Personally, I choose to believe that the white light people sometimes see, visions this patient saw… they’re all just chemical reactions that take place when the brain shuts down. There’s no conclusive science. My choice has no practical relevance to my life, I choose the outcome I find more comforting.
That was Greg House, five years ago (:)), and his explanation of near-death experiences. Turns out, five years is long enough for medical science to have progressed a bit further towards a conclusive explanation for near-death experiences. The Sunday Times reports a finding by intensivists at the GWU medical centre that suggests a possible explanation for the phenomenon of near-death experiences that (roughly a fifth of the) people ‘brought back’ from cardiac arrests (and clinical death) report.
Contrary to what popular rhetoric about these matters would have one believe (a la ‘…this person was alive until a second ago, and now he’s dead. Since there’s been no physical change in his body, what caused the death must have been the departure of his soul’), death is not momentary, but is actually an elaborate process in which the body shuts down. The present findings suggest that one step of the process is that just before death, the brain fires up with neural activity, lasting from about 30 seconds to about 3 minutes. The researchers say that this spike in brain activity immediately before death could explain near-death experiences.
People who have been oxygen-deprived – people who are being asphyxiated, for example – often feel euphoric when their breathing is restored to normal. Brains can also have surges in electrical activity leading to vivid mental sensations if the oxygen-deprivation isn’t corrected at all, evidently. In its last effort (presumably at recovery), the brain fires an electrical impulse that cascades out from one part of the brain to spike activity all over the brain, to levels similar to conscious people.
The study wasn’t extensive, having been conducted on only seven patients, all of whom died. The study isn’t conclusive either, but it is the first attempt at a specific explanation for this phenomenon. I should point out that the reporter who wrote this story is either pandering, or is a credulous cretin: he says this study might be proof that the explanation for near-death experiences is biological rather than metaphysical. You need proof that what happens physically might have a physical explanation?