Near-death experiences can be explained by physiological factors

light at the end of the tunnelNear-death experiences (NDE), like hovering over one’s body or meeting deceased relatives and friends, are mind games rather than insights into the afterlife, claim British scientists.

Psychologists from the University of Edinburgh and the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Britain concluded that those who “die” and come back to life describe experiences that are merely “dysfunctional manifestations of physiological brain functions“.

The brain is very good at deception“, said Dr. Carolyn Watt, researcher at the School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences of the University and founder of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit.

The researchers believe that many phenomena associated with near-death condition occur due to the effort of the brain to understand unusual sensations and perceptions that take place during a traumatic event.

Some of the results of our study showed that many of those who “witnessed” their own death, had no real danger of dying, but most believed they were dying. The scientific evidence suggests that all aspects of near-death experiences have a biological basis “, said Dr. Watt.

Feeling death

One of the most commonly reported features of near-death experience is the feeling of having died. However, people with Cotard’s syndrome (Walking Corpses Syndrome) experience the same feeling, according to the journal Trends in Cognitive Science. This syndrome is a rare neuropsychiatric disorder associated with the hallucinatory conviction of having died or having lost the blood or internal organs. In very rare cases, it can include delusions of immortality. This syndrome has been observed after severe injuries or in patients with end-stage diseases such as typhoid fever and multiple sclerosis.

Out-of-body experience

Out-of-body experiences, when one feels of floating over his own body and even can see it from the above, are also referred very often. However, an experiment conducted by scientists of Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland showed that such kind of experiences can be artificially reproduced by the stimulation of the right angular gyrus in the parietal lobe of the brain, which plays a significant role in perception and awareness.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The tunnel of light, often mentioned by people who believe they came close to death, also can be reproduced artificially.

Pilots, flying with acceleration, sometimes suffer from hypertensive heart attack, a disorder that occurs due to the rapid increase in blood pressure and causes a partial loss of sight for up to 8 seconds, which literally makes a person see the light “at the end of the tunnel”.

There is another assumption that it is a kind of optical illusion that might be explained by the reduced blood and oxygen supply of the eyes.

Bliss and euphoria

Such kind of sensation can be even more easily reproduced artificially. In fact, exactly the same sensations are provoked by drugs like amphetamines and by noradrenaline, a hormone produced by the midbrain that can provoke positive emotions and hallucinations that may be associated with near-death experiences.

In combination, the scientific evidence suggests that all aspects of NDE have neurophysiological and psychological basis“, concluded the researchers.

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Anna LeMind

Anna LeMind

Anna is the founder and lead editor of the website She is passionate about learning new things and reflecting on thought-provoking ideas. She writes about science, psychology and other related topics. She is particularly interested in topics regarding introversion, consciousness and subconscious, perception, human mind's potential, as well as the nature of reality and the universe.


  1. Taters August 22, 2012 at 11:40 am - Reply

    No mention of Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) release in evoking near-death experience responses? That’s always been my personal theory anyways, not sure if it’s accurate.

  2. NurseNan August 28, 2012 at 12:38 am - Reply

    POPPYCOCK!! Thankfully we’ve researched further in the USA. Obviously, their research was very narrow. Nevermind brief. While I understand there are many instances where oxygen deprivation does cause hallucination, that doesn’t negate the above-body experiences reported back in realtime and detail. Details and events that occurred while the patient was deceased and from an elevated viewing perspective.
    I know with 100% accuracy, because I am one of these temporarily deceased who after having seen my entire death event, reported back every detail from an overhead perspective. Yes I was clinically dead. I was dead for 3 separate CPR Attempts that were administered to me in 3 different places. I grew up to become a Nurse, specializing in Hospice Care. I know many things about Life After Death that others in my field know as Truth, as well. So, seeing from above…is vastly different from seeing Heaven, Lights, & Angels or other hallucinations.

  3. NurseNan August 28, 2012 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Hi Anna *-* I apologize for not having commented or contacted you in so long. It’s an every other day intention though. I do still receive your Daily Posts in my email and share them on my Facebook page.
    Many of my friends enjoy them as much as me. And I love having The Learning Mind as my one daily fb ritual everyone can count on!
    Very nice speaking again and thanks do much for the awesome articles of Science!
    Sincerely, Nan

    • Anna LeMind
      Anna August 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much for your appreciation!!!

  4. Kevin Williams May 25, 2013 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    Not so fast! There is scientific evidence of people born blind having a NDE who report seeing for the first time while out of their body. There is also scientific evidence of people seeing and hearing verified events from hundreds of miles away from their body during the out-of-body phase of the NDE. There is scientific evidence of people having conscious, lucid memories while in a state of a “standstill” where all the blood is drained from the patient’s head and no brain activity can be measured. During an NDE, the person is unconscious. One of the things we know about brain function in unconsciousness, is that you cannot create images and if you do, you cannot remember them. Dr. Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist and the leading authority in Britain on NDEs elaborates further on the unconscious state of the NDE, “The brain isn’t functioning. It’s not there. It’s destroyed. It’s abnormal. But, yet, it can produce these very clear experiences … an unconscious state is when the brain ceases to function. For example, if you faint, you fall to the floor, you don’t know what’s happening and the brain isn’t working. The memory systems are particularly sensitive to unconsciousness. So, you won’t remember anything. But, yet, after one of these experiences (a NDE), you come out with clear, lucid memories … This is a real puzzle for science. I have not yet seen any good scientific explanation which can explain that fact.”

    The idea that survival of bodily death is impossible and that we’re nothing but our brains and bodies is really a function of an outmoded view of science and Newtonian world view. The Newtonian world view works very well for everyday events; but one of the most interesting things about modern science – especially when you look at things like quantum theory – is that the world is far more mysterious than we think. We now have experimental evidence of what Einstein called “spooky actions at a distance.” That we can instantaneously affect something at a distant part of the universe. If consciousness has any of the qualities of this quantum level of existence, then phenomenon like survival of bodily death are not so mysterious after all! Read more about the connection between quantum theory and NDEs here.

    The old scientific paradigm of observing, theorizing, and predicting doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding consciousness and subjective experiences – especially when it concerns the NDE. The old paradigm allows materialists and skeptics to dismiss NDEs as being caused by brain anomalies – even though IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT THE MECHANISM IS THAT CAUSES NDEs when determining whether NDEs are real afterlife experiences or not. Nevertheless, recent NDE studies have ruled out brain anomalies.

    The ball is in the skeptic’s court. It is not subjective experiences we must be skeptical about. Quantum mechanics suggests objective reality may be more of an illusion than subjective reality. At deeper levels, everything – atoms, cells, molecules, plants, animals, and people are connected in a flowing web of quantum information. At this level, the observer becomes a part of the observed and the distinction between observer and object disappears. What we “see” out there may have more to do with our own consciousness and subjective experience than anything that might be “out there”. Read about the philosophical “Dream Argument” and the “Simulation Argument” before assuming objective reality is all that there is. Quantum theory suggests the laws of quantum mechanics may turn out to be only the laws governing our own minds. But skeptics keep telling us that scientific truth can only be known through scientific objectivity. I guess they didn’t get the memo from Einstein which said, “All knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it.” So because skeptics keep trying in vain to explain away NDEs based upon biological triggers, they explain nothing at all about the experience itself.

    Using an analogy, just because there are electronic components to a radio does not mean the announcer speaking through the radio is purely a product of the radio. The announcer’s voice travels through non-local radio airwaves produced from a distant radio station. You can destroy your radio but the announcer’s voice continues to exist in the airwaves. In the same way, according to the Afterlife Hypothesis, if your head receives a fatal blow, your consciousness lives on in some non-local dimension analogous to radio airwaves – a concept which has significant support from quantum mechanics. Quantum theories of non-local consciousness are perhaps the most profound interpretations of quantum mechanics ever developed by science and they support the Afterlife Hypothesis.

    Two of the most profound theories of interpreting quantum mechanics is the Holographic Principle and the Holonomic Brain Theory. These theories support the idea of the brain acting as a kind of reducing valve which actually protects us from too much cosmic input which bombards our physical bodies. If these theories are true, one cannot locate the source of consciousness because it would lie beyond time and space, so it is not localizable. You actually come to the source of consciousness when you dissolve any categories that imply separation, individuality, time, space and so on. You just experience consciousness as a presence. So, materialists who are convinced that NDEs are not afterlife experience should heed the words from the great neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, MD, “The brain has not explained the mind fully.”

  5. Sweettoothy October 7, 2013 at 9:28 am - Reply

    Thank you very much, Kevin, for your comment! I’ve found your analogy with the radio very depictive and persuasive.

  6. Shrikant Kanade November 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm - Reply

    I read and really enjoying the NDE topic. Many peoples who was face NDE they believe that the God is present somewhere when they facing NDE. Some peoples are believe that it is a warning for them who behave very badly and who neglected the God’s Wisdom or disobey the God’s Commands.
    I also noticed that peoples who face NDE that they start leaving their lives in proper way Which is mentioned in Religious books like the Bible, the Geeta or any other after facing NDE.

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Near-death experiences can be explained by physiological factors