Will We Ever Unwrap The Mystery of Near-Death Experiences?
Death is the only experience that every human on Earth is guaranteed to share. And yet, we know so little about death. Yes, we know some of the physiological aspects. For instance, measurable brain activity usually tends to cease after around 40 seconds (though it’s been recorded up to 10 minutes after death). As for what — if anything — follows after death besides our bodies breaking down, that’s a total mystery.
The closest that any human has come to a glimpse of any sort of afterlife is the Near-Death Experience (NDE) which is equally perplexing for scientists. According to Scientific American, NDEs are triggered by a singular life-threatening event such as a heart attack, electric shock, asphyxiation, or blunt trauma such as a fall or explosion. The NDE that follows tends to come in a variety of forms where the person may experience a euphoric feeling of peace, even visiting with deceased loved ones or seeing a white light beckoning them. Others also report a feeling of black nothingness, flying through space, or floating above their bodies.
For some, an NDE is a positive experience, while others report it as a traumatic experience full of despair, loneliness, or even pain. For those with a religious viewpoint on life, it’s easy to draw a correlation in regards to this between Heaven and Hell. Following an NDE, it’s also not uncommon for those who’ve experienced it to say that their out-of-body brush with death was a life-changing experience that marked a radical turn in their life from that point onward.
Take for example this NDE from someone on Reddit:
“As cliche as it may seem, I saw a brilliant light, and walked into it. Inside, I saw my childhood home and my recently departed grandmother. We talked a while and then she asked me a question that hit me like a ton of bricks: “are you doing something that matters with your life?”
When I was resuscitated, I came back in an abject panic, but the most pressing thing that was in my mind was the realization that if I had died at that moment, I would have left the world worse off for having me in it. Back then I was a pretty shitty person to a lot of people and caused much more harm than good. After this, I decided to change who I was and make life a little kinder. I now work as a counselor working with traumatized children who have experienced abuse, and I have never been happier.”
As for what causes an NDE, scientists tend to explain them as being the result of an oxygen shortage and the body’s “neurochemical responses to trauma.” Studying Near-Death Experiences has proven difficult, as science isn’t able to merely strap electrodes to a person’s head and bring one about.
Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, did bring more attention to the topic from the scientific community after his own NDE following a coma from meningitis. After awakening and later looking at his own medical charts, Alexander concluded that his brain was so shut down and that his experience was so vivid, that the afterlife was indeed real.
As for the possibility that NDEs are merely a result of vivid imagination from compromised brain function , a 2017 study researchers at the University of Virginia tends to say that’s not the case. Researchers administered a questionnaire to 122 people who said they had an NDE. Participants were asked to compare both real and imagined events from around the same time period. The Near Death Experiences were recalled with greater detail than both the real and imagined situations. Basically, the NDEs were remembered by people as being “realer than real.”
Alexander’s book that followed from his own NDE, Proof of Heaven, was met with skepticism, but regardless, these brushes with the afterlife are no-less intriguing and mysterious.
These episodes as described by various people who shared them with Reddit also tend to encompass a wide variety of emotions, as well as visual and physical experiences. Whether you believe in something else after life, or think NDEs are merely tricks of the mind and body, these experiences offer an intriguing insight into death… or at least near death.
“I remember a period of just black and then it transitioned into a beautiful forest filled with ferns and these huge sequoia trees. The forest wasn’t like a normal forest it was prehistoric gigantic quiet and peaceful it was beautiful. I don’t remember being aware of my body but I wasn’t worried or scared anymore.
I recall looking to my right and seeing a collection of old grey wood that had been there a long time. While looking at that wood a shaft of filtered light broke onto the logs, at that time 2 white birds took flight up from behind the logs. I watched them fly up and to the left. Now there was a path. It was as if in the time it took me to turn my head a path had been made. A straight path with a circle at the end, like a keyhole. I looked down and saw my bare feet standing on the start of the path. The path was grass, like a nice lawn. When I looked up and now I was at the end of the path and in the middle of the circle.
I remember looking up and seeing a white light come down, but with the light came an feeling of unconditional love and happiness of which the intensity cannot be described. I remember asking something and getting answers, the communication wasn’t verbal, maybe like some emotional telepathy I dunno it was intense.
Not sure what was next but I woke up in the hospital feeling like shit. Put into surgery, drugged out for a week. Spent next 2 weeks in the hospital. Had marks on my chest from the defibrillator. Scars for life but something changed, the issues I had less that 4 weeks ago were gone. I got better but I became a different person than I was before.”
“When I was twelve I drowned in the gulf of Mexico. I was out pretty far from my family and the current picked up into a rip. I had always been a very strong swimmer and I knew what to do: swim parallel. On this occasion I wore myself out and started to sink beneath the water. I remember struggling to breathe. Then, I took a big breath of water and everything stopped. The only way I can describe it is by saying it was being at Zero. I wasn’t scared or excited. I was just Zero. I was looking through the water and I blacked out. During that time, my mother was swimming out to me (she’d been a surfer all her life) and pulled me to shore and gave me CPR until I coughed up water.
There was something eerily comforting about being at Zero.”
“I didn’t see any white light or Angels, didn’t hear any voices. I could see, but I didn’t have a body. but it felt like I did, if that makes any sense. It’s really hard to explain in words, but I’ll try my best.
It was like I was on another planet, when I looked down I saw sand and there was very shallow water. It was like an endless shore. The water was probably an inch or two high, but the best way I could describe it is when you walk on the very shallow end of the shore of a beach and that shallow end is just endless, like the water never got deeper or any shallower.
When I looked up the sky was purple, there wasn’t a sun. The only thing lighting the skies were these blue rays of light, with a tinge of yellow on the sides.
But I feel like the most significant thing about my entire experience was the feeling I had.
The feeling was so foreign to me. It just felt like every single problem I had, every single issue no matter how big or how small was just gone. It was all gone. Every single care I had was all gone. like the weight of the world was completely lifted off my shoulders. It felt amazing. I felt peaceful. I was happy. This was going on for what felt like hours, and I was happy. All of a sudden I felt this falling feeling. everything went black and I just felt like I was falling faster and faster, then all of a sudden there was a huge snap, like my whole body vibrated like when you pull back a ruler and let it go. That’s when I started feeling everything again. All the worries, and the sadness. I felt really sad. I felt the pain again. When I woke up the nurse told me what had happened. She explained that my heart had stopped beating for 3 minutes, and they had found another vein to keep me hydrated.”
From a now deleted account:
“What I remember is a vast nothingness; it’s hard to describe, as we’re always surrounded by something wherever we go. Suddenly in this vast nothing was a blinding pinprick of light that got larger. Either I was moving towards it, or it was moving towards me. As it got closer, what appeared to be a single light resolved into first one, then several, then millions upon millions of stars of all shapes, sizes, and colors, along with tons of nebulae.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. As I approached the center, it seemed like I was joining a universal consciousness; a being made up of the thoughts, emotions, and experience of everyone and everything that had ever lived.
I’m sure it was all just a hallucination brought on by the trauma I had suffered the few days combined with my heart/breathing stopping, but there’s a part of me that hopes that what I saw is what really happens when we die.”
Photos via: Pixabay, News4Jax