Near-death experience: Arising from the borderlands of consciousness in crisis

Kevin R. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Brain activity explains the essential features of near-death experience, including the perceptions of envelopment by light, out-of-body, and meeting deceased loved ones or spiritual beings. To achieve their fullest expression, such near-death experiences require a confluence of events and draw upon more than a single physiological or biochemical system, or one anatomical structure. During impaired cerebral blood flow from syncope or cardiac arrest that commonly precedes near-death, the boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness is often indistinct and a person may enter a borderland and be far more aware than is appreciated by others. Consciousness can also come and go if blood flow rises and falls across a crucial threshold. During crisis the brain's prime biologic purpose to keep itself alive lies at the heart of many spiritual experiences and inextricably binds them to the primal brain. Brain ischemia can disrupt the physiological balance between conscious states by leading the brainstem to blend rapid eye movement (REM) and waking into another borderland of consciousness during near-death. Evidence converges from many points to support this notion, including the observation that the majority of people with a near-death experience possess brains predisposed to fusing REM and waking consciousness into an unfamiliar reality, and are as likely to have out-of-body experience while blending REM and waking consciousness as they are to have out-of-body experience during near-death.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-119
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 New York Academy of Sciences.


  • Consciousness
  • Death
  • Near-death experience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Near-death experience: Arising from the borderlands of consciousness in crisis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this