Fascinating Story about Near Death Experiences

Fascinating Story about Near Death Experiences April 24, 2012

What strikes me about this story is how, once again, it is the materialist who is the dogmatist insisting that it’s all due to to material causes because, well, it just *has* to be. Meanwhile the people who are actually attending to the evidence and not trying to force the evidence to fit the fundamentalist materialist dogma are no longer nearly so sure of that proposition.

I have no problem with the idea of NDEs. God, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, can do whatever he likes.

HT: Rod Dreher, who has a little NDE tale of the unexplained his own self.

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  • That was fascinating. Thanks.

  • Here is the problem with the materialist dogma. Reality consists of two parts; the physical and the spiritual. If you don’t understand both, you don’t understand reality. Not understanding reality is called insanity. There is a good deal of insanity around at the moment.

  • Lauran

    St John’s “Dark Night of the Soul” is an eye-opener regarding “religious” experiences–very few are genuine, so I’d venture to guess that God-given “near death” experiences are also few and far between.

    • You’re committing the same fallacy that Mark is accusing the materialists of committing: you’re guessing.

      • quasimodo

        But Lauran admits to the guess. Important difference.

      • Lauran

        I’m not committing to anything–I’m guessing, and since you, yourself can’t make a clear distinction between emotionally based or spiritually based near-death experiences, then any fallacy accusation of yours holds no more credibility than an opinion. At least, no more than Marks, or mine.

        • since you, yourself can’t make a clear distinction between emotionally based or spiritually based near-death experiences, then any fallacy accusation of yours holds no more credibility than an opinion


          Mark’s point is that materialists have a knee-jerk reaction in rejecting NDE’s out of hand. People who have actually had experiences (you know, witnessed them) disagree. One group has at least anecdotal evidence, while the others have nothing other than a blanket denial. When you “guess” that most NDE’s are not genuine, you are offering a blanket denial with no evidence, just like materialists.

          My distinction, or non-distinction, between emotional or physical NDE’s (which you brought up for the first time in your last post) has nothing to do with it. When you reject NDE’s out of hand with no evidence, you’re just like the materialists.

          • Lauran

            Huh? I didn’t try to argue Mark’s point, so don’t complicate my comment in order to ramble off a sermon of long-winded verbal flatulence. Materialists?? WTF are you talking about? I’ll also venture to guess that you don’t shoot very well either.

            • Are you interested in having a conversation or did you just come here to insult me?

              • Lauran

                I came here to read Mark’s blog and after reading an article, decided to post a comment. You editoralized about my post–I editorialized about your response.

                Get over yourself.

                • Andy, Bad Person

                  I bow out of this conversation, strongly recommending that you grow some Christian charity.

        • Ted Seeber

          “make a clear distinction between emotionally based or spiritually based near-death experiences,”

          Why would you want to? Or rather, I’m not entirely understanding the difference.

        • Jacob Yoder

          Regarding Lauran’s comment – It could be true that most NDEs originate in the mind of the individual or that most are an authentic revelation. What is important is that -some- of them at least appear to be supernatural, based on fairly convincing evidence (knowledge of events the patient could not have witnessed, e.g.). Since no one is claiming there are doctrinally significant dimensions to these revelations, there is no real danger from the possible “emotional” ones. However, the impact of the true NDEs is to give materialists who are more open minded a moment of pause about their worldview. I was once an atheist, and contemplation of miracles played a big role in bolstering my faith after my conversion.

          • Lauran

            As a Catholic, I, too, believe that some experiences are possible and real, but I do not believe that all of the NDEs are authetic spiritual experiences. St John of the Cross explains that many “religious” experiences are “created.” Panels of religious who interview individuals claiming such experiences (though each person thoroughly believes their experience was real) determine whether or not the experience was authentic.

            Indeed, most atheists and some religious reject miraculous experiences–until they experience one. Bernard Nathanson is one example; St Paul is another.

            • If you had explained it this way from the beginning, I wouldn’t have disagreed.

              • Lauran

                Again, I wasn’t trying to “explain” anything. I simply posted my opinion.

    • Ted Seeber

      I would expect God-given NDEs are actually quite common, if not species wide or perhaps even universal to all sentient beings. The problem is more that few people actually survive to come back and tell us about them.

  • MarylandBill

    Of course, even if the materialists could reproduce a NDE under laboratory conditions, it does not prove that all perceptions start and end in the brain. It merely shows that the brain is a key component in our experiences.

    I sometimes like to think of the body and soul as being similar to a remote control car and the remote. Both are needed to function properly. At the same time, if someone was able to examine the RC vehicle without knowing about the remote, they might draw the conclusion that the radio receiver is the “brain” that controls the vehicle.

    The other reason I like the analogy is this; if the vehicle is broken, the remote might function, but it is incomplete, kind of like a soul without a body… waiting for the resurrection :).

    • Excellent way to look at it. That just oriented my perception on how to think of it.

    • Ted Seeber

      Actually, given the original article- I’d say a repeatable NDE experience proves that the brain is NOT related to our perceptions, doesn’t it? After all, “Pam” in the article was able to clearly hear conversations that took place *while her brain activity was NOTHING*.

      • I think we have to have to be a bit careful with an affirmation like: “while her brain activity was NOTHING” since what that really means is only that no brain activity could be detected, with more refined instruments some more subtle activity might be detected.

        • Ted Seeber

          True enough- I should have remembered this from college. It’s why I got a D in my circuit design class- because while debugging my design, I had the zoom on the scope set to the wrong value, and instead of an osculating clock I had a flatline.

  • EBS

    “God, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, can do whatever he likes.”

    Mark, you always seem to make me laugh when I’m feeling down. You are the superhero of commonsense.

  • I just thought of the movie (I haven’ t seen in years) called Flatliners with 24’s Keither Suttherland. A group of university students (if I rememember rightly) intentinally stopped their heart and tried to stay dead for a few minutes. This post makes me want to check that movie out again. Don’t remember if I liked it or not.

  • A reply to a skeptic in comments on Rod Dreher’s article:

    …these experiences can also happen when people are fully awake. I have had a similar one, and my creative imagination is in no way capable of generating what I experienced. The context was one of extreme existential stress and prayer.

    Perhaps you need to question yourself as to why you feel the need to disprove not only to yourself but to other people any possibility of transcendent experience. You may find that the explanation is not in the least simple. Try searching your own memory for an explanation.

    You are indulging in question begging. When you invoke “the simplest explanation”, you are drawing upon what you already believe to be the truth about the correct world view. Therefore, your conclusions are unfalsifiable and unscientific. But if you are correct, then what you are really implying is that your own brain is supplying you with the explanations that conform to some biological protocol. Why should the brain be capable of being “interested” in anything but the Darwinian fitness of the biological self in which it is contained?

    Nor can NDEs be comparable to hypnopompic (coming awake) memories, unless you can demonstrate that the non-functioning brain is capable of generating vivid “dreams.” You are merely assuming this, which is also a species of question begging.

    You are faced with observations that you can’t explain according to your own preconceptions. Try again, please.

  • Bob

    The best speculation I’ve ever read about NDEs is in the Connie Willis novel Passage. The plot of the book involves a psychologist and a neuroscientist investigating NDEs both by interviewing patients with actual NDEs and interviewing patients who they’ve induced into artificial NDEs. I don’t want to give anything away, but the conclusion of the natural vs. supernatural question (which is laced throughout the whole book) is answered in a very satisfying and (in my opinion) believable way. I highly recommend it.

    • “Coincidentally”, we’ve just ordered it.

  • Ted Seeber

    NDEs are one example I use as proof that other religions can have Truth that is completely compatible with Christianity. A Tibetan Shaman who converted to Buddhism about 2000 years ago wrote a book that is still used as scripture today by the Tibetan Buddhists- The Bardo, that is, the Book of the Dead. In it, in mystical language, is a careful study drawn from several hundred NDE events.

    It’s conclusion? If you have a yidyam (no English word is similar- guru, savior, lord all work and then some) then you go to the place of your yidyam. If you were significantly bad, or were an atheist, you missed the point in life and you need to take another turn at the wheel.

    That’s my interpretation- the interpretation implied by the Bardo is actually the opposite- that it is a manual on how to avoid being “trapped” the places of yidyams (Gods or Devils) so that you *can* come back- atheism without denial that God or Gods exist, what a concept. The entire *point* is to be reborn, with your karma, into a more profitable life. So they differ from us in that respect- since we’d be fine with going to the place of OUR yidyam, Jesus Christ.

  • Mark S (not for Shea)

    From the article: “It’s another blow against those who believe that the mind and spirit are somehow separate from the brain,” said psychologist Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society, which seeks to debunk all kinds of paranormal claims. “In reality, all experience is derived from the brain.”

    His statement may be 100% true, but it in no way debunks paranormal claims. It’s a very Western post-Enlightenment way of thinking to insist that mind and spirit are entirely separate. Don’t forget that Jesus rose from the dead with a Physical Body. He wasn’t a ghost.

    Spirit, mind, and body are certainly distinct, but I often wonder if they are distinct in the same way that light, wavelengths, and photons are distinct — they are different ways of approaching something that cannot be entirely separated.

    Just because feelings of love are the result of chemicals in the brain does not make them any less real, nor does it mean that love is ONLY chemicals.

    Science often has to narrow definitions and scope to make a proper study of something, and that’s perfectly fine. But when the scientist then insists all things in heaven and earth must fit into those definitions, they are no longer searching for truth. They are insisting reality fit their dogma, not basing their dogma on reality.

    Or, to paraphrase Chesterton: The wise man seeks to get his head into the heavens. The mad man seeks to get the heavens into his head — and it his head that splits.

    • The Deuce

      Just because feelings of love are the result of chemicals in the brain does not make them any less real, nor does it mean that love is ONLY chemicals.

      Moreover, the correlation can just as easily mean that the chemicals are caused by love.

    • If I step off a curb into the path of an oncoming bus, the perception of the bus takes place in the brain, but the bus will insist on being a real bus. A neural event is not disqualified as a real one.

  • “Spirit, mind, and body are certainly distinct”

    Why should they be?

  • . “In reality, all experience is derived from the brain.”

    If a guy hits you over the head with a baseball bat, is the bat derived from your brain?

  • I don’t know why everyone is ignoring the first comment, which was a link to:


    That article’s a pretty damning indictment of the examples given in the Salon article. Who cares about definitions of qualia or mind-body dualism when people can easily observe the allegedly unobservable shoe themselves without assistance? Or notice that the near-dead woman’s NDE started well before her “death?” Or that her description of the saw to cut open her head was inaccurate?

    I think some people want to turn everything into a philosophy discussion because it’s easier than dealing with facts. There is no support for NDEs being anything other than altered states of consciousness(though the origin of those states is debatable). Heck, the Salon article itself admits people have had them when they were _afraid_ of death, regardless of whether it was near. I don’t know why so many want to go to the mat defending experiences that a) are of dubious repute and b) contrary to the Catholic faith.

    • Mark Shea

      What is contrary to the Catholic faith?

      • The “New Aginess” of many of the experiences. NDEs exhibit a disbelief in Purgatory, a frequent absence of Jesus, references to things like reincarnation or Akashic records, a dualist/gnostic outlook that denies the resurrection of the body, etc. Read through some more accounts online. To me they seem culture-bound and not at all reflective of an objective reality. Now I could be wrong(I haven’t died, thanks be to God), but they raise a lot of red flags.

        • The Deuce

          FWIW, Kimberly Clarke responded to that very article. I found excepts here, at the bottom: http://www.michaelprescott.net/whowillwatch.htm

          • Thank you for posting this. It gave me more perspective on the other article.

        • Of course they’re culture-bound. But many are not a-Christian, and there are indeed many.

          • That doesn’t trouble you? Why would God refuse to show these people the fullness of the truth after their death? Dying and coming back has incredible evangelical power. And again, I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, but it raises a red flag.

            • Ted Seeber

              Because if they had completed purgatory, they wouldn’t have come back? Or in the case of the OTHER set of NDEs nobody seems to ever talk about (except in a very bad late 1980s Christian Rap song by Carmen), if they had made it to hell they would have never come back?

        • Mark Shea

          I don’t take them as gospel, but as data. As interesting. And I agree that the experiences are undoubtedly culture bound. I’m not so sure about the gnostic element, and I am skeptical that the people who have experienced them are typically steeped in some anti-Christian agenda.

          • Which is exactly how I take them: interesting data.

            Also, you misunderstand me: I don’t think there’s any anti-Christian agenda behind them whatsoever, but I do think that most accounts found in books or online are steeped in New Age beliefs rather than Catholicism. Personally I think this is because most Westerners’ religious beliefs are a vague, warm-and-fuzzy kind of New Agism(think Deepak Chopra) and their experiences reflect that. There was a popular book on an NDE written when I was a child by a Mormon, and sure enough she saw the 3 levels of Heaven described by Mormon theology.

            My pet theory is that NDEs are experiences induced by the release of DMT from the pineal gland combined with certain biases and expectations rooted in culture. But, again, this is conjecture on my part, as are all discussion on this topic.

        • Ted Seeber

          How does a description of purgatory demonstrate a disbelief in purgatory?

  • There’s good reason to be skeptical of any claim to “clinical death” or “brain death,” as pointed out by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln Nebraska.

    • SDG

      There is good reason to be skeptical of most claims about most things, as pointed out by C. S. Lewis. But skeptical need not mean dismissive and incredulous.

    • The Deuce

      …except when we want to use it as a the basis for euthanasia, of course

    • Ted Seeber

      Yes. But in a way, NDEs *are* skeptical of the whole idea of clinical death or brain death- in that they prove that *something else* stays alive *despite* the clinical brain death.

  • “Heck, the Salon article itself admits people have had them when they were _afraid_ of death, regardless of whether it was near.”
    I had a similar experience when I was very much alive and conscious and wanted to know the reason for death. It was a situation of existential stress centering about someone else’s death.
    I don’t have the sort of imagination that could generate that kind of perception.
    People’s perceptions might be distorted by preconceptions, but there are too many to discount of a priori theological grounds.

    • That’s genuinely fascinating. If you don’t mind my asking, was it a full-on tunnel-of-light, visits-from-dead-relatives stereotypical NDE?

      Nonetheless this makes me less convinced of the reality of NDEs. If one can experience them in a stressful situation where death isn’t imminent, then they seem to be either stress reactions or divine revelations. If they’re a stress reaction then they’re not a visit to “the other side,” nor are they if they’re divine revelations. Presumably God could “pull” our soul out of our body and take us on a trip through metaphysical realms but there isn’t to my knowledge any example of that in the Catholic tradition(though I could be wrong; if I am please let me know because I’d love to learn more about it).

      And if they’re divine revelations we’re forced to ask ourselves why God would give revelations contrary to(or at least agnostic to) the Catholic faith in many of the NDE accounts.

    • Additionally, having a weird perception/experience doesn’t mean it comes from an external source. For example, a few weeks ago I had a terrifying experience where I was paralyzed in my sleep and heard, clearly, an Asian woman’s voice speaking into my right ear(I was laying on my side with that ear up). I “ran” from the sound in the paralyzed darkness and her voice faded away into garbled noise before I finally awoke. Has anything come of it? No, nor will it. I was in an altered state of consciousness and my dreams were bleeding into my reality. I had another incident while sleep paralyzed where I distinctly heard a buzzsaw doppler through one ear and out the other. Nothing. (Except maybe aliens harvesting my brain. That would explain college.) I’ve had lucid dreams where I’ve seen a shade of blue that doesn’t exist in waking reality. Yet there’s no such thing: it was the delirium of dreams. The mind is a thing weirder than the sea.

  • “on” a priori theological grounds. Taken at face value these are people who returned to learn more.


    I’ve just spoken to a biological machine
    It thinks it is a human being
    A machine is not accountable for anything it does
    Or anything it says

    A machine is free
    To follow its instructions
    It has been tasked
    To say that it is free

    It contemplates your death with equanimity
    Because it is already dead
    It only seems to be
    A young man at typing pad

    When I worry I am human
    But when I am serene
    I am a gray machine
    He says, he types, he thinks

    Freed of this gross body
    Which itches, swells and shrinks
    I will be ever ready
    An eye that never blinks

    Brain a gray computer
    But not my thumbs or arms
    I wear an old gray sweater
    But I am safe from harms

    O speak of something else
    That will not swell my voltage
    Accelerate my pulse
    A signal of my dotage

    April 25, 2012