Scientists Simulate Near-Death Experience in the Brain

Within the first 30 seconds after cardiac arrest, there is a widespread, transient surge of highly synchronized brain activity that had features associated with a highly aroused brain.

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Near-death experience, in which visions occur after clinical death takes place (defined by the loss of blood flow to the brain), is likely a result of normal brain function rather than evidence of an afterlife, say University of Michigan scientists who have simulated the condition in the brains of lab rats. "Within the first 30 seconds after cardiac arrest, all of the rats displayed a widespread, transient surge of highly synchronized brain activity that had features associated with a highly aroused brain. They also displayed nearly identical patterns after undergoing asphyxiation."

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The vividness of first-person human accounts of near-death experience is also explainable by the level of brain activity found in the experiment. "At near-death, many known electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state, suggesting that the brain is capable of well-organized electrical activity during the early stage of clinical death.­­­" The researchers conclude that near-death experience "represents a biological paradox that challenges our understanding of the brain and has been advocated as evidence for life after death and for a noncorporeal basis of human consciousness, based on the unsupported belief that the brain cannot possibly be the source of highly vivid and lucid conscious experiences during clinical death."

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