Addicted to novelty since 2001

Why Are There No Bad Near-Death Experiences?

I’m (slowly) reading Jay Ingram’s Theatre of the Mind, and was recently thinking about out-of-body, near-death experiences. I’m speaking here of the hovering-over-the-body, don’t-go-into-the-light shtick. They have a commonality, which Wikipedia sums up nicely:

  1. A sense of being dead.
  2. An out-of-body experience. A sensation of floating above one’s body and seeing the surrounding area.
  3. Pleasant feelings, calmness. A sense of overwhelming love and peace.
  4. A sensation of moving upwards through a tunnel or narrow passageway.
  5. Meeting deceased relatives or spiritual figures.
  6. Encountering a being of light, or a light (possibly a religious or divine figure).
  7. Being given a life review.
  8. Reaching a border or boundary.
  9. A feeling of being returned to the body, often accompanied by a reluctance.

When you hear or read reports about near-death experiences, they’re always positive. Isn’t that a little weird? Why doesn’t anybody have a really terrifying, nightmarish near-death experience? Maybe they do and they’re just unwilling to talk about it? Or maybe this whole phenomenon is just the hallucinogenic result of the brain going into temporary deep hibernation?

Regardless, it is encouraging that our limited explorations of the apparent here-after are universally positive.

18 Responses to “Why Are There No Bad Near-Death Experiences?”

  1. Ianiv Schweber

    I remember watching a show on TV about negative near-death experiences. Fire and pain and all the other things you would expect from some religions’ hell.

  2. Metro

    Um, I read a few NDEs in some Christianist literature a while back. There were tales from heart patients and trauma victims who had damn-near-died, and many were negative, usually “pre-conversion”.

    Some of them claimed to have remembered being strapped to a gurney being rolled down a tunnel of fire.

    A more interesting story, to me, was the woman who claimed to have seen a family member imprisoned in something like a wheel rim embedded in the ground, where she had been burnt to her skeleton, but was nonetheless alive and suffering.

    I don’t really believe in an afterlife. I believe it’s possible that the body produces certain illusions as a result of brain electro-chemistry changes.

    As an evolutionist, I’m more interested in what it’s all for. Perhaps it increases your probablity of survival if you feel relaxed and happy while your body’s dealing with the crisis at hand?

  3. Brad Rhoads

    The Rich Man and Lazarus
    Luke 16:19-31;&version=31;

    19″There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

    22″The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In hell,[a] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

    25″But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

    27″He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

    29″Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

    30″ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

    31″He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “

    Hologram Reply:


  4. Jeff

    The brain does some strange things when it is deprived of oxygen.

    In my humble opinion, we are basically computers made of meat (with a wicked bipedal locomotion system to carry us around). When we get shut down, we get shut down.

  5. Humble McMortal

    Here is a serious answer to the question “why are there no bad near-death experiences?” I tried to come up with something funny, but it just didn’t work for me. For starters, don’t listen to “Jeff Says,” because he just doesn’t know squat. Not yet, anyways.(Sorry, Jeff.)
    Now, the answer (insert drum roll here): folks who had a bad near-death experiences are still having them. They’re dead. They don’t wanna be, and they’re not happy about it. Talk to your dead friends and loved ones. Acknowledge their continued existence. You will be surprised at the response.
    Bonus answers: “What’s the meaning of life? Why are we here?” To learn. “Are souls reborn?” Yes, some are. With recent human population growth, less than 10% of all people alive today can logically have reincarnated souls. The rest of us stumble stupidly through our first lives. So, beware anyone who claims to be able to reveal all your past lives for $25. Odds are this is your first past life, and you ain’t even dead yet. Just be patient, like Jeff.

  6. Scott

    Wiki talk about a disturbing NDE, right below the list you quoted, a guy named Howard Storm.

  7. darren

    I should also note that, while all descriptions of NDEs are going to be subjective and biased, Storm’s may be partially motivated by evangelism.

  8. Allen

    The International Association for Near-Death Studies has an entire section on their website that deals with research into “distressing” near-death experiences (NDEs)at They also have lots of research that deals with other types of NDEs. In particular, you might want to check under the Research tab for published papers outlining new findings from the most current research, particularly the two articles written by Dr. Peter Fenwick and Dr. Pim Van Lommel.

    I recently attended a 4 day conference on NDEs sponsored by the association at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that reviewed in detail 30 years of research on NDEs. DVDs of the presentations can be ordered on their website.

    Hologram Reply:

    Nice try.
    Go sell your stuff somewhere else.

  9. Derek K. Miller

    So it seems that near-death experiences are not all positive, answering the question.

    And I’m with those who think your brain can do funny things in distressed states. But I don’t think those things are a preview of any sort of afterlife or reincarnation, personally.

  10. leigh

    I was near death once and it was
    a quite unpleasant experience. I remember promising god that if I get better, after this I’ll never get drunk again.

    At least, not on cheap wine.

    Humble McMortal says, “I tried to come up with something funny, but it just didn’t work for me.”,
    then goes on to contradict himself by talking to dead people and asking, and then answering, the question “What is the meaning of life?”, and a couple of other minor questions.

    That was fairly funny.

    I agree that dead people are not happy about being dead. They’re not sad about it either.

    Dead people are dead.

    Boy, this is a fun place.

  11. Interesting Ian

    Eh? No bad near-death experiences?? You’ve obviously read next to nothing of the literature on NDEs. Generally it does seem there are less bad experiences than good ones, although this could be due to peoples’ reluctance to report the negative experiences.

  12. Mike

    I think it’d be interesting to do psych profiles on people who’ve had negative NDEs. Is it something in their brain? Self-image? Or is their really an old man on the cloud doling out warnings? If so, how does Lucifer feel about these temps that just show up in hell for a few minutes, then abscond?

  13. Kris Donaldson

    There are some NDE’s where people have talked of less than serene events. No, I don’t suppose a lot of people would share that sort of experience, but I have heard some. The even bigger issue is that by seeing all of these positive experiences, it confirms what it says in the Bible: “The Lord’s judgement is sweeter than honey.” I really believe that his forgiveness is way more intense than we could imagine.

  14. Fran

    Perhaps it is the learning that there is no death, really- would that make the NDE less terrible? I do believe that some must take their preconcieved notions about heaven and hell with them and experience their beliefs.My son committed suicide.Shortly after I felt his presence altho I did not “see” him.He was very angry because he did not acomplish what he he set out to do.This would not have been the reunion I wanted- but I do believe nothing changes after death, and the biggest thing to learn is that however real death may seem it is not the reality. This sensing my son was my begining to seek out more of NDE. There is much more to “unlearn” than to learn.

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