By Bruce Greyson
Greyson is a psychiatrist who has been studying near death experiences (NDEs) for decades. He brings his research and a plethora of stories together in this book as he walks the reader through his process of discovery. The stories are fascinating (especially the ones where someone learns about someone’s death during an NDE only to return to life and find out that person has died). If you are familiar with NDEs, he will plow well-known ground for much of the book. You must remember that Greyson took up his work when scientists didn’t even agree on what the term NDE even meant. How far we’ve come!
The book suffers (for me) because he refused to date any of his material apparently thinking that it would make the cases sound old and trivial, but it makes it difficult to get a sense of the whole timeline. There is also a grating repeat of his insistence of his scientific perspective throughout. I get it! You’re an MD and want to be accepted by peers. (You told me that! Move on.) It’s hard not to draw a sharp contrast to the mettle of an Ian Stevenson and the constant lack of confidence Greyson reveals. Enough of my personal pet peeves though. Does the book hold value? Of course, it does.
Greyson tackles some difficult and little covered areas. Most NDE stories are positive with positive outcomes. But there are people who have negative NDEs. There are also the lesser-known downsides to NDEs. These effects and stories are covered in the chapter aptly named, Hard Landings. Grayson would also like to shift the focus of the NDE discussion away from what happens after we die to how NDEs can help people live better, more fulfilling lives. Research suggests just learning about NDEs can help people make meaningful changes in how they live. All good points.
I think this is the kind of book where the take-away message is really going to depend on who YOU are. Are you questioning the reality of NDEs? Then the linear approach of Greyson’s scientific method will appeal and do much to answer your questions. Are you already convinced of the legitimacy of the NDEs? Then, maybe, the stories and the way people are forever changed by these events will speak to you. For me, it’s always been more about what NDEs say about our understanding of reality that makes the phenomena not only intriguing- but important. Lessons from NDE research supports the idea that consciousness does not spring from the brain, but rather that the brain acts as a receiver that filters information. Science has a lot of work to do to figure out how the mind and the brain function to explain all the intricacies experienced in NDEs. These understandings will have far reaching consequences on the whole way we structure our paradigm.
Some points to ponder:
*5% (approx..) of the population has experienced an NDE. (They are COMMON!) 1in 20 Americans have had one- means you probably know someone who has.
*NDEs happen to all genders, ages, religions, ethnic groups.
*Most experiencers are convinced some part of us continues after death.
*Studies of the brain, reveal that memories of NDEs look like memories of real events (NOT like how the brain remembers fantasies or imagined events).
* NDEs REDUCE the fear of death (overwhelmingly!!) regardless, if the NDE was positive or negative. It also reduces the fear of living allowing more risk taking and enjoyment of life.
*Experiencers who see those who have died when no one knew they had died, may suggest a form of continued consciousness after death. THE BIG QUESTION!!!
*NDEs point out flaws in the current brain-based model of consciousness.
Added Sep 3, 2021
UPDATE: Research published in 2017 on NDEs.
“The AWARE study (AWAreness during REsuscitation) is a multi-hospital clinical study of the brain and consciousness during cardiac arrest, including testing the validity of perceptions during the out-of-body part of near-death experiences (NDEs). Dr. Sam Parnia is the principal investigator. The initial results, from the first four years of the study, were published last December in the medical journal Resuscitation (PDF).
Of the 2,060 cardiac arrests during the study, 140 patients survived and could be interviewed for the study. Of these, 101 patients had detailed interviews, which identified 9 patients who had an NDE. Of the 9 NDErs, two had detailed memories with awareness of the physical environment. One NDEr’s experience was verified as accurate;…”
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10 responses to “AFTER”
Thanks for another great suggestion, Ellis! I’ll have to skim over some of it since I, too, have grown weary of scientists who spend half a book trying to defend their credentials. I understand why they feel they have to do it, but I’ve read so much of this that my patience with it has been eternally exhausted. xo
I have a friend who said she died having an MRI and could hear what was going on around her. She said she was so upset that the medical personnel were paying attention to her husband who they thought had a heart attack learning that she died and it was just a panic attack. She said she was “screaming” inside “he’s having a panic attack”, which resulted in increasing the adrenalin in her body, and it brought her back.
I left this out…she was screaming inside because they weren’t paying attention to her who had just died, but to her husband who was having a panic attack. She said they were doing nothing to try and revive her.
This is what she said.
Interesting. One of the markers for an NDE is that experiencers almost always insist that the NDE is “realer than real”. There are people who have out of body experiences (OBE) where, for practical purposes, their perspective on events shifts. Their consciousness separates from the physical body and they can comment on things around them (or in another room, another city, etc…) They have not died. This is a skill set taught in eastern (and some western) metaphysical traditions. So, I’m left wondering if she had a spontaneous OBE or an NDE? Maybe the medical staff wasn’t responding because she hadn’t coded??? Not sure.
For me it isn’t a question of the reality of NDEs, it is a question of what they mean.
As far as I can tell, the only NDE research that seems to show the possibility for an existence of self outside the body is retrospective. That is, it involves interviewing people often a long time after the fact when there is a high degree of probability that the memories are embellished, not from deliberate lying but from way that human memories work.
Take the example of where someone learns about someone’s death during an NDE only to return to life and find out that person has died. Can we be sure that the person didn’t hear about the person dying shortly after recovering him/herself and then inserted the learning of the other’s death into the narrative of their own NDE? Especially if this is something being recalled years after the experience?
That Greyson doesn’t date any of his material leads me to suspect that most of it might be based on interviews weeks, months, or even years after the events and have exactly that problem.
There have been attempts at prospective research. I think there are 5 or 6 studies that have involved such things as placing messages in operating rooms where they could only be seen from the ceiling of the room. Where these controls are in effect, there has turned up no instance of people having a near death experience reporting what was on the messages.
That some people have vivid experiences (not all positive as you note) is undeniable but what the experiences mean is harder to judge. Despite the assertions of some researchers, these experiences actually have high variability from person to person, culture to culture. Reports of similarities across people have likely been exaggerated because many researchers have asked leading questions to people who have had the experience drawing them by suggestion into reporting the typical light/tunnel, life review, presence of angels, etc sorts of experiences.
This would probably be a good book for you. Greyson’s work addresses the memory issue. Memories of NDEs remain intact over vast periods of time unlike most of our memories of common experiences. I have heard the opposite of what you say about the messages on ceilings but can’t readily cite a source. Greyson did develop a scale that’s been accepted to compare similarities of experience. The data is in the book for your review. I know many people don’t like NDEs because they think it tends to validated a person’s religion or expectation of what will happen at death. This is not the case. These things happen to atheists. Catholics see Buddha- or nothing but light, etc. In the end, it is good to be skeptical. But keeping an open mind has value too. The book is widely available in libraries and makes for good conversation.
I think all memories change over time.
“Your memory probably isn’t as good as you think it is. We rely on our memories not only for sharing stories with friends or learning from our past experiences, but we also use it for crucial things like creating a sense of personal identity. Yet evidence shows that our memory isn’t as consistent as we’d like to believe. What’s worse, we’re often guilty of changing the facts and adding false details to our memories without even realising.”
“Where were you on September 11, 2001, when you first heard about the World Trade Center towers in New York City being hit by airplanes and collapsing? Almost all of us remember clearly where we were, how we heard the news and what images we first saw. Yet research shows that our recollections of past events are typically only about half correct—even though we are convinced that our memory is certain.”
Memory has been studied extensively. It is not a permanent record, like some believe. However, Greyson has the data for these interviews. We know NDEs hold consistently over time and there are now brain scans to show these memories are not being generated in the fantasy/construct area of the brain. All I can do is recommend the science.
Science hardly is of one voice on this matter. I would encourage to look at a variety of opinions on the matter.
Susan Blackmore, who actually experienced an NDE, might be a good starting point.
“Come to think of it, I feel slightly sad. It was just over thirty years ago that I had the dramatic out-of-body experience that convinced me of the reality of psychic phenomena and launched me on a crusade to show those closed-minded scientists that consciousness could reach beyond the body and that death was not the end. Just a few years of careful experiments changed all that. I found no psychic phenomena – only wishful thinking, self-deception, experimental error and, occasionally, fraud. I became a sceptic.”
Also, this Atlantic article is good.
Keeping an open mind is a very good idea, indeed. As previously mentioned. Rejecting science all together makes no sense either. We need balance. And in the end, most people will be thoroughly convinced only with their own experience.