Time for some skeptic work. I’ve long held the idea that near death experiences (NDEs) have been little more than normal brain activity taking place in a low energy environment. The brain consumes huge amounts of energy and rapidly runs out when the heart stops pumping fuel to it.
But this recent research on rats shows that I’m partially wrong. It’s not normal brain activity. It’s hyper-brain activity. This research indicates that the rat brain, within 30 seconds after the heart stops “exceeded levels found during the conscious waking state”.
Now, I’m just looking at the abstract and a press report here. (If anyone wants to get me a subscription to one of the major journals for my upcoming birthday, I would be grateful.) But the results are quite interesting… and they are fairly consistent with another area of brain research, sensory deprivation.
During full sensory deprivation, the brain freaks out. It thinks something is wrong and starts all kinds of crazy activity. I don’t have a notion as to why yet. But people in SD trials often report hallucinations and there is a decrease in cognitive ability after deprivation.
My working notion is that death, for the brain, is very similar to sensory deprivation. The brain stops getting feedback signals from the important parts of the body, like the heart. So it goes into a kind of overdrive, trying something… anything to get normal function back. Unfortunately, without a constant supply of fuel, that overdrive can’t be sustained for long and the brain can’t restart the heart.
But other humans can. And thus we have the near death experience explained.
The abstract notes very specifically that the “Gamma oscillations during cardiac arrest were global and highly coherent”. I have no idea what it that means, but I can parse the significance of it.
The final bit of the abstract is also very interesting.
These data demonstrate that the mammalian brain can, albeit paradoxically, generate neural correlates of heightened conscious processing at near-death.
The near death experience isn’t God calling you home. It’s nothing more than the brain going into freak-out mode.