Final (and non-definitive) considerations on NDEs
Two important aspects of NDEs
The experiences reported in this section are only a small part of those mentioned in the many books and websites devoted to NDEs. Practically every day new testimonies are added, sometimes even significant, so for further information on the topic please refer to other sources. Instead, regarding the meaning of human life, I think it is useful to highlight the following two aspects.
The first one is about the objectivity of the phenomenon, as can be deduced from the testimonies and investigations carried out: under this profile it is found that NDEs are not common experiences, since many people who find themselves in the same critical conditions as those who lived an NDEs generally do not remember anything, but report the mental blackout that normally characterizes a coma, a total anesthesia, a fainting or any critical condition that leads to loss of consciousness. So NDEs still remain elitist experiences, which depend neither on the will nor on other objective or subjective elements of the person involved, at least as far as we can deduce from the studies published until today: it remains therefore still to be understood what determines the fact of having or not having an NDE. NDEs share with other experiences related to non-ordinary states of consciousness (such as OBEs or lucid dreams), the characteristic of being experienced only by a minority of people.
If NDEs were determined by the functioning of the brain, the causes for which some brains, in particular circumstances, tune psychic experiences so significant to the conscious Ego should be found out. It is known that in some cases of anomalies in the functioning of the brain, such as in epileptic seizures of the temporal lobe, the conscious Ego can experience non-ordinary psychic tunings that sometimes exert an almost irresistible allurement. In this regard, Dostoevsky wrote: «You can not imagine the happiness that we epileptics experience a second before having a crisis. I do not know how long it can last in reality, but among all the joys I could have in life, I would not trade any of it with it». In an article published in 2003 on Epilepsy & Behavior, Hansen Asheim and E. Brodtkorb reported having studied a group of eleven patients undergoing ecstatic seizures: eight of them were eager for crises to occur and were waiting impatiently for them, and – among these eight – five were trying to find a way to induce them. Therefore, if the brain determines NDEs, it should be concluded that some brains are more predisposed than others to the activation of these experiences.
Moreover, we do not understand why some experimenters (fortunately they seem to be a clear minority) should have negative and distressing NDEs rather than wonderful and paradisiacal experiences. With a certain logical naivety, one would be led to believe that good people deserve positive NDEs, full of love and happiness, while bad people had to go through distressing or infernal NDEs, but the testimonies show that this is not so (even if I am not aware of NDEs experienced by people whose wickedness was publicly recognized). In short, it can be said that positive or negative NDEs can indifferently affect normal people, all in all similar to each other.
The second is the subjective aspect of the experience, and from this point of view there is no doubt that the vast majority of those who had an NDE not only think that it was the most important experience of their inner life, but attribute to it qualities of perception, lucidity, awareness and emotionality that often go beyond what we may experience in the ordinary state of consciousness. In this regard, it must first be recognized that for NDEs, as for any other type of non-ordinary subjective state of consciousness, the fact is that those who have not had the experience can not fully realize what the protagonists involved have experienced. Any interpretation is second-hand, and will never replace the direct experience. A fortiori, any reductive explanation of the phenomenon on the basis of the functioning of the brain can not be considered exhaustive or particularly intelligent: little is known yet about the way in which mental activity is transformed into conscious experience in ordinary conditions, but in the case of NDEs we are asked to believe that a brain – whose functioning is even questioned, considering the conditions of quasi-clinical death in which many of these experiences occur – can bring about a psychic experience of extraordinary impact. As seen in the section on non-ordinary states (especially in the page on psychoactive substances), it has been suggested that NDEs may be due to a sort of swan song of the brain, programmed to function in this way in critical conditions perceived as deadly. Although we have highlighted the similarities between NDEs and some experiences induced by psychotropic substances, convincing evidence to confirm this hypothesis has yet to be presented, precisely because NDEs often occur in brain conditions considered to be critical.
The risks of exploring the labyrinths of the psyche
If we compare NDEs to experiences induced by psychoactive substances, in the latter we can find a greater frequency of negative, distressing or infernal experiences, both in different subjects (using identical doses of a given substance) and in the same subject, at different times and in relation to the mental state with which the experimenter gets ready for the adventure. It is not rare the case in which the same experience presents both positive aspects (almost always connected more to intense emotions and fantastic perceptions than to cosmic love and universal knowledge) and negative aspects, without the experimenter being able to foresee in advance and with confidence the turn that events will take. So the experimenter should be able to prepare him/herself and behave like an explorer, trying to acquire adequate mental resources to cope with unknown difficulties and dangers that may arise during the trip: in the worst cases he/she may even succumb to states of anguish that can last for what is perceived as an eternity.
The memory of NDEs and the nostalgia for a lost dimension
For those who had an NDE, the experience transforms over time into the memory of a lived event: an often indelible memory of exceptional vividness and with strong emotional implications, which in many cases determine a radical change in the protagonist's life, not always with positive outcomes (in some cases these changes have led to divorce, conflicts with the social environment or forms of maladjustment). Yet, as always happens, the memory of a lived experience, however vivid, never corresponds to the experience itself: proof is the regret with which many experimenters recall their experience, to the point of wishing to die soon so as to be able to return to that dimension. Sometimes this regret led to suicide (occasionally determining a second NDE), but in many cases the memory of the experience had a positive effect on the fullness and completeness of the life lived after the return, often felt as finalized to the achievement of a project.
The cultural importance of NDEs
It must be recognized that the interest aroused in our culture by NDEs has been enormous, and still represents a spreading phenomenon. Every innermost desire for happiness, love, compassion and understanding placed in the depths of the human being is fully satisfied by NDEs, or at least by those imbued with a heavenly atmosphere. In short, it is as if the human being remembered to be made for paradise, and that paradise is for us the home of choice: therefore luminous and positive NDEs constitute the human experience par excellence, while in comparison earthly life, with its concerns, anxieties and sufferings, is often experienced as a sort of test bench (a purgatory), and in some cases like hell. But another of the positive and interesting aspects of some NDEs is that they seem to channel new energies into the earthly life: sometimes healings have occurred at least unexpected (I avoid the term miraculous), due, according to the subjects involved, to energies absorbed or received in the other dimension.
The brain's role
As for the instrument that makes possible the state of consciousness, certainly not ordinary, that characterizes an NDE, I am not able to say, at the current state of knowledge on the functioning of the mind, if it can be attributed with certainty to brain's activity. Among physicians, some of whom have experienced first-hand an NDE, an attitude of caution prevails, due also to the fear of exposing themselves to criticism of the scientific establishment if they hypothesized the intervention of extraphysical instruments for the perception of the dimensions experienced by the conscious Ego. As we have seen in the medical evidence page reporting the opinion of dr. van Lommel, there is no shortage of specialists who support the impossibility, for a brain that is in some of the critical conditions in which NDEs occur, to activate a psychic experience so complex and rich not only of perceptual details, but also of sensations, emotions and feelings. The fact is that our references to the nervous system and the human brain are limited to the descriptive and functional study of highly organized and complex physical structures, which are localized in space and operating over time. As highlighted in the section on human psyche, the current knowledge on the way in which these systems elaborate the programs that determine the psychic experience, and on the way in which that experience is referred to that final user that is the conscious Ego, are still in the starting phase in the field of neuroscience.
Individual consciousness as the foundation of every experience
In any case, even if the brain is the instrument of transmission and processing of the psychic experience that we have in this physical dimension, it does not seem to me that at the moment there is sufficient knowledge to fully exclude the possibility of the existence of other systems of transmission and processing of psychic elements referable to other dimensions. Physics itself not only does not exclude, but rather hypothesizes the possible existence of parallel universes separate from that in which we live but coexisting with it. In case death implies a possible transition from one to the other of these dimensions, it is possible that the conscious Ego may have other instruments suitable for tuning different psychic experiences. In fact, if it were established that in some cases NDEs actually occurred in the absence of brain activity, we should deduce that the transmission and storage of psychic experiences can occur through an instrument different from the brain. This fact should not amaze us any more, as long as we can recognize an autonomous existence of consciousness, since each of us, as a conscious Ego, should always be amazed at the fact that he/she exists in this physical dimension. We're not surprised, because we've got used to it day after day. Therefore, if in this dimension we can experience through the brain psychic tunings of a certain kind, in another dimension we could experiment others of different quality through other tools.
Something similar seems to have happened in the case of certain NDEs: it is not that the protagonists have decided or planned to have an experience of that kind, since they almost always had other concerns in mind, or were in a state of presumed unconsciousness. Instead, a particular system of conscious perception has been activated, which has connected them to a channel or to a psychic tuning different from those of the physical world. The activation of this tool is unrelated to the will of the experimenter, in the same way that the brain tool and its use have not been neither designed nor constructed by humans. Our conscious Ego can only recognize, as a matter of fact, that in this life and in this world it experiences the human psyche through the brain.
The charm of luminous NDEs
To conclude, I must admit that I have a special liking for those contents of NDEs that have a positive value and that reveal to us a source of love, beauty and harmony that gives happiness and joy. I am also fascinated by the paradisical visions of fantastic landscapes full of extraordinary colors. On the other hand, negative or distressing experiences seem to me to be avoided, unless we want to consider them a challenge, a labyrinth of which we must find the way out. The whole of psychic experiences transmitted by NDEs seems to emphasize what we already perceive on a less intense level in this physical world, where, going to the core of things, good corresponds to joy and happiness and evil to pain and suffering experienced both by ourselves and by other people. In this respect, therefore, it is as if the conscious Ego had a congenial and innate evaluation criterion, and the experience gained in the course of an NDE is evaluated in the light of this compass which determines a sense of orientation and draws us towards a predetermined direction. Love as a source of beauty, happiness and knowledge truly represents what the conscious Ego seems to tend to by the very nature of its essence. Whether this orientation is hindered or invalidated by the information transmitted to us from the environment and our culture, and that our intellect, with all the limitations determined by the physical nature of the brain, ends up considering inevitable, necessary and even convenient the attachment to this life and to all that we experience here, this is an element inherent to the human condition and experience.
It is therefore well understandable the interest aroused by positive NDEs, in the course of which information elements are conveyed to the conscious Ego, in one form or another, as a testimony of dimensions in which our essential needs of human beings are recognized and satisfied: a dimension in which, as many NDE experimenters express themselves, our conscious Ego can finally feel at home.