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Title: Out-of-body and near-death experiences : brain-state phenomena or glimpses of immortality?
Author: Marsh, Michael N.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2006
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What certainty is there for personal survival after death? Five key authors, critically analysed in this thesis, think that OB/ND experiences offer such assurances. Most OB/ND events follow severe clinical crises profoundly embarrassing cerebral function. At the nadir of brain function, invariably resulting in unconsciousness, authors aver that the escape of soul (Sabom), mind, or free consciousness (Moody, Ring, Grey, Fenwick), in providing glimpses of heaven, offers proof of immortality. I disagree. The semantic content of early-phase ND experiences reveals dream-like bizarreness and illogicality, consistent with de-activation of critical cortical controls. Conversely, late-phase experiences, tinged with 'moral' compulsions about earthly responsibilities, herald the progressive intrusion of conscious-awareness into that subconscious mentation. These experiences, abruptly terminating as conscious-awareness erupts, are transient - as demonstrated by narrative word counts - indicating origins from reawakening, not moribund, brains. My argument is underpinned by these latter crucial observations. Pain, intruding into ND phenomenology, is another occurrence hardly consistent with an escape of mind or 'free consciousness' into the hereafter. "Tunnel" phenomenology, a rapid movement from darkness into heavenly brightness, involves a retrospective synthesis of vestibular-generated rotation/accelerations, and a progressively enlarging and engulfing light, signalling re-establishment of an effective circulation to associative visual centres. The content of ND experiences, as with dreams, involves the temporo-parietal cortex. OB experiences derive from central vestibular activity (superior and inferior parietal lobules) in dormant, recumbent patients. Allied aberrations of allocentric space create bodily reduplications and sensed invisible presences. Thus, OB do not warrant "mystical" interpretations. The spiritual overtones accorded OB/ND experiences by authors are inconsistent with classical (Judaeo-Christian) accounts of divine disclosure. The eschatology adumbrated in published texts implies immortality, and seriously fails to embrace a preferred resurrectional eschatology as professed credally. I therefore conclude that OB/ND phenomenology, rather than offering alleged glimpses of eternity, reflects living, not dead, brains re-awakening to full conscious-awareness from antecedent metabolic insults.
Supervisor: Hedley Brooke, John Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Astral projection ; Near-death experiences