Near Death Experiences
Is there a life after death?

Successful Test of the Possibility
that Pam Reynolds Heard Normally
During Her NDE

©G.M. Woerlee, 2005–2023

A recent letter published by Rudolf Smit in the Journal of Near-Death Studies (2012), volume 30, pages 188-192, entitled "Failed Test of the Possibility that Pam Reynolds Heard Normally During Her NDE", is a charming expose of faulty logic, and lack of k nowledge of the actions of anesthetic drugs. The letter is in response to an article I published in the JNDS during 2011 (Woerlee 2011). This article clearly demonstrated how Pam Reynolds could have heard the clicking sounds of the sounds used to test her hearing nerve function during the now well-known operation performed to remove an aneurysm during 1991 (Sabom 1998). Many of the educated readers of the Journal of Near-Death Studies (JNDS) will certainly ignore the ingenuous illogic contained in this letter. Nonetheless, the faults in this letter are such that they require an adequate response. The long lead time of the JNDS is one of the reasons why this response is published on this website rather than as a reply in this journal.

The details of the Pam Reynolds case

Interested readers can read a detailed description and analysis of the Pam Reynolds case at The PAM REYNOLDS website.

The clicking sounds applied to her ears

In addition to normal clinical anesthesia monitoring, the surgical team monitored whether the brain surgery damaged her hearing nerves at the level of the brainstem using "Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potentials" (BAEPs). BAEP stimulation is a measurement of the AVERAGED response of her brainstem to clicking sounds applied to one ear through earphones placed in her ear canals and fixed firmly in place with tape. BAEP's are not a meaure of the depth of anesthesia, but are only a measure of whether the hearing nerves are intact, and not damaged by the surgeon (Dr. Spetzler) removing the giant aneurysm lying next to the brainstem. In fact BAEP's are very insensitive to the depth of anesthesia. The parameters of these clicking sounds applied to Pam Reynolds, as well as their manner of application have been well defined (see also this exact description on the Pam Reynolds website. They are:

Testing yourself whether Pam Reynolds could hear

The possibility that Pam Reynolds heard through normal means the sounds she reported having heard during her 1991 surgery is readily determined with a surprisingly simple test. This test is available to anyone with an internet connection, a computer running the Windows operating system, a good sound card, and good quality earphones or earplugs. The test uses a program called "Test Tone Generator", which is a shareware program providing a 30-day free trial. With this program it is possible to emulate the auditory stimuli used to induce BAEPs during Reynolds' general anesthesia and operation. Unfortunately, this program works only on Windows, and not on Macintosh / Apple computers.

Website for download: Click here for ESSER Audio website

What are the stimulus parameters to emulate with this program?

Instructions for setting up the parameters in Test Tone Generator, going from left to right, and top to bottom:

The next part of the test requires a simple adjustment of the computer sound volume. Go to the sound volume adjustment of the computer, and set the volume control at maximum. Unfortunately the sound reducing properties of the actual earphones used in the Reynolds case are not known, so all that can be done is to compromise with good quality earphones or earplugs.

So what did Smit say regarding this test?

Rudolf Smit and many others express surprise that Pam Reynolds never mentioned hearing these sounds. Those that have carried out the test procedure have noticed that reasonably clear hearing is possible, even though the clicking sounds are quite loud. However, Smit found the sounds extremely unpleasant, and remarked in his letter."

So I did the test, using conditions the same as Reynolds: 95-100 decibel clicks at the rate of 11 clicks per second in one ear and 40 decibel white noise in the other, which I increased to 50-60 decibels; then switched ears. I found that the clicking sounds became intolerable within a few seconds. These sounds created so much pressure on my eardrums that they even hurt me. Hence, I found them to be very irritating and thus impossible to filter out and ignore. Despite my resolve to stick with the test for at least a few minutes, I found it virtually impossible to persist for more than a few seconds.
So how Reynolds could have become habituated to these horrible sounds, and then under such dire circumstances as her life-threatening surgery, is beyond my comprehension. I am particularly perplexed when I consider that Pam Reynolds was a musician, a singer / songwriter whose life was devoted to beautiful, harmonious music. Whereas Woerlee alleged that "it is very reasonable to conclude that she may have been conscious at the time" (p. 15), heard through normal means, and habituated to the clicking sounds, I believe that if she had heard those horrible sounds, she would have gone mad on the operating table - and certainly would have remembered and reported the traumatic aural experience …..
(p. 188-189 in Smit 2012)

Apart from all that—yes, it is true: With a good-quality headphone that covered my entire ears, I was able to hear ambient sounds through those banging clicks that the Test Tone Generator software produced. (p. 189 in Smit 2012)

Smit went on to discuss his experiences and this test with others, who also found they could hear ambient sounds despite the clicking sounds. Chris Carter, one of the respondents told Smit that:

Note that if ambient noises were allowed into Pam's ears, that would mean the technician did not do his job. The white noise filtering is designed to filter out all other sounds, as the brainstem responds to changes in sound, not constant white noise. (p. 190 in Smit 2012)

Chris Carter is an author of several books promoting belief in the paranormal and the literal reality of NDE and OBE experiences. He studied economics and philosophy in Oxford. This seems to have also made him an expert on neurophysiology and the application of evoked potentials during posterior fossa neurosurgery - in this case BAEPs. It was actually NOT necessary to totally occlude the ears in Pam Reynolds case. BAEPs, in common with all other evoked potentials are products of averaging the brainstem responses from not one click, or stimulus, but are a result of averaging 10's or hundreds of clicks. This averages out the noise, so revealing the typical evoked potential waveform. Total occlusion was not needed, although it can result in a response requiring fewer stimuli. But for the purposes of practical surgery, and determining whether brainstem or auditory nerve damage occurred, (the main prupose of the BAEPs), airtight, soundproof seals are not required.

Summing up - Smit found the experience unpleasant, but he and others who tried the test could hear ambient sounds. However, he could not understand why Pam Reynolds did not mention the clicking sounds or go mad .... However his letter did reveal the main point of the test - she could hear.

Pam Reynolds could hear and did not go mad

As the citations from the letter of Smit, together with the reactions of Kris Key and Michael Prescott in the same letter, reveals that this hearing test demonstrates the possibility of hearing the sounds of speech and music despite the noise of the clicking sounds. The sounds are unpleasant and irritating. But so what? None of the the people criticizing and performing this test are 35 year-old female musicians undergoing brain surgery, whose brains are affected by anesthetic drugs. The test simply reveals that it is possible to hear ambient sounds despite the clicking sounds being applied as described. No more, no less.

Smit claims Pam Reynolds would have gone mad on the operating table if she had heard these sounds. The answer to this is evident. Pam Reynolds did not go insane as a result of these sounds, nor was she rendered deaf in one ear as a result of these sounds. After all, subsequent to her operation, she continued her continued her musical career. The same applies to all operations performed in the Barrow Institute. If people become deaf and insane due to these sounds, then many hundreds / thousands of patients treated at the Barrow Institute will have departed cured of their aneurysms, but insane, and deaf in one or more of their ears. Did this happen - NO. This is a case of "get real" - these stimuli, while unpleasant to normally conscious persons, are insufficient to induce significant hearing damage, and insufficient to cause insanity.

Why did Pam Reynolds not report hearing the sounds?

Some believers in the literal reality of the visonary material in OBEs and NDEs, claim that the disembodied soul / mind of Pam Reynolds heard the sounds of the speech around her, the music, the drill and the saw, with some form of paranormal perception, but that somehow her soul did NOT hear the clicking of the BAEP stimuli. But why did she NOT also hear the clicking sounds of the BAEP stimuli with her soul? After all, these clicking sounds were loud, and as equally physical as those of the drill, saw, speech and music. Such selective perception by the soul is inexplicable, and adds another "metaphorical epicycle" to the mind-model of dualism. This means only the mind-model of materialism has an adequate answer....

Prior to her awakening due to the noise and vibrations of the Midas-Rex drill, Pam Reynolds was under general anesthesia, and these clicking sounds were administered continually beforehand. So she filtered these sounds out as irrelevant background noise. She concentrated on the significant new sounds. This is much like hearing a conversation in a noisy airplane or automobile - you filter out, or ignore the external noises. Pam Reynolds was conscious and experiencing the conscious mental effects of sub-anesthetic concentrations of the anesthetic drugs. This was why she experienced no discomfort from the sounds and had rather selective memory. Just consider the mental effects of subanesthetic effects of the opium / morphine like drug "sufentanil" administered in reasonably high concentration to Pam Reynolds. People do not get addicted to morphine or morphine-like drugs because they are unpleasant. They get addicted to these drugs because they induce painlessness, tranquility, pleasure and even transcendental experiences in about one third to one third of all people. These effects have been known for centuries. Just read the experience of a morphine-rush described during 1895 by the physician William Cobbe.

I say dreams, because there was one after another, and one chased into the other; then they would get mixed up in a queer fashion, but they were all delightful and bewitching. Now, I was in the midst of flowers whose fragrance fairly intoxicated me; then among airy-like structures, whose towers and minarets pierced the crimson and purple cloud islands that floated high in a sky of deepest blue. Forms of enchanting loveliness passed in and out, while music from unseen voices was as the songs of angels. The scene changed rapidly without shock to my highly sensitized nerves; the impossible and unusual became substantial and natural. I stood on an island of emerald green, looking out upon an opalescent sea of sublime tranquility, upon which men of stately mien walked as upon dry land; then I was suddenly transferred to a mountain peak, where I saw all the kingdoms of the world, with their pleasures and riches, without a suggestion of the sorrows and afflictions that beset humanity. I saw the faces of loved ones lit up with ineffable happiness as they pleasantly conversed with me; it did not occur to me until after the waking that these were the forms of those who had been called hence during my childhood, youth, and younger manhood. They were living and real; yet their manner and speech were not those of the living. These and a thousand other visions floated before the dream eyes of the quickened but disordered brain; but the sensations were in the highest degree pleasurable and the delirium was one of ever-changing joy. (pages 103-104 in Cobbe 1895)

William Cobbe also called morphine and all other morphine like drugs as the "Judas drug", saying; "Opium is the Judas of drugs; it kisses and then betrays" (title page in Cobbe 1895). The pleasurable cognitive, affective and transcendental effects of nitrous oxide and other anesthetic gases are known, and have been used by addicts of therse drugs for 200 years. These known properties of the nitrous oxide and isoflurane administered to Pam Reynolds almost certainly also contributed to Pam Reynolds ignoring these loud clicking sounds (Note I will give no references to these studies, as a detailed discussion of these drug effects is in the book "Illusory Souls" together with hundreds of references to scientific studies describing and analyzing these effects) . This was why Pam Reynolds felt calm and unconcerned, even imagining her mind functioned faster than normal.

Pam Reynolds was a musician

This brings us to a discussion of the fact that Pam Reynolds was a musician. Scientific studies of hearing despite loud intermittent or clicking noises, such as the clicking sounds applied to Pam Reynolds reveal she was better able than non-musicians to distinguish the sounds of speech and music despite the presence of these clicking sounds.

These, and many more human studies reveal why Pam Reynolds musical training was the reason she was able to hear and understand significant sounds better than other people during her periods of awareness.


The conclusion is clear and evident. All these things reveal that to call my test of the ability of Pam Reynolds to hear during a period of anesthetic awareness was far from being a "Failed Test of the Possibility that Pam Reynolds Heard Normally During Her NDE". Instead, as the title of this website states, it was a Successful Test of the Possibility that Pam Reynolds Heard Normally During Her NDE. The effects of subanesthetic concentrations of anesthetic drugs and her musical training clearly explain why she was able to hear and felt the way she described. Smit, and several other critics of this test, simply fail to understand the differences between themselves as conscious persons, and the situation of Pam Reynolds. Pam Reynolds was a musician with superior auditory processing abilities. She experienced the effects of subanesthetic concentrations of several anesthetic drugs, was conscious, and tried to find meaning in the sounds she heard with her superior auditory processing abilities. And she did. She heard the sounds of speech and "Hotel California". As for the sounds of the Midas-Rex apparatus - she would have heard these through bone conduction regardless of any other sounds. Once again I am indebted to Rudolf Smit and other critics of my work for providing me clues to the solutions of these fascinating problems and conundrums, each of which reveals yet more fascinating facets of, and insights into human body function.


Anesthesia & the Soul is an important new, and free, online book discussing the reality of the soul from the evidence revealed by anesthesia.

Near-Death Experiences
Pam Reynolds
Other NDEs
Cardiac Arrest & NDEs


Mortal Minds is a step-by-step analysis of near-death experiences revealing the unlikelihod of a human soul with the properties as revealed by NDEs and OBEs. (Published 2005, and available worldwide as printed book, as well as electronic Kindle format from Amazon)