There's a growing body of evidence on near death experience, which shows its more common than once thought. Is this unusual phenomenon evidence of the afterlife,, and ultimately the Soul? In this five part series we look at the evidence and history of NDEs.
Hieronymus Bosch called ‘Ascent of the Blessed’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascent_of_the_Blessed#/media/File:Hieronymus_Bosch_013.jpg
Two Trillion Galaxies Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOURqm-MB4s
Life After Life, by Dr Raymond A Moody Jr. https://amzn.to/3J6waXJ
Doctor Pierre-Jean du Monchaux,"Anecdotes de Medecine". Link: https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/world-s-oldest-recorded-near-death-experience-found-114072700272_1.html
“That which is impenetrable to us really exists. Behind the secrets of nature remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.” – EinsteinSupport the show
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About the unexplainable… Einstein said,
“That which is impenetrable to us really exists. Behind the secrets of nature remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.”
Welcome to The Soul Podcast. I’m Stacey Wheeler.
This topic will be a series of five episodes. This episode is an introduction to the topic. In this series, we’ll look at the phenomenon of near-death experience (also known as NDEs). We’ll look at the long history of people reporting they’d had out of body experience, the changes people report they have after an NDE and the hard to explain similarities researches have found in cases all around the globe. When we’re done, we’ll ask the questions … Do you believe there is something unexplainable happening with NDEs? and… Are NDEs evidence of the Soul?
This is a big topic and I’ll be presenting the most up-to-date information I could find on this phenomenon. So, let’s dive in.
Curiosity about the unexplained – is the basis for all knowledge. Think about it. Without mystery there would be no solving of mysteries and there would be no scientific facts established. So, curiosity is where it begins. All proven science started with mystery and curiosity. And we love to figure things out. But not all mysteries can be solved. Some things are far beyond our ability to explain or understand. And they occupy a space somewhere between science and philosophy. The Soul, I believe is one of those things Einstein would have regarded as subtle, intangible, and inexplicable.
The Human brain -as far as we can tell- is the most evolved on Earth. This evolution has allowed us to do many amazing things. But being at the top has also made us arrogant. You see, it’s easy for us (from our high perch of intellect) to think we’re the smartest beings that exist. But who’s to say there isn’t more intelligent and advanced life somewhere else in the vast Universe? Maybe even a higher form that created us and dropped us in this amusement park we call “life.”
The undeniable truth is that we don’t know what we don’t know. And until we know something, the idea of it can seem unbelievable. As an example, did you know that space telescope data has helped scientists conclude there are an estimated two trillion Galaxies in the observable universe?
Two trillion. That’s a hard number to wrap my head around so I went to a website which explains numbers to people like me, who were never strong at math. Another way to say two trillion is 2 million, millions. That was still hard to wrap my head around. But let’s just say there’s a staggering number of galaxies in the observable universe.
So, we live in our galaxy, which is considered a small one (by those who say they know). And there are around two trillion more -just in what’s known as the “observable universe.” I doubt most of us could have ever though that was possible… even a handful of years ago. I mean, we think of planets in the context of our solar system. But that handful of planets is like eight grains of sand in a massive sandbox. Two million, million Galaxies!
It’s always been that way but we’re just now finding out the truth of it. It’s a massive piece of information. And it’s only believable because those who say they know have told us.
What we don’t know, we don’t know. Once we know it’s true, we easily accept it -no matter how outrageous it might seem to be.
In case you hadn’t heard about this, I’ll share a link to a video in the show notes.
The universe is mind-bogglingly large. The night sky is a beautiful tapestry. It’s a stunning thought to consider it might have been created by a higher power. Though -that too- is unprovable – at least for now.
Humanity, throughout history has tried to explain the mystery of our existence. This has gone down the timeline and across all cultures. We’ve all created gods and god stories. I think it’s because we feel something. There’s a feeling we get when we look up on a clear night at a vast sky and feel insignificantly small. Maybe that’s when we started to believe there’s something much bigger than us out there. All cultures have created gods.
Each culture’s story is different in its own way, but each is one group of humanity’s attempt to explain questions humans have always pondered. And the questions are essentially the same among all cultures….
1. What is the meaning of life?
2. Is there a God (or Gods)? ...
3. If so, is that our creator?
Which leads to…
4. Do we have free will? ...
And of course, we must know…
5. Is there life after death? ...
And in the end, we all want to understand this one…
6. What is Love?
These are the big questions in life (thought there are many others).
And again – they cross all cultures. They’re universal.
But the ‘life after death’ question is what we’re going to look at over the next five episodes.
What to expect… This episode will give some background on Near-Death Experience. Sort of a little history and explanation. In the ones that follow, we’ll look at well documented, and researched cases. These are cases, which suggest there may be more after we leave this body. We’ll hear from researchers who’ve been studying this phenomenon for decades. We’ll even hear from a neurosurgeon who had an NDE and was fundamentally changed by the experience. He even wrote a bestselling book about it. And we’ll look at the well-documented after-effects of having an NDE.
Ultimately, all this is presented to help you answer the question for yourself, Are near-death experiences evidence of the Soul?
How do you prove what Einstein called, “subtle, intangible, and inexplicable”?
Where “proof” is difficult to find, we can only look at evidence. So today, let’s start to look at evidence for the existence of the Soul.
Let’s start with the term Near Death Experience. This term was coined by Dr Raymond Moody in the mid 70s, in his best-selling book Life After Life. Very good book. Definitely worth reading. (I’LL SHARE A LINK IN THE SHOW NOTES). We’ll talk more about Moody and his findings later. And we’ll even hear from him.
In case you’re not familiar with the concept, an NDE is an unusual experience taking place on the brink of death and recounted by a person after recovery. This is typically what we think of when we talk about an out-of-body experience -where a person might report they floated above their body, had a vision of a tunnel, or were drawn toward a bright light… among other things.
These concepts are well understood by most people. We might even jokingly say to someone doing something dangerous “don’t go towards the light.” The animated movie Soul depicts all of the concepts I mentioned. So, even on the level of pop culture, we examine the idea.
Because of Dr Moody’s book NDEs came to the conversation in a bigger way in the 70s, but people coming back from the other side wasn’t a new idea.
Looking way, way back…
You could make the case that the first known reference to a near death experience came from Plato’s book Republic, where he tells the story, in the Myth of Er about a soldier who dies and goes into the otherworld, only to return to life with stories that are fanciful and amazing. Stories of death aren’t uncommon in ancient writings. What makes The Myth of Er interesting here is that Plato integrated a few elements we associate with near death experience into his story. These are: the Soul leaving the body, passing through a cave or tunnel, and encountering a pure celestial being. There are other, more-subtle similarities but these are the ones that stand out to me. Was this a story of an actual NDE? We’ll never know. But it’s interesting to me that in a time before Christ, writers were making refences to a phenomenon we’re still debating the truth of today.
And there are other historical references to our understanding of NDEs. There’s a painting by Hieronymus Bosch called ‘Ascent of the Blessed.’ The main focal point of the painting is a long tunnel with a bright light and a silhouetted figure at the end of the tunnel… with an angel leading a person towards the light. There are other people below the tunnel also being assisted by angels towards the tunnel. Looking at the painting you immediately recognize the reference to near death experience most of us are familiar with. With its familiar imagery, it’s easy to imagine someone painting this sometime in the past 40 years. What’s amazing is that it was painted in the early 1500s.
So, 500 years ago, either people were having NDEs and relating what they saw, or Hieronymus Bosch made a fanciful painting and got very lucky with how closely the imagery aligned with the details related to NDEs.
(I’ll share a link to the image in the show notes)
And research on out of body experiences has been happening since the 1800s. A German scientist named Albert Heim did a 25-year study on the topic. He published his study in 1892.
Eighty years later, in 1972, Heim’s paper was translated into English. Three years later Dr. Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life was published. In it, he looked at 150 cases of NDEs… and in publishing the book, created the phrase ‘Near Death Experience’ to describe the phenomenon. It has sold more than 13 million copies. More than 40 years after its release, it continues to remain in print.
Though most of us have a picture that comes to mind when someone mentions an “out of body experience” it wasn’t always that way. Before Moody’s book was published, no comprehensive research had been done. After Life After Life came out, people who’d had NDEs realized they weren’t alone and started talking more openly about their experiences. And it became clear the patterns of near-death experience are similar all around the world.
We’ll go into those patterns in the next episode.
Did you know that along with a mention by Plato, the phenomenon of Near-Death Experience also comes up in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Egyptian Book of the Dead? That was written about a thousand years before Jesus. So, though research on this has grown in the past five decades, there has been knowledge of it for thousands of years.
One last piece of history about NDEs. The oldest known professional/medical case report of an NDE dates to the year 1740. A French Doctor Pierre-Jean du Monchaux was a military physician, and he wrote a book titled "Anecdotes de Medecine". In it, he described a case of near-death experience of a patient, who temporarily fell unconscious and then reported that he saw a light so pure and bright that he thought he must have been in heaven.
Though this is the first case we know of ever being documented by a medical professional, it seems highly likely that anyone who might have experienced one earlier might not have been able to write about it. Remember that literacy levels weren’t like they are now. A literacy study from 2013 says that only 12% of people could read and write in 1820. So, it’s not surprising that there are few cases reported in Europe before this one in in 1740. It seems this may have been the first time someone with the ability to write (and with a scientifically curious mind) took the time to write about it.
It's also not surprising that the earliest accounts are from places like Tibet and Egypt. These are some of the earliest written languages. The Egyptian written language is more than 5000 years old, and Tibetan is more than 9,000- years old.
So, between the Tibetans, the Egyptians, Plato, Hieronymus Bosch, and this French doctor, it seems that out of body experiences and NDEs have been happening for a very long time. So, there’s no argument whether they exist. Clearly NDEs exist. The only argument is what they represent; is it something purely physical, or something much more profound?
There’s a statistic we’ll look at later that shows that millions of people alive today have had an NDE. So, odds are, you know someone how has -even though they may not have spoken of it.
During my life, I’ve had two people share stories of leaving their bodies. Both found it to be a profound experience. One of these stories came from Bill, a family friend. He had diabetes and at one point, lost consciousness and ended up in the emergency room, with doctors working to save his life. Later that year he explained to me that during the ER visit he was floating above his body, looking down.
Bill had been a professed atheist the whole time I’d known him. After the incident he told me he’d never felt more at peace than when he was “dead”. He said there was no pain or fear and whatever is on the other side made him at peace. At the time we talked, he was living in a building reserved for low-income retirees. He had no close family and I was one of his few contacts. He told me that day, if he died and they ever called me and wanted me to take responsibility for his body, not to do it. He said the body was just a shell and after he was gone it didn’t matter if it ended up cremated or used by medical students. Bill was an atheist, yet he had no fear of death.
He told me his “death” that day in the ER was the most amazing thing he’d ever experienced.
In episode two we’re going to look closely as what happens in an NDE. We’re going to hear from the most prominent researcher in the field of study. And we’re going to start asking the question – “are NDEs evidence of the Soul?”