BRUCE GRAYSON: When I started studying near-death experiences in the late 1970s, I assumed there would be a physiological explanation for it. What I’ve found over the decades is that the various simple explanations we might think of, like lack of oxygen, drugs being given to people, etc., don’t work – the data doesn’t support them. . And furthermore, the phenomena of NDE, of near-death experiences, seem to defy a simple, materialistic explanation. When we first started presenting this material at medical conferences, there was a polite silence in the audience. And now, in the 21st century, when we do that, it’s rare that doctors don’t stand up in the audience and say, “Let me share my experience with you.” So it’s pretty well accepted now that these are common experiences that people go through all the time and have profound effects. There is still, of course, much controversy about their causes, but not about the fact that they exist and are quite common.
My name is Bruce Greyson, I am Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. And I recently published a book called “After: A Doctor Explores What Near Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond”.
Near-death experiences are deep subjective experiences that many people have as they approach death or sometimes when they are actually pronounced dead. And they include phenomena as difficult to explain as the feeling of leaving the physical body, of reviewing one’s entire life, of encountering other entities that are not physically present. And at some point, reach a point of no return beyond which they can no longer continue and come back to life. When they return, they are often deeply transformed by the experience. Early in my training in psychiatry, I began to be confronted with patient reports of things that I could not explain.
One of them happened to me when I was only a few weeks out of my training. I was asked to see a patient who had overdosed in the ER, and I was in the cafeteria when the page came in and I was having dinner, and the page startled me and I dropped my fork, spilling spaghetti sauce on my tie. I couldn’t wipe it off, so I covered it with a lab coat so no one could see it. And then I went down to the emergency room to see the patient, and she was completely unconscious. I couldn’t revive her, but her roommate was waiting to see me down the hall in another room. So I went down to the other room, talked to the roommate for about 15 or 20 minutes, and there was no air conditioning in the 70s, so I unbuttoned my lab coat, so as not to sweat as much, exposing the stain for about 10 minutes or so. And then I went back to see the patient, she was still unconscious. When I went to see her in the morning, I introduced myself and she stopped me and said, “I know who you are. I remember you last night. This puzzled me, so I said something like, “Well, I’m surprised, I thought you were unconscious when I saw you last night.” And she looked at me and said, “Not in my room. I saw you talking to my roommate down the hall.” She sensed my confusion and started telling me about the conversation I had with her roommate – where we were sitting, what we were talking about. And finally she said, “And you had a striped tie with a red patch on it.” It just blew me away. I didn’t know how to handle this. I couldn’t think of any logical reason, any explanation for how she could have known about that spaghetti stain. No one had seen him except his roommate. And she hadn’t spoken to her roommate since arriving at the hospital.
As a scientist, I knew I had to study this. It didn’t make sense to me, but scientists don’t run away from things they don’t understand. They run towards them. I didn’t expect to spend so much time studying near death experiences. At first I thought it was just a weird anomaly. I would spend a few years looking at them, finding the physiological explanation and leaving it behind. I collected about a thousand cases that people had sent to me about their own near-death experience. I soon realized that the stories I was getting from people who offered me their stories were the same as the people I interviewed at the hospital. We studied the physiological events around the near-death experience, the psychological traits with the experimenters and so on; trying to find a logical explanation for these events. Most of us have been taught that the mind is what the brain does. That all our thoughts, our feelings, our perceptions, our memories are all created by the brain. However, that’s not the whole story. And we have hundreds and hundreds of experiences that occur during cardiac arrest or deep anesthesia, when we know that the brain is not able to function well enough to create thoughts, feelings and complex memories.
Most near-death people say that in the near-death experience their senses were incredibly heightened, and they often report hearing sounds they had never heard on Earth and seeing colors they didn’t. had never seen before. One person told me, “It’s like trying to draw a smell with a pencil. And when they come back, they don’t know how to describe these things because there are no words to describe them, but they say their senses are so much more vivid in the NDE. And it makes the experience feel more real than real. More real than this world is. Most near death experiences are pretty much the same around the world and across the centuries. Many ancients wrote about a case like this in ancient Rome.
In the first century, we had examples of near-death experiences from Western Europe, the Middle East, Asian cultures, Hindu cultures, Buddhist cultures, and primitive cultures – Australian Aboriginal and Native American societies, which resemble the stories. we have today. However, the way they describe these phenomena is influenced by their cultural background. For example, people all over the world will talk about encountering a warm and loving being of light who radiates unconditional love towards them. And if you talk to someone who grew up in the United States, they might identify that as God or sometimes Jesus, whereas someone who’s in a Hindu or Buddhist culture wouldn’t use those terms. Some of the lessons that near-death experiencers bring back from this event relate to what they find that makes life meaningful and fulfilling for them. And the main thing they talk about is that feeling of being interconnected with other people – about how to make this life more meaningful, more useful, more fulfilling. I think one of the reasons a lot of people find near death experiences interesting is that they hold the promise that will tell us what the soul is, if there is life after death, after the decomposition of our body. And I think those are good questions, I don’t think that’s the most important part of the near-death experience. I think they tell us something about the possibility of surviving bodily death. But I think the important part of near-death experiences is what they tell us about the life we currently find ourselves in.
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