Near-death experiences (or NDEs) were popularised by the publication of Raymond Moody's Life After Life in 1975. Based on accounts of numerous survivors of cardiac arrest and other life-threatening situations, he put together a basic description which included such elements as peace and joy, passing through a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end, viewing the events from above (an out-of-body experience or OBE), the life review and panoramic memory, and the meeting with a 'being of light' who sometimes acted as judge. In a few cases people met some kind of barrier beyond which they could not go, or they had to make a choice between carrying on into the light and returning to life-and pain or suffering. In many cases the experiences were difficult to talk about but they often left the people changed for the better-reportedly less materialistic and with reduced fear of death.
These claims promoted the popular view that this must be evidence for life after death, but many scientists and doctors rejected the experiences as, at best, drug-induced hallucinations or, at worst, pure invention. Twenty-five years, and much research, later, it is clear that neither extreme is correct.
The claim that the experiences are evidence for survival after death is untenable. Even though the boundary between life and death is pushed back by improved techniques, it is always possible to argue that the person did not actually die and the experiences were part of life and not death. Of course, if there is life after death, these experiences may give a clue as to what it is like, but they can never constitute proof that there is.
The opposing extreme is also untenable since further research has shown that the experiences are clearly not entirely invented, nor a product of drugs or medical interventions. Moody simply collected cases as they came along, but Ring (1980) studied 101 randomly selected survivors and confirmed that about 60 per cent reported peace, one-third out-of-body experiences, a