Are Near-Death Experiences
claim that the NDE is a product of the brain which
occurs during life threatening situations. They
claim the brain produces an avoidance response similar
to a hallucination when endorphins flood the brain
similar to when LSD is introduced into the body.
Skeptics also point to the fact that the NDE can
be duplicated by using the Hemi-Sync process developed
by the Monroe Institute.
But when studies show
that psychedelic drugs, meditation, and other methods
can be used to induce non-ordinary states such as
a NDE, this does not negate the Afterlife Theory.
It only shows that there is a biological component
involved in the brain. When experiments can be reproduced
in the laboratory, such as inducing a NDE with a
psychedelic, it means that the phenomenon has satisfied
the criteria for scientific evidence according to
the scientific method. Proving that there is
a biological component in the brain does not negate
the Afterlife Theory nor does it prove that NDEs
are purely biological. NDEs can be induced many
Triggers of the NDE
section of my website lists the many ways that a
NDE can be induced. The fact that NDEs can be induced
in the brain by certain triggers does not mean that
NDEs are not real. On the contrary, it proves they
also a misconception in the general public and among
materialists that the following things are not real:
intuition, ideas, thought, notions, insights, fantasies,
visions, daydreams, feelings, visualizations, dreams,
and anything having to do with the mind at large.
This may be one of the main reasons why the materialist
believes that NDEs and all such mental images are
just unreal "mental flatulence" of the
There are many published
studies of drugs such as
PCP, LSD, Marijuana, cocaine,
heroin and morphine.
They cause distortions of reality, alterations of
body image, and disorientation as to time and place.
The near-death experience does not involve distortions
of reality, but rather the perception of another
reality superimposed over this one.
Although the hallucination
theory can explain a brain chemical basis, the theory
cannot explain everything. Here are some comments
by experts in this field:
accounts from varied times and cultures
were found to be more orderly, logical,
defined and predictable than comparable
accounts from drug or illness-induced
hallucination. Impressive data from
Tart, Moody and Carl Becker also argue
for the objective elements of a NDE,
including returning with knowledge later
verified and third-party observations
of odd death-bed phenomena (such as
luminosity or apparitions)."
describes the difference between the NDE and hallucinations:
"The difficulty with those theories
is that when you create these wonderful
states by taking drugs, you're conscious.
In the NDE, you are unconscious. One
of the things we know about brain function
in unconsciousness, is that you cannot
create images and if you do, you cannot
Fenwick describes the unconscious
state of the NDE:
"The brain isn't functioning. It's not
there. It's destroyed. It's abnormal.
But, yet, it can produce these very
clear experiences ... an unconscious
state is when the brain ceases to function.
For example, if you faint, you fall
to the floor, you don't know what's
happening and the brain isn't working.
The memory systems are particularly
sensitive to unconsciousness. So, you
won't remember anything. But, yet, after
one of these experiences (a NDE), you
come out with clear, lucid memories
... This is a real puzzle for science.
I have not yet seen any good scientific
explanation which can explain that fact."
So it appears that we
may never know exactly what a NDE is and what produces
them, until science can define exactly what consciousness
is. We may have a long way to go to learn this."
There are many published
studies of drugs such as PCP, LSD, Marijuana, cocaine,
heroin and morphine. They cause distortions of reality,
alterations of body image, and disorientation as
to time and place. The near-death experience does
not involve distortions of reality, but rather the
perception of another reality superimposed over
Dr. Kenneth Ring,
the leading figure in NDE studies has this to say:
"Drugs, anesthesia and medication did
not seem to be a factor in inducing
these impressions and exquisite feelings
of a NDE. Indeed, drugs and anesthesia
seemed to be more likely to cause a
person to forget memories of a NDE."
Dr. Ring definitely concluded
that NDEs are not hallucinations because hallucinations
are rambling, unconnected, often unintelligible
and vary widely, whereas NDEs tend to have similar
elements of a clear, connected pattern.
Ketamine is a drug which
several researchers feel creates effects which are
similar to NDEs. However, they have not published
controlled studies to substantiate their point of
describes similarities between NDEs and ketamine
induced visions, but ultimately feels that ketamine
often causes bizarre, paranoid visions not seen
It is interesting to note
a ketamine researcher, not only felt that NDEs and
ketamine induced visions were the same, but became
convinced that BOTH induced real visions of a real
god. He has become very spiritual as a result of
his ketamine research.
As a medical student,
Dr. Melvin Morse
spent time at both Mt. Sinai Hospital in Baltimore
and the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Washington,
DC, both hotbeds of LSD research. He personally
spoke with therapists who used LSD to help patients
overcome the fear of death and with psychiatrists
who used LSD to successfully treat alcoholism and
Dr. Stanislav Grof
reports that Ted, a 25 year old man dying of colon
cancer, was given LSD in the context of therapy
"[Ted] became convinced that he had
died. God appeared to him as a brilliant
source of light telling him not to fear,
and assuring him that everything would
be all right. He was overwhelmed at
the realization that behind the seeming
chaos and complexity of creation, there
is only one God. He started realizing
the underlying unity of it all."
Many excellent studies
showed that positive personality transformations
occurred with LSD therapy, with many psychiatrists
advocating using it as an office-based treatment
drug. These studies persisted at the Veteran's Administration
Hospital even into the late 1970's, after street
use of the drug gave it its bad reputation, for
one simple reason: LSD worked.
Understanding the chemistry
of LSD led to the discovery of a class of hallucinogens
which have served to shape early man's religious
and social systems. One cannot compare the unregulated
street use of LSD mixed with many other drugs, to
the use by our human ancestors throughout the world
of hallucinogens as sacred drugs. Primitive peoples,
on every continent used these drugs, within religious
rituals to do all of the things modern NDEs do,
including traveling out of the body to other realities,
encountering dead relatives and spiritual entities,
and transforming the individual into a more productive
member of society.
For example, primitive
people in Columbia in 3000 BC took Yaje, a plant
with hallucinogenic chemicals in it to "awaken as
a new person, fully integrated and at one with his
culture. During the experience, the individual 'sees'
the tribal god and the creation of the universe.
The user is said to 'die' and then be reborn in
a state of wisdom."
Two common questions are:
What possible evolutionary pressure could have resulted
in NDEs? Why would dying brains suddenly have the
ability to perceive other realities?
Karl Jansen feels that
similarities between the effects of ketamine and
NDEs provide an explanation. Users of ketamine describe:
a disembodied mind or soul, dying, and
going to another world. Childhood events
are relived. Users often are not sure
they have not actually left their bodies,"
or, "I was convinced I was dead. I floated
above my body. I reviewed all the events
of my life, and saw areas in which could
have done better."
Ketamine acts in the brain
to increase a neurotransmitter called L-glutamate
which protects the brain against injuries or stresses,
such as a lack of oxygen. Its action is in the same
areas as the right temporal lobe, the hippocampus
and associated structures in the brain.
Jansen states that the
"...an important phenomena that can
be safely reproduced by ketamine."
He feels the drug can
be used as a door to another space. It causes the
same effects seen in yoga and meditation.
Skeptics often glibly
dismiss NDEs as a result of the lack of oxygen to
the brain or to the many drugs that dying patients
are often given. The scientific evidence does NOT
support narcotics, valium, anesthetic agents, or
a lack of oxygen to the brain as causing NDEs. But,
two drugs, ketamine and LSD, may cause experiences
strikingly similar to NDEs, including positive spiritual
It is important to realize,
however, that there are many ways to have a NDE-like
experience without taking drugs. Methods such as
meditation, yoga, and dreaming are some examples.
Dr. Jeffrey Long
"One concern of NDE skeptics is the
concept of a dual physical and spiritual
life presence, with the spiritual presence
surviving bodily death. The physical
presence is easily discernable, while
the spiritual presence is generally
not easily discernable. It is very helpful
to personally have a NDE or NDE-like
experience to address such concerns.
For virtually all NDErs, a NDE cures
NDE disbelief. However, only approximately
4% of the United States adult population
have a personal history of NDEs. Others
find they are opened to the possibility
of a dual physical/spiritual life presence
through other spiritually transformative
"These life experiences may include,
but are not limited to, markedly serendipitous
events, other personal paranormal experiences,
and acceptance of other people's accounts
of their spiritually transformative
experiences. I personally believe that
if such spiritually transformative experiences
are sincerely sought, they are likely
to be encountered. NDE research is somewhat
unique due to the subjective nature
of the experience. This subjectivity
precludes certain conventional scientific
methods of studying NDEs, such as replicating
NDEs or studying physical changes associated
with the experience.
"This inability to study NDEs via certain
accepted methods of conventional scientific
verification results in the need for
some element of faith to accept the
reality of NDEs. I think this necessary
element of faith is a problem for many
people in accepting the reality and
significance of NDEs. Mitigating against
this concern is the fact that NDEs are
relatively common. Millions of people
have had NDEs. NDEs are quite varied,
but the consistency of the NDE elements
(OBE experience, tunnel, light, meeting
other beings, etc.) is striking. There
is no plausible biological explanation
of NDEs. There is no other human experience
so dramatic, shared by so many people,
and so relatively consistent in its
elements. The preceding suggests faith
in the validity of NDE accounts is the
most reasonable conclusion from the
Dr. Stanislav Grof
"I had my training as a psychiatrist,
a physician and then as a Freudian analyst.
When I became interested in non-ordinary
states and started serving powerful
mystical experiences, also having some
myself, my first idea was that it (consciousness)
has to be hard-wired in the brain. I
spent quite a bit of time trying to
figure out how something like that is
"Today, I came to the conclusion that
it is not coming from the brain. In
that sense, it supports what Aldous
Huxley believed after he had some powerful
psychedelic experiences and was trying
to link them to the brain. He came to
the conclusion that maybe the brain
acts as a kind of reducing valve that
actually protects us from too much cosmic
input. So, I don't see, for example,
that experiences of archetypal realms,
heavens, paradises, experiences of archetypal
beings, such as deities, demons from
different cultures, that people typically
have in these states that they can be
somehow explained as something that
comes from the brain. I don't think
you can locate the source of consciousness.
I am quite sure it is not in the brain
not inside of the skull. "It actually,
according to my experience, would lie
beyond time and space, so it is not
localizable. You actually come to the
source of consciousness when you dissolve
any categories that imply separation,
individuality, time, space and so on.
You just experience it as a presence.
"People who have these experiences can
either perceive that source or they
can actually become the source, completely
dissolved and experience that source.
But such categories as time and space,
localization coordinates, are not relevant
for that experience. You actually have
a sense that the concepts of time and
space come from that place. They are
generated by that place; but, the cosmic
source itself, the cosmic consciousness
cannot be located certainly not in the
"I believe the evidence suggests that
the conscious mind (and personality)
is the product of a brain function which
processes our higher non-localized consciousness.
This brain function may be comparable
to a similar process that a television
(the brain) has when it receives signals
in the airwaves (consciousness) and
processing them (brain function) to
create a television program (conscious
awareness, personality). At death, consciousness
becomes unrestricted by the brain (the
television is shut off, conscious mind
disappears) and therefore consciousness
expands to its original dimensions (the
brain no longer processes consciousness
to produce a conscious mind) which is
everywhere and nowhere in particular.
So, in this sense, both groups are correct
- the hallucination theory group and
the afterlife theory group. At death,
the conscious mind "dies"
and never more exists because it is
a product of the brain. But the subconscious
mind (soul) and superconscious mind
(spirit) expand to become a person's "new"
conscious mind and "new" subconscious
mind. That is, the subconsciousness
now plays the new role of "conscious
mind" and the superconscious mind
now plays the new role of the "subconscious
"Skeptics often rely on reductionism
in an attempt to prove that it is only
the brain which produces NDEs. However,
by using reductionism, these skeptics
may only be defining the brain process
which processes consciousness to produce
a conscious mind and for which a "trigger"
can be introduced which changes that
process to free the restrictions of
consciousness and allowing it expand
and produce a NDE.
is the same principle as with a television
set. Using a television analogy, we
can reduce a television set to all of
its basic components: circuits, tube,
transistors and wires, and say that
this is all there is to television programs
such as "I Love Lucy". But we would
be ignoring where the television signals
originate and where they are located
- in the airwaves. And in this sense,
conscious awareness might only be one
of these televisions shows coming from
the airwaves which the television processes
to produce. But, when we shut the television
off, the television signals still exist
in the airwaves including "I Love
Lucy" except that it is no longer
processed by the television that was
shut off. So, in this sense, death is
merely "shutting the television
off" for good. And near-death experiences
may be the result of shutting off the
television, or in some instances, using
a "trigger" that alters brain
function to the condition where brain
is not shut off but the brain process
restricting consciousness is. This may
also explain phenomena such as out-of-body
experiences, dreams, remote viewing,
hallucinations, psychic and spiritual
So the real
questions are these: What is consciousness? Where
is it located? Can it exist separately from the
brain? Is the NDE a phenomenon for which consciousness
transcends the brain? If so, what about other phenomena
such as dreams and hallucinations? We can all concede
that these states of consciousness all have a chemical
basis, but the real question is - are they only
a brain thing? Is the human mind only the product
of the brain?
Ronald Siegel says, "No." He is author
of the book,
Fire in the Brain: Clinical
Tales of Hallucination,
and is the distinguished expert in psychopharmacolgy
at UCLA. He is one of the leading experts in the
field of hallucinogens and an ardent skeptic of
the "consciousness survives death" theory.
The following is an interview with him concerning
There has been a recent explosion of popular articles
and books stating that life after death is supported
by hard scientific data. This evidence comes from
survivors of clinical death, deathbed visions of
terminal patients, and other sources of data. Dr.
Siegel, you have investigated the NDE for many years
with great thoroughness. Can you tell us what a
Our study of life after death is highly dependent
on the words, pictures, and other symbols used in
description. Many of these words have sensory qualities
and describe such properties as sight, sound, taste,
and smell. Accident victims who have had NDEs often
report visions of long, dark tunnels or sounds of
ringing and buzzing. Surgical patients who are resuscitated
following cardiac or respiratory failure frequently
report floating out of their bodies and watching
the operation from a distant perspective and many
of them have an awareness of returning to their
physical body. Terminal patients often experience
unbidden memory images of long forgotten childhood
events and deceased relatives. These images arise
with such startling vividness that they often prompt
the patient to react by speaking with the image
or moving toward it. Many people see a blinding
white light and regard it as a higher being or god.
Some of these people feel ecstasy in their experience.
Why did you become involved in investigating NDEs?
All of the descriptions of the afterlife bear a
strong resemblance to people's descriptions of drug-induced
hallucinations or hallucinations produced by other
conditions. I was aware of the popular imagery associated
with the NDE and was struck by the similarity of
those kinds of reports with those that I had gathered
from my drug subjects and from other subjects who
were not even taking drugs.
What is a hallucination?
It has to due with a change of attention in a person.
Hallucinations mean literally a wandering mind or
a wandering in attention. To that extent whenever
we are even daydreaming technically we are hallucinating.
When the brain is really roaring with LSD or in
a state of extreme stress from a life-threatening
danger, or in a state of isolation there seems to
be a lot of wandering in mind that does not seem
to be under volitional control. Attention constantly
shifts around. When such a person is given a psychological
or problem solving test they do miserably on it,
because they can't focus attention or concentrate.
The death bed is a very good place or very conducive
to these kinds of experiences. The person is lying
down and is quiet. This is the state into which
we try to get our subjects. We used hospital beds
in a quiet room. The idea being to get the person
to shift from the external events to the internal
In many of the reports describing the NDE the patient
was later able to accurately describe the conversations
of the doctors and nurses that took place while
he or she was unconscious. Is this evidence for
an out-of-body experience?
No. The hearing of voices or other sounds is reminiscent
of surgical patients recovering from anesthesia
who often recall auditory stimuli that occurred
during surgery. This is particularly common with
the dissociative anesthetics nitrous oxide, ether
which allow sensory input to the brain.
What about the strength of the subject's conviction
that he or she was actually physically undergoing
an out-of-body or NDE? Shouldn't that person be
able to tell that they are hallucinating?
You can't tell
anything from the conviction of those reports. I
heard similar convictions on the supposed reality
of experiences from my own subjects under the influence
of drugs and stress. These are very powerful experiences.
The imbeddedness, the concreteness, the veracity
of the experience is so great that it manifests
itself in truthfulness. In our experiments we could
regulate the truthfulness of the experience by the
dosage of the drug. A low dose of the drug produced
a mild image and no one was fooled by that, but
a very large dose of the drug produced very intense
experiences and people tend to make the transition
from what we call pseudo hallucinations to true
What is the difference between a pseudo hallucination
and a true hallucination?
Pseudo hallucinations are when I see that little
green man out there, but I know that he really is
not there because I say to myself, "I've just taken
acid and this is a trip." A true hallucination is
when I see that little green man out there and by
God he is really there. Now I'm going to get my
gun and protect myself. It is very easy to get carried
away by this and some people really do. The mechanism
that helps explain exactly what happens in the brain
during all these states is fairly complex and is
still somewhat of a puzzlement to neurophysiologists.
Some writers on the NDE state that many of the dying
patients were not on drugs and their consciousness
was clear. They say these experiences were not hallucinations.
It is important to note that hallucinations can
occur in states where consciousness is "clear."
People can experience hallucinations in states of
sensory deprivation, extreme hunger, cold, or stress.
For instance, people can have a hallucination of
a dead relative or friend in states of clear consciousness
when triggered by emotional states surrounding death,
such as mourning. Recently, we did a study with
different types of hostages. Some of them were political
and some had been kidnapped or raped in cases. We
even had a few alleged
All of them had been subjected to some kind of stress,
some kind of life-threatening danger, and some kind
of isolation. Many of the hostages had visual or
physical isolation for periods of time ranging from
a couple of hours up to over a year. We noticed
some striking similarities in the description of
hostages' experiences to that of the description
of the NDE. The format of these descriptions was
the same. There were bright lights, tunnel perspectives;
there was a sensation of moving down that tunnel
and being out of one's body.
Did you do any
Yes. I lived for a while with a group of
Indians in the High Sierra
Central Mexico, and one particular village that
I chose to go to had not been visited by a white
team in their three-thousand-year history. In this
particular tribe I knew that we were tapping a source
of people who were not contaminated, that hadn't
been exposed to Mickey Mouse cartoons. They didn't
have any of our cultural biases and we studied the
use of their peyote, a cactus extract, which contains
mescaline as the active hallucinogen and their reports
were virtually identical to the NDE. We also did
some studies with the Indians in the Amazon basin
which is a visionary vine that produces lots of
imaginary experiences. So we found that there was
a cultural consistency too.
In other words, you had a lot of common states to
a wide variety of situations?
That's right. It seems to reflect some common wiring
in the visual and central nervous system that we
all have. While the Indian may see a long dark cave
and we may see a long train tunnel the structure
and forms of the hallucination were still very similar.
We were very pleased with the consistency of this
data. We were able to go into the literature and
look at other reports and find that with other groups
of people and with a mixed variety of situations
it was pretty much the same, be they in states of
insulin shock or hyperglycemia. Look at the writings
of Jacque Monroe, a psychiatrist, who wrote the
first book on hashish and mental illness, in which
he said the best way to study mental illness and
some of the paranormal phenomena associated with
it was to provoke it artificially through the injection
of hashish which he went ahead and did. At that
time in France his medical colleagues were very
reluctant to accept his advice but some of the Bohemian
artists of nineteenth-century Paris were much more
receptive and all of their writings testified to
the kind of experiences that were possible with
hashish. There were lots of NDEs in their writings,
some of which I have recently transcribed and published.
Can you elaborate on this idea that the similarity
of hallucinations are due to the common wiring of
our visual and nervous systems?
Given a wide variety of stimulations to the brain,
the brain responds in a finite number of ways. The
patterns that we have called "hallucinatory form
constants" (the NDE and archetypical images)
are really descriptions of the finite patterns of
the way the brain responds to an infinite variety
of stimulations. The simple imagery consists of
tunnels, bright lights and colors, and geometric
forms. This is probably caused by phosphenes, which
are visual sensations arising from the discharge
of neurons in structures of the eye. They also reflect
the electrical excitation of organized groups of
cells in the visual cortex of the brain. In other
words, although you can shake up the brain by many
different methods it still transmits out in pretty
much the same way.
How about people who are not wired in the same way.
People who are congenitally
When we give hallucinogens to congenitally blind
individuals we find that they hear the echoes in
the room becoming alternatively farther away or
closer. This is the same dimensional shift that
we find in another modality for the sighted person
who would see images becoming very small or getting
What causes the famous tunnel perspective?
This is probably due to the stimulation of the central
nervous system that mimics the effects of light
on the retina. It can also occur when the electrical
activity in the brain is altered in such a way that
the threshold for perception of phosphenes (electrical
activity in the visual system) is lowered, and bright
lights are seen in otherwise dark surroundings.
This point can create a tunnel perspective.
Do you have some simple analogy to help explain
the relationship between the near-death and out-of-body
experiences to hallucinations?
The analogy that
I have found very useful in understanding this is
an analogy that I call the fire in the brain. Picture
a man in his living room, standing at a closed window
opposite his fireplace and looking out at the sunset.
He is absorbed by the view of the outside world
and does not visualize the interior of the room.
As darkness falls outside, though, the images of
the objects in the room behind him can be seen reflected
dimly in the window. With the deepening of darkness
the fire in the fireplace illuminates the room and
the man can now see a vivid reflection of the room,
which appears to be outside the window. Now he throws
into the fire a couple of logs and the fire roars
brightly. He turns around to look out the window.
He still can't see because it's dark, but he sees
a reflection of himself and the furniture in the
room on the glass as if it came from the outside.
The analogy is that the window is the window of
our eyes and ears and senses of the real world.
The fire is the degree of electrical excitation
that is produced in the brain, so when it's dark
at night and not much is happening, and the fire
roars brightly in your brain you've got a lot of
LSD there. For example, you may no longer see the
real world but you see the furniture of your own
mind, your memories, images, fantasies, and daydreams
reflect as if they came from the outside. The brighter
the fire the more vivid those reflections become
until some people become sort of like Alice going
through the looking glass. They think that all this
stuff on the other side is real. Keeping this analogy
in mind you can produce those experiences without
lighting the fire too much, by just turning off
the lights on the outside and using the normal fire
in the brain. You can stir up the fire or you can
depress it. Drug use is an easy way of manipulating
that fire in the brain. There are other ways of
doing it, but it is an easy way that we felt that
we could control and use very precisely. When you
reduce the illumination levels outside you raise
the awareness of the internal events. Maybe that's
why the imagery that's associated with meditation
is very similar to the imagery associated with hallucinations.
Whether you light the fire within with drugs or
turn off the lights from outside. You get the same
kinds of events.
When did you first discover that the near-death
and out-of-body experiences were related to hallucinations?
It started in the
1960s when I was a graduate student in experimental
psychology. I was working with brain chemistry and
changes in animals during learning. I was also clinically
studying drugs and testing marijuana. At that time
the literature on the subject was very poor. I had
made an extract of some marijuana and injected it
into a pigeon. The pigeon wouldn't perform in the
Skinner box. It was quiescent. I then injected a
homing pigeon with the extract and threw it out
the laboratory window. The pigeon did a kamikaze
nose dive straight to the street below. I was fascinated
by this. There was a little bit of the extract left
and I took some of it and did a nose dive straight
to the floor of the laboratory. I remained there
for about eighteen hours surrounded by a fantasmagoria
of imagery and experiences. They reminded me of
all the things that I had read about in the history
of psychology, including the stuff I had read about
concerning the psychical society and their quest
into the supernatural world. I had them all. It
seems as if I had every experience I had ever read
about during those eighteen hours. It was a very
strong experience and I am happy I survived it because
it was a fairly toxic dose. When I recovered from
that I decided that this was a very interesting
experience. I wanted to apply the techniques of
experimental psychology to the study of this phenomenon.
What does your research into the NDE lead us to
We end up being able to say that the NDE or afterlife
experience is uncannily similar to the experiences
that are produced by a wide variety of other situations.
But similarities are not explanations and they are
no proof that they really are the same. We will
probably never be able to convince anyone that they
are the same until our technology is able to communicate
to the other side.
Do you have any concluding remarks?
In the past, dying and death were often accompanied
by fear and loneliness, as if the individual were
possessed by Pan, the Greek god of lonely places
and panic. The belief in life after death provided
much comfort and security. Through the research
and explanations discussed here, investigators have
begun to examine the nature of these life after
death experiences as hallucinations, as based on
stored images in the brain. Like a mirage that shows
a magnificent city on a desolate expanse of ocean
or desert, the images of hallucinations are actually
reflected images of real objects located elsewhere.
The city is no less intriguing and no less worthy
of study or visitation because it is not where we
think it is. With such understanding, we can counsel
the dying to take the voyage not with Pan at their
side, but with Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom.