I was reading some survey data the other day on the subjective experiences of people who have been through Near Death Experiences, and 15% of people interviewed had some kind of a concious experience while they were clinically dead. 9% included the classic out of body experience and 8% even reported encountering spiritual beings. Also, individuals who have had a NDE tend to experience an increase in religiosity.

My question for you is how do we explain this through the lens of materialism? I am aware that subjects under the influence of drugs like ketamine or PCP have reported similar experiences, and that most of the theories about the "calm feeling washing over me" and "a tunnel of bright light" can be explained by blood loss or interferance with the functioning of the frontal lobe.

However, what I'm interested in, is the ability of NDE subjects to relay information about the surgery that took place while they were unconcious (or even dead) and report the sensation of leaving their bodies to survey themselves undergoing surgery.

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I've been an ER/ICU/PACU RN for over 20 years and have yet to have a patient ever tell me of a near death/out of body experience. Drug induced hallucinations cannot be validly explained for obvious reasons. I have heard religous folks talking about going to the light.....but oddly enought never anyone's depiction of being half way to hell and pulled back. If believers think there is a heaven and a hell surely a few would end up going south wouldn't you think?
I haven't been clinically dead, but while knocked unconscious I did have an out of body experience.

What I realized rather quickly was that everything I saw around me while above me was that which I either already knew was there before going unconscious, or was able to assemble from hearing it. Plus... I was told my eyes were open.

Basically, I have no reason to believe I was actually out of my body, rather, I was just looking at my minds ability to re-construct its surroundings from evidence acquired.
That's fasicinating. How lucid would you say you where when you experienced this?
Again I like to keep an open mind on this, while I have no personal experience of this I have heard many strange stories involving things like this.

My Grandmother was quite "Attuned" to strange things happening, it was just something she tried to ignore but things happened to her.

During the first world war she was asleep in her bed with her sisters in a bedroom in Australia.
She was flung out of bed and landed on the floor with enough force to wake her 2 sisters. They all noted this in their diaries. Some months later they got a letter from her brother who was serving on the western front in France. A large shell had exploded under him killing several others around him and throwing him into the air. When they checked the times and dates this was the time she had been flung out of bed on the other side of the world.

Many years later but before NDE was discussed or popular she described having an out of body experience and how she had floated out of her body and above her home.

the one case that really gets me is the case recorded in a hospital, a woman had "Died" and been resuscitated during an operation. She described the operating theater and surrounding areas as well as as the resus procedures. She also mentioned that there was a red shoe on the ledge outside the operating theaters window. The window was opaque glass, 5 floors up, when they unbolted it and cleaned the rust away enough to open it they found an old red sneaker on the ledge under the window.

Strange stuff happens.
Well yes, strange stuff happens which seems to have no explanation, but when you go looking for a naturalistic explanation, there usually is one. The incident of the red shoe has been investigated by Ebbern, Mulligan and Beyerstein from Simon Fraser University at the hopsital site. The whole explanation is here.

Briefly, when investigated it was found that a shoe placed on that ledge could easily be seen from the ground and would have been even easier to see at the time before new construction meant observers had to stand further away. The story that it could only be seen from outside and above the ledge was found to be untrue. It was easily observed, even from a hospital bed. It is suggested by the investigators that the shoe on the ledge was probably mentioned by someone in the hospital at the time Maria, the woman who had the NDE, was there - or even that she had seen it herself on some previous visit to the hospital.

Further, Kimberley Clark, who reported on Maria's experience did not write about it until seven years after the event. She has produced no original notes or recordings of her interview with Maria, so it must be assumed the story was based on her memories, seven years later.

Clarke did not photograph the shoe before it was removed from the ledge, so it cannot be verified that it was positioned as Maria described it. Also, although Clarke claims to have possession of the shoe she was unable, or unwilling to produce it for the investigators.
I had a out-of-body experience during foot surgery. There was a semi-circular structure draped with sheets over my torso, so I couldn't see my feet, and of course I was anesthetized. However, during the surgery, I experienced seeing my foot, with hemostats hanging out of it, wads of bloody gauze between the toes, while my Doctor and an intern talked about a x-ray of my foot on a wall-mounted light box. I also recall that the doctor had one curl that stuck out from the back of his cap. I felt that I was viewing this from a point about two feet above my head. Very prosaic stuff, images probably easily imagined, except that I was a teenager with no prior medical experiences apart from visits to my family doctor. The next day, when the Doctor came to check my cast, I told him about what I'd seen, and he seemed taken aback for a minute. Then he said "You couldn't have seen anything, you were sound asleep the whole time. In fact, you snored."
So, did I briefly wake up? Did my consciousness briefly leave my body? Was I still semi-conscious when I was wheeled into the OR, so that I opened my eyes long enough to see the layout of the room, providing the raw materials for my imagination to construct this scenario? I've had anesthesia since, but have never again perceived my consciousness as detached from my head. I hope some genuine progress is made in describing the physics of consciousness during my lifetime - I'm curious!
This is all very interesting stuff. I still feel that the debunking efforts of skeptics are a little bit spurious when it comes to this kind of thing. Hopefully, advances in neuroscience will shed some light on the subject.
That about blood loss or intereferance with the functioning of the frontal lobe is the probable explaination.

In 1999 I died. I had a heart attack. I knew I was having one so I was able to call for an ambulance. The medics kept of feeding me anginine tabs to keep me going,, however the last thing I remember was being driven up to the A & E. Next thing I remember when I was "rebooted", Zapped was the gorgeous faces looking down at me. I knew that moment it was not heaven. They were the doctors and nurses.

There is no such thing as NDE's
It's all in the mind.
While I'm sure that the loss of blood to the frontal lobe can create some very strange subjective experiences for the patient, the thing that intrigues me the most is the similarity of the experiences. While I have no doubt that there have been NDE patients that have embellished their stories or told outright lies, it stands to reason that at least of few of them were telling the truth. There have been reports of negative ("hell") near death experiences, although I suppose this can be chalked up to different neurological wiring in different people.
The similarities of how various brains malfunction when "dying" is likely more or less due to overall similarities in the brain. Oxygen and chemical flow to portions of one brain are likely to break down in the same order in most brains.

Given that in a near death experience you would expect the brain to be relying almost entirely on basic instinct, a persons individual personality/traits etc won't play much into what they experience. One of the key parts of our basic instincts (in my understanding) is the ability to translate our surroundings in an attempt to know what's around us.

With most sensory input not working, I would expect the average mind to attempt to reconstruct surroundings using whatever it has left... mostly the last things you were aware of, with bits of sound here and there.

My experience was pretty obvious to me. Sensory input was missing, my frontal lobe was pretty much shut down, and the rest was left to malfunctioning translations of my surroundings and a last desperate attempt by the mind to make a little sense out of it all.

Jack Chow below me answered the question best. His understanding of brain function surpasses mine. I think from a standpoint of robotics... so I tend to translate human anatomy into robotic analogies in order to understand them.
It's part of the brain's coping mechanism to severe stress.

High lucidity, depressed frontal lobe function, and sensory contamination by the environment make people believe they've experienced things that they haven't. It's important to remember in all of this that memory is highly malleable and very susceptible to influence. Apart from things that we've forced ourselves to memorize through repetition and reinforcement, our memory is very spotty; even then all we can remember are fairly rigid and ordered things that follow some kind of pattern. When it comes to passive memories our brain can't differentiate between false memories and true memories, all we have is a hodgepodge of recollections about fairly general things within a fairly general time frame. It's very easy to insert a false memory into the muddle and not be able to differentiate it from what actually happened. (Just to give you an idea for how easy it is to manipulate memory, a girl who was in memory regression recalled that her father ritualistically raped her. So strong was her conviction that even the father, after some time, admitted that he may have raped her and after time with the therapist was sure that he had raped his daughter ritualistically throughout her childhood. When it became abundantly clear that it never happened, that their memories had been contaminated, they sued.)

What people believe they have heard or seen in their OBEs are not things that were actually happening, but things that they've mistaken for having happened.

So widespread and prolific is this nonsense about OBEs that some hospitals have situated panels in the operating rooms, such that they can only be seen from above, with words or images to test if there's any merit to the claims. So far there has been none, and I doubt that there ever will be.
I think your theory on the simultaneous firing of neurons might have some weight to it. Would it be unethical to give an elderly volunteer an MRI or a Catscan while they die? Does anyone know of any studies in which this has been done?



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