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This raises further questions about the extent to which near-death researchers have also used leading interviewing techniques (Fox 199-200). As Greyson points out, how a counselor responds to an NDEr "can have a tremendous influence on or whether it is regarded as a bizarre experience that must not be shared" [emphasis mine] (Greyson, "Near-Death" 328). While some counselors might take a dismissive attitude to such experiences, many are likely to influence NDErs in the opposite direction, and near-death researchers seem particularly likely to positively reinforce an afterlife interpretation of NDEs. This may be one reason why so many NDErs accept that interpretation. Another may be that widespread belief in an afterlife among the general population has already primed NDErs to interpret unusual experiences on the brink of death in terms of an afterlife. And on top of such outside influences, Fox notes:
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A similar explanation seems plausible for the so-called 'decision to return' in near-death experiences, where NDErs often seem to struggle with trying to figure out who made the decision. In their study van Lommel and colleagues found that only 5 out of the total 62 NDErs (8%) even reported encountering a border between life and death; this was the least common NDE element found (van Lommel et al. 2041). Most NDErs simply find themselves 'back in their bodies' with no idea of how they transitioned back to normal consciousness, just as we would expect if the physiological conditions necessary to maintain hallucinations had disappeared.
But is there actually strong evidence of veridical paranormal perception in Ring and Cooper's sample of blind NDErs? One reason Fox questions the significance of this study is that those known to acquire sight for the first time, or reacquire it after a very long time, have difficulty making sense of their visual sensations. He notes the case of a 52-year-man who, after receiving corneal grafts, could not visually identify a lathe that he was otherwise well-acquainted with—by touch—unless he was given the opportunity to touch it. Continually frustrated at his inability to interpret his visual sensations, he eventually took his own life a full two years after the operation (Fox 225-226). By contrast, Ring and Cooper's blind NDErs are said to have "virtually immediately [gained] the ability to perceive accurately just such things as hospitals and streetlights with virtually no difficulty whatsoever" (226). While Ring and Cooper interpret this as evidence of a previously unknown sort of synesthetic perception 'transcending' normal human vision (224), Fox points out that more mundane sources—such as learning from mass media or NDE researchers that OBEs, tunnels, and lights are to be expected during near-death crises—might more satisfactorily explain the blind NDErs' testimonies (239). Irwin notes similar possibilities:
As the Fenwicks point out, if OBEs and NDEs are hallucinations,
Claims that near-death experiences are always identical, regardless of the set and setting, are contradicted by the variety actually found in published reports. They differ between people and cultures. For example, instead of a tunnel and angels, East Indians may describe the River Ganges and a particular guru. A child having a NDE may "see" his or her still-living friends and teachers, or Nintendo and comic book characters, rather than God (Jansen 96).
Veridical Paranormal Perception During OBEs?
(14) In a collection of pediatric near-death experiences published in 1990, Serdahely even found a case where a girl encountered a favorite toy during her NDE—an old stuffed animal. Morse summarizes the case as follows:
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(13) But if encounters with conscious plants, talking insects, and dead celebrities doesn't give you pause about accepting NDEs as visions of an objective afterlife reality, perhaps NDEs that include encounters with will. Morse reports that a 10-year-old boy had an NDE where he encountered a video-gaming wizard who loved Nintendo and said to him: "Struggle and you shall live" (Abanes 116). Karl Jansen similarly reports finding childhood NDEs that include encounters with video game and comic book characters:
Aaseng, Nathan. . San Diego, Calif: Lucent Books, 2000. Print.
There is a fantastic quality to this story, such as transferring from place to place 'instantly,' as if by magic. The fact that this NDEr claims to see people who are still alive in this supposed afterlife environment also points to its hallucinatory nature.
Cefrey, Holly. . New York: Rosen Pub, 2009. Print.
Next we materialized in a computer room. It was a place of great activity, yet peace prevailed. None of the stress of business was present, but prodigious work was accomplished. The people seemed familiar to me, like old friends. This was confusing, because I knew there to be present those who lived on earth still, and those who had passed on. Some of them I knew by name, others by reputation; and all had time for me, to teach me if I ever need help understanding. One of them was Albert Einstein.... He asked me if I would care to operate the computer (Kellehear 14).