Near-Death Experiences, and Reality
by Jody A. Long, J.D.
ABSTRACT: This is a review of literature and dream studies combined with a retrospective study of near-death experiencers (NDErs) who were asked "if their experience was dreamlike in any way?" This paper gives an overview of consciousness and altered states of consciousness as it relates to memories, recall, and narrative of experiences. Then I compare and contrast NDEs with dreams against the backdrop of reality.
KEY WORDS: Near-death experience, dreams, reality, consciousness Staff Emails
Near-Death Experiences, and Reality
Near-Death Experiences, and Reality
Reprint requests may be sent to Jody A. Long, J.D. at
Although there is no researcher consensus as to the definition of near death experience (NDE), a relatively recent Dutch study by Dr. van Lommel, defines NDE as the “the reported memory of all impressions during a special state of consciousness, including specific elements such as out-of-body experience, pleasant feelings, and seeing a tunnel, a light, deceased relatives, or a life review" (van Lommel, 2001). Critical to this modern concept of NDE is the awareness that the experience involves “a special state of consciousness.” The most common altered state of consciousness, experienced by both, near death experiencers (NDErs) and non-NDErs, is dreams. Some NDErs questioning the reality of their experience may wonder if their experience was a dream. Other NDErs who share their experience with others often encounter those who dismiss the NDE as “just a dream.” Still other NDErs describe the NDE as more real than waking reality. Alternative states of consciousness are best understood by understanding how we process information and how we retrieve those memories.
Information memories and recall:
Recent findings have shown that humans typically store information as a core memory attached to an emotion and then filed in a concept area in the brain (Ornstein, 1991). When we retrieve our memories, we are programmed to "fill in the gaps." Even Freud noticed that memories are stored by attaching emotion to them (p. 89). Emotions organize how we store and access information in the brain.
Recalled memory will be reconstructed using the brain preference for order and stability. The memory will have a certain order to it and will generally be re-told in a way that subjectively makes sense to the individual. Analogous to a computer hard drive, we retrieve the memory chunk of information, by accessing a particular emotional “directory” in a certain part of the brain. Then the memory chunk is connected to one or several information chunks and the brain makes up the most logical story to connect the separate information chunks. This means that the information is integrated into an existing subjective framework of reality.
One current theory in consciousness studies is that memories are not stored in the brain (Berkovich, 2001). Berkovich is in the forefront of scientists who is exploring the theory that as an information storage unit, the brain cannot possibly hold all the information that is required to function in our society. Consequently, scientists are considering the alternative that the brain is more of an accessing unit much like a radio receiver. The actual storage place is somewhere else.
Consider that in our waking reality our memories are not recalled with 100% accuracy because we fill-in-the-gaps. However, in the altered state of NDE consciousness, people describe the life review as having greater than 100% recall of every event that happened to them on earth. They will even describe how their actions on earth affected other people. Many NDErs described being able to feel other people's feelings. Given these discrepancies in two altered states, it would tend to support Berkovich's studies and suggest that memories are not stored in the brain, but rather in that part of us that survives the body.
Memories are embedded in different chunks of information based on what type of input and emotion are attached to the event. Although the input process is different in waking life and in the NDE state of consciousness, memory retrieval is the same. In waking life, we have sensory input from our physical senses. This has a tendency to frame our memories within certain emotions and frameworks attached to these senses. Our waking memories are essentially of a third dimensional perspective anchored by our senses within a three dimensional recall mechanism.
On the other hand, in the NDE, the consciousness is free from physical sensory input and flooded with abundant emotion and unbounded perceptions (www.nderf.org, Long, 2003). NDErs report brighter colors, 360 degree vision where they report seeing without using their physical eyes, they hear such sounds as cannot be described on earth, and they experience greater emotions. These perceptions are consistent with what one would expect in a fourth or greater dimension (Long, Jody, 2002).
As observed in an earlier paper, emotions are one of the few constants between altered states of consciousness (Long, Jody, 2003). The intensity of emotion seems to drive the lucidity and ease of recall of the experience. The more intense the emotion, the clearer a person recalls the experience. As in the case of the NDE, the emotions are so intense that they may create a "flashbulb" moment that is normally only seen in waking consciousness. A "flashbulb moment" happens when the brain kicks into flight or fight mode. The event becomes burned into the brain so that it can be replayed at a later time when the person is not concerned about immediate survival.
In the case of NDE, it is obvious that a flashbulb moment cannot be created until after the person comes back to the body. This would further support the argument that memories are stored outside of the body because if the flashbulb moment has the same recall in waking life and in the NDE, then the manner or place of recall should be the same. We know that when someone is dead that the memories can't be in the brain, yet the memories are crystal clear. And we know that a NDEr has total recall of a an earthly life when they are not able to access their living brain for those memories. People who do not readily recall the NDE may have subconscious restrictions or strong coping mechanism protections. This is discussed below in studies having to do with thin or thick boundary compartmentalization of the brain.
Definition of dreams:
To understand how dreaming and NDE might be similar or different, it is helpful to review several concepts regarding dreams. Dreams can be defined as, “a series of images, ideas, etc., occurring in certain stages of sleep” (American Heritage Dictionary, 1978). The common understanding is that dreams are the workings of the subconscious brain in processing our waking reality. A more formal definition is a non-conscious electrophysiologic state while the body is alive (Pagel, 2001). A dream image may be defined as any unit of self-generated conscious experience in the domains of perception, cognition, or emotion. (Kahn & Hobson, 1993) These dream images arising from these three domains become integrated, interrelated, and contained within a narrative/scenario framework such that our remembrance of dream events is integrated into our subjective framework of reality. Carl Jung describes dreams as part of the collective unconscious (Grosso, 1984).
Physical Aspect of Dreaming:
During the night most humans dream three to four times per night. The brain goes into a certain state called rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. In that state, the brain sends signals to the rest of the body that inhibit movement of the body and shuts down all body processes that are not essential to metabolism. The brain is as active in the dream state as it is in the waking state. The main difference is that there is no sensory input in which to anchor the experience. The rational brain, otherwise known as the mammalian brain, is not as active during REM sleep. But the pons, otherwise known as the reptilian or primitive part of our brain, functions better because the mammalian brain is not so dominant. The pons is the part of the brain that stores the base emotions and is responsible for intuition. Therefore, because of the lack of anchoring with our senses and the primitive nature of the pons, dreams tend to be fluid, symbolic, and more emotional than in the waking state. When one remembers dreams, it is the same process as remembering waking reality.
According to Alan Hobson and Robert McCarley, they speculated that dreams are byproducts of the REM process, which are driven by the lower parts of the brain (Ornstein, p.196). The dream is characterized as the brain's attempt to make sense out of the random images triggered from the chemical reactions as the body relaxes. Since all mammals experience REM sleep, scientists conclude that dreaming must be a form of adaptation. People who learned difficult tasks in the day show increased amounts of REM sleep that night. REM sleep stimulates the nervous system, exercising connections and keeping the brain fresh and ready for waking life (p.197).
As one can tell, there are many different aspects to defining dreaming, just as there are many aspects to defining a NDE, mystical experience, or other altered states of consciousness. Commonalities in defining altered states include the experience itself, the comparison of what was experienced to our waking state of reality, contextualizing the event to make sense to the rational brain, and ordering the experience so that it can be communicated to self and others.
There are several types of dreams. An off-shoot of dream types is called “lucid dreaming.” The term was coined in a study released in 1913 by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden (www.spiritweb.org). The primary distinction between ordinary dreaming and lucid dreaming is that in ordinary dreaming, the dreamer does not know he or she is dreaming, and in lucid dreaming, the dreamer knows it is a dream (Gillespie, 1997). It should be noted that a couple responses tow the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) web-survey who answered “yes” to the question, "Was the experience dream like in any way?" did relate the similarity between lucid dreaming and NDEs. These comparisons alluded to Shamans, or Native American religious practices.
There are those dreams that are a part of downloading or processing of routine events, and probably do originate from the physiological processes of the brain. Other dreams may appear to originate from the stream of consciousness, and therefore, are more similar to the NDE state of awareness. Ronda Snow describes two types of dreams when comparing lucid dreams to those dreams encountered as part of an after-death communication (ADC):
"All the dreams I've had that can be recalled well the next day have had several features in common: they were in color, to varying degrees lucid, become a part of long-term memory, and often are multi-sensory. The characteristics that made the ADC dreams so different as to prompt further study were: dramatically increased intensity...sounds and colors were much more pronounced and clear...and the emotional content. Always before, dreams have been emotionless, like watching a movie, or the emotions never persisted beyond the dream itself. These dreams had a strong emotional effect...even days later" (Edinger, 1984).
This anecdotal account is consistent with Grosso's observation that both, dream experience and NDE, stem from the same matrix of consciousness and involve the same mechanisms (1983, p.22).
An important finding in the study entitled Dreams and NDE was that dreams rarely reproduced any part of the experience (Long, Jody and Long, Jeffrey, 2002). This is probably the strongest evidence indicating NDEs and dreams are generally different states of consciousness. However, the similarities between NDEs and lucid dreaming as described above may pose some interesting answers in the study of the consciousness spectrum. For instance, a good case can be made that as the NDEr consciously knows they are experiencing reality, so the lucid dreamer knows they are dreaming. There may be a link between consciousness, dreams and NDEs via the mechanism of lucid dreaming or OBEs. The special state of consciousness during the OBE stage of the NDE will require considerable further investigation before it is understood.
Psychological Aspect of Dreaming:
In analyzing dreams, Freud refers to the brain process of condensation. When a person dreams, they connect or combine memories according to the emotions or emotional concerns of the dreamer. (Harmann, E., 1996) This is consistent with recent consciousness studies in the awake state that memory chunks for a particular event are connected by accessing that particular emotional directory in the brain. The primary difference in dreaming would be that instead of filling in the gaps according to a particular event, one would access a particular emotional directory whereby people and events associated with that emotion are strung together into a fluid story.
The dream process seems to consist of "cross-connecting, making connections with whatever related material is available in memory and imagination, guided by the dominant emotions of the dreamer, which gradually become less intense and change their character as the trauma is resolved or integrated" (Harmann, E., 1996). In many ways this type of emotional clearing is very similar to what is seen in the NDE life review. The events have emotions attached to them and the person makes a choice to change the behavior pattern. In Harmann's study of people after experiencing severe trauma, "the powerful emotion of the dreamer guides the dreaming process to choose or illuminate patterns in the memory nets related to that emotional concern."
Dreams may also serve as a form of creative thought because we are free from constraints of the physical world and this allows for different types of cross-connections between thoughts.
"Einstein was asked by Jacques Hadamard about the nature of his thinking while doing mathematics, he said that "the combinatory play [of images] seems to be the essential feature in productive thought--before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others. . . . [These] have to be sought for laboriously only in the secondary stage, when the . . . associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will." Einstein says that his images are primarily of the "visual and some, of [the] muscular type." (States, B, 2000)
Personality Thickness or Thinness Boundaries:
Another way to look at how dreams, NDE, and waking life subjectively interrelate is by looking at the thickness or thinness of boundaries an individual may have. The issue of thinness or thickness of boundaries is not a new concept. According to Abraham Maslow an individual’s capacity to experience transcendent states depends on a quality of openness that permits them to occur (Kohr, p. 171). Maslow observed that those with thick boundaries, he termed as "constricted personalities," tend to block out peak experiences. Harmann describes boundaries as:
"a dimension of personality which relates to the degree of separateness or compartmentalization (thickness) versus fluidity or merging (thinness) in all mental functions. Someone with very thick boundaries keeps perceptions, thoughts, and feelings distinct and separate; keeps time and space well organized; tends to think in black and white; has a clear demarcated sense of self; and is usually very solid, well defended, sometimes even rigid. Someone with very thin boundaries is the opposite: may experience synesthesia; allows thoughts and feelings to merge; often has vivid fantasies, not always distinguished from reality; is less well defended; tends to think in shades of gray; has a less solid sense of self; and becomes over-involved in relationships" (Harmann, E., 1996).
Consequently, the "thicker" or more rigid the person, the less dreams the person reported. While the "thinner" or more fluid the person, the more dreams and waking reality blended.
According to Richard Kohr, NDErs demonstrated at greater degree of openness towards dream states than those who are close to death or non-experiencers (Kohr, 1983). NDErs reported more color, types and number of sense modalities, and unusual dream states. Additionally, NDErs reported greater intentionality in recalling dreams and a greater tendency to regard them as helpful. NDErs reported greater intensity, meaning, and positive quality of personal meditation sessions, greater consistency in maintaining a meditation schedule, or days per week engaging in meditation, and the more positive influence of meditation on daily life. This suggests that there might be a predisposition of NDErs to have thin boundaries of compartmentalized thought as described by Harmann above, or perhaps it is the near death experience that causes NDErs to become less compartmentalized and more fluid in their thinking.
Palmer did some relevant research in 1979 in an attempt to understand the relationship between dreaming, mystical states, and paranormal experiences. (Kohr, p.170) Palmer found that the ease of dream recall and tendency towards lucid dreaming are indicators of the “degree to which the conscious mind is capable of gaining access to the content of the unconscious mind (p. 171)." The conclusion from the study was that the relationship between psychic phenomena and mystical states follow from the availability of the unconscious in the waking state. He further suggested that the rational brain must be suppressed to inhibit repressive ego mechanisms that would keep the mystical state or psychic phenomena from reaching the waking brain.
This is consistent with what we know of consciousness. According to Ornstein, the brain evolved to enable us to respond to emergency situations as part of a survival mechanism (1991). Therefore, the subconscious brain handles most of the input we receive from our physical senses. The only things that make it to the mammalian brain are those that are serious enough to require attention. This effectively sets a threshold level screening where most thoughts or sensory input are ignored by the higher brain. This research is also consistent with Harmann's boundary research. Those who experience NDEs, mystical states, and psychic phenomena have thinner boundaries. Consequently, experiences that might be screened out or ignored by those with thicker boundaries are not recognized as authentic. However, to those who have thinner boundaries, they are able to experience and see things that others cannot.
Dr. van Lommel noted that age may play a part in whether a person experiences a NDE when they die and come back. For adults, the number is between 5-12% depending on which survey statistics are used. Dr. Melvin Morse, 85% of children who die and come back experience a NDE. Children typically have a lesser developed ego than adults, and therefore would have thinner boundaries. Therefore, the ego (used as sense of self), or thickness of boundaries may play a part in whether or not a person can access the NDE information from the subconscious. It might even mean that everyone experiences a NDE, but only those with thinner boundaries can recall the experience. Further study would be necessary before this can be a firm conclusion.
There is a German concept of "Umwelt" that states that in a species specific universe final reality is relative to the perceiver (States, B, 2000). There is no "immaculate perception" of reality or a superior point of view. States points out that "for humans to live on earth, the species accepts what we perceive of earth as our reality. If we lived in a world with different probability ratios, we would involuntarily use them as the yardstick for measuring the reality of other possible worlds." Consequently, a person cannot have an unreal emotion or unreal experience. Accordingly, it does not matter "whether it occurs in a dream or in broad daylight is incidental to its status as an experience; therefore the reality of any "immaculate" or transcendental world outside the experience is completely beside the point. The experience itself predicates the world in which it takes place." Ironically, the only way that we can tell the difference between a dream and waking reality is by comparing the memories to what we know through our physical senses.
"All that an organism can do constitutes its cognitive domain. Otherwise, one must say that all creatures are deluded, all of the time, because all creatures, including physicists and mathematicians, live in a world constrained by limited cognitive domains. The wasp is being quite "logical" in dealing with its problem. Our "higher" perspective on its logic may reveal a truth of which the wasp is unaware, but to imply a state of delusion is to assume the wasp is capable of saying to itself, "Something funny is going on here," and fails to do so. The wasp has no more capability in this regard than the dreamer: it must solve its problem its own waspish way and that is to do it over again, as often as necessary, in the very same way" (States, B., 2000).
In recalling dreams, one has to be able to reconstruct them in a narrative that makes sense to self and others. This narrative reconstruction takes place in NDEs, and can occur from certain events in waking reality. “A text is, literally, a ‘weaving together’ of the elements taken from a specific code in order to communicate something” (Kilroe, 2000). Since the text of dreams and NDEs are outside of our experience of reality, people have trouble communicating about these altered states. It is difficult to conform what happens in the dream or the NDE "to our expectations of an intelligible whole." (Freud, as quoted in Kilroe, 2000)
"We have dreams during the night and we have learned how to interpret them during the day. . . . When we come to submit a dream to interpretation, we find that the erratic and irregular arrangements of its constituent parts is quite unimportant from the point of view of our understanding it. . . . The essential elements in a dream are the dream-thoughts, and these have meaning, connection and order. . . .The elements of the dream, apart from their being condensed, are almost invariably arranged in a new order more or less independent of their earlier arrangement. Finally, it must be added that whenever the original material of the dream-thoughts has been turned into by the dream activity is been subjected to a further influence. This is what is known as “secondary revision,” and its purpose is evidently to get rid of the disconnectedness and unintelligibility produced by the dream activity and replace it by a new meaning. But this new meaning, arrived at by secondary revision, is no longer the meaning of the dream thoughts." (Freud, 1950, pp. 118-119)
With the background of dreams, NDE, altered states, processing of reality, and consciousness studies, one can start to piece together the results from a web survey submitted to the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF). Informed consent is given in the web-form introduction and instructions that discloses the purpose of the survey, use of the material submitted, assurance of confidentiality to the extent requested by the contributors, and lack of compensation for participation in the survey. This questionnaire contains a section for NDErs to share a narrative of their experience and asks over 50 questions regarding demographics, experience elements, and aftereffects. Out of 650 people who responded, 318 (48.9%) met the NDERF definition of NDE. For research purposes, NDERF uses the definition that a NDE is "a lucid experience associated with perceived consciousness apart from the body occurring at the time of actual or threatened imminent death."
Analyzed were narrative responses to the two of the most relevant questions on the survey: 1) "What was your level of consciousness and alertness during the experience?"; and 2) "Was the experience dream like in any way?”
Of 318 NDEs submitted, 307 (96.5%) answered the narrative question, "What was your level of consciousness and alertness during the experience?" Quantitatively, this was not a very good question because many people said that their level of consciousness was zero because they were dead. However, qualitatively the answers spoke volumes with 226 (73.6%) NDErs reported being wide awake, very alert, more alert than normal, or being very conscious. Many who gave narrative explanations described the distinction between the totally unconscious body and the hyper-alert state of consciousness they had entered as a consequence of being dead.
There were 311 NDErs (97.7%) who responded "yes" or "no" or "uncertain" to the web-form question “Was the experience dream like in any way?” Of those who answered, 192 participants (62.5%) gave narrative explanations. While it is recognized that the question may have a bias in favor of affirmative answers, the intent was to encourage NDErs to share any conceivable relation between their NDE and dreams to the greatest extent possible. Out of the 311 narrative responses to this question, 233 (74.9% were classified as “no,” 74 (23.8%) as “yes,” and 4 (1.3) as “Uncertain." Of the participants, 115 (36.9%) did not give an explanation: 99 (31.8%) answered "no" and 16 (5.1%) answered "yes."
Out of the 311 responses, 192 of the answers had additional comments which were analyzed for clues as to what NDErs considered dreamlike and not dreamlike. The highest category of 68 NDErs (21.9%) defined what makes the experience dreamlike is in terms of reality. NDErs talk about reality in terms of what we know on earth as observed through our physical sensory input. Other narrative responses contrasted the NDE to dreams in terms of "intensity, vividness, stronger than a dream" 23 (7.2%), "reality is over there" 21(6.6%), and ease of recall 15(4.7%).
The individual comments were further categorized into concepts. Again, the biggest concept that 97(50.5%) NDErs discussed distinguishing dreams from NDE had to do with reality, with comments such as "very real, not unreal, reality is over there, like being there, felt like I was awake." NDErs, 58 (30.2%), discussed concepts involving memories or recall with comments such as, "intensity, vividness, stronger than a dream, ease of recall, remember it like it just happened, clarity, level of knowledge or understanding." Dreamlike qualities were described by 49 (25.5%) NDErs in terms of "surreal, not like an ordinary dream, odd, strange, floating, flying, like a dream but felt different, the tunnel and void and white light were dreamlike, some parts of the NDE morphed or changed, the NDE started out unreal and then changed, the NDE had aspects of vision quests or lucid dreaming."
Other concepts consisting of comparisons of NDE to dreams were in terms of 1) emotions 8(4.2%), "feelings & emotions, more peaceful, no fear"; 2) perception 14 (7.3%) "contiguous, sequential, like watching a play or movie, time/space distorted, couldn't control the course of events"; 3) body perceptions 13 (6.8%), "no pain or sickness, could not feel body, seeing colors"; and 4) no prior framework 4 (2.1%), "too young, ineffable.
One of the most striking things to me, when I started to attend Seattle IANDS meetings, was when I listen to NDErs talk about their experiences. I soon found myself questioning, "What is reality?" This dream study discusses the altered states in terms of consciousness, reality, memory recall, narrative reconstruction and integrating the experience into the earthly reality.
Since most NDErs indicated their experience was not dreamlike in any way, we need to consider what constitutes dreaming and why an NDE might be different. If over 73% of NDErs say the experience is not dreamlike, then what was it like?
Basically, NDErs go through the same process that everyone else does when they recall an experience that occurred in an altered state. The reason we know that we are in an altered state to begin with is how the memories compare to our earthly reality. At first, all NDErs can do is react to the experience. It may take days or years to fully be able to contextualize any vivid experience outside of our waking reality. The brain tries to make sense and order the experience to be able to reduce it to text. From the text it is further processed in the brain as a narrative in a subjective story form that makes sense to the individual and later, retold to make sense to others. NDEs, or at least the ones that we know about, are intense enough to pass the subconscious threshold and can be processed in the logical part of the brain.
We know some dreams are not vivid enough to pass the subconscious threshold into long term memory for later recall. Other dreams are so intense, that they are readily recalled. The clearer the events and the ease of recall, the more the experiencers identified the experience as “not dreamlike.” This is consistent with reports from those who experience spiritually transformative events, mystical states, out of body experiences, or any other subjective paranormal experience. Moreover, it is suggested that the vivid dreams may have either its origins from the stream of consciousness or that the memory is so vivid that it is embedded in the stream of consciousness. When this happens, the memory is integrated with waking memories and plays a part in how we perceive what is real.
NDEs are described in terms of reality, intensity, ease of recall, and physical perceptions. Certain types of dreams have these characteristics too. (www.oberf.org) NDEs for the most part have a sense of purpose and a definite order to them. The logical flow of events is generally not interrupted, like what one might see while dreaming and then the alarm clock goes off. Dreams are described as more fluid, with qualities that don't exist in our world (like floating), non-linear with non-sequential events. The purpose for a dream is rarely found without some reflection on the emotions of the dream. For most NDErs, they describe their level of perception as being hyper alert or lucid during the experience. Only certain types of dreams contain the hyper-alert state or lucid dreaming. Here are a few comments:
"It seemed real, not floaty and jumping between topics as in dreams" - Tsagali
"Unlike anything my imagination could create" - James
"This world seems like a dream, and the other world seems natural" - J.C.
"It was like leaving your body as energy, I
can see my energy body form: no it was
like, going there in person, like being on a weekend trip" - Frank
"Nothing about it was like a dream. It was the most real I've ever known" - Christine
"I was unconscious physically, but more alert/conscious than I had ever experienced before or since. Like a window had been cleaned that you did not know was dirty until you saw the difference" - Sheila
In order for successful integration of the experience into everyday reality, many NDErs were found to exhibit more flexible thought processes than those with thick, compartmentalized views of the world. This thought process was similar in mystical and other altered states. It would be interesting to know if the thinness of boundaries between the conscious and subconscious is a result of the NDE or if this state of being was in existence prior to the NDE.
Some NDErs thought the experience was dreamlike because there simply were no words to describe what happened. Some experiencers expressed doubts regarding the reality of the experience and concluded it was dreamlike. One NDEr called the NDE a dream to avoid ridicule from his wife and friends. Interestingly, there were accounts from two children who grew up calling their experience a dream because they did not have the framework to call it anything else. In their adulthood, and after discovering NDEs, they now define their experience as not dreamlike.
The out of body (OBE) component of the NDE, typically the place where most of the floating, flying, or free movement, is that considered by some NDErs as dreamlike. The comments, following the “yes,” “mixed,” and “unsure” responses, seemed to focus more on the out of body component of the experience by likening the floating sensation, or that of moving without effort, to what they experience in dreams. Typical analogies to a dream were, “only when I was floating I felt I lost control of myself,” or “in a sense, it was a dreamy feeling, in general, somewhat surreal,” or “it all seemed very odd and strange.”
Perceptions played a part in how one classified the experience. Those who watched themselves 14 (7.3%), such as seeing in slow motion, on a stage or in a movie, or experiencing a life review, were more likely to consider the experience dreamlike. However, those who categorized according to a sequence of events would most likely say that the experience started out dreamlike, but then changed to non-dreamlike. Again, this would support the earlier finding that the OBE component of the NDE would most likely be considered dreamlike and that after the OBE, that portion would tend to contained the non-dreamlike components.
The NDErs who related the experience to the body, were more likely to call the experience not dreamlike. These were people who related the experience to the body by noting lack of pain, or they noticed the heart stopped beating, so they knew the experience was really happening. However, 1.9% of the responses considered the visual element to be dreamlike by likening the colors and the brightness of what they saw as “dreamlike.” Those who related the elements of the experience to emotions 8 (4.2%), would tend to call the experience more dreamlike. These people likened the extreme feelings of love, peacefulness, and etc., to being more like a dream.
The case has been made regarding the similarity of processing the NDE, mystical states, and subjective paranormal experiences, in terms of our earthly reality. After reviewing the data, one cannot help but question if we limit ourselves by processing these experiences in terms of our earthly reality. As noted by States above, even though people might be very "logical" in dealing with integrating their experiences, viewing reality from a higher perspective may reveal a truth of which most humans are unaware. And analogous to the wasp, those who solve the problem in a different way does not make them delusional. Some people are only capable of looking at altered states of consciousness in terms of earthly reality. They reinforce their reality over and over again, as often as necessary, in the very same way. Others with thinner boundaries can perceive these experiences from a different reality perspective. Which way of processing the experience is correct does not matter because "[t]he experience itself predicates the world in which it takes place" (States, B., 2000).
Upon review of the similarities and differences between dreams, NDE, and how we process reality, memories and recall of those memories are processed the same way. It appears that there are many similarities between NDEs and dreams when the dreams are vivid enough to be remembered. From the data, it would suggest that NDEs and dreams are altered states of consciousness. From NDEs it is evident that consciousness survives the body and so do the memories created during our lifetime.
There are certain types of boundaries between the conscious brain and the subconscious brain. Those people with thick boundaries tend to compartmentalize and rigidly store their memories in certain portions of the brain. Recall for these people tends to be very cut and dried. Reality is firmly grounded in what they can sense on earth. However, people with thin boundaries define reality very differently because they are able to access different parts of the subconscious during the waking state. NDErs and those people who report frequent dreaming typically fall into the category of thin boundaries. Reality is a blend from many states of consciousness.
Intriguing concepts come to mind when determining whether boundaries between the conscious and unconscious brain can be made thicker or thinner. In my mind, I think the dilemma could be likened to what comes first, the chicken or the egg. For instance, if the brain is considered a receiver, then is it possible that the consciousness stream itself causes the brain to receive in a certain manner? This results in a top to bottom analysis. Or is it heredity, where the brain structure itself limits the amount of consciousness that can be received by an individual? That would make it a bottom to top analysis. Or perhaps there could be certain rules for two-way communication between brain and consciousness?
Fruitful research might be to see if recall of different types of altered consciousness experience occur in different or similar parts of the brain. It would follow that if the brain is a storage receiver unit, by isolating the part of the brain that accesses information stored in consciousness we might be able to somehow access consciousness without using the brain as a receiver. Applications could be useful for people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, suffer head injuries, or are in a coma.
Palmer's research would suggest that most people can be trained or re-programmed to relax their boundaries so the subconscious threshold is lower and can allow the signals to flow to the conscious brain. Further study in this direction could enhance awareness of how the body interacts with consciousness and perhaps allow us to utilize fourth dimensional concepts to make life better for mankind. Access to a world that the overwhelming majority of NDErs describe as one of total love, peace, knowledge, and connectedness to the Supreme Being is worth the study efforts.
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