Peter Fenwick on The Final Border at TEDxBerlin (Full Transcript)

Now, was this really true? Could we see it in hospital? So we set up a study in Southampton Hospital, looked at 69 people who had had a cardiac arrest and found just under 9% of people who had had a near-death experience.


Now, we could actually look at it. Very similar to the ones we’d seen? Yes, it does occur in cardiac arrest.

Now, if that’s true, when does it occur? You see, the NDEers say, the experience occurs when you’re unconscious. Now, if that’s true, that you can get these experiences when you’re unconscious and the brain isn’t functioning, then it would make a very good model for the beginnings of death.

Science says, “This is impossible, it is ridiculous: Fenwick, go home!” Because the argument is that consciousness is created by the brain.

So if I’m saying to you the brain isn’t functioning and there’s consciousness there, it doesn’t fit easily into our modern scientific paradigm. So we had a little look further at this.

I’ve drawn you a cartoon as to what happens to consciousness when the heart stops. You see, the consciousness is high at the beginning. Heart stops, there’s a rapid fall in consciousness to unconsciousness. So the experience can’t happen then.

When the heart restarts, it’s confusional. People don’t know where they are, what’s happening, that sort of thing. But the near-death experience is very, very lucid, very clear. And so this confusional arousal means it can’t happen then.

So when does it happen? They say – that’s the NDEers – it happens when they’re unconscious. So we argue that possibly they’re correct and that this is the time this happens.

You have to understand that that’s against our current understanding in science but nevertheless run with the data, don’t run with the current model, if it seems to be wrong.

Now if what I’ve told you is correct, then it means the near-death experience is a good model for the dying process. You’d all agree with that. So let’s look at dying and see what it’s like.

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So what we did is we went into nursing homes, hospices. We talked to palliative care teams. We did this in the UK, we did it in Holland, and our questionnaire has been given to people in Ireland.

We’ve come up with a lot of ideas about what actually happens when you die. But much more than that, I went on radio, and television, and got stories. I got over 1,500 stories about what people say happens when you die.

So what I’m going to do now is tell you some of these stories about what happens when you die. And so we’re going to start with the first stage, and that is premonitions.

So here’s a story about somebody who had a premonition. A premonition means that you know you are going to die. “I was puzzled when my husband, who is a young man in good health, suddenly started to put all his affairs in order.”

So he’s young, he’s got a family.

“Wrote his will, and told me, he was going to die. I laughed it off. But three months later, he was making a routine flight and the plane crashed.”

So he did, in fact, die and it seems as if that was a warning for him. He also said that he completed everything he had come for to this world. Although I’m not sure that I understand exactly what that means. So let’s make a picture.

You see premonitions on the left-hand side of your screen. That is the first stage in coming to die.

Now, another very frequent occurrence is deathbed visions. They’re actually in all cultures, they are not specific to our culture. The content of them tends to go with culture to some extent but in our culture they’re totally fascinating.

What usually happens is that the dead relative comes into the room where you are and they will talk to you. They’re very supportive, very helpful. They say, they’re going to be with you when you die.

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So here’s a story, just to remind you, do you all know that Giotto fresco? Don’t the men all wish that they were St. Francis, getting those lovely angels to come and look after them. Well, we’re not St. Francis.

Here’s the sort of things, the sort of stories we get: “She spent around four hours talking to two men,” – this is in a hospice – “shifting her gaze between two different spots in the room. One of them was her brother who had died the previous year, and the other was one somebody older, perhaps her grandfather. During this whole time, she was very animated, happy, and extremely lucid, unlike the rest of the time. The conversation ended with her waving goodbye to them.”

Now, who sees these? Well, the dying, obviously, sometimes the relatives, more often children, very occasionally the hospice staff. So they tend to be mainly seen by the dying. So we can put next deathbed visions.

But one thing you must know, and do remember this, is that some of them say that they’re going to come back on a particular day to help you with the dying process, to help you cross the border.

And if you know that, you can ask them if they’d probably come back a few days later. You can negotiate with them, not because you want to go to a party, or do something like that, but because a member of the family who isn’t there and is coming, and they will wait for that.

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