Near-death experiences (NDEs) are common enough that they have entered our everyday language. Phrases like "my whole life flashed before my eyes" and "go to the light" come from decades of research into these strange, seemingly supernatural experiences that some people have when they're at the brink of death. But what exactly are NDEs? Are they hallucinations? Spiritual experiences? Proof of life after death? Or are they simply chemical changes in the brain and sensory organs in the moments prior to death?
In this article, we'll discuss what makes an experience an NDE and who typically has them. We'll also explore spiritual, philosophical and scientific theories for why they happen.
Dr. Raymond Moody coined the term "near-death experience" in his 1975 book, "Life After Life." Many credit Moody's work with bringing the concept of the near-death experience to the public's attention, but reports of such experiences have occurred throughout history. Plato's "Republic," written in 360 B.C.E., contains the tale of a soldier named Er who had an NDE after being killed in battle. Er described his soul leaving his body, being judged along with other souls and seeing heaven [ref].
For the purposes of this article, a near-death experience is any experience in which someone close to death or suffering from some trauma or disease that might lead to death perceives events that seem to be impossible, unusual or supernatural. While there are many questions about NDEs, one thing is certain -- they do exist. Thousands of people have actually perceived similar sensations while close to death. The debate is over whether or not they actually experienced what they perceived.
In the next section, we'll take a look at some of the traits of near-death experiences.