Archive | November, 2011

Science at the Tipping Point?

28 Nov

In 2005, my conclusion following my five year prospective hospital research project into NDEs was that our current science simply cannot explain NDEs and requires expansion and updating because it is too limiting. The more prospective hospital research carried out into NDEs is also showing that NDEs can no longer be explained away, dismissed or ignored. Further information on my research has been published in my book The Near-Death Experiences of Hospitalized Intensive Care Patients: A Five Year Clinical Study which is available from most libraries.

I have worked as a nurse for 21 years and as an intensive care nurse for 17 of those years. I have nursed thousands of unconscious patients and was awarded a PhD for my prospective research. From my experience of working as a nurse and undertaking my doctoral research, although it conflicts with my scientific nurse training, I realise I have to remain open minded and conclude that we have no alternative but to look for other explanations of consciousness. To say consciousness is merely a by-product of our neurological processes is not supported by the research I undertook or my experience of dealing with unconscious patients.

I’ve recently noticed how apparent it is becoming that more people are agreeing that there is something about NDEs that simply cannot be explained by the current reductionist science.

I am getting many interesting comments from scientists trained in this reductionist science but who are now recognising that something is happening which is beyond the limitations of the current science.

This is very exciting to me because I believe it symbolises the beginning of a huge shift in the way we understand ourselves and consciousness.

Last week I was contacted by Dr Howard Berman. I have already posted his comments but I wanted to ensure that these very important comments were seen by as many people as possible:

Penny, I am a PhD neuropharmacologist with emphasis in Functional Brain Imaging trained at Cornell in the reductionist processes that a scientist usually is. I point to the work of Sir John Eccles, Noble Laureate, who described the correlation between mental processes and neural activity. In other words, when you do anything or think anything or move your arm for instance, what happens in the brain prior to that? Yes, there is activity in the premotor cortex and motor cortex which initiates the movement. But what happens prior to that; Electrical activity cannot be spontaneous; the question is what gives rise to this in the first place. John Eccles described mental phenomenon preceding electrical activity in the brain; he became a dualist at the end and realized that activity in the brain arising out of nothing was not possible; the tenets of cause and effect require a genesis of activity and that likely serves as the bridge between our free will and action. He further described elements which today are mentioned in the literature as quantum mechanics that serve to link this non tangible and tangible aspects of neural activity. I personally believe that mental phenomenon cannot be specifically centered in the constraints of time/space in the physical brain and there is something else which links this together. This corresponds with memory as well. Consider the cloud computing phenomenon where you can store large amounts of data remote from your computer and have it recalled by your computer. This is likely very similar to some form of field where by memory is stored and can be recalled in the brain. Regardless, this is a fascinating area and has led me to not believe in a purely reductionist hypothesis. Something is going on and for skeptics to outright deny is wrong.

In a second comment Dr Berman wrote:

Penny, how can something arise out of nothing? Meaning how can an electrical signal in the brain arise from nothing? If someone touches your hand, the ensuing electrical activity that orginate from the nocicepters in your skin travel up dorsal column medial lemniscus to subthalamic regions to your cortical regions and your brain processes these signals in the form of electrical activity. Thus, there is cause and effect for these neural signals. However, lets discuss signals originating in the brain through thought or intention; such as something as simple as reaching my hand out to touch someone or as complex as playing a violin. The intent to do it in the first place; where did that come from and how could the brain originate this intent given that electrical activity would have had to be spontaneously produced which gave rise to your intention. Not to be philosophical, but there must be something that bridges the intent with the functional activity in the brain. This is the hard question. This is probably what underlies free will and the non material and non tangible essence of intent. Could this be the ‘soul’ mediating activity in the brain through complex quantum processes? The brain is critical to our functioning in this world; however, I believe it is not the only mechanism. Remember one other thing; how is it possible that people who are clinically dead and yet return are able to experience vivid near death experiences with sight, sound, and emotion? How is this possible and more importantly how can these patients return and recall the memory of that event? The brain was purportedly in crisis or shut down and had little or no blood flow; how could memory of such an event survive? The ONLY way possible is for this external field to somehow ‘hold’ the memory in packets of information, much like a cellular signal that could be reprocessed from cell tower to cell tower and converted into understandable language on your phone. Something external is occurring from the brain which allows an intermediation of non physical process and physical process and packets of information or memory or the essence of whom we are or our free will with intention are able to somehow jump from this external field to the functional aspects of the brain.

Again another Doctor trained in the reductionist science who has now also questioned what he was taught is Dr Eben Alexander.  On November 22 nd Skeptiko’s Alex Tsakiris broadcast an interview with Dr Eden Alexander the neurosurgeon who had a NDE (I have written a previous post on this very interesting case and this highlights a second interview that was broadcast).

The interview is fascinating and what is particularly striking is how, as a result of experiencing a NDE, Dr Alexander has totally changed his view and acknowledges that there is so much more about consciousness that what he was taught in his scientific medical training. If you haven’t already heard the interview it is well worth listening to.

The Skeptiko interview with Dr Alexander is available on the following link – it’s also transcribed

Dr Eben Alexander III, A Neuroscientist / Neurosurgeon, Describes his own NDE

9 Nov

I have just listened to a very important interview online with neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander III. It is so refreshing for someone of Dr Alexander’s experience, qualifications and credentials to speak publicly about his ver own transcendent NDE.

He describes in detail the events leading up to his NDE and his memory of when he regained consciousness after a week in a coma. He recalled a very elaborate NDE, after he contracted a rare strain of meningitis. What is fascinating is how he tried to make sense of this heightened state of consciousness when it should not have been possible with such a physiologically impaired brain. Thus he had no option other than to reconsider his prior views on consciousness.

As a result the NDE has completely changed his view on consciousness and he states how he has learned experientially more than he had ever learned about consciousness prior to his NDE despite being a neuroscientist. It is interesting how he now recognises his experience as real and as a result it has changed the way in which he interacts with his patients.

 Check out his website at, he can also be followed on Twitter.

 He is currently writing a book about his experience and I look forward to reading it.

The interview is lengthy (approx an hour) but I would urge those interested in consciousness and NDEs to listen to it all as he makes some excellent points. Thanks to Tim for alerting me to this.

I’d be interested to hear what people think of this interview.

To listen to this interview click onto the link below then scroll down to the >encore< …..

Empathic or Shared Death Experiences: How Do We Explain Them?

8 Nov

The phenomenon of the shared death experience is becoming increasingly reported. There are many cases described by various authors in the early NDE literature such as Dr Pam Kircher, Dr Yvonne Kason. Recently Dr Raymond Moody published Glimpses of Eternity which is about shared death experiences.

These experiences are reported by people who also share some aspects of the NDE as their loved one is dying or coincides with the time of death of a loved one. I have documented cases where people who were present at the bedside of their dying loved one suddenly found themselves participating in a transcendent experience of a partial journey into death. I have also documented cases where miles away from their dying loved one people have suddenly and inexplicably been overwhelmed with intense emotion – this coincided with the death of a loved one. One of these cases was described to me by a GP who was visiting a dying patient. Despite her 18 years experience of working as a doctor she could not explain what she experienced that day as her patient died. These experiences have a lasting impact on the person and remains so vivid that it actually diminishes the sadness felt at the loss of their loved one. Some of these fascinating cases are in my forthcoming book.

Earlier this year I was contacted by Annie Cap who herself had a shared death experience. It had so deeply affected her that it had set her on her own journey to understand what she had experienced. The result culminated in writing a book about her experience called Beyond Goodbye: An extraordinary true story of a shared death experience’. I won’t say too much about the book as I don’t want to spoil it for readers. I was fascinated by what she experienced and I think her book will help a lot of people who have also experienced something similar.

So how can we explain these? The people at the bedside or those who are miles away from their loved ones in some way ‘connect’ with the dying person but are not themselves close to death or unconscious. How can people whose brains are not compromised physiologically experience such overwhelming transcendent experiences that are so powerful that it diminishes their grief?


Are All OBEs Accurate? Some Findings From My Hospital NDE Research

4 Nov

In response to comments on the blog I thought I’d write a brief post about some of the OBEs I came across in my research.

Although there is much documented research into OBEs from the 1960’s onwards it’s only in the past 25 years that research has been undertaken in hospitals. In theUS Dr Janice Holden undertook some veridicality OBE research in the 1980’s in hospital settings which was later followed by Dr Madelaine Lawrence.

In one of the rooms in one of the hospitals of Dr Pim Van Lommel’s study he placed an image that could only be seen from an out-of-body perspective. Targets were also used in Dr Parnia’s study, Dr Bruce Greyson’s study and my own.

In all there were 8 OBEs reported in my study. One of them was clearly a mind model constructed from residual sight, hearing and tactile stimulation as the lady was recovering from anaesthetic. The lady recalled seeing her face with a red tube in her mouth. She did have a tube in her mouth but the tube was blue not red. However, she was also having a blood transfusion at the time and the giving set was in her line of vision and obviously red in colour. So it seems that she could feel the tube in her mouth and see the blood transfusion as she was recovering from anaesthetic.

There was a very interesting case which was accurate but also had one aspect that was that was totally inaccurate. The lady reported events which had happened but she also reported viewing a piece of jewellery on her body which was definitely not there. The OBE occurred during surgery and strict checks are carried out prior to entry into the operating theatre – this certifies that no jewellery was present. However, this lady also reported hallucinations which she later rationalised as hallucinations. She was sedated for a few days after the event so this may in some way have interfered with recall of her experience. In fact, my research found that rather than the drugs creating these types of experience they had an inhibitory effect or turned them into confusional experiences. We need more anomalous cases like this to explore all possible explanations.

With the case of Patient 10 who reported a very accurate OBE that occurred while I was looking after him I’ve tried to explore this from all aspects. It is written up in full in the 16 page article published in the Winter edition of the Journal of Near Death Studies in 2006. I explored the possibility that he could have heard what was going on. He reported seeing the consultant shine a torch in his eyes and Patient 10 reported that consultant had said ‘There’s life in the eye’. The consultant didn’t actually use those words but they were a good description of what he meant. If hearing played such a big part then I would have expected him to accurately repeat the words of the consultant.

With regards to the hallucinations when I investigated what the patients reported it became apparent that they could hear the background noise and staff conversation and this was contributing to their hallucinations as their sedation was wearing off.

For example, one lady was convinced she was on theSwansea to Cork ferry. She could feel the boat swaying. All ITU patients are nursed on pressure relieving mattresses and if you lie on a bed it actually does feel as though you are on a boat, also as her sedation was wearing off she was being looked after by an Irish nurse with a very strong Irish accent.

I think this research is in it’s infancy and a lot more is needed to draw any firm conclusions. Other cases are needed to compare and get a bigger picture of what may be occurring.

The full details of what was reported in my study can be found in my book The Near-Death Experiences of Hospitalized Intensive Care Patients: A Five Year Clinical Study.



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