New Near-Death Experience Research Reported in Today’s Daily Mail

31 Oct

There is an interesting article in today’s Daily Mail.

The article describes how researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge reviewed studies into changes in the brain which are associated with near-death experiences. Researcher Dr Caroline Watt reported:

If you put on a virtual reality headset showing an image of  yourself three feet in front, you  can trick your brain into thinking that is you over there, and get  the sense you are outside your body,’

Yes, this is possible but it is not the same experience as a veridical out of body perception that has been reported by patients who have been deeply unconscious and later reported accurate events that occurred while they were unconscious and when their brains were not functioning optimally. See Dr Pim Van Lommel et al’s report in The Lancet 2001 and the case of Patient 10 in my prospective research.

Dr Watt also suggests the involvement of the hormone noradrenaline which is released in the body at times of stress. Many patients in my prospective study had the drug noradrenaline administered but they did not report a NDE or OBE.

The conclusion of Dr Caroline Watt is that “The scientific evidence suggests that all aspects of near-death experiences have a biological basis”.

Undoubtedly, biological processes occur during NDEs but this does not explain all aspects of the NDE which is a highly complex phenomenon. Many NDErs are profoundly transformed, may gain information while unconscious in ways other than through the senses (see Patient 11 in my prospective study), may experience a huge ‘psychological boost’ which motivates them to push their physical body to extremes (see my forthcoming book for a great example of this) and in some cases there are inexplicable healings of physical ailments (see the case of Patient 10 in my prospective research) – none of which are adequately explained by mere physiological responses as the brain is shutting down.

As more interesting research is being published on the subject of the powerful influence the mind has over the body, scientists are realising that human experience consists of both the physical body and the non-physical mind. It is unfortunate that the predominant mode of thought only considers physical aspects when to be human we can’t deny that we must also have a mind as well as a body. To have a greater understanding of what it is to be human then we must embrace both the body and the mind. At this moment in time there are no known physiological processes that explain how consciousness or the mind arises from the brain.

 To read more online click the link below:

16 Responses to “New Near-Death Experience Research Reported in Today’s Daily Mail”

  1. Max_B October 31, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Dean Mobbs and Caroline Watt make it all sound so simple from the article, but as you point out Penny, there appears to be serious problems with their conclusions. The actual paper is hidden behind a paywall, ( the best I could get is at Scientific American ) so I can’t really comment specifically. Although to hear them speak, you would think that we hadn’t discovered ‘Quantum’, and the ‘Principle of Complimentarity’ which underpins it, during the 20th Century. Where have they been?

    My two personal experiences indicate to me that any serious theory of consciousness must include for the transmission of information non-locally over both ‘space’, and more importantly over ‘time’.

    Sheldrakes work seems to provide strong evidence for the transmission of information over space. Hameroff’s microtubules increasingly seem to offer real potential for quantum processes and effects within the brain (I’m unconvinced by the Penrose part). Verified OBE’s during NDE’s indicate to me that Hameroff is on the right track, particularly as there have been recent experiments demonstrating quantum coherence in living organisms, and quantum coherence, and superconductivity in artificial microtubules. The important point here is that while they remain undamaged, these microtubules have the ‘potential’ to remain active indefinitely because they are so energy efficient, (i.e. when there is no measurable electrical activity in the brain).

    Put that together with fantastic experiments like “Wheelers Delayed Choice Gedanken Experiment” which was finally conducted in 2007…

    Wheeler: “We have a strange inversion of the normal order of time. We, now, by moving the mirror in or out have an unavoidable effect on what we have a right to say about the already past history of that photon.”

    Click to access DelayedChoiceExp.pdf

    …and a very recent, but highly controversial paper by Daryl Bem at Cornell Uni, entitled; “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect”, which appears important. (However the significance of the results produced by a sub-group of ‘stimulus seeking’ individuals has not escaped me… the possibility that different character traits might be linked to the type of temporal information people are best at broadcasting/receiving is very exciting).

    Click to access FeelingFuture.pdf

    It’s looking like the future can influence the past, in exactly the same way as we accept the past can influence the future. Indicating that perhaps there is really no forwards or backwards in ‘time’ other than our perception of it being as such. That on some fundamental level ‘time’ simply ‘is’. Perhaps analogous to the way that we experience ‘space’.

    All very exciting, and very different from Mobbs and Watt’s view of reality.

    • Dr Penny Sartori October 31, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

      Thanks for your comments Max, you make very good points. I’ve only read the newspaper report as I couldn’t access the full research report so I too am only commenting on the conclusions that were reported by the newspaper.

      I agree that transmission of information non-locally over both space and time are very important aspects of these experiences that are all too often overlooked.

      Thanks for the links – they look very interesting, I’ll check them out.

  2. Michael Duggan October 31, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    I’m very disappointed in Dr Watt. She started out quite opened minded (She’s a researcher at the Koestler parapsychology unit in Edinburgh) but seems to offer only limited skeptical objections to psi data these days. This NDE paper is the latest example. One can only assume having Richard Wiseman as a partner has rubbed off on her!
    Penny, totally agree with your astute analysis of the actual state of research on the NDE phenomena.

  3. Jake November 1, 2011 at 4:54 am #

    I find it pretty crazy how so many people are just writing off the phenomenon when there are counter arguments for virtually every argument raised.

    They just make too much sense. The NDE experiences always make logical sense- unlike dreams. They also always seem to be “complete” and not cut off halfway through. For example, people communicate with the light, and then are given the choice of going back. At that exact moment, they are sent back. Not before. Not ten minutes later. Right at the moment the person says they want to go back. You don’t see people zapping back into their bodies mid conversation.

    If you combine that with that fact that most people say time doesn’t exist during these experiences (as you would expect in the afterlife), you can certainly make the argument that time does not exist during NDE in the same way it exists on earth, and therefore there is likely something bigger going on than materialists would think.

    It is just silly and unprofessional to write them off with so many holes in their argument. Shockingly, so many of these articles flat out discredit the phenomenon in the headline without providing proof in the article itself. Am I convinced NDEs are spiritual experiences? Absolutely not. I have issues with them just as I have issues with there being an afterlife in general. At the same time, I just can’t understand how so many uninformed people write them off. They are fascinating events and far from being explained.

    On another note, I’m getting pretty pessimistic about the AWARE study. Weren’t we suppose to be hearing results or at least news stories about it by now? I thought I heard about a year ago that if anyone spotted the images, the story would be submitted to the press. Would be one of the biggest stories of all time….

    • Dr Penny Sartori November 1, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

      You make some very good points Jake. I think one important point you make is that many uninformed people write these experiences off. The NDE is a highly complex phenomenon and unfortunately many people only take them at surface value i.e. the popular descriptions of going through a dark tunnel towards a bright light. Certain aspects of the NDE may be explained by certain neurological and physiological processes but the entirety of the whole complex phenomenon (especially information gained other than through the senses while deeply unconscious, spontaneous healings etc) is rarely taken into account and far too easily overlooked when new research is undertaken.

      I think the AWARE study has not proceeded as quickly as we’d hoped because it’s taken a long time to set up and get everything in place. It is a huge project to undertake as it has to co-ordinate many hospitals from varying locations. For the past few months a research nurse has been appointed to co-ordinate the data from the sites so follow-up of the patients will proceed with greater ease. Maybe Dr Parnia will publish some results in the coming months.

  4. Aaron November 5, 2011 at 4:23 am #

    I totally agree with Jake. I am not certain we survive death, but the skeptical arguments are generally quite weak, uninformed, and contradictory. Apparently this doesn’t stop them from writing articles titled “NDE Explained”. Skeptics offer multiple contradictory explanations for the same phenomena and assume that just because they can imagine an neurological correlate means they have explained the NDE. Fortunately, we now have thousands of online accounts to look at ourselves. The most basic glance at what NDErs actually tell us makes most skeptical explanations sound absurd, leaving one wondering whether skeptics bother to look at NDE accounts at all. They clearly do not pay much attention to them.

    • tim November 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

      Aaron, Hi, I’ve seen your postings here and there and I always enjoy reading them, better than my own. I know your not a ‘believer’ like me but it’s good to have such informed commenters to balance up the sceptics.

  5. pacificwhim November 5, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Just as with physics experiments or theories such as “many worlds” that seek to cleanse science of the spectre of consciousness, it always seems to me that there is great desperation among skeptical or mainstream researchers to explain away NDEs and psi-related phenomena in general to cleanse the field of anything ickily spiritual. It’s a remnant of the Enlightenment period in which cold rationality was all and religion came under attack. The cultural pressure to reject anything that even hints at spirituality or non-materialism and the terror of being thought an uncritical believer seems to drive many researchers to make unfounded leaps of non-logic to try to establish their non-believer bona fides. The thinking strikes me as, “Well, I’ve put forth my flimsy theory of why NDEs aren’t real, now no one can question my adherence to the true faith.”

    • Dr Penny Sartori November 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

      Very good point. I think the more we research these experiences it is becoming increasingly difficult to just dismiss them. We are living in exciting times and I think we are in a paradigm shift. There is no option other than to take these experiences seriously and explore all possible explanations rather than merely dismissing them.

  6. Stuart November 5, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    Hi Dr. Sartoni,

    Just came across this article as I was googling Sam Parnia to see if their was any update regarding the AWARE project, and this study came up. Just wondering was Sam Parnia involved in this study or was he just told of it and came his perspective on it?

    Also what is your opinion on this part of the article:

    “Researcher Caroline Watt said one common vision – that of people seeing a bright light which seems to be drawing them into the afterlife – is probably produced by the death of the cells we use to process the light picked up by our eyes and turn it into pictures.”



    • Dr Penny Sartori November 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

      Hi Stuart, if the article you are referring to is the one that was reported in the Daily Mail this week then I don’t think Dr Parnia was involved in it – usually these studies are published and a press release goes out and then other people are asked to comment. I would imagine that Dr Parnia was asked to comment after the press release was sent out.

      With regards to Dr Watt’s comment – not all people report going through a tunnel or being drawn to a bright light. In many NDEs the light has a quality – for example in Dr Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick’s book ‘The Truth in the Light’ one person reported the light ‘spilling out from behind a rock’. This would not be characteristic of cell death.

      Undoubtedly there are physiological processes that occur during a NDE but unfortunately these have been mistaken for causations instead of correlations. The NDE is a highly complex phenomena and a few physiological processes can’t account for all aspects of the experience.

      • Stuart November 7, 2011 at 2:19 am #

        Thanks for the quick response. Just also wondering regarding this piece here as in the article:
        “In another example, the hormone noradrenaline, which is released when we suffer from stress and injuries, could be behind the feelings of love and peace many experience when they seem to be approaching death.”
        You stated in your piece:
        “Many patients in my prospective study had the drug noradrenaline administered but they did not report a NDE or OBE.”
        It appears to me in this part you are talking about a NDE or ODE while the researcher was on about feelings they were having, but I can’t see how they are directly related, but I can see how they are indirectly related if that makes any sense. Would it be possible that you could elaborate on this more, as that be great.

        From my personal perspective on reading about NDE’s over that last decade or so, it seems that you need to be one or the other. i.e. the experience is fully biological or the experience is fully spiritual.
        However, as far I can see (and appears to be the same as from the likes of Van Lommel et al) their is a possible 3rd way, whereby in my layman’s terms, the experience is that of a jointly created phenomena between that of the physical reality process (the biological) and that of a reality beyond the physical process (non-physical or possible spiritual divine).

        Thanks again


      • Dr Penny Sartori November 7, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

        Hi Stuart, I think the NDE is a highly complex phenomenon and very often people may report overwhelming feelings of peace and love. It is possible that there is a physiological correlate for experiencing these feelings – as the researcher suggested noradrenaline as this possibility – however the noradrenaline release (if it were confirmed to be a correlate) would only account for that aspect of the experience. It does not account for all other things that may occur during a NDE such as gaining information in ways other than through the senses etc.

        In my study there were patients who while unconscious were so sick that they were having infusions of noradrenaline. When I interviewed these patients when they had recovered none of them reported any overwhelming feelings of peace or love – in fact they didn’t report anything vaguely reminiscent of a NDE. So if noradrenaline was the cause of the feeling of love and peace then I would have expected the patients who were had noradrenaline administered to also report feeling of peace and love but they didn’t.

        Again this is just highlighting how much more research is needed to gain a greater understanding of consciousness.

  7. Stuart November 8, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    Thanks again Dr Sartori. Sorry for all the questions just very interested in the topics. What books of yours or indeed any author best address the issues of noradrenaline and cell death point been raised.



    • Dr Penny Sartori November 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

      Hi Stuart, I’m not sure there are many studies that have looked at noradrenaline in association with the NDE. I didn’t specifically look at it with my study but know that many patients were on that drug. Some of them did report a NDE but some didn’t so we can attribute the NDE only to noradrenaline. It may be involved, it may not be but at this point we simply don’t have enough data to make any conclusions.

      My book The Near-Death Experiences of Hospitalized Intensive Care Patients: A Five Year Clinical Study is available through the library (it’s £85 to buy!!) and may be of help. Also Dr Pim Van Lommel’s book Consciousness Beyond Life is also very informative.


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