The mystery of what happens to our consciousness after death has preoccupied man since he was first able to philosophise. Most of the world’s religions are based around the premise that our souls continue to live after our physical demise, most suggesting that we go on to inhabit a heavenly place in the care of a deity or higher being. Science, however, has always questioned the existence of a God or a Heaven on the grounds that it is essentially a fantastic concept that would be impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Or would it? A new study claims to have found credible and statistically significant evidence that there is a life after death.
The researchers analysed the accounts of 2,060 patients from 15 hospitals in the UK, USA and Austria who had essentially "died" for a three minute period, and discovered that they continued to have valid experiences after they had been declared clinically dead. Of the surviving patients, 46 per cent experienced a broad range of mental recollections, nine per cent had experiences that corresponded with traditional accounts of near-death experiences, and two per cent appeared to have been fully aware after their heart stopped beating, reporting explicit details of events, and even out-of-body experiences.
This appears to contravene the conventional view of medical experts who suggest that all brain activity ceases 20-30 seconds after the heart stops beating; however, the new study, which was published in the journal "Resuscitation," indicated that patients continued to have cognition and sensory awareness post-mortem.
Lead author Dr Sam Parnia, an assistant professor at the State University of New York and a former research fellow at the University of Southampton, admitted that he had previously attributed anecdotal evidence of NDEs to hallucinations, but said he had been convinced by the "very credible” accounts from patients. Parnia said that one male patient had given a particularly convincing description of his experience, during which he was able to details exactly what had been occurring in the room during his resuscitation.
“We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating," said Dr. Parnia. “But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes.
“The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for.
“He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.”
Of course, the idea of "near death experiences," or NDEs has been a widely reported phenomena for decades but has generally been relegated to the realms of the paranormal. There have been other comparable studies that have also reported convincing evidence: earlier this year, a team of psychologists and medical doctors associated with the Technische Universität of Berlin, claimed to have obtained proof of some form of existence after death. The German team conducted clinical experiments where patients underwent a new type of medically supervised near death experiences, in which patients were allowed to be clinically dead for almost 20 minutes before being brought back to life.
The rather controversial process was performed on 944 volunteers over a period of four years, using a complex mixture of drugs including epinephrine and dimethyltryptamine to induce a comatic state. Participants reported similar experiences to those in the latest study, with the most common sensations being a feeling of detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of an overwhelming light.
The Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine has also been investigating the subject for some time and has published several books on the subject. The Division keeps an ongoing record of individual experiences, and encourages those who believe they have experienced NDEs and other related phenomena to contact them in confidence for their research purposes.
The field of quantum physics has also appeared to dispel any notions that our existence ends in physical death. In particular, the area of study known as "biocentrism," which was developed by Professor Robert Lanza, Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and Adjunct Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, states that death is just "an illusion" created by our idea of consciousness. Read more on this story here.
Despite the mounting evidence to support it, the concept of "life after death" must remain a mystery to us all until we cross that great divide for ourselves. But those who have experienced such an event – my own mother included – are usually resolute in their convictions that it really happened.
The intriguing and credible results of the recent study have convinced scientists that the area needs to be more fully explored by science
"While it was not possible to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of patients’ experiences and claims of awareness, (due to the very low incidence – 2% – of explicit recall of visual awareness or so called OBEs), it was impossible to disclaim them either and more work is needed in this area," said Dr. Parnia.
"Clearly, the recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice."
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