Researching Death and Beyond
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
In trying to figure out if my NDE had been a dying brain hallucination, I discovered a world of scientific research I never knew existed.
There is a surprisingly hefty amount of scientific literature on near death experiences. In fact, entire medical journal dedicated to the study of the phenomenon called The Journal of Near Death Studies, the official journal of the International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS). Peer-reviewed scientific papers about near death experiences have appeared in many well respected journals, including The Lancet and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The hypothesis I formed while I was trying to figure out if my NDE was real or a figment of my imagination revolved around the reality that we all die, so near death experiences should be universal, regardless of geographic location or religious belief. If the human brain goes through a stereotypical process as it dies, that experience would be shared by everyone. If the experience was objectively real, and not simply a hallucination, people who perceived themselves as having returned from beyond would describe similar experiences. My first hypothesis was that I expected to find as many descriptions of near death experiences among Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindu’s as I had encountered early in my research among Christians. The second part of my hypothesis was that each near death experience would reflect personal and religious beliefs.
I was trying to link similarities, but I was really hoping for differences. I was hoping that Muslims would see Muhammad and Christians would see Jesus. This "personalization" would lend credence to my central hypothesis that NDEs are all in the brain. However, because what happened to me under the water was so far outside of my experience, I had to prepare myself for finding the opposite. What if consistent aspects of the NDE existed independent of personal belief systems? Would that refute my brain-centric hypothesis? What kind of evidence would convince me that what I encountered was post-mortem consciousness and not some kind of brain-generated hallucination? As personal (and distressing) as this was for me, I tried to remain skeptical and unbiased, as I have throughout my life. I would let the science guide me.
My first hypothesis was that I expected to find as many descriptions of near death experiences among Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus as I had encountered early in my research among Christians.
As a forensic pathologist, I base my opinions on facts that I interpret based on my decades of education, training and experience. I use these tools to communicate facts that are considered evidence by juries. I am an evidence-based thinker, and my entire career is about analyzing evidence and sifting out the good from the bad. My skill in doing this is vital to the criminal justice system. The conclusions I reach must be evidence-based and reached with a high degree of medical certainty. My words in some instance can mean the difference between an innocent person going to jail or a guilty person walking free. My opinion should be formed no different about my experiences than it would if I were communicating to a judge or jury.