Near-Death Experiences: Real or Fake?


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2002_dragonfly_004.jpg
Kevin Costner in the movie Dragonfly. (photo credit)

I'm sure we've all hear stories of near-death experiences. People having visions of bright light and heavenly beings, only to wake up on a hospital bed while doctors frantically try to revive them. The movie Dragonfly centers around a man's dead wife trying to communicate with him through her former pediatric cancer patients - they have near-death experiences and relay messages to him. But how legitimate are these accounts of near-death experiences?

To be honest, scientist aren't completely sure. Most accounts of near-death experiences don't have anything to back them up with - nothing to really make people believe that they're real. On the other hand, some cases seem incredibly legitimate. In one such case, a woman named Pam Reynolds underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm, where all of the blood form her brain was drained, rendering completely inactive for about 45 minutes. Essentially, her brain was dead. After the surgery however, Pam was able to relay to doctors, with startling accuracy, the process of the surgery, even down to conversations the operating staff were having during the procedure.

So what's going on during these experiences? According to an article on howstuffworks.com, People that believe in some sort of afterlife see  these situations as the patient's soul leaving the physical body and reaching the entrance of the afterlife, only to be returned to their earthly existence. Scientists have searched for a more practical answer, considering that these hallucinations are a response the dying brain shutting down, or an unknown chemical binding to neurons to try and prevent this shut down. Yet so far, a definitive answer hasn't been discovered.

Scientists are taking steps towards understanding these experiences more completely. The largest study done on near-death experiences was published in The Lancet in 2001, done by a group of Dutch scientists. They looked at near-death experiences in patients who had been revived from cardiac arrest. They found that out of the 344 subjects in the study, only 62 of them had near-death experiences. They could find no definitive link between these patients that might explain why they had these experiences. However, one of the most interesting findings in their study was that significantly more patients who had a near-death experience died within 30 days of the incident. But they are still left with no real answer for why that is, or why the near-death experiences occurred in the first place.

So while doctors are still struggling to find answers, we can be sure that reports of near-death experiences will continue to be seen, and in many cases profited upon. One of the more well known examples of near-death experiences being profited upon is the book describing the experience of 4-year-old named Colton, who slipped out of consciousness during emergency surgery and describes his experience in heaven.

So what do you think? Are these near-death experiences legitimate or just creations of chemicals in the brain? We may never know for sure, but that won't stop scientists from continuing to search for answers.

2 Comments

I think this is a nearly impossible idea to quantify since all the research done is observatory and is after the fact. It is impossible to have a controlled study because this is not something that can be done in a lab and have data collected on the spot. All the research mist be done thorough peoples interpretations on the event. This allows for gross exaggerations of the event, and often allow their emotions to cloud their judgement. To me the only way reserach can be done us thriugh tr

I think this is a nearly impossible idea to quantify since all the research done is observatory and is after the fact. It is impossible to have a controlled study because this is not something that can be done in a lab and have data collected on the spot. All the research mist be done thorough peoples interpretations on the event. This allows for gross exaggerations of the event, and often allow their emotions to cloud their judgement. To me the only way research can be done us through trained psychologists.

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