FAQ - Near Death Experience

What is a Near-Death Experience (NDE)? 
  • The Near-Death Experience is a type of forced out-of-body experience (OBE) caused by organic traumas, and/or physical, chemical or psychological agents. It commonly occurs in cases of terminal illnesses, or situations which involve moments of great risk to the physical body, such as accidents, electrocutions, surgery, suffocations, drownings, etc. This phenomenon is very common, and researchers around the world are spending much effort, money and time to try and explain its occurrence more fully.

What kinds of reports are given by those who have experienced an NDE?  

  • Usually people relate a number of common experiences such as: a feeling of inner peace; floating above their physical body; perception of the presence of people around them; 360º vision; amplification of various senses; traveling through a tunnel intensely lit at its far end (tunnel effect). In this atemporal region, the person experiencing the NDE (NDEer) perceives the presence of what most people describe as a "being of light", although this description varies depending on cultural archetypes and personal philosophies. The boundary between the two dimensions is also that of life or death. Sometimes the NDEers have to decide if they want to come back to physical life or not, often reporting a field, door, fence or lake as a type of barrier that if they were to cross, they would not return to their physical body. These are some of the characteristics of near-death experiences.

What psychological and behavioral changes occur in those who have an NDE?

  • Most of those who have a near-death experience exhibit positive behavioral changes. The great majority of them change their lives for the better in that they lose the fear of death (thanatophobia); value their life and the lives of others more; re-evaluate their current values, ethics and priorities; become more serene and confident; increase psychic perceptions; and take advantage of a greater understanding of the purpose of life in order to evolve faster. IAC 

Presuming there is a separation of conscious from the physical body during an NDE, how is it possible then that the mind (physiologically the brain) remembers what occurred during the NDE, when it remained in the physical body all the time?

  • There have many relatively recent studies on consciousness. The current theory is that consciousness is where the memories are stored, not the brain. Many scientists have postulated that as an information storage unit the brain cannot possibly hold all the information. Therefore, the brain is more of an accessing unit much like a radio receiver. Additional findings have shown that the way we remember is not as a computer disk drive, but rather we store a core memory attached to an emotion and then file it in an concept area in the brain. When we retrieve our memories, we are programmed to "fill in the gaps." Therefore brain memories rarely are 100% totally accurate. However, that being said, the NDEs report 100% life reviews of every thought, deed, and how we made others feel. This is the computer hard drive - the consciousness that survives death. When consciousness returns to the body, it takes typically 7 years to have those intense memories of the NDE to funnel through the brain. My guess is that it is such an intense experience that it may create in the brain what is known as a "flashbulb moment." These are times that the brain takes a picture of a particular instance, usually occurring in times of heightened sensory and emotional input or life-threatening moments. These memories are ingrained in the brain and the person can recall like it happened yesterday.

Are NDEs caused from sleep deprivation, bad dreams, or the subconscious awareness of surgery? 

  • Morse published 3 articles in the AMA’s pediatric journal as a result of his studies. The scientists and physicians who reviewed his protocol were very complimentary about research design and scientific validity of the results. Closer to the Light, Learning from the Near-Death Experiences of Children, Melvin Morse M.D., with Paul Perry, Ballantine Books 1991, Pg 49 . His findings from his carefully designed research eliminated the theory that NDEs are the result of drugs or sleep deprivation or that they are merely bad dreams or the subconscious awareness of surgery. Id. at pg 46.

Are NDEs are recent phenomenon?

  • No. Literature throughout the ages and over varying cultures have been tattooed with NDE- like descriptions and accounts. Plato's REPUBLIC, Dante's DIVINE COMEDY, and medieval literature investigated by Carol Zaleski all possess descriptions resembling the NDE.

When my mother was dying, we thought she was hallucinating, but what she described sounds like an NDE. Could this be true?

  • People who are dying frequently describe seeing a wonderful light or a landscape they want to enter. They may talk with people who are invisible to everyone else, or they may look radiant and at peace. Such "deathbed visions" may be related to NDEs. We have a page with more information about these kinds of experiences.

Does an NDE really change a person's life? 

  • Almost every near-death experiencer reports changes after the experience. The changes may be numerous. They may occur at the physical, psychological, and/or spiritual levels. They may be very difficult or impossible for the NDEr to describe or explain. The changes reflect a fundamental shift in the NDEr's ideas of what life is all about.

Are the people who have NDEs very religious?  

  • People who report NDEs are no better or worse, and no more or less religious than people in any cross-section of the general population. NDErs come from many religious backgrounds and from the ranks of agnostics and even atheists. The experience seems more closely related to a person's life afterwards than to what it was before. Similarly, NDEs occur in both adults and children.

Why doesn't everybody close to death have one?  

  • No one knows why, among people in similar circumstances, some people do and others do not report near-death experiences, and why most reported NDEs are pleasurable and a minority are distressing. NDEs, both pleasurable and distressing, occur to all types of people all over the world: all ages, races, backgrounds, and religions.

What do you believe is the ultimate meaning behind NDEs if you could tell us in one or two sentences? 

  • Kevin Williams: Everything is a part of God because God is life, light, and love. Practicing unconditional love is the evolutionary key for humanity to obtain eternal life (no more death) and death is just a threshold that we briefly cross over to another way of life.

What are the most significant specificities of the NDE ? 

  • Nationality, religion, education, intellectual level, social background, age or gender of a person do not determine the nature of their NDE, nor the probability of their occurrence, only their interpretation might be influenced by cultural factors, such as religious ones, but without shaping the experience (e.g. a practicing Catholic woman who said that nothing she was told by the Church during her whole life matched with what she experienced during her NDE). No difference has been noted between believers and non-believers as far as the frequency or the nature of NDEs are concerned. The circumstances which bring a person at the threshold of death (accident, illness, cardiac arrest, suicide attempt) are not determinant factors. Children, even very young ones, experience classical NDEs, even if they are told in a simpler way, with the words of children. Only the life review seems to be absent of these childhood NDEs (Morse and Perry, 1990).  A most remarkable study (Ring and Cooper, 1999) demonstrates that blind persons, even those blind from birth, can see during their NDE. The authors came to the conclusion that it is not a matter of normal visual perceptions but rather of a vision through the spirit or a state of omniscient consciousness. Each near-death experience is unique in that it is linked to an individual, yet all NDEs share the same basic nature and produce the same effects. NDErs all describe a nearly identical NDE progression and undergo very similar emotions. We can therefore start with the assumption that these are data that apply to human beings in general and inform us of their reactions when at the extreme edge of existence. Although the NDE itself remains unverifiable (despite the astounding similarity of the accounts of thousands of NDErs), based as it is on testimonies replete with subjective feelings, the same cannot be said for the positive transformations observed in those who have undergone the experience. Here again, these transformations are characterized by great similarity, despite the diversity of the NDErs. The hypothesis triggered by the NDE that consciousness and memory continue to function during a state of clinical death intrigues, opens new perspectives and is the purpose of numerous scientific investigations. From: Evelyn Elsaesser-Valarino



The traits of a classic NDE are as follows:

  • A sense/awareness of being dead.
  • A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world.
  • An out-of-body experience. A perception of one's body from an outside position. Sometimes observing doctors and nurses performing medical resuscitation efforts.
  • A "tunnel experience". A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.
  • A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light. Communication with the light.
  • An intense feeling of unconditional love.
  • Encountering "Beings of Light", "Beings dressed in white", or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.
  • Receiving a life review.
  • Receiving a "life preview" in the cases of George Ritchie and Betty Eadie, which Ring calls an NDE "Flash Forward".
  • Receiving knowledge about one's life and the nature of the universe.
  • A decision by oneself or others to return to one's body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return.
  • Approaching a border.
  • The notice of unpleasant sound or noise (claimed by R. Moody).
  • Hearing music. According to a study conducted by Dr. Joel Funk, Psychology professor at Plymouth State College in New Hampshire, close to fifty percent of people who have had a NDE remember hearing music