The blog Skeptico recently featured an interview with PMH Atwater, after which a couple of commenters kept asking about the medical evidence that her three NDEs happened. In fact, they wondered whether any NDE can be said to happen in the absence of corroboration. Where are the records? Or, to quote one comment, “An NDE-like experience without any witnesses or medical documentation to support it can be anything, including hallucinations.”
Those questioners are far from alone. The fact that this question keeps being asked is an indication that a great many people don’t get the idea of “experience.” Any experience is a private, personal happening in consciousness. It is not a public activity. By definition, a near-death or similar experience cannot be witnessed, although in rare instances it may be shared.
The best a medical record can do is track physiological events and record circumstances. Although a monitoring device may register a blip in some function being recorded, it cannot indicate the presence of an NDE during that blip. No one watching the monitor will see, or feel, or think what the patient is seeing and feeling and thinking. In short, the biological event may be witnessed, but the NDE itself is not open to observers.
It seems ironic that under the most tightly monitored circumstances, in cardiac arrest with stringent clinical recording, studies find the fewest reports of NDEs. Does this mean that near-death experiences in other circumstances are fraudulent? No, it means simply that the conditions surrounding cardiac arrest and resuscitation either do not promote having an NDE or affect a patient’s being physically and cognitively able to report it afterward. As for mistaking one type of experience for another, the differences between the sensations and effects of NDEs and hallucinations have been well documented for two decades; that is no longer an issue except for people who are unaware of the research.
I wonder, after so many thousands of NDE reports with no corroborating medical records but with objective evidence of life changes to indicate that something happened, what is it that people are looking for in demanding medical evidence?