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

No one is just an empty meat suit (probably)

I wanted to clarify my position on the whole 10-20% of people experiencing NDEs issue.

I am a scientist, and as a scientist I am taught to look at all possible explanations for a phenomenon, and refute ones that aren’t correct, and prove ones that are, through a rigorous analysis of the evidence. Just because a possible explanation for something is unpleasant, shocking, unpopular or even potentially absurd, it does not in and of itself disprove its validity. In the last post I said there were two main reasons why (lack of memory, or lack of experience, with two examples). Below are all the different potential explanations for 80-90% not reporting NDEs that I can think of:

1. Lack of Memory:

  • This in my view is the most likely explanation i.e. they don’t remember the NDE even though they had one. This is supported by people who die and come back more than once not always reporting an NDE…this is analogous to people not always remembering their dreams. It may also be due to physical memory impairment from injury, lack of oxygen, age, disease etc.
  • Related to this I would add the idea of a lack of well-developed spiritual “receptors” in the brain. It has been shown that there is a part of the brain that is associated with spirituality through brain imaging studies undertaken while subjects were claiming to have spiritual experiences. There has also been the idea of a God Gene that has been floated in the past which results in some people being born with different levels of development of this part of the brain. If the brain is the receptor for the conscious, or spirit, then it is possible that some people will be less able to process or remember an NDE, which is of course a highly spiritual experience.
  • It is also possible that some people are having NDEs but they are so traumatic or disconcerting that their brain suppresses the memory.

2.Not all people have NDEs when they die and come back.

  • Again, the fact that some people die and come back more than once and don’t always report an NDE could support this. I think some detailed research would be required (or has probably been done if I could afford all back issues of IANDS), that would shed more light on this.
  • Now the big question is that if some people are not having NDEs (as opposed to just not remembering them), why aren’t they having them? This is where my possible explanation mooted in my last post caused such offence. It is indeed a logical possibility that some people are without a spiritual being inside of them. Do I believe that? No. But it is a possible explanation.
  • Another explanation, as one poster mentioned in the last discussion, is that maybe they weren’t supposed to have one…maybe they would have reacted so badly, it would not have been of benefit.

3. They are having NDEs, and are remembering, but not reporting them

  • They are ashamed to report what happened even if they do remember it OR they are too afraid of others laughing at them to report the experience.

So I hope this clarifies things…I am not of the view that the vast majority of humans are soulless meat suits, but as a scientist, I want to assess all possible explanations, and not exclude any until the evidence strongly suggests I should.

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32 thoughts on “No one is just an empty meat suit (probably)

  1. Eduardo Fulco on said:

    I very much agree with you, Ben.


  2. Thank you for your post.
    I am not a scientist, just very interested in the topic.
    I would like to know if any study has taken place regarding the type of drugs used to treat the patients and the relation of the type of drug used and NDE experience.
    Can be that some type of drugs blocks the memory and others not?
    Thank you
    Arthur Plottier


    • I think that it has been shown that there is no correlation between drugs, use of or type and NDE, but can’t remember the study off the top off my head. Will take a look when I get back from my travels.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, I don’t have the time to provide you with links and references but I can assure you that drugs are not related to NDE either as a cause or in the influence of it if indeed that is what you meant. All the prospective studies have dealt with this and sceptics have more or less conceded the point although they continue to assert that the NDE is some kind of hallucination.


      • Hi, thank you for the reply. I have expressed myself wrong, what I mean if is there any study that identifies a type of drug used in these cases that interfere with the memory and for that reason some people cannot remember their experience.


      • That’s okay, no worries Freetasman. Quite a number of drugs interfere with memory. During cardiac arrest, Epinephrine is administered to try to restore blood pressure and this can cause memory loss according to the experts.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What we are talking about here when we use the word “soul” is really that which makes us into conscious thinking and perceiving entities, our minds, our psyche (As the Greeks referred to it) our “self” or “soul.”

    Everyone has a mind or consciousness, so it follows that everyone has a soul. Materialists accept they have a mind, therefore they (ought to) accept they have a self which in turn means they have a “soul” but naturally they prefer to side step this logical conclusion.

    The question is and always was, can the mind continue to exist when the brain (which is credited with producing it) stops functioning ? Or, can the mind, the psyche, the self, leave the physical structure in which it resides and continue to exist ? Materialists say no but that is not based on the available evidence which strongly indicates that it can. Without going into that particular discussion, the other question of why do only 10 % of people who have a cardiac arrest, have an NDE ?

    The answer is not yet known but its possibly because (according to the experts) cardiac arrest is such a severe insult to the brain, it somehow blocks the memory (assisted by the drugs given etc) in the same way that a severe blow to the head or alcohol consumption blocks memory. As to the 10 % figure, that is misleading and the very lowest estimate in the literature. Van Lommel found 18% had NDE’s, Sabom 40 %. Fred Schoonmaker found it to be even higher than that but sadly he never published his findings.

    I don’t personally think we need to worry about why everyone doesn’t report an NDE. It happens to people of all creeds and colours, believers and atheists alike so it seems far fetched to me that it won’t happen to everybody. Just my opinion.

    DENVER, CO–Fred Schoonmaker, Chief of Cardiovascular Services at St. Lukes Hospital, has been quietly studying the psychological and emotional concomitants of near-death episodes since 1961. He has researched in excess of 2,300 cases of persons who have survived acute life-threatening situations during this time and has discovered that better than [5]0% reported peak experiences identical to those described by Raymond Moody, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and others.

    John Audette and Raymond Moody traveled to Denver recently to learn more about the research taking place there. Schoonmaker revealed that he had over 1,400 documented cases of near-death experiences. He noted candidly that all of his data were supportive of earlier findings delineated in Life After Death and elsewhere. Nearly all of Schoonmaker’s cases were hospital based. Most [or a]ll of the incidents took place at St. Lukes and usually involved patients that were being cared for in the Division of Cardiovascular Services.

    Schoonmaker explained that the vast majority of the cases were examined in a concurrent fashion – that is to say that the patients were mostly interviewed shortly after the crisis situation. His mode of approach was very informal: he simply asked the patient to describe his or her feelings about what had just occurred. He was always careful to maintain a congenial and non-judgemental disposition when talking with near-death survivors and became increasingly proficient at establishing a good rapport with them. Of the 40% who initially reported no memory of what took place during the event he found that another 18% were willing to finally discuss their experience but only after repeated invitations and reassurances.

    Although Schoonmaker did not adhere to a scientific protocol in the collection of his data, he made it a point to gather as much information about each case as was possible. Additionally, he commented that his cases cover a very wide spectrum of the overall population from a socio-demographic standpoint. He believes that his sample may be considered representative despite the fact that it was selected in a non-random fashion. Moreover, Schoonmaker mentioned that his cases also span a variety of medical conditions and that the near-death episodes studied involved a host of different causes.

    One of the truly unique aspects of Schoonmaker’s work, in addition to its impressive magnitude, is the matter of the physiological data which has been obtained in many of these instances. As a result of the complex procedures conducted at St. Lukes (heart transplants, etc.) detailed physiological data is routinely recorded. This has provided Schoonmaker with the opportunity to test the plausibllity of many of the various theories which have been advanced in an effort to explain and account for near-death experiences. One example of this would be the cerebral anoxia theory which maintains that near-death experiences are the result of lack of oxygen to the brain. Schoonmaker stated that oxygen level in the blood was measured in his sample and that experiences were reported by persons who had a sufficient supply to sustain average brain functioning.

    Schoonmaker has also disclosed that there are at least 55 cases where flat eeg’s were observed which denoted lack of electrical activity in the brain and usually indicates that irreversible death has occurred. In temporal terms, these cases lacked brain activity (as measured by the electroencephalogram) in blocks of time ranging from 30 minutes to three hours. Thirty of these cases involved 12 lead eeg’s which had been placed by neurologists. In Schoonmaker’s professional judgement, these persons were medically dead, yet they regained consciousness sometimes inexplicably and reported having experienced a highly pleasant altered state of consciousness.

    Having conscientiously explored the possibility of alternative explanations regarding these experiences, Schoonmaker has come to believe that they suggest some kind of continuance of human conciousness beyond the point of physical death. This position is entirely predicated on the basis of the empirical observations which he has made over the past 18 years.
    Schoonmaker has not done much to publicize his work and has deliberately avoided calling attention to it. He offered several reasons for this, but his main reservation concerned the potential sensationalism which might have occurred. He also felt for a very long time that his data was incomplete – that many more
    questions were in need of answers.

    At long last, however, Schoonmaker stated that he is in the process of writing a book along with a Georgia theologian by the name of Loren Young. Dr. Young has assisted Schoonmaker with the research over the past several years. The anticipated publication date has not been determined, but there are hopes that it will be available within the next year.
    Schoonmaker became interested in near-death research as a cardiology resident at Duke University after learning of an experience which had been reported by a physician friend in the late 1950’s. He has developed a particular interest in persons whose experiences come as a result of nearly freezing to death.
    Without a doubt, this research is a major contribution to the field, surpassing in quantity and scope the work of all others in this area


    • Tim,

      Great comments. As I’ve said before, contributions from all researchers is valued and important, but given the large amount of historical data that has been gathered informally, and outside the setting of a prospective study, I do not think new research of this kind will move the needle in terms of validating NDEs. Nor will any books that are unsuported by data recorded in the setting of a rigorously monitored trial.

      The AWARE study is large and importantly prospective. It had predefined criteria and set out objectively to identify NDEs. That makes its findings superior from a quality control perspective, and the following excerpt from the abstract of the paper more reliable than Schoonmaker’s 50%.

      “Among 2060 CA events, 140 survivors completed stage 1 interviews, while 101 of 140 patients completed stage 2 interviews. 46% had memories with 7 major cognitive themes: fear; animals/plants; bright light; violence/persecution; deja-vu; family; recalling events post-CA and 9% had NDEs, while 2% described awareness with explicit recall of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ actual events related to their resusci-tation.”

      9% is the key number.

      Whether there is a difference between the mind and soul is an interesting philosophical question. I am travelling at the moment, so will dig a bit deeper on my return.


      • Thanks, Ben

        You are quite correct strictly speaking of course. But I think it is necessary to take into account that 39% had SOME awareness during cardiac arrest.

        nonetheless 39% (55/140) (category
        2) responded positively to the question “Do you remember anything
        from the time during your unconsciousness.” There were no
        significant differences with respect to age or gender between these
        two groups.

        The thing is, there should not be ANY awareness during cardiac arrest, it should just be a total blank. Being “aware” during cardiac arrest, although it doesn’t count for much on the Greyson scale, in my view is very significant. The real crux of the matter is can consciousness continue when the brain has stopped functioning and if the authors (of the study) have faithfully and accurately represented these 39% then the answer is yes.

        This figure of 39 % having memories of their time without heartbeat is what I think Parnia was hinting at when he stated…” I think we have been able to demonstrate that at least in the first period of death (as a process) consciousness appears to continue” (summary)

        Although no patient demonstrated clinical signs of
        consciousness during CPR as assessed by the absence of eye opening
        response, motor response, verbal response whether spontaneously
        or in response to pain (chest compressions) with a resultant Glasgow
        Coma Scale Score of 3/15, nonetheless 39% (55/140) (category
        2) responded positively to the question “Do you remember anything
        from the time during your unconsciousness”.

        This finding was understandably (from a cynical sceptics point of view) ignored and much ‘hoo hah’ was made out of the fact that no one saw the target even though there were only 2 OBE’s and neither of those occurred in a research area (with a board fitted)

        The sample was too small, 101 patients (well enough to respond to interview) is not likely going to be enough but that would have been down to lack of funding, I guess.

        Lastly, I think Parnia is doing a great job, he’s proceeding with his research and all the flak it attracts with great dignity and composure.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. The way he presents himself and his work adds spadeloads to his credibility.


  4. Maria Rigel on said:

    If we are really to contemplate all possibilities, then a possibility is that NDEs don’t actually have much to do with souls/spiritual beings within people. In that case, a NDE would just be a symptom, like many other symptoms that are relatively common but not universal near death, such as, say, unusual breathing patterns.


    • True, but I am talking specifically in the context of a situation in which NDEs are related to the existence of a soul. But yes, if there is no seperate conscious able to exist outside of the body, then it coould just be a symptom experienced by a small percentage.


    • Which specific element of near death experience would you liken to a symptom or a consequence of some brain abnormality, Maria ? This type of theorising about the causes of NDE really belongs in the history books because the cutting edge science of NDE’s is focussing on patients that have objectively died.

      After cardiac arrest, their is no measurable electrical activity in the brain after 10-20 seconds and the deeper structures are also absent as proved by loss of the reflexes (pupil, gag, ears). What is so perplexing is that patients can have well structured thought processes, cognition and memory formation when the corresponding areas of the brain thought responsible for such, are simply not there, not functioning.

      You may of course refuse to accept this but there are a considerable number of cases in the literature that support it.


      • Tim, I am very much inclined to believe that you are right, but at this stage, we cannot prove with absolute certainty that these experiences are not a “symptom”.

        Given the evidence you mention from many studies which suggest these experiences are not generated by the brain, as it appears the brain is no longer functioning, the evidence supporting our belief is stronger than the evidence supporting the belief that these are just symptoms. However, this evidence does not scientifically prove our belief yet.

        The more evidence we get, the closer we come to that tipping point beyond which it would be completely irrational to believe anything other than the fact that NDEs, and OBEs are events in which our conscious beings leave our dead bodies.


      • Thanks, Ben.

        If you read my post above you will notice that I haven’t mentioned “proof.”

        I have merely posted a summary of where ‘we’ (not me obviously, but Parnia and his team) “are”…. in the investigation. As I’m sure you will know, “Proof” is only available in mathematics.

        I particularly liked your response to one of my posts above (or possibly on another thread) when you simply said …”Yes, all good” so I will return the compliment. All good !

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve just realised what you were referring to, Ben.

        “and the deeper structures are also absent as > proved “we cannot prove with absolute certainty that these experiences are not a “symptom”

        As I said, we cannot prove anything outside of maths with absolute certainty but symptoms have a correlated cause (don’t they ?) . A virus will produce symptoms, fever, headache, rash etc. A blow on the head, dizziness,concussion, fracture etc.

        A near death experience however has multiple causes (as you know of course)
        You can get it sitting by the fire (Fenwick), jumping off a bridge (Greyson) thinking you are about to die in a vehicle collision etc. So if it’s a symptom, why do different stimuli produce the very same effect. Isn’t this why Parnia only studies people who have had a cardiac arrest ?

        Cardiac arrest takes the brain out of the equation (after 15 seconds average) so any subsequent experience after that cannot be a symptom. If patient X suffers cardiac arrest at 2 am (on the clock in the ICU) and later claims to have floated up to the ceiling and seen a visual target (in this case Bugs Bunny eating a carrot for instance) at 2.05 am and the medical report says he was still in ventricular fibrillation at that time, then it cannot be a symptom because whatever is collecting the information, certainly isn’t the brain. You know all this stuff, Ben I just wanted to clarify things properly.


  5. What about the explanation that everything is created by some unknown part of the brain?


    • Don’t want to be snarky, but would that be the part of the brain that the EEG sensors can’t detect when they are showing zero brain activity during NDEs?

      The truth is that brain mapping for functionality is somewhat abritrary anyway since the brain can reconfigure after damage, suggesting that brain matter has a somewhat universal nature. Saying that, in undamaged brains there are clearly areas that have responsibility for different functions.


      • i don’t know, but it’s the argument that most of the skeptics say to me about this, they said also it could be for lack of air or oxygen that creates some hallucinations, and i don’t know how the brain works exactly


      • Marc said > ” I don’t know, but it’s the argument that most of the skeptics say to me about this, they said also it could be for lack of air or oxygen that creates some hallucinations, and i don’t know how the brain works exactly ”

        If you are really serious about trying to get to the truth about NDE’s, Marc you’re going to have to read some of the literature, from both proponents and sceptics. The researchers who have actually done all the hard work, ie those who have carried out prospective studies (not forgetting the early retrospective ones too) have since become proponents or at least they are leaning that way.

        You can obviously read into that what you like but I can tell you categorically, no serious researcher is still stuck on hypoxia or anoxia (oxygen deficiency/or starvation) as an explanation for NDE.

        The book “The self does not die” (Rivas/Smit/Dirven) deals comprehensively with all the arguments either way, it also presents a mountain of veridical OBE’s/NDE’s and related phenomena and finishes off by dealing with some of the best known sceptical objections to the major NDE cases. It’s an excellent book and well worth the money.


    • Marc said “What about the explanation that everything is created by some unknown part of the brain?”

      It’s not an explanation, it’s simply a fanciful statement without any basis in fact, usually advanced by those who are wedded to promissory materialism. “We haven’t found the part of the brain “responsible” yet but one day we will.”

      However, in cardiac arrest, the whole of the brain including the brainstem is non functioning after 10-20 seconds. So the brain is out of the equation after that which should (by now) have caused them to drop it (as an explanation). But they won’t.


  6. When reading this blog I became particularly interested in your statement, “It is indeed a logical possibility that some people are without a spiritual being inside of them.” Like you, I don’t believe that either. You also gave a question on your Home page, “…can the soul die?” I also don’t believe that, but could there be a difference in souls?

    Dr Gerald Schroeder in his book, The Science of God, uses the original Hebrew as well as medieval biblical commentaries from Maimonides and Nachmanides to make some conclusions about the difference in souls. Nefesh is the soul that God gave to animals, and Neshama is the soul that God gave to two Homo Sapiens about 6000 years ago, Adam and Eve. Nefesh is suited for the basic instincts and desires of animals, and Neshama was designed to commune with its creator. Here’s the catch. I believe Schroeder says that you can only have Neshama by being the offspring of someone who already has it, or by seeking God, but I may be wrong. Anyways, everyone else is just an animal, albeit smart ones. But if Noah’s flood was global, as many Christians believe, that would mean that all Homo Sapiens now have Neshama for a soul. What if Noah’s flood was a local event?

    On a side note about the soul, I came up with an idea based on quantum physics. I read where scientists were describing quarks in an atomic nuclei as quark foam. They said the quarks were continually popping into and out of existence. So I postulated that the Neshama is a quark copy of our bodies. This may help to explain several phenomenon described in NDEs such as: travelling through walls; seeing and recognizing our body as it travels to, and in other dimensions; etc. Crazy ideas I know 🙂


    • That is very interesting…and controverisal. People in todays times like to believe we are all equal…the Bible obviously has a different view.


      • Controversial yes, obvious no. I would say that only some readers of Schroeder are even aware of this view, as the bible does not state it. I believe if God was the creator of our soul, he gave it to all Homo Sapiens at the same time. As for people in today’s times believing we are equal, we still seem to hold a disdain for those that do despicable deeds, whereas in NDEs some people give accounts of overwhelming love and acceptance no matter how despicable they were when alive.

        I appreciate your unbiased blog. Looking forward to more.


    • Doug, the quarks popping into existence has nothing to do with this. Each quantum field (including the quark field) obeys the uncertainty principle, what you’re talking about are “virtual particles”, they’re really just the field fluctuating in values due to the uncertainty principle.

      If Cartesian dualism is correct, the soul must be made of something entire new. But I’m leaning towards an idealist perspective, Cartesian dualism has more problems than materialism.

      I believe most people don’t have NDEs because the trigger for the soul to leave wasn’t established, and maybe some of them aren’t supposed to have NDEs.


      • Chad said > “If Cartesian dualism is correct, the soul must be made of something entirely new.”

        Do we need to worry about what “the soul” or the “psyche” is composed of ? We can eventually answer the question of survival (or not) pretty much to our satisfaction (although we can never prove it literally) regardless.


  7. Chad, good comments. I would say I lean towards Cartesian dualism with a unification (TOE) theory. Quantum physics (QP) seems to be a little more bazaar than quantum fields obeying an uncertainty principle that says a particle can be anywhere at any time or more than one place at the same time. I’m not sure how QP ties in with higher dimensional realities, but I believe that what we call spiritual, is actually energy (what type?) that is able to move within and between different dimensions. Energy with a signature that is bound by the transceiver, as van Lommel puts it, of the brain. Quarks by themselves are energy, so who knows?


  8. When you compare the lack of memory with the dreams, i’ve always had doubts here, it’s strange but sometimes i don’t remember the dreams and other times i feel they are very real meanwhile i’m dreaming, then after some time i realize it’s a dream


    • Dreams are indeed odd. You are conscious, yet unconscious. You are existing as you can feel, see, touch etc, and yet where are you? By inference, if NDEs are real, then you could argue that dreams are too as your conscious is perceiving them. Of course the huge difference between dreams and NDEs is that EEGs are incredibly active in the dream state, whereas they are dead in NDEe.


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