Monday, November 25, 2013

Near Death Experience: It's All a Dream, Say Researchers by Chad Stambaugh

Near Death Experience: It's All a Dream, Say Researchers

     Since the mid-1970s researchers from the medical, psychological and scientific fields have rigorously investigated the near-death-experience (NDE) phenomenon.  While most researchers accept that NDEs are a real phenomenon, there's a lack of consensus on what causes this sensation, whether it be biological, psychological  or even spiritual.
     Recent research by the Out-of-Body Experience (OOBE) Research Center in Los Angeles, USA, managed to replicate the events that people encounter in a near-death-experience during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep.  According to the center leader Michael Raduga, the study suggests that NDEs “may be just the result of spontaneous and hyper-realistic lucid dreams, induced by narcosis or brain damage during dying.”
What is a Near-Death Experience?
     Near-death experiences involve a person's consciousness seemingly leaving their body and entering what appears to be a spiritual realm. Common experiences involve a person moving down a tunnel towards a great light, where a spiritual figure or deceased loved ones help them to evaluate their lives and conclude that it's not yet their time to die and that they should return to their body.  Many people have also reported an out-of-body experience where they have viewed their own body from above as others try to resuscitate them or even visited their living relatives.  A feeling of peace and happiness is also commonly reported during NDEs
    Not all near-death-experiences are associated with peace, comfort and happiness.  A number of NDE accounts involve people traversing barren and ugly expanses, nightmarish landscapes and hellish environments. In this scenery people have  reported encountering twisted and grotesque human and animals figures, zombie-like beings and lifeless or threatening apparitions, which instead of engaging in conversation threaten the person, scream or remain dead silent.

     The International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS) currently manages a  database with around 800 reported NDEs. 75 percent of these near-death experiences occurred at the moment of real or anticipated death. The remaining  25 percent of NDEs were reported by people who did not perceive themselves to be  near death, but instead where in emotionally intense situations, praying or meditating, sleeping, or in ordinary states of consciousness when this phenomenon occurred. NDEs have been reported by people from all demographics, regardless of age, marital status, occupation, personality and education.
NDE and REM-Sleep
     In the US around 8 million people have reported experiencing NDEs and in most cases they've occurred during anesthesia-induced sleep. The OOBE Research Center recruited several dozen NDE practitioners as well as three groups of 10-20  participants from the US and Russia, who used a method of “cycling indirect techniques” to reproduce the NDE experience quickly and effectively.
     These techniques involved sleeping for 6 hours, getting up and reading through researcher's instructions and then going back to bed for another 2–4  hours. Upon awakening participants would try not to move or open their eyes, and instead attempt to separate from their body. Different techniques to help in the separation included participants imagining that they were rotating along their head-to-toe axis; swimming; or visualizing wriggling their hands and feet without physically doing so.
     The researchers aimed to reproduce the tunnel experience due to it being a  commonly reported element in the NDE sensation. Around 20 volunteers were  partially or fully successful in reproducing flight through a tunnel and the  sensation of being out of their body during the REM stage of sleep, which takes  place 90-100 minutes after falling asleep and when the majority of dreaming  occurs.
     Researchers found that NDEs were influenced by lucid dreaming – where the  dreamer, realizing that they're asleep, can manipulate and control certain  elements of the dream. Participants were instructed that if they successfully separated from their body they should try to find a tunnel. As they moved down the tunnel they concentrated on what awaited them at the end, whether it is a deceased family member, a friend, an angel, or even God. Many of these 20 volunteers reported an encounter with individuals at the end of the tunnel, including interactions with their deceased grandparents, husband, pet cat, female angels and even Roman legionaries.
      The researchers, assuming that NDEs take place during REM-sleep, suggest that  near-death-experiences may be manipulated by peoples' expectations of what they believe or often heard they will encounter at the moment of death. In regards to people experiencing NDEs at death, only to be revived later, researchers have stated that there's a possibility that REM-sleep may continue on after the first  few seconds of death, as brain activity does not stop the very moment breathing  has ceased.
     This isn't the first study that's suggested that REM-sleep maybe associated with near-death experiences. Neurologist Kevin Nelson from the University of Kentucky has argued that consciousness cannot exist outside of the body and that the NDE sensation is all in the head. Nelson suggests that NDEs occur when the dorsolateral prefrontal region – a part of our brain that is usually only active when awake - becomes active during REM-sleep, resulting in vivid realistic dreams.
     Nelson also suggests that other common elements in NDE accounts, such as the feeling of bliss and lack of pain, can be explained by a drop in blood pressure during a near-death event. The experience of moving down a tunnel towards a bright light is similar to retinal ischemia, a 5-to-8 second phenomenon that is commonly experienced in fainting.
Previous suggestions on causes of near-death experiences include:
·         endorphins (a hormone that suppresses pain and causes feelings of elation);
·         anoxia (where oxygen is deprived to a certain part of the body);
·         stimulation of the brain's temporal lobe;
·         hallucinations created by a dying brain;
·         drug induced-hallucinations;
·         higher-than-average blood levels of carbon dioxide and potassium
·         REM intrusions, where characteristics from REM-sleep stage - such as rapid  eye movement, low muscle tone and dreaming - occur when someone is awake and  conscious.
·         memories of birth, such as moving through what appears to be a dark tunnel  towards a great light;
·         And even proof of life-after-death.

History of Near-Death Experiences
     The earliest record of near-death experiences was in Plato's “Myth of Er” which was written around 420BCE and was included in Book X of The Republic. The story involved a man named Er who died in battle with his follow soldiers and returned to life 12 days later, while his non-decomposed body lay on a funeral pyre. Er retold his experience of travelling to a spiritual realm where souls of the departed were judged on their actions on Earth, met and conversed with souls from heaven and even had the option of  reincarnation.
     Personal experiences of NDEs were first described in 1892 by geologist Albert von St. Gallan Heim who published a collection of observations of mountain climbers who had fallen in the Alps, soldiers wounded in battle, workers who had  fallen from scaffolds and other people who had nearly died in accidents and drowning’s.
     The term 'Near-Death Experiences' was first used in 1975 by Raymond Moody in his book Life After Life which sparked new interest and research on the topic. Moody also listed elements that tend to appear in NDE experiences, which include:
·         ineffability
·         hearing oneself pronounced dead
·         feelings of peace and quiet
·         hearing unusual noises from an unknown source (e.g. reported noises include  buzzing, ringing, clicking and even “majestic” music)
·         seeing and being pulled through a dark tunnel
·         being out of the body
·         meeting with spiritual beings
·         encountering a bright light or a being made of light
·         a panoramic life-review
·         a border of limit, which from NDE accounts have taken the form of a body of  water, a gray mist, a door, a fence or even just a line
·         returning to ones' body
Near-Death Experiences across Cultures
     Surveys conducted in the US, Australia and Germany suggest that 4-15 percent of people have had a near-death experience. One estimate suggests that NDEs occur in up to 50 percent of near-death situations.
     So far most studies investigating NDEs have focused on white Anglo-European  populations where common events include the sensation of travelling through a tunnel towards a great light and life-review where events from a person's life flash before their eyes. These occurrences maybe culture specific as they are less commonly reported, and in some cases not reported at all, in NDEs from  non-western cultures e.g. Chinese, Indian, Thai, Native American, Chamorro (native people of Guam), Mapuche (indigenous people of Chile), Tibetan and Australian Aborigines.
     Religion has also influenced some of the contents of NDE accounts. In Western NDEs a commonly reported occurrence is that a person is sent back into their body by a spiritual figure, sometimes reported as being an angel, Jesus or God. NDEs reported in China, India, Tibet and Thailand have a more Buddhist and Hindu influence, with some reports involving Yamadoots, who are Hindu Messengers of Death, escorting the person to Yamaraj, the Hindu God of Death.
     In India the event is often recalled as being far more bureaucratic than the Western experience, where the spiritual figure simply tell the person that it's not yet their time to die. In a review of 64 Indian NDEs, a common element to their near-death-experience was that they were often escorted to an office, where a clerk, would consult some records and inform that them that there had been a mistake, that it was not yet their time to die and that they should return to their body. In some accounts the role of the clerk is replaced by the God of Death himself, Yamaraj.

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