Near-Death Experiences and Dreams

Near-Death Experiences and Dreams


Near-death experiences (NDEs), sometimes also called “pseudo-death” experiences, are the seemingly supernatural experiences often undergone by individuals who have suffered apparent death and then been restored to life. The systematic scientific study of NDEs is recent, although accounts of NDEs can be found in literature and historical documents dating back hundreds of years. The main impetus for modern studies on NDEs was the 1975 publication of Life after Life by psychiatrist Raymond A. Moody. Moody outlined nine stages of the experience, including the tunnel experience, in which the person undergoing an NDE feels as though he or she is being drawn into darkness through a tunnel, or is going up a stairway (or crossing some other threshold). Once the transition has been accomplished, the person meets people who seem to glow with an inner light, as well as friends and relatives who have already died and are there to greet the “deceased.”

NDEs are associated with dreams in several ways. For various reasons, but especially because of the many formal and informal experiments with mind-altering drugs and Eastern meditation techniques in the late sixties, a new field of research was articulated within the discipline of psychology that came to be referred to as altered states of consciousness (ASC). This field became a grab bag of every state of mind that could be distinguished from ordinary waking consciousness, including dreams and what at the time were called out-of-body experiences (OBEs). NDEs were later classified as a subcategory of OBEs.

Within parapsychology, NDEs became a topic of investigation after Moody had articulated them as a distinct phenomenon. Because parapsychologists also investigate dream states that have a psychic component, it would thus be natural that, within the discipline of parapsychology, NDEs and psychic dreams would be viewed as similar experiences. Certain investigators, such as David Engle in his book Divine Dreams, have even attempted to make the case that NDEs and certain types of dreams are basically the same state. The problem with this equation is that survivors of NDEs are usually emphatic that their experiences are far more real than dreams. It has also been discovered that people who have undergone NDEs tend to be transformed by their close encounters with death, an observation that cannot be extended to dreamers. Thus, while there are similarities between the two, they are clearly distinct experiences.

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