18 Jun 2009

Are NDEs signs of imminent death or not?

"Features of "near-death experience" in relation to whether or not patients were near death" by J. E. Owens, E. W. Cook and I. Stevenson, The Lancet, vol 336.

This paper was written in 1990, so is not particularly new, however, as it seems widely available on the internet it is worth a summary of its findings. The increase in documented reports of near-death experiences has prompted an increase in scientific research. However, the obvious religious consequences of such glimpses into death means that it is often difficult to rely entirely on personal reports and it would be useful to have physiological and neurological data to gain insights into what is really going on.

For the moment, we are stuck with three competing views of the near-death experience: what the authors have called the transcendental, the physiological and the psychological. The distinction between the latter two seems to be a matter of which specialist is conducting the research, but for the purposes of this study they are important in that they distinguish between those people who were clinically close to death from those who merely thought they were dead or dying but who, from a medical standpoint, were actually not in any such danger.

Although this paper does not look at out of body experiences, there are many similarities between OBEs and NDEs and it is therefore important to find out if they are indeed the same phenomenon that manifests under different conditions.

From the medical data the 58 subjects were divided into two groups, with 30 patients deemed to have not been near death and the remaining 28 being in danger of dying. The research then looked at a number of experiences that characterise reports of NDEs. The most significant difference between the 'near-death' group and the other group was in the reports of lights and of enhanced cognitive functions, such as mental clarity, memory, speed of thought. The seemingly archetypal 'tunnel' experience was not significantly different between the two groups but was significantly skewed towards those who had also experienced a strong light.

Other experiences, such as that of being outside one's body (an OBE), memory flash-backs, a belief that one is dead or dying and the range of emotional responses were not significantly different between the two groups. Thus, the perception of one's own imminent death may be enough to trigger a NDE, even if the physiological data makes this unlikely. However, the depth of the NDE in terms of bright lights, enhanced mental functions, a tunnel and the overall positive experience did discriminate between those who were really close to death from those who were not.

In light of this the authors admit that on its own this study could not come out in favour of any of the three major interpretations of near-death experiences. Indeed, they seemed most puzzled by the enhanced cognitive abilities of those who should most probably have been experiencing some impairment in brain functioning.

Features of "near-death experience" in relation to whether or not patients were near death

17 Jun 2009

The International Association for Near-Death Studies 2009 Conference

Plans are under way for a mid-October IANDS conference in San Diego, California. Speakers interested in presenting must email a proposal to IANDS no later than July 3, 2009. The theme of the conference is “Transformed in the Light: Helping Humanity through Enhanced Abilities Following NDEs.” Tentative dates are October 16-17, 2009.

This page at the International Association for Near-Death Studies also has links to their past conferences, going back to 1993, with audio recordings available for purchase and download.

If you wish to attend the conference and want to keep up to date with the confirmed dates then you can subscribe to the IANDS free email newsletter.

International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS)

The International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) is the only membership organization in the world devoted exclusively to providing information about near-death and related experiences to experiencers, researchers, educators, health care providers, and the interested public.

IANDS’ purpose is to promote responsible, multi-disciplinary exploration of near-death and similar experiences, their effects on people’s lives, and their implications for beliefs about life, death, and human purpose. Where scholarship does not indicate a reasonably clear position on the origin or interpretation of these experiences, we remain impartial and open to the presentation of varying points of view; however, while all personal beliefs will be respected, IANDS is under no obligation to consider them all equally supportable. Whatever the viewpoint, IANDS never supports proselytizing.

IANDS provides information and support to caregivers and experiencers of NDEs. There is a network of support groups across the USA and worldwide, as well as a wealth of information on their website.

Out of Body Experience Research Foundation - OBERF

The Out of Body Experience Research Foundation is part of a triad of websites that is designed to collect information on all aspects of consciousness. The main website is www.nderf.org which studies near-death experiences (NDE). The next website is www.adcrf.org which studies after-death communication (ADC). OBERF studies all other aspects of consciousness that are not an NDE or ADC.

OBERF includes articles on research about out of body experiences as well as techniques to induce OBEs. The largest part of the website is devoted to the forum and the sharing of out of body experiences. There are also links to further reading and related websites.

16 Jun 2009

At Death's Door

The image here is a poster for a new film called "At Death's Door" (Mati Suri).

What do you see in the image?

When Richard Wiseman posted this picture on Twitter he claims to have had a 'strange reaction', in that few people could initially flip between the two images - most could only see the one. He then copied a few more similar images and somehow this rather spoils the experiment as people are then trained into being able to see the optical illusion.

"At Death's Door" is a film about a woman's near death experience (NDE). Unfortunately, the film sits squarely inside the horror genre so that the NDE is frightening, leaving the woman depressed and disconsolate. There may be an element of moral retribution here for her attempted suicide. On the advice of a friend, she goes to recuperate in a sanatorium only to find it haunted with spirits. The only way she can save herself is to die again.

I have to admit a certain distaste for most horror films. They are simulations of fear without any instructive elements about how to deal with one's own horrors. I would guess most of us have had nightmares at some point in our lives. There are simple and effective ways to resolve such nightmares, leading to some catharsis or revelation. To indulge in ersatz nightmares is to leave oneself open and largely defenceless against the real thing. The film's 'second death' does, however, have a certain psychodramatic truth to it. I haven't seen the film as yet, and trailers are notorious for misrepresenting a film's true intentions, but will look out for it on DVD.

Going back to the NDEs, research on near death experiences has shown that very very few people have negative experiences - something like just 1% - so that the very premiss of the film is flawed. The process of dying may be painful or terrifying depending on circumstances (such as having an accident) but death itself, or that intermediate state of near-death, is neither painful nor frightening and most people come out of the experience shorn of any fear they may have had about their mortality.

3 Jun 2009

Test Your Psychic Skills With Twitter Experiment

Richard Wiseman describes himself on his Twitter Bio as "Psychologist, author and magician." He is also a professor at the University of Hertfordshire and this week, in collaboration with New Scientist, he is conducting an experiment into remote viewing using Twitter as a communication medium.

The idea is that every day this week at 3pm Professor Wiseman will travel to a secret location in the UK and he wants people to try and remote view where he is. He will later post five images online, one of which is the real location, and again see whether the collective wisdom of the participants can sense the true location.

There is still time to participate; even if you're not in the UK that shouldn't affect your psychic abilities.

Wiseman is following in the footsteps of the American and Russian secret services who invested significant resources on psychic spying techniques including remote viewing. But unlike the CIA's Stargate Project, Wiseman is looking for collective effects rather than individually gifted remote viewers. We shall soon see what the results are.



The results of the remote viewing experiment on Twitter have now been published... well, sort of. Wiseman hasn't, as yet, posted any proper data but just his conclusions: "... the study didn’t support the existence of remote viewing, and suggested that those who believe in the paranormal are good at finding illusory correspondences between their thoughts and a target."

Unsurprising, perhaps, and even when analysing the sub-group that claimed psychic abilities he found no evidence of this. You can read the short report and the comments at Wiseman's blog.
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