What is a Near Death Experience?

Does Consciousness Exist Separately from the Body?


The NDE is an event that has been documented in thousands of people who have experienced a trauma that temporarily put the body in a death or near-death state. Sometimes it was cardiac arrest, other times loss of brain function, or both. According to the International Association for Near-Death Studies in Durham, NC (IANDS), each NDE is unique, but they have common features. While some can be distressing, most contain beautiful, loving, and insightful elements that are life-changing. These include:


  • a sense of profound peace and well-being
  • an initial experience of seeing one's body from the outside
  • a movement out into space
  • a life review
  • an intense feeling of unconditional love
  • movement to and often immersion in a powerful light
  • an encounter with spiritual beings
  • a flood of knowledge about one's self and the universe
  • not wanting to go back to earth


Many studies have been done over the last 25 years by people like Ray Moody, Dr. Kenneth Ring, and others. More recently, Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who experienced his own NDE, has written two books about it. While we don't know all we want to, we do know there is no other scientifically credible explanation as to how someone can hover over their body and accurately describe every detail of what is going on in an operating room, or how a person who was blind from birth can return to describe in detail all the beautiful things and people they saw on their journey.

So what is going on in an NDE? A leading theory is that we all have a consciousness that is separate from our bodies. It inhabits our body when it is alive, and moves on afterwards. Here is an explanation by my husband, Bernard, of how that can work.

~~The Sharing of Body and Soul (or consciousness)

Current competing theories of the relation(s) between mind and body in humans and other biologically living things fall broadly into the following categories:

1. Materialism: the biological mind is all there is;

2. Separatist Dualism: human consciousness is trapped in the cage of a biological body;

3. (General) Unity Dualism: your consciousness (also "soul”) and your body are united as one while the body lives; then your consciousness is free to leave for parts unknown.

Each of these theories claims to be mutually exclusive; that is, theirs is the only condition that can exist, thereby excluding the others. In addition, each claims that humans are substantially unique and different from other living things, including that any existence in humans of "consciousness” or “soul” cannot exist in non-humans. My theory (largely based on the findings of IANDS researchers and others) is that it is equally possible that the conditions they describe can, and may well, coexist, and are not mutually exclusive at all. Some basic assumptions that form the foundation for this are as follows:

1. The material/biological brain is a necessary part of every human, just as it is of other living things above a certain level. It has various degrees of ability to think, to learn, to make decisions (particularly those required for survival), and to store information and experience in memory. It is also affected by both instinct that comes with each species, as well as hereditary habits passed down from ancestors. This brain dies when the body dies.

2. There is a non-physical “consciousness” (sometimes called “soul”) that occupies humans, and may well occupy at least some species of animals. There is no evidence that this consciousness occupies all 7 billion humans, or that it does not inhabit at least some non-humans. And there is no evidence of the contrary. We know it exists because there are tens of thousands of well documented cases of people whose brains have stopped functioning but then they were later revived. (Near death experiences, or “NDEs”.) The vast majority reported experiences, very similar to each other, of their consciousness leaving their bodies. Some who had been blind from birth described all the things they saw during this journey, only to be blind again when back in their bodies. But without interviewing 100% of those who have died, there is no way to know if this consciousness inhabits all humans, or just some.

3. There is a wide variety of what humans refer to as “good” and “evil” in humans, and often there are conflicts between the two within humans themselves.

4. There is also a debate as to how much human action is predetermined, and how much is the result of free will. It seems possible that this can be at least partially explained if you consider the following: It has been theorized that “consciousness” is a non-physical, possibly electromagnetic type of force that has within it the all-knowing, timeless and dimensionally infinite capacity that is referred to as the “soul” or “essence” of a person. (e.g., see work of Robert & Suzanne Mays, http://selfconsciousmind.com/). It partially occupies the brain of a biological human, overlapping the activities of the material brain. So one “mind” focuses on survival of the race, while the other tries to bring the messages of our “source” (Creator, Light, God, whatever you believe in) to bear on how humanity behaves towards itself. The overlap is only partial, and the combination of the two “minds” is not the sum, but a third being, manifesting itself as a human being. (This is sort of like hydrogen and oxygen being combined, but when together they are not the sum of two gases, but rather a liquid, water.) If these combined minds can work in concert, they are a product of human “growth”, in spiritual terms. If in conflict, they are candidates for mental health intervention.

So did Hitler have a conflict, and the biological side won? Or was his brain devoid of the non-physical “consciousness” of the universe? If so, why did he behave in a way that would steer the human race to extinction, in a way that demonstrates the downside of Darwin’s theory? We don’t know. So where is determinism vs. free will in all this? If the material brain’s intellect and “soul” consciousness can co-exist in some or all humans (and maybe others), then both are factors in what a person thinks/feels/does. Instincts, some natural, some inherited, and some from conditioning, can compete with the infinite knowledge of the “soul” consciousness. The soul cannot inhabit an earthly body and directly participate in life on earth unless that body is biologically alive. But, like the driver of a car that has broken down, it can step out, hold out its thumb, and look for another ride. And how that process might work remains, for at least the present, a tantalizing mystery.

Bernard