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An Earthly Explanation for Near-Death Experiences

A new scientific report explains that the surges in electrical activity of the brain may account for the vivid near-death experiences that those who have suffered life-threatening events have experienced. The study found that rats which were dying experience high levels of electrical activity or an increase in their brainwaves that increased until the animal expired.

While what the rats experienced in unknown, in humans this could be interpreted as a heightened state of consciousness. The findings of the research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The author of the study, Dr. Jimo Borigin of the University of Michigan stated, “A lot of people thought that the brain after clinical death was inactive or hypoactive, with less activity than the waking state and we show that is definitely not the case. If anything, it is much more active during the dying process than even the waking state.”

The experiences that the brain can undergo in the dying process can mean that the person experiences an out of body sensation, bright lights and the feelings that their life is flashing before their eyes. The experiences that have been reported by people around the world who have suffered near death experiences have many of these in common.

Because of the very nature of the near-death experience, studying such matters with humans is certainly challenging. Therefore, the study conducted at the University of Michigan focused on nine rats that were dying. Approximately 30 seconds after their hearts stopped beating, the electrical activity of the brain soared, indicating that high frequency brainwaves that are called gamma oscillations were being experienced by the rats.

These particular pulses are one of the neuronal features that are believed to anchor consciousness in human beings. They help link information from the different areas of the brain. In rats, these electrical pulses were found at higher levels just after their hearts stopped beating than when the rats were awake and in good health.

Dr. Borigin believes that the same thing happens in the human brain once the heart stops beating. The elevated levels of brain activity could actually promote visions in those with near death experiences.

“This can give us a framework to begin to explain these. The fact they see light perhaps indicates the visual cortex in the brain is highly activated – and we have evidence to suggest this might be the case, because we have seen increased gamma in area of the brain that is right on top of the visual cortex,” said Dr. Borigin.

However, the exact timing of those who have had near death experiences is still not well understood. This is because many of the anecdotal reports vary the times in which the person undergoes these experiences. For example, some may have this particular experience as they are being put under for an operation while others undergo it when the heart stops beating.

On the research that has been conducted so far, Dr. Jason Braithwaite of the University of Birmingham commented that this could indicate the brain’s “last hurrah” before death. The findings of the study may prompt future research to find more evidence of this increased brain activity once life has passed from the body.

 

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