Ask the Experts: What Is a Near-Death Experience?

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'Other Beings': Seeing the Dead

MYSS: "They experience encounters with relatives that have gone on ahead of them. Angels."

LONG: "Very often they see people they knew ... that had died prior to the experience, most commonly these are relatives. These are not frightening or ghostly experiences at all; these are described as joyous unions. ... There's a great deal of sharing. ... It's often one of the more dramatic parts of a NDE that people [report]."

Religious Experience or Brain Function?

MYSS: "I think that our backgrounds -- if we come from the Hindu faith, if we come from the Islamic faith, if we come from Buddhism, or Christianity, or Judaism, these traditions influence what we experience in a NDE. ... They seem to serve as an immediate filter that we go through."

NEWBERG: "When you're dreaming ... a lot of the areas of the brain are actually almost just as active, if not more active, than in our everyday life. ... What we think is happening [in NDEs], and where there may be a relationship, is that these areas get very active, and we start to visualize and see people, things, places and so forth. ... It's very interesting how the brain may actually help to envision those ideas, or perhaps even create those ideas..."

'I Saw My Life Flash Before My Eyes': Life Review

MYSS: "A life review is frequently but not always the case. In cases where the life review is not present, I think someone's NDE wasn't as deep or intense or they were resuscitated very fast. In a life review ... [people] go through all the choices they've made in their lifetime and the consequences of their choices ... and they're also shown what other choices they could have made had they had a more generous or loving heart."

Out of Body/Clairvoyance

NEWBERG: "People have suggested that in the near-death state, where there is a significant change going on in the brain, that maybe this area of the brain that helps us to perceive our body is somehow kind of flipped outward, and we have this very unusual kind of looking down on our body. ... [ND Experiencers] also can see the entire room ... the operating room, or the emergency room, and they can see the doctors who are attending to them."

LONG: "About 45 percent of ND Experiencers have ... what we call an out-of-body experience where they're typically above the body ... often they'll be at ceiling level or in a corner of a room ... they're able to see and typically hear what's going on around them with their body down and away from them. These [people] have recorded very accurate observations of ongoing earthly activities, even if that point of consciousness is far from the geographic location of the body. For example we've had people that have 'coded' ... their hearts have stopped in emergency rooms, and yet they can accurately describe conversations that they see and hear people going up and down hallways outside of the ER, even in distant areas of the hospital.

"These types of things that we're seeing with the consciousness apart from the body and the overwhelming accurate observations that they make, is absolutely medically inexplicable. ... [It] defies anything we know about consciousness and how the brain works. When these people are unconscious they may be clinically dead, at that point in time the accuracy they have is over 90 percent in several different studies, of being completely accurate in everything they're seeing and hearing, even if what they're seeing and hearing is far outside of their physical body and far from possible physical awareness."

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