For decades François d’Adesky, a retired diplomat and civil servant who now lives in Brussels, spoke to no one about his near-death experience (NDE). It happened at the age of 13, when he was hospitalized for acute appendicitis. D’Adesky vividly recalls seeing his body on the operating table and then passing through a tunnel, where he met strange beings who radiated luminosity and goodness. “Your time has not come,” an older being, whom d’Adesky intuited was God, told him. “You have not undertaken your Earth mission.”

Then d’Adesky perceived traveling “at breakneck speed through time and space, back to the beginning of the creation of the world,” he says. He eventually arrived at a gardenlike paradise where spiritual beings—one of whom was his deceased grandmother, another a childhood friend who had died at the age of five—communicated telepathically with him. D’Adesky’s grandmother took him by the hand and led him back into the clinic, where he woke up in his body in excruciating pain.

D’Adesky spent his adult life striving to discover what his special mission was. Eventually he came to see it as the role he played in “making the world a better place,” he says. That included helping, as an official with the United Nations, to get a key resolution passed at the 2011 U.N. Climate Change Conference. It wasn’t until a few years later, though, when NDEs were entering the public discourse more often, that he started sharing the story of his pivotal experience beyond his immediate family. “I had been afraid for my reputation,” he says.

Near-death experiences have been reported across time and cultures. An astounding 5 to 10 percent of the general population is estimated to have memories of an NDE, including somewhere between 10 and 23 percent of cardiac arrest survivors. A growing number of scholars now accept NDEs as a unique mental state that can offer novel insights into the nature of consciousness. “Now, clearly, we don’t question anymore the reality of near-death experiences,” says Charlotte Martial, a neuroscientist at the University of Liège in Belgium. “People who report an experience really did experience something.”

Those who undergo an NDE also return with “this noetic quality from the experience, which very often changes their life,” adds neuroscientist Christof Koch of the Allen Institute in Seattle, who writes about NDEs and other states of consciousness in his 2024 book, Then I Am Myself the World. “They know what they’ve seen.”

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