NDEs: Brain Physiology or Transcendental
Consciousness? Or Both?
The following is an interesting
email discussion I had with an anesthesiologist named
who is the author of the book
Mortal Minds: A Biology of the
Soul and the Dying Experience
which is profiled on
Woerlee's book is a scientific explanation for how human
physiology has generated paranormal ideas and senses such
as the notion of a "soul" and life after death.
His reasoning is along the same line as other materialists
who dispel parapsychological explanations behind the near-death
experience phenomenon. You can
read the preface and first chapter
of his book online
at his website.
an outstanding review of Woerlee's
Of course I disagree with his
conclusion of a purely materialist view, but because I am
not a doctor, it is important to read whatever physiological
evidence you can from those who are - even those who take
the non-supernatural viewpoint which is the prevailing viewpoint
in science today. The true skeptic is not a "believer"
but a person who keeps an open mind to all reasonable viewpoints
until they are proven false. And because neither the survivalist
nor the materialist viewpoint has been proven to be undeniably
true or false, despite the recently scientific studies,
it is important to keep an open mind and examine all the
evidence. I believe Gerald Woerlee's book provides an excellent
case and valuable insight into the brain's physiology and
how it relates to consciousness and
And it is this reason I recommend his book for which I first
learned of when he emailed me and we had an interesting
email discussion about
the Dutch NDE study by Pim van
Lommel in 2001 and
Lommel's conclusion that it is evidence of a transcendental
consciousness. The following is that discussion.
Dear Mr. Williams,
Nice, thorough, and even exhaustive.
A good website on the subject of NDEs. Yet, as an
fascinated by human physiology, I do find that commonsense
is sadly missing in some of the so-called "medical
For example, the occurrence of
conscious experiences in 18% of the resuscitated patients
in the otherwise excellent research of Pim van Lommel is
readily predicted with a simple flow model of the effects
of heart massage. Furthermore, the experience of
as described by
Dr. Michael Sabom
explained by physiological facts,
as well as the practical realities of anesthesiological
practice. These physiological explanations of the NDEs
described by Van Lommel,
as well as that of the experience of Pam Reynolds can be
found on my website:
The fact that I can
explain these things with physiological explanations does
not mean I consider NDEs as mere trivial byproducts of body
function under certain conditions. Quite the contrary -
I consider them to be amazing experiences giving profound
insights into the deepest reaches of the mind of the individuals
who undergo them, as well as giving insights into the effects
of socio-cultural influences on the individual. Indeed,
for many people they are a source of great strength and
But I do think that more reference
to the physiological alternatives to purely spiritual explanations
would provide visitors to your website with a more balanced
view of the fascinating phenomenon of the NDE. Perhaps
reference to my website would
Should you wish to discuss this
matter further, I am always available for discussion at
G. M. Woerlee
Thanks for your email
and your input. I checked out your website and found it
to certainly be worth promoting on my website. So, if you
don't mind, I would like to put a link in my next newsletter
to your website. I am constantly trying to find new websites
concerning the NDE - especially from researchers such as
So far, I have made it a point
to stay away from the mechanics of death and the mechanics
of other non-ordinary states of consciousness for several
reasons. First, I am not a doctor, so I can only profile
the opinions of those who are
doctors and their opinions concerning this mysterious thing
Second, whatever causes NDEs to occur is not relevant to
whether they are real afterlife experiences or not. Thirdly,
studies have ruled out brain anomalies as
triggers of NDEs.
So I try to keep my website focused
mostly on the experience itself. And although anecdotal
testimony is practically useless
unless it is veridical,
there are aspects to the NDE which are of great interest
toward understanding the new paradigm that is developing
concerning the nature of the universe and how it relates
Give me some time to look over
your website and I may have some questions for you. One
thing I would be interested in reading your comment about
is this quote by
which I find fascinating:
"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 remember them ... The brain isn't
functioning. It's not there. It's destroyed.
It's abnormal. But, yet, it can produce these
very clear experiences [NDEs] ... 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 [NDEs], 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."
Thanks a bunch for your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Williams,
Thank you for your rapid reaction.
Just as you, I also
regard the NDE as a real experience undergone by people
in any number of situations. However, as a physician fascinated
by human body function, I do try and find if these experiences
can be generated by the functioning of the body. And my
book is a physiological study of just this.
You gave me a citation of Peter
Fenwick to which you asked for my reaction, and thoughts.
This citation of Dr. Fenwick puzzles and amazes me. Dr.
Fenwick is a neurologist and as such should be familiar
with the phenomenon of "coma
vigil", a horrible
neurological syndrome whereby a person is fully awake and
aware, but because they are paralyzed, they appear unconscious.
Unlike Dr. Fenwick, my work as an anesthesiologist means
my thoughts are very clear - an unconscious person is just
that - unconscious - no thoughts, no experiences, no memories
- nothing. So a person who reports undergoing an NDE is
reporting a remembered conscious experience. And they undergo
this experience at a time they appear unconscious, even
though they are conscious.
This phenomenon of
people who appear unconscious or even dead, yet are fully
conscious, seems to be a difficult concept for many people.
Yet it is the daily reality for anesthesiologists such as
me. During general anesthesia, powerful painkilling drugs
are administered to eliminate pain, and curare-like muscle
paralyzing drugs are also administered which means people
cannot breathe, move, or speak. If the anesthesiologist
does not administer drugs to keep such a person asleep,
then a person rendered immobile, pain free and totally paralyzed
will appear unconscious, even though they are fully awake
and able to hear, see, and observe everything in their surroundings.
The same is also
true of people undergoing resuscitation from cardiac arrest.
About 20% of cardiac arrest patients undergo very efficient
resuscitation, and are fully or partially conscious, even
though they have no heartbeat, are paralyzed by residual
effects of brain oxygen starvation, and appear rather dead.
Yet they are able to hear, sense, and visualize what occurs
in their vicinity.
These are situations
undergone by NDE-ers, and these situations explain why seemingly
dead or apparently unconscious people can actually undergo
conscious experiences such as NDEs. And these are my thoughts
on this citation of Dr. Fenwick.
for your reply. I should have mentioned the context for
that quote by Peter Fenwick. He is talking about unconscious
patients who are clinically dead including those who meet
the criteria for brain death where they are in "standstill"
and "flatlined" with absolutely no sign of life.
The famous case in point is that of Pam Reynolds whom you
are probably already aware. Here is the full context of
where Fenwick's quote came from:
There is also a large amount of
veridical perception evidence found in NDEs which suggests
a transcendental consciousness:
The bottom line is
that this and other NDE cases show that there certainly
is a biological component involved; but that at some point,
when the biological component has ceased to function, consciousness
appears to transcend the body. NDE research is only one
scientific source where a transcendental consciousness is
a theory. See my "NDE and Consciousness Research News
History" for more about this.
Here is the way I see it. I believe
that all these theories about the brain concerning the NDE,
while interesting and important, are only attempts to, using
an analogy, try to prove that the "music" coming
from the "radio"
is coming from the radio - which we all know is true.
But the evidence also shows that the "music" coming
from the "radio" does not originate in the "radio"
and that, in fact, from
the "music" is coming from the "airwaves"
and not just the "radio". This suggests the
brain acts more like a "receiver" and to say that
the "music" is simply a product of the "radio"
is just not true given the body of evidence from various
scientific research. I have two pages which gives a large
amount of this evidence:
So, until I read the medical evidence
which explains how a dead or dying brain
causes a person to see veridical events from great distances
from their dead or clinically dead body, physiology does
not interest me very much. There is too much disinformation
magician-skeptics and pseudo-skeptics
who are only interested in
dismissing the transcendental
evidence to support
their "religion" of
So you see where
I am coming from. I would be interested to hear from you
on this matter. You may be feeling the same way as I do
about these things. Thanks.
Peace and Light,
Dear Mr. Williams,
I have worked through
the various pages of your website as suggested. Indeed,
when looked at superficially, there does seem to be an enormous
amount of veridical information coming from NDEs that does
not immediately seem capable of any other than a "paranormal," "quantum
mechanical," there are "things we do not know
about", type of explanation.
Even so, when confronted
with such a mass of information, I revert to die-hard reductionism
otherwise it is impossible get a general overview. You cite
the case of Pam Reynolds, as well as the outstanding research
of Pim van Lommel. My comments on these can be short.
As an anesthesiologist,
I consider the case of Pam Reynolds
to be one readily explained by the physiology
of people under anesthesia. I have dealt with this case
in my website. Her OOBE is also explained by physiology,
and her "veridical" information explained by alternative
explanations. Her "NDE" is also capable of other
explanations. All this does not mean I belittle her personally
wonderful experience, merely that I explain it differently.
The research of Pim
van Lommel is top-notch, but his conclusions are very dubious.
I recently attended a lecture given by him in the town of
Wassenaar near to The Hague and found him to be a very serious
man who has conducted excellent research, as well as a man
who really believes in his conclusions. The results of his
research were outstanding, but predictable, as were the
types of NDE he described. The veridical content of some
of these NDEs is also explicable with purely physical phenomena.
I could continue - but I find
physiological and physical explanations are possible for
each NDE report. Even so, you do raise a fascinating problem,
one that has puzzled and intrigued people for countless
is the brain the generator of
the radio signal or only the receiver?
I have devoted many
chapters in my book "Mortal Minds" to an exhaustive
step by step analysis of the evidence for either of these
two viewpoints. The weight of the evidence for physiology
was such that I could only conclude that the brain is the
generator of the radio signal - there is no solid evidence
to the contrary.
Hope that this helps
answering your question.
Thanks for your reply. I agree
veridical evidence from autoscopy
does not always meet the higher standard
of the strict scientific controls that the scientific method
requires. And there is now the theory of "Super-Psi"
which explains how a dying brain might observe veridical
events at great distances away from it. But despite the
relatively small amount of quality
supporting the survival of consciousness after brain death
(including the scientific proof of the existence of "God"),
a mountain of circumstantial evidence
that does support it.
But my point is that (1)
reductionism does not disprove
survival, and (2) understanding
how the brain causes NDEs to occur is not relevant to whether
consciousness survives bodily death. Using the analogy,
we may someday perfectly understand how the "radio"
plays the "music." The question is does the "music"
continue to exist without the "radio"? The answer
Studies say "Yes."
And so does the circumstantial evidence. Here are some interesting
links you may want to look at:
Study Suggests Life After Death:
Study Proves the Soul Exists:
Scientist Claims Proof of Afterlife:
Woman Reads 5-digit Number While Out of Her Body:
Evidence for Out-of-Body Experiences:
Quantum Physics Supports Survival:
Evidence for Extra-Dimensional Universe:
U.S. Government Acknowledges Remote Viewing:
The Scientific Evidence for Reincarnation:
Prayer Works as a Cure:
Scientific Evidence for Global Consciousness:
Particles Communicate with Each Other Suggesting a Transcendental
The "Dying Brain Theory" of Skeptics has Severe
These facts and others
must be included in the equation and no amount of reductionism
can explain this entire body of evidence away as of yet.
So, the ball remains in the materialist's and the reductionist's
Peace and Light,
Gerald Woerlee's website at:
Mortal Minds: A Biology of the
Soul and the Dying Experience,
is available through a Dutch publisher from his website.
See the book information below for finding and/or ordering
his book at your local bookstore.
Read an excerpt of Woerlee's book:
Send Gerald Woerlee a comment:
Mortal Minds: A Biology of the Soul and the
de Tijdstroom, Utrecht, The Netherlands
90 5898 057-X
Lawton (www.ianlawton.com) of
Supersoul Spirituality sent me an interesting critique
of Woerlee's theory by a psychiatrist:
As a psychiatrist,
I read with interest Gerald Woerlee's critique
of Pam Reynolds' NDE documented by Michael Sabom,
and found some inconsistencies with it.
Woerlee contends that
anesthesia can be incomplete and a patient may
still be conscious during surgery, and therefore,
the patient will be able to perceive what's
going on. He gives an example of where a patient
might be inadequately anesthetized and be awake,
yet appear to be unconscious and unable to move
due to muscle-paralyzing drugs. He mentioned
that such a patient would not feel pain due
to pain-killer drugs. From this, he infers that
NDEs occur while a patient is still conscious
and that the effects of various drugs can cause
an abnormal interpretation of bodily sensations
to account for the OBE. From this, it follows
that one cannot experience an NDE while unconscious.
I find this interesting,
because if NDEs are due to patients being conscious
from inadequate anesthesia, then it appears
that a significant number of patients undergoing
surgery are conscious and not fully anesthetized.
This, as Woerlee stated, "is an event that
all anesthesiologists try to prevent."
It seems to me that they aren't doing a very
good job if that premise is true. Now, if patients
are awake during major surgery and don't feel
pain due to pain-killer drugs, then I might
ask, why bother with general anesthesia? But
then, if such patients are given good doses
of pain medications, from my experience with
patients receiving these medications, they are
likely to be groggy and not in a state of clear
consciousness. This is not consistent with the
state of clear consciousness reported in many
cites an example of a woman who was administered
general anesthesia for a varicose vein operation,
and was evidently awake during her operation,
but remembered absolutely nothing of her period
of awareness after awakening. This is in contrast
to those who vividly recall their NDE during
an operation, afterward.
In the case of Pam
Reynolds, he states that she must have had her
NDE just before going into hypothermic cardiac
arrest or just after restoration of normal body
temperature, but not during when her brain was
flatline. If that's the case, then we would
have expected Reynolds' NDE to be cut off when
she went flatline, but according to her account
it was continuous all the way through.
Woerlee states that
the VEP monitor and EEG machine are not 100%
reliable, implying that they could have been
wrong during Reynolds' surgery and thus, she
may not have been fully unconscious, even though
they indicated no brain activity. That in the
face of no heartbeat and her brain being drained
of blood. If so, then she was conscious without
a functioning brain, which would refute Woerlee's
Also, if Reynolds
had an abnormal interpretation of bodily sensations
due to anesthetics, that does not explain her
accurately perceiving what went on in the operating
room. We would also expect an abnormal interpretation
of her sensations of the surroundings.
Woerlee claims that
even though Reynolds had ear plugs, she would
still be able to hear. But such sounds would
be muffled and less clear. During her NDE she
could see and hear more clearly as she pulled
away from her body. I might add that her eyes
were taped shut. Actual separation from her
body would provide a better explanation.
In view of this, I
find Woerlee's point of view to be flawed and
that the afterlife hypothesis provides a better
explanation. Of course, physiological changes
are involved, but as I see it, they are the
manifestations rather than the origin of the
NDE, sort of like the electrical activity of
a radio's components representing the manifestations
of an outside radio broadcast.