Death and Dying

Dying to Know

In Bruce Greyson’s paper, “Implications of Near-Death Experiences for a Post-Materialist Psychology,” he states that, “A number of reductionist hypotheses have been proposed to explain NDEs (near-death-experiences)... although (such) speculations generally lack any empirical support and address only selected aspects of the phenomena.” (See paper by Enrico Facco and Christian Agrillo entitled “Near Death Experiences Between Science and Prejudice.”**)

Greyson says, “The most important objection to the adequacy of all reductionist theories, however, is that mental clarity, vivid sensory imagery, a clear memory of the experience, and a conviction that the experience seemed more real than ordinary consciousness are the norms for NDEs, even when they occur in conditions of drastically altered cerebral physiology under which the reductionist model would deem consciousness impossible.”  

In other words, even when the brain and all our senses are shut off completely, consciousness still appears to be happening—we still appear to be having real experiences. Can meditative states reach the level of consciousness experienced by those who have had near death experiences?

Let’s see what Rudolf Steiner* has to say:

“A moment may occur in which the soul gets an inner experience of itself in quite a new way... We are completely shut off from the world of sense and intellect, and yet we feel the experience in the same way as when we are standing fully awake before the outer world in ordinary life. We feel compelled to picture the experience in ourselves. For this purpose we use ideas such as we have in ordinary life, but we know very well that we are experiencing things different from those to which such ideas are normally attached.

...When such a series of representations has been gone through, the inner experience passes back to ordinary soul conditions. We find ourselves again in ourselves with the memory of the experience just undergone. If this memory is as vivid and accurate as any other, it enables us to form an opinion of the experience.

We then have a direct knowledge that we have gone through something which cannot be experienced by any physical sense or ordinary intelligence, for we feel that the description just given or communicated to others or to ourselves is only a means of expressing the experience. Although the expression is a means of understanding the fact of the experience, it has nothing in common with it. We know that we do not need any of our senses in having such an experience. One who attributes it to a hidden activity of the senses or of the brain does not know the true character of the experience.”

Excerpt from: A Road to Self Knowledge. Meditation I: In which the Attempt is made to obtain a True Idea of the Physical Body By Rudolf Steiner, 1912.

Steiner points to the difficulty of trying to put into words the experiences we have when we have lifted ourselves out of our physical nature, when we are experiencing things that are outside our senses, things of the spiritual world. When we come back into our bodies, so to speak, we know we have experienced something intensely real, but if we wish to talk about it, we must use the words and concepts derived from our sense-bound world. These words do not really communicate the experience, hence the skeptical response of many who are hearing about it; they feel justified in assuming that this experience is not real, but is a figment or trick of the imagination. (Whatever that is…)

Nevertheless, the number of NDE accounts is increasing as medical advances continue to successfully retrieve us from death’s door. This, along with the fact that patients and doctors now feel a diminishing sense of trepidation about reporting these experiences, ensures that research in this realm will continue.

Meanwhile, it is clear from what Steiner says that we can work on ourselves so that we develop our “spiritual senses” thus enabling us to see into the spiritual world. We can feel the mental clarity, etc. reported by those who have had near death experiences without the traumatic experience of reaching death’s door. If you want to know more, you can read Steiner’s work.

**Dr. Bruce Greyson is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia. He is co-author of Irreducible Mind and co-editor of The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences.


Near-death experiences between science and prejudice

“Implications of Near-Death Experiences for a Postmaterialist Psychology”

“Meditation as an Altered State of Consciousness: Contributions of Western Behavioral Science” Deane H. Shapiro, Jr. Irvine, California  (PDF)

“Altered States of Consciousness”

The Near-Death Experience: In the Light of Scientific Research and the Spiritual Science of Rudolf Steiner