---Studies into NDE's
FROM BBC - http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7622000/7622456.stm Towards the light
Dr Sam Parnia
Director of the Human Consciousness Project
Last week witnessed the launch of two scientific studies that have the potential to answer the questions that have baffled humankind since the beginning of time.
Those questions are: what is the origin of life as we know it today, and what happens to us when life comes to an end?
Both the Hadron collider launched by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and the more modest AWARE project launched by the University of Southampton, are scientific endeavours that may alter the way we understand and think of ourselves.
The former aims to study what happened during the first few moments after existence began - but the latter explores what happens after existence and human life as we know it ceases to be.
Although traditionally perceived as a subject for philosophical or theological debate, recent advances in medicine have enabled a scientific approach to answering this age-old question.
Death 'is a process'
Contrary to popular perception, biologically speaking, there is no 'moment' that defines 'death'.
In fact, death is a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop, and as a consequence within a few seconds the brain ceases functioning and enters into a 'flatline' state.
From this point on, oxygen deprivation leads brain cells into a 'panic' state before they incur substantial damage and ultimately die over a period of minutes to hours. So the question is: at what point during this process does the human mind and consciousness cease its activity?
We know nothing about the mind itself - it really is a mystery. Is it at the moment the heart stops beating, or is it a few seconds, minutes - or even hours after the process of death has initially begun? And what is the relationship between the mind and the brain during the state of clinical death?
These fascinating issues serve as the backdrop for the launch of the AWARE study, the world's largest ever scientific study of what happens when we die. This study uses a combination of sophisticated brain-monitoring techniques to study the brain, while also employing an innovative method to study the mind and consciousness during clinical death.
Touching the void
Although many independent studies have shown that the brain reaches a 'flatline' state during clinical death, it has consistently been shown that 10-20% of people who are revived back to life report some activity of the mind.
These take the form of lucid, well-structured thought processes with reasoning and memory formation as well as the ability to 'see' and 'hear' actual events.
These observations have raised the intriguing - and controversial - possibility that the mind and consciousness may continue functioning after we have reached the point of death and the brain has shut down.
While an absolute impossibility to many scientists, for those who have experienced them and their respective doctors they are real. The key for science is to determine whether these experiences are illusions or whether they are real.
During AWARE, investigators will place images strategically in hospital bays, such that they will only be visible by looking down from the ceiling and nowhere else.
If after 36 months, hundreds of patients report being "out of body" yet no one can report seeing the images, then we must consider these reports to be nothing more than illusions. If on the other hand there are hundreds of positive reports, then we will have to redefine our understanding of the mind and brain during clinical death.
For now though, only time will tell what the AWARE study will possibly reveal about our beginnings and our inevitable end.
Study into near-death experiences
By Jane Dreaper
Health correspondent, BBC News
Original Article:- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7621608.stm
A large study is to examine near-death experiences in cardiac arrest patients. Doctors at 25 UK and US hospitals will study 1,500 survivors to see if people with no heartbeat or brain activity can have "out of body" experiences.
Some people report seeing a tunnel or bright light, others recall looking down from the ceiling at medical staff.
The study, due to take three years and co-ordinated by Southampton University, will include placing on shelves images that could only be seen from above.
To test this, the researchers have set up special shelving in resuscitation areas. The shelves hold pictures - but they're visible only from the ceiling.
Dr Sam Parnia, who is heading the study, said: "If you can demonstrate that consciousness continues after the brain switches off, it allows for the possibility that the consciousness is a separate entity.
"It is unlikely that we will find many cases where this happens, but we have to be open-minded.
"And if no one sees the pictures, it shows these experiences are illusions or false memories.
"This is a mystery that we can now subject to scientific study." Dr Parnia works as an intensive care doctor, and felt from his daily duties that science had not properly explored the issue of near-death experiences.
Process of death
He said: "Contrary to popular perception, death is not a specific moment. "It is a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working and the brain ceases functioning - a medical condition termed cardiac arrest.
"During a cardiac arrest, all three criteria of death are present. There then follows a period of time, which may last from a few seconds to an hour or more, in which emergency medical efforts may succeed in restarting the heart and reversing the dying process. "What people experience during this period of cardiac arrest provides a unique window of understanding into what we are all likely to experience during the dying process." Dr Parnia and medical colleagues will analyse the brain activity of 1,500 cardiac arrest survivors, and see whether they can recall the images in the pictures.
Hospitals involved include Addenbrookes in Cambridge, University Hospital in Birmingham and the Morriston in Swansea, as well as nine hospitals in the US.
New light on near-death flashes
Original Article:- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8607660.stm
Near-death experiences during cardiac arrest - from flashing lights to life flashing before one's eyes - may be down to carbon dioxide, a study finds.
Examination of 52 patients found levels of the body's waste gas were higher in the 11 who reported such experiences, the journal Critical Care reports.
The Slovenian researchers hope to move on the debate over why so many cardiac arrest patients report the experiences. Reasons previously suggested for the phenomenon include religion and drugs.
Those who have had near-death experiences report various encounters, including seeing a tunnel or bright light, a mystical entity, or looking down from the ceiling at the scene below in an "out of body" experience. Others describe a simple but overwhelming feeling of peace and tranquillity.
It is thought between one in ten and nearly a quarter of cardiac arrest patients have experienced one of these sensations.
In this latest study, published in the journal Critical Care, a team looked at 52 cardiac arrest patients. Eleven of these reported a near-death experience.
There appeared to be no pattern in regards to sex, religious belief, fear of death, time to recover or drugs given during resuscitation.
And while anoxia - in which brain cells die through lack of oxygen - is one of the principal theories as to why near-death experiences may occur, this was not found to be statistically significant among this small group of patients. Instead, the researchers from the University of Maribor found blood carbon dioxide levels were significantly higher in the near-death group than among those who had no experience.
Previous research has shown that inhalation of carbon dioxide can induce hallucinatory experiences similar to those reported in near-death experiences.
Whether the higher levels of carbon dioxide among this group of patients were down to the cardiac arrest itself or pre-existing is unclear.
"It is potentially another piece of the puzzle, although much more work is needed," said the report author, Zalika Klemenc-Ketis. "Near death experiences make us address our understanding of human consciousness so the more we know the better." Cardiologist Dr Pim van Lommel, who has studied near death experiences extensively, described the findings as "interesting". "But they have not found a cause - merely an association. I think this is something that will remain one of the great mysteries of mankind. The tools scientists have are simply not sufficient to explain it."
In the UK, a large study is ongoing into whether cardiac arrest patients genuinely do have out-of-body experiences. The research includes placing images on shelves that can only be seen from above. The brain activity of 1,500 patients will be analysed afterwards to see if they can recognise the images.
Dr Sam Parnia, who is leading the project at Southampton University, says he hopes to establish whether consciousness can in fact exist as a separate entity to the body.
'Near death' has biological basis
Original Article:- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4898726.stm
Near death experiences appear to have a biological explanation, research suggests. The US team said the same parts of the brain are activated when people dream as in near death experiences.
The study, in Neurology, compared 55 people who had had near death experiences and 55 who had not.
Those with near death experiences were more likely to have less clearly separated boundaries between sleeping and waking, the scientists found.
People who have had near death experiences commonly report being surrounded by a bright light or gazing down on themselves in an operating theatre.
Many of these sensations are also common to experiences of being in the dream state, or rapid eye movement (REM), stage of sleep, the researchers said.
Near death experiences were defined by the University of Kentucky researchers as a time during a life-threatening episode when a person undergoes an out-of-body experience, unusual alertness or sees an intense light or feels a great sense of peace.
They found 60% of those who reported such experiences said they had experienced the REM state of sleep during periods of wakefulness.
Only a quarter of those who had not had near death experiences said they had experienced this "REM intrusion".
Examples of this include waking up and feeling unable to move, having sudden muscle weakness in the legs and hearing sounds just before falling asleep or waking up that others do not hear, the team said.
Study author Professor Kevin Nelson of the University of Kentucky, Lexington, who led the study, said the findings suggests that REM state intrusion contributed to near death experiences.
He told the Daily Telegraph: "I see it as an activation of certain brain regions that are also active during the dream state.
"However, I hesitate to call it dreaming or dreaming while awake. This is the first testable hypothesis of a biological basis for these experiences."
"People who have near death experiences may have an arousal system that predisposes them to REM intrusion," he added.
However, he suggested the theory did not automatically rule out a spiritual dimension to near death experiences.
"We, as neurologists. address the how of these experiences coming about but not the why," he said.
Dr Neil Stanley, director of sleep research at Surrey University, said the theory was a very plausible one.
He said: "There are plenty of rational people who say that these things happen and the one part of us that's utterly fantastical is our dreams.
"Our dreams can appear incredibly real - after all they are our reality when they are happening.
"If you get that sort of reality playing through into your consciousness - it's a very convincing reason to believe such a thing is happening."
Near-death experience 'all in the mind'
Original Article:- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15494379
Near-death experiences are simply "manifestations of normal brain functions gone awry", researchers say.
Psychologists from Edinburgh University and the Medical Research Council in Cambridge reviewed existing research.
They say phenomena such as out-of-body experiences or encounters with dead relatives are tricks of the mind rather than a glimpse of the afterlife.
One of the researchers, Dr Caroline Watt, said: "Our brains are very good at fooling us."
The researchers say that many common near-death experiences could be caused by the brain's attempt to make sense of unusual sensations and perceptions occurring during a traumatic event.
Dr Watt, of the University of Edinburgh, said: "Some of the studies we examined show that many of the people experiencing a near-death experience were not actually in danger of dying, although most thought they were.
"The scientific evidence suggests that all aspects of the near-death experience have a biological basis."
Bliss and euphoria
One of the most frequently reported features of near-death experiences is an awareness of being dead - but the researchers say these feelings are not limited to near-death experiences.
There is a condition called "Cotard" - or "walking corpse" syndrome, where a person believes they are dead. It has been seen following trauma and during the advanced stages of typhoid and multiple sclerosis.
Out-of-body experiences, where people feel they are floating above themselves, are also commonly reported.
But Swiss researchers found such experiences could be artificially induced by stimulating the right temporoparietal junction in the brain that plays a role in perception and awareness.
The "tunnel of light" sensation reported by those who believe they are having a near-death experience can also be artificially induced.
Pilots flying at G-force can sometimes experience "hypertensive syncope" which causes tunnel-like peripheral or even central visual loss for up to eight seconds.
And a US study suggested the light at the end of the tunnel can be explained by poor blood and oxygen supply to the eye.
The feelings of bliss and euphoria, meanwhile, can be recreated with drugs such as ketamine and amphetamine.
The paper also suggests the action of noradrenaline, a hormone released by the mid-brain, can evoke positive emotions, hallucinations and other features of the near-death experience.
Writing in the journal Trends in Cognitive Science, the researchers say: "Taken together, the scientific experience suggests that all aspects of near-death experience have a neuro-physiological or psychological basis."
Dr Sam Parnia, director of resuscitation research at the State University of New York and author of What Happens When We Die said: "Every experience, whether near-death or otherwise such as depression, happiness and love is mediated by the brain.
"In fact many experiences share the same brain regions, and so it is not unusual to be able to reproduce them.
"Discovering those areas or reproducing them, doesn't imply the experience is not real. By the same token, we wouldn't say love, happiness and depression are not real.
"Furthermore many people accurately report "seeing" events taking place at a time when the brain doesn't function (such as during cardiac arrest). These cannot be explained by brain changes, since the brain had shut down and 'flatlined'.
"While seeming real to those who experience them, near death experiences provide a glimpse of what it is like to die for the rest of us".
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