New study sheds light on NDE’s

About a year ago, I wrote an article criticizing Dr. Jeffery Long for his terribly unscientific book about NDE’s, or Near Death Experiences. Long essentially collected nearly 1,300 stories of people’s traumatic experiences, and figured the similarities must somehow mean something supernatural was going on. He even went to far as to claim this was ultimate proof there is an afterlife.

It would be too easy to point out his web surveys don’t exactly meet the rigorous standards of evidence, and all too pointless to do so. True believers want justification for their beliefs, no matter how flimsy the evidence is. Even the article I wrote on Dr. Jeffrey Long still regularly gets comments from people convinced that I’m either terribly biased or close-minded regarding the possibility of there being life after death.

A new study on the effects of death on the brain has provided further evidence only physical explanations are at work here. Dr. Lakhmir Chawla monitored the brain activity of terminally-ill patients and found that shortly before death, the brain had a huge cascade of activity, lasting from 30 seconds to almost 3 minutes.

Dr. Chawla believes this may account for the vivid experiences people often describe during NDE’s, but the problem with this study is since all the patients died, it wasn’t possible to actually interview them. Still, since the activity in the brain is so similar to that of vivid dreaming, why do we continually refuse to abandon the unsupported belief something supernatural was happening.

Hey, I would love if death wasn’t the end, just like I would love to believe I’m an invisible sex-god who can shoot laser beams out of my eyes. Unfortunately, the fact is I must accept that I’m a simple ape, whose only super power is to offend people with the terrible things that come out of my mouth.

Comments (9)

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    The more we find out about the brain the more evidence i see that god is a creation of it. you know, considering humans have made up thousands of other gods before. Not to mention things like that god helmet can recreate feelings of supernatural beings in the same room as the wearer. Also, damn near everyone has had a very intense, emotional, and vivid dream in their life at least once. How can they not realize the power of their own mind and how it can reproduce anything it wants? its pretty damn obvious to me.

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    That was a fascinating article Jeff.
    I’d never believed in NDE’s before. It always had to be something chemical in the brain, but it’s good that they’re finally looking into it.
    But, as you said, it won’t convince any true believers. When has science and rationality ever converted the stupid?

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    Haha my bad. I meant Jacob of course!

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    I’ve read Jeffery Long’s book and found it incredibly unconvincing. In fact, I would go as far to say is actually further convinced me that NDEs are totally in the mind.

    Despite the concerns about the methodology employed, the collection of stories submitted made it clear that the majority of people who “die” and are resuscitated don’t have NDEs; and there are huge variations in what those who have NDEs actually experience.

    Sure there are some commonalties between some of the reports, but far more variation between NDEs and if the experience was real surely we would expect everyone to experience the same thing? Some see a tunnel, some don’t. Some meet dead relatives, some don’t. 4% of NDEers in Dr Long’s study even profess to seeing living relatives! Not a trip to the land of the dead then? (Glossed over in the book and no attempt at an explanation given). Some experience religious figures, some don’t. And so on.

    The majority experience nothing and those that do have NDEs have very different individual experiences. To any right minded person, this suggests a “subjective” not “objective” experience. The balance of probability is therefore on NDEs being all in the mind.

    Picking out the comparatively infrequent commonalties, and ignoring the very frequent differences, to claim a common experience was a very annoying trait in the book.

    Dr Long also fails to understand the way statistics should work. On his website you can enter how convincing you find his “9 lines of evidence”. From there it will work out how convinced you are about the reality of life after death.

    The mathematics involved in providing the results ignore the fact that if someone is 30% convinced, on any given “line of evidence”, it also means that the same person is 70% unconvinced by the exact same line of evidence.

    On the next line of evidence, a score of 15% convinced (85% unconvinced) is added so you are now – according to the website – 45% convinced! (Not the correct 22.5% convinced i.e. add the percentages together and divide by the number of “lines of evidence). So if I was 10% convinced by all 9 lines, the site shows a rating of 90% convinced, not the correct statistic of 10% convinced.

    Is this a con to get higher results than it should? An attempt to exploit those who don’t fully grasp how percentages should work? Or a genuine failure to grasp basic mathematics?

    So I’m far from convinced about NDEs as proof of an afterlife and Dr Long’s book (often cited by believers as the leading and most in-depth research) left me thoroughly unconvinced and disappointed that people don’t read things more critically and make the statistics fit their exiting view. Which leads me to Jake’s post and the original Daily Mail article …

    I love you Jake … but I think you are not reading this report correctly and you are also arguing from a position of pre-existing belief. This repost tells us absolutely NOTHING about NDEs.

    NDEs (near death experiences) are reports of experiences from people who “died” and were resuscitated. None of the people in this study were resuscitated. They had “death experiences” not “near death experiences” and hence we have absolutely no idea if they had a similar experience to that of the NDEers. The study did not show ANY link between the “cascade of activity” and “near death experiences”.

    The headline of “New study sheds light on NDE’s” is therefore totally inaccurate As you point out: “Dr. Chawla believes that this may account for the vivid experiences people often describe during NDE’s, but the problem with this study is that since all the patients died, it wasn’t possible to actually interview them”.

    The key word is “belief” and Dr. Chawla has provided no proof of a link with NDE. We atheist types always argue from a sound position when we avoid belief and stick to the evidence. When we stray from the evidence and insert unproven links via “belief” we lose that firm footing of logic and reason and head towards the “dogma” of our “atheist beliefs”.

    There could well be a link between this activity and NDE, but as yet there is zero evidence of such a link so it’s not right to say this study “sheds light on NDEs”.

    What this study shows is a burst of activity in the brain exists prior to death. It can show no link between that burst of activity with NDE and it should not be suggested by “non-believers” that it does.

    The burden of proof is always on those making the claim and, in this instance, the report’s authors need to show a link with NDE in order to make the claims they have. The daily mail should also pick them up on this. Their failure to do so makes them as bad as those on the other side who also make unproven claims.

    We need to stick to the scientific methods if we are to claim its backing.

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    Jacob Fortin

    ^ The surge in brain activity is extremely similar to what happens when we experience vivid dreaming. I think this is worth exploring. You have to understand that piecing together what happens when we die involves more than interviewing people who have had the experience. We also need a model of what happens, and this kind of study opens the door to this. I thought I was fair in pointing out that it wasn’t conclusive, but you dismiss this way too easily. This is a significant finding in terms of the process of the brain during death, and that’s crucial when understanding how NDE’s occur.

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    Thanks for the reply.


    I agree totally.


    Again, I agree totally. I’ve read DR Long’s book cover to cover and it’s far from convincing in terms of methodology, data gathered and conclusions.


    It may open door or it may not. Because no link to NDEs was established in the study I think we need to avoid making unfounded links. Definitely worth exploring further though.


    Because there is no link to NDE (at this stage) I think it’s wrong to say things like “New study sheds light on NDE’s” and “A new study on the effects of death on the brain has provided further evidence that only physical explanations are at work here.” There was no proven link to NDE and hence I don’t think we can even say the study was “not conclusive” that the surge was the cause of NDE. It made absolutely no link between this brain activity and NDE so we can draw no conclusions at all from it in relation to NDEs.

    Now that we know about this brain surge, the next thing would be to establish the link between it and NDE. We need cases where this surge is found in people who experience NDEs so a link can be established and further study done. At this time there is no established link between this phenomenon and NDE. It would be fair enough to say that this may be a part of the NDE experience, but to say it “provides evidence” or “sheds light” at this stage is premature and unscientific in my view.


    I don’t dismiss it. Apologies if I gave that impression. There may well be a link, but we can’t say that based on the evidence at this stage. I feel we need to stick to the process and not insert an as yet un-established links.

    We should only make the conclusions that the evidence allows and not take things further without evidence. I feel that when we do that we weaken our argument as one of the great strengths of the atheist position is that we don’t draw conclusions without solid evidence to support those conclusions. I therefore think we need to careful (as do the reports authors and those who report on it) about saying this sheds light on NDEs when no link to NDEs has been established. It gives those who ignore evidence or manipulate it to support their beliefs the opportunity to say we do the same.

    In conclusion, I agree it is interesting and there may be a link to NDE (far more probable than a supernatural explanation). But at this stage the study does not establish any link so we need to be careful about making links at this stage if we wish to remain objective and true to the scientific method.

    I know it’s nit-picking and I agree with the sentiment. I merely wanted to point out that we should carefully stick to what we have evidence for so we can keep the logical high ground.


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    thanks for your analysis. I agree with your conclusions regarding Dr. Lakhmir Chawla’s study, i.e. that we can’t draw conclusions that relate to NDEs.

    I want to point out that though there may be a “seeming” similarity between the brain activity in vivid dreaming and a NDE, we don’t know what that means. There is no scientific definition of “similarity”. There could be a similarity between a candle and the sun, but there are also a whole lot of things that are dissimilar.

    I think it’s interesting also that there would be any type of brain activity that is similar to vivid dreaming when someone is dying. If I was to guess what would happen to a pure material person as they died, I’d expect them to just sloooowwww dooowwwwwnnn and stop. But this research shows some type of activity that appears contrary to their physiological existence. Ask yourself this: you’re about to kick off and your body is breathing it’s last breath. Is this the time to have some kind of vivid dream? I imagine at that point the person is not fully conscious or may be completely unconscious, so what is going on here?

    As far as Dr. Long’s research let’s say it is unscientific: that means zero. If we are to say that something is not true because someone did lousy research on the subject, that’s completely illogical.

    The part I find interesting, from just reading the posts, are those people that seem to know things from the nde’s that shouldn’t know those things, like Vicki Noratuk, who was blind.

    Personally I have no clue whose right or wrong about this. Maybe I’m just not as smart as either the true believers or the atheists, or maybe I’m smarter because I know when I don’t know something.

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    People see themselves during cardiac arrest. So… they either ACTUALLY see themselves or their disfunctional brain creates perfect convincing reality always relevant to what is actually going on in the resuscitation. How does it do this ? and why does it only do it when the brain isn’t working properly.

    All I can say to you sceptics is… you are in for a big surprise.

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    It is true that we are able to detect that surge of chemical that is equivalent to the effect of an LSD but again like in any cases. These type of case also requires a different method of investigation since it deals mostly on experience. Whether they can draw an accurate similarity to the things that actually happens like details of the event. In the case of Pam Reynolds who happens to identify the method of surgery in intricate details and some actions that is unique to the surgeon during her state without any reference. If proven that someone might have told her about the surgery who happens to review the procedures in detail then i rest my case. If not It will remain open to criticism.

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