“Life is a near-death experience.”
— George Carlin
Most people have heard the expression “near-death experience” and many know someone who has had the experience of seeing their life’s memories flash by, observing their body while floating above it, meeting dead relatives and other activities while their physical body appeared to be dying. While some doctors believed it to be real, a majority looked at the NDE as a hallucination caused by the brain trying to reduce the shock of death. What none of them did was study it … until now. Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, and director of the Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Research Program at NYU Langone, led such a study and co-authored “Guidelines and standards for the study of death and recalled experiences of death,” published recently in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
“Resuscitation science has enabled life to be restored to millions of people after their hearts had stopped. These survivors have described a unique set of recollections in relation to death that appear universal.”
Dr. Parnia’s team of researchers came from neuroscience, critical care, psychiatry, psychology, social sciences, humanities and other disciplines. They knew that science now shows that brain cells can survive and function for hours or even days after the heart stops beating and oxygen deprivation begins. This allows people who seem to be dead to be ‘brought back to life’ with their brains healthy enough to recollect and retell, if possible, what they ‘saw’ or experienced during that time. By studying the vast database of these recounted experiences, Parnia and his time found a number of commonalities.
“The recalled experiences surrounding death are not consistent with hallucinations, illusions, or psychedelic drug–induced experiences, according to several previously published studies. Instead, they follow a specific narrative arc involving a perception of (a) separation from the body with a heightened, vast sense of consciousness and recognition of death; (b) travel to a destination; (c) a meaningful and purposeful review of life, involving a critical analysis of all actions, intentions, and thoughts towards others; a perception of (d) being in a place that feels like “home”; and (e) a return back to life.”
Do those sound like most accounts of near-death experiences? In a press release, Parnia explains that that gamma activity and electrical spikes measured by electroencephalography (EEG) often indicate the same signs as a heightened state of consciousness during the time of the NDE. That was proven earlier this year when an unnamed man in Estonia died while on a continuous EEG machine during a seizure and doctors were able to inadvertently record the activity of a dying human brain for the first time. Those brain waves matched the oscillations of a brain in memory retrieval , information processing, and conscious perception – the same activities seen in memory flashbacks.
Is this new study further proof of near-death experiences like memories flashing before one’s eyes? Parnia says it’s impossible to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of near-death experiences, but it’s also impossible to disclaim them either.
“Few studies have explored what happens when we die in an objective and scientific way, but these findings offer intriguing insights into how consciousness exists in humans and may pave the way for further research.”
We should be grateful for those who share their near-death experiences. Not everyone is so open.
“It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens”
– Woody Allen