The largest-to-date study of Near Death Experiences, NDEs, was just published. Dr. Sam Parnia was the lead investigator. It was a four-year, multi-site and multi-investigator study. It focused on cardiac arrests (CA) in persons brought to the ER. There were 2060 cases of CA over the four year study. All these people underwent cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

Here is the url for the press release:

Here is a link to the actual study:

Parnia insists this is a study of death, not near death, since his subjects’ hearts had stopped and their brain activity had also stopped. As Pim Van Lommel pointed out in his earlier study, the EEG activity goes flat within 15 – 30 seconds of the heart’s stopping. No blood flow, the lights go out. We call this death, Parnia insists.

He says: “Widely used yet scientifically imprecise terms such as near-death and out-of-body experiences may not be sufficient to describe the actual experience of death. Future studies should focus on cardiac arrest, which is biologically synonymous with death, rather than ill-defined medical states sometimes referred to as ‘near-death’.”

His argument is that if you are resuscitated, then you experienced a cardiac arrest. If not, you continue to be dead.

 As some of you know, in the late 1980s I conducted a study of 32 people who had NDEs. In 1992, two other investigators and I formed a support group for NDE-ers. It still meets once a month. You can hear presentations at the meetings here:

 Parnia has been doing NDE research for some time. He seemed to begin these NDE studies as a skeptic. Like nearly all serious researchers, he now open to what some call “paranormal” explanations. Melvin Morse, MD, is perhaps the best known example of that. He tried to explain away NDEs as “dying brain” phenomena, only to be frustrated. The data didn’t fit his hypothesis. Like a good scientist, he was required by the data to shift his hypothesis. He made a radical shift from atheist to deist, believing there is a God and an afterlife. That’s where Parnia seems to be going. I am not sure where he is, but he is closer to a radical shift of his world view. 

 The true NDE in his study was rare. First, most cardiac arrests did progress to death. Those who revived often didn’t recall anything. Some recalled out-of-body perceptions, being “up near the ceiling, looking down.”

 One subject was able to accurately describe what was going on in the emergency room at exactly the time that his heart was stopped and his brain waves were flat. Parnia considers this his outlying case, the one that cannot be explained through usual scientific paradigms. 

 The links above allow you to read both the press release and the actual study. I found the study write-up somewhat frustrating. It leaves out too much, leaves too many questions unanswered. But Parnia’s outstanding exception of accurate out-of-body perception as well as others who were very suggestive, indicates that the strict materialist point of view will not explain the data.


Pim Van Lommel’s study in 2001 (Van Lommel, et al., 2001) reported on 344 consecutive CA patients in ten Dutch hospitals. He reported that eighteen percent had some recollection during the time that they were supposedly arrested and would be physiologically unable to form any sort of memory. Van Lommel pointed out that the brain totally ceases to function very quickly-within a few seconds-when the heart stops beating.

Michael Shermer reported in a 2003 Scientific American article that Van Lommel’s research had dealt a blow to the idea that the mind can separate from the body. In fact, his research showed the exact opposite. When Van Lommel tried to publish a rejoinder to Shermer’s misstatement of his research, the Scientific American (perhaps I should put scare quotes around that title) refused to publish it. A shameful episode, sullying the term “science.”

So Van Lommel published his reply on the site, that is, “near death experience research foundation” site. It is a site run by a husband-and-wife team, Jeffrey Long, MD, and Jody Long, an attorney, who is the webmaster.

Here is Van Lommel’s rejoinder:

Here is an interview with Van Lommel where they talk abut Parnia:

Parnia’s new research is a continuation of the NDE research tradition. Read it yourself, read the Van Lommel material, and make up your own mind.

Why do I write about this? 

I just think it is interesting. I also take a sort of guilty pleasure from tweaking true believers. Psychology is full of people who are materialist true believers. There can be no out-of-body awareness, they assert. 

Again, read the literature and make up your own mind. But don’t fall for a strict materialist point of view without knowing in some detail the real evidence. 


Van Lommel W, Van Wees R, Meyers V, Elfferich I. Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands. Lancet 2001; 358:2039-2045.