Evolving news on the science, writing and thinking about Near Death Experiences (NDEs)

Hints and allegations:

For anyone who has the same kind of interest in the AWARE study and NDEs that I have, the video in the link below is well worth a watch. For those who are new to this area, there is quite a lot of background information on NDEs, with the panel of 4 experts providing an overview of various facets, but there is also other very useful information and exchanges.

The panel discussion was held in December 2013 in New York and was sponsored by the Nour Foundation (I was hoping to go, but had already committed to attending a different medical meeting). The panelists were Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychologist who has published widely in the area of NDEs; Mary Neal, an orthopedic surgeon, NDE experiencer and author of “To Heaven and Back”; Kevin Nelson, Professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky, a specialist in understanding the science behind spiritual experiences and author of “The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain”; and Sam Parnia, who needs no introduction on this site. The only sceptic was Kevin Nelson, with the others being believers.

I am not going to summarize everything from the discussion, but rather pick on a few points that I found particularly interesting:

• There was a long esoteric discussion around the true definition of death. Sam Parnia used the standard medical definition of the heart and brain flatlining. In this state the brain is not functioning as evidenced by the lack of gag reflex when intubating, and the full dilation of the pupils, which no longer respond to light. Technically speaking it is during this state that Near Death Experiences occur, Dr. Parnia prefers to call them Actual death Experiences, as they are technically dead. Kevin Nelson described death in different terms, namely the point beyond which so much cellular damage had occurred that the body was no longer capable of supporting life. Without blood flow to the brain, or cooling, this can happen in a relatively short period of time. Interestingly he described the medical definition of the heart stopping as only a surrogate of death, rather than actual death. He asserted that it is impossible for people to return from real death.

• This leads to a discussion around the skeptic’s view that because the brain is not actually dead, it may be experiencing enough to generate the fabled OBE. Kevin Nelson described a series of experiments that have shown it is possible to fool the brain into having an OBE. These experiments have been discussed before, and shown not to be relevant to NDEs as the brain is quite definitely inactive in the flatliner state. There is a point where I am reminded of the expression “The devil always overplays his hand”, and while I am not suggesting that Dr. Nelson is of the devil, he shows himself to be at best ignorant, or at worst, a liar. He states with absolute certainty that in all heart attack cases the eyes are open. Sam Parnia, who has been relatively quiet raises an eyebrow at this point and says something along the lines of “Well in my job I see a heart attack at least once a week and I can say with absolute certainty that their eyes are closed”. This is important because not only does it undermine the skeptic suggestion that while the patient may appear unconscious, they are actually recording what is going on, but it also belies the extent to which skeptics will go to attempt to discredit the NDE phenomenon, including making things up (to put it politely).

• The last, and most intriguing section of the discussion (which begins around the 50 minute mark), begins with the facilitator asking Sam Parnia “Do you want to tell us about your study”. The answer, “Not right now!” was particularly interesting given that he had already released some results in the November American Heart association meeting that I refer to in an earlier post. He even goes on to specifically say at 52 mins that he can’t divulge the results. Why not if they are already in the public domain? Does this mean that the paper which will hopefully be published before long will contain a validated OBE? This section was concluded with a remark by Dr. Parnia that evidence is coming through that the mind can exist without the body.

Kevin Nelson wrapped up with a quote from Carl Sagan that to prove extraordinary claims you require extraordinary evidence. Sam Parnia nodded in agreement. He said they have enough evidence now to make them want to pursue their research further. One such piece of evidence he referred to was the first time that they (or anyone) were able to fully verify consciousness during a 3-5 minute period, using external stimuli, when it was absolutely impossible for the brain to be functioning.

Peter Fenwick had the last word, in which he described the previous difficulties in obtaining funding for their research, mainly to do with the grant review process in academic and private institutions (this is an area I am very familiar with since a part of my job is advising medical researchers on how to prepare grant applications that will be successful). However, he hinted that they may finally be overcoming these obstacles…maybe they should try crowd sourcing, I am sure they could raise a significant amount from the millions of NDE believers.

Experiencing Death: An insider’s Perspective

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