Having a close call with death is a terrible prospect. People who have experienced an NDE, however, often say that they were at ease and comforted the whole time. Maybe this is the mind’s method of accepting its own inevitable demise. Or there might be something more nuanced at play. There are a number of hypotheses put up by scientists to explain the peculiar feelings reported by those who have had NDEs; they include physiological modifications in the brain that occur when brain cells die and spiritual influences.
Dr. Bruce Greyson, co-founder of the International Association of Near-Death Studies, has noted that many aspects of NDEs remain a mystery in part because they are so difficult to examine in real time. In order to deduce how the brain changes as a result of an NDE and what this means for the future of medicine, researchers must depend on anecdotes, memory retention, and in certain circumstances, animal experiments. There are two aspects to consider when discussing NDEs: the physical experience and the psychological interpretation of that experience. Physically, NDEs are linked to traumatic experiences such severe head trauma, a heart attack, or passing out from lack of oxygen.
However, an individual’s mind may shut down the experience of pain, or at least the recollection of it. Among those who have had NDEs, it is typical to see a brilliant light at the end of the tunnel and to have visions of loved ones, both alive and dead. Others have described more physical experiences, such as emancipation from their bodies, hovering above them, being physically dragged into the tunnel leading to the promised land, or spiritual contact with a higher power, extraterrestrials, or deceased loved ones. And yet, during these mystical episodes, individuals often describe feelings of peace and love rather than terror or anguish.
Certain occurrences defy scientific explanation, at least for the time being. However, in 2022, researchers into near-death experiences (NDEs) were given something they’d never seen before: a scan of a dying man’s brain. And it revealed several mysteries about which scientists had previously only theorized.
An 87-year-old man died suddenly in 2016 while being hooked up to an electroencephalogram (EEG). The findings were subsequently published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience by the research team. Seizures and memory loss, for example, are only two of the neurological diseases that may be studied with the use of an electroencephalogram (EEG). It was true that the individual had been under close observation by medical staff due to a recent cluster of seizures when he abruptly stopped breathing. The EEG scan indicated high-frequency brainwaves termed gamma oscillations, which are known to have a role in generating and recalling memories, during the 15 seconds before the man’s heart attack, as stated by the scientists in the publication.
These images are of a guy in his last moments before passing away and cannot be compared to a near-death experience in which the subject lives. Such behavior, however, could provide light on why some NDE witnesses report seeing familiar individuals or flashbacks to previous lives.
EEG scans of persons who are trying to recall an NDE also provide insight into the changes that occur in the brain during an NDE. The brain’s activity rises in numerous areas when a person recalls an NDE, including those involved in memory, vision, hearing, and emotion.
Dr. David San Filippo, an associate professor at National Louis University and an NDE researcher, claims that the temporal lobe, which helps process sounds and store memories, is linked to out-of-body sensations and memory recollections during NDEs.
Positive NDE reports have been related to increased serotonin levels in the brain, according to rat research. It’s possible that the brain induces pleasure and pain alleviation as a means of preparing the body for death.
Death and dying are central events in the live of an organism, but neurobiological changes during this process are still rarely understood. Extracellular levels of serotonin, one of the phylogenetically oldest neurotransmitters, were measured continuously during dying. Serotonin levels increased threefold, while the EEG recorded simultaneously went down to a zero-line of no activity. This could be caused by the neuroprotective activity of brain serotonergic system, which subjectively makes dying easier due to the mood enhancing function of this neurotransmitter.
While studies on animals may provide useful information, they cannot be used as a substitute for investigating the same phenomenon in humans; further study is needed. The spiritual significance of NDEs has been argued for with the possibility of a medical explanation.
Reports of NDEs have a number of commonalities across age groups and geographical locations, including the presence of a spiritual divinity or a sense of belonging to something greater than earthly existence.
Researching NDEs is difficult since they are unpredictable; yet, if researchers get a deeper understanding of these occurrences, it may lead to novel therapies and treatments for those with terminal diseases and their loved ones.
According to San Filippo’s research, those who have had a near-death experience and describe feeling at peace and soothed throughout it often claim having a newfound acceptance of death. To help those who are troubled or suffering, researchers are trying to figure out what factors contribute to a pleasant near-death experience, one that is comfortable and serene. Because of this, maybe we can all approach death and dying with a little less apprehension and mystery.