Death, Dying, After-Death, Astral Projection
Death, Dying, After-Death, Astral Projection

Death, Dying, After-Death, Astral Projection
Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.

...And if I die, before I wake...

...and if I die and then awake...

...or is death not an ending...but a beginning...

The After Death of Ms. Lisa "We had only been married a few months... but Greg and I were still living in the fast lane...drinking and partying and driving too fast... It had been raining and the road was still wet... and maybe that's what caused the accident... that and Greg driving too fast...and when he lost control of the car...just like they say: time began to slow down... I was wearing a seat belt, but my head still hit the windshield...and I remember it cracking - the windshield - cracking like an egg - like something was alive inside trying to get out - and then it just imploded... folded over - like a guilitine: it folded over and cut off my arm... I remember it - my arm - lying in my lap... and the blood. Blood! It was spraying a fire hose... blood spraying from the stump where the guilitine had cut off my arm.... I got out of the car... and everything was still in slow motion...there was blood spraying and I was walking... and everything was spinning... then I was falling falling falling....and then I was lying there... and then its as if my mind split in half... I was lying there looking up into the sky... and I was floating above the ground, looking down at my body. I could see me. I could see people getting out of their cars and rushing over... I could see the ambulance... and then I could see the ambulance crew working on me...there was blood everywhere...but I wasn't upset... I wasn't afraid...I felt calm... and then they put me on a gurney and into the ambulance."

"During the entire ride to the hospital it was like I was half in and half out of the ambulance, as if my head was sticking out of the walls...outside... watching the cars and trees go by... I was like: Weeee---I was having fun... I felt great! Happy! Euphoric! And then I was no longer in the ambulence... though my body was... and when we got to the hospital I could see the commotion... the patients... a girl on a gurney being rushed inside... but I was floating up and down the halls, watching the doctors and nurses and attendants....having a gay 'ol time... One doctor in particular drew my attention because he had a big belt buckle with his name written on it. It said "Mike."

"And I just kept tripping out, bobbing up and down the halls, just checking everything out when I noticed that girl lying on a gurney... she was surrounded by doctors and nurses working frantically.... I was curious so I floated over and peered over the shoulder of one of the doctors to take a look....and then I suddenly realized that the girl was me....I looked dead... but that's not what bothered me. It was my hair. My hair was dirty and matted with blood... I knew I was dead... but it was my hair... my dirty hair...that's what bothered me...

"But then... I started to float away.... and then... I was outside the Emergency room... I was above the hospital... and then I was enveloped in a total blackness... and then it was like I was passing through a tunnel at the end of which I could see a light which became brighter and more brilliant, radiating outward. The light soon enveloped my body and I felt exceedingly happy and very warm. I felt euphoric! Then I heard the voice of my grandmother... it was just a voice... but I knew it was her... and then I could see her... reaching out toward me... and I felt so good! I felt so happy! I felt so warm and wonderful! But then, my grandmother looked sad... and she told me it was too soon, that I would have to go back... and I didn't want to go back... but I had no choice... I was drawn away from the light and felt myself falling and falling and falling only to land with a painful thump in my own body. I was in a bag... because they thought I was dead...but I moved my hand and the bag moved and then they knew I was no longer dead."

It is noteworthy that Lisa had no religious training and had never heard of "near death experiences" (she was injured in 1982). After returning to life she only reluctantly explained what had happened when she was questioned by one of her doctors.

Lisa also claimed that while she was dead and floating about the emergency room that she saw, heard and upon coming back to life was able to recall everything that occurred in the emergency room up to the point when she was enveloped in darkness. She was able to accurately describe "Mike" (who in fact wore a belt buckel engraved with "Mike"), most of the staff who attended her, as well as the conversations that occurred around her as well as some of the other patients.

Similar "after death" claims of leaving and floating above the body, and seeing everything occurring below, are common (Eadie 1992; Moody 1977; Rawling 1978; Ring 1980; Sabom 1982; Wilson 1987), and are even reported in the 6,000 year old Egyptian Book of the Dead (Budge 1994), as well as the Tibetan Book of the Dead (the Bardo Thodol) which was composed over 1,300 years ago (Evans-Wentz 1960). Approximately 37% of patients who are resuscitated report "out of body" experiences (Ring 1980).

The After Death of Army Specialist J. C. Bayne of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Bayne was "killed" in Chu Lai, Vietnam, in 1966. He was simultaneously machine gunned and struck by a mortar. According to Bayne, when he opened his eyes he was floating in the air, looking down on his crumpled, burnt, and bloody body, and he could see a number of Vietcong who were searching and stripping him:

"I could see me... it was like looking at a mannequin laying there... I was burnt up and there was blood all over the place... I could see the Vietcong. I could see the guy pull my boots off. I could see the rest of them picking up various things... I was like a spectator... It was about four or five in the afternoon when our own troops came. I could hear and see them approaching... I could see me... It was obvious I was burnt up. I looked dead... they put me in a bag... transferred me to a truck and then to the morgue. And from that point, it was the embalming process."

"I was on that table and a guy was telling a couple of jokes about those USO girls... all I had on was bloody undershorts... he placed my leg out and made a slight incision and stopped... he checked my pulse and heartbeat again and I could see that too...It was about that point I just lost track of what was taking place.... [until much later] when the chaplain was in there saying everything was going to be all right.... I was no longer outside. I was part of it at this point" (reported in Wilson, 1987, pp 113-114; and Sabom, 1982, pp 81-82).

Did the above surgical patient or Lisa or Army Specialist Bayne really float above and observe their bodies and the events taking place below? Or did they merely transpose what they heard (e.g. conversations, noises, etc.) and then visualize, imagine, or hallucinate an accompanying and plausible scenario? This seems likely, even in regard to the "filthy" light fixture. On the other hand, not all those who have an "out of body" hear conversations, voices, or even sounds. Rather, they may be enveloped in silence.

"I was struck from behind...That's the last thing I remember until I was above the whole scene viewing the accident. I was very detached. Everthing was very quite. This was the amazing thing about it to me... I could see my shoe which was crushed under the car and I thought: Oh no. My new dress is ruined... I don't remember hearing anything. I don't remember anybody saying anything. I was just viewing I floated up there..." (Sabom, 1982; p. 90).

Moreover, even individuals born blind experience these "near death" hallucinations. And although blind, while dead they will see for the first time.


"The heavens were opened and the whole creation which is under heaven shone... I saw a light, and a child in the light... And while I looked he became an old man. And he changed his form again....and I saw... an image with multiple forms in the light." -Apocryphon of John.

Betty J. Eadie reports in her 1992 book, "embraced by the light" that after dying and then communing with three "ancient" men who appeared at her side and who "glowed", she suddenly thought of her husband and children who she wanted to visit. "I began to look for an exit" and discovered that "my spiritual body could move through anything...My trip home was a blur. I began moving at a tremendous speed... and I was aware of trees rushing below me. I just thought of home and knew I was going there... I saw my husband sitting in his favorite armchair reading the newspaper. I saw my children running up and down the stairs... I was drawn back to the hospital, but I don't remember the trip; it seemed to happen instantaneously" (pp. 33-35).


Compare Eadie's description with that of Black Elk (Neihardt and Black Elk, 1932/1989), a Lakota Sioux Medicine Man and spiritual leader (born in 1863). During a visit to England (he was part of Buffalo Bills Wild West Show) he suddenly fell out of his chair as if dead, and then experienced himself being lifted up. In fact, his companions thought he had died.

According to Black Elk: "Far down below I could see houses and towns and green land and streams... I was very happy now. I kept on going very fast...Then I was right over Pine Ridge. I looked down (and) saw my father's and mother's teepee. They went outside, and she was cooking... My mother looked up, and I felt sure she saw me... then I started back, going very fast...Then I was lying on my back in bed and the girl and her father and a doctor were looking at me in a queer way...I had been dead three days (they told him)...and they were getting ready to buy my coffin" (pp. 226-228).

This was not Black Elk's first out of body experience, however. Black Elk demonstrated numerous behaviors and symptoms suggestive of temporal lobe epilepsy. Beginning even in childhood Black Elk repeatedly experienced "queer feelings" and heard voices, had visions, and suffered numerous instances of sudden and terrible fear and depression accompanied by weeping, as well as trance states in which he would fall to the ground as if dead.

Black Elk also had other visions similar to those reporting "life-after-death" experiences, including the following incident that occurred during one of his trance and out-of-body states: "Twelve men were coming towards me, and they said, Our father, the two-legged chief, you shall see... There was a man standing. He was not Wasichu (white) and he was not an Indian. While I was staring at him his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light, and around him there was light..." (p. 245).

Similar accounts, including desriptions of a tribunal of 12 are detailed in the Egytian Book of the Dead.

Ms. Eadie (like many others who have experienced "life after death") came upon a man standing in the light which "radiated all around him. As I got closer the light became brilliant...I saw that the light was golden, as if his whole body had a golden halo around it, and I could see that the golden halo burst out from around him and spread into a brilliant, magnificent whiteness that extended out for some distances" (pp. 40-41).

The Transmigration of a Soul

When I was a boy of two and then three, and for many years until around age 7, I had horrifying dreams about a terrible earthquake which turned the world upsidedown... and dreams of a little boy playing by the shore of the sea, where tiny fishes stream. And, upon the beach, there were crowds of people, some lying or playing upon the sand... and others swimming or fishing.

And then in the dream the ocean began to recede... the ocean waters drew back back back... There were crabs, giant shells and fish flopping on the wet sand where moments before there had been crashing waves and a vast blue sea... The ocean was gone, and ships and small boats lay helter skelter on their sides as fish flopped and sea creatures struggled for life upon the slime and the muck... and I ran to where the ocean had been, on the wet sand, picking up giant multi-colored shells some with wiggling living creatures still inside, and gazing in wonder at the treasures that moments before had been hidden but now revealed... and many others also ran onto the muck and wet sand picking up wiggling fish and laughing and talking in amazement because the ocean had receded back back back for miles and miles leaving the ocean floor and all its wonders revealed for everyone to see....

I ran hither and yon, further and further out to where the ocean had been, exploring, excited by this miracle... and all around me crowds and couples chattered excitedly, doing the same... and then... and then... and then...

...I heard screams... men, women, children, yelling, screaming... and all were running back toward the dry shore... and those on shore, they too were running, screaming... everyone running running, running away, terrified, shouting, screaming, scattering in a panic...

...and I heard a distant rumbling roar growing louder, coming closer, and I turned away from the maddening hysterical crowds, and gazed back at the struggling creatures of the deep, and ships mired in the muck and mud... and there, in the far distance, a rushing WALL OF OCEAN.. a WALL OF WATER looming up maybe miles into the sky... the ocean was returning, a wall of water rushing toward where I was standing with sea shells in my hands... and I ran... like everyone else, running running running... and I could see, over my shoulder, behind me, the roaring wall of ocean water coming closer, and closer... and faster faster faster... and I kept running... everyone was running and screaming...trying to get away... and then the towering WALL OF WATER was just behind me... then looming over me... and then it crashed down upon me... and the little boy that I was, in this dream, drowned.... and then I awoke in my bed... the same boy who drowned, but a different boy... me...

The dream haunted my sleep for years... the same dream... the impact of this wall of water smashing down, and the salty sea filling my mouth and lungs and crushing the life out of me...

I analyzed these dreams, their Jungian symbolism, and searched for answers... It never occurred to me, then, that the ocean could actually recede as it did in my dreams...I knew nothing of Tsunamis until many years later... and then a new search for the source began....

On the morning of July 21, 365 AD, an earthquake of great magnitude caused a huge tsunami more than 100 feet high and it inundated and destroyed several towns on the coasts of the Mediterranean, including Alexandria. This is how Ammianus Marcellinus, a Roman historian described the cataclysm:

Slightly after daybreak, and heralded by a thick succession of fiercely shaken thunderbolts, the solidity of the whole earth was made to shake and shudder, and the sea was driven away, its waves were rolled back, and it disappeared, so that the abyss of the depths was uncovered and many-shaped varieties of sea-creatures were seen stuck in the slime; the great wastes of those valleys and mountains, which the very creation had dismissed beneath the vast whirlpools, at that moment, as it was given to be believed, looked up at the sun's rays. Many ships, then, were stranded as if on dry land, and people wandered at will about the paltry remains of the waters to collect fish and the like in their hands; then the roaring sea as if insulted by its repulse rises back in turn, and through the teeming shoals dashed itself violently on islands and extensive tracts of the mainland, and flattened innumerable buildings in towns or wherever they were found. Thus in the raging conflict of the elements, the face of the earth was changed to reveal wondrous sights. For the mass of waters returning when least expected killed many thousands by drowning, and with the tides whipped up to a height as they rushed back, some ships, after the anger of the watery element had grown old, were seen to have sunk, and the bodies of people killed in shipwrecks lay there, faces up or down."

Had I dreamed of a life and death, two thousand years ago?

We have been here before... We will be here again...

Life is but a dream...


Life after death and near death experience, are in some respects similar to the experience of having undergone an alien abduction. For example, in addition to a feeling of being lifted, enveloped in light, and entering a room of vast proportions, many abductees claim to have undergone a religious theophany at the conclusion of the abduction--as do most of those who die only to return to life (Bullard, 1987; Mack, 1994; Ritchie, 1994). However, just as some who die report that the experience was hellish, so too do many of those who claim to have been abducted.

Many "abductees" also claim a sequence of perceptual experience similar to those who have died and returned to tell the tale. Abductees report the presence of a bright light, or a strange illumination which may envelop them in a beam or halo of light. They feel drawn upward toward the light, and they feel and see themselves as floating in the air (Bullard, 1987; Mack, 1994; Ritchie, 1994).

Similar to those who have "experienced" life after death, abductees report going on voyages through the air, where they rapidly fly over the land or sea, to destinations including the Egyptian pyramids, New York City, and the North pole (Bullard, 1987; Mack, 1994; Ritchie, 1994).

Over the course of the last fifty years there have been numerous reports of alien abductions (Bullard, 1987; Mack, 1994; Ritchie, 1994). Typically they are "abducted" while asleep or dreaming, or just upon wakening in the middle of the night -which raises the specter of hallucination and temporal lobe limbic system activation as these structures become exceedingly active during dream sleep.

Others claim they were abducted while driving late at night, while tired and under conditions where the head lights, moon light, and oncoming lights may flicker past (Bullard, 1987; Mack, 1994; Ritchie, 1994) -thus inducing possible seizure activity.

However, the religious experience of some abductees is often hellish, and the aftermath includes prolonged feelings of depression, and horror and despair. "Abductees" frequently report that once they were drawn up toward the light, they felt overwhelmed with terror and that once they "arrived" they were subjected to painful and agonizing procedures (Bullard, 1987; Mack, 1994; Ritchie, 1994).

Women often report that they were stripped naked and their legs spread, and that they were sexually molested, raped, or painfully robed.

Male and female abductees frequently report undergoing painful and invasive physical exams by alien monstrosities who loom demonically, probing vaginas, wombs, the anus, the eyeballs, and the viscera, with needle-like devices, or with twisting wires, or sharp, painfully cold lance-like instruments that may deliver electric, burning, or shock like sensations (Bullard, 1987; Mack, 1994; Ritchie, 1994).

Like those who experience life after death, some abductees report undergoing a "life review." They may see themselves or others on a viewing screen, usually engaged in sexual or violent activity. Similar sexual flashbacks are not uncommon with direct amygdala stimulation (Gloor, 1990, 1997; Halgren, 1992).

Once they return to earth and/or awake in their beds, many abductees are initially amnesic for the experience, though they may be troubled by fleeting, horrifying images and flashbacks (Bullard, 1987; Mack, 1994; Ritchie, 1994). Likewise, hyperactivation of the hippocampus can induce a temporary amnesia (Joseph, 1998a, 1999b).

They also suffer from depression, sleeplessness, anxiety and panic attacks; which again are suggestive of limbic system and temporal lobe abnormalities as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

It is noteworthy, however, that some of those who undergo life-after-death also report exceedingly unpleasant experiences. This includes feelings of terror, sensations of terrible physical pain, the presence of demonic monstrosities, or hallucinations of people crying, moaning, screaming, and burning in flames.

"For those who have disbelieved... shall roast in fire... and their bellies and skin shall be melted. To them it is said: Taste the punishment of the burning." -Koran


The Book of the Dead "The Book of the Dead" is the title given to the great collection of mortuary texts, also referred to as Pyramid texts, which the ancient Egyptian theologians composed for the benefit of the dead. However, they were first called the "book of the dead" or "a dead man's book" by tomb robbers, as these texts were commonly found in the dead man's coffin. By the sixth Dynasty, the common name for the Book of the Dead was "manifested in the light" or "embraced by the light."

According to E.A. Wallis Budge, Late Keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities of the British Museum, these texts were already quite ancient by the rise of the first dynasty, over 6,000 years ago, as even the predynastic Egyptians "were quite certain that men did not perish when they died, but that some part of a man departed after death to some place where he would renew his life in some form, according to the dictates of some divine being (Budge, 1994, p. 4).

According to the Book of the Dead, at death the spirit-soul of the deceased would arise from the body, and although translucent and transparent to the living, this spirit-soul would at first hover above and look upon the body and could see and hear what was taking place below (chapter CLXXVII). The spirit-soul may then depart, only to return to visit the body (e.g. chapter LXXXIX: The Soul Visiting the Body which Lies on a Bier), sometimes even reanimating the body (chapter XCII), such that the dead might live again in this world.

Like their Paleolithic predecessors, the walls of all Egyptian tombs and all but three of the hundreds of pyramids that dot the land, were graced with paintings of all manner of animal life and realistic scenes of the every day life to which they were accustomed. And within these tombs dwelled the ka, a spirit-like force which resided in a ka-statue of the dead person. These statues were exact replicas of the dead, that is, when they were alive.

It was the ba, the soul of the dead, which the Egyptians believed ascended to heaven. The ba would sometimes be depicted in flight, as a human-headed bird. Upon entering heaven the dead achieved the status of an akh--a "glorified being" that had reached completeness of attainment.

However, as detailed in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, prior to entering heaven (Anu), the spirit-soul of the deceased might "fly through the air" (chapter XCII) "pass over the earth" (chapter IV), such that it could move freely from place to place, before entering a tunnel or realm of darkness, and then arising into the sky to the abode of the gods in heaven at which point they bask in "a shining, glorious light" (Budge, 1994).

Similarly, according to Book I, of the Bardo, Tibetan Book of the Dead, following death the deceased will be enveloped with a "Clear Light" of "Wisdom and the Knower will experience the shining, dazzling, glorious, Radiance of the Clear light of Pure Reality, the All Good. Thine own consciousness, shining, void, and inseparable from the Great Body of Radiance, hath no birth, nor death, and is the Immutable Light--Buddha Amitabha."

Likewise, according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the soul ascends into the sky to the abode of the gods in heaven at which point the dead bask in "a shining, glorious light" and are led into the presence of dead relatives and brethren, and finally to the divine being Osiris, who is said to have made "men and women to be born again" and where they then dwell in bliss for all eternity having achieved everlasting life: "My soul is God. My soul is eternity (Budge, 1994).

It is noteworthy that the soul, at first, usually does not know it is dead, that the body has died. According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead: "When the consciousness-principle gettest outside the body, it sayeth to itself, Am I dead, or am I not dead? It cannot determine. It can see that the body is being stripped of its garments. It seeth its relatives and heareth the weepings and wailings of friends and relatives, and although it seeth them and heareth them calling upon him, they seeth him not."

The notion of a soul leaving the body following death is a common belief among almost all religions. However, some believe that the soul of the dead may linger upon the Earth, or may remain tethered to the body, or that even after it ascends to heaven it may return to visit the dead body, sometimes hovering above it, and in rare instances, somehow reanimating the body, such that the dead come back to life.


The prospect of being terribly injured or killed in an auto accident or fire fight between opposing troops, or even dying during the course of surgery, are often accompanied by fear. It is also not uncommon for individuals who experience terror to report perceptual and hallucinogenic experiences, including dissociation, depersonalization and the splitting off of ego functions. They may feel as if they have separated from their bodies and floated away, or were on the ceiling looking down (Campbell 1988; Courtois 1995; Grinker and Spiegel 1945; James 1958; Neihardt and Black Elk 1932/1989; Noyes and Kletti 1977; Parson 1988; Southard 1919; Terr 1990). Consider the following accounts:

"The next thing I knew I wasn't in the truck anymore; I was looking down from 50 to 100 feel in the air." "I had a clear image of myself... as though watching it on a television screen." "I had a sensation of floating. It was almost like stepping out of reality. I seemed to step out of this world" (Noyes and Kletti 1977).

Or as a close friend described his experience:

"I was shooting down the freeway doing about 100 or more in my Mustang when a Firebird in the middle lane up ahead suddenly cut me off. As I switched lanes to avoid him, he also switched lanes at which point I hit the breaks and began to lose control. The Mustang began to slide and spin... I felt real terror.... I was probably going to be killed... I was trying to control the Mustang and avoid turning over, or hitting any of the surrounding cars or the guard rail.... time seemed to slow down and then I suddenly realized that part of my mind was a few feet outside the car looking all around; zooming above it and then beside it and behind it and in front of it, looking at and analyzing the respective positions of my spinning Mustang and the cars surrounding me. Simultaneously I was inside trying to steer and control it in accordance with the multiple perspectives I was suddenly given by that part of my mind that was outside. It was like my mind split and one consciousness was inside the car, while the other was zooming all around outside and giving me visual feedback that enabled me to avoid hitting anyone or destroying my Mustang."


Muhammed reports that while sleeping and dreaming he was lifted into the air and transported by the angel Gabriel from Arabia to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. There he was greeted by three men, who he believed to be Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, as well as a crowd of other prophets. He was then lifted up and entered a divine sphere and came upon the garden of promise and, according to the Koran, saw a "lote-tree veiled in a veil of nameless splendor."

In Hinduism, the lote tree symbolizes the limit of this reality and rational thought.

St. Augustine reports that he was "lifted up by an ardent affection towards eternal being itself... we climbed beyond all corporate objects and the heaven itself, where sun, moon, and stars shed light on the earth."

Some individuals (and their followers) claim to be able to voluntarily leave their body (Monroe, 1994), this includes any number of "mystics," and New Age spiritualists, as well as some priests, prophets and shaman. Indeed, Monroe (1994) founded an Institute to study this phenomenon, and claims that others can learn this technique. Monroe, however, notes that when he had his first out-of-body experience he had felt extremely frightened.

That so many people, regardless of culture or antiquity, have similar experiences (or hallucinations) while in trance states, or dreaming, or after "dying," of leaving their body, is presumably due to all possessing a limbic system and temporal lobe that is organized similarly.

The fact that although ostensibly similar, many of these experiences are also colored by one's cultural background, can in turn be explained by differences in experience and cultural expectations and thinking patterns. As explained in the Tibetan Book of the Dead: "It is quite sufficient for you (the deceased) to know that these apparitions are [the reflections of] your own thought forms."


Feelings of fear and terror are mediated by the amygdala, whereas the capacity to cognitively map, or visualize one's position and the position of other objects and individuals in visual-space is dependent on the hippocampus (Nadel, 1991; O'Keefe, 1976; Wilson and McNaughton, 1993).

The hippocampus contains "place" neurons which are able to encode one's position, place, and movement in space. Specifically, O'Keefe, Nadel, and colleagues, found that hippocampal pyramidal cells were able to become attuned to specific locations within the environment, as well as to particular objects and their location in that environment, thereby creating cognitive maps of visual space. Moreover, they discovered that as the subject moves about in that environment, entire populations of cells would fire but only when in a particular spot, whereas other cells would fire when in a different location.

Some cells respond not just when moving about, but in reaction to the speed of movement, or when turning in different directions. Moreover, some cells are responsive to the movements of other people in that environment and will fire as that person is observed to move around. (Nadel, 1991; O'Keefe, 1976; Wilson and McNaughton, 1993).

The hippocampus, therefore, can create a cognitive map of an individuals environment and their movements and the movement of others within it. Presumably it is via the hippocampus that an individual can visualize themselves as if looking at their body from afar, and can remember and thus see themselves engaged in certain actions, as if one were an outside witness (Joseph, 1996, 1998b, 1999b, 2000a).

Under conditions of hyperactivation (such as in response to extreme fear) it appears that the hippocampus may create a visual hallucination of that "cognitive map" such that the individual may "experience" themselves as outside their body, observing all that is occurring and/or hallucinate themselves as moving about in that environment such as flying above it.

In fact, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that hyperactivation or electrical stimulation of the amygdala-hippocampus-temporal lobe, can cause some individuals to report they have left their bodies and are hovering upon the ceiling staring down (Daly 1958; Jackson and Stewart 1899; Joseph, 1996; Penfield 1952; Penfield and Perot 1963; Williams 1956). That is, their ego and sense of personal identity appears to split off from their body, such that they may feel as if they are two different people, one watching from above, the other being observed down below.

As described by Penfield (1952), "it was as though the patient were attending a familiar play and was both the actor and audience."

Presumably abnormal activation due to extreme fear or direct electrical stimulation induces an individual to think they are seeing themselves from afar because the hippocampus is transposing and "hallucinating" one's image; similar to what occurs during normal remembering.

As noted, however, many patients who are diagnosed as "clinically dead" and then return to "life" report that after leaving their body they enter a dark tunnel and are then enveloped in a soothing radiant light. The same is reported in the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead.

Presumably, in that the hippocampus, amygdala, and inferior temporal lobe receive direct and indirect visual input and contain neurons sensitive to the fovea and upper visual fields, hyperactivation of this region also induces the sensation of seeing a radiant light. The massive release of opiates (due to physical trauma leading to "death") would account for the immediate loss of fear and the experience of tranquillity and joy. Continued activation of these brain regions would also account for the hallucinations of seeing dead relatives, that are commonly reported by those who have "died," as well as the life review, in which one's past life flashes before their eyes.

At death, the amygdala and hippocampus would begin to remember, and memories that were emotional and personal, and all accompanying emotions, such as guilt, would be experienced as part of death. That is, not just the memory, but the awful feeling of the memory would be reexperienced. These structures, therefore, account for the feeling of floating above the body, the life review, and the judgment imposed on the self by their guilty or guilt-free conscience.

The hyperactivation of these limbic structures, therefore, explains why those who have near death experiences report feelings of peace, rapture and joy as they were "bathed by the light" and stood in the all knowing presence of "God" or other divine beings including friends and relatives who had previously passed away. Indeed, these exact same feelings and experiences can be induced by electrically stimulating the inferior temporal lobe and amygdala-hippocampal complex.


Some individuals suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy also report "out of body experiences." Penfield and Perot (1963) describe several patients who during a temporal lobe seizure claimed they could see themselves in different situations. One woman stated that "it was though I were two persons, one watching, and the other having this happen to me," and that it was she who was doing the watching as if she was completely separated from her body.

One patient had a sensation of being outside her body and watching and observing her body from the outside. Another neurosurgery patient alleged that while outside her body she was also overcome by feelings of euphoria and eternal harmony.

Other patients claim to have quite pleasant auras and describe feelings such as elation, security, eternal harmony, immense joy, paradisiacal happiness, euphoria, completeness. Between .5 and 20% of such patients report these feelings (Daly 1958; Williams 1956).

A patient of Williams (1956) claimed that his attacks began with a "sudden feeling of extreme well being involving all my senses. I see a curtain of beautiful colors before my eyes and experience a pleasant but indescribable taste in my mouth. Objects feel pleasurably warm, the room assumes vast proportions, and I feel as if in another world."

A patient described by Daly (1958) claimed his temporal lobe seizure felt like "a sunny day when your friends are all around you." He then felt dissociated from his body, as if he were looking down upon himself and watching his actions.

Williams (1956) describes a patient who during a seizure-induced aura reported that she experienced a feeling of being lifted up out of her body, coupled with a very pleasant sensation of elation and the feeling that she was "just about to find out knowledge no one else shares, something to do with the link between life and death."

Subirana and Oller-Daurelia (1953) described two patients who experienced ecstatic feelings of either "extraordinary beatitude" or of paradise as if they had gone to heaven. Their fantastic feelings also lasted for hours.

Other patients suffering from temporal lobe seizures have noted that feelings and things suddenly become "crystal clear" or that they had a feeling of clairvoyance, or of having the truth revealed to them, or of having achieved a sense of greater awareness such that sounds, smells and visual objects seemed to have a greater meaning and sensibility. Similar claims are made by those who have "died" and returned to tell the tale.

One woman I evaluated claimed she not only would float on the ceiling, but could float outside and could see everything that was going on, including on one occasion, a friend who was coming up the walkway. She also reported that by having a certain thought, she could propel herself to other locals including the homes of her neighbors.


Presumably as is the case when dreaming, trance states, depth electrode activation, extreme fear, traumatic injury, or temporal lobe epilepsy, result in hyperactivation of the amygdala and hippocampus and overlying temporal lobe. These structures create an image of the individual floating or even soaring above familiar or bizarre surroundings, and will trigger memories, hallucinations, brilliant lights, as well as secrete opiate-like neurotransmitters which induce a state of euphoria and thus eternal peace and harmony.

Given that similar experiences are reported by those who have experienced depth electrode stimulation of these structures, and by those declared "clinically dead" also raises the possibility that the hippocampus and amygdala may be the first areas of the brain to be effected by approaching death, as well as one of the last regions of the brain to actually die.

That is, as one approaches death and even after medical death, the amygdala and hippocampus may continue to function briefly and not only become hyperactivated, but produce a feeling of eternal peace and tranquillity and a hallucination of floating outside the body and of meeting relatives and other religious figures; like a dream.

On the other hand, it is curious that so many individuals have basically a very similar "dream" and only under conditions of death. Moreover, it is exceedingly difficult to reconcile these experiences with the Darwinian notion of evolution.

What is the "evolutionary" adaptive significance of so many members of the human race having a dream of the "Hereafter" after they die.

Copyright: 1996, 2000, 2010, 2018 - Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.