Are Near Death Experiences Real?

Near death experiences are very meaningful to the people who have them. In every culture studied, they have been reported. Their is a striking similarity in these accounts. However, the figures that are met during the NDE correspond to the religious beliefs of the person having the experience. For example, a  Hindu may see Yamaraja and a Christian may see Christ. I suspect a nonreligious person may experience an NDE in terms of the predominant religion of their culture (or perhaps in terms of a favored sci fi or fantasy novel?).[1] [2]

Experiences associated with NDEs include

  • A sense that one is dead.
  • A sense of being at peace.
  • An out of the body experience.
  • Travelling through a tunnel.
  • Seeing and entering a light.
  • Suddenly being surrounded by a being of light which talks to the “deceased”.
  • Experiencing unconditional love.
  • Receiving spiritual information about life and the world.
  • Seeing one’s life flash before their eyes.
  • Exploring other realms.
  • Meeting dead family members.
  • A decision to return to the body.

Neuroscientists have been researching near death experiences (NDEs) since the seventies. NDEs appear to be a normal part of brain functioning.

Karl Jansen has shown that an NDE can be induced using an intravenous injection of Ketamine.

J. E. Whinnery showed how NDEs resembled episodes of G-force induced loss of consciousness.

T. Lempert and his colleagues induced fainting in his subjects. The subjects reported NDE experiences.

Lakhmir Chawla and his colleagues wrote that “increase in electrical activity occurred when there was no discernable blood pressure, patients who suffer “near death” experiences may be recalling the aggregate memory of the synaptic activity associated with this terminal but potentially reversible hypoxemia.”

L. Renemane says that NDEs resemble oneiroid syndrome.

Futher Reading

Peace of Mind: Near-Death Experiences Now Found to Have Scientific Explanations

Surge of brain activity may explain near-death experience, study says

The Science of Near-Death Experiences

10 Scientific Explanations For Near-Death Experiences – Listverse


[1] Shushan, Gregory (2009). Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations: Universalism, Constructivism, and Near-Death Experience. London: Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-4073-0.

[2] Keith Augustine. (2008). “Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences”. Internet Infidels.

Jansen, K. L. R. (1996). Using ketamine to induce the near-death experience: mechanism of action and therapeutic potential. In Christian Rätsch, John Baker.Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness (Jahrbuch furr Ethnomedizin und Bewubtseinsforschung). Wissenschaft und Bildung. Issue 4. pp. 55–81.

Whinnery, J. E. (1997). Psychophysiologic correlates of unconsciousness and near-death experiences. J. Near Death Stud 15: 231–258.

Lempert, T., et al. (2006). Syncope and Near-Death Experience. Lancet 344: 829–830.

Chawla, L. S., Akst, S., Junker, C., Jacobs, B., & Seneff, M. G. (2009). Surges of electroencephalogram activity at the time of death: A case series. Journal of Palliative Medicine 12: 1095–1100.

L. Renemane, Z. Straume, B. Kupca, “Psychiatric phenomena among cardiologic patients who have survived a clinical death”, European Neuropsychopharmacology, Volume 22, Supplement 2, October 2012, Pages S218-S219, ISSN 0924-977X, 10.1016/S0924-977X(12)70321-8.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

One thought on “Are Near Death Experiences Real?

  1. Thank you for this succinct review. I have also done some reviews for my own interest and in particular noted observations that as with your examples raise the question of natural physiological phenomena triggering the experienced sensations. For example the hovering above the operation looking down has been extensively tested for the last twenty years by various research groups placing worded signs and cards with distinctive patterns like a star, a square or a triangle in a place that could only be seen by someone in a hovering position in the operating theatre. To my knowledge there is not yet any agreed objective evidence that such signs and symbols have been seen and accurately reported. One factor that has been frequently noted that seems to correlate with the out of body experience is that in those patients there is a measurable increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. The tunnel of light phenomenon already has a clear physiological explanation in that measurements of the electrical activity of the brain of a dying patient’s show the shutdown of the visual cortex from the outside to the inside which would produce such a tunnel effect. For those interested in learning more perhaps I might suggest starting with the work of Susan Blackmore who spent more than 25 years working extensively with such studies before concluding physiology rather than religious encounter was behind the phenomenon of the near death experience. Bill Peddie

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