters, and mind at large New York, NY: Morrow.

Sutherland, Cherie. (1992). Transformed by the light. Life after near-death experiences. New York, NY: Bantam.

Twemlow, S. W., Gabbard, G. 0., and Jones, F. C. (1982). The out-of-body experience: A phenomenological typology based on questionnaire response (PDF). American Journal of Psychiatry, 139, 450-455.

Experts Science

Dr. Kenneth Ring’s Near-Death Experience Research

Kenneth Ring (born 1935) ( is Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Connecticut, and a highly-regarded researcher within the field of near-death studies. Dr. Ring is the co-founder and past president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and is the founding editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies. In 1977, Kenneth Ring, a brilliant young professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, read Raymond Moody‘s book, Life After Life, and was inspired by it. However, he felt that a more scientifically structured study would strengthen Moody’s findings. He sought out 102 near-death survivors for his research. The following article documents some of Ken Ring’s basic insights based on his meticulous research. Dr. Ring’s research also involves the groundbreaking work of investigating near-death experiences among blind persons. His findings are detailed in his latest book Mindsight (1999) which is bound to become a classic in the annals of near-death research much like his previous books, Waiting to Die (2019), Letters From Palestine (2010), Lessons From The Light (2000), The Omega Project (1992), Heading Toward Omega (1984), and Life At Death (1980). Visit Ken Ring’s Amazon Author Page for more books by Ken Ring. Dr. Ring researched NDEs that involve the experiencer witnessing events while out of their body which is later proven to have taken place. Ken has also researched NDEs that affirms reincarnation. Ken has also examined NDEs among those who attempted suicide. During his extensive research, Ken was also able to examine NDEs where the future was foretold.

  1. About Ken Ring and His Research
  2. Ken Ring’s NDE Study
  3. Ken Ring Applies the Holographic Paradigm to NDEs
  4. Conclusions

1. About Ken Ring and His Research

In the Foreword of Dr. Ring’s book Lessons From The Light, NDE expert Bruce Greyson had this to say about Dr. Ring:

“If any one person can claim to be an authority on near-death experiences (NDEs) without having had one, that person must surely be Kenneth Ring. After Raymond Moody sowed the seeds of modern near-death research by coining the term ‘NDE’ in his 1975 ‘Life After Life,’ it was Ken who watered and nurtured them till they grew into a self-sustaining phenomenon. It was Ken who was the first president of that band of scattered researchers who formed the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) 20 years ago. It was Ken’s office at the University of Connecticut that housed the organizations volunteers, phones, and growing archives for its precarious first decade. And it was Ken who founded the only scholarly journal for near-death studies and organized symposium on NDEs at annual meetings of mainstream academic societies.

“If anyone has interviewed more NDErs than Ken – and I don’t know that anyone has – then surely no one has done it with the depth, open-mindedness, and insight as he. For many years, Ken’s home was known to experiencers across the country as ‘The Near-Death Hotel,’ where itinerant NDErs trying to rediscover their place in this world could and did ‘drop by’ and end up staying however long it took. And each one to whom Ken opened his home in return opened his or her heart and added to Ken’s growing comprehension of the true essence of the NDE. No other researcher has been able to meld the large-scale controlled study with the passionate friendships, the philosophical theories with the intuitive understandings, the command of the scholarly literature with the personal stories. And more importantly, no other researcher has been able to transmit to the rest of us the true meaning and impact of near-death phenomena for our planet.”

2. Ken Ring’s NDE Study

The following are Ken Ring’s research conclusions from his Connecticut Study.

(1) Those cases who came closest to death, or were clinically dead, just as Moody’s cases reported, told of being outside of their bodies, of moving through a void or dark tunnel toward a luminous light, of meeting with departed relatives and friends, of having a feeling of great comfort and bliss and of being surrounded by compassionate love, a feeling so beautiful they longed to remain, and when they returned to the “earthly” realm, they were affected by this feeling the rest of their lives.

(2) No one type of person was especially likely to have this experience. It cut across race, gender, age, education, marital status, and social class.

(3) Religious orientation was not a factor affecting either the likelihood or the depth of the NDE. An atheist was as likely to have one as was a devoutly religious person.

(4) Regardless of their prior attitudes – whether skeptical or deeply religious – and regardless of the many variations in religious beliefs and degrees of skepticism from tolerant disbelief to outspoken atheism – most of these people were convinced that they had been in the presence of some supreme and loving power and had a glimpse of a life yet to come.

(5) Drugs, anesthesia and medication did not seem to be a factor in inducing these impressions and exquisite feelings of an NDE. Indeed, drugs and anesthesia seemed to be more likely to cause a person to forget memories of an NDE.

(6) He definitely concluded that NDEs are not hallucinations because hallucinations are rambling, unconnected, often unintelligible and vary widely, whereas NDEs tend to have similar elements of a clear, connected pattern.

(7) Based on the information of those who had reported such incidents, the moment of death was often one of unparalleled beauty, peace and comfort – a feeling of total love and total acceptance. This was possible even for those involved in horrible accidents in which they suffered very serious injuries. Dr. Ring found there was a tremendous comfort potential in this information for people who were facing death.

(8) After going through an NDE, people reported a loss of fear of death as well as a greater appreciation of life. They also reported stronger feelings of self-acceptance and a greater concern and sense of caring for other people. They had less interest in material things for their own sake. Many tended to become more spiritual – though not necessarily more involved in organized religion.

(9) Almost all subjects who experienced an NDE found their lives transformed and a change in their attitudes and values, and in their inclination to love and to help others. Dr. Ring was convinced that these were absolutely authentic experiences and noted that since returning, many of them had occasion to think about ‘what might have been.’ And their subsequent lives were powerful testimony to our common ability to live more deeply, more appreciatively, more lovingly, and more spiritually.

3. Ken Ring Applies the Holographic Paradigm to NDEs

In Chapter 12 of Dr. Ring’s book, Life At Death, “Beyond the Body: A Parapsychological-Holographic Explanation of the Near-Death Experience,” Dr. Ring applies the current holographic paradigm in quantum physics to near-death experiences. The current holographic paradigm uses the Holographic Principle to describe the universe – and everything within it as a hologram with every point within the hologram intimately connected to every other point within the hologram which is the current “Theory of Everything” involving String Theory. The Holographic Principle, developed by physicist Leonard Susskind, corresponds with David Bohm and Karl Pribram‘s Holonomic Brain Theory which theoretically describes the brain as functioning like a hologram. A holographic brain functioning as a hologram and storing memory as a hologram within a holographic universe and reality, would perfectly solve many scientific materialist problems of accepting various “paranormal” aspects of near-death experiences. Indeed, the bizarre “paranormal” qualities of near-death experiences correspond to the bizarre “paranormal” qualities found in quantum mechanics which has falsified classical physics as far as (1) locality, (2) causality, (3) continuity, (4) determinism, and (5) certainty in the last century by the modern science of quantum electrodynamics. The following is an excerpt (pages 246-252) of Chapter 12 where Dr. Ring defines the NDE “world of light” in terms of the holographic paradigm and the conclusions he draws from it.

The World of Light

The last stage of the core experience seems to fulfill the promise implied by the encounter with the brilliant golden light. Here one appears to move through that light and into a “world of light.” At this point, the individual perceives a realm of surpassing beauty and splendor and is sometimes aware of the “spirits” of deceased relatives or loved ones.

What is This World?

In holographic terms, it is another frequency domain – a realm of “higher” frequencies. Consciousness continues to function holographically so that it interprets these frequencies in object terms. Thus, another “world of appearances” (just as the physical world, according to holographic theory, is a world of appearances) is constructed. At the same time, this world of appearances is fully “real” (just as our physical world is real); it is just that reality is relative to one’s state of consciousness.

In esoteric terms, this is the – or one – level of the so-called astral plane. As I have already mentioned, the esoteric literature is replete with descriptions of this world of light.

If one reads the literature that purports to describe this realm or if one simply rereads the accounts of stage V (entering the Light) provided by our respondents (or some of Moody’s in Reflections on Life After Life), one quickly forms the impression that everything in this world is immeasurably enhanced in beauty compared to the things of our physical world. That is why it is often characterized as a world of “higher vibrations.”

That such talk isn’t mere metaphor was suggested by the comment of one of our respondents, who, in attempting to describe the music of this realm, likened it to “a combination of vibrations … many vibrations.” Of course, music does consist of vibrations, but it isn’t ordinarily spoken of in that way. Such observations again hint that those near-death survivors who reach this stage are responding directly to a frequency (vibratory) domain of holographic reality.

But in just what sense is this realm a holographic domain? Just where do the landscapes, the flowers, the physical structures, and so forth come from? In what sense are they “real”?

I have one speculative answer to these questions to offer – a holographic interpretation of the astral plane. I believe that this is a realm that is created by interacting thought structures. These structures or “thought-forms” combine to form patterns, just as interference waves form patterns on a holographic plate. And just as the holographic image appears to be fully real when illuminated by a laser beam, so the images produced by interacting thought-forms appear to be real.

There might appear to be a serious imperfection in this holographic analogy: The pattern produced on the physical holographic plate is, after all, only a meaningless swirl. It only becomes coherent when a coherent beam of light (that is, a laser) is used to illuminate the swirl. What, then, is the equivalent of the laser in the stage V realm?

The logic of my speculation seemingly leads to a single conclusion: It is the mind itself. If the brain functions holographically to give us our picture of physical reality, then the mind must function similarly when the physical brain can no longer do so. Of course, it would be much simpler if one merely assumed, as some brain researchers (for example, Sir John Eccles and Wilder Penfield) appear to have done, that the mind works through the brain during physical life but is not reducible to brain function. If the mind can be supposed to exist independent of the brain, it could presumably function holographically without a brain. If one is not willing to grant this assumption, one would seem forced to postulate a non-physical brain of some kind that operates on this “astral” level. At this point, we would have passed over the limit of tolerable speculation. In my view, it is preferable merely to assume that sensory-like impressions at this level are functionally organized in a way similar to sensory impressions of the physical world, that is, holographically.

If we can assume this (leaving the question of the “mechanism” open), then the attributes of stage V would fall neatly into place. Since individual minds “create” this world (out of thoughts and images), this reality reflects, to a degree, the “thought-structures” of individuals used to the world of physical reality. Thus, the “forms” of the stage V world are similar to those of the physical world. However, since this is a realm that is also (presumably) composed of minds that are more clearly attuned or accustomed to this higher frequency domain, those minds can shape the impressions of the “newly arrived.” The holographic result – an interaction of these thought patterns – thus tends to create a “higher gloss” to the perceived forms of this realm – that is, they are experienced in an enhanced way. One is tempted to say that what is seen is, at least at first, largely determined by preexisting schemata of near-death survivors, but that how (finely or beautifully) it appears is influenced primarily by minds used to that frequency domain.

The gist of this speculative holographic interpretation, then, is that “the world of light” is indeed a mind-created world fashioned of interacting (or interfering) thought patterns. Nevertheless, that world is fully as real-seeming as is our physical world. Presumably – and this is an admitted and obvious extrapolation – as one becomes increasingly accustomed to this holographic domain and to “how it works,” the correspondences between the physical world and this realm grow increasingly tenuous. Eventually one would suppose that an individual’s consciousness would become anchored in the four-dimensional reality of the holographic domain and the familiar structures of our world would be radically changed there in ways we can only surmise.

The holographic interpretation can obviously also be used to account for the perception of “spirit-forms,” a common feature of stage V experiences and deathbed visions. Just as object-forms are, theoretically, from a holographic point of view, a function of interacting mind patterns, so, too, are encounters with “persons” in “spirit bodies.” Such “entities” are, then, the product of interacting minds attuned to a holographic domain in which thought alone fashions reality. The fact that communication between the near-death survivor and the “spiritform” is usually said to be telepathic in nature again points to a world of existence where thought is king. From this angle, one can easily see that the manifestations in this high order of reality could easily transcend the forms of our sensory world. As individuals whose consciousnesses are rooted in the natural world, we can only speculate on the levels of mind that may be able to influence perceptions in the frequency domain associated with stage V experiences.

Before concluding our discussion of this domain, we must return to an issue we raised but did not resolve earlier: the matter of hell.

Stage V experiences, as we have seen, are almost always described in terms of paradisical imagery; the individual appears to enter a world of incomparable delight. Yet, in discussing Rawlings‘s work, we saw evidence that near-death survivors sometimes have hellish experiences. The bulk of the evidence plus the methodological shortcomings and tendentiousness of Rawlings’s research led us to conclude that such experiences are probably very much rarer than Rawlings himself claims, but that they sometimes do occur.

The question is how to account for them.

Rawlings’s own interpretation is that hellish experiences simply reflect a lack of a personal commitment to Christ. In this respect they serve as a warning of the ultimate consequences of failing to make such a commitment.

Without wishing to get entangled in theological issues, I must confess that I find this interpretation too simplistically doctrinaire for my taste. But quite apart from my personal opinion, even some of Rawlings’s own evidence fails to square with his interpretation. For example, Rawlings cites the case of one man, described as “a staunch Christian, the founder of a Sunday school, and a lifelong supporter of the church,” who had multiple near-death experiences, the first of which was hellish while the remaining two conformed to the Moody pattern. That kind of variation is not explicable on the basis of Rawlings’s interpretation. Neither is the fact that, according to Osis and Haraldsson’s cross-cultural research, Hindus have very much the same kind of paradisical (or stage V) deathbed visions as do Christians.

My own interpretation, naturally, is quite different. Rawlings is not the only investigator to find evidence of an occasional near-death experiential sequence that begins unpleasantly and ends well. Robert Crookall has also described this sequence (sometimes, however, in connection with out-of-body experiences only) and so has Moody. In addition, George Ritchie has recounted a detailed personal example of this kind. The sequence, in fact, when it is reported, always seems to be from “bad to good.” My interpretation of hellish near-death experiences is predicated on this particular sequence.

In my view, what is happening in these cases is that the individual is “passing through” a lower frequency domain (although he may occasionally – temporarily – “get stuck” there). This domain is also a holographic reality and is organized in precisely the same way as the paradisical realm we have already considered. The principal difference is in the nature of the minds that are interacting to create this reality.

Even if this kind of interpretation is correct, however, there would still seem to be a problem. Why is this domain so rarely reported compared to the paradisical realm? One proposal has it that the tunnel phenomenon serves as a shield to protect the individual from an awareness of this domain. It will be recalled that the tunnel effect itself was interpreted as representing a shift in consciousness from one level to another. Functionally, this state of affairs can be compared to a traveler riding a subway underneath the slums of a city: the subway tunnel prevents him ever being directly aware of his surroundings although the slums are there. Instead, like the typical near-death survivor, he begins his trip in darkness and emerges into the light.

That this is no mere fanciful analogy is suggested by one of Moody’s cases. One woman, who was believed to be “dead” for fifteen minutes, reported that during one stage of her experience she became aware of what Moody calls a “realm of bewildered spirits.” In describing this realm she says that:

“…what I saw was after I left the physical hospital. As I said, I felt I rose upward and it was in between, it was before I actually entered this tunnel . . . and before I entered the spiritual world where there is so much brilliant sunshine that I saw these bewildered spirits”

In my opinion, then, the near-death survivor is usually kept from having a direct awareness of this realm, just as, for perhaps different reasons, he usually has no recall for his “return trip.” Hell may exist as a “lower frequency domain,” but most near-death survivors never seem to encounter it and, if they do, only a tiny fraction seem to “get stranded” there. What may happen after the initial stages of death – something this research cannot speak to—remains an open question.

4. Conclusions

So much for the interpretation of the core experience. Since I have taken up so much space in presenting my parapsychological-holographic formulation, I will make only a few brief comments here before concluding this chapter.

First of all, by no means do I want to leave the impression that I feel that I have totally “explained” the core experience in a theoretically satisfactory way. There are many loose threads still lying about, as any perceptive reader undoubtedly will have noticed. For example, the whole question of whether the core experience is really in the nature of a “stored program” that is released at the point of death (or perhaps in other ways), as Stanislav Grof and Joan Halifax have proposed, was never resolved. The relevance of the possible neurological basis of near-death experiences is likewise still largely an uncharted territory. I can only hope that my discussion of such issues and my own interpretation will motivate other researchers to probe these matters more deeply.

Of course, it is at this point an unanswerable question whether the mysteries of the near-death experience can ever be fully understood through scientific investigation alone. Such experiences may well have an infrangible or nonphysical quality that will prevent us from providing a truly comprehensive scientific accounting of them. Try as we may (and I believe, should) to articulate such an understanding, it may finally prove to be the case that science can take us only so far in shaping that understanding.

These observations bring us, finally, to the role of religious and spiritual concepts in the interpretative matrix of the near-death experience. It is obvious that my own interpretation, though I tried to keep it grounded in scientific theory and research, occasionally was forced to stray into the spiritual realm. I confess that I did so with considerable intellectual reluctance, but also with a sense that it would have been intellectually cowardly to avoid doing so. In my opinion – and I could be wrong – there is simply no way to deal with the interpretative problems raised by these experiences without confronting the spiritual realm. Indeed, Pribram himself says, in a passage already quoted, that:

“Spiritual insights fit the description of this [holographic] domain. They’re made perfectly plausible by the invention of the hologram.”

In my view, not only plausible but necessary. In the paradigm shift (which I have previously alluded to) that seems to be leading to a recognition of the primary role of consciousness, the world of modern physics and the spiritual world seem to reflect a single reality. If this is true, no scientific account of any phenomenon can be complete without taking its spiritual aspect into account.

This position, of course, is hardly new. It has been espoused in one form or another, not only by mystics, but by large numbers of influential scientists and intellectuals as well. I could list many names of well-known men and women to buttress this point, but instead let me conclude simply by quoting the most eminent scientist of our century. To me, his attitude suggests not only the proper spirit in which to approach the study of near-death experiences but also its likely effect on the world view of those who do explore them.

Perhaps it is ironically fitting that Albert Einstein himself did not believe in life after death, but his words nevertheless speak to the emotions kindled by familiarity – either direct or vicarious – with the near-death experience itself:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. This insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness.”

Experiences Suicide

Dr. Ken Ring’s Suicide Near-Death Experience Research

Dr. Kenneth Ring, in his book, Life at Death, analyzed the near-death experiences of 24 people who attempted suicide. Among them, no one reported the tunnel phenomenon, or saw a brilliant but comforting light, or encountered a presence, or was temporarily reunited with loved ones who had died, or entered into a transcendent world of heavenly beauty. Instead, the suicide-related NDE tended to be truncated, aborted, and damped down. It began with a feeling of relief or peace and continued with a sense of bodily detachment to the same degree as non-suicide-related NDEs. But it tended to end, if it got this far at all, with a feeling of confused drifting in a dark or murky void – a sort of twilight zone. Dr. Ring’s research strongly suggests that the suicide-related NDE does not reach completion; instead, it tends simply to fade out before the transcendent elements characteristic of non-suicide related NDEs make their appearance. The following are excerpts from Dr. Ring’s research into suicide from his book Life at Death.

One young man tried to kill himself by taking an assortment of pills – Librium, Demerol, Valium, Dilantin. As a result of this ingestion, he remained unconscious for four days. He remembers finding himself in a gray area:

Young man:  “The only thing that I can remember about this is just grayness. Like I was in gray water or something. I couldn’t really see anything. I couldn’t see myself there, either. It was just like my mind was there. And no body.”

While the young man was in this state, he said he felt good:

Young man:  “Normally, I’m a very anxious, a very nervous person – a lot of fears and things like that. And during this, all the fear was gone. I had no fear whatsoever. Almost an adventurous feeling. Excitement.”

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  “Did you want to stay in that condition?”

Young man:  “Yeah,” the young man replied, “It was a very good feeling.”

He also was aware of music:

Young man:  “I also heard music – different music.”

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  “Tell me what it was like.”

Young man:  “It was usually like classical music; I like classical music. It wasn’t exactly the music I’ve heard, but it was along that line.”

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  “Do you recall how the music made you feel?”

Young man:  “It made me relaxed. The fears went away when I listened to it. Again, the feeling of hope, that there’s something better somewhere else.”

He also reported that everything, including the music, sounded “hollow and metallic – echoey” and that these acoustical sensations were associated with the watery grayness. He felt the grayness going through him, filling him and this felt good to him. After a while, he became aware of a voice:

Young man:  “I think [it was] a woman’s voice, but (pause) I didn’t recognize the voice.”

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  “Do you recall now what she said to you?”

Young man:  “No. I just remember that it was a soothing voice. I kind of remember that with the grayness — her voice kind of calling, my moving toward it.”

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  “This was a friendly voice, a reassuring voice in some way?”

Young man:  “Yeah.”

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  “And you felt drawn to it?”

Young man:  “Yeah. Right. Like that was the place to be.”

The young man tried to get to where the voice was:

Young man:  “It seemed like I kept trying to get to where the voice was, but something was holding me back. I know I wanted to be there; I knew once I was there everything would be fine. I was sure of this. No question about it. But there was still like something holding me back from getting there.”

During his experience he had seen images of people he knew. These people somehow seemed to represent the possibility of a good life; they seemed to care. He described this as “like playing back a recording of my life.” The issue was joined:

Young man:  “It felt like the woman’s [voice] was stronger. I wanted to get there but there was just some part of me that wanted to (pause) go back with these images.”

And resolved:

Young man:  “The thing I remember most is a falling feeling. Like I was coming down really fast and then hit. And then I woke up with a jolt.”

And afterward:

Young man:  “When I woke up, the first thing I thought was Oh, God. Thank you. I made it, and I was extremely happy. (He had been severely depressed before his suicide attempt.) I was just sitting there thinking about it and I felt this – I don’t know – warmth filling my body. I was very happy, very excited, but then (pause) it was more than contented – it was rapture, I guess. But I couldn’t explain it to anybody at the time. It was just beyond words.”

This testimony sums up the essential features of his experience. In the course of his interview, he also indicated that although he never clearly saw his physical body on the bed, he did have a sense of bodily detachment and felt he had no weight at all — he was just pure mind. Neither did he have any sense of time. When he momentarily returned to body consciousness (before drifting back into the grayness), he found the sensory world greatly enhanced — the colors were clearer and more vibrant. The only thing scary about his experience was his fear (which was eventually vanquished) of returning to his body. His experience in the grayness was decidedly pleasant and, judging from its immediate aftereffect, very positive and powerful in its emotional impact.

This particular experience includes many features that are common with non-suicide attempt experiences: drifting through a vast space, feeling good, hearing music and a comforting voice, hearing sounds magnified, seeing a series of flashbacks of one’s life, and so forth.

In Dr. Kenneth Ring’s study, he found that no one who had attempted suicide reported that it was predominately unpleasant. The only possible exception is that a few people did describe some unsettling hallucinatory images, but these appear to have been qualitatively different from the feeling-tone of non-suicidal experiences. Certainly, no one felt that he was either in or was on his way to hell. This is not to say that suicide attempts never lead to unpleasant experiences, only that there is no strong evidence for this proposition among the 24 suicide NDEs in Dr. Ring’s study.

Dr. Ring draws six conclusions from his study into suicide near-death experiences and identifies five stages of the NDE: (1) peace, (2) body separation, (3) entering the darkness, (4) seeing the light, and (5) entering the light:

The evidence bearing on the qualitative aspects of suicide-induced near-death experiences is clearly complex, but it leads to a number of interesting conclusions:

First, the descriptions from our suicide attempters tend, relative to other categories, to be weakest in core experience elements: No recall is greatest here, and when experiences do occur, they do not penetrate beyond stage 3 (entering the darkness or void).

Second, there are, however, a number of factors that make the suicide attempters noncomparable to other respondents in such a way as to lower the likelihood of the occurrence of core experiences.

Third, therefore, the data on qualitative aspects of suicide-related experiences are ambiguous and inconclusive.

Fourth, nevertheless, some evidence suggests that certain transcendent features associated with the core experience may occur in suicide attempts, although these features may manifest themselves in distinctive ways.

Fifth, when recall exists, the suicide-related death experience tends to be reported as predominantly pleasant.

Sixth, the death experiences of a number of non-suicide attempters (and the opinion of one suicide attempter) all implied that the consequences of a successful suicidal act were likely to be unpleasant.

Can these six conclusions themselves be interpreted to point to a general conclusion? Probably not – our data are simply too fragmentary and contaminated to warrant any single conclusion. However, I want to offer my own opinion here in the hope that it might lead to further research that will eliminate some of the ambiguity surrounding this issue. If the offending factors could be eliminated or sufficiently reduced to provide comparability among conditions, I would speculate that the initial stages of the core experience would be invariant across modes of near-death onset. I would also hypothesize, however, that there would come a point when the suicide-induced experience would begin to show a distinctive qualitative difference. This would, according to my view, come during the decision-making phase, when there would be no hint of transcendent glory (for example, the light phenomenon) or of immediate reunion with loved ones. If an individual were to pass beyond this stage, either because he was, in some sense, “permitted to” or because his suicide attempt was successful, I am tempted to believe that the admonitions expressed at the end of this section might prove warranted. This aspect of my opinion can, of course, never be evaluated scientifically, but its other components could be in an adequately designed study. If such an investigation were undertaken, it might not only be able to resolve some of the empirical issues, but it would also furnish us with a more extensive basis from which to extrapolate the later stages of the core experience when it is induced by suicide.