Near-Death-Experiences: Between Spiritual Transmigration and Psychopathological Hallucinations

Erich Kasten, Jens-Stefan Geier

Abstract


The research in the field of Near-Death-Experiences (NDE) shows us various reports of the process of dying which contradict the widely shared medical opinions in the past. Based on these observations, Raymond Moody developed and differentiated specific stages in the process of dying. Although these stages cannot be empirically proven, for some of the described stages scientific explanations can be found. For example, NDE have been reported in the terminal phase of life-threatening diseases, which can be explained by neurobiological changes of transmitter substances in dying person’s brains. Further explanatory models fall back on other influences, e.g. side effects of sedative medication, psychedelic drugs, meditation, epilepsy, migraine or oneiroid psychosis. The large number of different visual experiences (tunnel vision, encounter with close relatives, bright lights, God, flowering gardens etc.) which appear in the course of a NDE, can be interpreted as visual hallucinations or oneiroid dreams as a consequence of medication or endogenous opioid production; in addition, a genetic predisposition could play an essential role. A NDE possibly is a final protective mechanism of the brain in agonizing patients, which leads to feelings of euphoria and experiences of hallucinations, caused by the explosive release of neurotransmitters. Positive emphasis should be given to the fact that in periods of increasing secularization the investigations of NDE have provided new hope of a life after death in the past 30 years. For many patients, caregivers, physicians and nurses, Moody’s book was a great help in overcoming fears of dying and death. In spite of all legitimate criticism, the “nine elements of the Near-Death Experiences”, still inspires researchers to have a different look on the process of dying.

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