P.M.H.Atwater, L.H.D., Ph.D. (Hon.) (1)
 P. O. Box 7691 Charlottesville, VA 22906-7691

© 1998 P.M.H.Atwater, L.H.D., Ph.D. (Hon.)

The so-called "classical model" of the near-death experience is said to consist of an out-of-body experience, passing through a tunnel toward a bright light, being met in heaven by loved ones, and then learning it isn't your time and you have to go back.

Yet, the number one complaint voiced by experiencers who attend meetings of near-death support groups throughout the United States and Canada, is, "My experience doesn't match the classical model." Individuals have even admitted to making up the tunnel component to their episode just so they could feel like they had "the real thing."

The truth is. . . the popular model is really a composite created by the media to sensationalize Moody's first book. It is "classical" only in myth and legend. The tunnel component, for instance, is but a minor element reported by less than a third of those who experience the phenomenon. George Gallup, in the first national poll ever taken on the subject back in 1982, found less than nine percent claimed to have encountered any type of tunnel.

Because the classical model isn't classical, health-care givers are at a loss in how to recognize if one of their patients might have had a near-death experience, not to mention the general public. Bruce Greyson, M.D., editor of the peer-reviewed Journal of Near-Death Studies, is now involved in trying to come up with a solution - a simple definition that will satisfy all comers. So far, no agreement has been reached.

What I submitted for review is the following, taken from over twenty years of study and with a research base in excess of 3,200 near-death experiencers:

I. Context of experience

Either A or B must be met

A. Symptoms or signs suggesting serious medical illness or injury, or physiological crisis/accident of some kind; or,

B. Experiencer's expectation or sense of imminent death.

II. Content of experience

An intense awareness, sense, or experience of "otherworldiness" - whether pleasant or unpleasant, strange or ecstatic. Episode can be brief and consist of only one or two elements, or can be more involved, even lengthy, and consist of multiple elements. Elements commonly experienced are:

* Visualizing or experiencing being apart from the physical body, perhaps with the ability to change locations.
* Greatly enhanced cognition (thoughts very clear, rapid, and hyper-lucid).
* A darkness or light that is perceived as alive and intelligent and powerful.
* Sensation of movement and/or a sense of presence (hyperalert faculties).
* Sudden overwhelming floods of emotion or feelings.
* Encounter with an identified deceased person or animal, or an encounter with an apparently nonphysical entity.
* Life review (like a movie or in segments, or a reliving).
* Information can be imparted, perhaps dialogue.

III. Typical to the experience:

A. Near-death states can occur to anyone at any age, including new borns and infants, and remain vivid and coherent lifelong (unless societal or family pressure weakens memory clusters - repression more common with child experiencers than with teen agers or adults).

B. Children's episodes are usually brief and encompass few elements. The closer the child is to puberty, the greater the possibility of longer, more complicated scenarios.

C. The pattern of psychological and physiological aftereffects seems more dependent on the intensity of the experience, than on any particular imagery or length of exposure to darkness or light.

D. Attitudes and feelings significant others display after the experiencer revives directly influence how readily he or she can integrate the experience. Episode content is secondary to that initial climate of interest or disinterest.

I would also hasten to add that no matter how long the individual is without vital signs, especially pulse or breath, there is little or no brain damage afterward - rather - brain and faculty enhancement. It is not unusual for experiencers to revive in the morgue hours later. (Average time without vital signs in my research base - between five to twenty minutes.) It is possible to have a near-death experience and not be near death. What causes near-death-like experiences is presently unknown.

Research on the near-death experience has been ongoing ever since Raymond Moody, Jr., M.D., came out with his initial book "LIFE AFTER LIFE" in 1975. Although much is now known about the phenomenon, perhaps what is most striking is how far we have yet to go and how much more we need to learn.


(1) P.M.H.Atwater, L.H.D., Ph.D. (Hon.), has distinguished herself as one of the best researchers in the field of near-death studies.

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