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

Not Near-Death NDEs

Incidence of near-death experiences in patients surviving a prolonged critical illness and their long-term impact: a prospective observational study

This study was recently published in the journal called critical care. Here is a summary of the key methodological details and findings:

  • Prospective study designed to assess the incidence and patient characteristics of NDEs during stays in the ICU.
  • Pts who had ICU stays >7 days were interviewed within 7 days, 1 month and 1 yr following discharge from the ICU.
  • 126 patients were included with 19 (15%) reporting NDEs (score of ≥7 on the Greyson scale).
  • Cognitive and spiritual factors outweighed medical parameters as predictors of the emergence of NDE.

My comments on this study:

What immediately makes it interesting is that these were patients who were in the ICU, NOT the ER. These patients were not in CA if they reported an NDE, hence the name of this post. Yet 15% of patients who stayed in the ICU had an NDE. These would not be classified as REDs using the criteria published last year, and yet if they are authentic NDEs, which the Greyson scoring suggest they were, then they occurred in a situation where the patients may have died without the intense medical interventions that were being applied in the ICU. This raises questions about the mechanisms of triggering an NDE, as well as the authenticity of them…the latter is perhaps what the authors are hinting at. This is what the authors say about NDE induction:

“Patients in ICU may face potentially physical stressors, such as inflammation, high catecholamine levels, independently of the primary organ failure triggering ICU admission [4]. These are all potential inducers of NDE [5]. Next to these (neuro)physiological factors, some cognitive processes have also been proposed to trigger NDE, such as the tendency for dissociation.”

As for the key findings that the authors highlight, much of it comes from this finding:

“…DES [a questionnaire that assessed the presence of dissociative states] and the WHOQOLSRPB [a WHO questionnaire that assesses a propensity to religious or spiritual beliefs] as the strongest predictors for the emergence of NDE…”

In the discussion they flesh out their thinking on these findings:

“a higher frequency of dissociative symptoms and a greater spiritual and personal well-being were the strongest predictors for the recall of NDE using multivariate analysis (Fig. 1). It is then reasonable to hypothesize that a propensity to dissociative states and to spiritual beliefs and practices make people more likely to report NDEs when exposed to certain physiological conditions.”

My big issue with this conclusion is that all the data relating to dissociative states and religious propensity was gathered after the ICU stay, and therefore after any potential NDE. The question must therefore be asked as to whether or not this propensity to dissociative states and to spiritual beliefs and practices was pre-existing or heightened or even induced by the NDE. It is hard to see how the questionnaires would explicitly be able to identify these traits as underlying and pre-existing, so the hypothesis is based on somewhat shaky ground. Moreover, even if the hypothesis is correct, it says nothing about the validity of NDEs being a manifestation of the dualist relationship of human consciousness with the brain. I state in my book on NDEs that it is possible, even likely, that some people are more prone to being spiritual, and that there are genetic links to this. This could mean that some people are physiologically more prone to NDEs…their consciousness may be less “tightly tethered” to their brains, for want of a better expression.

I do give credit to the authors here for not drawing any conclusions that do not belong outside of the parameters of the area of study, and to the potential nature of NDEs, although they do give a nod to some of the previous attempts to explain NDEs through neurological processes. Despite the latter, I don’t really know where the authors stand on the issue, and that is a very good thing because it suggests that their bias didn’t influence their research.

Returning to their discussions, the problem associated with only having data post ICU stay also applies to one of the key overall conclusions of the study, specifically that NDEs do not alter quality of life. Due to the small sample size, and the fact that we do not have QOL data from before the ICU stay, it is not really possible to say with certainty that NDEs have any effect on QOL. Moreover, the type of questionnaire used focuses on physical outcomes, and since these people all suffered conditions that required intensive care, and NDEs are largely understood in a spiritual context, then it would be highly unlikely that there would be much difference in physical outcomes. In fact, I think I once heard that people who have had NDEs were more likely to die in subsequent years than those who hadn’t, but I can’t remember the source.

My biggest gripe with this publication is that details from the NDE interviews are not revealed. There were 19 in total, it is therefore highly likely if ICU NDEs followed similar patterns to CA-induced NDEs that there would 2-4 OBEs. This is not mentioned or discussed, nor are the breakdowns of the Greyson scores. Given that this is the first study to prospectively look at NDEs in an ICU, I feel this was a bad omission since they could have determined if there might have been differences between the NDEs from ICU and CA. Also, were they hiding something? Were they discouraged or prohibited from sharing “subjective” OBEs by the reviewers?

Other than this, the study was well conducted and the findings neutral. Most of all, for us they highlight the fact that NDEs occur in instances beyond just cardiac arrest, and that they may be much more common as a result. The downside of this is that in the absence of scientifically validated OBEs, these types of NDE are much more open to mundane physiological explanations touted by neurologists.

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40 thoughts on “Not Near-Death NDEs

  1. If the tests for dissociative states/spiritual beliefs were done following then surely they would have asked about their pre-existing beliefs, not current. If not, then the conclusion falls flat.

    If the person did however have a propensity to dissociative states/spiritual beliefs before their experiences then it is highly likely they could be giving a lot of weight to an experience that was not an actual NDE. That would definitely be expected.

    Without hearing what experiences these people had it’s hard to say wether or not they experienced NDEs. Someone with strong spiritual beliefs might rate a dream, hallucination etc as high as a NDE on a Grayson scale.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Ben. I read the article as you posted it yesterday and was also analysing it, similar to your thoughts. I would like to add some piece of my mind (I love analysing this kind of publications!)
    First, as you very well stated it is based on ICU patients. Maybe they were not in CA. So that brings back the whole point of comparative studies with the RED definition by Parnia. Additionally, as you said, they don´t include descriptions of the experiences or testimonies of the patients, as examples of what was considered a NDE, just the Greyson’s score. The Greyson scale is good, but if you apply it to any trascendental experience it gives a score the same way as in NDEs, but it doesn´t necessarily mean it was a NDE, just a trascendental experience…I have the gut feeling, that the researcher should be very well versed in the experiences recounted by patients, reading hundreds of NDEs, analysing the content, the arch of the story, all phases, etc. After that the Greyson scale should be applied. This reminds me a little bit of the 2019 study on REM intrusion, where some stories included in the NDE group were clearly REM visions…
    There was a paragraph also on dellirium: “patients detected with confusion or delirium were reassesed during their ward stay, and further included (in the study) in case of confusion or delirium resolution” but they don´t go any further here. They did not explain whether any control was applied to avoid mixing up a confusional state experience recalled by the patient (like ICU delussions or confusional perceptions) with NDEs. However, we could assume that stories were well assessed and evaluated to be considered NDEs, and go on with the rest of the article.
    On the Dissociation scale. As you Ben very well put it, it was only tested once. They did not clarify if they ask the participants for information about their life prior the NDE, nor they compared changes in the DES score. So I assume that they asked, and patients answered in general terms. This is a mayor mistake if the purpose was to assess the role of dissociative traits in NDEs. The role of dissociation was widely studied by Bruce Greyson and Ring in the past. And they found the same association but could not stablish if the dissociative tendency was a product of the NDE.
    I exchanged a brief personal mail with Bruce Greyson about this yesterday. He agrees that stablishing the cause-effect could be both directions. He also stated that dissociative traits have been observed to increase after an NDE, for different reasons. And interestingly he commented on the possibility that dissociative traits could also facilitate the recall of an NDE, the same as people with dissociative traits remember their dreams more easily.
    Just as a curious note. The DES scale has 28 items. There are different sections relating to the questions (dissociative memories, disrealization, depersonalization, etc). I took the test just out of curiosity and scored 8 (what?!). Normal population is clasified about score of 5, anxiety 7, and so on (I guess I am of an anxious tipe of personality, but considered myself the opposite to dissociative). In the current article NDE group scored a mean of 9 (Q1-Q3 of 5-14) and non NDEs 2 (1-7). There are 2 very important questions in the DES score, nº 11 and 12 (if I remember correctly)
    -about reality not being real
    -about your body not being yours
    Now, any person here could score maybe 10% or 20% or maybe 0%, don´t know. But what happens when you ask these questions to a NDEr? Maybe the other questions score very low, but here they could mark 90% (of their time after the NDE). I took the test now answering “as an NDE” whose reality has changed, I went for 90% and 90% in those 2 questions, same answers for the other questions as in my real test. The new score was 13.50. Maybe it is not so suprising that they score higher than non-NDEs…I am wondering if this DES test is valid here and might be mixing up results…
    Same with the QoL scale. I use it for my research studies. It doesn´t struck me as the kind of scale I would use on a NDEr to validate changes in their life, it doesn´t evaluate all described emotional changes that NDErs are known to go through after the experience.

    Sorry for the long comment. But it was really interesting exploring the DES scale and thinking about its role here. On the whole, it was a neutral article, to the point, but in my opinion, vage and not really new results here. And a lot of imprecise parts of the methods section that may rise some doubts about its accuracy and validity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mery, and I agree with all your points. The issue of not knowing whether these were classical NDEs or variants that managed to hit enough points on related aspects is especially frustrating.


  3. Paul Battista on said:

    The Greyson scale needs to be revised. It’s 40 years old

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Paul Battista on said:

    Dr. Parnia talks about how NDES should have a different name such as ADES or actual death experences in his book Erasing Death and in his 2013 nour foundation video called Experencing death an insiders perspective

    Liked by 1 person

    • I stated a while back that we should stick with the overarching term NDE then sub categorise them into ADEs/REDs specifically for experiences that occur during CA and experiences which are identical except for the physiological state.


      • The problem with that is the brain is dang dead because during CA there is no blood flow to hallucinate and the brain shuts off as there’s no blood flow to it. There’s a word for that. It’s called dead. Sure you can reverse a state of death depending on the situation but during that period of time the patient’s dead.


      • That’s the whole point isn’t it TS, they are not hallucinations.


  5. Paul Battista on said:

    I agree Ben


  6. Charlie on said:

    I think if NDEs (or whatever term you use) were recorded at the same rate from patients in the ICU, it would be a bit of a blow to the classical skeptic response to the phenomenon. Many materialist theories involve the sudden reaction of a dying brain, either through evidence of fleeting electrical activity, lack of oxygen, DMT, etc. But these circumstances are not necessarily present in these individuals. Similar to patients who report NDEs while in a coma, not in CA. Now we have a theory that it’s not DMT, oxygen, dying brain at all, but is a psychological propensity for spiritual or dissociative beliefs. It’s an interesting and understandable correlation (how could you not be more spiritual or dissociative after such an experience?) but says nothing as to a cause or explanation for why it occurred in my opinion. Overall seems like an interesting study on the psychological propensity for experiencers AFTER their NDE but doesn’t really nice the needle for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Paul Battista on said:

    I thought NDES could be at least partly cause by temporal lobe seizures. I could be wrong


    • Thanks Z. I will probably write up a review, but in truth it says nothing we didn’t already know. No correlation with reports of experiences, so their hypothesising is not supported by data.


    • Anthony on said:

      “…the same gamma waves in dying people suggests a biological mechanism for the reports of the brain replaying memorable events in those final moments”
      I’ve always thought that near-death experiences could be a self-defense mechanism for the brain, sensing its imminent end and generating all this incredible torrent of activity to protect itself. Perhaps that is why this brain mechanism is activated in some people even when there is no cardiac arrest, but rather when a strong threat to their life is perceived.


  8. Paul Battista on said:

    The study doesn’t explain veridical perception among other things

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Greg on said:

    The new study of dying brain is quite interesting study, but the conclusions made by researchers, especially in media articles, can be considered pseudoscientific.

    The data sample is very small (only 4 patients included into study) and nobody survived to report NDE. The researchers found a surge in gamma waves after withdrawal of ventilatory support, which was not expected, but the heartbeat also did not stop immediately, there was a blood flow to the brain. I don’t think it can be used to draw conclusions about NDEs of cardiac arrest survivors. Does this even add anything to debate about NDEs which was not shown in earlier Chawla and Zemmar studies?

    In earlier Borjigin rat study gamma waves lasted for 30 seconds after cardiac arrest. There are cases of patients making accurate, veridical observations of their resuscitation up to 5 minutes into cardiac arrest, not only anecdotal reports, but also in prospective studies (patient from Aware I).

    Of course I understand that skeptics and materialist crowd will not accept such cases as evidence, pointing to contamination and lucky guesses by patients as possible explanation, at least until someone correctly identifies a visual target impossible to see by resuscitation team. I just hope that such exaggerated media reports will not cause to limit the funding for studies similar to those conducted by Parnia.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Paul Battista on said:

    Well said Greg


  11. Rjo on said:


    What are your thoughts on this study:



    • Yes this is the one already being discussed in the comments. There is little new to say about this research. It provides further evidence that there is brain activity immediately after death for about 30 seconds. We have known this for a while now. This activity has not thus far been associated with any conscious recollections let alone veridical awareness. The AWARE II data may have potential for this, but Parnia has remained very coy on this matter…much to the detriment of furthering scientific and philosophical understanding.


  12. Gunther P on said:
    Thoughts on this article and the blog in general? He is very critical of cognitive neuroscience in general, not just neural explanations of NDE’s.


  13. ron on said:

    sorry didnt realise its already been posted;)


  14. Ron on said:

    sorry, didnt realise its already been posted


  15. MARIA on said:

    Anybody heard of this?
    I wonder if this is a step onto materialism?

    Liked by 1 person

    • As we have said, this is not a step towards materialism. It provides more supporting evidence to there being activity in the brain for 30 seconds after death.


      • Maria on said:

        Thanks, lets wait for Parnia input this week. Meanwhile I’ve been searching on Dr Christopher kerr work. Not NDE but as a hospice doctor he did some interesting investigation on death bed visions.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. MARIA on said:

    Sorry, just realised this was posted already. Still a terrific one


  17. Hello I’m new to this website and have been reading all the comments posted on the website since Im also interested in nde, I’d like to add a comment to this web , after my personal research I’ve found that there’s an increase in heart rate during seizures, which was the same case of the two people who had increase in eeg after CA, I’m no expert but an increase in heart rate especially in epileptic patients is a good indicator of seizures, This is same as the 87 old who made headlines for having 30 sec of eeg but later found to be very epileptic person, I’m no expert but these 3 cases are most likely seizures in my opinion.
    And the cases in aware 2 the ones with increase in eeg could the tiny bit of blood entering the brain from CPR could cause the brain going crazy in a last attempt to stay alive with that tiny bit of blood, this would be a better evolutionary strategy since maybe a tiny bit of blood could give the brain life but nonetheless it’s a theory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting idea. The issue is though, that until we have NDEs with EEG data from patients who are in CA, it is impossible to say anything about the meaningfulness of this data. If we have NDEs with full EEG record from the moment of CA to ROSC and there are periods during which the levels could support consciousness, then the materialists edge ahead in this debate, but if there are NDEs with no waves associated with consciousness, then the dualists edge ahead. The slam dunk is a scientifically verified OBE, and the materialists lose.

      On Tuesday, hopefully Parnia will reveal more about the EEG data and whether there is any for the handful of patients who had NDEs in AWARE II. I suspect not, or he would have probably said something on it by now, which means AWARE II has not added to our knowledge at this stage.


  18. I agree completely and I also think Duelist have a tiny bit advantage since all the explanations put foreword have been refuted but since they have eeg going up to 30 secs the materialist have used this to try and even out the debate, though we have verified cases of events being seen well after 30 secs to even 2-4 mins of CA and this would easily refute the increase in eeg but nonetheless the materialist have brought up the fact none of the cases took place during a stiff scientific controlled environment and thus they claim that these cases can be lucky guess or contaminated ( despite consistently verified cases which would refute the claim above), and now can kinda even out the debate.

    Liked by 1 person

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