The first thing a professional psychology student learns is that the human brain is a very imperfect instrument. Human perception is flawed and easily deceived, information processing is easily warped and memories are not static states but are changed by the current environment each time they are recalled and relived. This is the backbone of both professional and academic psychology. It is fine tuned by specialist training.
Abnormal brain states can be caused by many things, including oxygen deprivation (NDEs and pilot training centerfuges), mind altering drugs (lots of different types), hallucinogenic compounds (magic mushrooms, LSD), the pro-dromes and auras associated with seizures, brain injury (car accidents, strokes), brain pathology and developmental tissue abnormalities (autism, sociopathy, the schizophrenias).
One of the crucial things that a specialist neuro-psychologist learns is that the experiences of an abnormal brain do NOT reflect reality. Further, the content of the illusions and delusions and emotional states are strongly influenced and modified by the person’s current and past experiences and knowledge.
It is for this very reason that behavioral science must teach its practitioners rigorous and highly sophisticated statistical methods and testing protocols in order to deliberately remove the natural biases inherent in human thinking, perception, behavior and recall.
In other words, things like unusual near-death-experience and ecstatic states are extremely unreliable as a measure of “truth” or reality. No only is there perception distorted during the process but their memory of it becomes more and more impaired over time.
First the person suffers from cerebral anoxia (insufficient oxygen to the brain), then they are catapulted into a highly emotional and suggestible state that causes the brain to print this as a “profound” experience of “reality”.
The memory storage processing circuitry is intimately connected to the emotional circuitry. The stronger the emotion the more firmly a memory is stored. While the memory is strong this does not mean that what is stored is accurate; perception is also highly distorted by strong emotions. The retrieved memories of these profound events are also likely to be inaccurate. Such memories are subject not only to decay but to constant modification by the context of the situation in which they are recalled.
Contrary to what the average person believes, memories are not like images from a movie that replay exactly the same every time the projector is rolled. Their ability to be distorted by the context during recall of the memory is so predictable that it can be used by therapists to change memories in order to benefit or cure a patient.
In other words, not only do NDEs and ecstatic states warp reality because they are woven by an abnormally functioning brain but recall of such events it is almost certainly flawed.
In my experience, people who have experienced NDE’s find it almost impossible to dismiss them as “fake” UNLESS they have a background in the neurosciences AND their brain was not damaged as the result of the experience. I don’t expect that the average person who has been privy to such powerful emotional experiences will have the capacity to re-evaluate their experience in the light of what has been presented here. What I hope is that they might take away the knowledge that, no matter how real these experiences seem to them, they will fail to impress the skeptic, the psychologist and the neuroscientist.
P.S. There is a recent case of NDE being discussed on the net that happened to a neurologist. He experienced an NDE while suffering from severe meningitis (infection of the brain). This means that he has certainly suffered some diffuse brain damage as a result.
While he passionately believes that his experience was “real” he has failed to impress any of his neuro- scientifically trained colleagues. In fact, the only people who are unreservedly convinced happen to be people who have religious beliefs that appear to be confirmed by his reported experiences. Emotional vested interest in the absence of rigorous objective testing is certain to lead to false attributions of the truth value of something.