We see dead people. In our news at least. NDEs, hauntings and people crossing over...this is the section.

Departing Visions

Sometimes I get caught up in the scientific debates for and against the validity of the near-death experience (NDE), and forget what a profound experience it is for those that it happens to. So I always enjoy hearing first-hand testimony - here's a nicely done video with a Los Angeles group of NDErs:

For most of those that experience, there is no debate...and is there any point in doing so for them? (Hat tip)

Exploring Near Death Experiences

You can read about the near-death experience (NDE) as much as you want, and analyse all manner of scientific statistics to do with the phenomenon, but in the end the most convincing aspect is often the first-hand testimony of the near-death experiencers themselves. This 15 minute film features six NDErs telling their story, along with the research of Dr Jeffrey Long (author of the 2009 bestseller Evidence of the Afterlife):

For more, remember to check out this excerpt from Dr Long's book that we published here on TDG as a feature article a little while back.

Previously on TDG:

Dr Strangelove's Near-Death Experience

Interested to stumble across this article on 'Celebrity Near-Death Experiences', which includes - among others - the account given by comic legend Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther, Dr Strangelove) of his own NDE:

In 1964, during the first of a rapid series of eight heart attacks, when his heart stopped and he was clinically dead, he had an out-of-body experience and saw the bright, loving light. Sellers stated, “Well, I felt myself leave my body. Peter Sellers at a seanceI just floated out of my physical form and I saw them cart my body away to the hospital. I went with it … I wasn’t frightened or anything like that because I was fine; and it was my body that was in trouble.” Meanwhile, the doctor saw that Sellers was dead and began to massage his heart vigorously. Sellers stated, “I looked around myself and I saw an incredibly beautiful bright loving white light above me. I wanted to go to that white light more than anything. I’ve never wanted anything more. I know there was love, real love, on the other side of the light which was attracting me so much. It was kind and loving and I remember thinking That’s God.” Sellers’ out-of-body soul tried to elevate itself toward the light, but fell short. Sellers stated, “Then I saw a hand reach through the light. I tried to touch it, to grab onto it, to clasp it so it could sweep me up and pull me through it.” But just then his heart began beating again, and at that instant the hand’s voice said, “It’s not time. Go back and finish. It’s not time.” As the hand receded Sellers felt himself floating back down to his body, waking up bitterly disappointed.

What effect did his NDE have on Sellers? His biographer stated that “The repeated act of dying became for Peter Sellers the most important experience of his life.” (Walker, 158) Sellers himself said of death, ”I’ll never fear it again.” Family and friends found him more spiritual and reflective than before. His biographer stated, “The experience of resurrection intensified Sellers’ spiritual concern and friends discerned the start of a new introspectiveness, a sense of his not “being there” in spirit, though present in body.” According to his biographer, Sellers’ wife, Britt Ekland, found it unnerving that her previously restless husband had now become so quiet. He was now “sitting still over lengthy periods, saying nothing, but staring at her with his thoughts turned inward.”

Sellers' NDE was just one manifestation of an extended fascination with the occult and paranormal - check out this article at Dangerous Minds for more on the topic.

Greyson on the NDE

The IONS website has a very nice podcast 'chat' between Dean Radin and near-death experience researcher Bruce Greyson. Greyson is the Chester F. Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences and Director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia Medical School, and is one of the most highly respected researchers investigating the NDE - he was one of the founding members of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS), and has edited the Journal of Near-Death Studies for the better part of three decades. Though it's rather a subdued interview, it does provide some excellent insights into the topic and how Dr Greyson sees the current state of research.

NDE Doc on Skeptiko

The most recent instalment of the always-fascinating Skeptiko podcast features an interview with Dr. Pim van Lommel (audio podcast and text transcription), well-known researcher of the near-death experience. Van Lommel is best known as the lead author of an NDE study published in 2001 in the premiere medical journal The Lancet:

I was raised and also in the study of medicine years and years ago, I accepted everything, that there is one kind of science and it was materialistic science. I just accepted the fact that everybody thought that consciousness was a product of a functioning brain. It was because in ‘86, after reading the book by George Ritchie, The Return From Tomorrow, about a near-death experience he experienced as a medical student in 1943, I was so curious. I had only heard of it once before in ‘69.

I started to ask my patients who survived cardiac arrest if they could remember something of the period of unconsciousness. To my big surprise, within two years out of 50 patients asked, 12 of them told me about their NDEs. And it was for me the start because it was my scientific curiosity, how it could be explained that people can have an enhanced consciousness when they are unconscious, when the heart doesn’t work and there is no breathing and their brain stops functioning.

That’s the reason we started the study and that’s also when I had so many patients telling me about an enhanced consciousness also with the possibility of perception out and above the body that I had to change all my concepts.

More recently van Lommel has written a best-selling book about the near-death experience, Endless Consciousness, which has recently been translated into English as Consciousness Beyond Life (Amazon US and UK).

Previously on TDG:

Vale David Fontana

I've heard on the grapevine today that British psychologist, paranormal researcher and author David Fontana has passed away. Fontana's recent books Is There an Afterlife? and Life Beyond Death: What Should We Expect? were well-received and fitting final books in a large catalogue of research covering psychic phenomena, dreaming and meditation. If anybody could be considered to be well-prepared for the transition to a life beyond death, David Fontana would be that person. Here's hoping he's walking the Summerlands with a skip in his step and a smile on his face.

Top Ten Afterlife Movies

The Lovely Bones

What lies beyond the veil of death? Here's ten movies which explore that question:

10. Ghost

This 1990 hit movie may have revolved around the sappy, sentimental story of eternal love between characters Sam and Molly (Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore), but the real star was Whoopi Goldberg and her portrayal of Oda Mae Brown, a fake psychic who suddenly finds that she can hear the dead. Here's the scene in which she first encounters the ghostly Sam:

9. Enter the Void

Sex, drugs and the NDE: there's nothing sappy and sentimental about this afterlife rendering. In Gaspar Noé's provocative Enter the Void, small-time drug dealer Oscar is shot by police inducing an 'astral journey' around psychedelic Tokyo. Taking inspiration from mushroom trips, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Raymond Moody's NDE bestseller Life After Life, Noé hits the viewer with sensory overload in order to portray the altered states of consciousness that Oscar encounters (including a 6 minute DMT trip) during the movie. ... Read More »

NDE Researcher: "Probably an Illusion"?

Dr Sam Parnia is a British pulmonary care specialist who over the past decade has been actively involved in researching the near-death experience (NDE). In recent years he has led the AWARE study, a "multidisciplinary collaboration of international scientists and physicians who have joined forces to study the relationship between mind and brain during clinical death". As we've mentioned here on the Daily Grail previously, part of the AWARE study has been a novel experiment in which the researchers test for a veridical out-of-body experience (during the NDE), by placing hidden targets up near the ceiling of the patients' rooms. Much has been made of this experiment: correct identification of the targets would suggest that consciousness can leave the physical body and 'wander', while failure to identify any targets at all might be indicative that the whole experience is simply a hallucination.

Dr Parnia joined Alex Tsakiris as the latest guest on the Skeptiko podcast, clarifying some remarks he made earlier in the year during a presentation at a skeptical gathering, namely that he suspected the NDE was "an illusion, a trick of the mind." His response on Skeptiko was to say that...

I think as a researcher I have to remain neutral and unbiased. The current scientific models that we have - and this is the point I think I was trying to mention in that quote that you said - the current scientific models that we have do not allow for descriptions the patients are providing of an out-of-body experience if they’re real.

So let’s assume for a moment that the patient who claims that they were on the ceiling and able to see things is actually really correct. Well, we have no scientific model to account for it today. So based upon what we understand of the brain and the way the brain works, the most likely explanation that we have today and the knowledge that’s available in 2010 is that this must be an illusion. However, I’m open-minded enough to accept that at any given time and era science is very limited. And it may simply be that this phenomenon is going to be something that will open up a whole new field of science. So that again depends on what the experiments show.

So the point I was making was based on the limitations of science that we have today, this is most likely to be an illusion but I’m very open to experimenting with it and doing an objective study to find out whether it is or not. And that’s what we’re doing.

Alex then pushed Dr Parnia on his stance, leading to the following response:

You’re pushing and I’m giving you honest answers. I don’t know. If I knew the answers then I don’t think I would have engaged and spent 12 years of my life and so much of my medical reputation to try to do this. Because to appreciate people like me, I risk a lot by doing this sort of experiment. So I’m interested in the answers and I don’t know. Like I said, if I was to base everything on the knowledge that I have currently of neuroscience, then the easiest explanation is that this is probably an illusion.

Alex has taken this statement to mean that Sam Parnia is leaning towards the hallucination hypothesis (as the title of the podcast says, "Dr. Sam Parnia Claims Near Death Experience Probably an Illusion"). I can't say I'd go that far - it's clear that Dr Parnia is qualifying that opinion as being based on current scientific knowledge (and its limitations). However, given that (you would imagine) he has access to the ongoing data from the AWARE study, it sounds unlikely that they have come across any striking veridical OBEs thus far.

As I've said before about the AWARE study though, it's still rather likely the conclusion will be either "a few correct cases - interesting, but not conclusive evidence", or "no correct cases - suggestive of the OBE being a hallucination, but not conclusive evidence of that either". Though I still applaud the work being done in delving into this reported anomalous aspect of the near-death experience.

Previously on TDG:

Life After Life Documentary

One of my favourite research areas is the subject of near-death experiences. Here's a cool, hour-long documentary titled "Life After Life", featuring the man whose book of the same name propelled NDEs into the public consciousness in the 1970s, Raymond Moody. Despite being a little old, it's still worth checking out to hear the personal testimony of NDErs on their transformative experiences:

For more information about NDEs, check out the IANDS website.

Previously on TDG:

Patience Worth at the Smithsonian

Sorry for the lack of updates recently, I've been laid low by the dreaded lurgy. Here's something worth checking out though: Smithsonian Magazine has a feature on the early 20th century 'channeler', Pearl Curran, amanuensis for the literary output of the (allegedly) dearly departed Patience Worth. Even better, they talk to a good friend (and a featured blogger here on TDG), Professor Stephen Braude:

One cool autumn evening in 1919, a crowd of prominent New Yorkers jammed the parlor of an East Side town house to meet a writing prodigy named Patience Worth. A prolific charmer who was known for her flashy verbal stunts and quick wit, Patience dictated two original poems—about Russia and the Red Cross—in rapid succession, followed by a lyrical tribute to an editor friend. Though she seemed to compose the works on the spot, her words flowed with the quality of messages punched out by teletype. Poet Edgar Lee Masters was among the astonished guests. “There is no doubt...she is producing remarkable literature,” the author of Spoon River Anthology told a reporter, though “how she does it I cannot say.” Nor could he say how Patience looked, though she was thought to be young and pretty, with wavy red hair and large brown eyes. No one, however, actually saw her. She wasn’t real. She was an ambitious, hard-working spirit.

Speaking through a Ouija board operated by Pearl Lenore Curran, a St. Louis housewife of limited education, Patience Worth was nothing short of a national phenomenon in the early years of the 20th century. Though her works are virtually forgotten today, the prestigious Braithwaite anthology listed five of her poems among the nation’s best published in 1917, and the New York Times hailed her first novel as a “feat of literary composition.” Her output was stunning. In addition to seven books, she produced voluminous poetry, short stories, plays and reams of sparkling conversation—nearly four million words between 1913 and 1937. Some evenings she worked on a novel, a poem and a play simultaneously, alternating her dictation from one to another without missing a beat. “What is extraordinary about this case is the fluidity, versatility, virtuosity and literary quality of Patience’s writings, which are unprecedented in the history of automatic writing by mediums,” says Stephen Braude, a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a past president of the American Parapsychological Association, who has written widely on paranormal phenomena.

And as an extra helping, the Smithsonian also has a travel piece on Cassadaga, America’s oldest Spiritualist community. The Smithsonian and Spiritualism...nobody tell Randi, his head might explode.