What Happens During Near-Death Experiences

We all want to know if there really is life after death, and so-called near-death experiences have been a popular subject in our culture.  Does your life really flash before your eyes when you think you are dying?

A recent study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition takes a new approach to evaluating these “life review experiences” (LREs).  A team of researchers led by Judith Katz, a neurologist at Hadassah University in Jerusalem,  analyzed seven accounts of LREs.  These stories all had several elements in common, including a few that contradicted the usual wisdom about what an LRE would be like.  For example, life events were reviewed in random order, or even simultaneously, rather than chronologically.  One survivor of a near-death experience said this about the timeline:

‘‘There is not a linear progression, there is lack of time limits […] It was like being there for centuries. I was not in time/space so this question also feels impossible to answer. A moment, and a thousand years… both and neither. It all happened at once, or some experiences within my near-death experience were going on at the same time as others, though my human mind separates them into different events.”

Another common element was the inclusion of deeply emotional experiences from the perspective of people close to them.  Another participant said: ‘‘I could individually go into each person and I could feel the pain that they had in their life … I was allowed to see that part of them and feel for myself what they felt.”

Taken together, the common threads not only add credibility to the argument that this is a real phenomenon — they also help researchers close in on a definition.  But to really understand what’s going on, scientists will have to identify what’s happening in the brain.  Katz and her colleagues have a few theories as to which brain regions might be involved.  The prefrontal, medial temporal, and parietal cortices all happen to be especially vulnerable to conditions like hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and blood loss resulting from traumatic experiences.

As the last step, the authors built a survey around the common threads and administered it to a group of online volunteers who had never experienced LRE.  They found that many of the same elements were also in events that most people experienced in other contexts — like déjà vu or regret about certain events. “These results suggest that the LRE phenomenon is based on an alteration of a common neurocognitive mechanism shared by the general, healthy population,” they wrote.

What this could mean is that when your life flashes before your eyes, it isn’t the brain reacting to the threat of death in some special, mystical way — it’s just a super-concentration of ordinary mental processes.

Read the complete article at  http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/01/what-it-means-when-your-life-flashes-before-your-eyes.html?.


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