At the present time, neuroscience’s near death experience research is not able to generate a credible physical explanation for the verified out of body phenomena in near death experiences.
There is reason to believe that such explanations will never be able to do this. First, there is a radical discontinuity between those experiencing NDEs and those experiencing physically induced illusory states (e.g. in the studies of Blanke, Whinnery, Jansen, and Persinger).
The former group (NDEs) has no electrical activity in the cerebral cortex (marked by a flat EEG) and virtually no electrical activity in the lower brain (fixed and dilated pupils and absence of gag reflex).
However, the latter group (physically stimulated illusions) has both a functioning cortex and lower brain. Susan Blackmore presents the only case of a “dying brain” in which electrical activity is being diminished because of anoxia.
Though this hypothesis resembles the diminished electrical activity in the brain during clinical death, it falls prey to both van Lommel’s criticism (since 100% of dying people experience anoxia, 100% should have a near death experience if anoxia is the cause of NDEs), and Parnia’s criticism – (there are patients who have NDEs without anoxia).
The second major difference between NDEs and physically stimulated illusion (hereafter “PSI”) is that the latter do not resemble the former.
- Blanke’s PSI gives rise to abnormal bodily experiences and a false sense of reality (instead of a clear and accurate perception of reality and one’s place in it).
- Whinnery’s PSI gives rise to a state of confusion and anxiousness in its aftermath (instead of clarity and lifelong positive transformation).
- Jansen’s narcotically induced hallucination gives rise to false and weird images and exaggerated perspectives (unlike NDEs).
- Persinger’s PSI gives rise to psychic states associated with epilepsy (which are quite distinct from those associated with NDEs).
The third major difference between NDEs and physicalist explanations concerns the accurate veridical experience of both sighted and blind people during clinical death.
There is no evidence of this occurring during anoxia or any of the above PSI phenomena. Even if PSIs could produce these effects, it would not prove that those effects had their origin in physical reality alone—i.e., that there is no transphysical dimension of consciousness.
Indeed, there must be such a transphysical dimension of consciousness so that clinically dead individuals can accurately see and hear apart from and above their physical bodies.
PSIs have certainly not given a physical explanation of how clinically dead individuals can see and hear apart from their physical bodies.
Thus, even if PSIs could produce the effects of NDEs (which they are currently unable to do), it would only show that they had caused a transphysical state of consciousness to occur—a state of consciousness that can accurately see and hear apart from and above a clinically dead physical body.
If PSIs could produce the same effect as NDEs it would only serve to show that stimulation of the brain caused a separation of a transphysical dimension of consciousness from the physical body—it would not disprove the existence of that transphysical dimension.
In sum, near death experience research indicates that it is highly unlikely that physicalist explanations will ever be able to account for this last line of reasoning because it would require them to prove that merely physical phenomena can have unmistakably transphysical effects—which is at best a contradiction.
Physicalist explanations per se are limited to showing how physical causes produce physical effects—nothing more.
Therefore, the physicalists will have to either open the door to transphysical explanation, or leave the explanation of near death experiences to those who are open to the transphysical domain.
In Part V, we’ll take a closer look at how many near death experiences contain some aspect of love and give some indication of the eternal.