The new PBS series on NOVA comes from physicist Brian Green and his book The Fabric of the Cosmos. In the first of four programs, he looks at space.

For a sizable number of folks who report being badly shaken, even terrified, by an NDE, the cause of distress was the sense of being alone in a great, featureless emptiness, like being lost in the stars (only without stars).  Here are excerpts from three accounts:

“I found myself floating in a void and nobody was there, not even God. I was overwhelmed with loneliness and despair because I knew this was eternity.”

“As the hours went on with absolutely no sensation, there was no pain, but there was no hot, no cold, no light, no taste, no smell, no sensation whatsoever. None, other than the fact that I felt a slight sensation of traveling at an extremely fast speed. And I knew I was leaving the earth and everything else, all of the physical world. And at that point it became unbearable, it became horrific, as time goes on when you have no feeling, no sensation, no sense of light. I started to panic and struggle and pray and everything I could think of to struggle to get back…”

“I realized I was, at that very moment, floating in space. Almost simultaneously the deep Realization or Total Knowledge hit me that I had died and I was completely alone, never to be with any loved ones, or for that matter, no living thing again in any form. . . I was in a place or state of consciousness that I didn’t know. To me it was for all eternity. There is really no way to describe or explain what this experience felt like, except to say that if a person was to allow himself or herself to mentally conjure up a scenario that represented the greatest amount of fear and terror that individual could imagine and then multiply it by five billion, it still wouldn’t equal what I felt.”

This pretty much sums up the core of my own NDE. It took years before I was able to get close enough to the memory to begin to deal with it. A turning point came with the observation of a pastor friend that reaching the Void is, for a mystic, the ultimate spiritual experience; perhaps, he suggested, I simply wasn’t ready for the encounter when it happened?

“Perhaps,” indeed! It would take years before I could approach the memory closely enough to work it through. Eventually I could at least consider that the ultimate spiritual experience shared by mystics, like the Buddhist Nirvana, is not empty but is full of all potentialities. Objectless but full. Like most such things (as if they were things), potentialities are invisible; so the Void that looks like emptiness is actually a fullness. Like space, as it turns out.

Here is Brian Greene’s remarkable presentation on space: