A new book is once again shining light on the phenomena known as near death experiences. Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives by Mario Beauregard attempts to take the mystery out of the human organ that controls our very existence. One of the main points covered in the book is the idea of the near death experience and what causes it.
A near death experience is defined as a personal experience associated with impending death, encompassing multiple possible sensations including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light. Many individuals who undergo a near death experience attribute the sensations to their own brand of religion; ie. seeing angels, identifying the light as that of heaven or an after world or becoming one with the universe.
Most near death experiences are reported after an individual has been pronounced clinically dead (explained as when the heart stops pumping blood) or has been very close to death. With recent developments in cardiac resuscitation techniques, the number of reported near death experiences has increased. No one in history has ever been completely dead as in the cells of the brain dying as a result of a lack of oxygen and resurrected. That is impossible.
So if individuals that go through a near death experience aren’t seeing the bright light of the after world or becoming one with the universe, then what is happening? Science may have found the answer.
Brain Wars cites several studies that have been performed over the years on why individuals go through near death experiences, and many of them offer keen scientific reasons behind the phenomena; many are featured in an article derived from Brain Wars on Salon. The main problem when studying near death experiences is that they are so subjective. It’s impossible to have a control group for something that is only experienced by the person going through the experience.
One of the most interesting studies involved scientists affecting the angular gyrus, a region of the brain in the parietal lobe. The angular gyrus is thought to integrate vision, balance and touch in such a way as to give an individual a sense of themself. When the angular gyrus was stimulated, the subject reported seeing herself “lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk.” The subject also reported herself as floating near the ceiling.
Out of body experiences usually go hand in hand with near death experiences. Before individuals see the “white light” they associate with an afterlife, they often describe themselves floating around whatever room they’re in, perhaps seeing the doctors work on them or seeing their loved ones trying to assist them.
In 2013, a study published in Nature found that when brain activity in rats was studied in relation to near death experiences, brain function actually spiked during what scientists refer to as the final active stage of death. Brain activity during that stage not only closely resembles an awake, conscious brain, but might even resemble a heightened state of conscious awareness similar to the “highly lucid and realer-than-real mental experiences reported by near-death survivors.”
In attempting to de-mystify the brain, Brain Wars not only spotlights physical, real world reasons for things many individuals may find “supernatural.” However, in the process, the book also reveals that despite the immense amount of information scientists have learned about the human mind, there is still much to be uncovered.
image via Classic Christianity