Walk into the Light – Science and the Near-Death Experience

September 14, 2008

near
The tunnel of light is the most common association with those who experience near-death

The question of what happens to us when we die has spawned books, songs, plays, and of course, religions. Our mortality has been a central concern of our daily existence throughout the history of human civilization. We understand that it is an end of sorts, but what kind of end? And what happens afterwards? There is no direct proof of anyone returning from the dead (Jesus’ death and resurrection rests on the gospels) and reporting to us what is on the other side. But we do have many instances of what is known as Near-Death Experience (NDE).

First popularized by Raymond Moody in his 1975 book Life After Life, NDE refers to both the physical and spiritual effects of impending death. The most common experiences include feelings of tranquility, warmth, and the presence of the proverbial “tunnel of light”. Some go as far as to suggest that they are drawn into the tunnel of light. These sensations are taken by many as proof of an afterlife.

Science is now trying to figure out what causes these feelings and what they really are and why so many people (at one count 8 million alone in the USA) experience NDE. One study group has launched AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) to look at patients who suffer cardiac arrest.

“Contrary to popular perception, death is not a specific moment,” said leader of the study Dr. Sam Parnia of the University of Southampton in the U.K. “It is a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working and the brain ceases functioning — a medical condition termed cardiac arrest, which from a biological viewpoint is synonymous with clinical death.”

Previous research suggests about 10 to 20 percent of people who live through cardiac arrest report lucid, well-structured thought processes, reasoning, memories and sometimes detailed recall of events during their encounter with death.

One study found that people who reported peaceful feelings, bright light and out-of-body experiences during a brush with death are more likely to have had difficulty separating sleep from wakefulness in their everyday lives. Both before and after their near-death experiences, these people often have symptoms of the rapid-eye movement (REM) state of sleep while awake.

The AWARE researchers want to find out what happens to the brain when a person’s body has started to shut down, whether it is possible for people to see and hear during cardiac arrest, and what’s going on during out of body experiences.


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London’s Subway Suicide Culture

August 11, 2008

London Tube

Suicides in the London Tube system are on the upswing

For all the budding thanatologists who read the entry “Is there a worst way to die?” you might wanna consider the prospect of throwing yourself under a subway train.

It seems to be all the rage in the London Tube system as Eben Harrell of Time tells us in Suicide on the Tube.


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Is There a Worst Way to Die?

August 11, 2008

Death

Should I lose this match, what method of death would be least painful?

Is there a worst way to die? Thanatologists (those who study human death) say that the question is purely subjective and depends on the individual. The people at “How Stuff Works” take a look at the question: Is there a worst way to die?

Being splashed in sulphuric acid is a nasty way to go, that’s for sure. However, I’d like to quote one part of the article to get you thinking about your mortality in the grand scheme of things:

A century ago, a person with cancer would die. A person with access to today’s medical technology has a much better chance to live. In this manner, some have come to see medicine as a way to cheat death, and rather than confront the fact that they will die one day, they look instead to medicine to save them from their inevitable fates.

This is what the psychologist Ernest Becker considered a distraction. Becker won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his book, “Denial of Death.” It was Becker’s opinion that culture at large served to distract all of us from our impending deaths. It’s as if we are all on the same roller coaster, chugging slowly up toward the tallest hill. At the crest is death, and every one of us will eventually make it to that crest. Culture in this metaphor is a set of giant televisions on each side of the coaster tracks, which some people choose to watch rather than look up toward the top of the hill and consider what’s beyond the hill.

But although some allow themselves to be distracted, we are all unconsciously fully aware of our finite time here on Earth. In Becker’s opinion, this causes feelings of anxiety and woe and is expressed through aggressive acts like invasions and wars.

Becker’s field of study — referred to as the psychology of death — does suggest a worst way to die. Since culture has the potential to distract us from confronting death, it can lead us to waste our lives. The worst type of death, according to Becker’s theory, would be one that followed an insignificant life.


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