Near death experience
The term near-death experience or near-death experience (NDE) describes a broad spectrum of profound personal experiences that are often made by people who have found themselves in a life-threatening situation, a circumstance that contributed to the formation of the term. Over the years, researchers have identified a number of elements and feelings that are typical of near-death experiences, including: the experience of conscious being without a physical body, tunnel, light, afterlife and space experiences, feelings of love, peace, Security and painlessness and in a few cases of fear and distress. Some sufferers also report encounters with beings and deceased relatives with whom they communicate. The range of explanations that have been accepted for this phenomenon ranges from scientific to spiritual approaches. Near-death experiences are mentioned in almost all cultures, regardless of worldview.
The term “near death experience” was coined in the 19th century when the Swiss geologist Albert Heim recorded and published a personal experience and testimony of his climbing companions about experiences after falls.
Near-death experiences got their name because the coincidence of experiences with life-threatening situations was particularly noticeable. However, it later became apparent that near-death experiences did not necessarily have anything to do with death or near death. Circumstances that are not life-threatening can also trigger them, such as epilepsy or meditation . When comparing near-death experiences in life-threatening situations with those in non-life-threatening situations, no differences were found with regard to the intensity and content of the experiences.
There is no single and comprehensive classification of the circumstances and elements of near-death experiences. What makes the classification more difficult is the proximity of some near-death experiences to dreams , oneiroid syndromes , hallucinations , illusions , delusions , autosuggestive elements and the experience during a diagnosed depersonalization .
Of the survivors of a cardiac arrest , around 20 percent reported typical near-death experiences. According to a representative survey of over 2000 people in Germany by the Berlin sociologist Hubert Knoblauch between 1997 and 1998, around 4 percent had a near-death experience.
Topics and elements in near-death experiences
- Out-of-body experience : As part of near-death experiences, those affected often feel as if they are floating above their bodies and are watching what is happening.
- A large proportion of those affected describe a transition that is most often described as going through a tunnel with bright light at the end.
- Some of those affected report from the hereafter ; depending on the study in one tenth to two thirds of near-death experiences.
- Relatives who have already died or supernatural figures come to pick them up : even in the reports collected by Pope Gregory the Great , apostles, relatives or friends appear to be picked up. In the deathbed visions from India and America examined by Osis and Haraldson, such beings occur in about 78% of the cases; Most of the Americans have deceased relatives, whereas in India they are more religious figures. The living can also appear in near-death experiences.
- Light : In 40–77% of near-death experiences, the person perceives a bright, white light. Depending on the religion, the light is identified as the sun, God, angel or as a reflection of the highest state of consciousness of man.
- As a life picture show , life review or film, events from one's own past can unfold in front of the inner eye during the near-death experience. This phase of the near-death experience occurs in about a third of the reports of near-death experiences. In near-death experiences from before the beginning of modern times or from third world countries such as India, this motif usually occurs in the form of a trial, a court scene or a book of life.
- Feeling of being able to predict future events ( precognition ) and a sense of omniscience : In about 3 to 6% of near-death experiences, those affected believed that they could see into the future.
- In 8 to 41 percent of near-death experiences, a border , wall or something similar appears that the person concerned must not cross if he is not to die permanently.
- Return : In some near-death experiences, resuscitation appears to be the reason for return. However, a conscious decision to return can also be experienced.
- Happiness : For many people, strong feelings of freedom from pain, peace, joy, and bliss are the most notable part of their experience.
Mystical experience and consequences
Near death experiences can contain the following characteristics of mystical experiences independent of religion and culture : experience of unity, transcendence of time and space, deeply felt positive mood, feeling of holiness, of objectivity and reality, inexpressibility, paradox and fleetingness of experience. This makes near-death experiences the most common mystical experiences.
Many people are also convinced of the existence of God after a death experience and give religious and ethical values priority in their lives. A turn to social-charitable activities, a higher appreciation of questions of meaning, but also of oneself and the shortness and preciousness of life are described.
Attempts to explain
In the description and research of near-death experiences, there are various attempts that differ in their epistemological and ideological basic assumptions.
So there is the historically widespread ontological and often religiously motivated “survival hypothesis”, which sees near-death experiences as evidence of the soul's continued life after death. Such explanations view near-death experiences as an expression of the independence of consciousness from the brain and body. In world views outside of religious tradition, interpretations are also offered, according to which consciousness exists independently of the brain and the brain is only a kind of receiver; if the receiving device was temporarily disturbed, it was not yet z. B. the Internet disturbed. Consciousness would therefore survive brain death.
On the other hand, from a scientific point of view, i.e. in the neurosciences , it is a basic assumption that consciousness is generated by the brain and that a near-death experience is therefore a product of a brain that is temporarily disturbed in important functions.
Neurophysiological research as well as psychological and psychiatric concepts such as depersonalization concentrate on the biological basis of the phenomena. From a scientific point of view, there is no reason to assume that NDE is only a specific phenomenon. It is therefore believed that there is a group of loosely related, distinct phenomena for which corresponding, different explanations can be expected.
There is also a perspective that focuses on the phenomena in the subjective experiences described and places them in a socio-cultural context.
Interest in the subject was originally stimulated by the writings of Raymond Moody such as his book Life After Life , published in 1975. These generated a great deal of public attention for the NDE topic. The International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS) was soon established in 1981. IANDS describes itself as an international organization promoting scientific research and education regarding the physical, psychological, social and spiritual nature of the near death experience. Her publications include the peer-reviewed Journal of Near-Death Studies and the quarterly newsletter Vital Signs .
Bruce Greyson (psychiatrist), Kenneth Ring (psychologist) and Michael Sabom (cardiologist) helped introduce the study of near-death experiences into academic research. From 1975 to 2005, about 2,500 self-reported individuals in the US were compared in retrospective studies of the phenomena with a further 600 outside the US in the west and 70 in Asia. Prospective studies that looked at groups of individuals to later find out who in that group had an NDE after a given time identified 270 people. A total of around 3,500 individual cases were reviewed in at least one study between 1975 and 2005. All of these studies were carried out by approximately 55 researchers or teams of researchers. The medical community has long hesitated to address the phenomenon of NDE and raise funds for research.
In a resuscitated patient who had been put into an artificial coma for medical reasons , previously unknown brain activity was noticed. As a result, in 2013, as part of a Canadian study, cats were put into a comparable artificial coma by means of analgesic sedation . Despite the presence of a zero-line EEG, scientists at the University of Montreal succeeded in observing pulse-like neuronal vibrations in the cats in a deeper brain region, the hippocampus .
Since near-death experiences are also experienced during cardiac arrest , the following problems arise: As soon as the brain is no longer supplied with blood and thus with oxygen after a cardiac arrest, the brain ceases normal operation after about 15 seconds, i.e. H. the brain falls into a state of unconsciousness. However, this does not mean a complete, but a partial shutdown. Accordingly, states of reduced awareness are possible, which only appear outwardly as unconsciousness.
It has been observed in rats that part of the brain activity increases in a certain intermediate phase after cardiac arrest and before brain death . In a 2013 study at the University of Michigan , brain activities up to ultimate brain death were recorded in dying rats using implanted EEG electrodes. In the period between cardiac arrest and the zero-line EEG, the researchers did not observe a slow decline in neuronal brain activity, but on the contrary, an extreme increase in cognitive processing. The gamma brain waves alone in the frequency range between 25 and 55 Hertz represented 50% of the total EEG potential; in the normal waking state, their share was 5%. The intensity of the theta waves also increased and was in the waking state. The researchers conclude: "We are now providing a scientific framework to explain the highly lifelike and real mental experiences that many near-death survivors report." The brain activity measured took place within the first 30 seconds of cardiac arrest instead of.
Autoscopic hallucinations are known from psychopathology, in which someone sees an image of themselves outside of their own body, similar to out-of-body experiences. In the 1930s Heinrich Klüver isolated abstract basic forms from optical hallucinations, which he attributed to the eye and the central nervous system . One of these basic patterns is a tunnel.
Hallucinogens, psychotropic substances and the body's own messenger substances
Hallucinogens such as LSD , mescaline , ketamine , ibogaine , dimethyltryptamine and tetrahydrocannabinol occasionally cause NDE. Therefore, some authors assume that the body's own messenger substances corresponding to these psychotropic substances and the responsible receptors in the brain are responsible for near-death experiences, and that the near-death experiences are complex hallucinatory experiences as a result.
Exceptional states of consciousness
Near-death experiences were compared with other extraordinary ( abnormal ) states of consciousness, in particular with the experience during a conscious dream ( lucid dream ), a dream- like illusionary consciousness ( oneiroid syndrome ) and a centrifugal force-induced partial loss of consciousness (e.g. in the air and Raumfahrt; Engl. G-Loc: G-force induced loss of consciousness).
When depersonalization is a morbid self-perception, in which the person has the impression to face foreign to one's own body or one's own personality. In contrast to NDE, however, there is no outside view of oneself (autoscopy).
Since in a near-death experience the personality is experienced as detached from the body, its pain and the associated fears, this is by definition a dissociative experience.
Lack of oxygen in the brain
Specific studies have shown that near-death experiences - at least in some cases - can be traced back to an absence of oxygen in the brain (cerebral anoxia ), a lack of oxygen ( hypoxia ) or an excess of carbon dioxide ( hypercapnia ). Artificially generated fainting attacks due to lack of oxygen in the brain in 42 healthy test subjects at the Rudolf Virchow University Hospital in Berlin very often triggered NDE-like experiences: 16% had out-of-body experiences, 35% feelings of peace and painlessness, 17% light phenomena, 47% experience of another World, 20% encounter with unknown living beings, and 8% tunnel experiences. Two people even had memories of previous, spontaneous NDEs.
One phenomenon in which the oxygen supply to the brain is reduced is the loss of consciousness due to increased gravity ( G-force induced loss of consciousness , G-LOC) in pilots. James Whinnery conducted a study of over 1000 G-LOCs over a period of 16 years. With an average age of 32, the G-LOC lasted about 12 seconds, with 70% of people experiencing convulsions. Around 50% of those affected did not recognize their G-LOC straight away and were correspondingly shocked during a video presentation. According to the level of this awareness, Whinnery spoke of four G-LOC types, which should reflect the level of blood emptiness. Dream-like phenomena (dreamlets) were only reported in the most intense type. When the force of gravity was high, the edges of the retina furthest away from the supplying vein were initially insufficiently supplied. The image lost its color from the edge and then gradually darkened towards the edge. There was a tunnel vision, sometimes even a complete loss of vision, the lack of blood flow to the retina ( retinal was recycled).
Temporal lobe activity and epilepsy
Out-of-body experiences have also been observed in epileptic seizures, especially in temporal lobe epilepsy .
Near-death experiences in art and culture
The subject of near death has been dealt with in many films, more recently Hereafter by Clint Eastwood (2010) and Stay by Marc Forster (2005). In addition, it is also a motif especially in fantastic literature , for which the novel The Baron Bagge by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (1936) can be cited as an example. The literary treatment of the subject by Karl May in his novels Am Jenseits (1899) and Im Reiche des Silber Löwen III (1902) is also impressive .
- Flatliners - Today is a Beautiful Day to Die (1990)
- Ghost Message from Sam (1990)
- The Fountain (2006)
- Enter the Void (2009)
- If I Stay (2014)
- Heaven is real (2014)
- Flatliners (2017)
Authors of spiritualistic views
Maurice S. Rawlings
Maurice S. Rawlings was an American cardiologist who dealt with near-death experiences from a professional and Christian perspective. Rawlings was a physician to President Eisenhower and the Joint Chiefs of Staff . He criticized other death researchers such as Moody and Kübler-Ross for the fact that their interviews with those affected never took place immediately after the resuscitation, but usually a few weeks afterwards. With timely interviews there would be not only positive, but also negative (hell) reports from the afterlife, which Moody and Kübler-Ross overlook. Rawlings was the author of various books, including a. “Beyond the Death Line - New Clear Indications of the Existence of Heaven and Hell” (1987) and “To Hell and Back - Life After Death” (1996), which have been translated into several languages.
Raymond A. Moody
Raymond A. Moody was one of the first to systematically examine the experiences of patients who were clinically dead and who were being resuscitated. He found that the reproductions were very similar.
The physician Elisabeth Kübler-Ross interviewed numerous terminally ill people and described the “five phases of dying” in her work. What is meant is how patients deal with the insight that they are about to die. She also dealt with near-death experiences. Kübler-Ross was the first to publish reports on near-death experiences in her book Interviews with the Dying in 1969.
Bernard Jakoby is a German author who came to similar conclusions as Moody.
Pim van Lommel
Sam Parnia is a British cardiologist researching near-death and out-of-body experiences at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. In 2014, he published a study interviewing resuscitated heart patients. Nine out of 140 interviewed patients reported a near-death experience according to the Greyson NDE scale , one of the two audio-visual perceptions immediately after the official cardiac arrest.
Walter van Laack
Bruce Greyson is an American psychiatrist and neuroscientist. He is Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia , the direct successor of Ian Stevenson . He is a founding member of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and is known for his work in the field of near-death experience. In 1983 he developed the Greyson questionnaire to qualify a near-death experience ("Greyson's NDE scale").
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