Home > Science Dr. Melvin Morse’s Near-Death Experience Research

Dr. Melvin Morse’s Near-Death Experience Research

Reflection of Tree on Body of Water during Golden Hour

Dr. Melvin Morse, M.D., (www.melvinmorsemd.com) is an American medical doctor who specializes in pediatrics. Dr. Morse is also heads The Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (www.spiritualscientific.com). He was voted by his peers as one of “America’s Best Doctors” in 1997-1998, 2001-2002, and 2005-2006. He has published numerous scientific articles in medical journals over the course of his thirty-year career. He has studied near-death experiences (NDEs) in children for decades and is the author of several outstanding books on the subject: Closer to the Light (1991), Transformed by the Light (1993), Parting Visions (1996), his latest book, Where God Lives (2000). He is primarily interested in learning how to use the visions that surround death to heal grief. The stories that children have told him about what it is like to die have lessons for all of us, especially those attempting to understand the meaning of death or the death of a child. Morse has appeared on many talk show and television programs to discuss his extensive research on near-death experiences in children. His 1991 book, Closer to the Light, was a bestseller for which Oprah Winfrey interviewed Morse about this book in 1992. Larry King interviewed Morse in 2010. The PBS show Upon Reflection produced a half-hour episode devoted to Morse. He was the subject of an article in the Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 entitled “In search of the Dead Zone.”

1. Dr. Morse’s NDE Research

Melvin Morse

While a Fellow for the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Morse was working in a clinic in Pocatello, Idaho. He was called to revive a young girl who nearly died in a community swimming pool. She had had no heart beat for 19 minutes, yet completely recovered. She was able to recount many details of her own resuscitation, and then said that she was taken down a brick lined tunnel to a heavenly place. When Dr. Morse showed his obvious skepticism, she patted him shyly on the hand and said: “Don’t worry, Dr. Morse, heaven is fun!”

The photo on this page of a child’s drawing depicts this young girl being resuscitated by his partner, Dr. Christopher, the doctor who is working on her. She has floated above her body, and met the seated figure. She told him that the seated figure “was Jesus. He is very nice.”

He wrote up her case for the American Medical Association’s Pediatric Journal as a “fascinoma”, meaning a strange yet interesting case and returned to cancer research. One night he saw Elizabeth Kubler-Ross on television describing to a grieving mother what her child went through when she died. She said that the girl floated out of her body, suffered no pain, and entered into heaven. He thought this was quite unprofessional of a psychiatrist, and vowed to prove her wrong.

He and his colleagues at Seattle Children’s Hospital designed and implemented the first prospective study of NDEs, with age and sex matched controls. He studied 26 children who nearly died. He compared them to 131 children who were also quite ill, in the intensive care unit, mechanically ventilated, treated with drugs such as morphine, Valium and anesthetic agents, and often had a lack of oxygen to the brain, BUT, they were not near-death.

He found that 23/26 children who nearly died had NDEs whereas none of the other children had them. If NDEs are caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, drugs, hallucinations secondary to coma, or stress and the fear of dying, then the control would have been expected to also have NDEs. They did not, indicating that NDEs happen to the dying.

He then completed the Seattle Study, a long term follow-up of children who had an NDE and documented their transformation as adults. He again used control groups, including children who nearly died but didn’t have an NDE.

He found that having an NDE is good for you, resulting in a love for living. One girl summed up the transformation as learning that “life is for living and the light is for later.”

Adults who had NDEs gave more money to charity than control subjects, volunteered in the community, were in helping professions, did not suffer from drug abuse, use many over-the-counter medications, and ate more fresh fruit and vegetables than control populations.

He also found that they often could not wear watches as they would mysteriously break, and often had electrical conduction problems such as shorting out lap top computers and erasing credit cards.

Finally, Dr. Morse studied the entire range of death related visions. He studied parents who had infants die of SIDS, and found that 25% of parents had a vivid premonition of the event which they often documented in a journal or diary, or by telling their doctor. He also has studied cases of shared dying visions and after-death communications.

His most recent research is on the mind-body healing aspects of NDEs. He is currently working on a project of studying immune system changes triggered by NDEs. He also is working on localizing which areas of the brain are linked to spiritual visions, and has a particular focus on the right temporal lobe as a communication link with an interactive universe.

He is currently working with parent bereavement groups to learn how to best use spiritual visions to help to heal grief. Dr. Morse feels strongly that by understanding that there is a scientific and biological component to NDEs, we can understand that the experiences are “real”, at least as real as any other human perception and experience. We must stop trivializing and dismissing death related visions as hallucinations of a dysfunctional brain, and start to understand that they are a normal aspect of the human experience. We all have spiritual intuitions and visions, now we must learn to listen to them and trust what they have to say.

2. The Science of the Paranormal

For more than fifteen years, Dr. Melvin Morse, a practicing pediatrician and renowned researcher, has studied the NDEs of hundreds of children. His bestsellers, Closer to the Light and Transformed by the Light, convinced millions that there is indeed something that lies beyond “bodily death” – and that NDEs profoundly transform peoples’ lives for the better. Now, Morse continues his compelling scientific probe into the mysteries of life and death – offering a bold and provocative new theory on what NDEs reveal about mind-body interactions, human memory, and the part of our brain that literally communicates with God.

His latest work, Where God Lives, by Melvin Morse with Paul Perry, builds on the author’s previous research into NDEs to reveal a startling truth: that all of us have the biological potential to interact with the universe not just when we are dying, but at any time during our lives – by learning to stimulate an under-utilized area of the brain the authors call “the God Spot.” Drawing from mounting scientific research, documented NDEs and other mystical encounters, and the author’s personal experiences – this illuminating book outlines a convincing new paradigm that seeks to explain some of the human mind’s most elusive mysteries, including miraculous healing, telepathy, hauntings, reincarnation, remote viewing, and other “paranormal” phenomena.

Dr. Morse argues that the study of NDEs provides a starting point for understanding the mysterious link between our brains and the universe. Though sound scientific studies have already identified the existence of “the God Spot” – the right temporal lobe of the brain – Morse takes this concept several steps further. Building on the controversial theory that memory may actually be stored outside the brain, he suggests that the right temporal lobe acts not as a “computer” for our individual minds, but as a transmitter and receiver of the universal mind – and that we can actually learn to stimulate this part of our brains in a number of ways besides near-death or active dying. The challenge, he says, is to learn how to integrate the rational (left) and spiritual (right) sides of our brains.

3. Dr. Morse’s Paranormal Research Conclusions

Morse attempts to answer the most important questions from the field of near-death studies based on a single premise: that most paranormal perceptions take place through the God Spot’s link to a universal memory bank from which we can receive and access information – and with which we can interact to alter reality in a physical way. Just as Morse’s previous books helped catapult the study of NDEs and their transforming effects from a “fringe” area to one considered mainstream and medically valuable, Where God Lives validates the brain’s connection to the God experience with an arsenal of powerful human stories and indisputable scientific facts that answer formerly intractable questions like:

a. Can memory be stored outside the brain?

Modern scientific thought is increasingly exploring the notion that memories can exist independent of brain function, explaining why, for example, comatose patients who recover are able to process memories of their experiences.

b. Is reincarnation the act of “tapping in” to a universal memory bank?

An incredible collection of scientifically examined cases in several countries – such as so-called birthmark studies: in which people who claim to be reincarnated have birthmarks that correspond to wounds of those from whom they were reincarnated – suggest this is so.

c. Are ghosts and angels really “trapped energy”?

The author’s analysis of more than fifteen thousand ghost stories convinces him that these are not “spirits” trapped between this world and another, but strong memories and perceptions that are actually embedded in the environment. This memory is usually perceived the same way by all who tap into it, explaining why there is such consistency among ghost stories.

d. Is there a type of person who can communicate with this universal memory bank more easily than the rest of us?

The author’s research shows that people who’ve had an NDE are more likely to be “in tune” with their God Spot, and to have other mystical experiences or possess other paranormal abilities.

e. Is there such a thing as coincidence?

Increasingly, studies suggest that life has a pattern and innate meaning beyond what we, as human beings, impose on it.

f. What is intuition?

Morse argues that intuition is the normal function of the right temporal lobe. His research suggests that we can train ourselves to use our “sixth sense” in a more conscious way – as the connection between the organized patterns of energy that represent ourselves, and the entire pattern (universal mind) in which we are embedded.

g. Why do prayers help some people who are seriously ill?

Sound scientific literature on miraculous healing shows that such events almost all involve right temporal lobe functions like out-of-body experiences, experiences of light, visions, and NDEs – suggesting that simple, inexpensive interventions, such as meditation or prayer, can help us maximize our own health.

h. Can people be “taught” to use abilities like remote viewing and telekinesis if they were asked to focus on them?

Excellent experimental studies document that humans have psychic abilities of all kinds that might be honed if we were led to work on them.

i. Can we really use our minds to heal our bodies?

Virtually all anecdotal research and many controlled scientific studies stress that there must be an interaction between the mind of the individual and the universal pattern or God – and studies further suggest that this universal energy pattern can directly influence health.

Morse takes readers beyond theory to the practical matter of how this mysterious area of the brain can be made more accessible to us. He distills ten critical lessons – based on his in-depth research into the transforming power of NDEs – that can help us all become tuned to our God Spot. If practiced regularly, Morse says, these simple rules can bring the restorative effects of optimism, trust, and love into our daily lives – but also empower us to call on the divine to help bring about remarkable recoveries and spiritual healings whenever we need them.

Where God Lives reveals that the secret of NDEs is that there is no secret – that all of us have the innate ability to heal ourselves, if only we have the desire and determination to enable this gift. “The ultimate message of NDEs is that life has meaning and we are all connected,” says Morse. “It is in finding those connections that we find the secret to good health and a long life.” Applying the rigors of science to the study of the spiritual, this intriguing book presents a provocative starting point for a new understanding of how the brain works, and concludes definitively that there is an unseen – but not unreachable – power that guides us all.

j. Are near-death experiences real?

“But was it real? Dr. Morse?” Chris, age 8, had nearly drown when his family’s car plunged over a bridge and into the freezing waters of a river near Seattle. His father was trapped in the car and died. His mother and brother miraculously swam to safety. A passer by dove repeatedly to the sunken car, and finally brought Chris’s limp body to the surface. He was flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital and ultimately survived. He said:
“First the car filled up with water, and everything went all blank. Then I died. I went into a huge noodle. It wasn’t like a spiral noodle, but it was very straight. When I told my Mom about it, I told her it was a noodle, but it must have been a tunnel, because it had a rainbow in it. Noodles don’t have rainbows in them.

“I was pushed along by wind, and I could float. I saw two tunnels in front of me, a human tunnel and an animal tunnel. First I went in the animal tunnel, and a bee gave me honey.

“Then I saw the human heaven. It was like a castle, not all broken down, just a regular castle. As I looked at it, I heard some music. It was very loud, and it stuck in my head.”

“Although prior to his near-death experience, Chris had little interest in music, since his near drowning, his mother bought him a keyboard and he has taught himself to play the heavenly music he heard.”

4. Not cultural myths

Chris clearly saw something he thought was real. The image of a rainbow in a noodle is so unique, it is unlikely to have its source in our cultural psychology. I had certainly never heard of one before. But was it really real?

Chris’s question goes right to the heart of the problem, as is typical for a child. As he pointed out, if his experience was real, then “you’ll have to tell all the old people, so they won’t be afraid to die”.

Are near-death experiences actually the dying experience, the result of normal brain function at the point of death? Or, are they the result of brain dysfunction creating a hallucination triggered by the biological stresses of dying, drugs, and a lack of oxygen to the brain?

Near-death experiences involve the perception of another reality superimposed over this one. This “other reality” frequently is a spiritual one involving the existence of a loving god. There is clearly a sense of a persistence of consciousness after the death of the body. If near-death experiences are “real”, then clearly it is possible that this other reality is real and even our destination after death. Furthermore, if near-death experiences are real, then a entire class of currently trivialized spiritual visions such as after-death communications, shared dying experiences and premonitions of death are most likely also real.

4. The NDE as the Dying Experience

Morse’s NDE study, done at Seattle Children’s Hospital, concluded that NDEs are in fact the dying experience. He studied 26 critically ill children and found that 24 of them reported being conscious while dying, and having some sort of conscious experience. Typically that involved the perception of a loving light, a “light that had good things in it”.

Morse studied over 100 control children who were also treated with medications, had a lack of oxygen to their brain, were intubated and mechanically ventilated in the scary intensive care unit, and who also thought they were going to death. They, however, were seriously ill and not truly near death. None of these patients reported being conscious while dying or having a spiritual experience.

Michael Sabom, an Atlanta cardiologist, found that 43% of cardiac arrest patients had NDEs. Patients with long complicated resuscitations were more likely to have NDEs. He also found that patients who had NDEs frequently could accurately describe their own resuscitation in detail. In contrast, control group of patients who had cardiac arrests but no NDEs could not describe their own resuscitation with any accuracy.

5. A Corroborated NDE Studied by Morse

Morse has researched many stories which clearly document that there is a paradoxical return of consciousness to the brain, at the point of death. For example, Olga Gerhardt was a 63 year old woman awaiting a heart transplant. A severe virus attacked her heart tissue. Finally her pager went off and she was called to the University of California Center for surgery. Her entire family went with her, except for her son-in-law, who stayed home.

Although the transplant was a success, at exactly 2:15 am, her new heart stopped beating. It took the frantic transplant team three more hours to revive her. Her family was only told in the morning that her operation was a success, without other details.

They called her son-in-law with the good news. He had his own news to tell. He had already heard it. At exactly 2:15 am, while he was sleeping, he awoke to see his mother in law at the foot of his bed. She told him not to worry, that she was going to be alright. She asked him to tell her daughter (his wife). He wrote down the message, and the time and fell asleep again.

Later, when Olga regained consciousness, her first words were “did you get the message?”

The story demonstrates that the near-death experience is a return to consciousness at the point of death, when the brain is dying. She was able to communicate telepathically with her son-in-law, when she seemed comatose and he asleep.

Paul Perry and I thoroughly researched her story. Every detail had objective verification. We even saw the scribbled note. Such stories have been similarly well documented for over 100 years. Frederick Meyers‘ classic text “Human Personality and Its Survival After Death” meticulously documents hundreds of such stories.

6. Anecdotal Stories Are Not Good Enough

Stories, however, are not enough. They are convincing to those who witness them, but lose their power when told and retold. I have documented dozens of such stories, but they will not convince any skeptic of the reality of near-death experiences.

Science demands verifiable evidence which can be reproduced again and again under experimental situations. Dr. Jim Whinnery, of the National Warfare Institute, thought he was simply studying the effects of G forces on fighter pilots. He had no idea he would revolutionize the field of consciousness studies by providing experimental proof that NDEs are real.

The pilots were placed in huge centrifuges and spun at tremendous speeds. After they lost consciousness, after they went into seizures, after they lost all muscle tone, when the blood stopped flowing in their brains, only then would they suddenly have a return to conscious awareness. They had “dreamlets” as Dr. Whinnery calls them

These dreamlets are similar to near-death experiences. They often involved a sense of separation from the physical body. A typical dreamlet involved a pilot leaving his physical body and traveling to a sandy beach, where he looked directly up at the sun. The pilot remarked that death is very pleasant.

The experiences do not only occur to dying dysfunctional brains. The Journal of the Swiss Alpine Club, in the late 1800s, reported 30 first hand accounts of mountain climbers who fell from great heights and lived. The climbers reported being out of their physical body, seeing heaven, having life reviews, and even hearing the impact of their bodies hitting the ground. They were not seriously injured.

Yale University Pediatric Cancer specialist Dr. Diane Komp reports that many dying children have near-death experiences, without evidence of brain dysfunction. Their experiences often occurred in dreams, prayers, or visions before death. One boy stated that Jesus had visited him in a big yellow school bus and told him he would die soon. Others heard angels singing or saw halos of light.

The American Journal of Psychiatry, in 1967, reported the experiences of two miners trapped for days in a mine. They were never near death and had adequate food and water. They said that mystical realities opened before them in the tunnels. They also said a third miner who seemed real to them helped them to safety, but disappeared when they were rescued.

7. NDEs Acknowledge Reality

Near-death experiences are not a denial of reality, as is often seen in drug or oxygen deprivation induced hallucinations. There are not the distortions of time, place, body image and disorientations seen in drug induced experiences. They instead typically involve the perception of another reality superimposed over this one. For example, one young boy told him the “god took me in his hands and kept me safe” while medics were frantically trying to revived his body after a near drowning. He said and understood everything that happened to him, but simply perceived something we usually don’t perceive at other times in our lives.

German psychiatrist Michael Schroeter, in his extensive review of all published near-death research states there is no reason to believe that NDEs are the result of psychiatric pathology or brain dysfunction.

NDEs can occur in very young children, too little to have a fear of death to react to, infants who have no internal defense mechanisms against the concept of death. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital report that an 8 month old had an NDE after nearly dying of kidney failure. As soon as she could talk, at age two, she told her parents of going into a tunnel into a bright light. Psychiatrists Gabbard and Twemlow report of a 29 month old who bit into an electric cord and nearly died. He told his mother he went into a room with a nice man. There was a bright light on the ceiling. He wanted to know if I wanted to go home, or come play with him.

The conventional medical explanation is that these are not real perceptions but rather hallucinations caused by the short circuiting of a dying brain. The Russian near-death researcher Vladimir Negovsky (PDF) studied hundreds of soldiers who nearly died in battle. He concluded that “the fact that different people in different countries can recall similar images seen by them during dying or resuscitation does not prove life after death. It can be explained by the dynamics of the disintegrating brain.”

Calling near-death experiences “hallucinations” implies that they are not real perceptions of another reality. There is no reason for this other than a disbelief that there are other realities to perceive.

8. NDE Concepts Support Quantum Realities

I recently discussed these issues with theoretical physicists at the National Institute of Discovery Science. This is a consciousness think tank of national renown scholars in their individual fields. They explained to me that science states that reality is made of tiny nuclear particles, so tiny that it is unclear if they are actually matter or simply patterns of energy. All of the fundamental particles in this universe have at least two counterparts which have been documented as being “real”.

These particles last for only a fraction of a second in this reality, yet they comprise the elemental building blocks of reality. In theory, there are at least three possible universes comprised of the three basic sets of subatomic particles.

Furthermore, again in theory, there is one possible universe which is called the Omega Point, in which there is no time or space, and all possible universes coexist. This is why physicists such as Ernest Schroedinger said “if you are not shocked by quantum physics, then you do not understand it”.

Olaf Swenson may have seen such a timeless spaceless “Omega Point” when he nearly died of a botched tonsillectomy at age 14. He states that “suddenly I rolled into a ball and smashed into another reality. The forces that brought me through the barrier were terrific. I was on the other side. I realized that the boundary between life and death is a strange creation of our own mind, very real (from the side of the living), and yet insignificant.”

Olaf felt he was floating in a universe with no boundaries. “I had total comprehension of everything. I stood at the annihilation point, a bright orange light.” As I felt my mind transported back to my body, I thought, please let me remember this new theory of relativity.

Certainly the information that Olaf gained during his NDE was real. He has gone on to develop over 100 patents in molecular chemistry based on the information from his NDE.

The universe may well be a conscious universe. Many modern scientists no longer believe in a randomly generated universe from some sort of primal dust. Nobel prize winning molecular biologist Christian de Duve describes the universe as one which as a cosmic imperative to develop conscious life. The very structure of molecules which make up living creatures dictates that conscious life will evolve.

Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle agrees that the fundamental laws of the universe, which govern the creation of planets, suns and galaxies again seems to imply that conscious life will be the end result of those universal laws. Evolutionary biologist Rupert Sheldrake goes even further, stating that there are morphic forms, patterns of energy which first exist in the universe, when then result in life.

If this is true, then it would apply to the other two universes made of the other two sets of elementary subatomic particles. Angels, devils, UFOs, and God now seem less like fairy tales and more likely to be perceptions of conscious beings in other realities predicted by modern science. Near-death experiences may simply be the clinical counterparts to what experimental physicists have found in the laboratory.

9. The Healing Power of NDEs

When Todd died after falling into a neighbors swimming pool, moments before he died, he came out of coma, looked at his Mom, and said “the moon, the moon, I am on a rocket ship to the moon.” She asked me if he was just having a hallucination.

I told her that the most scientific answer based on the evidence is that he was able to share with her his dying experience.

That was important to this Mom. It made her horrible grief perhaps a fraction more bearable. It made her anger at an irrational universe which would cause a child to die a fraction less, Her son’s vision implied to her that he was going somewhere after death.

Such visions, dreams, and intuitions have enormous power to heal. Currently, our society trivializes such experiences and dismisses them as fantasies of dysfunctional brains or the mind’s safety net against grief. They are real experiences, as real as any other human perception. We only have to listen to them to understand them. They often contain the seeds needed to heal grief and to understand death.

10. NDE Research and Health Care Costs

My physician friends often ask me of what use is near-death research. I answer them in a way they can understand. If we really understood that from a scientific standpoint these experiences are “real”, meaning that they are a normal function of the human brain at death, we could cut health care costs in this country by at least 20%. That is the amount we irrationally spend in the last few days of patients’ lives, using expensive medical technology to appease our own fears of death at the expense of human dignity.

At the very least, near-death research teaches us not to be afraid to die. Frequently, dying is accompanied by visions of people we love. Often there is no perception of the painful events going on in the body. One child said it best when she said “while they were sticking me with needles and stuff, I was safe with God”.

Near-death experiences have the power to become a cultural ice breaker with a resulting healing of our societal fear of death. I predict that when we institutionalize the understanding that the near-death experience is, indeed, the dying experience, we will see a healthy withering away of unnecessary medical interventions at death.