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?
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 —-