Near-Death Experiences: 30 Years of Research — Part 3

Are NDEs hallucinations?
September 27, 2011 Updated: April 7, 2014

This article is the third of our five-part series on near-death experiences, exploring decades of research on the topic. Click HERE to start with Part 1.

DURHAM, N.C.—How do you prove or disprove near-death experiences (NDEs), which are entirely of a spiritual domain?

While near-death experiencers (NDErs) claim that their experiences of leaving their bodies, going to heaven, and seeing deceased people and heavenly beings, and so on, are real, many scientists insist that these are hallucinations due to critical biological states such as the lack of oxygen in one’s brain. Yet there is another group of scientists who, after over 30 years of research, ended up with evidence supportive of NDErs’ accounts.

In the first part of this series, we discussed shared death experiences, in which someone close to a dying person experiences something similar to NDEs. Raymond Moody, M.D., Ph.D., told The Epoch Times that shared death experiencers generally see the spirit of the dying person leaving the body, and may see them meeting deceased people, experiencing a life review, going to another realm, and so on.

“All of the features that I identify as the initial near-death experiences that I studied years ago are also present in people who have these experiences at the bedside, who incidentally are not ill or injured,” Moody said during his presentation at the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) conference this year.

“There’s nothing wrong with the oxygen flow to their brains, and yet they have identically the same experiences that I hear from people who did come close to death.”

This, Moody thinks, overturns the conventional scientific hypothesis that NDEs are hallucinations caused by critical states in the brain. However, it still does not provide solid proof that NDErs’ accounts are true.

Yet, there are other documented cases the validity of which is difficult to disprove using conventional scientific explanations. For example, there are cases when NDErs see deceased relatives who they did not know had died, or whom they hadn’t even met.

Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, M.D., had such an experience during a coma caused by acute bacterial meningitis. During the IANDS conference, he recounted that, at certain points during his NDE, he experienced being a speck on a butterfly’s wings, and was accompanied by a being whom he regarded as a guardian angel.

Being an orphan, Alexander did not know about his biological siblings until recent years, and by the time he got into contact with them, one of his sisters had already died. One day after his NDE, he looked at a photograph that his siblings gave him, and found that the “guardian angel” was the sister who had died.

Another interesting case, described by Moody during an interview with The Epoch Times, involved a priest and a nun who had a car accident together in South Africa. Both of them were resuscitated from cardiac arrest and described a joint NDE of leaving their bodies and going into a light together, with identical details.

Verified NDE Accounts

There are also NDE accounts that are directly verified. NDE researchers Robert and Suzanne Mays recounted several such stories at the conference and during an interview with The Epoch Times.

One case involved a man severely injured in a car accident on a foggy night. He reported rising out of his body, flying over to a house, and jumping up and down and yelling for help outside a window of the second floor. A man who was on the second floor heard the NDEr and called the police. After the police came, the man reported having seen the fog in the shape of a man jumping outside the window.

Robert Mays also spoke of cases where NDErs reported going into others’ bodies. In one instance, a man tried to commit suicide by hanging but regretted it during his NDE, so he went into his wife’s body to communicate with her and seek help. After he made contact with her, she said, “Oh, my God,” took a knife, went directly to where her husband was, and cut him down.

Another documented case involved George Rodonaia, M.D. and Ph.D. in neuropathology, who had been pronounced dead for three days. While in this state, he underwent an NDE. During his NDE, he experienced going inside his wife’s head and hearing her thoughts as she, believing that he was dead already, thought about men she could date and who could become her future husband. His wife later confirmed that she indeed had those thoughts before he came back to life.

The case that left Robert and Suzanne Mays with the biggest impression was that of George Ritchie, M.D., in 1943 when he was only 20, a soldier about to attend medical school. Ritchie was pronounced dead on the night that he was supposed to catch a train leaving the army base in Texas to Virginia for medical school.

Ritchie reported that he came out of his body, but at first did not realize this. Knowing that he had missed the train, he decided to leave the hospital and travel by his own means. After determining the directions from the location of the North Star, Ritchie reported that he started flying east.

As he passed through a town on his route, he spotted a man about to enter an all-night cafe and went down to ask the man for directions, only to be ignored by him. Then, Ritchie went to lean against the guide wire of a telephone pole, and his hand went through the wire. He realized that he had left his body and went back to the hospital, where a being manifesting as a light helped him get back into his body.

After the NDE, he had driven past the town and recognized the all-night cafe, thus knowing that the town he flew to during the NDE was Vicksburg. The details that Ritchie recalled of the area before he returned there physically were exactly the same as reality.

Based on Ritchie’s description of how he got out of the hospital, Robert and Suzanne Mays traced back the route that Ritchie possibly took, and found that the door that Ritchie had probably gone out of was at the same latitude as the all-night cafe in Vicksburg.

Ritchie had also mentioned seeing blinking lights in one of the towns he flew over. To confirm this, Robert and Suzanne Mays found a woman who lived in one of the towns along the route directly east of the hospital door that Ritchie was thought to have left from. The woman told them that there were four blinking lights in the town in 1943, and it turns out that the path that Ritchie possibly took was in between the locations of the lights that she pointed out.

When faced with NDE accounts like this, it is hard to dismiss their validity and explain the experiences as products of biological processes.

Watch a video of Ritchie recounting his NDE here

Read from the beginning of this series HERE.