Some people seem to have experiences that go beyond the normal life we all know. They have visions, dreams or deep mystical experiences.
We may think that these experiences are reserved for gurus on mountain tops, saints in their prayer cells, wild-eyed prophets or orange-robed monks. But it turns out that these experiences are more common than that. Sometimes they happen to very ordinary people
But are they genuine experiences of the divine? Or are they the product of suggestible minds? Or even urban myths?
You may be surprised to know that some of these experiences have been investigated, documented and studied scientifically, with interesting results.
Visions of Jesus?: Muslims (in particular), Hindus and Sikhs report they have had visions of Jesus, where he speaks to them, leading them to convert to Christianity. Christians and sceptics in western countries also report visionary experiences, often accompanied by healing. Some of these claims have been documented and investigated.
Mystical experiences: People of all religions and none have reported having deep and meaningful experiences that took them beyond themselves. Sometimes the experience seems to be of God being close to them, sometimes it is an increased awareness of reality. The experiences have been studied by psychologists and neuroscientists.
Near death experiences (NDEs): Some people who survive cardiac arrest tell the most amazing stories of out-of-body experiences. Neuroscientists have investigated this phenomenon and cannot yet agree on how to understand them. I assess the different viewpoints and draw some tentative conclusions.