Philosophy Magazine

Shared Near-Death Experiences

By Stuart_gray @stuartg__uk
Shared Near-Death Experiences

People who experience near-death experiences (NDErs) describe a process where they apparently leave their body and observe their surroundings externally – an out-of-body experience (OBE). But is this an objectively real event? There have been many reports of this down through the ages. Some of them have even involved situations where the NDErs come back from their experience with information that they should not have.

I described two of these in my previous blog.

  • a patient understanding medical procedures.
  • a victim of attempted murder reporting details of her attacker’s escape while unconscious on the ground.

These are interesting because they are evidential. They go beyond just claims of an NDE. They allow us to argue that the event actually did happen because we have confirmatory evidence that it happened.

But surely If NDEs were real, it would be great if we could have evidential cases that involved multiple witnesses who could agree what happened. If we had multiple witnesses, then surely that would make a strong case that NDEs are objectively real events, rather than personal brain events or hallucinations. There are two types of NDE that make this strong case for us.

Shared NDEs

Here, a healthy person sees the NDErs transition out of their body and observes other aspects of the NDE experience. On return, the NDErs and the witness confirm what they both experienced. The experience therefore cannot be purely subjective because two people experienced it.

Jan Price was out walking with her husband in 1993 when she was bitten by a dog and began to feel very ill.[1] They called the paramedics when they returned home. Jan was placed on a gurney by the paramedics, and while on it she had a cardiac arrest that was described by the ambulance crew as almost fatal. It lasted 4 minutes.

While one paramedic was applying CPR and the other was preparing the paddles to shock Jan’s heart, her husband John saw her slowly rise out of her body. She did not look like an apparition, she was fully fleshed, wearing a beautiful green gown. Jan later reported that she had an OBE at that same moment. She was later able to describe the resuscitation procedure used on her by the medics.

John also recounts that during the NDE, their dog Maggi who had died three weeks before suddenly appeared beside the gurney and looked at him. John was shocked. Jan’s description matches. She talked about moving to another space where Maggi appeared before her. The dog appeared as she did when in physical form, only younger and more vital. She was as real to see and touch as she had been in the physical realm. Jan and Maggie walked for a while in these different surroundings and talked together mind to mind. “Without spoken words we shared memories and deep feelings…my heart overflowed with gratitude for the opportunity to have this reunion – and see my loved one so joyously, vibrantly alive in what can truly be called paradise.”[2]

On her return, Jan also discussed aspects of the paramedic’s activity that she could not have seen from her body’s prone position during resuscitation, but could see from an elevated OBE position. One paramedic concluded, “Jan had an out-of-body experience, because she gave us too much information that she could not give us. Where her husband was standing, what I was doing.”[3]

In a shared NDE like the one John and Jan experienced, a second person objectively observes the same things that NDErs experience, particularly the observation that the NDEr is a localized, nonmaterial entity separated from the physical body.

Apparitional NDEs

In this class of NDE, the NDErs visit and communicate with another living person while out of the body, and both accounts are subsequently verified as consistent.

Critical care physician Doctor Laurin Bellg describes one such case that occurred in one of her patients in 2011.[4] She shared this case with the audience of a professional seminar at The Monroe Institute (TMI) in 2014. You can watch the recording of her talk on Youtube.[5] She was treating a patient who was dying of cancer, gravely ill, yet still conscious and able to clearly engage with family members and hospital staff. This lady was tragically estranged from her son because of things he had done 25 years previously that had damaged the family. Even during her terminal illness, the woman felt great animosity to her son.

One particular day, the son was sitting in a bar which was near the hospital. He was drinking, sad about the imminent death of his mother, regretful at the mistakes he made. He desperately wanted to reconnect with his mom before she died.[6] He looks up to suddenly see his mother coming into the crowded bar. Immediately he feels confused. She’s sick in bed, so how can she be here? But he’s also elated at the prospect of meeting with her, so he stands up, intending to greet her. His vision is blocked for a moment by patrons of the bar, and when he can see the door again, his mother is gone.

Dr. Bellg reports the dying woman is asleep in her hospital bed at this time. She wakes up later that same afternoon. Her daughter is sitting with her at her bedside, and the women says to her daughter, “I had the strangest dream. I saw my son in a bar. He got up and started to come to me. I got scared and woke up.”[7] Later that evening, the daughter spoke separately to her brother who told her about sitting in the bar that afternoon and seeing his mother arrive, and then disappear. The daughter was the one who put the pieces of this surprising event together and recounted it to Dr Bellg, who later spoke separately to the dying woman and the son and confirmed these details. Sadly, the dying woman and her son did not reconcile before her death.

In her presentation, Bellg recounts the details and notes that the bar involved is across the road from the hospital. She says there’s no plausible way the dying women could get out of her bed. Yet it is so surprising that:

  • the dying woman described walking towards her son, seeing him crying, then seeing him stand up.
  • the son described actually seeing him mom, it seemed to him she was physically there. He describes getting up, and starting to walk towards her.

Like the shared NDE, the apparitional NDE shows that this is not merely a subjective experience perceived by a dying individual. It is also an event perceived objectively by a healthy person, and the two perceptions match. This is compelling evidence for the reality of NDEs.

But what if I simply cannot believe NDEs are real events?

Many people struggle with the idea of NDEs because they cannot get past the assumption that they are their body. Their mind and their brain is essentially the same thing, so there is no self or soul to leave one’s body. This naturalistic approach to understanding the mind-brain problem is an assumption. Surprisingly, it is challenged by medical science. And I will talk about that in my next blog.

[1] Titus Rivas, Anny Dirven, Rudolf H. Smit, The Self Does Not Die, (Durham: IANDS, 2016), kindle edition, loc 109 – 112.

[2] Ibid., 110.

[3] Ibid., 111.

[4] Ibid., 256.

[5] Patient NDEs in the ICU, Laurin Bellg, critical care physician, at TMI Professional Seminar 2014,, at 31:08.

[6] Ibid., 163.

[7] Ibid., 256.

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