Dreams vs Reality
This was presented today in a Neurology conference in Norway. I would love to be able to get hold of the full presentation or even an abstract – I couldn’t find it in the EAN programme, but I’m sure Samwise the sleuth will be able to source it. Some of the “highlights” from the linked article summarizing the “study” are discussed below:
Some of the key quotes:
Mystical near-death experiences where people report a range of spiritual and physical symptoms, including out-of-body sensations, seeing or hearing hallucinations, racing thoughts and time distortion, affect around 10 per cent of people, according to a new study that analysed participants from 35 countries
They say this was the same in those whose situation were non life threatening as those with a life-threatening NDE. They also stated that there was a higher incidence of unpleasant experiences than normally associated with these studies (73% of those claiming to have an NDE said it was unpleasant), although this was not the case in those that had a higher Greyson scale score (>7). Since anything below 7 is not normally considered an NDE then it is likely that this observation is irrelevant since those with a Greyson score >7 reported a much higher incidence of pleasant experiences (53% pleasant vs 14% unpleasant). This says something about the way conclusions are presented in this study because it would actually be a more accurate key conclusion to say that people who experience genuine NDEs are more likely to have a pleasant experience than those that don’t, rather than making it an after thought.
The central conclusion of the study was food for a skeptical neurology audience.
REM sleep intrusion on wakefulness was found to be more common in people with scores of 7 or above on the Greyson NDE Scale (47 per cent) than in people with scores of 6 or below (26 per cent), or in those below the threshold with no such experiences (14 per cent).
Lead researcher Dr Daniel Kondziella, a neurologist at the University of Copenhagen, said, “Our central finding is that we confirmed the association of near-death experiences with REM sleep intrusion. Although association is not causality, identifying the physiological mechanisms behind REM sleep intrusion into wakefulness might advance our understanding of near-death experiences.”
The most important phrase in that quote is “association is not causality”. The relationship or association may be due to different factors, something that would be good to discuss further in the comments section. I will throw an example thought in there: The causes of REM sleep intrusion may be due to the way that the conscious interacts with the physical mind, and the ability to experience or remember NDEs may be due to the same underlying physio-chemical reasons. Now while the conscious clearly experiences dreams and they can intrude into that waking stage, it does not necessarily follow that NDEs and dreams are the same or even a similar thing…namely the product of brain activity. They both involve the conscious but are significantly different in terms of context, content and quality; the types of experience (REM vs NDE) are not necessarily both a result of brain function, but the ability to experience them or remember them may be. I probably could have explained that better, but I hope you get the gist of it.
The team recruited 1,034 lay people from 35 countries via a crowdsourcing platform online (to eliminate selection bias) and asked them if they’d ever had an NDE. If they answered ‘yes’, they were asked for more details, using a detailed questionnaire assessment tool called the Greyson Near-Death Experience Scale, which asks about 16 specific symptoms.
I need to see the exact way that this was done before I agree that this methodology somehow removes selection bias. If anything my cynical side suspects that this method is going to attract a substantial amount of less than authentic reports.
Anyway, it is hitting the headlines in various news outlets and will no doubt morph into ammo for skeptics to claim that NDEs are just another form of dreaming. However, the (dodgy) data, for the reasons stated above, does not in any way “prove” that NDEs are just another form of dreaming.