Studying Near Death Experiences with Dr. Bruce Greyson
Dr. Bruce Greyson, the world's leading expert on near-death experiences reveals his journey toward rethinking the nature of death, life, and the continuation of consciousness at WMRA's Books & Brews at Pale Fire Brewing in Harrisonburg. WMRA’s Chris Boros spoke with Dr. Greyson and asked him to talk about his belief system before his research into life after death.
Dr. Bruce Greyson: Well, I had been raised as a materialist believing that the only thing that existed was the material world and that our minds were totally a part of our brains. And then when I started my psychiatric training, back in the 1970s, I was confronted by patients who seem to be leaving their bodies and seeing and hearing things from another perspective that I couldn't explain and it didn't make any sense to me. But as a scientist, I figured I had to study this and figure out what's going on. So I tried to study it and here I am, 50 years later, and I’m still trying to understand.
WMRA: Was there a specific case or person that you remember, that made you go: wait, maybe there's something going on here.
BG: Yes, there was one of my first days as an intern and I was asked to see a patient who had overdosed, and I went down to the emergency room to see her and she was unconscious. So I really couldn't speak with her, but talk to her roommate and as it happened, I spilled some spaghetti sauce on my tie, so I buttoned up my lab coat to cover that up. And the patient was still unconscious, so she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and when I went to see her the next morning, I started to introduce myself but she said, I know who you are, I remember you from last night. That stumped me because she was unconscious clearly when I saw her. So I said I thought you were out cold and she said, well, not in my room, I saw you talking to Susan down the hall and that just blew me away. And then she told me about the conversation I had with their roommate and then told me about the spaghetti stain she saw on my tie and I just could not understand how she could have known that. So I figured I've got to look into this.
WMRA: I imagine you, as a science guy, a physician, this must have been difficult for you to deal with your science background.
BG: It was. I thought somebody's got to be playing a trick on me. This can't be real.
WMRA: Is there a typical situation that happens when these people are having a near-death experience?
BG: Well, it usually happens when they are very close to death or sometimes when they're pronounced dead, like when their heart stops. And they will typically feel that their thoughts are going faster and clearer than ever. They have a sense of time stopping or slowing down. They have very strong emotions, usually positive emotions – feeling a tremendous feeling of love and peace. They may have what we call paranormal sensations, for lack of a better word. They feel like they're leaving their bodies and they may encounter other entities that they think are deceased loved ones or sometimes divine beings and effectually they may review their lives and then either decide to come back to life or are sent back against their will.
WMRA: Can you talk about what you think is the most dramatic transformation from someone that you've encountered who's had an NDE?
GB: I’ve known people who were in the mafia when I was growing up in New England, who had been shot and left for dead and then came back and totally transformed their lives and became, in this one case, a counselor for delinquent children. But I’ve known lots of people who were in cutthroat businesses who came back from a near-death experience, and this feeling that getting ahead of someone else's expense no longer makes sense to them since we're all in this together.
WMRA: How has studying near-death experience has changed your perception of death or God or the afterlife? Were you different before this?
BG: Well I had no concept of anything spiritual before and I was convinced that death was the end. I no longer believe that. But I don't know what to believe now. Because again, experiencers say it can't be put into words. So I don't know what happens after death but I think something happens.
WMRA: This might be the closest evidence that we have that that there is something after this life.
BG: Right, and some people who have near death experiences talk about seeing their deceased loved ones. Now you can just say that's wishful thinking, but sometimes they see deceased people who were not yet known to have died, and that's kind of hard to explain away.