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Sunday, September 17, 2023

Near-Death Experience Testimonies From the AWARE II Study

Near-death experiences are not merely topics in books, but also the object of rigorous scientific research. A 2004 study on near-death experiences was published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 2001. The study interviewed 344 patients who had a close encounter with death, generally through cardiac arrest. 62 of those reported some kind of near-death experience. 15 reported an out-of-body experience, 19 reported moving through a tunnel, 18 reported observation of a celestial landscape, 20 reported meeting with deceased persons, and 35 reported positive emotions. 

In 2014 there was published the long-anticipated results of the AWARE study led by Dr. Sam Parnia. Over 2000 cardiac arrest cases were studied, and there were only 330 who survived to leave the hospital. Of those 330, only 101 met eligibility requirements, agreed to be interviewed, and also agreed to “stage 2” interviews. So the study ended up with a group of only 101 persons who had experienced a close encounter with death, generally because of a cardiac arrest. 

Of this pool of 101 persons, 22% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you have a feeling of peace or pleasantness?” 13% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you feel separated from your body?” 13% answered “Yes” to the question, “Were your senses more vivid than usual?” 8% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you seem to encounter a mystical being or presence, or hear an unidentifiable voice?” 7% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you seem to enter some other, unearthly world?” Only 3% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you see deceased or religious spirits?”

These results were corroboration of published accounts of what typically happens in a near-death experience, although the numbers are smaller than those reported in the Lancet study. The AWARE study quoted one respondent who gives an account very much like what has been published in previous books on near-death experiences:

“I have come back from the other side of life. . .God sent (me) back, it was not (my) time—(I) had many things to do. . .(I traveled) through a tunnel toward a very strong light, which didn’t dazzle or hurt (my) eyes. . .there were other people in the tunnel whom (I) did not recognize. When (I) emerged (I) described a very beautiful crystal city. . . there was a river that ran through the middle of the city (with) the most crystal clear waters. There were many people, without faces, who were washing in the waters. . .the people were very beautiful. . . there was the most beautiful singing. . .(and I was) moved to tears. (My) next recollection was looking up at a doctor doing chest compressions”.

The 2014 AWARE study seemed to “hit the jackpot” in regard to one case of a 57-year-old patient who said that he floated out of his body while being revived from his cardiac arrest. The man said that a woman appeared in a high corner of the room, beckoning him to come up to her. He said that despite thinking that was impossible, he found himself up in the high corner of the room, looking down on the medical team trying to revive him. The man described specific details of the revival efforts, including the presence of a bald fat man with a blue hat, a nurse saying, “Dial 444 cardiac arrest,” his blood pressure being taken, a nurse pumping on his chest, a doctor sticking something down his throat, and blood gases and blood sugar levels being taken.

Here is what the scientific paper said in regard to the accuracy of these recollections:

"He accurately described people, sounds, and activities from his resuscitation...His medical records corroborated his accounts and specifically supported his descriptions and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). Based on current AED algorithms, this likely corresponded with up to 3 minutes of conscious awareness during CA [cardiac arrest] and CPR."

So here is a man who had a heart attack, and should have been unconscious during the medical efforts to revive him. Instead he accurately describes the details of what happened. Moreover, he claims that he observed these details while in a position above his body, in the high corner of the medical room. What we have here is what seems like a good-as-gold vintage “out of the body experience,” one with details that have been verified. This is an example of what is called a veridical near-death experience – one with observations that were subsequently verified.  Quite a few other examples of this are discussed here

This year we had the publication of an AWARE II study that is kind of a sequel to the 2014 AWARE study, but one with a much lower budget, studying only about one fifth as many people as the original AWARE study.  In the AWARE II study 567 people suffering in-hospital cardiac arrest (IHCA) were studied.  We read, "Of 567 IHCA, 53(9.3%) survived, 28 of these (52.8%) completed interviews, and 11(39.3%) reported CA [cardiac arrest] memories/perceptions suggestive of consciousness."  The authors claim that 3 of these 11 reporting memories of experiences during cardiac arrest reported "dream-like" experiences, while twice as many (6) reported what the authors call "transcendent recalled experience of death." 

A "substudy" part of the study made some attempt to get brain wave readings from people who doctors were trying to resuscitate from cardiac arrest. Some graph shows that there were some brain wave readings occurring twenty or thirty or forty minutes after resuscitation efforts began.  But that doesn't tell us anything important. Of course, if you revive someone's heart through resuscitation efforts, that will start to get his brain waves back to normal.

The design of the study was rather strange, and there were two rather odd aspects:

(1) There was a bizarre element in which a tablet computer was clamped above the head of the people who doctors were trying to resuscitate, and the tablet displayed visual and auditory cues such as an auditory mention of three random fruits.  The study reports that one of the people suffering cardiac arrest correctly identified the random auditory mention of three fruits, when asked to name three fruits. But with 28 surviving subject that could have happened with about a 2% likelihood, and doesn't really offer any clues about near-death experiences. 

(2) There is some very strange affair in which we have graphs mixing data from the studied hospital subjects and a larger data set of 126 "community CA survivors" obtained from mail-in reports or from some near-death experience website (www.nderf.com).  Reports obtained from such a way do not have the same evidence quality as interviews you have made from people you know suffered cardiac arrest, shortly after they suffered such cardiac arrest. So the idea of having a graph made from some mixture from between the two data sets seems odd. 

Because they are lower-quality evidence not as good as the accounts from verified cardiac arrests taken soon after their cardiac arrest, I will ignore the quotes taken from 126 self-reports from "community CA survivors," merely noting that they match some of the details mentioned in the paragraphs quoted below. The quotes from these "community CA survivors" are found in the Supplemental Information part of the paper. Below are some interesting quotes in the main text of the study, apparently all accounts taken from verified cardiac arrest survivors soon after their cardiac arrest:

An Out-of-Body Experience

The main body of the Aware II paper has this quote of someone describing an out-of-body experience. 

"I was no longer in my body. I floated without weight or physicality. I was above my body and directly below the ceiling of the intensive therapy room. I observed the scene that was taking place below me ... I, who no longer was the body that had belonged to me just a moment prior, found myself in a position which was … more elevated. It was a place that had nothing to do with any kind of … material experience."

Going Through the Tunnel

The main body of the Aware II paper has this quote of someone describing the extremely common account of going through a tunnel during a near-death experience. 

“I remember entering a … tunnel. The feelings I experienced … were much more intense than [usual]. The first feeling was a feeling of intense peace. It was so calm and serene with an incredible amount of tranquility. All of my … worries, thoughts, fears, and opinions were gone. The intensity of the tranquility was so incredible and overwhelming that there was no fear in what I was experiencing. I had no fear about where I was going and what to expect when I arrived there. Then I felt warmth … Then there was the desire to be home.”

A Being of Light and a Life Review

The main body of the Aware II paper has this quote of someone giving the extremely common account of encountering a being of light during a near-death experience.

“I do remember a being of light … standing near me. It was looming over me like a great tower of strength, yet radiating only warmth and love … I caught glimpses of my life and felt pride, love, joy, and sadness, all pouring into me. Each images was of me, but from the standpoint of a being standing with me or looking on… I was shown the consequences of my life, thousands of people that I'd interacted with and felt what they felt about me, saw their life and how I had impacted them. Next I saw the consequences of my life and the influence of my actions.”

An Account of a Mystical Place

The main body of the Aware II paper has this quote of someone giving the extremely common account of encountering a mystical or heavenly-seeming place during a near-death experience:

"I went directly to a place of light. It was calm and immediate … The place where I was I perceived to be analogous in a way to the exterior of an entry way…There was one major being of love and many other beings of love … There was nothing but love, goodness, truth, and all things to do with love. There was no room for fear or evil or anything but this love. It was more wonderful than any of my best hopes or experiences [in this place]. It was beyond perfect and loving, as we in our human state know it. There are no words to describe it. I was so happy to be there.”

Faced With a Choice About Returning to the Flesh

The main body of the Aware II paper has this quote of someone giving the extremely common account of being faced with a choice about whether to return to earthly life  during a near-death experience:

"I was asked if I wanted to come home (meaning there) or wanted to come back here. I told them that my two sons needed me and I had to go back. I was suddenly in my body again feeling my achy joints flaring in pain. I really don't remember what was going on around me at that point, just that I hurt.”

We read this about the attempts to get people to remember auditory and visual stimuli during cardiac arrest episodes:

"Nonetheless, among 28 survivors, nobody described explicit recall of seeing the independent image on the tablet, nor hearing the auditory stimuli. Regarding implicit learning, nobody identified the displayed visual image (from 10 candidate-images) and 1/28(3.5%) chose the correct three fruits (apple, pear, banana)."

The supplemental information tells us that patients who did not recall hearing any fruits were then then told that the names of three fruits were played, and asked to guess them. One of the 28 gave a correct answer. Given about 1000 possible combinations of three fruits, such a success would have had about a 3% probability.  The result is not very impressive, since it does not prove that perception occurred when the heart was stopped.  

What we have here is nothing terribly new, compared to previous results regarding near-death experiences. It's simply more of what already exists massively: evidence of the reality of such experiences and more evidence that people report very similar observations during such reports.  Considering the 1975 book Life After Life by Raymond Moody, it is amazing how well the generalizations made in that book keep standing up to continued scrutiny and continued tests.  In that book Moody reported an archetype or typical near-death experience that had elements such as a perception of floating out of the body, feelings of peace and joy, a life-review that occurs very quickly or in some altered type of time, a passage through a tunnel, an encounter with a being of light,  seeing deceased relatives (often in some mystical or unearthly realm), and being faced with a choice about whether or not to return to earthly life.  The same elements keep appearing in new accounts of near-death experiences, accounts such as the new accounts quoted above. 

Moreover, a study of pre-1975 literature shows many examples with features like the ones mentioned above, as I report hereThe pages here and here describe out-of-body experiences of the nineteenth century. The page here lists a nineteenth century near-death experience involving the "life review" so often reported in near-death experiences.  The study here reports that 40-percent of a sample of survivors of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake in China (who very probably knew nothing of Moody's book) reported near-death experiences, and that "the great majority of these NDEs were of the cognitive and transcendental types," with the reports only "somewhat different" from those reported in the West. A study of near-death experiences in Iran reported remarkable similarities to Western accounts.  

The CNN article on the AWARE II study has the misleading headline "Near-Death Experiences Tied to Brain Activity After Death, Study Says."  But the text of the article quotes the study's main author and states, "It's correct that the study was not able to match electrical activity with a near death experience in the same patient, Parnia says."  Such a thing goes on all the time nowadays: mainstream press headlines that do not match the facts reported in the story. 

In a 2018 paper some authors seem to sound like they are worried about all the people who are reporting striking experiences after being revived from cardiac arrest.  The authors suggest that it's time to develop a protocol for sedating such people.  It sounds like a "suppress the evidence for the paranormal" program. 

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