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Analysis: NDEs

by on May 20, 2019

Analysis: NDEs

by Marco M. Pardi

Since proofs need premises, it is impossible to prove anything unless some things are accepted without proof.” Bertrand Russell. The Faith of a Rationalist. 1947

All comments and questions are greatly appreciated and will be quickly answered. If I do not know the answer I will direct you to someone who does.

A few weeks ago a television producer of investigative documentaries contacted me to consider enlisting my aid in producing an explanation and rebuttal to the ongoing attempts to discredit NDEs – Near Death Experiences. As of this writing we have agreed to pursue this, although she is currently occupied with other projects and I have projects of my own. Nonetheless, the endeavor should commence in early Summer 2019.

As you may know, I have covered this many times in various ways throughout the many years I taught Death & Dying classes at various colleges and universities. However, I thought this time I might commit to writing my method for analysis and the logic which leads to conclusions. And, I thought, what better venue in which to solicit comments and questions than this site?

Now, since the producer and I had only about a 60 minute discussion we did not explore all the questions and claims which may arise but I will do my best to anticipate them based on experience.

By now you must have concluded I am writing in the hopes of encouraging you, the reader, to participate by providing comments, questions, and your thoughts on the subject. You are correct. Doing so is easy and costs nothing. If you choose to submit an entry you have only to click on the comments and

follow the simple directions. If your comment does not appear, I will find it and post it for you. No name is required, no one will trace you, and your family pets will be safe.

The first step is to clarify what we are examining. NDE report refers to the report a person makes, usually verbally, after a life threatening event they experienced was accompanied by a cognitive episode they conclude was outside of every day experience. Most commonly, they link the life threatening experience and the cognitive episode: e.g. I crashed my motorcycle into a parked car and next thing I knew I was out of my body looking down at myself. The life threatening events span a broad spectrum, on which operating table events (anaesthesia) represent only a very small part. The reports of the cognitive events vary greatly in detail, depth, and intensity; notably, they do not conform to the usual progression of events portrayed in popular media. In fact, those reports that cleave too closely to those portrayals are immediately suspect.

Some people react to these reports by immediately pronouncing them unscientific. These people obviously know little or nothing about science. Science is not simply about asking What is; it is about asking What if. Those concerned only with what is should become librarians. They know where everything is. The history of science, until recently known as philosophy (hence: Doctor of Philosophy degree) includes the contributions of luminaries such as William James, “Father of modern psychology”, who devoted his career to the study of the “paranormal”; Carl Jung, co-originator of psychoanalysis, who wrote extensively on the subject of NDEs and of his own NDE; and current oncologists, surgeons, physicists, anthropologists, and others. Still, there are some who say science cannot apply its methods to this area so it must not exist. It is true that we cannot use the Experimental Method to march an experiencer into a laboratory and say, “Do it again….and again….and again.” But this is not the fault of the phenomenon; it is the fault of those who have forgotten their roots, the roots of logic underlying philosophy. These same roots of logic are the foundation of our legal system. We do not require an accused murderer to go back and “do it again” in order to satisfy ourselves of her guilt, and put her to death.

Next, we must acknowledge that we cannot know the experience described in the report; we did not experience it. We can know only the details as reported. Thus, the substance of the experience, the “then I saw…..”, can be evaluated only on the basis of supportive veridical (demonstrable by an outside source) information. Seeing a predeceased grandparent does not in itself count for anything. Seeing a deceased significant other with provably no prior knowledge of that person’s demise does count for something, and can be objectively verified.

Now we sit down with the experiencer and listen, recording it if permitted. It is critically important that we maintain flat affect and silence. We do not ask questions. At no time can we appear to approve or disapprove any element of the narrative. When someone reports they saw a “bright light…it was God” the analyst is not in a position to say it was or it wasn’t. The analyst can only refer to the Interview (see below) to suggest the reporter may be retroactively applying a belief as a fact.

When the reporter concludes her report we move, without any judgmental remarks on what we have heard, into the questioning phase. We have maintained silence and flat affect throughout the narrative and have asked no questions during that time for a simple reason: We must be careful to prevent any sign or indicator which might cause the reporter to edit her narrative. And, just as many physicians practice “defensive medicine”, we must frame our questions in anticipation of the criticism from others which will surely come our way. We must remain mindful that, no matter how animated or emotional the experiencer may become, the report is a memory not a current experience. We must determine the placement, the nature, and the power of any filters which may alter the way the event is reported from the way the event was experienced.

Some obvious potential filters are: Age, religious upbringing, exposure to print and other forms of media portrayal of NDEs, persons to whom this narrative has previously been confided, and beliefs about “normal” psychology. Contrary to the presumption that “we see what we want to see”, which suggests the person is “front-loaded” to perceive certain things, as each potential filter is discussed and explored we begin to understand how, as a person reruns the memory and tries to make sense of it they might be applying explanations in hindsight.

If the reporter is being honest (some are not) and has examined her own filters and overcome them the experience she describes will more than likely not conform to the media driven progression of events and elements; few do.

Nonetheless, there is currently an intensified effort to “debunk” the elements which are reported. These efforts come from those oriented to the Materialist perspective – nothing immaterial is real and everything can be explained as a phenomenon of material effects. For example, a recent article in a science journal described the contraction of the retinas during hypoxia and proposed it as the reason why an oxygen starved brain perceives a “tunnel” in an NDE. I was shocked that something so clearly absurd was published in a respected journal. The problems?

First, the sense of going through a tunnel is far from universal; it is found almost exclusively in European derived populations. It is statistically absent in Asian, African, and New World populations of non-European descent. Even among European derived populations it is nowhere near as common as the media portrays it. Second, in those cases where an NDE occurs during surgery the patient’s eyes are usually taped shut and shielded against the intense surgical lights; there is nothing for the retinas to see. Third, hypoxia presents as, yes, narrowing vision but it is chiefly confused and blurry images accompanied by confused thinking. Hundreds of NDE reports from surgical patients (and others) around the world begin the narrative with wonder at how clear (“much more clear, real and colorful than ordinary life”) the experience was and how one had what seemed like 360 degree vision. Fourth, this attempt at criticism, and other like it, ignore the mounting and irrefutable evidence of the separation of brain and mind. In hundreds of reports the patient was medically certified as having NO brain activity. That means no perception as well as no memory of perception if the brain is the final arbiter. Yet, in these reports the patient is able to clearly and accurately describe what transpired, who did what, and who said what in the operating room. This, despite having eyes taped and usually a screen occluding vision from the neck down.

Another common claim is that the experience was an effect of the anaesthesia. In fact, of the many thousands of NDE reports surgical reports are a tiny segment. It appears that if you wish to have an NDE, don’t have anaesthesia.

As I have addressed the many Straw Man claims of the Materialists in previous articles, I will not repeat them here. However, if you have any comments or questions about attempts to debunk NDEs you would like specifically addressed, please do take advantage of the comments section and present them. I will respond as quickly and completely as possible. No comment is out of bounds.

I will say that, especially now, I understand at least one of the reasons these Materialist claims are put forward. I think a primary driver of the over-reactive Materialist position is the very realistic fear that the ever present and ever probing religious zealots will find a way to take the findings of science and attribute them to some over arching supernatural being. If the scientific community admits to a non-corporeal reality it could open the door to theocracy and the end of objective science. We need look no further than the current uproar over the frenzy to ban abortion and limit access to contraception now that the residents have taken over the asylum.

I’ve been told that this length is about the limit of a reader’s patience with an article. So, I will close with a brief reminder of my request for comments and questions. They would be most helpful, and nothing is out of bounds.

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  1. I appreciate your work and experience into this subject Marco, particularly in respect of keeping your findings non-biased. I am very interested in this subject and have read a lot about this over many years. I feel there is much to be gained in acknowledging validity from your research and also looking into past civilisations and indigenous cultures too. I believe there is an opportunity for the human race to learn more with NDE’s. I think it is extremely naïve for people to explain away the evidence that there currently is and especially when you look at the amount and range of people that have experienced NDE’s.
    Please keep me in the loop of this documentary as I am very interested and excited that you are involved 


    • Thank you, Julie. I very much appreciate your interest in this area and look forward to more of your thought. Yes, there is far more to say about the experiences of past civilizations and indigenous people but I confined myself to a limited space for reasons of readability. As you know, there is no inherent link between these experiences and whether there is or is not a god. But the enthusiasm of the religious people to make that link, and the resulting defense mounted by the scientific people obscures that simple logical point. Keeping to a logical, unbiased perspective can marginalize the writer (like myself), but it must be done. I certainly will keep you informed. Thanks again, Marco


  2. Dana permalink

    Marco, prior to your classes the only NDE “experiences” I knew of were featured on the religious rack in every grocery store.

    As a young child I had virtually no attachment to the idea of a god or heaven. This led to angering adults who couldn’t answer my questions.

    However, I still feel I have an unbiased perspective and would never discredit verified evidence. Any skepticism I’ve felt is related to me only, but I have no explanation for it.

    I’m looking forward to this, and have missed these discussions.

    The abortion bans are truly terrifying and leave me with feelings of helplessness and despair. If I could dedicate my life to activism I would, but for obvious reasons I can’t.


    • Thank you, Dana. Yes, the “religious” folks attempted to hijack NDE phenomena as they have now hijacked our government. In the early years I received unsolicited manuscripts (“galleys”) from publishers wanting my imprimatur on the book. Soon it became evident these publishing houses were merely fronts for religious organizations wanting to corner the mass market with, in most cases, fantasies and heavily edited claims of “NDEs”. But as the larger volumes of non-theistic experiences emerged they backed away to a large extent. But the public still seems unable to grasp that non-corporeal existence has absolutely nothing to do with whether there is or is not a god; that’s an entirely different issue.

      Having read examples of your analytical prowess I, too, miss discussions with you and hope they will resume.


  3. The time has finally come for me to add my two cents worth to this conversation, assuming my computer will cooperate this time. “Death and Near Death”, a description of my own NDE was posted on my blog site on May 27, 2014; I’m sure you are still familiar with its contents. The experience was so like others of which I’ve read that, had my husband not told me I had stopped breathing and was without a heartbeat, I could almost believe it was all a dream. It mimicked, in form and content, the story you once told of your first experience in guiding a spirit into the light Not being traditionally religious, I don’t recall a sense of Heaven, but the peace I did find there is something to which I look forward to feeling once again when my time comes to return there.

    It seems to me that there are at least two distinct forms of NDE; one that echoes my own experience, and others that are a form of out-of-body experience which is brought on by a life threatening event. The descriptions shared of these are far too accurately detailed to be dreams. It is the trauma factor which takes them out of the “normal” out-of-body experience, although I suppose trauma might proceed either type. I can recall, as a child, being knocked unconscious by a fall. I was aware of all that was going on around me, and yet I was unable to move my body or make any sort of sound. To this day, it is one of the most frightening experiences in my life, far more so than the NDE that found its way into print.

    The “scientific method” demands that we be able to replicate something in order for it to be proven as fact; in this case, that is obviously impossible. How many millions of things must have occurred over the span of time for which there is no replication, and no proof? In this case, while we certainly can’t ask someone to repeat their NDE, have there not been enough similar cases reported to at least recognize the possibilities. In all such experiences, the life force (soul, if you will) seems to have left the body, and subsequently returned. This should make the religious folk happy; it makes the supposition that there is more to us than the body in which we live, and that it must go somewhere once that body has ceased to function. I’m not the one to ask whether Heaven or Hell is real; it seems to me that there is Hell enough on Earth.


    • Thank you, Rose. Indeed, your experience was one of the more complete ones in its elements. But I most like your pragmatic approach to the event, and the subject in general.

      Yes, the religious folks thrive on NDE reports, thought at first they condemned them as works of the devil. It seems they realized there was money to be made and people to recruit through publishing their own heavily doctored versions. Unfortunately, that has pushed the scientific community more into a defensive posture when it should be looking outward.

      “Hell enough on Earth”. That says it.


  4. Professor, was this project about NDE’s ever completed?


    • Thank you for asking. Unfortunately, the producer was unable to assemble sufficient funding to continue. There may be another attempt in the future, but I can’t say exactly when. I hope you are well.


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