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Out of Body (Near-Death) Experiences

It's been a while since I've lived up to the "Philosophy, religion, politics, and culture" slogan, so I've decided to post on some religious/spiritual topics for a while.

I've always been somewhat familiar with reports of near-death, out-of-body experiences - mostly from television programs like Sightings that I watched when I was younger. Since I'm on break now, I've actually spent some time watching the television, and I saw a program on some Christian satellite channel about this phenomena.

According to the program, near-death experiences are fairly common. People (so it was said) often report seeing their bodies as doctors work on them or declare them dead, and can report what people were saying in the operating room and sometimes other rooms.

I found a website, Near-Death.com, with more information. One woman's experience is given:

Dr. Michael Sabom is a cardiologist whose latest book, Light and Death, includes a detailed medical and scientific analysis of an amazing near-death experience of a woman named Pam Reynolds. She underwent a rare operation to remove a giant basilar artery aneurysm in her brain that threatened her life. The size and location of the aneurysm, however, precluded its safe removal using the standard neuro-surgical techniques. She was referred to a doctor who had pioneered a daring surgical procedure known as hypothermic cardiac arrest. It allowed Pam's aneurysm to be excised with a reasonable chance of success. This operation, nicknamed "standstill" by the doctors who perform it, required that Pam's body temperature be lowered to 60 degrees, her heartbeat and breathing stopped, her brain waves flattened, and the blood drained from her head. In everyday terms, she was put to death. After removing the aneurysm, she was restored to life. During the time that Pam was in standstill, she experienced a NDE. Her remarkably detailed veridical out-of-body observations during her surgery were later verified to be very accurate. This case is considered to be one of the strongest cases of veridical evidence in NDE research because of her ability to describe the unique surgical instruments and procedures used and her ability to describe in detail these events while she was clinically and brain dead.


First Question

Such experiences are cited as evidence of life after death, the reality (and immortality) of the soul, etc., because people have accurate memories of events occuring when they are brain-dead, when it should be physically impossible for them to have these perceptions and form any memories.

The first question that came to my mind was this: Even if these experiences are really a person's soul (consciousness, spirit, etc.) operating independently of his or her body, how do they retain the memory once their body has been revived?

For the sake of argument, it is necessary to grant the existence of some sort of a soul that has perceptive powers, as well as the faculty of memory. But in normal, bodily-life, we don't make use of these powers (as far as we know). When we are asleep, we don't perceive and remember what's going on around the house through soul-perception and soul-memory. We don't see with our souls when we close our eyes. We don't remember things unless the physical memory faculties in our brains allow us to do so. When memory fails, we can't switch over to soul-memory for assistance.

Could there be exceptions? I'll grant the possibility. But in general we can assume that any memory a person describes (especially a lasting memory) is stored in his or her brain, and that reporting that memory involves retrieving it from that part of the brain (I'm not a neuroscientist, but you get the idea). So people reporting memories of near-death experiences are reporting memories actually stored in their brains.

But as I mentioned before, memory-formation isn't supposed to be possible during states of brain-death. And in any case, near-death experience memories aren't from a bodily viewpoint anyway. So how is it that memories of non-bodily experiences occuring when the brain is unable to form memories become brain-based memories that a person can report when they are revived?

The program I watched didn't address that question, and so far I haven't come across a good answer to it. But since this and related issue are my focus for a while, I hope to go further into this and other questions. As always, I encourage discussion in the 'Comments' section.


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