NEAR- DEATH TRAVELS
Dr. Peter Fenwick, a clinical neurophysiologist, is an expert in brain function. In the television science program QUANTUM
(August 3 1988) he discussed whether consciousness is merely a function
of the brain or whether it is something wider. The program presented a
series of interviews with people who believed they had left their body
while they were temporarily clinically dead.
first interviewee, a man who had "died" on two occasions, said:
"Suddenly I seemed to take off and float to the corner of the room. I
looked back from the corner of the room and there was my own body
immediately below me."
Lambert, age 37, described herself floating near the ceiling and
looking back at herself in bed: "I was out of my body." Next she
described going through a dark tunnel and entering a "country garden"
where people recognized her. It seemed very real: "It wasn't a dream.
It actually physically happened."
nurse Jean Williams "died" on July 9 1969. Her husband was told to come
back the next day to get the death certificate. Mrs Williams explained:
"I seemed to leave my body. I floated to the clock on the wall in the
ward. It wasn't like a dream at all." In this position she could hear
the doctor and nurse talking. Next she too entered a tunnel and found
herself in a garden where she met her dead father.
Fenwick explained that anaesthetic gases and opiates could produce
mystical experiences. But such experiences are confused and random
whereas out-of-body experiences are detailed and specific. Some people
report seeing Jesus or Heaven during the out-of-body experience. What
may have happened in such cases is that the brain reconstructed images
seen in church or books. People in Eastern religions, who have near
death experiences, meet their own heavenly beings. When the part of the
brain known as the limbic system is stimulated it produces feelings of
ecstasy. The limbic system is sensitive to lack of oxygen which people
near death do lack. Therefore, suggested Fenwick, the beautiful sights
and feelings during out of body experiences could be an effect of the
explanations, then, are based on hallucinations and alterations to
brain function. Conventional explanations, however, would be challenged
if, during the out-of-body experience, the person picked up information
that was not in his brain prior to his losing consciousness.
Dr. Fenwick then introduced cardiologist Michael Sabom author of Recollections of Death
(1982). Sabom has taped 100 interviews with people who have had
out-of-body experiences mostly after heart attacks. Then Sabom looked
up hospital files with the de¬tails of how the persons had been
resuscitated. Sabom concluded:
"There was a high degree of accuracy between what they said they saw
and what actually occurred." "Many of the people were able to give me
specific and unique events that were happening that were out of their
physical visual field of view." "I've looked to the traditional
explanations for this and they don't explain how these people were able
to explain these things." "I'm left with the possibility that ... they
looked at it from a position separate from their physical body."
Let's leave Quantum
now and try to give a common-sense explanation to these extraordinary
reports. If the human mind could really leave the body and gain new
knowledge while absent from the body then science will have to
reinterpret its understanding of the nature of human consciousness. We
would also have evidence for life after death, for God, and for many
other religious and supernatural phenomena. Possibly for ghosts,
reincarnation, astral projection, etc. In that case much of the
philosophical debate of the past few centuries which is counter to such
beliefs can be scrapped. The skeptical and — I believe — rational
alternative is to first investigate alternative explanations for the
out of body experience. We should accept reports of out-of-body
experiences at face value only after all possible alternative
problem is that there is no certainty that persons who have allegedly
left their body were dead at the time. There might be no EEG and no
response to any stimuli. An unconscious person might be attached to
machines that keep him ventilating and nourished. And he appears dead.
Said one physician: "They've kept somebody running as a vegetable for
four months with a flat EEG, and after four months they spontaneously
woke up and they went about the business of living." (Elder 1987 p.58)
same reference goes on to tell of a woman in the Intensive Care Unit.
The doctors went through every test and finally gave up and declared
her clinically dead. Later a nurse who was wrapping the "dead" woman in
a sheet screamed when the "dead" woman sat up.
This particular "dead" person did not however have an "out of body" experience.
would view consciousness as being associated with the nervous system
including the brain. Brains don't leave the body and fly around
Death experiences are not the only cases where unconscious people
recall things that occurred while they were apparently unconscious.
Clare Dover (1986) reported:
(This reprint slightly revised)
(Investigator #6, 1989 May)
who go into hospital to have a baby by Caesarian section expect to
drift off to sleep under anaesthetic and wake up after painless
report states that 40 women had come forward. One described the
incision to deliver the baby as feeling like a "red-hot poker" :
do not expect to lie there paralysed, but mentally alert, and forced to
endure the excruciating pain of the obstetrician's scalpel, unable to
call for more anaesthetic...
following the action by Mrs Margaret Ackers who won more than ₤13,000
($A26,000) compensation from Wigan Health Authority in the first case
of its kind last summer, more women are pressing for their own cases to
come to court.
"The anaesthetist said: 'You are going to sleep now and when you wake up you are going to have a nice new baby.'
patients who remember things that happened while under anaesthetic is
analogous to people who remember things that happened during a
near-death-experience may be debatable. One difference is that the
former don't recall leaving their body and floating around.
"Near death experiences" might be connected to combinations of the following:
remember having the injection and experiencing a sinking feeling. Then
I felt this terrible pain. As I lay there in pain, unable to move and
let anyone know, I heard a woman's voice say: 'It's a girl. Hello
Rebecca.' Then I passed out..."
Dover, C. Caesarian nightmares no dreams, The Advertiser, March 4, 1986, p. 40
Elder, B. 1987 And When I Die, Will I Be Dead? Australia
Sabom, M.B. 1982 Recollections of Death, Corgi Books Britain
(2) "Unconscious" person is not fully unconscious
(3) Oxygen-lack stimulates limbic system
(4) Patient's semi-conscious mind converts spoken words of doctors and/or other sensations to images
(5) Influence of past or recent religious feelings.