Research News

Study on rats proposes a mechanism for NDEs

White ratJimo Borjigin, PhDA recent study by Jimo Borjigin and colleagues (University of Michigan) reports that highly coherent, global oscillations in the brains of rats occurred from about 12 to 30 seconds after cardiac arrest. The investigators found that near death, some of the electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state, providing "strong evidence for the potential of heightened cognitive processing in the near-death state." "The measureable conscious activity is much, much higher after the heart stops." They assert that this evidence provides "a scientific framework to begin to explain the highly lucid and realer-than-real mental experiences reported by near-death survivors."

How well do these assertions hold up to scrutiny?

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The Big Book of NDEs is back!

The Big Book of NDEsThe Big Book of Near-Death Experiences: The ultimate guide to what happens when we die by P.M.H. Atwater is back! This is a wonderful, comprehensive encyclopedic resource full of useful information about NDEs and related phenomena.

The Big Book is now available on-line from P.M.H. Atwater and from IANDS' Shopping Cart. IANDS is now offering a discount for The Big Book to IANDS members.

We also have The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation on the Shopping Cart, also with an IANDS member discount.

Researchers to investigate what happens when we die

Bruce Greyson, MDWTVR-com2Station WTVR in Richmond reports that beginning in January, Dr. Bruce Greyson and his team at the University of Virginia will participate in a research study where doctors will attempt to monitor near-death experiences as they occur in the hospital, using computers near the ceiling to project random images in places where people tend to go into cardiac arrest. The images will be visible only at the ceiling, looking down.

“We know that 10 percent of people who have cardiac arrest will say during the arrest, they left their bodies and many say they hovered above their bodies, looking down on it,” Greyson said. His team hopes to determine whether what the patient saw corresponds to what was shown on the computer.

The article also recounts the NDEs experienced by Dr. Eben Alexander and also Wayne Hart, who said, "There was a perfect sense of peace, of belonging, of being home... [Afterward], everything changed. I was a completely different person."

AWARE study & two others receive Templeton grants

Immortality ProjectThree studies relating to NDEs have been award grants in the Immortality Project, including the AWARE study directed by Sam Parnia of Stony Brook University, according to a University of California Riverside report. The size of the individual grants was not disclosed but they average $240,000.

Sam Parnia, MDThe AWARE study grant will be used to "examine the nature of human consciousness and mental processes during cardiac arrest and their relationship with brain resuscitation".

Another study by Ann Taves and Tamsin German of UC Santa Barbara will include a "quasi-experimental field study" of IANDS to examine the role that NDE accounts and experiences play in shaping and reinforcing the potency of afterlife beliefs in the NDE movement. In the third study related to NDEs, Shahar Arzy of Hadassah Hebrew University will examine the life-review experience reported in many near-death experiences, including its prevalence and relationship to life events.

Study finds NDE memories are not of imagined events

steven_laureys2Skeptics have long proposed that NDEs are dream-like memories of events that never happened or are altered memories of real events which are partly or fully imagined. A recently published study from the University of Liège in Belgium compared the memories of NDEs with memories of others who were in coma without an NDE. They found that memories of NDEs are significantly different from coma patients without an NDE. In particular they have significantly more characteristics, like visual details, memory clarity, self-referential information (being involved in the event) and emotional content.

The researchers propose that NDEs can't be considered as imagined events. which have significantly fewer characteristics. NDE events are really perceived but since the events did not occur in reality and likely result from physiological conditions (e.g., neurological dysfunction), the events are actually hallucinatory (see also ULg video). This conclusion is based on assumptions that are inconsistent with other evidence from NDEs. Other interpretations are possible.

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Parnia interviewed on Fresh Air about his book 'Erasing Death'

Dr. Sam ParniaErasing Death Dr. Sam Parnia was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air about his new book, Erasing Death: The science that is rewriting the boundaries between life and death, released in February. The book reveals that death is not a moment in time, but rather a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Dr. Parnia reveals how some form of "afterlife" may be uniquely ours, as evidenced by the continuation of the human mind and psyche after the brain stops functioning.

NPRIn the interview, Parnia relates some initial results of the AWARE study: only about 1 in 1,000 patients has remembered an NDE with an OBE component. A number of OBEs were reported but some occurred with no target images installed and some patients looked at events at a different angle from where the target was installed, but still described accurate details. The researchers are adjusting the study. See also excellent article in The Guardian.

Alexander debates skeptic Shermer on Larry King Now

Eben AlexanderMichael ShermerNeurosurgeon Eben Alexander debated skeptic Michael Shermer on the Larry King Now show about "Does heaven exist?", along with spiritual activist Marianne Williamson and Rabbi Marvin Hier. Larry King had earlier interviewed Dr. Alexander and later the debate among the four thinkers was recorded.

Shermer's argument was that all experience derives from the brain as we can see from cases of senility and dementia. Alexander's near-death experience can be explained completely by neurological phenomena occurring very quickly as he came out of coma, producing a very powerful dream-like hallucination which Alexander later elaborated with confabulations. Alexander countered that his experience was way too real and rich to be an hallucination and that it is a mistake to assume that all experience occurs through the brain.

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AWARE study preliminary results due in the fall

The AWARE study (AWAreness during REsuscitation) is a multi-hospital clinical study of the brain and consciousness during cardiac arrest, including tests of the validity of perceptions during the out-of-body portion of near-death experiences. The latest status is that more data and larger scale studies will probably be required, and an end to the study is not anticipated in the near future. A report of preliminary results from the first five years of the study is likely this fall, to be presented through a scientific journal or a scientific conference.

Dr. Sam ParniaErasing DeathIn the meantime, Dr. Sam Parnia, Director of the AWARE study, has written a new book, Erasing Death: The science that is rewriting the boundaries between life and death, to be released in February. The book reveals that death is not a moment in time, but rather a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Dr. Parnia reveals how some form of "afterlife" may be uniquely ours, as evidenced by the continuation of the human mind and psyche after the brain stops functioning.

Author uses IANDS NDE accounts in her new book

Revelations of Profound LoveAnn Frances Ellis, Ph.D.IANDS member Ann Frances Ellis drew on 478 NDE accounts submitted over the years to the IANDS research archives for her book Revelations of Profound Love (also here). When people submit their near- death experience to IANDS, the account can be used by NDE researchers.

Dr. Ellis used the IANDS research archives to write her Ph.D. dissertation and now to publish a book on the profound Love that is revealed in NDEs. She was recently interviewed on Fox News about her book. In 2010, she presented her research at the IANDS Conference in Denver (part1, part2). One reviewer said, "Revelations of Profound Love is a rich book filled with stories of many people who have experienced near-death experiences. When you read story after story of people experiencing profound love, you gain confidence and faith that we don't die when our bodies do."

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Eben Alexander answers skeptics' criticisms

EbenAlexander3Sam Harris, Ph.D.In October,a Newsweek article featured an excerpt from neurosurgeon Eben Alexander's new book, Proof of Heaven. Several skeptics wrote articles critical of Dr. Alexander's Newsweek account, notably neuroscientist Sam Harris. Harris disputes that Alexander's cortex was shut down which allowed the “hyper-real” experience of heaven Alexander reported. While the severity and duration of the meningitis infection, the resulting coma, an enhanced CT scan and neurological examinations all indicate global impairment of the neocortex which would not support consciousness, to Harris these constitute only secondary evidence and consciousness could still have been possible. For Harris, complete brain inactivity can be demonstrated only by brain imaging like fMRI and EEG. It should be noted that while he has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, Harris does not practice neuroscience and is not a clinician.

Alexander responded to these criticisms on Alex Tsakiris' Skeptiko podcast.

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