For years now philosophers together with theologians have debated the issue of what happens when we die. In fact the earliest known reference to a near death experience is thought to be in Plato’s Republic. Here, an ordinary soldier, Er, suffers a near fatal injury on the battlefield, is revived on the funeral parlour and describes a journey from darkness to light accompanied by guides, a moment of judgement, feelings of peace and joy, and visions of extraordinary beauty and happiness. Since then there have been many other references to NDE in the historical literature and in particular a painting from the 15 century (see historical NDE).
What is interesting though is that although the subject of what happens at the end of life, has been largely an issue for debate by philosphers and theologians, now science is taking some strives in trying to investigate this, and hence help determine objectively the state of the human mind during the dying process.
Philosophy has also been important for the study of near death experiences as until recently it was perhaps one of the only sources of discussion on the nature of the human mind and its relationship with the brain. This is a topic that is very relevant to the study of NDE (see science).
It is hoped that in the coming years scientific exploration of issues such as the state of the human mind at the end of life and the relationship between the mind and the brain will help guide debates and understanding into this subject.