Friday, March 29, 2013

NDE Research

Recently a group of researchers carried out a study on Near Death Experience (NDE). Their theory was that if the experiences were imagined then their memories of them should be similar to memories of imagined events. What they discovered was that the memories reported by those who had an NDE were much more like memories of real events in the person's life.

Science Daily has a report on their findings of which the following is a part:
Working together, researchers at the Coma Science Group (Directed by Steven Laureys) and the University of Liège's Cognitive Psychology Research (Professor Serge Brédart and Hedwige Dehon), have looked into the memories of NDE with the hypothesis that if the memories of NDE were pure products of the imagination, their phenomenological characteristics (e.g., sensorial, self referential, emotional, etc. details) should be closer to those of imagined memories. Conversely, if the NDE are experienced in a way similar to that of reality, their characteristics would be closer to the memories of real events.

The researchers compared the responses provided by three groups of patients, each of which had survived (in a different manner) a coma, and a group of healthy volunteers. They studied the memories of NDE and the memories of real events and imagined events with the help of a questionnaire which evaluated the phenomenological characteristics of the memories.

The results were surprising. From the perspective being studied, not only were the NDEs not similar to the memories of imagined events, but the phenomenological characteristics inherent to the memories of real events (e.g. memories of sensorial details) are even more numerous in the memories of NDE than in the memories of real events.
The article struggles to put a naturalistic gloss on these results:
The brain, in conditions conducive to such phenomena occurring, is prey to chaos. Physiological and pharmacological mechanisms are completely disturbed, exacerbated or, conversely, diminished. Certain studies have put forward a physiological explanation for certain components of NDE, such as Out-of-Body Experiences, which could be explained by dysfunctions of the temporo-parietal lobe. In this context the study published in PLOS ONE suggests that these same mechanisms could also 'create' a perception - which would thus be processed by the individual as coming from the exterior - of reality. In a way their brain is lying to them, like in a hallucination.
This is possible, of course, and scientists have a responsibility to explore every plausible naturalistic explanation, but it's also possible, one would think, that the memories of the NDEs are so much like memories of real experiences because they in fact are memories of real experiences. I wonder why the article doesn't mention that.