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Near-Death Experiences: Miracles or Illusions?

Do Near-Death Experiences Really Provide Miraculous Glimpses of an Afterlife?

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Adri Berger, Stone / Getty Images

Near-death experiences are exciting and intriguing events that seem to miraculously provide glimpses of an afterlife. But are near-death experiences miraculous spiritual trips into an eternal dimension, as believers say? Or are they illusions produced by some other factor that’s part of the natural dying process, as skeptics say?

A Common Experience

Throughout recorded history, millions of people have reported going through near-death experiences. Research from the International Association for Near-Death Studies shows that the pattern of what happens to people during near-death experiences is the same for all people, regardless of their different backgrounds, such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, culture, or religious beliefs. While some people report approaching heaven and others report approaching hell, the process by which they travel follows the same pattern.

Believers say that the commonality of near-death experiences is evidence that they’re real spiritual events, while skeptics say that it simply shows some type of common biological process at work while people are dying.

A Heightened State of Awareness

People report that during their near-death experiences, they were able to use their five senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting) more vividly than they ever could before -- despite the fact that their physical bodies were unconscious or clinically dead when their near-death experiences took place. Some people who have been blind or deaf from birth (and therefore never previously experienced sight or hearing) describe seeing and hearing vividly during their near-death experiences.

People who have returned from near-death experiences also report feeling intense emotions and understanding spiritual mysteries that had eluded them before.

Believers attribute this heightened state of awareness to a spiritual cause, while skeptics say that misfiring neurotransmitters inside dying brains may cause hallucinations that people mistake for real experiences. However, believers counter that hallucinations are typically not vivid or remembered well, as near-death experiences are.

Clear, Specific Details

People often return from near-death experiences with specific information that they couldn’t have learned otherwise, such as clear details of what medical professionals and loved ones were saying and doing around their bodies after they were unconscious or clinically dead. The details that they share after returning to consciousness are verified by people who were on the scene, such as their doctors, nurses, family members, and friends.

After returning from near-death experiences, people also sometimes report details about deceased people they say they met in the afterlife, but whom they never met during their earthly lives, because those people died before they were born. The information that people share about those deceased people (usually relatives that they didn’t know on Earth) is often verified by surprised family members.

Skeptics say that people who return from near-death experiences may make lucky guesses about information, while believers say that the large amount of specific details is evidence that what they know is the result of much more than guessing.

Changed Lives

The people who go through near-death experiences report being profoundly moved by them, to such an extent that they often change their lives in significantly positive ways afterward. Those who know someone who has returned from a near-death experience sometimes say that the changes they observe in that person’s life are miracles in themselves.

Skeptics say that it’s natural for people to be motivated to change their lives for the better after nearly dying and then discovering that they have more time to live. But believers say that the fact that those changes are usually significant and lasting, and that they follow a consistent pattern (becoming more loving and generous to other people), shows that they are miraculous changes resulting from powerful spiritual experiences.

Have you had a near-death experience that you consider to be miraculous? If so, share your story with our community in our forum, or send your story to be posted in our site's "Your Miraculous Experiences" category.

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