Deathbed visions

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cyril
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Deathbed visions

Post by cyril » Sun Jul 08, 2018 9:12 pm

There is plenty of anecdotical evidence about dying people reporting visions of deceased relatives and friends being present at their side. I wonder how that fits into the dying process as described in the Bardo Thodol literature, as it obviously occurs before the dissolution of the physical senses and the alteration of consciousness which accompanies that. In some cases, the visions occur days, even weeks before the moment of death.

Are these visions entirely hallucinatory in nature? If so, then how come the hallucinating brain perceives only deceased known people? One would expect such hallucinations to be quite random and dissimilar just the way the content of the dreams varies greatly from person to person. Besides, it is apparently not uncommon for dying people to report visions of persons who were thought to be still living at the time of the apparitions only later to be discovered that they were in fact dead at that time. Therefore, conversely, if such visions are not entirely hallucinations, what exactly is that which the dying perceive?
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Aryjna
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by Aryjna » Mon Jul 09, 2018 4:18 pm

Maybe their clarity is somewhat increased as they are starting to be less conditioned by the body. Or it is just hallucinations.

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justsit
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by justsit » Mon Jul 09, 2018 5:16 pm

From a strictly physiological, Western medicine point of view, the "normal" process of death includes increasing hypoxia with decreasing levels of oxygen in the body and increasing levels of carbon dioxide. Hallucinations are a well known and documented effect of hypoxia. Other chemical levels are increased as organs begin to shut down, nitrogen due to kidney failure, etc., and this can also affect the brain. This is an interesting article on the process https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... ear-death/; it notes elevated levels of dopamine can stimulate memory, which might explain "seeing relatives."

As an aside, once I was giving blood at the blood bank, and the process was taking forever. My blood pressure had been low borderline to begin with, and apparently dropped off as blood was taken. I began to have tunnel vision, a large circle of light surrounded by darkness, gradually closing as it receded in my view. On some level, I knew that when the light was gone, I would be dead. It was neither unpleasant nor painful; I felt no distress. The nurse came to check my pressure; it was 60/40. She stopped the procedure and initiated a protocol for excessive blood loss. It turned out fine. I did not hallucinate, not that I can remember anyway.

I later worked as a hospice nurse and had quite a few dying patients who pointed out deceased persons or angels in the room.

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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by pemachophel » Mon Jul 09, 2018 7:49 pm

Cyril,

It's all just hallucinations.
Pema Chophel པདྨ་ཆོས་འཕེལ

4526547
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by 4526547 » Mon Jul 09, 2018 11:15 pm

justsit wrote:
Mon Jul 09, 2018 5:16 pm
From a strictly physiological, Western medicine point of view, the "normal" process of death includes increasing hypoxia with decreasing levels of oxygen in the body and increasing levels of carbon dioxide. Hallucinations are a well known and documented effect of hypoxia. Other chemical levels are increased as organs begin to shut down, nitrogen due to kidney failure, etc., and this can also affect the brain. This is an interesting article on the process https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... ear-death/; it notes elevated levels of dopamine can stimulate memory, which might explain "seeing relatives.
Some research* has shown that the endogenous psychedelic DMT robustly increases the survival of certain brain cells in severe hypoxia and alleviates the cellular stress induced by it.

It is speculated that DMT could be endogenously generated in situations of hypoxic stress as a protective mechanism. Near-death is one such case, which lends credence to the similarities observed between Near-Death Experiences and experiences with DMT.

* Source: The Endogenous Hallucinogen and Trace Amine N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) Displays Potent Protective Effects against Hypoxia via Sigma-1 Receptor Activation in Human Primary iPSC-Derived Cortical Neurons and Microglia-Like Immune Cells

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cyril
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by cyril » Tue Jul 10, 2018 2:50 am

4526547 wrote:
Mon Jul 09, 2018 11:15 pm
justsit wrote:
Mon Jul 09, 2018 5:16 pm
From a strictly physiological, Western medicine point of view, the "normal" process of death includes increasing hypoxia with decreasing levels of oxygen in the body and increasing levels of carbon dioxide. Hallucinations are a well known and documented effect of hypoxia. Other chemical levels are increased as organs begin to shut down, nitrogen due to kidney failure, etc., and this can also affect the brain. This is an interesting article on the process https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... ear-death/; it notes elevated levels of dopamine can stimulate memory, which might explain "seeing relatives.
Some research* has shown that the endogenous psychedelic DMT robustly increases the survival of certain brain cells in severe hypoxia and alleviates the cellular stress induced by it.

It is speculated that DMT could be endogenously generated in situations of hypoxic stress as a protective mechanism. Near-death is one such case, which lends credence to the similarities observed between Near-Death Experiences and experiences with DMT.

* Source: The Endogenous Hallucinogen and Trace Amine N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) Displays Potent Protective Effects against Hypoxia via Sigma-1 Receptor Activation in Human Primary iPSC-Derived Cortical Neurons and Microglia-Like Immune Cells
In this case, what could best explain the recurring pattern of these visions? When oxygen-deprived or on DMT, people usually hallucinate about a wide range of crazy things. Whereas the dying seem to report only visions of deceased persons, angels and demons. I never came across any report on seeing Egyptian gods or midgets picking mushrooms on the floor or Liberace playing piano on the ceiling.
"You have to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have got to make it out of."
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justsit
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by justsit » Tue Jul 10, 2018 12:21 pm

Without being a specialist in neuropharmacology, I can only speculate that perhaps the varied chemicals produced during the dying process could stimulate different areas of the brain, producing particular types of hallucinations. I have no idea how one would go about researching this, as there is no way to obtain data except in real time, and there is no way to receive objective info from the patient. Once the person is dead, the chemistry is altered and then stops completely.

In my hospice experience, there were several deaths that could be called "difficult" due to obvious suffering and distress. One involved a young man who had been a drug/alcohol addict, gotten clean, had a fiance, a job, and a new house; things were looking up. He then developed a very aggressive bone cancer and had exhausted all treatments. His "actively dying" process could only be described as terrible - he was angry, lucid, and fighting. That was the worst death I saw.

Another man had severe scruples and was convinced he was going to hell. He, too, struggled, but at the very end his eyes got very wide, his face relaxed and lit up as though seeing something wonderful. Who can really say what's going on with these things, though?

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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by fckw » Tue Jul 10, 2018 9:37 pm

I never have "visions" or anything alike, I don't believe that there exist siddhis. I even doubt the highly elaborate models given in Tibetan Buddhism about the dying process. However, when my grandfather died I could "see" quite a few "people" gathered around the deathbed. And not just "people", also other "beings" like little sparrows. There was also one particular being who my mind presented to me as Ramana Maharshi. Of course it was not him (the historical one is dead), but that was the only model my mind was ready to formulate. I never told this anyone, and of course this is not a proof of anything at all. Nevertheless, it's an interesting phenomenon.

In short: Not only the dying can have deathbed visions, also the ones present there.

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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by cyril » Tue Jul 10, 2018 11:01 pm

fckw wrote:
Tue Jul 10, 2018 9:37 pm

In short: Not only the dying can have deathbed visions, also the ones present there.
Indeed. There are such cases described in Sir William Barrett’s book “Deathbed visions” and, a bit closer to our days, documented by Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson. Which brings back into discussion the assumed hallucinatory nature of these experiences.
"You have to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have got to make it out of."
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by fckw » Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:33 am

What I find odd is the simple assumption that the visions are either real or not, either hallucinations or not. Tertium non datur. Our inability to even consider a third option is striking. Of course if I see something it is subjectively real but perhaps objectively unreal. Hence, we lack language to designate fully whether it is ultimately real now or unreal.

The silly materialism some researchers have (or idealism some esotericists have) is obviously not deep enough to really capture what’s going on during the death process.

Imagine this: A person while working at the computer on a boring Tuesday morning sees a bright light or hears a voice. This has a remarkable impact on him/her and causes a massive change in light. Was the appearance now real or not? Measured by the impact it was very real indeed.

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cyril
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by cyril » Wed Jul 11, 2018 9:25 am

fckw wrote:
Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:33 am
What I find odd is the simple assumption that the visions are either real or not, either hallucinations or not. Tertium non datur. Our inability to even consider a third option is striking. Of course if I see something it is subjectively real but perhaps objectively unreal. Hence, we lack language to designate fully whether it is ultimately real now or unreal.

The silly materialism some researchers have (or idealism some esotericists have) is obviously not deep enough to really capture what’s going on during the death process.

Imagine this: A person while working at the computer on a boring Tuesday morning sees a bright light or hears a voice. This has a remarkable impact on him/her and causes a massive change in light. Was the appearance now real or not? Measured by the impact it was very real indeed.
IMO, it all comes down to whether there is some objective stimulus "out there" which causes the vision or not. If there is, then the vision should be regarded, at least conventionally speaking, as real regardless how biased or subjectively that external stimulus is perceived. Conversely, if there is no such stimulus in the external space, then we can safely state that the vision is only a hallucination regardless how vivid the perception was or how deep its impact upon the perceiver. And, in the conventional reality we routinely operate, one such external stimulus can either exist or not exist at a given moment; maybe I'm being thick but I don't see how a third possibility could be empirically proven.
"You have to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have got to make it out of."
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by fckw » Wed Jul 11, 2018 4:31 pm

The distinction between internal and external ist just as simplistic. In fact, it is redundant to the distinction between inside and outside, real and unreal and so in.
Our inability to even consider a third option, I.e. something that is neither or both, is just revealing. For example the outside appearing as an internal event is obviously both inside and outside at the same time. The believe that there can be internal events that have no outside event is obvious nonsense because internal and external are defined mutually. Just because the external event is not properly defined does not mean it’s not there at all.

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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by Aryjna » Sun Aug 12, 2018 6:51 pm

This is a good and concise book that describes the dying process, and can possibly give some insight in this matter.

Image

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cyril
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by cyril » Mon Aug 13, 2018 7:27 am

Aryjna wrote:
Sun Aug 12, 2018 6:51 pm
This is a good and concise book that describes the dying process, and can possibly give some insight in this matter.

Image
Thanks, Aryjna. Yes, I read that book a while ago; indeed, it describes concisely the dying process and the four bardos exactly the same way many other books on the same subject do. The problem is, I don't see the death-bed visions phenomenon (at least the way it is reported throughout the Western world) fitting neatly into the scheme of the Tibetan narrative.

According to the traditional literature, as the wind element dissolves, the consciousness becomes agitated and wild, turbulent visions arise; the virtuous tend to have comforting visions while the wrong-doers have terrifying ones. It would be tempting perhaps to attribute the death-bed visions I was talking about to this very process. However, if I'm not mistaken, the dissolution of the wind-element occurs just shortly before the moment of clinical death, whereas the death-bed visions of deceased friends and relatives are sometimes reported days, even weeks before the actual death. Sometimes, the dying person experiences a surge in mental clarity and physical health for a brief period between the time of the visions and the moment of actual death, something which I find hard to square with the dissolution of the elements.
"You have to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have got to make it out of."
- Robert Penn Warren -

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Aryjna
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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by Aryjna » Mon Aug 13, 2018 7:41 am

cyril wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 7:27 am
Aryjna wrote:
Sun Aug 12, 2018 6:51 pm
This is a good and concise book that describes the dying process, and can possibly give some insight in this matter.

Image
Thanks, Aryjna. Yes, I read that book a while ago; indeed, it describes concisely the dying process and the four bardos exactly the same way many other books on the same subject do. The problem is, I don't see the death-bed visions phenomenon (at least the way it is reported throughout the Western world) fitting neatly into the scheme of the Tibetan narrative.

According to the traditional literature, as the wind element dissolves, the consciousness becomes agitated and wild, turbulent visions arise; the virtuous tend to have comforting visions while the wrong-doers have terrifying ones. It would be tempting perhaps to attribute the death-bed visions I was talking about to this very process. However, if I'm not mistaken, the dissolution of the wind-element occurs just shortly before the moment of clinical death, whereas the death-bed visions of deceased friends and relatives are sometimes reported days, even weeks before the actual death. Sometimes, the dying person experiences a surge in mental clarity and physical health for a brief period between the time of the visions and the moment of actual death, something which I find hard to square with the dissolution of the elements.
Visions days before death do not seem to fit, so they may be irrelevant and simply hallucinations as has been said above.

The bardo of dying is defined as starting when the person contracts the disease that is going to kill them though, which means that people in a hospital bed are already in the bardo of dying, even if they still have days left until death. Also, according to the descriptions in the book, it seems likely that the terrifying visions etc. occur only after the breath has stopped, or almost simultaneously, so that the person appears already dead when that happens and one cannot see them being scared or happy. They are already completely unconscious, and when they 'wake up' to continue in the bardo, the body is already dead. This is not very clear though so I may have misunderstood. In addition, it is said that this process may differ significantly between persons depending on their circumstances.

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Re: Deathbed visions

Post by Aryjna » Mon Aug 13, 2018 7:57 am

cyril wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 7:27 am
Sometimes, the dying person experiences a surge in mental clarity and physical health for a brief period between the time of the visions and the moment of actual death, something which I find hard to square with the dissolution of the elements.
There are two points in the description of death in the book I posted where a revival or sudden mental clarity is possible.

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