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Hi Wade, thanks for giving this interesting article.
>Near Proof for Near-Death?
>By Shankar Vedantam
>Washington Post Staff Writer
>Monday, December 17, 2001; Page A11
>The 44-year-old man who had collapsed in a meadow was
brought to a
>hospital, unconscious and with no pulse or brain
activity. Doctors began
>artificial respiration, heart massage and
>A nurse trying to feed a tube down the man's throat
saw that he was
>wearing dentures. The nurse removed them and placed
them on a stand
>called a "crash car." The patient was moved to the
intensive care unit.
>A week later, after the patient had recovered, the
nurse saw the man
>again. The man immediately recognized the nurse as
the person who had
>removed his dentures and also remembered other
details of what had
>happened while he was in a deep coma. He said he had
perceived the events
>from above the hospital bed and watched doctors'
efforts to save his life.
>This account would be standard fare in a supermarket
tabloid, but last
>week it was published in the Lancet, a British
medical journal. It is the
>latest in a long series of efforts to either document
or debunk the
>existence of "near-death" experiences, something that
for the most part
>has remained in the realm of the paranormal.
>The new study, conducted in the Netherlands, is one
of the first
>so-called prospective scientific studies. Instead of
>who reported near-death experiences after the fact,
>simply followed hundreds of patients who were
>suffering clinical death as their hearts stopped. The
idea was that this
>approach might provide more accurate accounts by
>experiences as they happened, rather than basing them
on recollections of
>the distant past.
>About 18 percent of the patients in the study
reported some recollection
>of the period when they were clinically dead, and 8
percent to 12 percent
>reported going through "near-death" experiences, such
as seeing lights at
>the end of tunnels or "crossing over" and speaking
with dead relatives
Seeing lights and tunnels happens almost universally to
dying people who nonetheless manage to escape death.
Rather than resorting to the realm of metaphysics
seeking for airborne `explanations', and thus cut
short an explanation of a more rational nature, we
should `open up the skull' and try to see what neural
correlates accompany such `unearthly' experiences.
The brain is a true enigma and
neuroscience is by far not developed to sufficient
levels to even consider to undertake such a herculean
task but... we should strive to do that nonetheless.
At any rate, it beats giving up on the rational and
settle for more romantic and surrogate explanatory
>The researchers say the evidence supports the
validity of "near-death"
>experiences and suggests that scientists should
rethink theories on one
>of the ultimate medical mysteries: the nature of
>Skeptics, however, maintain that the Dutch
researchers had not provided
>evidence to buttress any extraordinary claims;
certainly nothing as
>dramatic as proof that there is an afterlife.
>Most neuroscientists believe that consciousness is a
byproduct of the
>physical brain, that mind arises from matter. But if
>experiences are really what those who experience them
say they are, does
>that mean that people can be conscious of events
around them even when
>they are physically unconscious, when their brains do
not show signs of
Whoah, hold your horses for a second. I don't think
consciousness is an artifact of having a big brain.
I think it's rather the opposite: the conscious mind
requires a big sophisticated brain. I like to believe
that consciousness has the main purpose of facilitating
the typically human trait of learning. Being conscious
means being able to learn better (meme-acquisition).
I'm not saying that animal do not learn of course, for
they do. But we just outlearn them by having
consciousness. Acquiring consciousness gave us the
evolutionary edge which helped us bring us where we
are today: the most successful species on earth.
But I'm dwelling now.
>How can consciousness be independent of brain
>"Compare it with a TV" program, said Pim van Lommel,
a cardiologist at
>the Hospital Rijnstate in the Netherlands and the
lead investigator of
>the research. "If you open the TV set you will not
find the program. The
>TV set is a receiver. When you turn off your TV set,
the program is still
>there but you can't see it. When you put off your
>consciousness is there but you can't feel it in your
>The study, he said in a telephone interview,
suggested that researchers
>investigating consciousness "should not look in the
cells and molecules
>Although the Dutch scientist said the research did
not address whether
>there was such a thing as the soul or God or the
afterlife, many remained
>skeptical. In an accompanying article, Christopher
French, director of
>the Anomalistic Psychology Research unit at Britain's
>said that multiple questions persisted.
>"We have understandable and natural urges to believe
we will survive
>bodily death and we will be reunited with our
departed loved ones," he
>said. "So anything that would support that idea --
>mediums, ghosts -- present evidence of the survival
of the soul. It's
>something that we would all desperately like to
believe is true."
Exactly! like believing in world-peace and Santa Claus.
>French pointed out that some of those in the study
who reported they had
>near-death experiences said in follow-up interviews
that they had not had
>them, while a few who had said they had experienced
nothing later said
>they now remembered them. He said that this could
suggest that false
>memories were at play.
>"I don't think the study suggests anything beyond the
>agreed Paul Kurtz, a former professor of philosophy
at the State
>University of New York in Buffalo and the chairman
for the Committee for
>the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the
>"The out-of-body experience and light and traveling
down a tunnel and
>meeting people on the other side -- in my view these
>psychological states that people go through as they
are dying," he said.
There you go... a man with sense after all.
>Both pointed out that hearing is the last sense to
shut down in the dying
>brain and that victims such as the 44-year-old man
may have heard some of
>the events around them and subconsciously
reconstructed the events as
>The Dutch researchers tracked 344 patients who had
>They ranged in age from 26 to 92. Three-quarters were
men. Most were
>interviewed within five days of being resuscitated,
and the researchers
>followed up with interviews two and eight years later
to test the
>reliability of the patients' memories.
>Patients' demographics, religious beliefs,
psychological makeup and
>medical treatment were also documented to see who was
more likely to
>report such experiences.
>The researchers found that the experiences did not
correlate with any of
>the measured psychological, physiological or medical
>Lommel said meant the experiences were unrelated to
processes in the
>dying brain. Most patients had excellent recall of
the events, he added,
>which undermined the theory that the memories were
>Finally, the people who had such experiences reported
marked changes in
>their personalities, compared with those who had come
near death but not
>had the experiences. They seemed to lose fear of
death, and they became
>more compassionate, altruistic and loving.
>Bruce Greyson, a professor of psychiatry at the
University of Virginia in
>Charlottesville who has also done research in the
area, said that science
>had neither good explanations nor good rebuttals of
the conclusions of
>the Dutch researchers.
>In experiments underway, he said, tiny signs were
placed on the ceilings
>of hospital rooms, so that if people were genuinely
>experiences and hovering over their beds, they would
be able to see the
>signs and provide "proof" of the phenomenon.
Sounds like a long shot to me, but what the hey it
might be worth a try, it's a free country.
>While it may take a long time for such experiments to
uncover a case, he
>and others said, because not all patients will be
resuscitated in that
>room and not all cardiac arrest cases result in near-
>it could provide evidence to buttress patients'
>"Brain chemistry does not explain these phenomena,"
Greyson said. "I
>don't know what the explanation is, but our current
>brain chemistry falls short."
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