“Cardiac arrest is not a heart attack, but represents the final stage of a disease or event that causes a person to die,” explains lead author Dr. Sam Parnia, director of the Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Research Program at New York University Langone. “The advent of cardiopulmonary resuscitation showed us that death is not an absolute state, rather, it’s a process that could potentially be reversed in some people even after it has started.
“What has enabled the scientific study of death is that brain cells do not become irreversibly damaged within minutes of oxygen deprivation when the heart stops. Instead, they ‘die’ over hours of time. This is allowing scientists to objectively study the physiological and mental events that occur in relation to death.”
The study involved researchers from a wide range of medical disciplines, including the neurosciences, critical care, psychiatry, psychology, social sciences, and humanities, and is represented by well-respected academic institutions from the US and UK such as Harvard University and King’s College, London. The study came to a number of conclusions regarding NDEs, including”
- Medical advances over the 20th and 21st centuries have enabled numerous people—estimated by the study to number in the hundreds of millions—to survive encounters with either death or near death that involve “a unique set of recollections in relation to death that appear universal,” according to the study text.
- According to several published studies cited by the paper, these recalled experiences are not consistent with hallucinations, illusions, or psychedelic drug–induced experiences, but instead unfold as a specific narrative arc that involves a perceived “separation from the body with a heightened, vast sense of consciousness and recognition of death” that includes travel to a special destination by the experiencer; a meaningful and purposeful review of the experiencer’s life that involves a critical analysis of all of their actions and intentions towards others; a perception of being in a place described as feeling like “home”; and, of course, the inevitable return to life, allowing the experiencer to impart their story.
- The experience culminates into “previously unidentified, separate subthemes” and is associated with positive psychological transformation and growth that has long-term effects.
- The lucidity and heightened consciousness reported by near-death experiencers is corroborated by studies that documented the emergence of gamma activity and electrical spikes in states related to death through the use of electroencephalography (EEG); a gamma-wave state is associated with lucidity and heightened consciousness.
- Negative experiences during NDEs typically do not share the same unfolding narrative, transcendent states or positive transformative effects as their positively-themed counterparts.
Dr. Parnia’s team has found that the accumulated evidence suggests that neither physiological nor cognitive processes of the individual end with death, and although previous studies that have extensively researched the subject have been unable to definitively prove that our consciousness persists after we die, it is impossible to claim that it does not.
Dr. Parnia adds that “few studies have explored what happens when we die in an objective and scientific way, but these findings offer intriguing insights into how consciousness exists in humans and may pave the way for further research.”
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