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Near-Death Experiences Could Be Real

Oct 12, 2014 04:35 PM EDT

Your life flashing before your eyes, long dark tunnels ending in light, and out-of-body experiences are all common descriptions that follow what some call "near-death experiences." Now, a team of researchers are saying that this is more common than you'd think, and might be a very real phenomenon.

A paper recently published in the journal Resuscitation details the largest study of mental awareness during the moment of near death experiences (NDEs) ever conducted.

"Contrary to perception, death is not a specific moment but a potentially reversible process that occurs after any severe illness or accident causes the heart, lungs and brain to cease functioning," Sam Parnia, the researcher behind this latest study, explained in a recent release. "If attempts are made to reverse this process, it is referred to as 'cardiac arrest'; however, if these attempts do not succeed it is called 'death.' In this study we wanted to go beyond the emotionally charged yet poorly defined term of NDEs to explore objectively what happens when we die."

The new paper details how Parnia and his colleagues launched the AWAreness during REsuscitation (AWARE) study back in 2008, which identified and interviewed 2,060 cardiac arrest survivors from 15 hospitals in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Interestingly, these interviews revealed that of the survivors who reported lucid NDEs, 39 percent were unable to recall any specific details. Parnia says that this was likely because "people may... lose their memories after recovery, either due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory recall."

An additional nine percent of the survivors did not have this difficulty, reporting experiences comparable to NDEs in detail, while another 46 percent experienced a wide variety of mental recollections either associated with family members, fearful moments in their lives, or the moments just before cardiac arrest.

Stunningly, of the two percent who reported out-of body-experiences, one survivor's experience was monitored.

"It has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with 'real' events when the heart isn't beating," Parnia noted.

However, in this one case, it seems that the monitored patient was somehow able to see and hear events that occurred up to three minutes after their heart had stopped beating.

"Clearly, the recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice," the researcher concluded.

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