Dr. Bruce Greyson, director of research for IANDS, defines the NDE as a “transcendent or mystical experience which occurs at the boundary of death.” There is no agreement on the actual definition of these experiences, even among researchers. However, the NDE is actually a part of larger class of extraordinary human experiences, which include non-death related spiritual awakenings, deathbed visions, “empathic near-death experiences” occurring at the moment of death, as well as after-death awareness (spontaneous contact from the deceased), meditative or religious “conversion” experiences, and out-of-body experiences. These similar experiences are often lumped under the category of “near-death-like” experiences in the NDE research, although they are older, sweep across cultures and religions, and go back to the earliest written history of mankind.
According to a widely cited Gallup poll1, 5% of Americans have had near-death experiences, in the classic sense. However, mystical or near-death-like experiences are far more common. In a recent National Institute of Health survey, one-third of Americans have felt “a divine and wonderful spiritual power.” 2 Further, C. Alvarado, in the American Psychological Association’s recent publication Varieties of Anomalous Experiences cites that 10% of the general population, and 25% of college students have had out-of-body experiences. 3
In 2004, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 50% of Americans have undergone one or more spiritual and religious change experiences 4 (Vital Signs, Volume 26, No 2, p 7.) In the UK, a 2000 poll by David Hay showed that 80% of Britians have had a non-religious spiritual experience, which is up from 65% in the 1970s and 30% in the 1940s. 5
All of us will pass through this portal called death, usually after losing people close to us, and wondering where they are we go. Most of us are no longer content with the answers from traditional religion, and are too awakened to accept the doggerel “when you’re dead, you’re dead,” of modern skeptical materialism. The implications of these statistics are astounding. I started questioning what the big number could be after reading an erroneous statement in an October Jerusalem Post article6 that there were only 13 million NDE cases worldwide. That was an old figure given for American adult experiencers; with the polls now at 300 million Americans, the 5% figure would put us at 15 million in this country alone. With a global population of 6.6 billion, if 5% of them recall their experiences, with or without resuscitation, there would be 330 million classic NDErs.
But if we go to the next higher level, and look at the spiritual dimensions that one-third or one-half of Americans reported above, 100 to 150 million Americans have had mystical, spiritual or religious awakenings. Given that we are loathe to report these events, and live in a spiritually impoverished culture where these experiences have traditionally been mocked or repressed, these are conservative numbers, especially with the 80% poll numbers coming out of the UK. But here are the real numbers – globally 2,278,000,000 or 2.278 billion people have most likely had spiritual experiences, or possibly as high as 3,300,000,000 or 3.3 billion (using the 50% estimate). Could those of us in this wave be the majority, or at least the norm for humans alive on this planet today?
- George Gallup, Adventures in Immortality. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.
- The 2007 Shift Report: Evidence of a World Transforming, Institute of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, Ca., p 33.
- Ibid, p 35.
- Vital Signs, Spirituality and Transcendent Experiences, by Nancy Clark, Volume 26, No 2, p 7.
- Peter Fenwick, MD on DVD W3 from the 2006 North American IANDS Conference – Pleasurable Western Adults NDEs Aftereffects, with Russell Noyes, MD.
- Jerusalem Post (Online Edition), Close Encounters, Erica Chernofsky, October 19, 2006, page 3.
Published in IANDS’ Vital Signs, Vol 26, No. 4 2007.