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There are those who believe that science will eventually explain everything—including our enduring belief in heaven. The thesis here is very simple: heaven is not a real place, or even a process or a supernatural event. It's something that happens in your brain as you die.
I first encountered this idea as I was researching my new book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife. I was having lunch with my friend and colleague Christopher Dickey, who told me that his father, the writer James Dickey, had a fantasy of heaven in which all of his closest friends were sitting around a swimming pool, chatting. "There was nothing special about the pool itself," wrote Chris in Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son. "Nobody walked on the water. And he never told me who the friends were ... But what he took away from the dream was a sense of contentment, of being at ease with himself and the world, as if he had gotten a preview of heaven. He called that place 'The Happy Swimming Pool.' " Chris believes that everything we think we know about heaven happens in the moments before death. After that, there's nothing.
Science cannot definitively proof or disprove Chris's theory, but some scientists are willing to take guesses. And these guesses are based, in part, on a growing body of research around near-death experience (NDE). According to a 2000 article in The Lancet, between 9 and 18 percent of people who have been demonstrably near death report having had such an experience. And surveys of NDE accounts show great similarities in the details. People who have had NDEs describe—like some religious visionaries—a tunnel, a light, a gate, or a door, a sense of being out of the body, meeting people they know or have heard about, finding themselves in the presence of God, and then returning, changed.
Andrew Newberg is an associate professor in the radiology department at the University of Pennsylvania who has made his reputation studying the brain scans of religious people (nuns and monks) who have ecstatic experiences as they meditate. He believes the "tunnel" and "light" phenomena can be explained easily. As your eyesight fades, you lose the peripheral areas first, he hypothesizes. "That's why you'd have a tunnel sensation." If you see a bright light, that could be the central part of the visual system shutting down last.
Newberg puts forward the following scenario, which, he emphasizes, is guesswork. When people die, two parts of the brain, which usually work in opposition to each other, act cooperatively. The sympathetic nervous system—a web of nerves and neurons running through the spinal cord and spread to virtually every organ in the body—is responsible for arousal and excitement. It gets you ready for action. The parasympathetic system—with which the sympathetic system is entwined—calms you down and rejuvenates you. In life, the turning on of one system prompts the shutting down of the other. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in when a car cuts you off on the highway; the parasympathetic system is in charge as you're falling asleep. But in the brains of people reporting mystical experiences—and, perhaps, in death—both systems are fully "on," giving a person the sensation both of slowing down, being "out of body," and of seeing things vividly, including memories of important people and past events. Does Newberg believe, then, that visions of heaven are merely chemical-neurological events? He laughs nervously. "I don't know." He laughs again. "It's, um … I don't think we have enough evidence to say."
Since at least the 1980s, scientists have theorized that NDEs occur as a kind of physiological self-defense mechanism. In order to guard against damage during trauma, the brain releases protective chemicals that also happen to trigger intense hallucinations. This theory gained traction after scientists realized that virtually all the features of an NDE—a sense of moving through a tunnel, and "out of body" feeling, spiritual awe, visual hallucinations, and intense memories—can be reproduced with a stiff dose of ketamine, a horse tranquilizer frequently used as a party drug. In 2000, a psychiatrist named Karl Jansen wrote a book, Ketamine: Dreams and Realities, in which he interviewed a number of recreational users. One of them, who called himself K.U., describes one of his drug trips this way: "I came out into a golden Light. I rose into the Light and found myself having an unspoken interchange with the Light, which I believed to be God." Dante said it better, but the vision is astonishingly the same.
For example, there are numerous occasions where an individual has perceived events in real time outside his/her body which they should not be capable of-- for example, seeing objects in a location removed from their body; hearing conversations of friends/family in places outside the hospital; being aware of the actions of doctors/nurses despite not being able to see.
There has been several accounts of near death experiences where the experiencer was clinically brain dead. They were hooked up to an EEG machine and while dead, the machine registered no activity.
Within Near Death Experience research, a number of investigators have argued that a flat electroencephalogram (EEG) reading can be taken as evidence of total brain inactivity (and van Lommel et al. recruit this argument into their interpretation; Fenwick & Fenwick, 1995; Parnia & Fenwick, 2001; Parnia et al., 2001; Sabom, 1998). This claim is totally incorrect. It is certainly the case that a flat cortical EEG would be indicative of a brain that is in some trouble. Assuming no technical error or problems with electrode contact, a flat EEG is far from desirable. However, the assumption that a flat EEG can be taken as strong evidence of global and total brain inactivity is unfounded. (It is also noteworthy that the studies making large claims about flat EEGs provide no information regarding the level of gain employed on the EEG device, assuming they were digital-QEEG devices. This would seem important as any EEG can become almost flat with the gain turned to a minimum. A flat EEG at maximum gain would be more indicative of neocortical inactivity, though again, not full-brain inactivity).
Unless surgically implanted into the brain directly, the EEG principally measures surface cortical activity. The waveforms seen in cortical EEG are largely regarded to come from the synchronistic firing of cortical pyramidal neurons. As such, it is entirely conceivable that deep sub-cortical brain structures could be firing, and even in seizure, in the absence of any cortical signs of this activity (for evidence based on electrical stimulation and seizure propagation, see Gloor, 1986; Gloor, Olivier, Quesney, Andermann, & Horowitz, 1982). Indeed, evidence reviewed by Gloor (1986) argued that inter-ictal discharges in the hippocampus or amygdala alone were more than sufficient to produce complex meaningful hallucinations – no involvement from the cortex was necessary!
Originally posted by OnceReturned
reply to post by nomorecruelty
No one "suffers death" for an extended period of time. If you wake up again, you weren't dead. Death is a permanent event. It's the result of the dying process. Contrary to popular belief, the body is not like a light switch that is either on or off. There is a large continuum between a healthy person and a dead one.
If the paramedics( who aren't doctors) declared the guy dead and he came back, they made a mistake. All they have to go by are the best indicators, which are typically heart beat and breathing. The human body( especially the brain) is arguably the most complex system on earth( among well defined, self contained, coherent localized systems - obviously a rain forest ecosystem is more complex). The fact that it's not easy to tell whether or not someone is dead is to be expected. A hundred years ago they would have declared many people dead that today we would be able to save. When doctors declare death they are making a very, very well informed assessment. But, their word is not law; they can be wrong.
Anytime someone regains consciousness from some unresponsive state, by definition that state of unresponsiveness was not death. How long exactly someone can go without a heart beat is something that has proven difficult to say exactly because there are often exceptions. When you hear the 6 minutes until brain damage number, that is a general approximation, not a definite rule for every person under every circumstance. We know that the dying brain can generate awesome, totally immersive halucinations, similar to dreams but with a common theme and often a sense of euphoria. There is no reason to think that the experiences one has while their brain is dying are of something paranormal.