Out of Body Experience

From Salon.com: (by Mario Beauregard)

What do you think this sort of experience tells us about immortality? resurrection? theology?

Pam was brought into the operating room at 7:15 a.m., she was given general anesthesia, and she quickly lost conscious awareness. At this point, Spetzler and his team of more than 20 physicians, nurses, and technicians went to work. They lubricated Pam’s eyes to prevent drying, and taped them shut. They attached EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of her cerebral cortex. They inserted small, molded speakers into her ears and secured them with gauze and tape. The speakers would emit repeated 100-decibel clicks—approximately the noise produced by a speeding express train—eliminating outside sounds and measuring the activity of her brainstem.

At 8:40 a.m., the tray of surgical instruments was uncovered, and Robert Spetzler began cutting through Pam’s skull with a special surgical saw that produced a noise similar to a dental drill. At this moment, Pam later said, she felt herself “pop” out of her body and hover above it, watching as doctors worked on her body.

Although she no longer had use of her eyes and ears, she described her observations in terms of her senses and perceptions. “I thought the way they had my head shaved was very peculiar,” she said. “I expected them to take all of the hair, but they did not.” She also described the Midas Rex bone saw (“The saw thing that I hated the sound of looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it … ”) and the dental-drill sound it made with considerable accuracy.

Meanwhile, Spetzler was removing the outermost membrane of Pamela’s brain, cutting it open with scissors. At about the same time, a female cardiac surgeon was attempting to locate the femoral artery in Pam’s right groin. Remarkably, Pam later claimed to remember a female voice saying, “We have a problem. Her arteries are too small.” And then a male voice: “Try the other side.” Medical records confirm this conversation, yet Pam could not have heard them.

The cardiac surgeon was right—Pam’s blood vessels were indeed too small to accept the abundant blood flow requested by the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, so at 10:50 a.m., a tube was inserted into Pam’s left femoral artery and connected to the cardiopulmonary bypass machine. The warm blood circulated from the artery into the cylinders of the bypass machine, where it was cooled down before being returned to her body. Her body temperature began to fall, and at 11:05 a.m. Pam’s heart stopped. Her EEG brain waves flattened into total silence. A few minutes later, her brain stem became totally unresponsive, and her body temperature fell to a sepulchral 60 degrees Fahrenheit. At 11:25 a.m., the team tilted up the head of the operating table, turned off the bypass machine, and drained the blood from her body. Pamela Reynolds was clinically dead.

At this point, Pam’s out-of-body adventure transformed into a near-death experience (NDE): She recalls floating out of the operating room and traveling down a tunnel with a light. She saw deceased relatives and friends, including her long-dead grandmother, waiting at the end of this tunnel. She entered the presence of a brilliant, wonderfully warm and loving light, and sensed that her soul was part of God and that everything in existence was created from the light (the breathing of God). But this extraordinary experience ended abruptly, as Reynolds’s deceased uncle led her back to her body—a feeling she described as “plunging into a pool of ice.”

Meanwhile, in the operating room, the surgery had come to an end. When all the blood had drained from Pam’s brain, the aneurysm simply collapsed and Spetzler clipped it off. Soon, the bypass machine was turned on and warm blood was pumped back into her body. As her body temperature started to increase, her brainsteam began to respond to the clicking speakers in her ears and the EEG recorded electrical activity in the cortex. The bypass machine was turned off at 12:32 p.m. Pam’s life had been restored, and she was taken to the recovery room in stable condition at 2:10 p.m….

These findings strongly challenge the mainstream neuroscientific view that mind and consciousness result solely from brain activity. As we have seen, such a view fails to account for how NDErs can experience—while their hearts are stopped—vivid and complex thoughts and acquire veridical information about objects or events remote from their bodies.

NDE studies also suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality that normally is not accessible to our senses and awareness. Needless to say, this view is utterly incompatible with the belief of many materialists that the material world is the only reality.



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  • phil_style

    NDErs can experience—while their hearts are stopped—vivid and complex thoughts andacquire veridical information about objects or events remote from their bodies”

    This is not what the data from NDEs confirm. All we know is, that subsequent to waking up, these people have memories which they consciously locate during their period of unconsciousness. We have no way of telling how, or when those memories were formed. It’s possible they form after the surgeries are complete, or a messy mix of memories formed whilst falling unconscious and coming back to consciousness

    Doctors have already invented a system to test how “real” NDEs are, by placing objects(such as pictures lying face up on a shelf) in operating theaters which are at heights not visible from the operating table. As yet, not a single NDE person has described one of these objects when they are describing their out of body experience – indicating that their “vision” of the room is imaginary.

  • unapologetic catholic

    “These findings…”

    There were no “findings.” there was an anecdote.

    I’ve had a near death experience myself–identical to hers. But I wasn’t near death–I simply passed out after a blood donation. NDE’s are, by definiton, not verifiable. OBE’s are in the same category as alien abductions. I don’t think eithter NDE or OBE add anything that we don’t already know to our knowledge base about immorality or resurrection. It’s a dangerous god of the gaps argument that will later be resolved by advances in neuroscience. We shouldn’t be betting religion on the outcome of neuroscience.

  • Amos Paul

    >OBE’s are in the same category as alien abductions.

    Funny you should say that since I’ve long been of the opinion that alien abductions are spiritual encounters of the demonic kind.

  • Tim

    I would concur that the above does not represent a “finding”, but rather an anecdote. It is certainly a very interesting anecdote, but so are the paranormal anecdotes involving unexplained ghostly apparitions, and the unexplained anecdotes of Hindu mystic healing, and so on. One often gets the impression that there are other factors involved in the story that, if known, would explain the “unexplainable” anecdote.

    Outside controlled studies, there is little one can do to validate what significance any given anecdote may hold. So I would object to calling it a “finding” that demands some explanation or otherwise poses some kind of anomoly or problem to modern neurological models.

  • Cal

    I wouldn’t be surprised if our definition of “dead” needed reworking. It is amazing how much data the body can store. This comes from one who believes wholeheartedly in the resurrection of the dead.

  • EricG

    This stuff isn’t just anecdotal — there have been medical studies showing that this is a common experience, including across cultures, which is interesting. E.g., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21988246

    My gut says that there will eventually be a neurolgical explanation for this stuff, and we shouldn’t make god-of-gaps type arguments based on the experiences.

    However, the evidence is also that there is a neurological explanation for experiences of connectedness with God too. And most of the people on this board would not suggest that such connectedness isn’t real simply because the effects can be identified and measured in a specific area in the brain.

  • Tim


    These studies are examinations of anecdotes of near death experiences. Studies of anecdotal evidence, published in peer-reviewed journals, is actually quite common. The psychological journals are littered with them. But such accounts represent a starting point for future research – and are tentative at best. What differentiates a controlled study from merely an analysis of anecdotal cases is the ability to control the environment. For instance, you could position objects around the surgery room out of view from the surgeons but easily viewable by a disembodied consciousness hovering overhead. This would control for the possibility that a surgeon might say something within earshot of the patient concerning those objects and then have that pass into their consciousness in some way.

  • EricG

    Tim — that isn’t correct; check out the first link that refers to prospective studies; again, not just anecdotes. I understand that there are serious limits with this stuff, but that is different from saying it is just anecdotes.

  • Tim


    I checked both links before I responded. I don’t see how the Near-Death Experiences evaluated in either study entailed anything other than a collection of reports from anecdotal cases and then of course of course follow-up from that point after. In other words, there is research performed in some controlled setting following the event, but not prior or during the event.

  • EricG

    Tim – Please check out the difference between prospective and retrospective studies – this was stated to be prospective, not what you are suggesting.

  • TJJ

    There was a time when I was very fascinated by this NDE stuff. I did a lot of reading about it both for and against and even talked with several people who had a NDE. In the end I tentatively concluded these accounts tell us more about the brain and consciousness than it does about anything else. In the words of Scully from the X-Files: I wanted to believe but in the end I could not/did not. Same goes for the 20 minutes in Heaven/Hell books by the pastor and kid or whoever.

  • Cal


    Well as for experiences of a spiritual nature (be they of the Lord or unclean spirits) it all depends how one places the events. If one thinks they see a loved one (either actually or a hallucination) they will react with excitement and the body’s reactions would be recorded as such. If one is overcome with peace, it may very well be the covering of the “wings of the Lord”, with the perception (except not exactly) of being held by a loved one.

    So put succinctly, you either state it as 1) my brain is entering some sort of state by mundane reasons (chemicals, psychosis etc.) and therefore a spiritual explanation is provided or 2) I’m perceiving something spiritual and my brain is acting accordingly. I’m inclined toward the second.

  • Tim


    A prospective study merely indicates that a group of subjects are followed over a period of time. My understanding is the journal article you provided prospectively follows survivors of Near Death Experiences following the event. I of course am having to go off the abstract as I am not having a subscription for the journal article. Correct me if you feel this is not accurate.

  • EricG

    Tim — I’m just responding to your initial claim that these studies are just reporting on anecdotes, which is not correct, as suggested by the fact that it is prospective; and a prospective medical study does more than just follow up over a period of time, as you suggest. Anyway, here is more detail on one of the studies: http://profezie3m.altervista.org/archivio/TheLancet_NDE.htm

    Again, I’m not saying that there is anything beyond a physiological reason for this stuff (we just don’t know; I am also skeptical). I am saying, though, that there is more than just anecdotes to suggest that people are having these sorts of experiences.

  • Tom F.

    Up front, I would say that I am an agnostic on these sorts of experiences, with perhaps a slight leaning towards skepticism.

    I know that some studies have put remarkable and strange items in the room after the patient went under. Patients who later reported out-of-body experiences remembered a lot of the details of the experience, but never remembered these odd items, which would have really stood out. I think the person may construct a memory of the experience based on the information available to them (i.e., the surgeon tells them about the surgery ahead of time). Memory is really easy to bias.

  • Tim


    The study you linked, the subjects participating were selected based on already coming close to death based on a cardiac arrest, some of which had reported near death experiences. Both the NDE and non-NDE groups were evaluated thereafter along a longitudinal research design.

    Again, with respect to the NDE experience itself, you are relying on anecdotal reports. You can then of course do all sorts of comparisons and analyses. But that is all after the event. Perhaps you and I just have in mind a different definition for what amounts to anecdotal. When I employ the term I don’t mean something incapable of being analyzed or evaluated in any systematic way. Only that the initial event occurred outside of any sort of controlled environment and that the phenomenon investigated have to rely on individual reports of what did or did not happen.

  • Dianne P

    RJS… where are you?

  • Marcus C

    Any explanation on how she could so accurately describe bone saw?

    “Doctors have already invented a system to test how “real” NDEs are, by placing objects(such as pictures lying face up on a shelf) in operating theaters which are at heights not visible from the operating table. As yet, not a single NDE person has described one of these objects when they are describing their out of body experience – indicating that their “vision” of the room is imaginary.”
    Phil, can you post a link?

  • EricG


    Let me start with where I partly agree: For something like this you have to rely on reporting by patients. But that is how medical studies often work — think about studies of all sorts of medical conditions — pain, dizziness, etc. Perhaps you think this introduces a bias, but it is hard to deny that a group of people seem to have these experiences.

    More importantly, “anecdotal” usually means ad hoc reporting of a random assortment of experiences. What they did here is much more than that: They prospectively took *consecutive* patients who were resuscitated — they analyzed all of them, NDE or not — and analyzed factors related to their health, background etc. before the event. You can then attempt to see if there is some causative or correlative factors that affect people’s experiences. This is more than just slicing and dicing the data — it can even help analyze whether there is a bias like the kind you seem to be suggesting. This is (in part) what makes prospective studies more helpful than anecdotal evidence because of the analysis you can do of objective factors.

    Also, as an aside, your reference to the longitudinal part of the study is something different altogether from the prospective part — the longitudinal study related to the interviews they did 2 and 8 years after the event.

  • Mike M

    The cross-cultural experiences are interesting. If you take a spiritual slant on all this, the only logical conclusion is that Jesus is not the sole pather to our Father. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who did the original research into NDE’s believed in reincarnation.
    I know a lot of Christians who believe this proves that our souls go to Heaven. That concept was originally developed in China and made it’s way west.

  • It would seem these phenomena would be difficult to study beyond just an analysis of a report. Usually prospective studies are set up with adequate controls so that a question can be asked, a null hypothesis generated, data collected, and a statistical analysis done to determine significance or not. These occurrences are unpredictable enough in frequency and circumstance, I think qualitative descriptions are what we will have for awhile. I’m not sure what question one would ask and prove the null hypothesis or not, with all the controls, especially when there is only one subject per episode. Seems that some brain stimulation studies have produced what was claimed to be NDE’s in patients, maybe even awake. Don’t ask me for a reference on that, though. God placed so much spiritually-related potential in the human brain, I wonder “so-what” if some areas can be stimulated. So, God put it there, or He allowed it to evolve along with the rest of the complexities. The observations are the same; it’s our interpretations that are being challenged.

    Re: anecdotal stories, some years ago my daughter had oral surgery to fix a broken mandible. She was under general anesthesia with a surgeon and anesthesiologist present, recordings and all that. On a follow up appointment she told the docs that she was awake during the surgery. They said there was no possible way. They are adamant about it until she told them what they were talking to each other about during the surgery and what songs had played over the radio. They didn’t have much to say after that. No NDE’s.

  • Jane

    This is interesting from a pastoral care standpoint because we just can’t tell when someone can hear us or not (when in a coma, dying, etc)….so even if they’re declared ‘brain dead’ we can talk with them, and in my experience, they may respond at some level.

  • Steve

    An old friend who was a psychiatrist and Christian, living in Virginia, brought me into his experience. He wrote a book – several, on his version of the story described. Who knows what happens that people report what seems impossible to know otherwise. I told my friend that I know him, I trust him, and I trust that is what he experienced. I have not had that experience. I think an agnostic sentiment helps – we just don’t know. For some these stories are hopeful and encouraging. For others these stories are non-scientifically provable. Becoming fundamentalist on either side is not helpful. Maybe we need to hold hope, and realize none of us have the final answers. Maybe that’s where faith enters into the conversation.

  • Peter Herzog
  • JamesT

    Many years ago I worked as a respiratory therapist. One morning I visited a cancer patient who during the night experienced excruciating pain. He told me that when the pain got unbearable, he got out of his body and stood next to the bed until the pain subsided. I didn’t then and don’t now know what to think about that.

    Also, a few years ago I came across an article that said that early Hebrew sages believed that being dead but not yet to the place of the dead was referred to as, “the valley of the shadow of death.” (Ps23) Don’t know what to think about that either.

  • Mike M

    James @ 25: that sounds remarkably like Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s description of his experiences while being tortured. He actually “felt sorry” for the poor guy being tortured. This is the brain’s way of self-preservation.

  • Peter

    My friends who are “real” scientists (Ph.D. researchers) stifle a laugh when they hear me describe myself as a scientist (clinician), but I’ll still put this forward (I’m not really a theologian either): basic principle in matters of either science or theology – when you don’t know, then the proper answer is, “I don’t know.” Just a paraphrase of those self-described agnostics above I suppose.

  • Dan

    The real battle for me in reading the wide variety of NDEs is that you absolutely *cannot* build a world-view of the afterlife that is entirely consistent with the Bible based on what people say when they come back.

    Sure – we have Don Piper’s 90 minutes in heaven – and we love it if we are Christian. But what do we do with Alon Anava’s NDE where he is told to be an orthodox jew? He is not told about Jesus. There is no allusion to Jesus. There is not even the remote suggestion of Jesus beyond the fact that God appears to him as light in a triangular shape. He’s not alone, there are other jewish NDEs on youtube that show the same pattern. Pre-NDE the kid’s a reprobate, and post NDE his is orthodox.

    Then if, you want to be confused further, you can read Angie Fenimore’s NDE “Beyond the Darkness” in which she appears to have Mormon theology strongly affirmed during her NDE – in particular, that God the Father Himself lived a life on a planet like us and grew in stature because of his decisions to choose good over evil. To the best I can gather, Angie Fenimore is a Mormon.

    Then you can become further confused by another Mormon’s NDE where Jesus commands her to get out of Joseph Smith’s cult: http://www.youtube.com/user/Spiritlessons?v=9X3HbndmpfE

    Then, of course, there are NDEs with no religious alignment where there is just experience of light and love and what-not – from people who are a-religious or even new-agers.

    Then there are the ones of hell that the a-religious new-agers hate. Howard Storm is probably the best known.

    Then there are the people who come back saying things quite antithetical to the Bible. Take Christian Andreason who seems to emphatically state that God Himself gave him the A-OK to live as a homosexual and God was sending more homosexuals into the world to challenge mankind’s ability to tolerate differences. We have trouble lining this up with 1 Cor 6:9.

    That all being said, my friend’s dad was a Muslim and had a 5 minute cardiac arrest in Nov 2010. When he was extubated 10 days later in the ICU in Seattle, he declared that he had been confronted with the gospel, that Jesus was God and that he was now a Christian. He remained a Christian until his death in Sep 2011.

    It’s just a very confusing place to go.

  • Cal


    I think it’s possible that in near death (not death, but near death) that may be a time where one could be approached spiritually. Either by Christ or by unclean spirits. It’s also possible that your brain reacting the way it does is confirming metaphysical assumptions already taken. However, the weird pattern that emerged in your list is that the only NDE’s that had a radical metaphysical change were those involving Christ. Do you have any accounts where, say, an orthodox Jew wakes up and believes the god told her to be a wiccan witch or a buddhist waking up being told to be a muslim?

    Either way, I don’t think it really says much.

  • an interesting verse about all this:

    I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 2 Corinthians 12:2 (NIV)