It is difficult to ignore the phenomena of near death experiences happening on a regular basis. There is no shortage of NDE testimonies spanning the entire globe. But are these occurrences authentic, transcendental, spiritual experiences? Or are NDE’s merely a result of chemical reactions in the brain?
Research & data on near death experiences
Before the advent of modern surveys and scientific studies, near death experience testimonials were often written off as subjective, unrelated occurrences. However this stance soon changed as scientific studies began to look into these claims. As the data began pouring in, this phenomena gradually gained traction. After all, a 1992 Gallup poll revealed that 13 million Americans (or 5%) had experienced a near death experience.
And as scientific studies investigating this subject began to emerge, the more patterns and parallels were revealed within the data. On one hand, the quantitative data revealed the abundant frequency in the number of these testimonies. And on the other, the qualitative data reported parallels between similar concepts, themes, motifs, and archetypes of these near death experiences. Patterns began to emerge that seemed too similar to be solely coincidence.
Learn more about near death experience statistics as well as common testimonies.
Near death experiences: A chemical reaction in the brain?
However, now that this data is readily available, skeptics have a new source of distrust. Doubters can no longer ignore the copious amount of data relating to near death experiences. However, now the uncertainty has shifted from the happenings of the phenomena to its causation.
There has been much speculation from people in the scientific community on the topic of NDE’s. A common argument today is that near death experiences are merely a result of chemical reactions in the brain. Researcher Dr. Lakhmir Chawla explains his theory of the cause of NDE’s:
“We think that near-death experiences could be caused by a surge of electrical energy as the brain runs out of oxygen. As blood flow slows down and oxygen levels fall, the brain cells fire one last electrical impulse. It starts in one part of the brain and spreads in a cascade and this may give people vivid mental sensations. We offer this as a potential explanation for the clarity in which many patients have “out of body” experiences when successfully revived from a near-death event.”
Similarly, many other doctors also believe this phenomena is caused by chemical reactions as the brain begins to shutdown. But is this perspective valid? Are near death experiences merely a result of physiological occurrences in the body? Or is there a spiritual, transcendental element to them which this explanation misses?
Near death experiences with no brain activity
But what if near death experiences weren’t caused by chemical reactions in the brain? What if we found NDE testimonies in which the subject had no brain activity present? If this were the case, then the testimony could not be written off as an occurrence in the brain.
In the book titled, “Light and Death”, Cardiologist Dr. Michael Sabom discusses this exact type of experience. He recounts a situation he had with one of his patients, Pam Reynolds (1956-2010). Reynolds was having a rare surgery to remove an aneurysm in her brain. The procedure was called “deep hypothermic cardiac arrest” also nicknamed “standstill”.
The surgery required Reynolds’ body temperature to be lowered to sixty degrees. All autonomic nervous system functions were stopped, essentially killing the patient. Reynolds’ breathing and heartbeat stopped while her brain waves flattened, draining all the blood from her head. It was only after all this that Dr. Sabom could begin surgery on her brain.
Dr. Sabom confirms that during this “standstill” process, Reynold’s was declared brain dead. Dr. Sabom further stated:
“…her electroencephalogram was silent, her brain-stem response was absent, and no blood flowed through her brain. Interestingly, while in this state, she encountered the “deepest” NDE of all Atlanta Study participants.”
Conclusion: Near death experiences are not reliant on brain activity
While having “the deepest NDE of all Atlanta Study participants”, Pam Reynolds had absolutely no brain activity. Dr. Sabom explains that there are three separate clinical tests administered to patients determining if the subject is brain dead. Reynolds passed all three tests, confirming she was clinically brain dead.
However while brain dead, Pam Reynolds had a profound and transforming near death experience. This NDE was not caused by a chemical reaction in the brain, but rather was something transcendental. Reynolds’ experience can only be explained as a genuinely spiritual experience.