Near-death experience

Published January 25, 2021, 12:16 AM

by Dr. Jose Pujalte Jr.


Dr. Jose Pujalte, Jr.

“Adios, queridosseres, morir es descansar.” — (Farewell to all I love; to die is to rest) Jose Rizal (1861 – 1896), Filipino nationalist and polymath Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell) (1892)

In 1892, at around the time that Jose Rizal was imagining his death in Mi Ultimo Adios, someone already had his, came back to life and spoke about it. Albert von St Gallen Heim (1849-1937), a geologist and mountain climber, gave his paper “Remarks on Fatal Falls” to the Swiss Alpine Club. He recounted for the first time what we now call a “near-death experience” or NDE. He lost his footing, fell to his “death,” but was revived. He was supposed to be dead but he could recall details of his rescue: “Then my brother and three friends could sufficiently recover from their shock so as to accomplish the fairly difficult descent to me.” He writes: “Then I saw my whole past life take place in many images, as though on a stage at some distance from me. I saw myself as the chief character in the performance. Everything was transfigured as though by a heavenly light and everything was beautiful without grief, without anxiety, and without pain.” This deep sense of peace is commonly described too. Dr John Hagan III, an ophthalmologist and author of “The Science of Near-Death Experiences (2017)” states that NDE is “a medical syndrome affecting as many as 20% of people who are resuscitated after almost dying in a medial or surgical setting.”

Definition. Dr. Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist, wrote in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (1997) that “when some people come close to death, they go through a profound experience in which they believe they leave their bodies and enter some other realm or dimension, transcending the boundaries of the ego and the ordinary confines of time and space.”

Stages. In 1975, Dr Raymond Moody identified nine stages of NDE reported by patients who flatlined, though not experienced by all and not in the same order. Kenneth Long, PhD, a professor emeritus in psychology, uncovered the pattern of near-death experiences in these steps(2013):

  • Body separation.
  • Entering the darkness.
  • Seeing the light.
  • Entering the light and return.

Understanding NDE. Dr. Moody notes that NDEs are seen in ancient Egyptian and Greek records. Dutch Master Hieronymus Bosch’s Ascent of the Blessed is a painting (between 1505 -1515) that intriguingly shows a tunnel with heavenly white light and one angel guiding a human soul. 95% of world cultures have mentioned NDEs. And if indeed, this is brought about by culture, religion, or education why is it that children report similar findings?

Contrarian Views. Various models to explain NDEs have been proposed. The organic theory points to the brain lacking oxygen (anoxia, hypoxia), the release of endorphins when in extremisto dull unbelievable pain. Mental models like depersonalization and expectancy are rationalized by detachment and mind constructions, respectively (as reactions to a perceived inescapable end).To my mind, NDE is right up there with Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings and abductions. But unlike rarefied UFO first-hand accounts, everyone dies. That is to say, everyone will know eventually, or maybe not.  It’s just that those that went through a near-death experience probably had a preview, shall we say, of what is yet to come – or maybe not.

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