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OBEs in the Near Death Experience


By Barbara Mango, Ph.D.


     Nearly all non-materialist researchers are in agreement that the OBE, or separation of consciousness from the physical body, is one of the most scientifically verifiable aspects of the NDE.  Nelson defines an OBE as a “disembodied sensation from a perspective different from the body’s actual location”[5]  The Free Dictionary defines ‘disembodied’ as “to free the soul or spirit”, or “to divest of material substance”. Non-materialists identify this as non-local

consciousness, and posit this phenomena is directly linked to OBEs.
  During an OBE, individuals witness their own resuscitation most often from a position both outside and above their bodies.

     OBEs provide compelling evidence for the validity of the NDE as numerous stories recalled by subjects have been independently corroborated. One of the strongest case studies supporting veridical perception was recorded by Kenneth Ring, psychologist and co-founder of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (commonly referred to as IANDS).  Ring’s subject, Maria, was a migrant worker visiting Seattle for the first time.  While visiting, she was rushed to the hospital after suffering a massive heart attack. While recuperating in the coronary care unit, she went into cardiac arrest and was declared clinically dead. She was successfully resuscitated a few minutes later.

Maria related her OBE to Kimberly, her critical care social worker.  Maria described herself rising above her body and “floating” to a window on the third floor of the hospital’s north wing.  Sitting on the window ledge was a man’s left-footed, blue sneaker, which she described in minute detail as having a worn little toe and shoelace tucked under its sole.  Anxious to corroborate her story, she asked Kimberly to search for the sneaker. 

Kimberly located the blue sneaker on a third floor ledge, exactly as Maria had described it.  In recounting the story Kimberly stated, “The only way she could have had such a perspective was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe.  I retrieved the shoe and brought it back to Maria; it was very concrete evidence for me.”[6]  Ring contends:

Now, on hearing a case like this one has to ask:  What is the probability that a migrant worker visiting a large city for the first time, who suffers a heart attack and is rushed to a hospital at night would, while having a cardiac arrest, simply “hallucinate” seeing a tennis shoe--with very specific and unusual features--on the ledge of a floor higher than her physical location in the hospital?  Only an arch-skeptic, I think, would say anything much other than, “Not bloody likely!”[7]

     A further narrative was reported to Kenneth Ring by Joyce Harmon, an ICU nurse at Hartford Hospital.  She arrived at the hospital wearing a brand new pair of sneakers with plaid shoelaces.  Later that day Harmon was assisting in the surgery of a female patient who coded, yet was later revived. The following day she (the patient), recalled her experience to Harmon.

“Oh, you’re the one with the plaid shoelaces!”  “What?” Harmon replied, astonished.  She distinctly remembers feeling the hair on her neck rise.  “I saw them, the woman [patient] continued.  “I was watching what happened yesterday when I died.  I was above.”[8]       

     In another astonishing interview, an Australian subject described her experience to Ring:

I will never forget the look on the surgeon’s face when I told him that I went through the OBE phenomenon during the operation.  I then asked the surgeon whether he was sitting on a green stool with a white top on it. He replied yes. He then said, “But you could not have seen that from where you were lying on the operating table.” I then said to him that I did not see that from where I was lying, but that I had seen it from where I was detached from my body looking down from above during this NDE phenomenon.  This remark caused an even stranger look on his face[9] 

     An additional factor that makes these accounts so extraordinary is that each of the aforementioned subjects describe viewing both themselves and others from a perspective impossible with normal visual perception. Long and Perry have noted that nearly all subjects report having greater than 360 degree vision.  As they explain, “… NDErs often report spherical, three-dimensional visual awareness simultaneously in all directions—forward, backward, right, left, above, and below”.[10]

     Researchers Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper have termed this “omnidirectional awareness”, and describe this phenomena in the following interview:

I could see everything.  And I do mean everything!  I could see the light on the ceiling, and the underside of the stretcher.  I could see the tiles on the ceiling and the tiles on the floor, simultaneously.  Three hundred and sixty degree spherical vision.  And not just spherical.  Detailed!  I could see every single hair and follicle out of which it grew on the head of the nurse standing beside the stretcher.  At the time I knew exactly how many hairs there were to look at.[11] 

     Ring contends these visual accounts “have a strong emotional and cognitive impact on the investigators involved—either strengthening their preexisting belief in the authenticity of NDEs or occasioning a kind of on-the-spot conversion.[12]

     Materialist science, however, adamantly disagrees with the findings of Ring, Cooper, Long, et.al.  British psychologist Susan Blackmore strongly disagrees with Ring’s research.  She states:

I WANT TO BE QUITE CLEAR.  It is my contention that there is no soul, spirit, astral body or anything at all that leaves the body during NDEs and survives after death.  These, like the very idea of persisting self, are all illusions and the NDE can be accounted for without recourse to any of them”[13]   

Instead, Blackmore postulates that OBEs are reconstructions of memories as the patient is losing or regaining consciousness.  In Dying to Live Blackmore argues that sensory stimuli and projection of imagery make memory reconstruction probable. As she asserts:

Unconsciousness is not an all-or-nothing phenomena.  A person may appear unresponsive, but still be able to hear.  From hearing alone we can construct extremely convincing visual pictures[14]

     Blackmore additionally claims numerous patients have had past procedures and are thus familiar with surgical procedure, medical terminology, and the visual layout of an operating room.  Armed with this awareness, patients may create imagined scenarios based on information gathered before surgery. Thus, materialists theorize that OBEs are merely a function of prior knowledge, hearing, and imaginative reconstruction.

     Non-materialists, however, find many holes in this theory.  As cardiologist and NDE researcher Pim van Lommel explains,

Although sounds and other stimuli continue to enter the brains of these patients, they no longer trigger the kinds of responses that are registered during conscious experiences under normal circumstances because the connections in the brain have been severed and information can no longer be exchanged.[15]

He continues by stating:

From a scientific point of view it therefore seems highly unlikely that under properly administered anesthesia patients can have memories of the surgical period with lucid consciousness, with thoughts and emotions, and sometimes with perceptions from a position above the operating table…and yet, this exceptional situation exists.[16] . 

     Furthermore, NDErs are often unresponsive when no one else is present, making conversation recollection impossible.

     Third party verification of patient accounts challenges traditional theory and remains inexplicable to most scientists. Thus, OBES are highly suggestive of a transcendent, or non-local consciousness, supporting the non-materialist paradigm.

     As Ring asserts:

The perceptions are just too fine-grained in their details and too telling their appropriateness—they are just the kind of thing one would expect to be reported if individuals really were able to see with extraordinary clarity from an elevated position near the ceiling—to be glibly written off on the grounds that they are simply not possible.[17]


[5]  Nelson, Kevin. The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience. New York Dutton, 2011: 138

[6]  Ibid. 66

[7]  Ibid, 66

[8]  Ring, Kenneth, and Sharon Cooper. Mindsight: Near-death and Out-of-body   Experiences in the Blind.

   Bloomington: IUniverse, 2008.

[9]  Ibid, 59

[10] Long, Jeffrey, and Paul Perry. Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-death Experiences. New York: HarperOne, 2011: 60

[11] Ring, Kenneth, and Sharon Cooper. Mindsight: Near-death and Out-of-body Experiences in the Blind.

    Bloomington: IUniverse, 2008: 107

[12] Ring, Kenneth, and Evelyn Elsaesser Valarino. Lessons from Light: What We Can Learn from the Near- death Experience. Needham, MA. Moment Point, 2006: 69

[13] Blackmore, Susan J. Dying to Live: Near-death Experiences. Buffalo, NY:

    Prometheus, 1993: 114

[14] Ibid. 122

[15] Van Lommel, Pim. Consciousness beyond Life: The Science of the Near-death Experience. New York:            HarperOne, 2010: 130

[16] Ibid, 130

[17] Ring, Kenneth, and Evelyn Elsaesser Valarino. Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the Near-death Experience. Needham, MA: Moment Point, 2006: 64