Last time, we looked at our amazing brains and how they can build large, complex representations of reality from patchy information supplied by our senses. Although our eyes and ears have small sensors that can only transmit approximations of what they detect to our brains, those amazing organs reconstruct a three dimensional replica of it which is sufficient for our needs. And they do it many times a second.
Included in these reconstructions of reality are near death experiences(NDE) and out-of-body experiences(OBE.) OBEs are often part of NDEs, though not always. OBEs can happen independent of NDEs, as a result of trauma, drugs, anaesthetics and even certain sleep states, where the diagnosis of clinical death is never considered. OBEs usually include one or more of a specific set of symptoms. One has the feeling of being separated from one’s body, sometimes being able to observe it from an outside point of view. Quite often one is able to observe what is happening around and to one’s body with a sense of detachment. Sometimes the person floats up near the ceiling, perhaps right out of the building, to another country or even into outer space. They can feel they’ve become very tiny or very large. Sometimes the feeling is serene and sometimes it’s terrifying, depending on the person.
NDEs, whether they include OBEs or not, happen by definition when a person almost dies, or feels they are going to die. The symptoms seldom all happen together in the same episode. There is a mystical feeling of peace or fear, a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end, a sense that one must review one’s life, the impression that one is dissolving, as well as detachment from one’s body. They occur most commonly in association with clinical death, which means that breathing and blood flow have stopped. With modern resuscitation techniques, NDEs are being reported at a higher rate than ever. Presumably, people have always had them but seldom talked about them since they usually died. Possibly as many as twenty percent of people experiencing clinical death have one or more symptoms of NDE. Another common trigger for NDE symptoms is fainting, so proximity to actual death is not required.
The reported symbols, such as angels and religious figures, vary with culture. Christians might meet Jesus, for example, but they are highly unlikely to meet Muhammad or the Buddha, and vice versa. Even the earliest known account of an NDE, found at the end of Plato’s “The Republic,” contains symbolism and characters specific to his culture. It seems that the experience and subsequent interpretations and explanations are influenced by one’s normal experiences and ways of thinking. The near death experience is shaped by one’s life experience.