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BRIEF PROPOSAL "PERITHAN EXPERIENCE": NAMING THE BEYOND DOUGLAS P. HOBSON* Man's pursuit of knowledge about Ufe after death has taken him into many areas and strange, unexplored frontiers of human experience. Fettered frequently by a nagging fear of death and yet goaded by his persistent curiosity of the mysterious, man has in some fashion found ways of familiarizing himself with death. In this attempt to approach and understand death man has discussed , studied, and even experimented with death. Such procedures have included photographing the body at the precise moment ofdeath to document the departure ofthe spirit or "astral body" as well as weighing the body at death with similar hopes [I]. More recently the literature, both medical and popular, has seen an increase in awareness about the feelings and experiences of the terminaUy ill and those at the point ofdeath. Cautiously, reluctantly at times, individuals have shared some of the events which surround diem in the death process. These have been popularized in two recent books by philosopher-physician Raymond A. Moody [2, 3]. Commonly the experiences encountered include an "out-of-body" condition in which the person feels as though he or she is spiritually embodied and painlessly detached from the physical form. Whisked through a dark tunnel the individual next meets a "being of light," who generates a feeling ofwarmth and acceptance. Ofcourse, in the cases related by Moody the individuals are revived and find themselves back in the flesh. Persons who undergo phenomena lying outside of science such as this frequendy have some difficulty in relating what has happened to them to others and are often, openly or subdy, ridiculed for maintaining the reality of their experience. Sensing these attitudes from others, writes Moody, persons who have had transcendent experiences usually are reluctant to relate them very openly. It is little wonder, then, diat as terminal care has improved, with individuals feeling freer to communicate meir experiences, more should naturally be brought into the open. Physicians who have been confronted with this find it difficult in trying to classify these phenomena. In some ways it seems no less true for today than in the past that a certain power or control over something is felt to be gained ifone cart name or know the name ofa being or thing. Certainly in our age of scientific»9814 Boxford Court, Louisville, Kentucky 40222. Permission to reprint this brief proposal may be obtained only from the author. 626 I Douglas P. Hobson · BriefProposal sophistication, an age where such near-death experiences are not easily explained and categorized, it is perhaps this vestigial belief that comforts us so when, even if we cannot understand and master the mysterious, we can at least name it. Moody refers to the phenomena as "life after life" or "near-death experiences." However, he is not the first to tag a name to these events. In fact, one must go back to Frederic W. H. Myers who, in 1903, called this a "transitional dream," with emphasis on the temporary lack of adjustment between experiences taking place in such different environments [4]. Robert Crookall, who has collected about 55 stories of those thought or pronounced medically dead, has likewise coined the phrase "pseudo-death" to describe this condition. He insists that there are many gradations between this state of "pseudo-death" and actual death [5]. Another writer has metaphorically named this event a "vestibule experience" [6]. The difficulty in the naming process, it seems, lies in die indistinct and vague notions of what we consider "deadi" to be. Many would criticize that these persons were not actually dead, in which case Crookall's "pseudo-death" would likely be most appropriate. To the extent that this phenomenon represents a change from one state or plane of existence to another the terms "transitional dream" or "vestibule experience" may be applicable. Yet, because of the elusive nature of the definition of death, and in view of its inevitable pleomorphic characteristics in the future—as we further stumble onto medical and technological advancements in lifesaving and lifeprolongation—any term or phrase we use in naming the phenomenon with reference to the exact instant ofdeath, is likely to be amended in...


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