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The Near Death Experience, Out of Body Exp and their ontological interpretations

  1. Apr 30, 2006 #1
    I'm interested in hearing other peoples thoughts about the NDE and OBE. I shared my idea about it in another thread hoping to start a debate, but it got somewhat lost, so I think its a good idea to start a seperate thread.

    What do you think about the reality of the NDE and what it (could) learn(s) us?

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 30, 2006 #2
    Hi Matt,

    I have no expertise in this area, but that doesn't stop me from having some opinions on the subject. Since you only asked what we think, I'll tell you what I think.

    I think NDE and OBE experiences are real. I think that consciousness resides outside the physical world, and therefore all experiences take place outside the physical world. In particular, NDE and OBE take place outside the physical world.

    My guess is that there are sentient beings or entities in that outside world and that they are almost as confused as we humans are about what is going on, if not more confused. I think that they can sort of communicate with or through our human bodies, as in visions, dreams, NDE, OBE, flashes of inspiration, forebodings, etc., but the communication is extremely difficult and unreliable. Part of the difficulty is probably due to the extreme differences between our physical world and the "outside" world.

    If my guesses in the previous paragraph are close to being right, they would seem to be sufficient reason to beware of communication and interaction with the "outside world".

    I doubt that is what you were looking for, Matt, but those are my thoughts.

  4. May 1, 2006 #3
    I have done a lot of amateurish research on this subject and have come to a few conclusions. I have also had my share of strange experiences, which gave me a bit of empirical knowledge to complement the theory. There is still much I don't understand, but I seemed to hit a barrier which cannot be transposed. What I have learned so far seems to be the most anyone can know without going off the deep end, so to speak.

    First of all, the most important conclusion I reached is that nothing makes much sense when it comes to NDEs and OBEs. I was surprised, shocked actually, when I discovered how strongly the content of those experiences are shaped by culture. Now I'm not talking about things like Christians seeing Jesus in NDEs, which are more or less obvious; cultural influence goes far beyond religious beliefs. Or perhaps I should say, we have more religious beliefs than we are aware of. Even skeptics and atheists are extremely religious without realizing it.

    That last point will probably sound controversial, so let me elaborate. When you look at NDEs and OBEs, you find the contents of the experiences are more or less consistent regardless of what a person professes to believe. Many atheists "see Jesus" during an NDE and are therefore converted to Christianity after the experience; all the same, many deeply religious people find themselves confounded as a result of an NDE. Expectations do play a role, but not in a way that would seem obvious.

    Now this consistency between the experiences of different people within the same culture completely vanishes when you look at foreign cultures. The most interesting study in that sense was done amongst Melanesians (http://anthropology.uwaterloo.ca/WNB/NearDeath.html). One of the most striking things in this article is that the Melanesian concept of heaven seems to bring up images of factory jobs and clogged highways. Now explain that!

    You are asking for ontological interpretations of these phenomena so I'll give mine.

    I think NDEs and OBEs are dreams, no more than that. They are dreams of a special kind because they give the dreamer a strong sense of reality, but that alone doesn't mean they are real. Certainly the fact that people have similar dreams does not make them real, and the fact that people from other cultures have entirely different dreams completely destroys the notion that whatever people report from NDEs is an accurate or even approximate description of a spiritual world. It's not, it's just their imagination working.

    What I came to conclude about the ontological implication of all those experiences is that our imagination is incredibly powerful, far more powerful than we'd like it to be. NDEs prove that a person is perfectly capable of creating an entirely new universe filled with things the person has never experienced before. Most of us don't think much about that, and even when we do it's usually in vague philosophical discussions of little relevance. Going through an experience like that though, seeing your mind at work deceiving you with a power you never thought possible, a power you thought only God or nature could possibly have, has profound consequences for a person's view of the world.

    It may not make much sense at first to link ontology with imagination, but my point is that NDEs and OBEs are strong empirical evidence that the world may be a creation of our minds, that "mental" does not come from "physical" but really it's the other way around.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2006
  5. May 1, 2006 #4
  6. May 1, 2006 #5
    If you are interested in NDEs and OBEs I highly recommend this book which is still in print.

    Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience by Kenneth Ring, Evelyn Elsaesser Valarino, and Evelyn Elsaesser Valarino (Paperback
  7. May 1, 2006 #6

    Well read my last post in Metzinger's Phenomenal Self.
  8. May 2, 2006 #7
    It appeared available in a respected library here, but they seem to have lost track of the it... A real let-down...
    Is the book worth buying?
  9. May 2, 2006 #8
    While indeed the neurochemistry approach may appeal tentative, there are some counterindicators with this theory. I know that certain electrical stimuli of the temporal lobe have provoked visions and or hallucinations that also occured with epilepsy patients who were about to have a seizure. This may or may not be the same effect that occurs when such drugs as LSD or Ketamine ar administered.
    However, these experiences are usually highly hallucinatory qua contents while over 75% of the NDE-experiencers say to have had an even elevated level of conciousness.
    I think there is (though being subjective) an important clue in this notion of conciousness.
    A conscious experience has a property that a subconscious one (such as a dream or hallucination) lacks, being the “conscious interrupt control”,that I deducted from the term interrupt control that computers need in order to avoid infinite program loops.
    This conscious interrupt control is the awareness to stop one mental or physical activity and start another one. In other words; it prevents our thoughts from being an infinite product of previous thoughts that would eventually lead to determinism. It could be looked upon as one of the basic constituents of consciousness itself and what ultimately gives rise to free will. The presence of this consciouss interrupt control and thus normal or elevated levels of consciousness is in most cases of hallucinatory dreams and drug induced experiences absent (they are in a way experienced passively), while it is reported in most cases of NDE’s.

    However, this is classifying things as being black and white. Even hallucinatory experiences may yield a degree of reality. I am aware of one conscious (=lucid) dream that seems to be ‘surreal’ qua contents, but was shared by two people and is well documented in the PhD paper of William G Roll.
    There are enough indicators that NDE’s are a genuine part of reality, but apart from the OBE’s that can be verified, they don’t always point in the direction of the objective reality we observe and clamp on to.
    Does this show us that the reality of these experiences may just not be so objective as we would like it to be, emerging from an implicite reality that is out there, or does it indicate a mere occurence by chance?

    The second assumption, that NDE’s may sprout from cerebral anoxia, the release of endorphins or random neuron firings in a dying brain is under discussion since Van Lommel (the lancet, 2001) published a study in which became clear that these NDE’s occur when a flat EEG is observed. No activity can be measured in the brain, which raises the question of how people can experience even higher levels of consciousness with coherent patterns, when you would predict random chaos hallucinations?
  10. May 2, 2006 #9
    I bought the book and liked it a lot. I saw a lot of parallels of what NDEers experienced and some basic concepts of universal "oneness" in subatomic physics. It is pretty easy reading. Not a lot of technological lingo even though it is written by a doctor
  11. May 24, 2006 #10
    I have personally experienced many OBEs and some mystical experiences, but no near-death experiences. I am also fairly widely read regarding OBEs and mystical experience. I have a BA in comparative religion. I am not a member of any organized religion.

    Here's my take on this subject. OBEs and mystical experiencea do not convey empirical data. As far as I can tell they are purely subjective experiences. I would not expect a vision of a street during an OBE to reveal any new facts previously unknown to the subject about the real street it resembles.

    In my view there is a continuum of states of consciousness. They are not totally discrete. But I suspect that consciousness is "bound" in some way I do not understand to the normal state of consciousness. It can become completely unbound (mystical experience in which there is literally no object of consciousness) or partly unbound (OBE). No doubt the binding and unbinding is highly complex and poorly understood, but there is no doubt in my mind that meditation practice makes the binding looser and more flexible. At least, it did in my experience. There is also considerable cross-cultural evidence of this in the theory and practice of meditation. At least with respect to OBEs, there is some laboratory evidence that the part of the brain that paralyzes the voluntary muscular system during dreaming sometimes continues to function while the person is in the process of waking up, and this is at least one contributing cause for OBEs.

    In the same way that I do not think OBEs convey facts, I do not think mystical experience conveys facts (except about the subjective content of the experience). It says nothing about whether God exists or not or anything like that. I think this is clear because such experiences have been induced in some people (not me) by drugs such as LSD.

    Similarly I do not think NDEs convey any facts about the existence or nonexistence of life after death.

    That said, I think that OBEs/mystical experiences/NDEs are critical for understanding human being and even physical reality. They do not provide an explanation, but they demand an explanation, and any explanation of these experiences has implications of our theories of consciousness and even of existence. That is to say, a theory of consciousness must explain how these experiences are possible. Explaining only the normal state of consciousness is not enough and is likely to be highly misleading.

    I think that with scholarly history of religion and cross-cultural exposure to different traditions, especially of the theory and practice of meditation, it is possible for the first time in history to at least try to get beyond the pure subjectivity that has ruled interpretations of these experiences. But I do not know how to get beyond this subjectivity. This is a methodological and epistemological question.

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