|This photos was taken five days before my awakening, while I was in a minimally conscious state, the final step before consciousness. I believe it was in this period that I had my most detailed coma-dreams.|
However, I didn't originally think of my coma-dream as an NDE. I thought NDEs were just something the spiritually inclined believed had happened to them. In other words, that they weren't a real phenomenon. My argument in my first draft of my Skeptical Inquirer article "Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience" was that the reason I didn't have an NDE was due to my atheism and skepticism. But as I learned ever more about NDEs, I began to realize that I had experienced many parallels with classic NDEs. My nonbelief is still the reason why I didn't see angels or heaven, but a true skeptic revises their beliefs when the evidence contradicts them. NDEs are real.
As I stated in both the article and the interview, one of the main convergences with classic NDEs were the numerous elements from my childhood featured prominently in my coma-dream. Instead of a whole-life review, my mind settled on the simplest, most comforting time in my life--sort of a mental fetal position.
Another one, which was also mentioned in the interview and the SI article, were the voices that filtered into my coma-dream. As I researched the article, I came to learn more and more about what happened to me while I was in the coma. In the first part of this two-part blog, I discussed covert cognition. If the brains of people having the experience are still active, then NDEs can't be evidence of mind-body separation.
The third element--the one that tied things together--was Kevin Nelson's REM intrusion theory. Simon did an excellent job presenting the theory, but I would also add that according to Nelson's study, people who are susceptible to forms of REM intrusion like my lucid dreaming are 60% more likely to have an NDE. (In fact, I should've put that statistic in my article.) But what many of the commentators on the Post Mortem column chose to ignore was the implications of the theory. My coma-dream was indeed an ordinary dream, albeit a very long one. And so are all NDEs. The theory states that this is what's responsible for the surreal, dream-like nature of NDEs. The surreal things I saw were inspired by my secular childhood mental landscape, including campy 50s sci-fi films like Attack of the Puppet People. There's also a scene in the classic horror film The Bride of Frankenstein that featured miniaturized people. I grew up without religion, but loving movies like these.
As for the most famous NDE element of all, the light at the end of a dark tunnel, I admittedly experienced no parallel. I believe that's because when I developed anoxia--as my blood pressure dropped so low that I suffered a series of strokes on both sides of my brain--I was already unconscious from the sepsis that was rapidly killing me. If the anoxia had occurred later, I might've seen the tunnel too. It's something that test pilots often report. Even my boyfriend Keith has seen that tunnels the few times he's fainted, though he didn't have an NDE. That's another well-documented physical effect.
A few commentators on the Post Mortem column complained that I couldn't have had an NDE because I didn't die and come back again. I came about as close to dying as you can be without actually dying, but no, I never actually died. As I've already established, however, near death isn't required to have a near-death experience. Many people who have written bestselling Heaven tourism books like Colton Burpo, the kid of Heaven is for Real fame, didn't die. He was in a coma too. And as I stated in part one, Eben Alexander's brain was not in fact dead during his NDE. Indeed, many of the things he stated as facts in his book Proof of Heaven were proven to be impossible in a famous Esquire expose.
The real problem is that some people are so invested in the idea that NDEs are evidence of the afterlife that anyone who contradicts this from personal experience must be denied or attacked. I think it was this same impulse that led one commentator on the Washington Post article about me and my SI article to insinuate that if I were really dying, I would've seen my dead loved ones. Surely then I would've seen Heaven, right? To me, the final nail in the coffin is the comment I read in an article about another coma survivor, Claire Wineland. A Disqus member named NoAZPhilsPhan recounted his own NDE. People always told him that his NDE was real because he heard the voice of a dead friend. But he doubts the reality of his experience because he also handed out presents with Santa Claus and sledded with the Coca-Cola bears. It was around Christmas time. Coincidence?