Scientists have looked at the most common themes that run through accounts of Near Death Experiences.
Of those, these are the ones that appear to be of most interest to scientists:
- A bright tunnel of light
- A feeling of great calm, love and forgiveness
- Guardian figures, either key figures from the subject’s religion, or from the subject’s family or friends
Scientific explanations have been put forward for these; they are not glamorous, but if we are to understand the Out of Body Experience we should be able to consider the possibility that there are rational explanations.
The Tunnel of Light
In an extreme situation, the human body goes into shock. It doesn’t go into shock in the way that TV shows tend to describe going into shock, often from seeing something shocking, and where a slap to the face may bring the subject to.
The body goes into shock in the profound clinical sense. Blood supply is diverted away from some areas, to areas that need more to compensate for blood loss, to maintain body temperature, or whatever else is necessary to keep the subject alive.
Blood supply to the retina is reduced, and with it changes happen to the way blood forms on the retina, due to blood loss and oxygen starvation.
Blood will move to the sides of the retina, and it is easy to see how that could produce the effect of a tunnel of light, or as in other accounts, the appearance of a “living sun”.
A Feeling of Great Calm
This is also no great surprise to scientists. For the same reason as above, when the subject goes into shock, blood supply, and the oxygen it carries, is diverted from the brain. This results in feelings of indifference, calm, resignation and sometimes euphoria.
You will have probably heard about people deliberately suffocating or strangling themselves to increase their sexual kicks!
Again, this is not too hard to explain. Oxygen starvation, blood redirection creating unusual configurations on the eyes, confusion, trauma, these could certainly combine to create images that would have a particular significance during such an extreme time as we experience on the path towards clinical death.
If you have ever stared into a fire, or watched cloud formations create images, it is possible to see why this is not so far fetched. When I was a child, my bedroom had curtains in which I could see all manner of weird and wonderful, and sometimes frightening, things.
The fact that the Guardian figures are so personalized also suggests that it is our brain activity that is creating them.
(Although I do struggle to understand how our brain activity can be so, well, active, when we are clinically dead.)
Aspects of the NDE that are a little harder for science to explain…
For me, there are some major aspects of the NDE that are not explained to my satisfaction.
How does science explain the feeling of literally leaving the body, and looking down upon yourself?
(It turns out that, to an extent, this sensation can be triggered in a laboratory setting. There is a part of the brain that can displace the perception, and make a person view themselves from outside their own body. But why does not seem to be understood…)
Most of all, there really has not been a strong explanation of the transformative aspect of a near death experience.
Seemingly without fail, those who return to the physical world after experiencing a clinical death, return with something rather more than being simply thankful to be alive!
People who return from an NDE are usually profoundly changed, not just emotionally and spiritually, but also physically.
Whether you choose to call it an Out of Body Experience or a Near Death Experience, it is certainly utterly unforgettable.
People speak of coming back as another person.
If a human brain is capable of creating this kind of experience, of tapping into such a life-changing power, and that’s all it is, just brain activity, do you know what? That’s okay with me!
It is important that studies are done to help us understand the Out of Body Experience, and necessarily these must be done by scientists.
If history has taught us anything, it is that a “clinical study”, when performed by a non-clinical individual, and particularly when they have an interest in getting a certain result, always results in flawed evidence. Every time.
But science is still unable to tell the full story.
The subjects who experienced near death describe what their sensations were, and scientists look at these descriptions impassionately, as is their job.
But the subjects are not talking literally, but figuratively.
They are trying to put in words their experience so that other people may understand, but what they are trying to describe is quite beyond words!