Near Death Experience
Nowadays, the phrase Near Death Experience barely raises an eyebrow. Things were very different, however, when a medical doctor named Raymond A. Moody burst into global consciousness with his ground-breaking book, Life After Life.
It was the ’70s, a time of social and political foment, intellectual activism, and cultural shift. The women’s liberation movement was overturning ‘sex roles’ and female stereotypes by demanding access to vocational training in the trades, previously the domain of males. It was a time to challenge tabu subjects. But of all of the changes wrought in that decade, the one with the greatest potential to affect how humans saw themselves was the work of a new generation of researchers, the NDE Researchers.
Near Death Experience
When a medical professional steps outside ‘the box’ and suggests the possibility that science might need to re-examine its assumptions, she or he can expect to be either politely ignored or, more commonly, attacked by the outraged scientific establishment. Raymond A. Moody (photo below, right) was quietly raising a few questions about what happens at the moment of death. What prompted him to embark on this line of research were patients who had had – and were worried by – strange experiences when they were undergoing medical treatments of various kinds. Doctors tended to explain away any unusual experience reported by a patient as being the effect of sedatives and/or pain killers, momentary deprivation of oxygen, or even hallucination induced by anesthesia. What doctors were not prepard to entertain was the possibility that their patients’ experiences were ‘real’, never mind ‘common’ in people who had been declared officially dead and then later ‘came back to life”.
Death is not as final as it seems
Because of my abiding interest in the mystery of Consciousness, I was prepared to consider the possibility of the survival of Consciousness after physical death. However, I was also enough of a child of the 20th century to want convincing evidence before I took the subject off my “pending more information” list and entered it into “things I believe are true” list.
I bought a copy of Life After Life and began ticking off the characteristics that the patients (all unknown to each other) reported as part of their experience.
Dr. Moody had made patient notes in the usual way for years just noting the fact the patient had reported an unusual experience during a medical emergency or a procedure such as surgery. It wasn’t until he started to record the details related by these occasional patients that he began notice a pattern. Although the accounts differed in some respects, there was an interesting co-incidence of some aspects of the experience that were common to most of them. Out of roughly 15 elements, each patient seemed to have 7 or 8 of these aspects during the experience. No matter how you look at that, the fact that patients had so many of the elements in common suggested that something ‘real’ was going on, but what?
A New Paradigm
It is important to note that Dr. Moody did not wake up one day and say “Today I will break the tabu against taking my patients’ “out of body experiences” as something other than “symptoms”. I think it is fair to say that Dr. Moody did not seek the data; the data found him. There are few medical doctors one feels one can speak freely to particularly with regard to an “out of body” experience! Most patients did not tell their doctors and only some shared the information with their closest family members. The fear of ridicule was such that people would rather with a frightening memory than risk being though ‘crazy’.
The patient’s reactions varied from embarrassment and fear of ridicule to amazement and confusion about how to reconcile an apparently ‘spiritual’ or even ‘religious’ experience with our largely secular way of life. I think it is fair to say that most educated people have serious reservations about the validity of any religion because of the absence of proof for religion’s assertions; its emphasis on ‘miraculous’ or ‘supernatural’ events that not are provable through scientific scrutiny; and most of all the rejection of dogma that demands ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ in something that has not been proved to exist. Consequently, it was interesting to find a highly educated medical doctor (two Ph.D. degrees plus an M.D.) who even for a second entertained the possibility that our mechanistic, materialist understanding of reality was incomplete. That took moral courage then as it still does on the frontiers of science.
Raising Important Questions
Dr. Moody suddenly found himself in an unexpected spotlight and his book which was largely anecdotal in tone, being scrutinised not for what it was but for what it was not, a massive long-term, double-blind study of both people who claimed to have had the near-death experience and those who had not. Most of the ‘peer reviews’ ignored that Moody himself had made it clear that his experience with these patients was only “suggestive” of the possibility that human consciousness survives physical death. He wasn’t suggesting answers; he was raising questions.
I remember thinking back to the accounts of Lister and Pasteur who were ridiculed about their claims for the existence of invisible “bugs” that caused sepsis and various illnesses. They were disparaged in public until such time as the evidence of their theories overwhelmed the nay-sayers and a new medical paradigm was born. Could Dr. Moody be about to catapult us into another such change of paradigm?
More to come
In tomorrow’s post I will discuss Dr. Moody’s original findings and relate one of my own experiences that fits many of the characteristics of the NDE. Was it enough to convince me? Sign up for my RSS feed and get the Post directly in your email and see what you think.
Books and DVD cited in today’s post are available HERE