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What is a Near-Death Experience?

Michael Pollick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A Near-Death Experience (NDE)is a controversial phenomenon reported by many people who have recovered from a state of clinical death. Quite often, reports of Near-Death Experience occur after traumatic accidents or during surgical procedures. During the time when respiration and blood circulation have stopped, some people report a sensation of euphoria or contentment or in some cases fear. Others have claimed to rise above their bodies, sometimes observing the resuscitation efforts. Many people have reported interactions with deceased relatives or friends, while others with strong religious beliefs describe encounters with God or Jesus or another spiritual entity. The most common description of a near-death experience involves traveling through a tunnel towards a distant light. Some report reaching the source of the light, only to be returned to their physical bodies at the time of resuscitation.

There can be no doubt that the near-death phenomenon remains controversial. Those with strong religious belief structures routinely describe the process in spiritual terms, which cannot be measured scientifically or medically. For these people that claiim near-death experiences, the episode is generally viewed as positive and faith-confirming. Seeing deceased relatives and friends or meeting their spiritual creator brought feelings of contentment not regularly experienced in their ordinary world.

Many religious survivors of an near-death experience report a feeling of profound disappointment as a spiritual presence orders them back to their physical bodies. Some say they were asked to decide whether or not to return to their lives on Earth. For many survivors, the decision to remain with the living proved to be difficult. Near-death survivors who report a lack of interest in religion before the experience often become more dedicated and focused after it.

From a scientific and medical point of view, however, there are some tangible explanations for many of near-death experiences. Some researchers believe that the brain itself may be responsible for many of the experiences described by survivors. As the brain begins to suffer from a lack of blood and oxygen, it may go into a self-protective mode to prevent further damage or prepare for imminent death. Some scientists believe the images seen by dying patients are generated as the brain processes repressed memory banks. The sensation of euphoria could be the result of a deep sleep state, much like getting a very good night's rest. As the brain continues to shut down, memories of deceased relatives and friends may appear in the form of a lucid dream. Lucid dreams often involve a sensation of real interaction between the dreamer and the visions.

The light seen at the end of a tunnel could be the oldest repressed memory of them all - the moment of childbirth. A baby's first memory may be of going through the birth canal and seeing the lights of a delivery room. The experience of meeting God or Jesus or another spiritual force could be another form of lucid dreaming, based on the innermost spiritual experiences of the patient. Once the body has been resuscitated, the subconscious is reunited abruptly with the conscious brain, which can be a jarring experience. This could explain the sensation of being torn away from another reality.

Near-death experiences cannot be readily explained away by conventional wisdom. Many people who have been declared clinically dead do not report any near-death experiences. On the other hand, non-religious patients have described spiritual experiences during near-death situations. Some NDE survivors may not feel comfortable discussing certain aspects of their experiences. Others use their near-death experiences as a foundation for religious testimony or ministerial work.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Jan 06, 2015

@mobilian33 - If you study the things people say they see when they are about to die then you will notice that what they see is most often related to their religious beliefs or their personal experiences and the things they have been taught in their lives.

Most people who believe in heaven and hell usually see the bright light and sometimes some of them say they see a godly figure because this is what they believe they will see. Other people will see fire or darkness because this is what they associate with hell.

The point I am making is that whatever your religious and spiritual beliefs are will most likely determine any images you see during a near-death experience.

By mobilian33 — On Jan 05, 2015

Scientist may not want to admit that near death experiences are a real thing. But I know more than a couple of people who have almost died, and the things they talk about are very similar. Why are so many people telling a story about seeing the same light if they are not really seeing this?

Not everything that we see and do can be explained scientifically. There are some experiences that go beyond what we can measure and define with the use of technology and science.

By Feryll — On Jan 04, 2015

I'm not going to tell anyone they didn't have a near death vision of the afterlife if this is what they say they experienced. Who am I to say what another person experienced or did not experience? However, I think the average person has several, if not many, dreams during his or her lifetime that could easily pass for a vision associated with a near-death experience.

When I dream about floating in the clouds or walking towards a bright light, I don't wake up the next morning saying that I saw the afterlife, or saying that I nearly died in my sleep. I simply go take a shower and head to work.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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