Re: near-death experiences-scientific?

Tom Pearson (
Tue, 28 Apr 1998 13:48:05 -0500 (CDT)

At 08:04 AM 4/28/98 -0500, Wendee HOLTCAMP wrote:

>I have a few questions for you all. What do the various sundry of you out
>there believe about the validity of near-death experiences?

Like Chuck Vandergraaf, I am also sceptical of these "experiences,"
but my reasons are rather different.
Four years ago, I attended a medical ethics conference in Chicago,
where there was a panel discussion on NDEs. One of the participants (I
don't remember her name) shared information about a study that had been done
in a group of hospitals somewhere back east (Massachusetts? New Jersey? I
don't recall) over a lengthy period of time (1-2 years) on the incidence and
viability of NDE reports from those who claimed this experience. These
hospitals had systematically placed a number of those round, colored plastic
reflectors (the kind on the back of bicycles, for instance) on the tops of
cabinets, curtain rails, reflecting mirrors, and the like, in locations
where NDEs were likely to be reported -- emergency rooms, ORs, ICUs and
CCUs. There were several reflectors placed in each room. Those patients
who reported having an NDE were then extensively interviewed by those
conducting the study. There was a good-sized sample (several hundred). The
patients provided a set of highly uniform responses -- people said they felt
themselves floating, they could look down and see the doctors working on
their bodies, they saw a bright light and a long tunnel, and they
encountered other figures, sometimes persons they had known. But not a
single person reported seeing any of the reflectors. This was considered,
by the woman sharing all this at the conference, to be peculiar,
particularly for those who had "hovered" in the room and looked down on the
proceedings. Evidently, they could see everything but those reflectors. My
recollection is that the study concluded these NDEs were phenomenological
episodes that were taking place internally, within the brain, and were not
perceptual experiences of an external reality.
I hesitate to offer this example, if only because, coming from me,
it's strictly anecdotal -- I don't have any references to the study that I
can give you. But I'm hoping someone else on this list has heard of this
study, and can provide you (and me) with the necessary citation.
Nonetheless, it's been reports and studies of this sort, and my own
reflection on the corollary issues related to NDEs, that have moved me away
from any belief in soul/body dualism. This kind of dualism, with a soul
detachable from a body, is apparently a necessary condition for the
possibility of such NDEs. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to sustain
any such argument for dualism of this sort, whether on scriptural,
theological, scientific, or philosophical grounds.

Tom Pearson

Thomas D. Pearson
Department of History & Philosophy
The University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, Texas