Many people who have had near-death experiences report having an out of body experience. But as it turns out, it’s just the brain tricking you in your final moments.
Your brain does not shut down as quickly as the rest of your body when you die; it’s still working. New studies have found that your brain can enter a “hyper state of perceptual neural activity” at the time of death. Essentially your brain is still projecting imagery.
Aussie-based Neurologist Dr Cameron Shaw dissected the brain of a woman to try and understand her last moments. He explained that the last 30 seconds of a person’s life can be divided into 10-second intervals. Firstly the brain dies from the top, claiming all our human characteristics.
“Our sense of self, our sense of humour, our ability to think ahead — that stuff all goes within the first 10 to 20 seconds. Then, as the wave of blood-starved brain cells spread out, our memories and language centres short out, until we’re left with just a core.” Says Shaw
According to Shaw, the out of body experience some people report after having a near death experience isn't real.
“I had a neuroscience instructor who had an out-of-body, near-death experience they were trying to revive him and he witnessed that as a disconnected person. He was brought back and described that circumstance to others, this is what I saw, but basically everything he said, none of that actually happened. The brain can create a visual world around you that resembles something close to reality that isn’t reality because you’re actually blind.”
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
You experience tunnel vision when you lose blood to the brain, followed by immediate blackness. Almost like a flash of white light at the end of a tunnel. Almost.
Interestingly, according to a study done at Hadassah University in Jerusalem, you can experience a ‘life flashing before your eyes’ moment.
The University researchers examined the near-death experiences of seven different people. Each person reported a flashback, believing they had been taken to an alternate universe. One patient told the researchers of his experience:
“There is not a linear progression, there is a lack of time limits. It was like being there for centuries. I was not in time or space. A moment, and a thousand years ... both and neither. It all happened at once, or some experiences within my near-death experience were going on at the same time as others, though my human mind separated them into different events.”
Another patient reported having flashbacks of friends and family in their final moments “I was allowed to see that part of them and feel for myself what they felt.”
Dr Shaw is hardly the first person to study death, numerous studies have been undertaken in an attempt to understand our last moments. People have even shared some of their near-death experiences on Reddit.
Whatever the case, death just like the origin of life is a mystery, and we can only speculate until we, ourselves, die.
Don't miss The Story of God With Morgan Freeman on the 14th of April, 8.30pm on National Geographic
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