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Neurologists Shine Light On Near-Death Experiences 351

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Mainstream science has long considered the brain to be inactive during the period known to doctors as clinical death. However, survivors regularly report having powerful experiences when they come close to dying, often saying they had an overwhelming feeling of peace and serenity. Frequently they describe being in a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end, and many report meeting long-lost loved ones. 'Many of them think it's evidence they actually went to heaven — perhaps even spoke with God,' says Jimo Borjigin. Now scientists at the University of Michigan have found that the brain keeps on working for up to 30 seconds after blood flow stops, possibly providing a scientific explanation for the vivid near-death experiences that some people report after surviving a heart attack. In the study, lab rats were anesthetized, then subjected to induced cardiac arrest as part of the experiment while researchers analyzed changes in power density, coherence, directed connectivity, and cross-frequency coupling. In the first 30 seconds after their hearts were stopped, they all showed a surge of brain activity, observed in electroencephalograms (EEGs) that indicated highly aroused mental states. 'We were surprised by the high levels of activity,' says George Mashour. 'In fact, at near-death, many known electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state, suggesting that the brain is capable of well-organized electrical activity during the early stage of clinical death.' Borjigan thinks the phenomenon is really just the brain going on hyperalert to survive while at the same time trying to make sense of all those neurons firing and it's like a more intense version of dreaming. 'The near-death experience is perhaps really the byproduct of the brain's attempt to save itself,' says Borjigan" While interesting, it's important to remind ourselves that this research is not conclusive: "Borjigin and Mashour hesitate to state a direct connection between their findings and near-death experiences. The links are merely speculative at this point and provide a framework for a human study, Borjigin said."
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Neurologists Shine Light On Near-Death Experiences

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  • by Darth Snowshoe ( 1434515 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:02PM (#44556387)

    ... of rats.

    • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:06PM (#44556425)

      Instead of "come towards the light!", it's "come towards the cheese!"

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes. And that may also explain the bump in church attendance by rats.

    • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) * on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:54PM (#44557021) Homepage Journal

      Discover magazine had something similar, where they studied nematodes and found that some sort of signal propagated through the gut that would tell all of the cells to shut the whole thing down.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2612587/ [nih.gov]

      More interestingly, they were looking at ways to block or delay that signal. So then even if part of a multi-cellular organism died, the rest of it wouldn't know about it and keep going in a zombielike state.

      But yeah, the cellular shutdown mechanism had something to do with the mitochondria, and it did release visible light in the brain cells as it was propagating through that area of the nematodes they were studying. So the bright light at the end of the tunnel is probably just the mitochondria of nearby cells in your optical cortex exploding.

    • Yeah, how misleading that they only mentioned that HALFWAY THROUGH THE SUMMARY!

      Sarcasm aside, what's your point? Do you imagine that the human brain behaves much differently during death than rat brains? We like to think of ourselves as being very different from "lower vertebrates," but our neurons themselves are pretty similar from what we can tell. Take oxygen away from a human neuron and a mouse neuron, and I'll bet they both do about the same things. It's not like we faced a lot of evolutionary
      • Do you imagine that the human brain behaves much differently during death than rat brains?

        I think it might, depending on how much our self-consciousness contributes to the interpretation of the sensations.

        I came close to bleeding to death once when I was living in a remote site. After a motorbike accident, I was in the back seat of a car being driven cross-country towards a hospital a few hours away, and gradually lost enough blood to pass out. I was revived with a blood transfusion in an ambulance that had driven out to the main road to meet us, but would have died without waking if they hadn't got there in time.

        I mostly remember being very very cold and asking for blankets, despite it being a 35c day. My vision faded in and out, not by getting dark but by losing contrast. Even when I could see clearly, my mind would drift and not grasp anything I was seeing. There was whiteness, like light, but washed out from fading colour, not a bright source, Sound faded in and out in a similar way, and I strongly remember a woman sobbing, but little else, though the friends who were in the car tell me they were talking to me, and I sometimes responded.

        Apart from the cold, and a sense of sadness that might have come from my crying friend, it was not at all distressing. Quite tranquil in fact, but for me, it was not mystical at all. I have no belief in gods or afterlifes, but I imagine someone from a religious background would have interpreted the physical experiences very differently. .

    • > ...of rats

      No, no! They were speaking euphamistically. They were testing on politicians.

    • New fuel for the debate about whether you're still conscious after your head is cut off.

  • Out of Body? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kgskgs ( 938843 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:08PM (#44556443) Journal

    While this can possibly explain the tunnel and the white light, how can this explain people seeing things even when their eyes were closed?

    • Re:Out of Body? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:18PM (#44556589)

      A vivid hallucinatory reconstruction of events based on memory fragments, audible perception and accounts later recounted by other observers. Not much different than an advanced sensation of deja vu. It may even be stimulated by this period of mental hyperactivity.

      • by narcc ( 412956 )

        I think the parent is referring to veridical experiences.

    • Re:Out of Body? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:26PM (#44556679)

      how can this explain people seeing things even when their eyes were closed?

      You can see shit in your dreams with your eyes closed.
      Your visual cortex receives impulses which is what you call "sight"... the source of those impulses can be internal or external. Which is also the reason people can hallucinate.

      Basically this research is just more evidence which supports what most rational people have known for decades- near-death and other trance experiences are not some kind of supernatural communication, your brain is essentially just short-circuiting itself.

    • how can this explain people seeing things even when their eyes were closed?

      I don't know about you, but it happens to me just about every night.

      Unless you're referring to them verifiably seeing things they couldn't possibly have any knowledge of in any other way, in which case... [citation needed]

      • Re:Out of Body? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @05:39PM (#44558311) Journal

        It's far rarer than dreaming; but 'Anton-Babinski Syndrome' provides some examples of a strange situation where a person is blind; but remains unaware of, and in denial of, that fact. If pressed for visual details, they will readily (but no more correctly than any other blind person taking an educated guess) confabulate descriptions of what the are 'seeing'. Very curious.

        Then you've got the odd case of 'blindsight', where the is blind (they no longer 'see' consciously); but the eyes and some aspects of the visual system are intact, so they, despite being incapable of describing the scene and performing other tasks we associate with sight, are capable of performing well above chance on certain tests that rely on visual stimuli. It feels like guessing; but they are substantially better than ordinary blind people (who guess at chance, as one would expect) on those tests.

  • Guillotine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CanEHdian ( 1098955 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:10PM (#44556477)
    This is rather unpleasant but what does this research mean for people that have been decapitated (quick and clean) - will they also be aware for another 30 seconds? Old reports of victims turning their eyes and looking at people were always brushed off as nonsense "because the brain dies right away" but this research, though not directly to do with decapitation, seems to refute that... even if consciousness lasts for another 10 seconds instead of 30.
    • Re:Guillotine (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:17PM (#44556575)

      "The brain dies right away" is idiotic nonsense promulgated by people who think the brain is operated by some ephemeral soul that suddenly winks off to heaven/hell dropping the puppet flat.

      Any chemical/electrical process will run until the chemistry/electricity runs out.

      • by happy_place ( 632005 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:25PM (#44556667) Homepage

        Of course the soul can leave before the body in the case when the brain has no "activity" but the body is kept alive... and in the case where you decide to astral project yourself into the netherspace to fight psychic entities that threaten to destroy the earth by making people perfectly happy running nothing but an ipad.

        • Of course the soul can leave before the body in the case when the brain has no "activity" but the body is kept alive... and in the case where you decide to astral project yourself into the netherspace to fight psychic entities that threaten to destroy the earth by making people perfectly happy running nothing but an ipad.

          Like Steve Jobs, reincarnated Warrior-Philosopher?

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Unfortunately for him, he reincarnated as a foxconn worker.

      • Exactly. It makes no sense that the brain would wink out in a microsecond just because the neck was severed. Unless it was severed at the brainstem maybe.
        That is gruesome, but I'm quite certain that many victims of the guillotine or axe were actually conscious or semi-conscious for many seconds after their death. Seconds which would probably feel like hours.
        That's some surreal shit right there. Imagine yourself in those shoes.. errrr.. hat. But maybe the brain goes into some kind of shock.
        If I w
        • by Svenia ( 3001819 )
          I'm thinking shock would kick in so fast you wouldn't really feel that much. I would imagine. I wouldn't know having never been beheaded. /shrug

          I think the before-hand would be the worst. All that time, possibly hours, possibly even days, knowing what was coming. Ugh, makes me nervous and edgy just thinking about it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by skids ( 119237 )

          On the other hand, despite our "perception" of reflexes, will, and impulse, we may not actually "experience" anything until minutes or hours after the brain has time to digest it. Just because you feel like you thought and participated interactively does not mean you actually did -- all our actions could be some analogue of autonomous.

          To wit some people surviving accidental/terrifying falls from heights often have no memory of the actual fall. Whether they "experienced" the fall and then just refuse to re

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        More likely it is just a rationalization by someone who doesn't want to discuss the potential cruelty of the procedure.

    • Old reports of victims turning their eyes and looking at people were always brushed off as nonsense "because the brain dies right away"

      Which is odd, because unless the guillotine went through your head and caused traumatic damage, your brain will last while it's still got a little oxygen and glucose.

      Kinda like how drowning isn't some quiet sleepy way to go ... sure, once you've lost all oxygen and blacked out maybe, but the process of getting there isn't instantaneous.

      • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) *

        eh, I heard that drowning was still plenty better than dehydration, which probably ranks among the most painful and traumatic ways to go.

        So does that make waterboarding more humane? Or the ancient Chinese form of water torture more vicious? (as a kid, I heard it involved getting strapped down and having drops of water dripping onto your forehead for several days. After you get used to it, they take it away and you go absolutely crazy)

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        > Kinda like how drowning isn't some quiet sleepy way to go

        Breathing isn't triggered by a lack of oxygen but with a high level of CO2. In water or helium* the CO2 is washed out and so there is no panic demand to breathe.

        * when airships required maintenance in the gas bags the crew went in with breathing apparatus. If this leaked or failed then the worker carried on without any signs of distress until he dropped dead.

    • Given that individual cells handle their own metabolism (bulk assimilation of outside supplies depends on the lungs and digestive system; but the final stages are handled in-cell) it's hard to imagine that even instantaneous blood loss would cause immediate total shutdown. Has to be enough ATP in there for any cells not mechanically destroyed to freak out briefly.

      This EEG work certainly suggests that communications between cells may also remain briefly functional. What it doesn't tell us is whether what is

    • There is a chapter in the hilarious book Stiff [amazon.com] that discusses 18th century French attempts at discerning exactly this. Of course, their understanding of physiology was a tad sparse, but the author comes up with some interesting studies of guillotined heads doing possibly purposeful movements and actions for perhaps a minute or so.

      Makes some sense, it takes a few minutes for the brain to die, for the cellular functions to completely cease. During that time they whole organism is going to go into panic mode

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The catastrophic loss of blood pressure (from both neck arteries being severed) should cause instant unconsciousness.

    • Err, no. It's fairly well known that the brain does not die right away, and people remain conscious for several seconds after decapitation. How many probably depends on the individual.

      But it needs to be put into perspective. Compared to other methods of dying, that's probably the shortest amount of time between the act that causes death and actual death. Even lethal injection takes time to work.

    • Re:Guillotine (Score:4, Informative)

      by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @05:58PM (#44558493)

      The research is badly incomplete. I met a man who was DOA and dead for 30 mins. He was able to recall everything that happened to him. There are few cases where the EEG is flat yet the person has full memory.

      > even if consciousness lasts for another 10 seconds instead of 30.
      Consciousness can't be killed as you will find out past your death. The ignorance of Scientists is to keep arguing over what can be conscious and what can't be. Peter Russel has a excellent presentation that goes over the fallacies of this argument.

      * The Primacy of Consciousness - Peter Russell - Full Version
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d4ugppcRUE [youtube.com]

      "Only ignorant Scientists try to pretend the boundaries of Science don't exist by saying What Is and What Isn't possible."

  • by itsybitsy ( 149808 ) * on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:12PM (#44556499)

    After being resurrected the lab rats reported all kinds of experiences about their near rat death experience, how they went to cheese heaven and flew above large blocks of mozzarella with a fresh hit of rot in the air, how they saw the rat goddess herself in the distance, how she was surrounded by a white tunnel that was pulling them onward to the wonderful tunnel of forever and ever and even more cheese (much like this comment). A few rats however spoke of a dark and foreboding place devoid of cheese where the fondue fires had melted it all and ultra fat rats sat all day mainlining the cheese directly into their rat guts. For some reason though the scientists didn't understand these near death experiences of the Rats and where more interested in their instruments of Rat torture. One day the "truth" will come out about rat near death experiences and the torture that prevents all rats from knowing about the cheesy Rat Heaven and Rat Indulgent Hell Yeah bring it on! To Rat Truthers everywhere!

  • That light at the end of the tunnel? The train comes.

  • So at a time when you're not conscious, and random activity is spiking in your brain, you might experience something as the various bits turn on.

    Now, as with so many things in science, it's not "real" until you've measured it and seems like something obvious after someone has.

    And, of course, that won't stop people from believing that it really was a supernatural experience, instead of random electrical impulses which your brain is trying to assign meaning to.

    • Re:Hmmm .... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by narcc ( 412956 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:28PM (#44556701) Journal

      It's interesting that you're willing to draw a significantly stronger conclusion that the authors of the study.

      • Re:Hmmm .... (Score:4, Informative)

        by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:41PM (#44556831) Homepage

        It's interesting that you're willing to draw a significantly stronger conclusion that the authors of the study.

        How does that make you feel?

        Really, which of the following two statements is more likely to be true?

        • Random brain activity causes brain to experience many strange things in unpredictable ways
        • God talked to you

        Short of some incontrovertible physical evidence for God being involved in the process, me, I'm sticking with option #1 -- and I suspect anybody looking for a scientific answer to this is more likely to buy into random brain activity.

        Quite frankly, anybody studying neuroscience will likely as well. The God hypothesis, last I checked, was entirely outside of objective science and therefore not something science can credibly ponder.

        • by narcc ( 412956 )

          It's interesting that you're offended by a large number of completely unfounded assumptions you've made about my opinions and beliefs based on a single sentence which carries no such implications.

          Irrational nonsense like this is exactly what I expect from the self-described "rationalists", who assert reverence for logic, reason, and science yet understand nothing about the subjects nor how to apply them.

          Can I make such an assumption about you?

          • by asylumx ( 881307 )
            We could solve this whole argument through experimentation. Just use a guillotine on the GP and then ask him if he sees God or not.
  • Upload in progress (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cyberspittle ( 519754 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:26PM (#44556677) Homepage
    The higher level of brain activity could be an upload in progress.
  • like the cylons in the BSG remake

    the electrical activity is the soul uploading out of the body

    • by Petron ( 1771156 )

      Maybe the tunnel is us being pulled out of the Matrix, and the people we know that passed on before us are there waiting for us...

      /insert Conspiracy Keanu

  • So the model here seems to be, people coming out of near-death experiences have these memories, and while they're likely not "real", they're a record of some sequence of cognitive states, and the puzzle is, how can we detect these cognitive states? There seems to be an underlying assumption that the memories are a faithful chronological record of something, and the investigation is, what is the something -- what is the brain recording while it's apparently inert.

    This may well be right, they seem to have good evidence of apparently-inert brains being not-so-inert, so at this point I suppose I'm quibbling.

    But the part I have never understood about discussions of near-death experiences (IANAneurologist) is, why do so many of these stories assume that the memories people wake up with were created during the apparently-inert time? It's true that the memories are subjectively of long duration, people report that they remember spending a lot of time flying towards the light or conversing with the angels, but surely they can be sincere without being right.

    We know a fair amount now about how memories can be manipulated, and how recollections depend on the environment -- memories are very slippery things. So, isn't it possible that, during the apparently-inert period of a near-death experience, the brain actually is inert, and not forming memories, and that at the time of recovery, during which there is plenty of obvious brain activity, the memories are all formed in a brief period, but with the subjective sense of having taken place over a longer period? This means the memories are basically wrong, but this seems to me to be a much lower bar to clear than requiring chronologically faithful memory construction in quiescent gray matter.

    Any neurologists in the crowd care to comment?

  • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:42PM (#44556847) Homepage Journal

    I had a heart attack on Mar. 1, 2010. I stayed conscious, although in heavy pain. Got stents put in, was sent home on Mar. 4... and had congestive heart failure about 6 hours after I was out of the hospital. This time, my heart just plain stopped. I was dead. EMS dudes shocked me back to life and got me to the hospital where I was treated. I obviously survived.

    But I was dead for between 3 and 4 minutes before the EMS crew got to me. No breathing, no heartbeat.

    White lights and tunnels? No. Everything faded to black. That was it. Nothing to see, nothing to hear. No gods or angels. Just... nothing.


  • Cool, But... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @03:44PM (#44556887) Homepage Journal

    I enjoy this kind of research. It's always interesting to further our understanding of the complexity of life, and all the weird, nigh inexplicable stuff it entails.

    However, it seems a lot of readers are jumping to conclusions not even the researchers have come to; We still have, essentially, no understanding of what consciousness is, where it come from, or where it goes during these sorts of episodes. Hopefully we'll figure it out one day, and have an even greater understanding of our universe.

    I usually try to stay out of these metaphysical-themed debates; having personally experienced a fair amount of strange shit that current scientific knowledge cannot explain, my thoughts in this arena tend to be less than popular... something I've always found ironic, and a bit sad. I mean, if we're supposed to be a community who believes in science, why would anyone dismiss a hypothesis or concept out-of-hand, without proper experimentation and research?

    Oh, well, I went and said it anyway. Let fly with the down-mods, Philistines and Hypocrites, as I've broached topics you refuse to even consider, let alone debate intellectually.

  • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @04:06PM (#44557171)

    As one who disagrees with capital punishment in ANY form, this research is interesting. Part of the premise of lethal injection it that it is humane.

    So now, aside from the amazing hypocrisy that killing for killing implies, we have evidence that the brain is not just active under very similar circumstances (put to sleep, then heart stopped, only thing missing is stopping breathing)

    It seems no surprise to me that when the brain senses a sever lack of oxygen or blood flow that it in a sense panics. A lizards tail keeps moving after detachment. These are nerve impulses and prove that nerves can fire for a long time without oxygen. While not as complex perhaps as the nerve structures in a mammalian brain.

    While some people may overcome their fear of death (buddhist monks, and some others), many, regardless of what they say do not. This is evidenced by the massive amounts of resources spent on end of life care.

    So now, we have a system that is steeped in societal and political hypocrisy, causes severe fear for long drawn out periods of time as appeals wear on and on, and now seems to not be as 'humane' as it was made out to be.

    I know someone will counter with the usual arguments, these people are sick, murders, it costs more to house them for the rest of their life, the crime rate will skyrocket with no deterrent. Let me refute those:

    These people may be sickos, murderers, but they are people. Condoning killing them makes you just as complicit in murder as they are, even if you delegate the pulling of the switch elsewhere. As Neddard Stark would say, if you are willing to sentence a man to death, you should be willing to swing the blade. In addition, there are people who have been executed that were not the guilty party. Mistakes and malfeasance -happen-, and preventing one wrongful death outweighs just about any other justification

    The ongoing costs of nearly endless appeals almost always outstrip the cost of incarceration.

    Countries with no capital punishment have no higher crime or murder rates than those that do.

    The logical process that leads one to believe capital punishment is just, no matter how well couched in legal or logical terms is just a guise for ow own vengeful and violent nature. It proves that those who think so could and would kill with the right justification. A murder thinks he has justification too, even if it is incorrect.

    I have digressed quite a bit from the primary topic, but I hope this research will shine some light into the stupidity and inhumaneness in capital punishment. In fact, while you cannot kill people to test that this is true in humans, you can use those that are being executed as such. All it takes is a portable EEG unit at the execution. I bet many would volunteer, but the states would block it in some fashion.

    • I have digressed quite a bit from the primary topic, but I hope this research will shine some light into the stupidity and inhumaneness in capital punishment. In fact, while you cannot kill people to test that this is true in humans, you can use those that are being executed as such. All it takes is a portable EEG unit at the execution. I bet many would volunteer, but the states would block it in some fashion.

      While I don't approve of capital punishment, due to the errors that have been made in identifying the guilty party, the excessive cost when compared to life incarceration, and the fact that it just doesn't deter crime, this has to be the least of my concerns. If we're only considering lethal injection, then of the several drugs that are administered, the first is to put the sentenced to sleep. Once effectively drugged into sleep, the rest of the drugs merely terminate all the functions of the body that k

  • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @04:08PM (#44557191)

    This heightened activity is clearly just an orderly shutdown involving the purging of caches and closing log files. This way on the reincarnation there's no sluggish fsck to deal with.

  • by Nightlight3 ( 248096 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @04:09PM (#44557197)

    The natural science lacks explanation for consciousness (hard problem of consciousness [consc.net]). Nothing in the laws of natural science as presently known indicates what is it like to be such and such arrangement of elementary particles and fields. The mere correlation between reports or introspection of conscious states and electro-chemical activity of the brain does not imply that conscious state is produced or maintained by the this electro-chemical activity. After all, there are no little people dancing and singing inside TV even though their activity is strongly correlated with electrical activity in the TV and can be interfered with by cutting off the electric power to the TV.

  • many known electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state

    You mean that the brain's capabilities were put into overload, allowing it to do things it might not normally be able to do in a normal state?

    Sounds to me like this could do more to further belief in the supernatural than anything else.

  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @04:14PM (#44557255)

    I was honored to be able to hold my father's hand when he passed away from stage IV lung cancer a few years back. One can never really say they are ready for a loved one to pass, but I was resigned to the fact, and therefore there weren't many emotions going through my head while telling my dad it was ok to let go. (I had read in a couple of places that scientists believe hearing might be one of the last senses to shut down immediately prior to death, so I figured I could do no harm telling him everything would be ok.)

    One thing I did notice, and will probably never forget: In the moments up to his final breaths, while his BP was dropping, his eyes never stopped moving, It could have been involuntary movements, but they would stop for an instant as if to focus on something, then move again. He never acknowledged me while I was with him the last few hours, but his eyes: They would flick around the room as if he was looking for something, or maybe seeing something only he could see. The doctor said it was likely his vision had already shut down at that point, which made it all the more impactful on me. Even as his BP dwindled away to 0/0, after his breathing had stopped (no death rattle, just shallower and shallower, with increasing apnea gaps, until it simply stopped), his eyes made a few last furtive movements, then were still.

    Who knows what my dad was seeing in his final moments? Obviously he didn't live to tell me about it. But the scientific part of my brain tells me something was going on his brain right up to the moment that he no longer had blood flowing through his brain.

  • Yeah.... horseshit (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WOOFYGOOFY ( 1334993 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @05:56PM (#44558473)

    Where to begin...

    1) the link between what they saw in rat's brains and any experience the rat may or may not have been having is merely inferred. All they actually have is an increase in activity, that's all. How or if that translates into the rat experiencing something specific and what it might be is pure conjecture. It is possible that the brain activates but the rat's consciousness or conscious awareness remains unawares. It may as well be terror the rat feels. We just don't know.

    2) the link between this rat brain electrical activity and a specific human experience whose experiencers claim is not chaotic but has semantic meaning is the purest of pure conjecture. There is nothing, no-thing, linking these findings and this specific human experience but the sheerest of sheer conjecture, teetering daintily on the flimisiest of extrapolations.

    3) it dodges the entire issue of what consciousness, conscious experience as opposed to things bumping into each other or chemically reacting, is. We don't suppose other compositions of matter - chairs, light switches, my computer- possess it, yet there it appears to be.

    Thinking that consciousness is worth thinking about about goes in and out of fashion in academic and scientific circles.The glib answer offered up from some interpretations of materialism is- it's an epiphenomena of brains and nervous systems, on whom it appears to depend (how do we know that?).

    The problem with that answer is it's a form of hand waving , of assuming the consequent (all consciousness "needs" matter), a defining away with words or in this case, referencing a process- neural activity. Instead of telling us what the thing is, it "explains" it away.

    The real spooky implication of materialism is that consciousness may be omnipresent or exists sui generis in the universe. It's possible that it is the first among things and somehow gives rise to material in ways which are unknown.

    We're stuck as a species of implicitly paradoxical materialists, who not only know for a fact that know we have conscious experience and thought but know further that this conscious experience and thought is the only means we have at discerning the material scientific truth about the world.

    Chairs and tables which lack this also know nothing, or at least it seems that way.

    I assert that the fact of conscious experience is the final frontier. Hypotheses non fingo. However, only someone with no scientific imagination supposes that the concepts and scientific frameworks known to her at the time she lives necessarily contain within them all the ideas needed to explain everything in the world, that there's not something which will come only later with the power to encompass all previous explanations, and extend them in a direction unimaginable by previous centuries of scientists, even into the realm of science fiction of "spirituality" .

    Occam's razor is a proper thinking tool to decide between competing explanations, not defining ultimate scientific horizons.

    People who have these experiences insist their nature is essentially *knowetic*, that they bear *meaning* and reveal a factual aspect of reality which was previously hidden.

    This is the same "meaning" by the way that all semantic-bearing constructs in our environs - pictures, symbols, words, x-rays, scientific theories- are said to convey.

    Many scientists equate these experiences with hallucinations. I submit that anyone making this certain, authoritative categorization is indulging in the priggish, short-sighted, self-satisfied kind of thinking that amuses us about long distant generations of 'scientists" and "doctors" with their clever, but technically constricted and ultimately wrong-headed theories of "stuff".

  • by blahblahwoofwoof ( 2287010 ) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 @07:35PM (#44559495)

    During my wife's battle with cancer 20 years ago, she "coded out" two times, once when I was with her in the ICU, once on the operating table. She had the full-up near-death experience each time.

    She described pretty much what you've all read in the other personal accounts of such events.

    Whatever the biology, or even the physics (some have proposed a type of quantum entanglement occurs) of near-death are, I can affirm that it changed the way my wife looks at the nature of her life and existence in general. I am not unscathed by it, of course, but it is among the most deeply personal experiences one can have.

    Although probably obvious, I'll close by saying my wife and I are still married and she has been cancer-free since the ordeal.

New systems generate new problems.