Are OBE’s and NDE’s Hallucinations?
By Will Hart 5/25/15
One theory that skeptics have raised to refute the reality of NDE episodes, is the idea that they are hallucinations produced by the dysfunctional and/or dying brain.
First, in order to accept the premise that NDE episodes are real you have to accept a corollary principle: consciousness is an independent entity. After all, NDE reports make it clear that the people reporting them have thoughts, memories, emotions, and sight even though the person is outside of his/her body.
At its core the NDE is based upon an out-of-body experience (OBE).
In fact, this is a key stumbling block for skeptics who maintain that consciousness is rooted in the brain; moreover, the scientific view is that it is simply a by-product of brain function. Given that they believe this paradigm then it follows that, in their view, consciousness is dependent upon the brain and therefore cannot leave the body and function independently.
The following direct quote was taken from the Skeptic’s Dictionary:
“Skeptics, on the other hand, believe that NDEs can be explained by neurochemistry and are the result of brain states that occur due to a dying, demented, extremely stressed, or drugged brain. For example, neural noise and retino-cortical mapping explain the common experience of passage down a tunnel from darkness into a bright light…”
In other words, dysfunctional brain states produce all the sensations described in OBE/NDE reports. This explanation is consistent with the theory that consciousness, is produced by and located in the brain, which means it cannot exit the body or exist as an independent entity.
This thesis has several problems A) the reality of remote viewing, which has been documented through a number of long- term scientific studies and B) reports of people leaving their bodies, in the ER or operating theater, and observing the doctors and nurses performing various procedures while they were either unconscious, comatose or virtually dead.
In the first case the remote viewing phenomena involves a conscious subject viewing objects, places or events at a distance. Scientific studies into this phenomenon were conducted at Stanford University for almost 20 years. (1) Blind and double-blind experiments were carried out by other researchers, which verified the results. (2, 3)
It is somewhat surprising that NDE investigators do not often refer to these studies as substantiation that consciousness can leave the body. Remote viewing involves conscious subjects travelling to distant locations to identify objects; though that cannot be used to prove the reality of NDE episodes, it does support the reality of the OBE.
Then in the case of people leaving their bodies, either during operations or while undergoing CPR, we find the following Skeptic explanation:
“Some people who are thought to be dead, but are actually just unconscious, recover and remember things like looking down and seeing their own bodies being worked on by doctors and nurses. They recall conversations being held while they were "dead." Of course, they weren't dead at all, but they feel as if their mind or soul had left their body and was observing it from above. (The Skeptics Dictionary)
This is a patently incorrect and misleading interpretation of what is actually going on, in strict medical terms, in an ER or during a CPR event or an operation. The author dismisses the critical nature of the event by implying that the person is somehow conscious because they are “just unconscious”.
We are going to examine what doctors and nurses mean by unconscious, in the context of CPR procedures, and what comatose and dead mean, after finishing with the Skeptic explanation,
“Those who have had such experiences--and they are many--often find them life-altering and defining moments. They are convinced such experiences are proof of life after death by a disembodied consciousness. But are they? It is possible that a person may appear dead to our senses or our scientific equipment but still be perceiving.”
The Skeptic that authored the above, is actually going so far as to question the competency of doctors and nurse -- as well as the efficacy of modern medical technology -- to determine when a person is in the throes of death, totally unconscious and unresponsive, and comatose or dead.
Those states not only imply, they automatically mean there is no conscious perception.
In other words, the heart stopping, the lack of a pulse, the flat-lining on the monitor does not really mean what it means, according to the above Skeptic. All of those measurements, which ER personnel rely on, can be tossed aside because the “person may appear dead to our senses or scientific equipment…”
It is an absurd, obviously self-serving argument without any scientific basis, and it is odd that the supposed scientifically-oriented Skeptic would so totally contradict medical science and technology, just to make a case against OBE/NDE episodes.
Here we have to delve into how the brain actually works and what happens when it is deprived of blood supply, which delivers oxygen. The human brain requires a constant supply of not only oxygen but glucose to fuel its many physiological activities and functions.
If the heart stops pumping and the bloodstream ceases to deliver fresh oxygen and glucose for even a few minutes brain cells die, and the brain starts shutting down. The brain, is an expensive organ to run, it uses 25% of all the oxygen in the body and 20% of the glucose, the body’s main fuel source.
This is why the ER team immediately checks for a pulse, a heartbeat, breathing and blood pressure, when a heart attack patient is presented. If the heart is not beating, breathing has stopped the person flat-lines and codes, the ER unit moves into full CPR mode.
Everyone knows that they are in a race- against- time. The brain can survive undamaged for up to 6 minutes after the heart stops. There are two things that the brain cannot do, store oxygen or glucose. It has to have a constant supply of both. Without them the first thing it does is to get dizzy and then groggy.
Several things happen during this process. The cardiac patent loses consciousness and may go into a comatose state. Anyone that has ever fainted for whatever reason, due to low pressure or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) for instance, knows what this feels like.
When you slip into unconsciousness it is accompanied by sensations of mental dullness, loss of alertness, blurred vision, confusion and so forth. When an ER team defines someone as unconscious that means they have shined a light into their eyes and tested the response to pain stimulus, etc.
If the pupils and nerves do not respond normally then the person is deemed unconscious; even in that state, which is not brain-death, a patient is not conscious of their surroundings and they do respond to stimuli.
Once the brain is deprived of oxygen and glucose it is no longer capable of functioning normally. A person lying unconscious in the ER or operating room is not going to be able to describe the doctors, nurses and procedures because they are, in fact, unconscious.
That leaves the Skeptic in an uncomfortable position because he knows that people have claimed to observe such procedures during out of body experiences. Those claims were subsequently confirmed by the attending medical staff.
For example, during the pilot phase of a study in the Netherlands, in one of the hospitals involved, a coronary-care-unit nurse reported a veridical out-of-body experience of a resuscitated patient: (4)
"During a night shift an ambulance brings in a 44-year-old cyanotic, comatose man into the coronary care unit...”
In laymen’s terms, this mean the man had already turned blue and was entirely unresponsive to any kind of stimuli. In short, if CPR was not applied immediately he was going to die very soon.
“After admission, he receives artificial respiration without intubation, while heart massage and defibrillation are also applied. When we went to intubate the patient, he turns out to have dentures in his mouth. I remove these upper dentures and put them onto the 'crash car'. Meanwhile, we continue extensive CPR. After about an hour and a half the patient has sufficient heart rhythm and blood pressure, but he is still ventilated and intubated, and he is still comatose. “
What we are looking at here is a man at death’s doorstep being kept alive by artificial means. He was not somehow magically, consciously unconscious. He had turned blue due to lack of oxygen and was completely comatose. The use of the ventilator means that he wasn’t even breathing on his own.
He never consciously saw the nurse; his pupils were not even functioning. He lacked any and all normal response to stimuli and was thus classified as comatose. Fortunately, they managed to revive him and he was transferred to the intensive care unit for continued artificial respiration.
“Only after more than a week do I meet again with the patient, who is by now back on the cardiac ward. I distribute his medication. The moment he sees me he says: 'Oh, that nurse knows where my dentures are'.
I am very surprised. Then he elucidates:
'Yes, you were there when I was brought into the hospital and you took my dentures out of my mouth and put them onto that car, it had all these bottles on it and there was this sliding drawer underneath and there you put my teeth.'
I was especially amazed because I remembered this happening while the man was in deep coma and in the process of CPR.”
There is no medial explanation for this man’s awareness of the nurse’s appearance and her actions, while he was comatose. Moreover, it calls the theory that consciousness is rooted in the brain into serious question.
“When I asked further, it appeared the man had seen himself lying in bed, that he had perceived from above how nurses and doctors had been busy with CPR. He was also able to describe correctly and in detail the small room in which he had been resuscitated as well as the appearance of those present like myself…”
This proves that OBE observations are not the product of a dysfunctional brain that is hallucinating. The patient accurately described things that he did not perceive with his sensory perceptions or conscious brain prior to being revived by the ER unit.
In fact, Skeptics know this full well and really have no explanation for it. This is why they tend to dodge the issue or fabricate false inferences as described above. The foregoing case took place at a hospital that happened to be involved in a long-term study of the out of body experiences of heart attack victims.
There is another well-known case that serves to corroborate the thesis that consciousness exists as an independent entity.
Pam Reynolds was actually put to death in the hospital deliberately. This was necessary because she had to undergo a rare operation, to remove a giant basilar artery aneurysm in her brain, which threatened her life.
The size and location of the aneurysm precluded its safe removal using the normal brain surgery techniques. Pam was referred to a doctor who had pioneered a risky surgical procedure known as hypothermic cardiac arrest. It allowed Pam's aneurysm to be removed with a reasonable chance of success.
This operation required that Pam's body temperature be lowered to 60 degrees, her heartbeat and breathing stopped; her brain waves flattened; and the blood drained from her head.
When the operation commenced Pam’s consciousness separated from her body. In her own words,
“The next thing I recall was the sound: It was a Natural "D." As I listened to the sound, I felt it was pulling me out of the top of my head. The further out of my body I got, the more clear the tone became. I had the impression it was like a road, a frequency that you go on.
(For clarification, Pam was a musician so she naturally uses a musical note as a metaphor.)
“... I remember seeing several things in the operating room when I was looking down. It was the most aware that I think that I have ever been in my entire life ...I was metaphorically sitting on [the doctor's] shoulder. It was not like normal vision. It was brighter and more focused and clearer than normal vision ... There was so much in the operating room that I didn't recognize, and so many people.”
In fact, there is no way that Pam could have known what was going on during the operation through here senses or brain, she was virtually dead or as close to full, clinical death as is possible. Like almost all NDE reporter’s she notes that the OBE experience is hyper- real. She continues to observe the surgical procedure from a detached point above.
“The saw-thing that I hated the sound of looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it, a groove at the top where the saw appeared to go into the handle, but it didn't ... And the saw had interchangeable blades, too, but these blades were in what looked like a socket wrench case ... I heard the saw crank up.
Someone said something about my veins and arteries being very small. I believe it was a female voice and that it was Dr. Murray, but I'm not sure. She was the cardiologist…”
After the operation was successfully completed and she regained full physical awareness she told the doctors and nurses what she had observed. They confirmed her report with a mix of disbelief and shock.
We are not, in this short paper, trying to prove the reality of NDE episodes. Instead we are focused on the proven reality of OBE episodes. Those include cross-substantiation between conscious, remote viewing cases reported in the scientific literature, and unconscious, out- of- body perception (OBE) cases.
In fact, the existence of the NDE phenomenon is predicated upon the reality of OBE episodes. From the author of this paper’s perspective, the focus of research into NDE episodes ought to be on the prerequisite OBE phenomenon until that is sufficiently established in scientific terms.
1. Stanford University, Stanford Research Institute: Targ, Russel; ‘Limitless Mind: A Guide to Remote Viewing’. Putoff Hal; the Stargate Project
2. American Institutes for Research; ‘An Evaluation of Remote Viewing:
Research and Applications’, Mumford, Rose, Goslin, 1995
3. Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Department, ‘Precognitive Remote Viewing in the Chicago Area: A Replication of the Standford Experiment, Dunn, Brenda and, Bisaha, JohnDivision of Cardiology, Hospital Rijnstate, Arnhem, Netherlands ‘Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands’, Lommel, Pim M.D.