Macabre Grimoire Chapter 9 Near Death Experiences
Hosts Ari Show, Robert Mehling, and Travis Nye
Produced by Robert Mehling and TheSiouxEmpire.com
Voice Over by Dave Holly
Opening Theme Enhance Your Starry Night by Mouthful of Bees
“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, / Must give us pause.” – William Shakespeare Hamlet
A near-death experience (NDE) is a personal experience associated with death or impending death. Such experiences may encompass a variety of sensations including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light. NDEs are a recognized part of some transcendental and religious beliefs in an afterlife.
Different models have been described to explain NDEs. Neuroscience research suggests that an NDE is a subjective phenomenon resulting from “disturbed bodily multisensory integration” that occurs during life-threatening events. Though none of these theories has been proven scientifically.
The Field is also not without it’s hoaxes. In 2015 The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story (Published in 2010) By Kevin and Alex Malarkey sparked a massive outcry after it was declared by the author to have been a fabrication, this after selling over one million copies.
(Image Ascent of the Blessed by Hieronymus Bosch is associated by some NDE researchers with aspects of the NDE.)
Researchers have identified the common elements that define near-death experiences. Bruce Greyson argues that the general features of the experience include impressions of being outside one’s physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of ego and spatiotemporal boundaries. Many common elements have been reported, although the person’s interpretation of these events often corresponds with the cultural, philosophical, or religious beliefs of the person experiencing it. For example, in the USA, where 46% of the population believes in guardian angels, they will often be identified as angels or deceased loved ones (or will be unidentified), while Hindus will often identify them as messengers of the god of death.
Common traits that have been reported by NDErs 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 medical professionals performing resuscitation efforts.
A “tunnel experience” or entering a darkness. A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.
A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light (or “Being of Light”) which communicates with the person.
An intense feeling of unconditional love and acceptance.
Encountering “Beings of Light”, “Beings dressed in white”, or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.
Receiving a life review, commonly referred to as “seeing one’s life flash before one’s eyes”.
Approaching a border or a decision by oneself or others to return to one’s body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return.
Suddenly finding oneself back inside one’s body.
Gregory Shushan published an analysis of the afterlife beliefs of five ancient civilizations (Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, Sumerian and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, Vedic India, pre-Buddhist China, and pre-Columbian Mesoamerica) and compared them with historical and contemporary reports of near-death experiences, and shamanic afterlife “journeys”. Shushan found similarities across time, place, and culture that he found could not be explained by coincidence; he also found elements that were specific to cultures; Shushan concludes that some form of mutual influence between experiences of an afterlife and culture probably influence one another and that this inheritance, in turn, influences individual NDEs.
According to Parnia, near death experiences’ interpretations are influenced by religious, social, cultural backgrounds. However, the core elements appear to transcend borders and can be considered universal. In fact, some of these core elements have even been reported by children <3 years old (this occurred over many months, whilst playing and communicated using children’s language). In other words, at an age where they should not have been influenced by culture or tradition.
Also, according to Greyson, the central features of NDEs are universal and have not been influenced by time. These have been observed throughout history and in different cultures. This notwithstanding, cultural influences have probably played a role in some NDEs’ reported descriptions.
Lots of Theories
Spiritual or transcendental theories
French summarizes this model by saying: “the most popular interpretation is that the NDE is exactly what it appears to be to the person having the experience”. The NDE would then represent evidence of the supposedly immaterial existence of a soul or mind, which would leave the body upon death. An NDE would then provide information about an immaterial world where the soul would journey upon ending its physical existence on earth.
Some NDE phenomena cannot be easily explained by our current knowledge of human physiology and psychology. For instance, at a time when they were unconscious patients could accurately describe events as well as report being able to view their bodies “from an out-of-body spatial perspective”. In two different studies of patients who had survived a cardiac arrest, those who had reported leaving their bodies could describe accurately their resuscitation procedures or unexpected events, whereas others “described incorrect equipment and procedures”. Sam Parnia also refers to two cardiac arrest studies and one deep hypothermic circulatory arrest study where patients reported visual and/or auditory awareness occurring when their brain function had ceased. These reports “were corroborated with actual and real events”.
Limitations of spiritual or transcendental theories
Five prospective studies have been carried out, to test the accuracy of out of body perceptions by placing “unusual targets in locations likely to be seen by persons having NDEs, such as in an upper corner of a room in the emergency department, the coronary care unit, or the intensive care unit of a hospital.” Twelve patients reported leaving their bodies, but unfortunately, none could describe the hidden visual targets. Although this is a small sample, the failure of purported out-of-body experiences to describe the hidden targets raises questions about the accuracy of the anecdotal reports described above.
Robert’s Note: Lack of large enough data size is a common theme.
Psychologist James Alcock has described the afterlife claims of NDE researchers as pseudoscientific. Alcock has written the spiritual or transcendental interpretation “is based on belief in search of data rather than observation in search of an explanation.” Chris French has noted that “the survivalist approach does not appear to generate clear and testable hypotheses. Because of the vagueness and imprecision of the survivalist account, it can be made to explain any possible set of findings and is therefore unfalsifiable and unscientific.”
French summarises the main psychological explanations which include: the depersonalization, the expectancy, and the dissociation models.
A depersonalization model was proposed in the 1970s by a professor of psychiatry Russell Noyes and clinical psychologist Roy Kletti, which suggested that the NDE is a form of depersonalization experienced under emotional conditions such as life-threatening danger, potentially inescapable danger and that the NDE can best be understood as a hallucination. According to this model, those who face their impending death become detached from the surroundings and their own bodies, no longer feel emotions, and experience time distortions.
Limitations of the depersonalization model
This model suffers from a number of limitations to explain NDEs for subjects who do not experience a sensation of being out of their bodies; unlike NDEs, experiences are dreamlike, unpleasant and characterized by “anxiety, panic, and emptiness”. Also, during NDEs subjects remain very lucid in their identities, their sense of identity is not changed unlike those experiencing depersonalization.
Another psychological theory is called the expectancy model. It has been suggested that although these experiences could appear very real, they had actually been constructed in the mind, either consciously or subconsciously, in response to the stress of an encounter with death (or perceived encounter with death), and did not correspond to a real event. In a way, they are similar to wish-fulfillment: because someone thought they were about to die, they experienced certain things in accordance with what they expected or wanted to occur. Imagining a heavenly place was in effect a way for them to soothe themselves through the stress of knowing that they were close to death. Subjects use their own personal and cultural expectations to imagine a scenario that would protect them against an imminent threat to their lives.
Limitations of the expectancy model
Subjects’ accounts often differed from their own “religious and personal expectations regarding death” which contradicts the hypothesis they may have imagined a scenario based on their cultural and personal background.
Although the term NDE was first coined in 1975 and the experience first described then, recent descriptions of NDEs do not differ from those reported earlier than 1975. The only exception is the more frequent description of a tunnel. Hence, the fact that information about these experiences could be more easily obtained after 1975, did not influence people’s reports of the experiences.
Another flaw of this model can be found in children’s accounts of NDEs. These are similar to adults’, and this despite children being less affected by religious or cultural influences about death. See also cross-cultural references.
The dissociation model proposes that NDE is a form of withdrawal to protect an individual from a stressful event. Under extreme circumstances, some people may detach from certain unwanted feelings in order to avoid experiencing their emotional impact and suffering associated with them. The person also detaches from one’s immediate surroundings.
The birth model suggests that near death experiences could be a form of reliving the trauma of birth. Since a baby travels from the darkness of the womb to light and is greeted by the love and warmth of the nursing and medical staff, and so, it was proposed, the dying brain could be recreating the passage through a tunnel to light, warmth, and affection.
Limitations of the birth model
Reports of leaving the body through a tunnel are equally frequent among subjects who were born by cesarean section and natural birth. Also, newborns do not possess “the visual acuity, spatial stability of their visual images, mental alertness, and cortical coding capacity to register memories of the birth experience”.
Physiological explanations (organic theories)
A wide range of physiological theories of the NDE have been put forward including those based upon cerebral hypoxia, anoxia, and hypercapnia; endorphins and other neurotransmitters; and abnormal activity in the temporal lobes.
Neurobiological factors in the experience have been investigated by researchers in the field of medical science and psychiatry. Among the researchers and commentators who tend to emphasize a naturalistic and neurological base for the experience are the British psychologist Susan Blackmore (1993), with her “dying brain hypothesis”.
Neuroscientists Olaf Blanke and Sebastian Dieguez (2009), from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, propose a brain-based model with two types of NDEs :
“type 1 NDEs are due to bilateral frontal and occipital, but predominantly right hemispheric brain damage affecting the right temporal parietal junction and characterized by out of body experiences, altered sense of time, sensations of flying, lightness section and flying” 
“type 2 NDEs are also due to bilateral frontal and occipital, but predominantly left hemispheric brain damage affecting the left temporal parietal junction and characterized by a feeling of a presence, meeting and communication with spirits, seeing of glowing bodies, as well as voices, sounds, and music without vection”
They suggest that damage to the bilateral occipital cortex may lead to visual features of NDEs such as seeing a tunnel or lights, and “damage to unilateral or bilateral temporal lobe structures such as the hippocampus and amygdala” may lead to emotional experiences, memory flashbacks or a life review. They concluded that future neuroscientific studies are likely to reveal the neuroanatomical basis of the NDE which will lead to the demystification of the subject without needing paranormal explanations.
Animation of the human left temporal lobe
French has written that the “temporal lobe is almost certain to be involved in NDEs, given that both damage to and direct cortical stimulation of this area are known to produce a number of experiences corresponding to those of the NDE, including OBEs, hallucinations, and memory flashbacks”.
Vanhaudenhuyse et al. 2009 reported that recent studies employing deep brain stimulation and neuroimaging have demonstrated that out-of-body experiences result from a deficient multisensory integration at the temporoparietal junction and that ongoing studies aim to further identify the functional neuroanatomy of near-death experiences by means of standardized EEG recordings.
According to Greyson multiple neuroanatomical models have been proposed where NDEs have been hypothesized to originate from different anatomical areas of the brain, namely: the limbic system, the hippocampus, the left temporal lobe, Reissen’s fiber in the central canal of the spinal cord, the prefrontal cortex, the right temporal lobe.
Limits of neuroanatomical models
Blanke et al. admit that their model remains speculative to the lack of data. Likewise Greyson writes that although some or any of the neuroanatomical models proposed may serve to explain NDEs and pathways through which they are expressed, they remain speculative at this stage since they have not been tested in empirical studies.
Some theories hypothesize that drugs used during resuscitation induced NDEs, for example, ketamine or as resulting from endogenous chemicals that transmit signals between brain cells, neurotransmitters:
In the early eighties, Daniel Carr wrote that NDE has characteristics are suggestive of a limbic lobe syndrome and that the NDE can be explained by the release of endorphins and enkephalins in the brain. Endorphins are endogenous molecules “released in times of stress and lead to a reduction in pain perception and a pleasant, even blissful, emotional state.”
Judson and Wiltshaw (1983) noted how the administration of endorphin-blocking agents such as naloxone had been occasionally reported to produce “hellish” NDEs. This would be coherent with endorphins’ role in causing a “positive emotional tone of most NDEs”.
Morse et al. 1989 proposed a model arguing that serotonin played a more important role than endorphins in generating NDEs “at least with respect to mystical hallucinations and OBEs”.
Limits of neurochemical models
According to Parnia, neurochemical models are not backed by data. This is true for “NMDA receptor activation, serotonin, and endorphin release” models. Parnia writes that no data has been collected via thorough and careful experimentation to back “a possible causal relationship or even an association” between neurochemical agents and NDE experiences.
The first formal neurobiological model for NDE, included endorphins, neurotransmitters of the limbic system, the temporal lobe and other parts of the brain. Extensions and variations of their model came from other scientists such as Louis Appleby (1989).
Other authors suggest that all components of near-death experiences can be explained in their entirety via psychological or neurophysiological mechanisms, although the authors admit that these hypotheses have to be tested by science.
Low oxygen levels (and G-LOC) model
Low oxygen levels in the blood (hypoxia or anoxia) have been hypothesized to induce hallucinations and hence possibly explain NDEs. This is because low oxygen levels characterize life-threatening situations and also by the apparent similarities between NDEs and G-force induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC) episodes.
These episodes are observed with fighter pilots experiencing very rapid and intense acceleration that result in lack of sufficient blood supply to the brain. Whinnery studied almost 1000 cases and noted how the experiences often involved “tunnel vision and bright lights, floating sensations, automatic movement, autoscopy, OBEs, not wanting to be disturbed, paralysis, vivid dreamlets of beautiful places, pleasurable sensations, psychological alterations of euphoria and dissociation, inclusion of friends and family, inclusion of prior memories and thoughts, the experience being very memorable (when it can be remembered), confabulation, and a strong urge to understand the experience.”
Limitations of low oxygen levels (and G-LOC) model
However, hypoxia-induced acceleration primary characteristics are “rhythmic jerking of the limbs, compromised memory of events just prior to the onset of unconsciousness, tingling of extremities …” that are not observed during NDEs. Also G-LOC episodes do not feature life reviews, mystical experiences and “long-lasting transformational after effects”, although this may be due to the fact that subjects have no expectation of dying.
Also, hypoxic hallucinations are characterized by “distress and agitation” and this is very different from near death experiences which subjects report as being pleasant.
Altered blood gas levels models and their limitations
Some investigators have studied whether hypercarbia or higher than normal carbon dioxide levels, could explain the occurrence of NDEs. However, studies are difficult to interpret since NDEs have been observed both with increased levels as well as decreased levels of carbon dioxide, and finally some other studies have observed NDEs when levels had not changed, and there is little data.