As the only stage in an NDE that involves perceiving the physical rather than the spiritual world, an out-of-body experience has the most potential to convince skeptics. If you could prove that someone saw or heard things that brain science says they could not have seen or heard, you would have, at the very least, evidence that our understanding of the brain is even more incomplete than we thought, and at most, a sign that a conscious mind can exist apart from a living body.
As a result, reports of veridical perception have a totemic significance among NDErs. One of the most celebrated is the story of “Maria,” a migrant worker who had an NDE during a cardiac arrest at a hospital in Seattle in 1977. She later told her social worker that while doctors were resuscitating her, she found herself floating outside the hospital building and saw a tennis shoe on a third-floor window ledge, which she described in some detail. The social worker went to the window Maria had indicated, and not only found the shoe but said that the way it was placed meant there was no way Maria could have seen all the details she described from inside her hospital room.
That social worker, Kimberly Clark Sharp, is now a bubbly 60-something with a shock of frizzy hair who acted as my informal press officer during the conference. She and her story are an IANDS institution; I heard several people refer to “the case of Maria’s shoe” or just “the tennis-shoe case.” But while Maria’s shoe certainly makes for a compelling story, it’s thin on the evidential side. A few years after being treated, Maria disappeared, and nobody was able to track her down to further confirm her story.
A case with a lot more evidence is that of Pam Reynolds, a singer-songwriter. In 1991 Reynolds, then 35, underwent surgery to remove a huge aneurysm at the base of her brain. Worried that the aneurysm might burst and kill her during the operation, her surgeon opted for the radical move of “hypothermic cardiac arrest”—chilling her body to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, stopping her heart, and draining the blood from her head. The cooling would prevent her cells from dying while deprived of oxygen. When the doctors restarted her heart and warmed her body back up, she would, in effect, be rebooted.