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NDE Introduction


By Barbara Mango, Ph.D.


     Contemporary near-death research began in earnest with the publication of Raymond Moody’s groundbreaking book, Life after Life.  By the late 1970s, medical technology and advanced resuscitation techniques allowed more rigorous and empirically testable research to be conducted.  Science began to investigate the complex relationship between brain function, consciousness, and the near-death experience.  

                Researchers ultimately developed two opposing theories to explain the near-death experience: materialism and non-materialism.  The materialist approach posits that consciousness is produced by and is a sole function of the brain, thus, the near-death experience is explained as nothing more than the neurobiology of a dying brain.  Since this model is still taught at most medical schools in the Western world, the majority of near-death researchers uphold this theory.

               The opposing paradigm, termed non-materialism, postulates consciousness is non-local, independent of matter, and not exclusively brain-based. Current research contends this theory offers a compelling and frequently verifiable explanation of the near-death experience. Advanced research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, resuscitation science, and quantum mechanics challenges the veracity of the materialist theory.

     It is perplexing that materialist science continues to so rigidly adhere to a paradigm seemingly incongruent with cutting-edge research. Cardiologist and near-death researcher Pim van Lommel contends two major factors strengthen the persistent adherence to this model.

     According to philosopher Ilja Maso, nearly all government funding is awarded to traditional science.  It attracts most of the funding, achieves the most striking results, and is thought to employ the brightest minds. The more a vision deviates from this materialist paradigm, the lower its status and the less money it receives.[1]

  Secondly, materialists tend to reject any challenge to their rigidly held hypothesis. Non-materialists, such as philosopher Neal Grossman, are frequently ostracized by traditional colleagues simply because their research threatens the existing paradigm.  Grossman recalls such an experience:

          One conversation in particular caused me to see the fundamental irrationality of academics with respect to the evidence against materialism…I asked [a colleague] “What will it take short of having a near-death experience yourself to convince you that it’s real?”  Very nonchalantly, without batting an eye, the response was: “Even if I were to have a near-death experience myself, I would conclude that I was hallucinating, rather than believe that my mind can exist independently of my brain.”[2]

       Dutch Cardiologist Pim van Lommel additionally reasons that the majority of researchers specializing in consciousness research, including neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and philosophers, continue to argue that there is a  reductionist explanation for consciousness and near-death experiences. 

     Bruce Greyson, renowned psychiatrist and near-death researcher further counters traditional skeptics by stating:

…because we can now regularly bring people back from death, we can ask what happens to them while they were dead—and their recollections of that period makes possible a scientific exploration of what happens to human consciousness after the body dies, pointing the way toward a new scientific theory of the mind.[3]

     The preponderance of current evidence suggests materialism fails to adequately explain the near-death experience. In Evidence of the Afterlife, Dr. Long presents nine converging lines of evidence which together, make an exceptionally compelling argument for the authenticity of near-death experiences. The most persuasive of these include out-of-body experiences, sighted experiences reported by the congenitally blind, and those occurring both under general anesthesia and during cardiac arrest. The revolutionary field of quantum mechanics further substantiates the validity of the intensely lucid experiences consistently reported by near death experiencers.

     Each of the aforementioned lines of reasoning will be discussed in further detail. It is seemingly inexplicable that conscious, lucid experiences can occur during a time when   brain-function ceases.  It is the intention of this discussion to demystify the materialist paradigm by examining current research, and in doing so, help bridge the gap between science and spirituality.  Renowned academic neurosurgeon Eben Alexander shares this same vision.  Alexander is optimistic that, “All the arguing between “spiritual” people and “scientific” people will stop, and we will join together in mapping and understanding the true universe in ways not even dreamt of now”.[4]


[1]Van Lommel, Pim. Consciousness beyond Life: The Science of the Near-death Experience. New York: HarperOne, 2010: xiii                                                                                                                              

[2] Carter, Chris. Science and the Near-death Experience: How Consciousness Survives Death. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2010: 236

[3] Rev. of Erasing Death. Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death by Sam Parnia and Josh Young. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.

[4] Alexander, Eben. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife.

            New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012: