It’s hard to imagine anything more mysterious and subjective than a near-death experience, commonly referred to as a NDE. So it may be surprising to learn that they are the subject of many serious studies.

So what does a NDE look and feel like? There are thousands upon thousands of descriptions, all of which show striking similarities between different people’s experiences — the white light, a tunnel, a life review and sense of peace — so there does seem to exist a unifying thread throughout. We asked experts to weigh in on some of the most common themes of the near-death experience.

What is a NDE?

“Well, of course there are two basic explanations,” said Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. “One is the religious or spiritual one, that the person’s soul or spirit has actually gone on to some other world, and we have to at least admit that as a possibility.” The other explanation is that it “might be a loss of the sense of self, an out-of-body experience, a seeing of a light or a tunnel, and there may be specific areas of the brain that contribute to a person having” this experience.

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