|The light at the end of the tunnel?|
Even after the animals' hearts stopped beating and no blood was reaching their brains, they appeared to show signs of conscious perception, said the scientists.
The study is the first to take a systematic look at the neurophysiological state of the dying brain after a cardiac arrest. It suggests something happens at the brink of death that pushes the conscious brain to a high level of arousal, potentially triggering the visions and sensations associated with NDEs.
As many as a fifth of people who survive cardiac arrests report having had an other-worldly experience while being "clinically" dead.
Typically NDEs involve travelling through a tunnel towards an intense light, being separated from the body, encountering long-departed loved ones or angels and undergoing some kind of judgment of "life review".
Some emerge from NDEs as transformed individuals with a completely altered outlook on life, or a new belief in religion. But many scientists believe near-death-experiences are nothing more than hallucinations induced by the effect of the brain shutting down.
The new research involved recording the electrical nerve impulses of anaesthetised rats whose hearts were artificially stopped. Within 30 seconds after suffering a cardiac arrest, all the animals displayed a short-lived surge of widespread, highly synchronised brain activity.
"We were surprised by the high levels of activity," said Dr George Mashour, one of the US researchers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
|Dr Martin Coath|
"As the induced cardiac arrest happens while the rat's brain is anaesthetised, the results show the response of an unconscious brain to critical lack of blood flow and oxygen. It is certainly interesting that this causes some types of activity in the brain to increase in a predictable and co-ordinated way well after the heart has stopped, but hardly surprising."
For a number of years some scientists have pursued the belief that `Near Death Experiences` can be clinically explained away, and are not indicative of an existence beyond this life.
Approximately 3 percent of the U.S. population says they have had a near-death experience, according to a Gallup poll. Near-death experiences are reported across cultures, with written records of them dating back to ancient Greece.
|Dr Dean Mobbs|
The `explanation` were merely a raft of opinions, that claimed the causes of N.D.E`s were due to chemical changes to the brain through illness or drugs.
So this `new` research offers little fresh information, and again an unsubstantiated claim that clings to so called, `logical` explanations which do not stand up in the cold light of day.
Worse, the subjects, anaesthetised rats were actually drugged, and presumably having an induced hallucination which surely questions the credulity of this research?
Many real N.D,E sufferers claim that they could see their bodies from above as they `hovered` , and to even describe later events, or even observations to the room their body was in, which they clearly would not have been able to see or hear.
Sceptic science fortunately has it`s own scientific detractors. Indeed, it is not often that any of us experience our own, `N.D.E`, and often those that do are ridiculed and scoffed at by science, as the whole premise of a life beyond this level is seen as totally implausible to the extreme.
So when a self-admitted sceptic like Dr Eben Alexander experiences this event and writes to tell of it, another stepping stone leads us towards a greater enlightenment and understanding of this phenomena.
|Dr Eben Alexander|
Though he was unconscious and unresponsive during that period, he is now describing a 'hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey' to a place beyond, filled with butterflies and resounding music that has shaken his scientific viewpoint on human consciousness.
He says he entered a place filled with clouds and the sound of chanting, and was met by a beautiful blue-eyed woman.
Dr Alexander describes his paradigm shift from focusing solely on the scientific make up of the brain to considering the spiritual realm of the mind, in a deeply reflective essay in Newsweek in advance of the release of his book, Proof of Heaven.
|Hallucinatory or a Spiritual Awakening?|
Though he considered himself a nominal Christian he said he lacked the faith to believe in eternal life.
When his patients would tell tales of going to heaven during near death experiences, he relied on 'current medical understanding of the brain and mind' and disregarded them as wishful thinking.
But after he became the patient, he says he 'experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.'
The 58-year-old has an impressive pedigree. His ancestors were well regarded politicians and prominent fixtures in society in Tennessee. His father was Chief of Neurosurgery at Wake Forest University from 1948 to 1978.
In his book, Proof of Heaven, Dr Eben. Alexander recounts his out-of-body experience while in a coma:
'There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind - my conscious, inner self - was alive and well,' he wrote.
He entered a 'place of clouds - big, puffy and pink-white,' filled with butterflies and angel-like creatures that were 'simply different from anything I have known on this planet. They were more advanced. Higher forms.'
He heard 'a sound, huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above,' providing him with a sense of joy and awe.
A beautiful young woman accompanied him. 'She was young. She had high cheekbones and deep-blue eyes. Golden brown tresses framed her lovely face.'
Alexander admits his description might sound far-fetched but he is convinced it was 'not some fantasy, passing and insubstantial.'
Empirically, - as with all `paranormal` events, nobody can prove or disprove near death experiences either by science or personal experience.
And this new research offers very little to that already known and no doubt the argument for or against will rage for many more years to come.