IN SEARCH OF A COMMON CRITERIA FOR IDENTIFYING NEAR-DEATH STATES
P.M.H.Atwater, L.H.D., Ph.D. (Hon.) (1)
P. O. Box 7691
Charlottesville, VA 22906-7691
© 1998 P.M.H.Atwater, L.H.D., Ph.D. (Hon.)
The so-called "classical model" of the
near-death experience is said to consist of an out-of-body experience,
passing through a tunnel toward a bright light, being met in heaven by
loved ones, and then learning it isn't your
time and you have to go back.
Yet, the number one complaint voiced by experiencers who attend
meetings of near-death support groups throughout
the United States and Canada, is, "My experience doesn't match the
classical model." Individuals have
even admitted to making up the tunnel component to their episode just
so they could feel like they had "the real thing."
The truth is. . . the popular model is really a composite created by
the media to sensationalize Moody's first book.
It is "classical" only in myth and legend. The tunnel component, for
instance, is but a minor element reported by less
than a third of those who experience the phenomenon. George Gallup, in
the first national poll ever taken on the subject
back in 1982, found less than nine percent claimed to have encountered
any type of tunnel.
Because the classical model isn't classical, health-care givers are at
a loss in how to recognize if one of their
patients might have had a near-death experience, not to mention the
general public. Bruce Greyson, M.D., editor of the
peer-reviewed Journal of Near-Death Studies, is now involved in trying
to come up with a solution - a simple definition
that will satisfy all comers. So far, no agreement has been reached.
What I submitted for review is the
following, taken from over twenty years of study and with a research
base in excess
of 3,200 near-death experiencers:
Context of experience
must be met
Symptoms or signs suggesting serious medical illness or injury, or
physiological crisis/accident of some kind; or,
B. Experiencer's expectation or
sense of imminent death.
Content of experience
An intense awareness, sense, or experience of "otherworldiness" -
or unpleasant, strange or ecstatic. Episode can be brief and consist of
only one or two elements, or can be more involved,
even lengthy, and consist of multiple elements. Elements commonly
* Visualizing or experiencing being
apart from the physical body, perhaps with the ability to change
* Greatly enhanced cognition (thoughts very clear, rapid, and
* A darkness or light that is perceived as alive and intelligent and
* Sensation of movement and/or a sense of presence (hyperalert
* Sudden overwhelming floods of emotion or feelings.
* Encounter with an identified deceased person or animal, or an
encounter with an apparently nonphysical entity.
* Life review (like a movie or in segments, or a reliving).
* Information can be imparted, perhaps dialogue.
Typical to the experience:
states can occur to anyone at any age, including new borns and infants,
and remain vivid and coherent
lifelong (unless societal or family pressure weakens memory clusters -
repression more common with child experiencers
than with teen agers or adults).
B. Children's episodes are
usually brief and encompass few elements. The closer the child is to
puberty, the greater
the possibility of longer, more complicated scenarios.
C. The pattern of
psychological and physiological aftereffects seems more dependent on
the intensity of the experience,
than on any particular imagery or length of exposure to darkness or
D. Attitudes and feelings
significant others display after the experiencer revives directly
influence how readily he or
she can integrate the experience. Episode content is secondary to that
initial climate of interest or disinterest.
I would also hasten to add that no
matter how long the individual is without vital signs, especially pulse
there is little or no brain damage afterward - rather - brain and
faculty enhancement. It is not unusual for experiencers
to revive in the morgue hours later. (Average time without vital signs
in my research base - between five to twenty
minutes.) It is possible to have a near-death experience and not be
near death. What causes near-death-like experiences
is presently unknown.
Research on the near-death experience
has been ongoing ever since Raymond Moody, Jr., M.D., came out with his
book "LIFE AFTER LIFE" in 1975. Although much is now known about the
phenomenon, perhaps what is most striking is
how far we have yet to go and how much more we need to learn.
L.H.D., Ph.D. (Hon.) , has distinguished herself as one of the best
researchers in the field of near-death studies.
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