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No. 8: Fall 1979

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Deathbed Experiences Laid To Rest

Over the years, doctors and psychiatrists have accumulated a large lode of deathbed or near-death experiences. Typically, one about to pass through the veil feels exhaltation, meets long-dead relatives, reviews his past life, encounters luminous beings, departs his body to view friends clustering around, and so on. What to make of it all? Is heaven or some sort of after life just beyond death's door?

Alcock's analysis is very revealing. He first describes several well-known psychological states: out-of-the-body experiences, hypnogogic sleep, hallucinations, and the so-called mystical experience. He concludes that the full spectrum of deathbed experiences can occur any time, not merely during the final moments of life. Nothing unique happens at death's door, merely the altered states of consciousness expected at such a crucial moment. Thus, death-bed experiences reveal nothing of the territory beyond the grave. Alcock does maintain, however, that these various altered states of consciousness are very curious and well worth further study.

(Alcock, James E.; "Psychology and Near-Death Experiences," The Skeptical Inquirer, 3:25, Spring 1979.)

From Science Frontiers #8, Fall 1979. 1979-2000 William R. Corliss