Death is scary. Most of us hope it isn’t an end but a new beginning, preferably in a better world without death or pain or illness.
That may be why we’re so fascinated with accounts of near-death experiences, those instances in which people pulled back from the verge of death report seeing tunnels of light and their loved ones waiting for them on the other side. They offer hope for a life beyond death.
Last year, “Heaven Is for Real,” purportedly a young boy’s account of seeing into the afterlife, sold like crazy. The book was written by the boy’s father.
It’s described like this on Amazon.com:
The book “is the true story of the four-year-old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear. Colton (the boy) said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how ‘reaaally big’ God and His chair are and how the Holy Spirit ‘shoots down power’ from heaven to help us. Told by the father, but often in Colton’s own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle.”
All of that may be true.
In many cases, though, near-death experiences aren’t what we think they are, at least according to British researchers. Last year, psychologists from Scotland’s Edinburgh University and the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England, published their research into the phenomenon, saying that near-death experiences are byproducts of malfunctioning brains.
Those tunnels of light? They could be caused by poor blood and oxygen supply to the brain, according to the BBC.
Out of body experiences, like Colton experienced when he was looking down on himself in the operating room? “Such experiences could be artificially induced by stimulating the right temporoparietal junction in the brain that plays a role in perception and awareness,” the BBC reported.
Seeing loved ones? Feeling at peace? Those could be attributed to “noradrenaline, a hormone released by the mid-brain, (which) can evoke positive emotions, hallucinations and other features of the near-death experience,” the BBC said.
In fact, the researchers found, some people reporting near-death experiences were not in danger of dying — although most thought they were.
The psychologists’ verdict was spelled out in a scientific journal, Trends in Cognitive Science. “Taken together,” they wrote, “the scientific experience suggests that all aspects of near-death experience have a neuro-physiological or psychological basis.”
What do you think?