Saturday, December 6, 2014

NDE Dual Consciousness and Disassociation (Part 1)

Near Death Experiences: NDE Stories From The NDERF Website

NDE Stories is a wealth of raw data of personal NDE accounts. I notice a general consistency of accounts, and I really wish that I had the time and resources to devote delving into the accounts in more detail. The best part of the compilation: it's free and completely devoid of any interpretation, spin, or filtering.

Lacking the time to do real analysis, I think that the next best approach that I can take may be to highlight some of the more unusual accounts and highlight features that seem significant to me (and are perhaps ignored by "mainstream" NDE researchers).

My particular interest has been a study of the nature of consciousness and how it shapes our experience of what (for lack of a better term) is called the "paranormal"--or, experiences that fall outside the norm.  So often we conflate "human consciousness" with "reality"; but there are hints that this is an illusion.  We cannot truly understand the nature of reality unless we are able to step outside the framework of human consciousness; and we do this most dramatically when our self-awareness / consciousness leaves the physical body, either permanently or temporarily.

So, to begin, I'd like to look at a very common (but under-analyzed) feature of NDEs, body awareness, as well as a lesser-known phenomenon: the perception of a dual consciousness (physical and spiritual) that seems to split during the NDE.

*In a nutshell, during the initial moments of the NDE, most NDErs are surprised by the singular awareness that what is being experienced is indistinguishable from normal physical consciousness: They see, hear, observe, ponder, and interact with their new environment as if they are still "alive"--while vividly seeing their inert and "dead" physical body.

*At some point in the initial experience, the experiencers become aware that the body that is being observed is theirs, and are puzzled at not being "in" it.

*They become acutely conscious of the disconnect: they see physicians, observers, emergency personnel, and family members declare them "dead," while, from their perspective, no change has occurred... They are thinking, observing, and experiencing their environment as if they are still "alive."

*They acknowledge the body as "theirs" yet feel no identification with it. It becomes another object, regarded as dispassionately as the rest of the physical environment.

*Upon return to their bodies, they are immediately flooded with emotions of fear, experience intense pain--which, for a brief moment, are regarded as alien--and are often unable to manipulate the physical body. Some experiencers even sense the boundaries of their body consciousness as they reenter. They note that their bodies were experiencing the fear, pain, and anger while their "real" consciousness was observing the scene dispassionately.

Example: "Lavette H" (drowning NDE)

I was very aware of the body I saw drowning was mine.  Yet I had no sympathy for it as I watched it drown and struggle for life, I was completely unattached to it. I questioned immediately how can I be there and here at the same time?
[After reentering body] I could now feel the experience the body had while I was separate from it. It had been terrified and angry, scared and afraid. I had not experienced any of that yet now I was being forced to feel the state the flesh felt even though I wasn't there with it when it happened.

It is only when their consciousness is pulled back into their bodies that many notice a significant difference:  The body has its own consciousness. While "they" have been observing their "death" dispassionately from a distance, their body has been struggling to survive, with all the fear, pain, and foreboding associated. Their consciousness is pulled back into the body (often violently), and immediately, they remember the experience of being human.

This feature--recognition and acknowledgement of one's physical body, accompanied by a marked ambivalence or lack of concern toward it--is a hallmark of the bulk of the included NDEs.

The mirror test
We take self-recognition for granted--that when we look in the mirror, we know that what we see reflected back is ourselves--but there is actually a complex psychological mechanism involved.  The contemporary test of self-awareness--the "mirror test"--is a protocol used by psychologists to gauge self-awareness. Presumably, the personality (human or non-human) is judged to be "self-aware" if it recognizes the image in the mirror as being itself.   Some animals "pass" the mirror test; humans generally respond to their mirror images at around age two.

The ability to recognize one's body in the mirror as one's "self" is a crucial stage of human development.  Arguably, any inability to cross this developmental threshold prevents the personality from fully functioning in the physical world. Unless you know what your "self" physically is, you cannot recognize the integrity of other "selves," and begin the process of distinguishing between "self" and those who are "not-self."

So, I wonder... Is the visual recognition of, and detachment from, the physical body an example of the mirror stage in reverse? Does the prevalence of this experience in NDEs suggest that it is a necessary stage of personality development to the now non-physical personality?

We take it for granted that the "I" of us is synonymous with the physical body. We point to a body and say, "That's Bill," or "That's my mother."

But what if our true "I" is not, necessarily, the body we inhabit?  Would it not become necessary for some form of desensitizing to take place during the immediate stages of the death process?

This certainly seems to what is happening when the disembodied consciousness is caused to observe its former physical body, while realizing, "That's not me anymore."

Self-awareness (and body awareness) is, arguably, the core feature that makes human.

If this stage is interrupted, could this be cause of spirits not realizing that they're "dead"?  If this dissociation is prevented, it may be analogous to a developmental disorder whereby the infant or child never fully develops self-awareness and identification with the physical self and environment.  The personality is not properly oriented in the new environment and is unable to fully function there.

Other accounts of NDE perspectives of the body:

I looked down and saw my body lying on the bed and knew it was dead.  I experienced a moment of regret, because it was a good body and I had been fond of it, but it was no more than the regret a person would feel at seeing a beautiful purebred dog lying dead beside the highway. ("Nellie L")

Then I was suddenly near the roof of my room gazing down on my body with total disregard. ("Jerry W")
I was hovering over my family.  I knew I was dead and felt guilty that my wife and children were crying over me while I was feeling so good.   I wanted them to be dead with me and tried to let them know I was fine.   As far as my body was concerned, it was like an old shoe to be discarded.  ("Clark B")
I went under water. I remember my mouth and lungs filling with water and then I remember seeing my lifeless body settling on the floor of the pool, I didn't feel anything when I watched it. I knew that I was out of my body and that I was very happy that it happened. ("Polina")

Next: The dual consciousness-aspect of the NDE

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