Personal Narrative Friendship Essay - The Death of a Friend
On the other hand, what of the alternative explanation? If NDEs were really glimpses of an afterlife, why is it that only a fraction of those who come close to death (about 10-20% per van Lommel et al.) report them? Physiology provides a ready answer: Woerlee has calculated that around 20-24% of those undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) have some degree of consciousness restored CPR, a fraction of whom could be having NDEs precisely because the conditions are ripe for an altered state of consciousness (Woerlee, "Cardiac" 233, 244). And why aren't NDEs consistently reported (nearly 100% of the time) after the controlled induction of hypothermic cardiac arrest or "," where patients are clinically dead for up to an hour? The vast majority of those who come as close to death as possible without actually dying experience (van Lommel et al. 2041). If NDEs are to be understood as glimpses of an afterlife, are we to conclude that 80% of individuals cease to exist when they die, while the remaining 20% survive bodily death?
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Sadly, the most prominent representatives of the field—Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, Melvin Morse, Phyllis Atwater, and Margot Grey—have made all sorts of unsubstantiated and fanciful claims about NDErs' paranormal abilities. While this alone seriously damages the credibility of their own work and mars near-death studies as a whole, the damage is exacerbated by wild New Age speculations on the meaning of the NDE from the very same researchers. Given such fringe claims, it should be no surprise that the mainstream medical community has viewed research into the near-death experience with suspicion.
[These cases] may be inspired by accounts of other people's NDEs that have been widely disseminated in various forms of the media. That is, might a blind person have heard that people see certain things in a near-death encounter and unconsciously generated a fantasy that conformed to this belief?... [Blind NDErs might also] learn about what to expect in an afterlife from diverse sociocultural sources, and they may rely extensively on these expectations in generating a near-death fantasy.... Thus, the blind may commonly have a belief that they will suffer no visual affliction in an afterlife, and this belief may influence the content of NDEs in the blind (Irwin, "Mindsight" 112).
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Fox has uncovered further evidence that temporal lobe activity may bring about NDEs. He notes that when he examined complete NDE accounts from the RERC archives, rather than the incomplete extracts published by major near-death researchers, he found signs of temporal lobe epilepsy in a significant number of NDErs. In particular, he found signs of , a compulsion to write extensively about spiritual realities. In one case from the RERC archives, for example, a man reported an OBE, a tunnel experience, encounters with deceased relatives, and a life review, followed by 11 pages of speculative hypergraphic testimony about the meaning of life, the purpose of existence, the soul, and the beginning of the universe (Fox 161). Fox concludes that:
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The rhetoric pervading Tart's account implies that scientism or dogmatic materialism is the only obstacle to accepting a survivalist interpretation of NDEs. But this is simply not the case. First, it is crucially important to note that one could have good reasons for disbelieving that NDEs are visions of an afterlife . For instance, this essay has actually presented data which suggests that NDEs are glimpses of another world after death. One need not have any commitment to materialism—dogmatic or otherwise—to doubt that genuine glimpses of an afterlife would involve train rides, false out-of-body perceptions, or encounters with living persons, fictional characters, and mythological creatures. It is entirely possible that an afterlife exists but that NDEs are not glimpses of it—a view similar to the Buddhist belief that the dying pass through several illusory bardo states generated by their own minds before entering the 'real' afterlife (Fox 94-96).
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Greyson goes on to argue that "children too young to have received substantial cultural and religious conditioning about death report the same kinds of [NDEs] as do adults" (Greyson, "Near-Death" 332). But how young is "too young" for a child to be affected by cultural conditioning? Children younger than 3 years old clearly learn concepts from sources as ubiquitous as television advertising. Moreover, how confident can we be that children's NDE reports have not been contaminated by parental influence or interviewer feedback? Children are particularly susceptible to influence from authority figures and typically have much richer imaginative lives than adults. The risk of direct contamination from parents or researchers could be minimized by closing the gap between the time of the NDE itself and when it is reported, but such crucial evaluative information is rarely published.