Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Near Death Experiences (NDE)

I was browsing through the DVD section at the local library, looking for a light movie, perhaps a comedy, for the upcoming weekend. I did find a comedy, but in perusing the racks also found something that caught my eye. "The Near Death Experience" by Raymond Moody, M.D., Ph.D. I had read about NDE's years ago, and thought it was a fascinating phenomenon that was difficult to explain and replicate, and then promptly forgot about them. So I had to borrow this DVD and watch.

The DVD was extremely interesting. The first section involves five people describe their NDE. I'm not sure what to think about NDE's. Part of me feels like they probably are very real experiences to the people that experience them, and we, as humans, probably all have the capacity to experience NDE's. But there's also part of me that wonders, of the people who experienced NDE's, how many of them were on the more sensitive, more "magical thinking" side (as the DSM IV - the text psychiatrists use to diagnose psychiatric disorders - puts it) and how much of what one's NDE experience depends on cultural experiences. For example, a fair number seem to see a white light at the end of a tunnel, and feel the "presence" of God, but that's a pretty archetypal scene of heaven that is tied into popular American culture. What of a Buddhist or Muslim or someone who grew up as a bushman in Africa - do they also see the same thing, or does their version correspond to what their culture believes about the end of life? Also, it would have been nice to have a person recounting a bad NDE experience. Apparently, a smaller number of people have NDE's where they see images of biblical hell similar to Dante's inferno. The question this raises is how much does the content of a NDE correlate to who that person was in their life? Is a murderer more likely to have a bad NDE?

The second part of the DVD was more interesting. Apparently Dr. Moody is a philosopher who went to medical school, became a psychiatrist, and has spent his career studying NDE, death, and dying. The DVD talks about some of his research on NDE's which is truly fascinating. Dr. Moody draws from his philosophical background and he talks about an underground place in ancient Greece where people used to be able to go to "talk" with deceased loved ones. The ruins have actually been found, and Moody was able to piece together that the setting for the "talk" involved a pool of water the person would stare into from which the deceased would rise and interact with the living. He also brought up examples of this looking into water or a mirror in popular culture (Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, and most recently Lord of the Rings.) In addition, there were "medical reports showing that at least half of all persons whose spouse dies report a spontaneous contact from that person after death." Based on this, he built a "psychomanteum" and used it as his research laboratory. The psychomanteum was basically a big mirror in a dark room with a chair the subject could sit in. Prior to entry into the room, Moody would prepare the subject by asking them in depth questions about who the deceased was, what they were like, etc. Basically have them really revisit all their memories of the deceased. Then the subject would go into the room and sit there for a half hour or so. Apparently a good number of them came out with experiences that they had seen the deceased in the mirror or interacted with them. There were also olfactory and physical experiences as well.

Again, am not sure what to make of this. I think there was a lot of priming going on and this just goes to show that the human mind is a fascinating thing. I'm hestitant to say that these were "hallucinations" as some critics have claimed, because the fact that we have no way of explaining the experiences that happened to these people does not mean that they were not "real" or that these people were "crazy." I don't doubt that to the people who had experiences in the psychomanteum, their experiences were "real." At the same time, I don't know how to explain how they had those experiences.

We, as a society, tend to try to label things and file them in a system that we understand. Understandable why we do so, but the fact that we do means we are limiting what's possible in our world. For example, a patient with chronic pain with normal medical tests used to be disbelieved by many physicians, but now may be given the label of "fibromyalgia." The patient reports an inordinate amount of pain and in her own reality, likely experiences that much pain. The fact that we cannot understand how or why she has that much pain does not detract from the validity of her experience in "her world." Similarly, a schizophrenic who hears voices in his head telling him he is evil truly lives in that reality. The fact that most people do not share that reality leads to a labelling of that person as "crazy," but that does not alter the fact that schizophrenia is a possible experience for all human beings and a true reality for that person. Anyway, all this is just a lot of rambling to say that just because the medical establishment cannot explain something does not mean that we should regard those that believe in it as "heretics." To do so would mean we're stuck in the box we've created - holding on to our version of reality as the only possible version of reality.


Blogger Christian said...

I came upon yout blog because I read today an article that appeared in Ode magazine a couple of issues ago on the subject of NDEs. I highly recommend it. I read around your entries and liked a lot of what I found. Really nice wanderings indeed!
About "Outsourcing life", I've always thought it is important that we do for ourselves our toilet-bowl-cleaning, lawn-mowing, cheese-grating, child-rearing and all those things important and small that it seems we try to escape. They are what ground you in life, in now.
Thanks for your insights, read you later!

11:11 PM  
Blogger always learning said...

Hi Christian,

Thanks for your kind words. I went to your blog but alas, have yet to learn French. Maybe someday I'll be able to read what you write :)

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Kat said...

Hello Always Learning. I do not know whether you will see or receive this note so I will make it short for now. I found your Blog while searching on Bad NDEs. I have had one. From what I learned after finding answers to the experience that I had, it was considered a Level II bad NDE. My experience was not in a hospital but instead at home and I'm a very healthy person. I was very aware and knew right away what was happening, though not knowing exactly why and never checked it out with anyone for fear that others would think I was a nut.
I would be glad to write the experience in detail, which is really very simply explained yet very scary minus any demons. Since there were none in Dr. Moody's movie I can fill you in. I will follow up in your blog to watch for an answer and comply with your wishes. Take care.

2:43 PM  
Blogger always learning said...

Hi Kat,

I would love to hear about your experience if you are OK sharing it. I think we can all learn from each other, especially things that not all of us experience.

Thanks for reading.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! I was very impressed by your open minded, level headed approach in discussing the "Near Death Experience" which Dr. Moody has coined. I myself have never experienced a Near Death Experience but, I have had a variety of mysterium tremendum experiences throughout my life. I have read hundreds of books on the subject. Because of my own experiences some of which my husband and I had experienced in tandem. I cannot and will not close my mind to the possibility or probability of the existence for many other para-normal happenings. Throughout my education as a sociology major I was taught to critically think and by doing so I learned does not mean to ignore evidence just because I'm stuck in my own beliefs. I do not believe everything that I here but, my mind is not closed either. I research and weigh all the evidence and then come to my own conclusion. Sadly we as a society are a death denying culture. So, when people experience a communication from their dead loved ones they scoff it off as just in their minds. But, throughout history many societies from the ancients right up to the present have accepted the belief of and after life and the idea of reincarnation.. Thank You for your insights! Ann

12:55 AM  
Blogger wandering visitor said...

Hi Ann,
Thanks for reading.

I agree that many societies accept reincarnation and life after death. Even now, many major world religions share this belief. Not being able to prove something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And sometimes faith, and not science, is the best way to understand a situation.

Am glad to hear that you think critically but also are open minded. I think that is a good way to approach life and its fascinating phenomena.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Rene said...

I have had an NDE and I am a member of IANDS, the international association of near-death studies.
To answer your questions, the best way to explain the NDE and its difference in content is that it is a co-created experience. Some researchers agree that the dimension of the Light interacts with our mind and thereby we are able to project the contents of our mind into this realm as extensions of our consciousness. However, at the heart of the NDE behind these subjective projections are the positive feelings of peace, joy and love together with a hightened awareness that seems to be universal in nature.


5:55 PM  
Blogger Ricco said...

I had three NDE. I never forget last occured. I have been thru very interesting. I had been seen Anubis of two. They were very huge and stared at me. They just kept quiet for a while. I was in fullness darkness atomsphere. Unbelieveable feeling! I realized that i was dead for 20 mins. I tried to figure out who they were. I did speaking to them. However, last words ever i heard from them was " You have an unfinished business and you have to go back to earth". I got back to earth and woke up at Hospital. I was lay down on bed and look around. I seen some nurse walked around and came to me to check out. I was totally fine and wonder what it was weird occur. So I asked one of nurse, How long I have been out? One of them told me that it was 2 days until I woke up. It was so mystery. I didn't bother to find out until I heard from others. They kept say that they start to see Anubis. I decided to research it and was so quite interests. Now I knew that I did thru it.

6:49 PM  
Blogger oh, well, i mean--- said...

Hi, I'm extremely interested in NDE and think this story, in particular, is convincing:

11:24 PM  

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