by Bill Nugent
The ability of modern medicine to bring people back from the brink of death has resulted in literally millions of Americans claiming to have had near death experiences (NDEs). They claim to have seen a bright light at the end of a tunnel, rapid flashes of memories of events earlier in life, feelings of euphoria, the sense of floating, even the feeling of being outside the body and hallucinatory type visions.
The “Biography” TV channel has done at least one show entirely about NDEs. The best selling book “Life After Life” by Raymond J. Moody delved into this way back in the 1970s and many other books about NDEs have been written since. There is much information about NDEs on the Internet.
Having studied the NDE literature, I’m convinced that a certain small percentage of NDEs are genuine experiences in which the human spirit actually leaves the body for a short time and then returns. Most NDEs, however, have a very straightforward neurological explanation.
The people with NDEs that are typically interviewed for books and TV shows are generally from a cross section of society. Some are deeply religious, some secular and others have perhaps just a nominal commitment to church. Researchers into NDEs, who delve very deeply into NDE phenomena, have discovered some things that the “feel good” TV shows don’t reveal.
For one thing, many of the people who have had the typical NDE experiences were not close to death. One study showed that more than half of the people reporting NDE type phenomena were not near a clinical death state.
The US Air Force, back in the early days of jet aviation, found that many of its pilots reported NDE type phenomena such as seeing a bright light, etc. when they completed a rapid dive while piloting an aircraft.
The Air Force found that at the bottom of a dive the gravity force (G-force) on the body was such that the pilot’s blood pooled down in the legs and the brain was deprived of blood for a short time. It was determined that the brain’s deprivation of blood caused the hallucinatory experiences. In other words, the airmen’s NDE type experiences have a physical, neurological explanation. The Air Force solved the problem by the development of the G-suit that constricts the legs to force the blood into the upper body when the G-force reaches a critical level.
The article, “Peace of Mind: Near Death Experiences Now Found to Have Scientific Explanations” by Charles Q. Choi, Scientific American, Sept. 12, 2011, p. 124 gives some insight into recent research. The article mentions, among other things, that a 2005 study found that out-of-body experiences can be artificially triggered by stimulating the right temporoparietal junction of the brain. People can be made to have a sense of floating just because of the stimulation of a certain part of the brain!
The portrayal of NDEs in the popular media have tended to quote people who have had positive NDEs. Many of these starry eyed people say that the euphoria means that they have nothing to fear in death and that they even look forward to death. Some even felt “as one with the universe” which could be compared to the experiences of Hindu mystics. The media portrayal of NDEs tends to give the “I’m OK, You’re OK” view of the afterlife with no mention of accountability for sin. The truth is, these people were not viewing the afterlife at all but were simply hallucinating because their brains were operating under diminished oxygen.
Science has long known that the brain, perhaps from the pineal gland, secretes powerful chemical painkillers during times of extreme trauma and shock. Also, rapidly increased levels of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, can give hallucinatory experiences. I spoke to a man whose arm was shattered with multiple fractures in a car accident yet he felt no pain. The brain’s natural painkillers dulled or eliminated the man’s pain. Some researchers believe that these natural painkillers, released in the brain, can cause hallucinations and other NDE type experiences in addition to pain reduction.
Back in the 1970s I remember people discussing LSD and the “religious experience” often associated with it. Some people who’ve used LSD report feeling as though they were one with the universe. Dr. Albert Hofmann, inventor of LSD, claimed to have had this religious type of experience during an LSD trip in the early 60s. LSD alters the brain’s neurotransmitter levels and brings on hallucinations during an LSD trip. The hallucinations and euphoria induced by LSD, are often mistakenly believed to be some kind of deep religious insight!
I believe that the cults that use drugs to get the religious high and get the feeling of peace and oneness with the universe are simply tinkering with the brain’s chemical pathways. Hindus and Buddhists with their long hours of silence and meditation alter their mental state to such a degree that they cause the neurotransmitter levels to fluctuate and bring on the peace and feeling of oneness. These experiences almost certainly helped form the content of Hindu religious doctrine over centuries and influenced the writers of the Hindu scriptures.
Having said all of the above in relation to the neurological and chemical explanations of NDEs I do, nonetheless, believe that real out-of-body experiences do occasionally happen. In fact, the Bible records one such out-of-body experience in Second Corinthians 12:2-4. I believe that such experiences, in which one’s spirit actually does exit the body for a brief period are probably quite rare. The evangelist Howard Pitman is one man that I believe had a powerful, revelatory near death experience back in 1978.
I’d also like to mention that many people have had negative or fearful NDEs. The media tends not to report such Negative NDEs, perhaps to not undermine their “feel good” theologically liberal conclusions about NDEs.
One doctor, Maurice Rawlings MD, was particularly concerned about some of the fearful experiences his patients related. Let me quote from what I wrote way back in DTF #6 about negative NDE phenomena:
“Prominent Cardiologist Maurice S. Rawlings, MD, interviewed many of his own patients who had near death experiences. Dr. Rawlings who was not a Bible believer, was shocked and stunned to hear many of his patients (who were also unbelievers) tell of hellish experiences that they had in their brief view of the afterlife. Dr. Rawlings concluded that it was “not safe to die.” He went on a spiritual search through all the world’s books of faith. He studied the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Tao-te-King, the Talmud and theKoran among others.
“He finally settled on the Bible as the only holy book accredited by prophecy and accurate fulfillment of prophecy. This supernatural aspect of the Bible is like God’s signature on it! None of the other holy books had anything like the Bible’s record of prophecy and fulfillment of prophecy. The Bible also gives an accurate view of the afterlife. Dr. Rawlings became a born-again Christian. He wrote a book titled “To Hell And Back” that describes his patients’ experiences.”
The bottom line is that we can consider most NDEs to be simply neurological phenomena in a traumatized, oxygen starved brain. Some of the NDE experiences are euphoric and others are terrifying. The popular media overwhelmingly reports only the euphoric experiences.
As I’ve said, I’m certainly open to consider that some of the NDEs, especially the more extreme ones, may actually be the spirit leaving the body and experiencing things and then returning to the body. However, if a man’s brain flat lines and his spirit does leave his body for 15 minutes and returns, you can be sure that he was merely on the edge of eternity and may not have had a full grasp of his eternal destiny even if it was a real out of body experience. I’d rather trust the Bible’s view of eternity instead of somebody’s 15 minute NDE! We must never forget that there is accountability for sin in the afterlife.
Each of us must be ready not just for a near death experience but for a death experience! Are you ready to stand before God?
Jesus Christ came in fulfillment of over three hundred predictive prophecies that were written in the Old Testament hundreds of years before His birth. Jesus also worked miracles in front of eyewitnesses. No king, no emperor, no philosopher, no world leader of any kind ever came with such great supernatural evidence as did Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel who came to live a perfect life and then suffer and die, taking upon Himself the penalty of our sins. Turn to Christ today to receive forgiveness of sins!