Who Wants to Live Forever?

by Garreth Myers


Different cultures and religions all over the world believe in some form of afterlife or the other. Whether it’s a question of rebirth or the concepts of heaven and hell, people like to believe that there is more to life than their mortal time spent on earth. While naysayers and critics abound ridiculing these obsessions with immortality, people continue to remain fascinated with the unknown. One of the biggest debates between science and religion revolves around the phenomenon of near death experiences. While such debates are pointless in themselves they are ever prevalent. They’re pointless as religion is based on a system of beliefs resting upon faith, while science is based upon bodies of knowledge accumulated through empirical studies.

Scientists and experts insist that a near death experience can be explained by simple biology but individuals especially those who have personally undergone a near death experience associate it with a transformative and often life-altering religious state. This is also very similar to the alien abduction phenomenon, with ‘victims’ convinced about their experiences despite the absence of any factual evidence. According to science, a near death experience can be attributed to neurobiological activity that results in a ‘dissociative’ state. This altered state of consciousness is created by a rush of chemicals such as ketamine and glutamate to the brain that alters the state of the cells in the brain and the body. This according to experts accounts for the feelings of separation from the body and results in the lucid dream state characteristic of a near death experience.

As expected believers in NDEs do not accept this dry and clinical explanation, for what they perceive as such a powerful and life-changing phenomenon. While resistance to the ideas espoused by Copernicus & Galileo that confronted traditional views of our world and the universe some 500 years ago, believers today can be just as hard to convince. Thousands of people who have had near death experiences (let’s call then near death experiencers or NDErs) report a range of intense personal emotions and individualized after effects that they insist cannot be explained away by science. To make sense of what these NDErs experience, several studies have been conducted on the circumstances, contents and results of the near death experience. As the concept of near death experiences become more acceptable, more and more people are stepping forward to share their personal stories. Some of these findings include:

A near death experience is precipitated by a near death episode. This could occur when a person is clinically dead or in a situation where death is imminent such as an accident, military combat, a suicide attempt, or a serious illness. Apart from these situations, people have experienced NDEs even when meditating or during the grieving process after a loved one’s death.

According to the reports, there are two types of NDEs experienced – one a pleasurable NDE that is characterized by feelings of extreme joy and peace and the other a distressing NDE that brings with it feelings of anger, fear, and loneliness. Irrespective of the type of NDE, all reports mention that the entire experience was hyper real or more real than known reality.

All NDEs are unique giving rise to the argument that people cannot be making these experiences up. Feelings generally associated with an NDE include a feeling of detachment, of floating up away from the body, and of feeling no pain. Many NDErs report that they met beings or went places during their near death experiences that were distinctly other worldly. Some met deceased loved ones and felt loved like never before. The more distressing types of NDEs reported feelings of powerlessness, terror, and visions of beings in turmoil and sadness.

Through the studies, it is clear to see that near death experiences affect people of all ages, sexes, cultures and backgrounds. There is no particular demographic of society that is more susceptible to NDEs than others making it difficult for scientists to explain all aspects of what is perceived as a mystic phenomenon, but likewise there is no particular demographic of society that is more or less likely to be mortal or lack in certain neurobiological impulses. Despite the magnitude of any research endeavor, Dr. Sam Parnia from the University of Southampton and his team of scientists and doctors from the UK and the US are in the process of studying 1,500 people to demonstrate that near death experiences can be explained logically. As the team continues to study and analyze the brain activity of cardiac arrest survivors over the period of three years, they hope to come to some conclusions about consciousness, death, and the dying process. Until then, Dr. Parnia asserts the need to clear up the unscientific notions that abound when referring to such altered states of consciousness and the very imprecise nature of death itself.

References:

  1. University of Southampton. "World's Largest-ever Study Of Near-Death Experiences." ScienceDaily, 10 Sep. 2008. Web. 17 Jun. 2012.
  2. http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro98/202s98-paper1/Sabo.html

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