Near-Death & Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind


For two particular reasons, I sometimes find myself returning to read Kenneth Ring’s excellent 1997 paper “Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind: A Study of Apparent Eyeless Vision“.

1) Hidden away in this paper is a quote which I’ve always found really interesting from perhaps his best congenitally blind subject, Vicki, who said she was never able to discriminate colours during her OBE NDE, but only “…different shades of brightness…”.

If you know anything about Edwin Land’s work on human colour perception, he showed that this is exactly how the retina sees – in different shades of brightness. Land’s experimental work clearly demonstrates that secondary processing must be taking place in the cortex to create our perception of colour, and that colour itself arises solely out of our brain.

This is another clue as to why I suspect that it’s external fields which are interacting with the patients brain during the veridical OBE component of the NDE.

2) We don’t know whether the congenitally blind experient’s in Ring’s paper are actually ‘seeing’ in the way the sighted ‘see’, indeed there is a great deal of doubt about that, as Ring himself admits.

However, their particular condition makes them an interesting group to study, as it’s quite well documented that the congenitally blind don’t appear to dream ‘visually’.

Whether during the OBE NDE, the congenitally blind are ‘seeing’ in the way the sighted ‘see’, or not, doesn’t really interest me. What interests me is that these experient’s seem very sure that whatever they experienced during their OBE NDE, it contained perceptions which were distinctly different, from their non-visual dreams.

Hence Ring’s work is major challenge to the ‘Dream Hypothesis’ as an explanation of the OBE portion of the NDE.

—- quoted from Rings paper —-

The Dream Hypothesis

One fairly obvious possibility that has often been advanced in connection with the NDEs and OBEs of sighted persons is that this experience is some kind of a dream, perhaps a lucid or exceptionally vivid dream, which has such realistic properties that it is easily misinterpreted and thus given an ontological status it does not deserve.

To evaluate this hypothesis, we first need to inquire into what is known about normal oneiric processes in the blind. Fortunately, there has been a great deal of research devoted to the dreams of the blind, some of it going back more than a hundred years. As a result of these investigations, certain generalizations about the presence of visual imagery in dreams appear to stand up quite well. Among these “empirical cornerstones” (Kirtley, 1975) are that (1) there are no visual images in the dreams of the congenitally blind; (2) individuals blinded before the age of 5 also tend not to have visual imagery; (3) those who become sightless between the age of 5 to 7 may or may not retain visual imagery; and (4) most persons who lose their sight after age 7 do retain visual imagery, although its clarity tends to fade with time. In addition, various researchers have found that audition tends to be the primary sense involved in dreams of the blind, with tactile and kinesthetic elements next (Kirtley, 1975).

In our interviews, we routinely asked our respondents about the nature of their dreams, and what we found in our sample accords with the generalizations just described. In addition, however, and particularly pertinent to the hypothesis under consideration, our respondents usually went on to say that not only were their NDEs unlike their usual dreams, but in the case of those blind from birth they stood out as radically different precisely because they contained visual imagery, whereas their dreams had always lacked this element.

Vicki, one of our NDErs blind from birth, provides a good case in point:

Interviewer: How would you compare your dreams to your NDEs?
Vkki: No similarity, no similarity at all.

Interviewer: Do you have any kind of visual perception in yourdreams?
Vicki: Nothing. No color, no sight of any sort, no shadows, no light,no nothing.

Interviewer: What kinds of perceptions are you aware of in your typical dreams?
Vicki: Taste—I have a lot of eating dreams [laughs]. And I have dreams when I’m playing the piano and singing, which I do for a living, anyway. I have dreams in which I touch things. … I taste things, touch things, hear things, and smell things—that’s it.

Interviewer: And no visual perceptions?
Vicki: No.

Interviewer: So that what you experienced during your NDE was quite different from your dreams?
Vicki: Yeah, because there’s no visual impression at all in any dream that I have.

These remarks, along with similar emphatic statements from other participants in our study, make it abundantly clear that from our respondents’ point of view, the NDE, especially its visual aspect, has nothing in common with their usual dreams. It is instead something in a class by itself and not to be conflated with dreams. Since there is no support whatever from our interviews for the dream hypothesis of NDEs, we may confidently reject it as a potential explanation for our findings.

—- end quote —-


6 thoughts on “Near-Death & Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind

  1. Interesting Max,

    though, are you saying that some of these blind folks are picking up one of the “brains” around them while their having their NDE? which would explain how they can “see” when normally they don’t have that experience?

    I wonder if people may inadvertently pick up EM fields like while taking a difficult test or trying to get someones password or pin number I don’t know that’s a hard sell….but I’m checking out what your saying

    *note (I’m following the Reincarnation thread at Skeptiko)

    • Yes, that’s basically what I’m saying.

      Evolutionary wise, neurons seem to relay information to/from the senses to the brain, causing neurons to fire in the outer part of the brain. None of that is in dispute.

      Recently they’ve found that the EM field from these firing neurons is used by the same neurons to influence future firing in a feedback loop, and thus EM fields seem to be used to entrain the brains network.

      One of the interesting things about the classic NDE during cardiac arrest, is the general collapse of the brains EM field, as measured from the surface of the scalp by EEG.

      I’m merely suggesting that in the sudden absence of their own EM field, the experients brain is sometimes able to use the em field of third parties.

      Although it now seems very likely that the brain uses it’s own EM field, it’s not accepted that these fields could carry any useful data beyond the surface of the scalp, because the fields quickly become smeared, and lose power over very short distances.

      I don’t accept that, I think the energy compromised brain may temporarily have the ability to decode compatible spatio-temporally patterned fields from a few feet away, even though the fields are very weak. I just think we don’t have the technology to demonstrate that at present.

      If you consider that high-powered neuronal firing might ‘write’ data to an EM field, whilst another low-powered mechanism within the brains network ‘reads’ data from the EM field, rather like the separate read and write head’s on a hard disk, or an old magnetic audio cassette tape… it’s not so hard to consider that due to the different energy requirements of both mechanisms, when the high energy one stops ‘writing’, the other low powered one may temporarily continue ‘reading’.

      There are lots of good reasons why I’ve come to this conclusion, that I haven’t gone into here, they make much sense to me, but not to others.


  2. thank you Max i think i understand where your coming from now. I’ve worked industrial maintenance my whole life in and out of various machines with various controls ,boards, voltages etc.

    I remember once working on a electrode at a glass factory this thing turned sand into glass it used some insane amperage (though it was only fed 480v) the strangest was a die-electric dip tanks that had these lead cathodes hanging in acid with 12v running through them but something along the line of 5000 amps….. the guy who installed them showed me (and my colleagues) what happened when you put a crow bar across the legs (copper bars holding cathodes along the top of the tank) it flashed red and vaporized – one inch thick steel – the point being that there was a hell of a em field at a lot of but I have never had any adverse mental reactions wouldn’t there be some anecdotal evidence of em fields messing with peoples heads in some way? maybe there is and we interpret it different

    I don’t know its a good theory I’ve been more a fan of orch or. however if that is proved wrong (so far AFAIK) it hasn’t been I would go with what your saying or some kind of field you have a great blog. I have been reading you and skeptiko and a few others for several years now.

    thank you!

    • Thanks for your kind comments. Funny, both my older brothers were/are electricians, they used to come back home with similar tales, even my Dad dabbled with it during his national service… he told me they used to cook their food with powerful military radar transmitters… cooked a turkey once.

      I just assume we’ve evolved to filter out big blunt fields, lightning etc. and are able to sort out meaning from the field clutter. There is behavioral evidence that we use them… such as cows aligning themselves north to south when digesting food, but in fields crossed with overhead power lines, their alignment is random.

      Here is an interesting paper from Marino showing physiological effects in the brain. But the point that you are making is really interesting… because despite these effects we can see in the brain… I don’t seem to experience any effects on my perception

      I think when you go into this stuff more deeply, say Edwin Lands work on colour, you’re forced to acknowledge that colour doesn’t exist, and arises purely from our processing, and that the colour constancy we see in the world is due to our processing, we’re the ones adjusting perception all the time to keep things looking consistent. There is a lovely old BBC program exploring colour called ‘Colourful Notions‘ on Vimeo, which is well worth watching.

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