Near Death Experiences (NDEs) is a term coined by Raymond Moody in his seminal 1975 book Life After Life. His predecessor in the field of Near-Death Studies, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, contributed a lesser known discussion of the near-death phenomenon in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
Since that time, scientists have been more willing to explore the possibility of consciousness surviving physical death, even if the subject is still taboo. A search for the phrase “near death experience”on PubMed yields well over a hundred relevant studies and articles, many of which have been published only in the last 5 years.
New Age mind management philosophies allow NDEs, and what they imply, to inform how we live our lives in the present. These philosophies settle the debate over whether NDEs are just the mammalian brain’s hallucinatory mechanism for coping with the end of existence, or whether they point to the continuation of consciousness, in favor of the latter option. In Kabbalah, which has an influence on New Age thinking, humans are believed to have souls that not only survive death but which live out numerous reincarnations. What’s more, we choose to be born into the situations we find ourselves in, because the purpose of our lives is to work on our Tikkun. The Tikkun is the correction a given soul needs to make in a given lifetime in order to heal a wound obtained in an earlier incarnation or to obtain a new perspective needed for its spiritual growth.
Imagine approaching your life as something you have chosen, for whatever reason, before you were born. Imagine looking at that relationship that didn’t work out, or that dream you narrowly missed out on fulfilling, for example, as experiences you signed up for prior to your time here on earth, to learn something of far greater value than the object of your desire. Imagine walking through life with that kind of spiritual posture, that kind of approach to the trials and tribulations that befall you. True or not, when you live from such an expanded perspective of Self, what happens is a reframing of your experience, a shifting of your focus from what is lacking, from what hurts, to what is being gained and what is being expanded.
There is every reason to believe both explanations for Near Death Experiences as plausible. On the one hand, neuroscientists have shown that our brains contain and release the psychedelic molecule, DMT, which is capable of giving us hallucinatory experiences of fantastic proportions, that seem very, very real. we also know that our brains are capable of creating entire virtual realities, down to the most minute detail (such as those experienced in lucid dreaming), without us having any sense that we are creating this virtual reality. We also now know that our brains can give us a sense of being separated from our bodies, and a sense of the presence of other entities when neither of those things are true. Neuroscientists also discovered that the underlying neurobiology of sleep paralysis, may also be involved in certain types of NDEs — and that is, an REM state intrudes on a semi-conscious state, resulting in a sense of paralysis, wakeful awareness and the feeling that an external presence (something or someone) is there.
On the other hand, the number of people who obtain verifiable information during NDEs, like being able to describe intricate surgical procedures because they claim to have watched them as they floated above the operating table where their bodies lay, does leave us wondering if some NDEs may be more than hallucinations. While this kind of evidence collection is nascent, and often rejected in traditional institutions of higher learning on the basis of being subjective and anecdotal, the astonishing and growing mass of it is hard to ignore.