Can science explain near-death experiences?

NDEs have been a point of interest that almost every person has thought of at some point or another.

This may be due to the fact that death is one of the very few aspects of life that we all have in common. More likely, though, I believe our interest in this topic is based on the fact that nobody who has died has… well… lived to tell the tale.

In this article, I intend to shed some light on some of the more commonly accepted scientific explanations for the common stories we’ve heard from people who have been proclaimed dead but somehow found their way back.

First, I’d like to mention that the Science of Neurology and Religion aren’t really, necessarily, contradictory with one another. As such, I bring these notions to light, not as a means of distracting from the religious or spiritual potentials associated with near-death experiences and their stories, but simply to educate my readers on the significance of primary and secondary brain functions in matters such as these.

In fact, I wrote an article a very long time ago regarding how complex our brains are, and how consciousness itself has a basis in spirituality. Some of the topics which I will discuss in this could very well coincide with my statements in that article, further suggesting that our brains give our conscious minds a connection that can be understood physically to something which happens purely spiritually.

There are even unexplainable events that science can’t account for. For example, the famous case of “Maria who underwent cardiac arrest, and, after resuscitation, recounted details of a tennis shoe on the ledge of a third-floor window which she had no way of knowing existed.

Here is how science can explain near-death experiences:

1. Temporoparietal Junction

The Temporoparietal junction is the region of the brain which assembles data collected from the body’s senses and organs in order to form perception as we know it. This region of our brain has been known to become damaged and virtually shut down immediately upon death, and it has been speculated that this would explain out of body experiences.

Though the experience may seem real, it could simply be the perception which our temporoparietal junction created upon being jump-started back to life. In other words, the images a person sees and feelings they experience during out of body experiences could just be their brain associating relevant details and creating a justification for what had just happened while the junction was “out of office”.

2. Hallucinations

Hallucinations have been thought to play a large role in near-death experience recounts. A lot of people have talked about seeing spirits, recently dead relatives, a tunnel of light, etc. This tunnel of light has been speculated to be created by an excess of carbon dioxide, but I don’t intend on getting into that commonly accepted theory in this publication.

Hallucinations, however, do seem very feasible. When a person goes into cardiac arrest, drowns, or otherwise dies on an operating bed due to any cause, their muscles stop functioning, and they stop breathing. It is known that oxygen deprivation will lead to hallucinations, and may even contribute to feelings of euphoria.

While this is just a theory, it is logical to think that these hallucinations, especially in conjunction with the temporoparietal junction malfunction, could explain near-death experiences and all the symptoms they cause, even the so acclaimed “life flashing before your eyes”.

3. Hyperconsciousness

A little more of a biological approach that may explain near-death experiences recounts could be the “hyperconsciousness,” which has been proven to result for the first thirty seconds after death.

This scientific explanation for the phenomenon of near-death experiences, reported by many patients who “returned” from life from almost death, was given by a new U.S. scientific study, which was first to systematically examine the neurophysiological state of the brain straight away after cardiac arrest. During the study, based on laboratory animals, a sharp upsurge of electrical activity in the brain after stopping the heart was found.

The research team, led by professor of physiology and neurology Jimo Borjigin of the School of Medicine, University of Michigan, who published their study in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS), studied rats that died after an artificial heart attack.

Electrodes were implanted in the brains of rats to monitor brain activity at the time of death, and the portions of the brain which deal with perception, including the temporoparietal junction, function significantly differently for this 30 second period.

In these 30 seconds after the hearts of laboratory animals stopped and their brains were not being provided with blood anymore, a sudden spurt of highly synchronized high-frequency gamma waves in the brain, which are directly connected with the consciousness, was recorded with the help of electroencephalogram.

Some of them, hence the term hyperconsciousness, accelerate to unbelievable activity levels. This intense electrical activity is estimated to “create” the perception of the near-death experience.

How does hyperconsciousness explain near-death experiences?

The scientists found that the dying brain experiences a sharp activation of electrical brain waves, which, in the case of humans, could explain the visions like a tunnel with a light at the end, feeling of great peace, meeting dead relatives and friends, sense of flying over one’s own body, etc.

As Jimo Borjigin said, it is wrong to believe that the brain is idle or underutilized after clinical death. In fact, he said,

“in the stage of death, it is more active than when one is alive.”

Researchers believe that at death’s door, this is what exactly happens to people, causing, as if in a dream, near-death experiences that feel “more real than reality.” But in order to confirm this hypothesis, a similar study should be done on humans who experienced clinical death and ultimately survived, something that certainly is not easy to achieve.

It is estimated that 10% to 20% of people who survived clinical death due to cardiac arrest (for example, during a surgery), claim to have had some kind of near-death experiences. Of course, this experiment cannot tell us for sure if the rats also had near-death experiences and of what kind.

While this could be the cause of the perceptions during a near-death experience, I’d like to invite my readers to consider that this could, maybe, be a symptom of a spiritual occurrence.

4. Distorted Sense of Time

The last thing I’d like to cover is the fact that, no matter what is perceived, whether it’s your life flashing before your eyes or a long tunnel that you spend eternity walking through when a person is awakened they always feel like they’ve been dead for hours.

Often, it’s only minutes. Some people take this to mean that they were in their spirit form where time passes much more slowly. Scientifically, though, this can be explained by the cerebral cortex function returning to normal after a near-death experience.

To quote Metallica, “Time is an illusion” – it is, quite literally, a human construct used to allow for more efficiency and accurate recounting in our lives. The speed at which time passes by is influenced by many factors, including how much fun you’re having or how many details you’re perceiving.

So, can science explain near-death experiences? It seems that whether near-death experiences prove there’s another world out there after death or not is still debatable. As I mentioned, there are many occurrences that can’t be explained with our current knowledge of science.

This article is meant to expand your awareness of other potentials that have been looked into regarding this age-old question of “What happens when we die“. The more perspectives we can analyze a circumstance from, the more logical our conclusion will be, and the more invested in that belief we will be for it.

Nick Harding, B.Sc.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Lynn K. Russell

    I have researched 2500 near-death experiences and can tell you that your explanations do not cut it. Sure, they might be an answer to those who have brief NDEs, but they are not enough. I wrote a book on my research and in it I talk about people who woke up in the morgue. Some were in rigor mortis, that doesn’t occur for hours after death. Of course I am aware of many doctor’s reply to the near-death experience, but every one of the explanation either only cover a short period of time, or only one aspect of the NDE. No two NDEs are alike, for example many people do not go through a tunnel or even see others, so the explanation given by the science community is limited. In addition there are repeated stories of people being able to accurately give information they could not possibly know. I suggest that those scientists spend some real quality time reading the numerous NDEs that are posted on line. There are three sites I recommend, NDERF, which stands for Near-Death Experience Research foundation, IANDS, a site of NDEs that covers many aspects of the experience, and Near-Death.com. All of these sites are of high quality and are not into it for the sensation.
    Thank you,
    Lynn K. Russell

  2. Avatar
    Joe

    There is no explanation in this reality, only speculation and logical reasoning, to experience is the only way to know truth.

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