(The allegory of the death of the Dauphin represents what a dying man could see in a deathbed vision)
Some consider the NDE as a precursor to an afterlife, saying the NDE can not be fully explained by physiological or psychological causes, and that consciousness can function independently of brain activity. Many NDE testimonies seem to include elements that, according to several theorists, can only be explained by a disembodied consciousness. For example, a witness, a woman, accurately describes a surgical instrument she had not seen before and she relates a conversation that occurred while she was under general anesthesia. In another story, from a Dutch prospective study on NDE, a nurse removed the dentures of an unconscious patient with a heart attack, and when he regained his senses asked the nurse to return it. It is difficult to explain in terms of the usual how an unconscious patient could later have recognized the nurse.
Dr. Michael Sabom reports the case of a woman who has undergone surgery for an aneurysm. The woman reported an out of body experience which then continued when there was a total absence of EEG activity for a brief period.
Greyson says that “no physiological or psychological model arrives to explain alone all the common features of NDE. The paradox of increased lucidity and awareness of his environment and himself as well as the logical thought process that appears in such a period of impaired cerebral confusion and raises unique and troubling questions about our current understanding of consciousness and its relationship to brain function. This ability to clear and process these complex sensations perceived during an apparent clinical death period contradict the idea that consciousness is localized exclusively in the brain.”
Some research has suggested that unconscious patients may continue to hear conversations, even though medical devices do not store any brain activity. Research conducted at the University of Sheffield lead to the conclusion that the release of adrenaline caused by tissue damage during surgery can cause this. Recent results have also shown that people diagnosed in a “final vegetative state” can communicate through their thoughts, which was detected by fMRI.
The religious understanding of the phenomenon
Many aspects of the stories of near death experiences report phenomena found in the sacred texts, in the Spiritualist movement, the Hindu theme of karma, reincarnation or paranormal phenomena.
Although some argue that these are NDE type of experiences that influenced the writing of religious texts, scientific position is that the NDE scenario is rather a creation of the brain to build, from a set of feelings, a story consistent with the cultural references of the subject. So in the area of Christian Latin influence with the so-called Travel stories of the soul from the seventh to the thirteenth century.
In addition, it was found that near-death experiences in children (who have generally not had time to develop a particular belief) are more limited (for example, a boy who has only speak with his brother, or a little girl who had a conversation with his mother).
However, there is no more NDE among believers than among atheists.
According to some modern kabbalists. the states met at a NDE would be described by the sephiroth of the Kabbalah. Under this mystical perspective, someone could die a dozen times, each time incorporating a new world (or sephirah, singular of sephiroth).
We find, in some evidences, some theme of the New Age movement, particularly the use made of terms such as “light,” “love,” “energy” and the concept of “astral travel”.
In his book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche writes that some Westerners equate NDE to descriptions of the Bardo Thodol. Sogyal Rinpoche noted that the issue deserves a study beyond the scope of his book. However, it addresses the issue in terms of similarities and differences. He noted that the exit out of body experience of NDE matches the description of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He mentions that in Tibet, Tibetans are familiar with the phenomenon of delok (de lok, who returned from the dead), a concept described by Françoise Pommaret in his book Ghosts of the afterlife in the Tibetan world. The deloks experience matches the Bardo Thodol and NDE.
In the book Sleeping, dreaming, dying: explore consciousness with the Dalai Lama, a debate is open between scientists and Dalai Lama, where the latter gives arguments in favor of a dream state, and not of an out of body mind.
For Ajahn Brahm, NDEs demonstrate some independence between consciousness and the body (he sees it confirmed by the meditative experience of Dhyāna), without yet possible to say that consciousness is a transcendental entity or immortal (according to the doctrine of anatman).
The Catholic Church has long been suspicious of this phenomenon, this experience seeming in partial opposition to certain points of faith. Recently, the Catholic theologian Arnaud Dumouch integrated NDE data in a design compatible with the Roman dogmas, the main focus of this thesis being to make from death a passage of a certain time and not a moment where everything freezes as was admitted by scholastic. NDEs seem to be still in this life, as those who have returned often claim they saw a line or a river beyond which it was meant that they would not return if they will cross it.