Some comments on the REM state intrusion hypothesis for NDEs by Kevin Nelson
I would like to respond to Kevin Nelson's REM state intrusion hypothesis for Near-Death Experiences (NDEs).
The main problem I have with Kevin Nelson's approach is that it concentrates on possible factors in the brain, whereas some aspects of NDEs seem clearly inexplicable by any kind of neurological activity. I'm talking, of course, about veridical perceptions of specific situations in the physical world during a flat EEG, and also about cases such as that of Pam Reynolds in which the brain shows no activity whatsoever that could explain any state of mind, be it REM state consciousness or anything else.
Then, Kevin Nelson claims that his approach is 'spiritually neutral' and that one should distinguish between the 'why' and the 'how', but within a materialist framework there really is no clear distinction between these questions. Moreover, judging from the article itself, Nelson seems to believe that any subjective experience is completely caused by brain physiology. It is hard to see how this could be reconciled with a spiritual outlook on NDEs, because within Nelson's project these could no longer be regarded as evidence for anything transcendent. Of course, a reductionist view on possible mechanisms underlying NDEs may well be combined with acknowledging the reality of subjective spiritual experiences, but within a materialist approach such experiences can only be illusory.
Finally, as Kevin Williams has stated before, the possible correlation Nelson and his associates may have discovered in their Neurology study - leaving aside any methodological flaws -, could be linked to the memory of NDEs rather than to the NDE itself. We might speculate that a person whose waking consciousness is often influenced by elements of the REM state becomes more capable of remembering Altered States of Consciousness in general, precisely because the boundaries between one state of mind and another are less abrupt than in most people. This general psychological characteristic could facilitate recalling the transcendent ASC related to the NDE. It would also explain NDEs in people who don't show symptoms of REM state intrusion, as NDEs would not be caused by this phenomenon.
This particular interpretation is testable because the possible mechanism should also occur with other Altered States.
Athanasia Foundation, chairman
Active member of Merkawah/IANDS The Netherlands
- Kevin R. Nelson