By: OpenWhenGone.
Published: September 14. 2023.

Theories and Experiences of What Dying Feels Like

The question of what happens when we die is as old as humanity itself, sparking countless debates, religious doctrines, and scientific inquiries. Even as modern medicine advances, this eternal question remains shrouded in mystery and speculation. Here, we examine a variety of perspectives on what occurs after death, from religious beliefs to scientific theories, including anecdotes from those who claim to have had near-death experiences.


Introductions to Idea of Dying

The idea of dying has been debated and evaluated since the beginning of human life. We can see various views and interpretations that arise from old ages to newer, more scientific ways of thinking. Before we head into actual experiences of dying, let's dive into some of the different idealized ideas.

Religious Views

  • Christian Perspective: Christianity posits that after death, the soul is judged by God. Those who are deemed righteous ascend to Heaven, an eternal paradise. Those who are not face eternal damnation in Hell. People like Don Piper, author of the bestselling book "90 Minutes in Heaven," claim to have experienced this divine realm. After a horrific car crash, Piper was pronounced dead. He describes walking through Heaven's gates and feeling an overwhelming sense of love before being resuscitated.
  • Hindu and Buddhist Views: In contrast, Hinduism and Buddhism believe in a cycle of reincarnation. The soul is reborn in a new body after death, and this cycle continues until one attains enlightenment. Accounts of past-life memories abound in these cultures. Dr. Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, conducted research on children who claimed to remember past lives and found corroborative evidence for some of these accounts.
  • Islamic Perspective: Islam shares similarities with Christianity concerning life after death. Muslims believe in Heaven (Jannah) and Hell (Jahannam) but also in a period of questioning in the grave prior to the Day of Judgment. Sufi mystics have often described journeys to these realms during near-death experiences, aligning their accounts closely with Islamic teachings.

Philosophical Interpretations
  • Materialism: From a materialistic perspective, consciousness is a byproduct of the brain's activity, so death marks the end of experience. In his book "The Atheist's Guide to Reality," philosopher Alex Rosenberg argues that the idea of an afterlife is a comforting but scientifically unfounded illusion.
  • Dualism: Contrastingly, dualism posits that the mind and body are distinct, and thus, the mind could survive death. Though considered unscientific by many, this view has ancient roots in philosophies like Platonism.

Scientific Theories
  • Quantum Consciousness: One scientific theory speculates that quantum mechanics could explain consciousness and possibly an afterlife. Dr. Stuart Hameroff and physicist Sir Roger Penrose have proposed that consciousness is a quantum event occurring within brain cells. If this is true, then consciousness might not be entirely localized to the brain and could theoretically continue after death.
  • Near-Death Experiences (NDEs): While not providing conclusive evidence of an afterlife, the phenomenon of NDEs offers tantalizing hints. Dr. Raymond Moody coined the term after studying accounts of people who had clinically died but were later revived. Common elements include feelings of peace, out-of-body experiences, and sometimes, meeting deceased relatives. Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, wrote "Proof of Heaven" after his own NDE, despite previously holding materialistic views on consciousness.

Each of these categories offers its own lens through which to explore the enigma of what happens after death, adding to the rich tapestry of interpretations that have been woven across time and cultures.

Anecdotal Accounts

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) have fascinated researchers, spiritual leaders, and the general public alike for many years. These are experiences reported by individuals who come close to death due to various reasons - be it an accident, a medical condition, or another life-threatening situation - only to be revived or resuscitated. Despite the varying circumstances, these accounts often share common elements such as feelings of peace, seeing a bright light, or encountering deceased loved ones. However, some NDEs stand out for their unique aspects, and these are the focus of our examination.

Pam Reynolds: Verified Out-of-Body Perception
One of the most well-documented and scrutinized NDEs is that of Pam Reynolds, an American singer-songwriter. In 1991, Reynolds underwent a risky procedure called hypothermic cardiac arrest to remove a brain aneurysm. Her body temperature was lowered to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, her heartbeat was stopped, and her brain activity was flatlined. Despite being clinically dead, Reynolds claimed she floated above her body and observed the surgical procedure. Notably, she provided details about the surgical instruments and conversations between the medical staff that were later verified.

Her experience has been studied extensively and is often cited in the academic literature on NDEs. Dr. Michael Sabom, a cardiologist and NDE researcher, discussed her case in his book "Light and Death" (1998), pointing to the near impossibility of her having any sensory awareness given her medical condition during the operation.

Eben Alexander: A Neurosurgeon's Conversion
Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, had always been a man of science until he contracted a severe form of bacterial meningitis in 2008, which shut down his brain activity. He was in a coma for seven days, during which he claims to have visited a realm he identifies as Heaven. The experience led him to write the book "Proof of Heaven" (2012), in which he describes his encounter with a higher power and how his scientific worldview was fundamentally changed.

What sets Dr. Alexander's experience apart is his medical background. As a neurosurgeon, he had a deep understanding of brain function and was initially skeptical about NDEs. His account has been controversial but is often cited in discussions about the potential for consciousness to exist independently of brain activity.

Anita Moorjani: Spontaneous Healing
Anita Moorjani's story is remarkable not only for the vividness of her NDE but also for what happened afterward. In 2006, Moorjani was in the end stages of lymphoma. During her NDE, she claims to have felt an overwhelming sense of love and peace and decided to choose life. Miraculously, her tumors started shrinking, and she recovered fully within weeks. She recounted her story in the book "Dying to Be Me" (2012).

Her experience has been cited in alternative medicine discussions and by those who claim that mind-body connections can significantly influence health. Dr. Wayne Dyer, a self-help author and speaker, was instrumental in bringing Moorjani's story to the public.

Howard Storm: From Atheism to Belief
Howard Storm, a former university professor and atheist, experienced an NDE during a medical emergency in Paris in 1985. Unlike the predominantly peaceful experiences that others report, Storm describes an initially hellish encounter. However, he claims that praying led him to a transformative, heavenly experience. Storm's story is unique because it led to a complete transformation of his belief system. He became a Christian minister and chronicled his experience in his book "My Descent Into Death" (2000).

The phenomenon of NDEs provides a tantalizing glimpse into what might happen after death, although no conclusions can be definitively drawn. The diverse experiences of individuals like Pam Reynolds, Eben Alexander, Anita Moorjani, and Howard Storm each add a unique layer of complexity to our understanding of this mysterious phenomenon. Their accounts are extensively cited in books, academic journals, and discussions on the subject, contributing to an ongoing dialogue that bridges science, philosophy, and spirituality.

What are the common experiences of dying?

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) can vary widely, but they often contain some common elements. Below is a list of how different individuals have reported experiencing NDEs, each offering a unique glimpse into the phenomenon:

Sensory Observations

  • Seeing a Bright Light: This is perhaps the most common element reported. People often describe moving toward a bright, warm light at the end of a tunnel.
  • Hearing Music or Sounds: Some report hearing beautiful, indescribable music or sounds that they felt were divine or otherworldly.
Emotional Reactions
  • Overwhelming Peace or Love: Many individuals recount feeling an overwhelming sense of peace, tranquility, or unconditional love.
  • Fear or Torment: Less commonly, some individuals describe feelings of terror or torment, especially in cases where they perceive themselves to be in a 'hellish' environment.
Encounters with Beings
  • Meeting Deceased Loved Ones: Encounters with deceased relatives or friends are often reported. Some individuals have even claimed to meet ancestors they never knew in life but later confirmed existed.
  • Interactions with Spiritual Figures: Some people, depending on their religious or spiritual beliefs, report meeting figures like Jesus, the Buddha, or other divine beings.
  • Guides or Messengers: Others describe meeting unidentified beings or entities that guide them through the experience or give them messages to take back.
Out-of-Body Experiences
  • Aerial Perspective: Like Pam Reynolds, many report hovering above their physical body and observing the scene below them.
  • Verifiable Information: In rare cases, people provide information that they couldn't have known otherwise, such as details of medical procedures they underwent while unconscious.
Cognitive Insights
  • Life Review: Some individuals experience a rapid review of significant life events, often with a new understanding of their impact on others.
  • Revelatory Insights: Like Dr. Eben Alexander, some people claim to receive insights about the universe or the nature of consciousness.
Physical Sensations
  • Floating or Flying: Many report sensations of floating, flying, or moving effortlessly, sometimes through landscapes or celestial realms.
  • Tactile Sensations: Some people describe the sensation of touch during their NDEs, whether it's a comforting hand or another form of physical interaction.
Post-NDE Changes
  • Spontaneous Healing: As in Anita Moorjani's case, there have been reports of spontaneous physical healing following an NDE.
  • Transformation of Beliefs: Like Howard Storm, some people undergo a radical change in their belief systems, often becoming more spiritual or religious.
  • Enhanced Psychic Abilities: Some claim to return from their NDE with enhanced psychic or intuitive abilities.
Each of these aspects provides intriguing insights into the NDE phenomenon. Researchers continue to study these experiences, aiming to better understand what they might reveal about consciousness, the human psyche, and possibly, the nature of life and death itself.

Final Word

Theories about what happens when we die are diverse and often culturally or personally specific. For some, religious doctrines provide a clear answer, while others look to philosophy or science to explain this unfathomable event. Near-death experiences, as reported by people from various walks of life, offer fascinating, albeit inconclusive, glimpses into what may lie beyond. As science advances, new theories may emerge, but the question will likely remain a mystery, inspiring awe and wonder for generations to come.

Further Reading on Death Experiences and NDEs

The topic of what happens after death, particularly Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), has captivated human imagination for centuries. Whether you're interested in scholarly research, firsthand accounts, or more speculative approaches, there's a wealth of material available for further reading.


  • "Life After Life" by Raymond Moody: One of the seminal works that introduced the term "Near-Death Experience" and brought the phenomenon into public consciousness.
  • "Consciousness Beyond Life" by Pim van Lommel: Written by a cardiologist, this book presents scientific research on NDEs and offers a critical evaluation of theories on consciousness.
  • "The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality": This comprehensive text includes sections on NDEs within the broader context of psychology and spirituality.

Websites and Online Resources
  • International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS): The website offers articles, research papers, and firsthand accounts.
  • NDERF (Near-Death Experience Research Foundation): This website compiles thousands of firsthand accounts of NDEs and encourages people to share their stories.
  • Reddit's r/NDE: An online forum where individuals share their personal NDE stories and discuss related topics.
  • YouTube: Numerous channels and documentaries focus on NDEs, from scientific analyses to individual testimonials.

Alternative Perspectives
  • "The Tibetan Book of the Dead": An ancient text that describes the stages of death and beyond from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective.
  • "The Egyptian Book of the Dead": One of the oldest texts that provides insight into ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife.

Exploring these resources can offer a deeper understanding of the complexities and varied experiences related to death and NDEs. Whether you're interested in the scientific, spiritual, or personal aspects, there's likely something to pique your interest.

We update our articles regularly. If you wish to add your story or tips here, or perhaps in a full article, feel free to reach out to us. Your experiences will help others who may be in need of guidance. Thank you for reading.