Recalled Experiences Surrounding Death: More Than Hallucinations?

Summary: Due to advances in resuscitation and critical care, many people are surviving near-death experiences. Survivors’ recalled experiences are not consistent with hallucinations, but instead, follow a specific narrative arc involving perception.

Source: NYU Langone Health

Scientific advances in the 20th and 21st centuries have led to a major evolution in the understanding of death. At the same time, for decades, people who have survived an encounter with death have recalled unexplained lucid episodes involving heightened consciousness and awareness. These have been reported using the popular—yet scientifically ill-defined—term “near-death experiences”.

A multidisciplinary team of national and international leaders, led by Sam Parnia, MD, Ph.D., director of Critical Care and Resuscitation Research at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, have published “Guidelines and Standards for the Study of Death and Recalled Experiences of Death,” a multi-disciplinary consensus statement and proposed future directions in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

This study, which examined the accumulated scientific evidence to date, represents the first-ever, peer-reviewed consensus statement for the scientific study of recalled experiences surrounding death.

The researchers on the study represent many medical disciplines, including the neurosciences, critical care, psychiatry, psychology, social sciences and humanities, and represent many of the world’s most respected academic institutions including Harvard University, Baylor University, University of California Riverside, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Medical College of Wisconsin, and the Universities of Southampton and London.

Among their conclusions:

  1. Due to advances in resuscitation and critical care medicine, many people have survived encounters with death or being near-death. These people—who are estimated to comprise hundreds of millions of people around the world based on previous population studies—have consistently described recalled experiences surrounding death, which involve a unique set of mental recollections with universal themes.
  2. The recalled experiences surrounding death are not consistent with hallucinations, illusions or psychedelic drug induced experiences, according to several previously published studies. Instead, they follow a specific narrative arc involving a perception of: (a) separation from the body with a heightened, vast sense of consciousness and recognition of death; (b) travel to a destination; (c) a meaningful and purposeful review of life, involving a critical analysis of all actions, intentions and thoughts towards others; a perception of (d) being in a place that feels like “home”, and (e) a return back to life.
  3. The experience of death culminates into previously unidentified, separate subthemes and is associated with positive long-term psychological transformation and growth.
  4. Studies showing the emergence of gamma activity and electrical spikes—ordinarily a sign of heightened states of consciousness on electroencephalography (EEG)—in relation to death, further support the claims of millions of people who have reported experiencing lucidity and heightened consciousness in relation to death.
  5. Frightening or distressing experiences in relation to death often neither share the same themes, nor the same narrative, transcendent qualities, ineffability, and positive transformative effects.

“Cardiac arrest is not a heart attack, but represents the final stage of a disease or event that causes a person to die,” lead author Parnia explains. “The advent of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) showed us that death is not an absolute state, rather, it’s a process that could potentially be reversed in some people even after it has started.

This shows a long road stretching off into the sunset
So far, the researchers say, evidence suggests that neither physiological nor cognitive processes end with death and that although systematic studies have not been able to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of patients’ experiences and claims of awareness in relation to death, it has been impossible to disclaim them either. Image is in the public domain

“What has enabled the scientific study of death,” he continues, “is that brain cells do not become irreversibly damaged within minutes of oxygen deprivation when the heart stops. Instead, they ‘die’ over hours of time. This is allowing scientists to objectively study the physiological and mental events that occur in relation to death”.

So far, the researchers say, evidence suggests that neither physiological nor cognitive processes end with death and that although systematic studies have not been able to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of patients’ experiences and claims of awareness in relation to death, it has been impossible to disclaim them either.

“Few studies have explored what happens when we die in an objective and scientific way, but these findings offer intriguing insights into how consciousness exists in humans and may pave the way for further research,” Parnia adds.

About this near-death experience research news

Author: Press Office
Source: NYU Langone Health
Contact: Press Office – NYU Langone Health
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Guidelines and standards for the study of death and recalled experiences of death––a multidisciplinary consensus statement and proposed future directions” by Sam Parnia et al. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences


Guidelines and standards for the study of death and recalled experiences of death––a multidisciplinary consensus statement and proposed future directions

An inadvertent consequence of advances in stem cell research, neuroscience, and resuscitation science has been to enable scientific insights regarding what happens to the human brain in relation to death.

The scientific exploration of death is in large part possible due to the recognition that brain cells are more resilient to the effects of anoxia than assumed. Hence, brain cells become irreversibly damaged and “die” over hours to days postmortem.

Resuscitation science has enabled life to be restored to millions of people after their hearts had stopped.

These survivors have described a unique set of recollections in relation to death that appear universal.

We review the literature, with a focus on death, the recalled experiences in relation to cardiac arrest, post–intensive care syndrome, and related phenomena that provide insights into potential mechanisms, ethical implications, and methodologic considerations for systematic investigation.

We also identify issues and controversies related to the study of consciousness and the recalled experience of cardiac arrest and death in subjects who have been in a coma, with a view to standardize and facilitate future research.

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  1. I was intrigued by and identify with this article, having experienced many of the same things during a cardiac arrest 6 years ago. There is no one near to discus these things with and am very glad there is information to be had on your site. Always willing to discuss the things I have experienced if that helps!

  2. Please make sure you know that the significance of the greater resilience of the brain cells after clinical death is that it explains why it is that people whose their life functions have stopped, including breathing, depriving the brain of oxygen, can still can come back from the death experience without their brains being damaged. What it’s important NOT to conclude is that the experience was taking place in the brain. The mind and the brain can separate, which is what happens at the final death experience as well as during ndes If people say ‘well the brain cells were still alive so therefore the experience was taking place inside the brain and not in heaven or elsewhere,” this would be a mistake, because thoughts and experiences have to be produced in the brain by complex activity brain activity. There is no complex brain activity when the life functions have stopped.
    Also, there are a great many “proofs” that the mind separates from the brain. One is what a person is able to see once they’re not inside their body anymore. They can see and hear things that were taking place miles away at the time they were lying in the hospital. Things they could not possibly have known about. There are a great many of these sorts of “proofs,” which I understand can’t be total proof
    , but these are the things you need to be studying
    when it comes to understanding the reality of the nde. To gather more information about ndes, you do not have to stick with scientific reports. Yes, there are many books by doctors scientists and journalists about NDS, and there are also websites that contain numerous NDEs. One is the International Association for Near-Death Studies. “IANDS” and the other is the Near Death Experience Research Foundation. http://www.Nderf.Org. You will find that many of the questions that have arisen for you have already been explored extensively.
    Studying what has already been written about ndes will give people many jumping off points for further research. People such as Dr Bruce Greyson have already been studying near death experiences with a scientific approach. His latest book is called “After”
    Dr.Raymond Moody author of the original “Life After Life” first refused to state that ndes are proof of life after death. It took him many years and much more study and interviewing people to come to his own conclusion that NDEs do indicate there is life after death, and he also began to explore many other ways of being in touch with the non-material dimension. I have been studying ndes for the last 12 years and I have been so much looking forward to having science at last start to work with all this information that’s out there, because for me this is where humanity is going to be able to turn around and start being decent! Also Include in your studies what people learn when they go to heaven and meet with the bright light and have their life review etc. Also there are changes in the brain or the mind which allow a person to have much greater psychic perceptions. And don’t forget that many NDErs cannot wear a watch, Something about their body energy causes watches to stop working. Doesn’t that suggest a scientific study!

    Not everybody that has an nde goes as far as the light but large numbers of people have. I have been participating in an NDE Facebook group run by Ned Matinnia and it’s a public group, and I suggest you just drop in and start reading! I have not had an nde, but I did not believe in life after death before I started reading them. They are very clearly true, my field was psychology, and I know that ndes are not hallucinations. I’m 81 years old now. Hope you will continue to publish articles about NDEs. Those who publish articles now are going to be the ones called the pioneers. Magazines like the New Yorker and Science News are going to be left in the dust for their refusal to even say one word about ndes, (except for an article 10 years or so debunking them.) That’s all that science has been able to do so far is insist that ndes are produced by the material brain. They cannot stray from their dogma that only the material is real. VThe debunking articles are laughable.

  3. Wow pretty close to the Islamic concepts of death and after.

    1. Paranormal vision and consciousness while dying.

    2. Separation of soul from body.

    3. Brain functionality for a few hours after death.

  4. While this article states that the effects surrounding near death experiences are not similar to drug induced states, the description is nearly identical to the state of consciousness while under the effects of dmt.

  5. The article about death concludes in a way that shows it’s not complete research. Still so many questions are not answered.

    1. The article is about a specific research project looking a one aspect associated with human death. It sounds more like the questions you have are not answered in the ways that you would prefer them to be, by the research they conducted. Not liking the answers research provides isn’t the same thing as research providing no answers. The researchers were asking very specific questions regarding NDEs (near death experiences), and they seem to have found a set of compelling answers for the questions they asked.

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