Near Death Experiences Seem More Real Than Reality, New Study

Near death experiences (NDEs) don’t seem to be remembered like other imaginary events. But they’re not remembered like known actual events either. Instead, they seem to create stronger, more detailed memories than verifiable reality. That’s the startling conclusion of a study published this week in open access journal PLOS One by researchers from The University of Liège in Belgium.

An NDE is a phenomenom that sometimes happens in the brains of people in a coma at the brink of death. Sometimes, the patient has technically died for a moment or two and then been brought back by modern medical science. The patient may remember leaving the body and looking down to see the doctors working below, or the patient may report traveling through a tunnel to the light to talk to deceased family members or even religious figures.

There is a very large community online at Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF), where people can post their NDEs and talk about them with other people who have experienced the same thing. It’s clear that many people who undergo the near death experience think it’s more than just some neurons firing in the brain as they struggle for survival. They feel that they have undergone a genuine spiritual experience.

For instance, “Robyn” posted earlier this month that, “I became ONE with ALL IN EXISTENCE…ALL was okay, all was LOVE…I was ONE with the doctor, the nurses, my Mom down the hall…I could have raised the doctor’s arm up if I wanted to…”

But science hasn’t had much luck explaining what causes NDEs. The new study doesn’t settle the matter, but it tried to figure out whether the memories of NDEs were stored in the brain more like imagined events or more like real events.

The team examined three groups of people who had experienced a severe brain injury that resulted in a coma. Eight people reported NDEs, six people remembered being in the coma but didn’t have an NDE, and seven people had no memory of the coma at all. Eighteen healthy people who had never been in a coma provided a control group.

The result? The memory of the NDE was nothing like the unclear, somewhat hazy memory of an imagined experience. But it was also clearer and better-defined than a real experience.

What the–? The “physiological origins [of NDEs] could lead them to be really perceived although not lived in the reality,” the researchers concluded. OK, we get that. It’s a really, really powerful experience. The researchers have confirmed that beyond a doubt. Whatever causes the NDEs creates some extremely convincing memories.

But, considering the brain is in a coma during the near death event, how and why can it be so powerful?

The researchers admitted that further investigation is needed to tell us what really happens in a near death experience.

[Cat’s Eye Nebula photo: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)]