Dr. Bruce Greyson is the Chester Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia. He was previously on the medical faculty at the University of Michigan and the University of Connecticut, where he was Clinical Chief of Psychiatry.
Dr. Greyson has consulted with the National Institutes of Health and addressed symposia on consciousness at the United Nations and at the Dalai Lama’s compound in Dharamsala, India. He has earned awards for his medical research and was elected a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, the highest honor bestowed by that organization.
Dr. Greyson’s interest in near-death experiences began just a few months after graduating from medical school, when he treated an unconscious patient in the emergency room who stunned him the next morning with an account of leaving her body. T
hat event challenged his beliefs about the mind and the brain, and ultimately led him on a journey to study near-death experiences scientifically, leading to more than a hundred publications in medical journals.
He co-founded the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS), an organization to support and promote research into these experiences, and for 27 years edited the Journal of Near-Death Studies, the only scholarly journal dedicated to near-death research. Through his research, he has discovered common and universal themes in near-death experiences that go beyond neurophysiological or cultural interpretations, as well as patterns of consistent aftereffects on individuals’ attitudes, beliefs, values, and personalities.
Dr. Greyson is the author of After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond. The book challenges our everyday ideas about our minds and our brains and offers key insights on how we can begin to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.
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Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 056
Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome to the show Dr. Bruce Greyson, how you doing Dr. Greyson?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 0:06
Great, Alex, thanks so much for having me here.
Alex Ferrari 0:09
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I am fascinated to talk to you today because you have a very unique perspective on near death experiences. I've had other doctors on the show Dr. Raymond Moody, who I know you know, and, and Dr. Eat and Alexander. But the way you've looked at it is very interesting. So first and foremost, what was your first experience with the Near Death Experiences? What made you go down this non traditional road especially when you started out?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 2:33
Yeah. Well, I mean, to start with, I was raised in a scientific materialistic household. My father was a chemist and I was raised in that environment that you know, what you see is what you get, there's no non physical world. And when you die, that's the end. That's just the way it is. So I went through college and medical school with that mindset that the physical world is all there isn't. And science is the way to answer all our questions. And then when I started my psychiatric training shortly before, after I started, I was confronted by a patient who was unconscious when I tried to talk with her. And when I saw her the next day, when she woken up, she told me about my visiting her in the hospital, and describe things she couldn't possibly have seen or heard because she was unconscious. And that just made no sense to me at all. So I kind of didn't know what to do with it. I just sort of said, Oh, that's weird. And that left it at that figured someone's playing a trick on me or something. But I started hearing other patients talking about the same thing. And I tended to dismiss them since they were psychiatric patients. And then about four or five years later, one of my colleagues at University of Virginia, Raymond Moody, who you've also interviewed here, have published a book called Life after life in which he gave us the term near death experience, and describe what they were. And that was the first indication I had that. This is a real phenomenon. It's not just a few crazy patients selling stories. This is happening to perfectly sane people all over the world. But being a scientist, I needed to understand this. And I figured you don't run away from things you can understand. That's not science, you run towards them. So I started collecting other cases and see whether I could figure out what's going on here. And I collected 1000s of cases and here I am 50 years later, still trying to understand them.
Alex Ferrari 4:23
So trying to figure it still trying to figure it it's not an easy, it's an uneasy equation.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 4:27
It's not it's not. There are good reasons for that, too. Yeah, exactly.
Alex Ferrari 4:32
So from a medical perspective, what is the science behind a near death experience?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 4:39
Alex, I wish we had some you know, there have been there been lots of theories proposed to explain near death experiences, both psychological in terms of wishful thinking and expectations, and physiological explanations like lack of oxygen to the brain or drugs given to patients and the data We've been able to collect, to test these hypotheses have all disproven them. It's not expectation, people have near death experiences that directly contradict what they're expecting to happen. And so on and so forth. We've collected data about physiological things going on to the time of the Near Death Event. It turns out that people who have near death experiences or nd ease actually have better oxygen supply than people who don't have MDS. So lack of oxygen isn't causing these. And likewise, people who are given drugs as they're approaching death, tend to have fewer near death experiences than people who aren't given drugs. So none of the explanations that scientists come up with have been able to explain what's going on here.
Alex Ferrari 5:44
And now those are and those examples are people who die and come back. Right, right. There's not everybody who dies and comes back has a near death experience.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 5:52
Right! And the ones who don't come back don't tell us about their experience, obviously. Yeah, yeah, about 10 to 20% of people whose hearts stopped. We'll talk about our near death experience later on.
Alex Ferrari 6:05
So it's not it's not widely, it's not like everybody who dies and comes back or has a heart attack and comes back home has a near death experience. It's, it's a good percentage, though that's a pretty decent size.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 6:16
It is, it's not negligible, by any means.
Alex Ferrari 6:19
Now, there's a chapter in your book that's called mind the mind is not the brain. Can you dig into that a little bit? Because you're, we're gonna get into the waters of consciousness and awareness and stuff?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 6:32
Well, let's start with what we're talking about the mind? Is that part of us that thinks, and feels and perceives and has desires and urges, and so forth? The brain is this three pounds of material inside our skulls? That's mostly nerve cells, and cells called glial cells that support the nerve cells. And the question is, what does one have to do with the other. And I was taught in medical school that the brain creates the mind, all our thoughts and feelings are created by these nerve cells. And that seems to work in everyday life. For example, when you get drunk, you don't think very well, or when you get hit on the head that affects your thinking. But in extreme circumstances, like near death experiences, the brain seems to be shutting down. And yet people report that their thinking was clearer and faster than ever, their perceptions were sharper than ever. And that shouldn't happen if the brain is shutting down. And there are I should say, there are other examples besides near death experiences in which we see this dissociation between the brain and the mind. For example, with psychedelic drugs, we used to think that the way these drugs work is by stimulating the brain to hallucinate. But neuro imaging studies in the last 1015 years have shown repeatedly that the more elaborate mystical experiences people have with psychedelic drugs are associated with a decrease in brain activity, not an increase. So again, appeal sight appears that when the brain is shutting down, consciousness seems to flower. And we don't have any explanation for why that should be.
Alex Ferrari 8:11
Yeah, so that there's a case to be made for meditation in that way too. Because right, heavy meditators who quiet their minds have, some of them have mystical experiences, they definitely talk about different avenues of spirituality that exist should be associated with more brain activity. But you're saying that, because I just thought about that. You're right, like the yogi's, you know, the mountain spiritual masters who go down. And they've seen some monks and Tibetan monks that they've attached and then scans to when they're meditating, their brain just starts to go down. But yeah, they're able to have more stuff going on. It's a strange thing.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 8:55
It is it is, if you think that the mind is created by the brain. It's a strange thing. Right.
Alex Ferrari 9:00
So So then, so then the question is, what is consciousness?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 9:05
Right, right! Well, that's the great question. I don't know how to answer that. But I can talk about what does it have to do with the brain? Okay, because as I said, clearly, in everyday life, the brain seems to be playing a role in our consciousness, right? But it doesn't clearly doesn't happen all the time. So if the brain doesn't create our thoughts, what is it good for? Why don't we have these brains? Well, we're animals we evolved in the physical world, and our brains, our physical organs, and they evolved to help us survive. So what that means is they want to bring into our awareness, things that help us survive in the physical world find food and shelter and a mate and so forth, avoid predators. So to do that, it needs to filter out some things and let in other things. So for example, if your consciousness out there somewhere Is communing with God and seeing deceased loved ones that doesn't help you find food and shelter. So the brain to be effective has to filter all that stuff out. And just let in the, quote, important stuff is this good eat is that petty. And that's the way it functions. This should not be surprising, because all our senses do that. You don't hear every wavelength that's available to be heard, you just hear the few, this short segment of weightlifting, that's important to us, we don't see all the light frequencies that are available either we just saw the visible spectrum, not the ultraviolet, the infrared, because those aren't important to us. So it makes sense that the brain would filter out the unimportant stuff, and just let in the important stuff. This is not a new idea. Hippocrates wrote about this 2000 years ago. And there's lots of evidence for the brain doing some type of filtering out of consciousness. So I don't know where it is. But it certainly doesn't seem to be in the brain, it works in connection with the brain.
Alex Ferrari 11:05
So when there's emotion, anger, any of that kind of stuff, is that the mind? Or is that the brain? Or is it a slight combination of the two?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 11:18
Well, the way we experience it, it's combination, the pure, since the emotion of love, or hate, or anger, sounds like it's part of consciousness, and yet we feel it in the body, we feel our heart racing, we start to sweat, or we get hot, these are all the physical sensations that go along with our expression of the emotion. And that has to involve the brain. So it's a kind of a combination of the consciousness, and then the body mechanisms to to express that.
Alex Ferrari 11:53
So then the hard wiring that happens when we're between the years of one and six, where all that exposure, we're really setting our personalities up for, you know, for a lot of our personalities, because I always say we're kind of pre wired at the factory, with certain with certain scenarios, if you will, talents and skills and so on that are natural to us, I will never play in the NBA. These are things that are programmed, right, in the in the factory, if you will, but that kind of hard wiring of our cultural exposure, our parental exposure, our environment, is that, is that physically being done in the brain? Or is that, again, a combination of the mind and brain?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 12:39
I think I think the kind of conditioning you're talking about is in the brain. Okay. But there's also a component of the consciousness because, you know, clearly, whether you can play in the NBA is partly determined by your genes, what you inherited physically. Now, you inherit a certain range of athletic ability, and you can increase or decrease that by practice, but you can't exceed those limits, right. But in terms of personality, with your, you know, a loving person,
Alex Ferrari 13:09
Or my skill sets with math, right, if math or sciences, things like that,
Dr. Bruce Greyson 13:13
Right! Well, part part of the emotional stuff, part of the personality is you're hardwired for these limits. But within those limits, your experience determines where you are in that. And someone who is a mean, nasty person can become a loving, altruistic person with the right experiences. And sometimes those experiences are the ones we call a spiritual once they get us out of our body.
Alex Ferrari 13:40
Now, with your experiences of what is a standard near death experience, and I know that's there's not a standard. There are are there common traits in all of the studies that you've done over the over the years? You know, because I've heard of the timeline review, and certain things like that, what are those kinds of goalposts, if you will, have a standard as a standard, near death experience?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 14:04
Because everyone is everyone is different. But there are some similarities across the globe, across religions, cultures, and even going back into ancient times. We have reports from ancient Greece and Rome that sound like the NDS be here today. And what they include is first changes in what your your thoughts are going, your thoughts become faster and clearer. Your perceptions get faster, get clearer. You have a sense of reviewing your entire life, often to minute detail. And you have a sense of suddenly understanding things you couldn't understand when you're in the body. There also changes in your emotional state. Your emotions are much more intense than they ever were before. And usually for most people, it's a very blissful, pleasant feeling. You often feel encapsulated by unconditional love. And sometimes she says this is personalized as character with a warm, loving being of light. There are also things that we have to call paranormal for lack of a better word things like your usual senses vision and hearing become much more acute than usual. You also have Frank extrasensory perception, being able to be aware of things going on outside the range of your senses. There are also some people who have visions of the future of Indian death experience, and a sense of being outside the physical body. And in many cases, people can actually look down and see their bodies from above, and describe accurately what was going on with the body. And then some near death experiences, you have a sense of leaving the physical world behind and go into some other realm or dimension, that where you will meet deceased loved ones or entities that seemed like deities, gods. And you may eventually come to a border or point of no return that you can't pass and still come back to life.
Alex Ferrari 16:01
Is there a is there one NDE in all of your studies that stood out to you in the sense of like, that's so unique, in its way of going about things? I haven't heard that one before.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 16:16
You know, there are hundreds of them. Each one, each one just blows my mind. But you know, I can give you some examples of some some instruct me. You know, many people have this life review where you go back and not only see, but we experience your entire life. And for about a third of those people, they re experienced their lives not only through their own perspective, but also through the eyes of other people involved in the situation. Let me give you an example of this. A fellow I knew very well Tom, in his 30s he was working underneath his truck in his driveway. And it was it was jacked up. And actually there was up there was a pothole underneath an air hole underneath air pocket underneath his driveway in a collapsed, and the truck came down and crushed his chest. And at that point, he had a near death experience. He had a lot of things that were in the nd but one of the things that stood out to me was his life review. And he remembered many, many incidents. And one of them told me about was when he was a teenager, he was driving his truck down the street, and a drunk man walked out in front of his truck. And he jammed on the brakes almost hit the guy was very angry, this guy rolled down his window and started yelling at the man. And the man being quite intoxicated reached his hand in the window and slapped him across the face. This is too much for this kind of teenager. So we got out of the truck and started punching the man and ended up leaving him a bloody mess on the median strip, and then calmly got back in his truck and drove away. Well, when he had his new death experience, he relived this very vividly feeling that the adrenaline rush and the rage and so forth, and also saw the whole thing through the eyes of the man that he beat up. Feeling the guy being confused and toxicated feeling Tom's fists coming into his face 32 times now Tom couldn't told he was 32 blows. But when he really experienced it from that man's eyes, he knew there were 32 of them. He felt his nose getting bloody felt as his chief going through his lower lip, he felt all the embarrassment about being up beaten up by a teenager. And when Tom came back to life from his near death experience, he brought back this intense sensation, that I'm just the same as that guy. That what I did to him I did to myself, and they're all interconnected. And this gives near death experiencers a real sense of what we call the golden rule, which is part of every religion we have, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But for Near Death Experiences like Tom, they say, it's no longer for me, a guideline we're supposed to follow. It's a law of nature that I experienced, that when you hurt other people, you hurt yourself as well. And when you help others, you're helping yourself as well. I've heard that again, and again, from near death experiences. And for many of them, the life review is one of the most important parts of the nd in terms of changing their lives afterwards.
Alex Ferrari 19:20
Now, you mentioned a little bit about the earliest reports of nd ease. Can you talk a little bit about the history of entities because that's something I've really never heard too much about as far as ancient Greece because generally speaking, you know, the CPR wasn't that good back then. And then they didn't have those machines that clear. Like that wasn't the thing. So there was not as many NDE's you had a heart attack. It pretty much was that was the end of it. So there wasn't a lot of that going on back then. Then I guess that one thing that Dr. Raymond Moody said when he was on the show is like we started tracking more of this in the last 80 years. 100 years. because we started to be able to bring people back to life because of modern medicine. So what was what is the history?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 20:13
Yeah, well, first, let me just dispense with the illusion that we're good at it now.
Alex Ferrari 20:21
Yeah. Better, better, better, a little bit better.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 20:25
In the hospital where people have all its equipment available. About 25% of people have cardiac arrests are able to be revived. So the vast majority are still dying on the table, in spite of having mobile equipment with us. And when you're not in the hospital, chances of surviving are very low. Right, exactly. But we do have reports from ancient Egypt and Greece and Rome, about near death experiences. In fact, in ancient Egypt, and in Greece, they had rituals to put people in a near death condition to try to stimulate their spiritual growth. For example, the Egyptians would bury people in a coffin for several hours, and then bring them back in hopes of having them have a near death experience and then be being a spiritual guide after that. But there are many reports from ancient Greece and Rome. The first one was in Plato's Republic. He talked about a soldier air, who was killed on battle in the battle, and he was given a heroic funeral and put on top of a funeral pyre. As they're about to light it. He set up a toll told about this incredible voyage to the afterworld. Now, one thing that I want to mention is about half of people who have a near death experience report seeing as deceased loved one, right. And that's often dismissed by us critics by saying, Well, of course, you expect to have that happen. When you die, you want to see loved ones, so you imagine seeing them, and that may explain some cases. But in a lot of cases, you see someone who you didn't know had died. And that makes it hard to explain in terms of expectation or wishful thinking. We have an example of that, going back to the first century. Pliny the Elder, the Roman historian, wrote about the case of core Phineas, who was a Roman nobleman who died, and his brother made the funeral arrangements have the I take into an undertaker. And when he was on the embalming table, he suddenly sat up, ended up he clapped his hands, which was the signal that he's Nolan had for calling a servant. And they came in and he was wide awake. And he said, I've just been to visit my brother at his house. And I was there and watched him die. And he told me, after he died, he said, I want you to raise my daughter, and here's why I want you to do it. And he told me where he had his gold buried in the backyard. And the undertaking, or is this an assistant or just staring at like, what's going on here. And as they're sitting there, the brothers was running in saying, my masters just died. Now, nobody knew that. And yet the person who had the near death experience did. And I've got cases that I've heard in the last several years, like this, where people encounter someone who was dead, but no one knew had died.
Alex Ferrari 23:21
That's so fascinating. And, and the whole concept of expecting it, I mean, Dr. Alexander was essentially an atheist. And he had this very detailed, intense and he was medically pretty much considered gone. And had this so that kind of throws that out the window. There's a lot of atheists who, who like, like a doctor of just scientists who just didn't believe in the afterlife having a near death experience.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 23:50
Yeah, yeah. And a lot of people who are religious and do have strong beliefs will say, my near death experience was nothing like what I was told it was going to be like, right? Or wrong,
Alex Ferrari 24:02
Right! Because there's there from again, from my studies of near death experiences from the people I've interviewed. There isn't a heaven and hell, per se. There's no one that said that, like, oh, I had met the devil, and there was fire and brimstone, there was none of that. It's always generally the life review, positive energy, but you do feel the negative things you do to other people. Everybody, everybody across your path, even people who didn't cross your path that you had an impact on, you feel the good, and you feel the bad during that life of you, which could be as far as time is concerned. That's my next question. How is time perceived in these near death experiences for for your from your studies?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 24:51
That's a great question analysis. Almost every near death experiences say time was not the same. That what we think of the linear time here is just a artifact of this physical world that once you get outside this area, time either stops or ceases to exist or just as meaningless. And yet, when they tell you the energetic experience, they tell it like a sequence of events, this happened, and then this happened. And then this happened. And as far as I can understand, you can't have a sequence of events unless you have a passage of time, like we have here. And when I asked experiences about that, they say, Well, yeah, when I tell you about it here, it's a paradox doesn't make sense. But over there, it wasn't a paradox was perfectly normal. Things happened in sequences in a sequence, all at once. Past, Present Future, it was all there. And yet, it was also in the sequence. And I know that can't happen here in the physical world, but that's the way it was over there. So I don't know how to explain this. But this lie can't explain that the near death experience. And one of the keys, I think, is that when you ask an experiencer, to tell you about what what happened to them, they usually start by saying, I can't there aren't any words for you can't put this into into language. And then we say great, tell me about it. So we're we were making them distort it by putting into words. So how do they do that they use metaphors. And the metaphors they use are often cultural or religious. So for example, I said, many people see this warm, loving being of light. And when you talk to someone from a Judeo Christian culture, they may say, God, and people from another culture that doesn't have a screed God like that, won't use that word. And even people here will say, and this this light was God, I'm going to use that word, so you will know what I'm talking about. But this wasn't the God I was taught about in church, it was much bigger than that. So we have to take what they say with a grain of salt. So when they talk about something that seemed heavenly, or hellish, it wasn't the literal place that we call heaven or hell. It's a metaphor for what they experienced.
Alex Ferrari 27:07
What is your experience with dreams because, as far as dreams are concerned, from my experience of dreams, dreams work in metaphor, and dreams have no time. Time is not a thing in a dream sequence in your mind, while you're dreaming, or in your consciousness while you're dreaming. It's not like that dream took five minutes to go through that dream. There's none of that. So is there some sort of parallels between those two?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 27:39
Well, they're both parallels in the sense that we don't in our in our usual consciousness. Now, in a dream, you do have a sequence of events, you do have some sort of time, but it's fluid, you can move back and forth through time. And we can't do that obviously, here in our normal, everyday consciousness. Our dreams have the same quality as near death experiences. That's interesting, because what we call dreams are really a mixture of different things. And some dreams are just like fantasies, like imaginings. But other dreams seem to have important information for you that you didn't have before. Correct. And whether it comes from some outside entity or from deeper parts of yourself that you didn't know about, or your quote, Higher Self, whatever that is, you seem to be interacting with something other than your normal consciousness in those dreams. So I think some dreams have some things in common with near death experiences. But the actual average run of the mill dream that we have every night, probably is not, that's probably much more like just a fantasy or a daydream or hallucination.
Alex Ferrari 28:55
Now, what are the parallels between psychedelics and and near death experiences? Because, you know, if you studied Timothy Leary, and ROM, ROM das and those, those young folks back in the 60s and 70s, when they were experienced with Ellie's LSD and and Salafis, ILO, psilocybin, psilocybin, I'm thinking, they expressed they the experiences they talk about seems similar to a near death experience, but not as intense or as structured, but they feel like they kind of if a near death experience is a full journey, this is kind of like I just, I just went to the car, maybe looked around a little bit, but I didn't get I really didn't go all the way.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 29:42
Right, right, right. Well, many, many psychedelic trips with a variety of drugs can produce a lot of the same types of spiritual adventures that you see in India with experience. They also produce a lot of terrifying experiences that don't hang together the way the narrow Have an NDE does not one of the problems are trying to make sense out of this and say, Oh, the NDE is like a trip on such and such. And that explains chemically what's going on is that a lot of different types of psychedelic drugs that have totally different mechanisms in the brain produce the same type of experience. So for example, psilocybin works on the, it can work on the serotonin receptors, and ketamine, which is often used to produce stress sites like this works on the NMDA receptors, and others work on dopamine receptors. So there's not some consistency with what chemical process in the brain produces these experience. It's like, all these different drugs, kind of shut down the normal processing of the brain, and allows consciousness to come out. So the drug is not causing the experience is getting the brain out of the way. So you can go ahead and experience it, it opens the door to it.
Alex Ferrari 31:00
And some people do that through either meditation or like the yogi's are great spiritual masters, they they're able to go in and go out in their meditative practices because of their masters, essentially, spiritual masters. So this is it's a kind of, it's a hack. But it's not nearly as intense, which is one of the reasons why rom das got tired of doing trips, because he's like, I can't keep I can stay here. I want to stay here. And then he found my Rishi, who is like, Oh, I finally found someone who's high all the time. I want to know what he's doing. Right? He's, he's in that state at all times. So there's just a really interesting parallel between near death experiences. It it almost seems to all come back down to consciousness and getting the this this this meat sack, a very inefficient, not this meat sack out of the way, the material out of the way. So the spirit, the consciousness can be allowed, because it seems like it's weighing us down. It's very heavy. On us is it's a coat that's extremely heavy, we can't really move right. Oh, well, and all of the things we're talking about, all have in common that they release that weight, and allows you to experience your true nature, in a sense.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 32:20
Yeah, yeah. And a lot of new Jeff experiences will put it in those terms. They'll say it's like taking off a coat when you leave. And they don't like coming back into the bodies. It's unpleasant. But you're right, that that most religions have developed some technology for getting into this altered state, whether it's bite psychedelic drugs, or meditation, or flagellating themselves, or dancing or drumming, some way of getting your brain to quiet down and living your consciousness to flourish.
Alex Ferrari 32:53
Like, like a sweat lodge or something along Yes, yes, exactly.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 32:57
And there have been some attempts in recent years to try to compare accounts of near death experiences and accounts of psychedelic drug trips. And I was actually part of the multinational team that did this, we compared I think it was about 800 Near Death Experience accounts with more than 15,000 drug accounts. And we tried to find what drug produces the experience most like a near death experience. And again, there were lots of different drugs that did it. It wasn't just one. But the experiences were not the same people who have had both drug experiences, and real end to ease like Eben Alexander will say, it's not the same. And they often give the analogy of actually being in combat, or watching a movie about war. That if someone asked you to describe what you saw and heard, you may use the same words. But nobody would think that watching the movie was the same experience as actually being in combat. So comparing the accounts of psychedelic drug trips, and nd ease, doesn't mean you have the same experience. It means you have to use the same words to describe this unusual state we had.
Alex Ferrari 34:09
So it's like watching the first 1520 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and actually storming the beach in Normandy. Exactly. One's really intense and the other one is ridiculously. Yeah. And it's, that makes it I love I love movie analogy. So that makes all the sense in the world. Because when you watch the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, even people who were at Normandy said, that's the closest anyone has ever gotten to what it was like being there. But yeah,
Dr. Bruce Greyson 34:40
You can have, you can have a traumatic reaction to that to watching the movie just as you can to be in real life. And, you know, I think it's also true that with a psychedelic drug trip, you can have spiritual After Effects, just as you can with a near death experience. But it's not of the same degree.
Alex Ferrari 34:59
Yeah, it Absolutely not culturally, that's one thing that I've heard so many times with people who want to try to debunk this is that oh, you know, you know, it's just because you intended it or something like that. But this is happening, not only now from, from what I've learned from you today throughout history, but from culture to culture, it seems to be the same. The same sequence of events. Again, everyone's different. But there's general markers of what a near death experiences, regardless of culture, language, religion, any of that.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 35:36
Yeah, that's true. That's true.
Alex Ferrari 35:40
Is there? Is there any is from your experience, how many different cultures did you actually study? And religions and languages of people?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 35:50
Yeah, well, the quality of the research is different in all different cultures, most of the better research has been done in the US and in England, and in Europe, which is pretty much the same culture, pretty much Christian culture. But there have been researchers in Japan and China, and India, who have found the same types of experiences. There been isolated reports of other cultures, for example, Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, that report the same types of experiences. But of course, those are just a few cases, not large studies, like we have in other countries. But the metaphors people will use in different places are different. And that will affect how they describe what happens. For example, I mentioned people sometimes come across this, this border, they can't crosses come back to life. And here in the West, we often talk about a gate, or something like that. Whereas in Japan, they often talk about coming to a river. So they can't cross. And ice do we have that in the West? Do we have the River Jordan, you have to criss cross the Jordan to get to the side. But there are there are analogies like people often describe, to get from this physical realm to this other realm, you have to go through a long, dark, enclosed space. And here in the West, we usually call that a tunnel, I went through this tunnel to get the other side. Well, in cultures that don't have a lot of tunnels, they don't use that word. They may say, I went into a cave, or I fell into a well, or some other metaphor that's appropriate to their culture. I interviewed one guy here was a truck driver, who described getting sucked into a tailpipe. And that was his metaphor for the tunnel. So the same phenomenon occurs all over the world. But this describe it in different terms.
Alex Ferrari 37:45
Dr. Greyson, after all of this, all of this research, I mean, you're talking decades now that you've been doing this, you've never experienced one yourself, correct?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 37:55
No, I was right. I haven't.
Alex Ferrari 37:57
So how has this affected your life of just constantly studying this and under understand, like, how has that affected your own personal life in your own journey through this physical time that we're here?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 38:14
Well, it's made me feel differently about death and what death is. You know, one of the things that near death experiences say most consistently is they're no longer afraid of dying, if they've had this experience, and I'm certainly not afraid of dying, but I can't say that I ever was. I mean, when I grew up as a materialist, I thought, what death is the end? So what's it to be afraid of? There's nothing bad after that you just don't exist. So I wasn't afraid before. But I did have a sense when I started out this research, that scientists science is going to answer all our questions for us. That was a little uncomfortable, not having answers. And after 50 years now, of studying these phenomena, that it's hard to even find the questions, let alone the answers. I'm getting comfortable with the fact that there aren't answers to everything. And that's fine. Because I'm fairly convinced from what near death experiences say that the universe is a friendly place. There's nothing to be afraid of here. The only thing we're afraid of is what we imagine. So, you know, I can't say that I know what's going to happen after death. Because I think whatever they're telling me about it is a metaphor, not the reality. But I do have a sense that whatever happened that's something happens after death, and whatever it is, it's not something to be afraid of.
Alex Ferrari 39:36
In your in your studies. What part of reincarnation has been included? Have you ever heard of people dealing with past lives, looking at past lives in their life review, coming back with that kind of knowledge that helps them in this like, you know, because obviously we incarnation has been talked about for 1000s of years and and Eastern philosophies and so on. So So what has there been a an aspect of that and your work?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 40:05
Very little. There are occasional people who will say that in their life review. It included scenes that didn't happen in this lifetime. That seemed to be from a past lifetime. And I've got a few examples of people who were actually able to corroborate the things that happened in this past lifetime. For example, one fellow remembered being shot down in an airplane during the war. And he knew some details like where it was, and what the month was, and so forth. And his daughter actually did some research on this, and found that there was somebody who lived at that time who matched in detail, everything this guy was remembering. Anita Moorjani, who had a very elaborate near death experience, when she was dying with with lymphoma. She experienced in her near death experience, a past lifetime, with her brother, who will brother in the present life, who was in her last life as well. And she said it wasn't like it was a past life. It was like an alternate life that was still going on. And this kind of relates back to the concept of, of what's timely, this other realm of these other lives, which we here think about as being past lives aren't past, in the near death experience. They're like, all there at the same time. So that you have all these different alternative lives you're living. And when we're here in this realm, we say no, this is my current life. Those are this must be past lives. But in the near death experience, they're not past at all. They're still going on.
Alex Ferrari 42:01
So you're talking about possible hate to use the multiverse? If you know are there are there multiple lifetimes going on at the same time, us experiencing it based on based on reincarnation, that you experience everything with being a woman being a man, being the oppressor, being the oppressed, being rich, being poor, you experience it all? Yeah. In your research, have you said that you thinking that there might be multiple time multiple lifetimes going on at the same? So basically, all the movies are playing at the same time on the screen, if you will, but you're only able to see one or experience one possibly?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 42:40
I think that's when we were looking at Alex. But that's, that's the way we look at it here in our consciousness here, right. But they usually say that when you're in the other realm, is no separation. There's no multiple universes, it's all one. Everything's all one. So it's all happening at the same time, in different places in different eras, all at the same time.
Alex Ferrari 43:03
Fascinating. This is why this is such a feminine No wonder you spent 50 years going down this road is this I mean, it's just endless. It's just endless stories, endless discovery. Can you discuss a little bit about out of body experiences and what happens? You just your experiences with out of body experiences? And what is an out of body experience? For people who don't know?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 43:23
Yeah. Well, there are different ways of defining it bases a sense of leaving the physical body. And I when I first started out, I thought that was ridiculous, I am my body, how can you leave it? Well, I've heard enough accounts of people who have left their bodies. One definition of it is just sort of losing track of the body and feel like you're outside, we tend to use a more restricted definition where you have to be able to look down and see your physical body from some other perspective. So you really know that you're not in it, because you're seeing it from somewhere else. And we see that in a lot of near death experiences, maybe 40 50% of them. In many of these cases, they don't come back with information that we can really corroborate that's unusual. For example, they may say, oh, yeah, the doctor was there wearing green scrubs, of course, you'd expect that. But many times they report things that are very unexpected. Let me give you an example of that. One fellow I knew was a 55 year old truck driver, who had crushing chest pain, so he was rushed to the hospital. And in the emergency room, they discovered he had four vessels going through his heart that were being clogged. So they rushed him to the operating room for an emergency quadruple bypass surgery. In in that operation, he tells me, he left his body and rose up above it. And he looked down and saw his surgeon flapping the soil just like he was trying to fly. Now at this point, when he told me this, I've been a doctor for about 30 years that I'd never seen or heard anything So ridiculous in my life, you don't see doctors on TV shows doing that. Correct. So I assumed he was hallucinating because of the anesthesia or something like that. But he insisted it was true. And so with his permission, actually, with his insistence, I talked to his surgeon. And a surgeon said, Well, yes, I did do that. I've developed this, this habit, never seen anyone else do it. I let my assistants start the procedure, while I get my sterile gown and gloves on. And when I walk into the operating room and watch them, and I don't want to risk touching anything that's not sterile of my hand, so I put them on my chest for anything, we touch anything. And then when I want to point things out to my assistants, I can't use my fingers. So I use my elbows. It demonstrated that just the way the patient did. Now, there's no way the patient could have known about that. He says, I saw it. That's all I know about it. And I've got case after case after case of people seeing unexpected things, such as an operating room nurse having mismatched shoelaces, this type of thing. You wouldn't expect that to happen. And yet, they see these things, and they report them and then doctors and nurses can corroborate. Yes. So it really was true.
Alex Ferrari 46:15
Can you discuss a little bit about pre life experiences? I know you have. You've dabbled in that area as well.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 46:23
Yeah, I'm not really an expert on this area. I don't really know what to make of it. There are people who have studied pre life, memories. It's hard to corroborate that type of thing. I will say this that some of my colleagues at the University of Virginia study reincarnation, and they sought a young children age 2345, who talk spontaneously about their past life. And occasionally, one of these kids will talk about the period, the time period when they were in the womb. And they talk about things. Usually that can't be corroborated. But sometimes they can. And they will talk about, say having a twin that didn't make it out of the womb, and turns out to be true. Well, they will talk about some conversation they heard now how can a fetus in the womb hear a conversation? But he reports the kibble read something, and the parents will confirm Well, yeah, we did have that. That argument when he was eight months old, in eight months into the womb? I don't know what to make of that. Is this child really remembering something that happened back them? Or are they somehow getting this information, telepathically from the parents? I don't know what the answer is. I think most of the research that they've done at University of Virginia about reincarnation suggests that there was a past life this person lived. But it doesn't fit. Anyone's definition of what we encourage is usually is usually like, for example, will sometimes have more than one child living at the same time, who report remembering the same past life. That doesn't fit most people's definition of of reincarnation. Or we'll have somebody who remembers details of two lives that lived at the same time in the past. So it's not clear what's going on here. There's something going on beyond our normal consciousness. But what it is, our usual understanding of reincarnation is much too simple.
Alex Ferrari 48:32
Interesting. So it's okay that my head starting to hurt now. Even trying to like I'm barely wrapped around the basic concepts that we've been talking about now, let alone like, wait a minute, there could be two lives at the exact same time on the same planet. But Wasn't there some experiences of some of these children that they would say stuff, and then they would actually do research to collaborate, corroborate what they're saying, like, oh, I live at this house at this place and this thing, and it came to be true. And there's just no way in hell that they would know this information.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 49:05
Yeah, they've studied more than 2000 kids at University of Virginia, and about 1000 of them, they've been able to identify the person that child claims have been in the past life and find the person has information. Sometimes they actually take the child to the other city where the person lived the past life. And the child will take around and identify things and talk about well, that house didn't used to have a porch on it, and so forth, and loved only five people in places. And they will not only have the information, but show the appropriate emotions towards the people that they knew in the past life
Alex Ferrari 49:40
That's just a wonder you've been doing this for 50 years. I mean, it's just it just keeps going and going and go and can you just discuss a little bit about the transformative power of an NDE to people who who expect means that they go in one way or they come out the other at the other end.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 50:03
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, well, I'm a psychiatrist, I make my living trying to help people make changes in their lives. And for that reason, this is the most important aspect to me of a near death experience. It's not the experience itself, as mind blowing as that is, but it's how it changes people. And it changes them dramatically, forever. I've talked to people in the 80s and 90s, who had the experience as teenagers, and it's like, it happened yesterday, they've never gone back to the way they were before. And the most common thing you hear is that they're no longer afraid of death and dying. Now, when I first heard that, as a psychiatrist, I was worried if we tell people about this, that death is not something to be afraid of. That's going to make people suicidal, isn't it? So I did some some research. And I interviewed people who are admitted to my hospital after a suicide attempt. I compared those who had a near death experience as a result of that suicide attempt. And those who didn't. And then once they were an age with experience, were much less suicidal afterwards than people who didn't have an N D. And that seemed counterintuitive to me. Because they're no longer afraid of dying. So I asked them what, explain that to me. And they said things like, I still have the same problems I had before. But now I see a meaning and purpose and everything that happens. And I realized my problems aren't something to be run away from the things I need to learn from and grow from. And they also say that if you're not afraid of dying, then you're also not afraid of living. You're not afraid of taking risks, because you know, nothing bad can happen. So I die, that's great. So you tend to enjoy life much more, you jump in with both feet, living to the fullest and tend to live in the in the present more. So people have very dramatic changes in attitudes, after a near death experience, I should say that this is to have a near death experience, not have a close brush with death without an end D. People who almost lose their lives, usually. And they value life much more. But if you haven't had an NDE, you tend to move much more cautious, much more afraid of losing this life. And you take fewer risks, because near death experiences are not fearful anymore. And they are more risk taking. This also affects their behavior, they tend to become much more spiritual, they say. They say I'm not more religious, I don't follow a particular dogma. But I'm much more spiritual. And what they mean by that is they become much more compassionate, and much more feeling connected to other people, not to other people, but to animals, to plants to the universe. They feel a part of something greater than themselves. And I've heard this not only from people who are religious beforehand, but people who are atheists beforehand, people who are agnostics beforehand, they've come away with a sense of being part of some spiritual realm spiritual universe that they weren't aware of before. And this changes their behavior as well. They become much more altruistic, much more caring, they tend to volunteer more, they tend to live more simply, they tend to care less about the physical world, which means not only material possessions, but power, prestige, fame, competition, these things don't make sense to them anymore. I've talked to many people who described career changes after an NDE, for example, people who were in careers that involve violence, police officers, military officers, who felt they couldn't shoot somebody anymore. And then again, up, retrained to some other other career, and they often end up going into a helping career, like health care, or teaching or social work or clergy. I've also talked to people who are cutthroat businessman who came back saying, it doesn't make any sense to get hit at someone else's expense, because I'm connected to them with the same thing. So I don't want to hurt them. And they either change the way they do their business or they leave business entirely. And again, go to some other other career. So it changes not only their attitudes, and their beliefs, but also the behavior. That's not all good. You know, sometimes people's lives are built around things that they no longer care about. I've seen marriages break up because of this, of course careers do and people have to change their entire lifestyle. And that can be quite stressful not only for the individual, but for their family as well.
Alex Ferrari 54:48
So what I find fascinating about you, Doc, is that you the way you talk about Andy's art is very and I don't mean this as an insult, Clint cold, but in a great way there is because I've spoken to nd ears, and there's a lot of times emotion and, and there's this, this, this vibe and this energy about them and they're just so passionate. But you are passionate in a very different way you're passionate about the exploration of the subject in a, in a very cool headed way. And I think that's what's wonderful about your approach to it is that I'm a scientist, I'm looking at it that way, I'm getting the benefits of the spirituality aspects of it, you can't be exposed to this much and not be affected somehow. But yet, the way you speak of it is just very, as a matter of fact, like, one plus one is two, it's I mean, I've studied one plus ones and that the equal to So that's so it's wonderful and refreshing the way you approach it.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 55:53
Yeah. Well, someone like Eben Alexander, who I know quite well started out as, as a clinician, he was a doctor and a scientist as I did. But once he had his experience, he came back with a certainty unknowing. Right, and that changes is to her life. And I don't have that. I don't have that certainty. So I'm still in the framework of the clinician trying to help people about this experience. And trying to understand it as a scientist, you know, I think saying one on one is to is a good model. And yet, that's what makes to in this particular framework. In some other framework, it may not, there's no one or two. Exactly, exactly. So, you know, we, our logic comes from Aristotle, and things are either black or white, they can't be both, they can't be neither, it's got to be black or white. But Nagarjuna, in India, 500 years ago, came up with a fourfold type of logic is gonna be black. But it can be white, I think the black and white, or they can be neither. And that's a very different way of looking at the world. So our logic, our mathematics is just one way of making sense of the world. But it's not the only way.
Alex Ferrari 57:13
And from your experience, you're no longer fear, you have no fear of death.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 57:19
I say that, but I have bad moments too
Alex Ferrari 57:22
You're just like, maybe I don't want to try. I don't want to test the waters.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 57:29
You know, I'm a scientist, and scientists should know that everything we know, is tentative. We look back on what scientists thought 20 years ago, and we laugh at how naive they were. So how can you not think that scientists to and you just aren't going to laugh at what we think? Oh, absolutely. So you can't take what we think seriously? So, you know, I think this is the way things look to me. It looks to me as if the evidence says there is something after death. And it's not something to be scary, scared of. And yet, I know as a scientist, I could be misreading the information, the data could be misinterpreted. Maybe I'm not looking at it, right? Maybe there's new data coming down and 50 years from now that I've gotten contradict this. So I can't be sure of any of this stuff.
Alex Ferrari 58:14
I mean, quantum mechanics would have been laughed out 100 years ago. Yes, it was. And it was, as quantum mechanics would have been laughed at. And quantum physics all of that is it's an it's talked, I've talked to multiple scientists and PhDs about this, that I find that science is, in a way starting to catch up with what spirituality has been talking about for 1000s of years, these concepts of energy and that we are all energy. And like if you go down so far into our DNA into our cell structure, there's nothing literally nothing because we're our scopes are part of microscopes are so powerful now that we're just so there's like, why are we solid, then? If there's nothing there, then why are we solid? Then you start and then you start reading the old ancient texts of Yogi's and like, oh, yeah, yeah, he's gonna go through walls and go to places at the same time and these kinds of stories, you just like, wow. So can I always tell people like no matter what era and time man is in, it thinks it knows everything. Just this nature of the ego, essentially.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 59:26
We shouldn't be able to step back and say, now we're really fooling ourselves.
Alex Ferrari 59:31
Exactly. Now, I'm going to ask you a couple of questions. I ask all of my guests what are what is your mission in this life?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 59:49
I think it's to help people. But, you know, that's That's the mission I give myself. If I have a mission that was given to me some by somebody else I'm not aware of it. I think, you know, some some near death experiences told me that we came to this life with a contract that we agreed to before we came here. And I can say, I understand what you're saying, I can't relate it to my life, I don't feel that. I feel like I act as if I'm in control of what I'm doing. I choose to be a doctor, a healer, Albert, I may be wrong, I may have no say in this at all. It may be determined performance through my my birth, but it feels to me as if I'm doing it. So I think my mission is to help.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:40
And what is the ultimate purpose of life?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 1:00:54
Again, I have to go back to the what the Near Death Experiences telling me because in my experience, the purpose of life I can say intellectually, is to survive and to have children survive after. But in my experience, not as a scientist, but as a person. What gives most meaning to life? Is personal relationships, family, close friends, if you ask near death, experiencers they usually say, it's to love that we came here to learn how to love and I said, Well, wait, I mean, you're saying that the other world is full of love? Why do you need to come back here for it? See, because here, we have conflict. You don't have it over there. You need to learn to love in spite of the conflict. And that's why we came to the earth.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:46
Now, where can people find out more about you and your book and the work that you're doing sir?
Dr. Bruce Greyson 1:01:50
So the best place to start is probably my website, which is www.brucegreyson that's BruceGreyson.com. It's got information about the book, how to order it. It's been out for about a year in hardback it just came out in paperback this month, in the US and in the UK. And that house was resources there to other sources of information, links to other sites, and so forth.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:21
That's great. And I really do appreciate the work that you've been doing all these years. And I appreciate you writing the book and helping people just guide them a little bit on what your experiences are. And your your studies are, what happens when we pass on. And hopefully that helps us live a little bit better every day. So I appreciate you, my friend. Thank you so much.
Dr. Bruce Greyson 1:02:41
Thank you, Alex. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
Links and Resources
- After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond
- Dr. Bruce Greyson – Official Site
- Earthing.com: End Inflammation Today – Discover the Science-Based Healing Powers of Earthing/Grounding
- FREE Mindvalley Spiritual Masterclasses
- MUSE 2: The Brain Sensing Headband – Meditation Tracker Headset Device
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