“Jude, Get Down From There!”: Out of Body and Near Death Experiences
Jude opened her eyes. She was floating and suspended in mid-air. Wonder and exhilaration filled her. Everything around her, wherever she looked, was white. Above her she noticed a glowing white light. She looked below her and saw a white hospital room, her hospital bed, two male doctors, and two female nurses. The doctors were dressed in all white: short sleeved scrub tops, scrub pants, doctors’ masks and caps. The nurses were also dressed in white, but their attire consisted of long sleeve dresses that reached down to their ankles, old bonnet-style nurse hats, and white gloves. One of the nurses moved towards her. As the nurse approached, she reached up with her arm extended in an effort to grab Jude. The nurse jumped up several times, but it was in vain; she could not get Jude back down and into the hospital bed. Not wanting the nurse to get her, Jude thought to herself, “Why are you trying to get me down? I feel good up here.” Fade to black.
The above dream happened to my daughter, Jude, during her tonsillectomy a few years ago. I didn’t even find out about it until a year or so after the procedure. It was revealed during a dinner discussion. We were chatting about how some people are able to fly in their dreams. After a bit of this conversation, Jude looked at Zoë, smiled, and said, “That reminds me of the dream I had when my tonsils were taken out.” Zoë nodded in agreement. I jerked my head towards Jude, mouth agape, and said, “What dream?” Jude had never told me that she had a dream during her tonsillectomy. She then proceeded to tell me the aforementioned tale. The entire time Jude told her dream to me, my stomach was in a knot with excitement. How freakin’ awesome! Jude didn’t quite understand my interest and fascination with her dream, but I was more than ready to explain it to her.
By the time I found out about Jude’s dream, I was well-versed in skepticism and understood that many people might interpret her dream as something of an “Out-of-Body Experience” (OOBE), but it even sounded more eerily like a “Near-Death Experience” (NDE). I’d like to add that during the procedure she had no health scares of any kind; it went off without a hitch. Had something happened during the procedure, it would have been so easy to fit it right into the mold of a NDE: a noticeably bright light, a sensation of floating away, everything was white, she was in a hospital room with doctors and nurses, and she even had a reluctance to return. Obviously, since she was in no way near death during the tonsillectomy, let’s focus on the Out-of-Body Experience for a bit.
Steven Novella wrote a blog post back in 2007 about OOBE titled “Bringing Out-of-Body Experiences Down to Earth” about a study that actually induced the phenomenon. He wrote:
A new study sheds further light on the neurological phenomenon of the out-of-body (OOB) experience. This is an important area of research because, not only does it further our understanding of how the brain works, it is serving to demystify a common human experience (probably second only to waking dreams) that has contributed to a great deal of superstitious beliefs. It is also an important step in the victory of the neuro-materialists (those, like me, who feel that our mind in all of its aspects can be explained by brain function) against the dualists (those who claim that something other than the physical brain is needed to explain our mind and sense of self).
…OOB experiences are not mystical or spiritual experiences, nor are they evidence for dualism. OOB experiences are a neurological phenomenon. We have known for a long time that they can be triggered by drugs, by hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain), sensory deprivation, seizures, and even magnetic stimulation of certain brain structures. These new experiments show that OOB experiences can be triggered by essentially tricking the brain with a false yet compelling image of the self outside our body. The correlation of the image of the virtual self being touched and the physical sensation of the touch was enough to confuse the brain and disrupt the process that normally gives us a sensation of being inside our body.
Even though Jude was not near death, she had similar characteristics of a NDE, so I’m going to include a little bit of information written by Sam Harris from his blog post, “Science on the Brink of Death”. It truly is a fascinating read. Seriously, whether you are a skeptic or believer in OOBE and NDE, you should read it (after you finish my post, of course). He makes some interesting points:
… One would think that if a nonphysical domain were truly being explored, some universal characteristics would stand out. Hindus and Christians would not substantially disagree—and one certainly wouldn’t expect the after-death state of South Indians to diverge from that of North Indians, as has been reported. It should also trouble NDE enthusiasts that only 10−20 percent of people who approach clinical death recall having any experience at all.
In fact, many appear to have been in no real danger of dying. And those who have reported leaving their bodies during a true medical emergency—after cardiac arrest, for instance—did not suffer the complete loss of brain activity.
In Jude’s mind, she knew it had been a dream; there was no reason for her to think otherwise. She hadn’t even made it a point to tell me because she didn’t think it was that out of the ordinary. Amazing and unbelievable things happen all the time in dreams. Jude has had dreams where she’s flown before, so it’s no surprise that it would make an appearance while she was under anesthesia.
I’m glad that I eventually found out about Jude’s dream and that I was able to educate her about Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences and the thinking behind them. I love the fact that she had this dream, and it happened without any supernatural thinking or being “near-death” to produce it.
What Jude did have was an experience that so many would have attributed to a higher meaning or purpose, but to her it was nothing more than a “really neat dream”. No meaning necessary. The dream is enough.