Monday, September 2, 2013

Is X the Explanation of the Near Death Experience (NDE)?

“If you ignore everything paranormal about NDEs, then it’s easy to conclude, there’s nothing paranormal about them.”
- Bruce Greyson

If you want to stand on the shoulders of giants, it involves a lot of legwork - good research and journalism involve a long paper trail, synthesizing evidence and perspectives to try and best make sense of complex phenomena. There are some times when a completely naive perspective can provide valuable insight, but for the most part, you ignore the work of others to your own detriment.

It seems like every year or two, there's an article proclaiming a "new explanation" of the NDE, but these articles often contain little that is new or explanatory to those who are familiar with the literature. These "explanations" are usually only relevant to certain occurrences of the NDE, such as cases occurring in cardiac arrest, without any acknowledgement of this limitation in scope. A telling omission in such papers is the absence of any reference to the Handbook of Near Death Experiences or any attempt to refute the arguments put fourth by its authors. Instead of looking at a comprehensive review of the literature, some authors continue to propound ideas that have already been shown to be woefully inadequate, which I imagine is terribly frustrating to those actually seeking to understand the NDE.

Here's a couple suggestions to keep the NDE literature moving forward:
  1. Do a comprehensive literature review. While this should go without saying, I've seen too many articles put fourth ideas that have been called into question in previous research, without ever acknowledging or addressing these issues. It's impossible to have a dialog without understanding the state of the literature.
  2. Acknowledge the scope of your research. The NDE is a complex phenomenon which occurs in response to many different events. Limiting the scope of research is fine, but at least acknowledge that your findings may not generalize beyond a specific context (e.g. cardiac arrest).
  3. Tackle the thorny issues. While prospective studies of apparent veridical perception are still underway, in my opinion, there's enough evidence out there to warrant serious scientific consideration.