At the Moment of Death: Exploring Science and Spirituality in Near Death Experiences

Near Death Experiences.  They seem to be the one human experience that brings both scientists and mystics to the same table.  Paranormal researchers and biologists, medical doctors and mediums, energy healers and physicists each take their turn in attempting to solve a universal human mystery.  What really happens at the point of death and beyond?

It has been the subject of countless books and in 1990, a horror film was dedicated to the subject in Flatliners starring Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and Kiefer Sutherland.  In the film, a group of medical students begin conducting experiments wherein they would stop each other’s hearts and cause medical death for a short period of time.  Upon being revived, they would recount their experiences.  Of course, this being a horror movie, things took a decidedly dark turn.

Those who have actually come back from death have described experiences that echo one another with slight variations, and there are forums online where survivors and those interested can come together to discuss the phenomena.  Let’s take a look at some of these unifying factors and what both the mystics (I will use this term below to summarize the opinions of spiritual, not science based opinion.  The term is used in a respectful way) and the scientists have to say about each of them.

#1 The Tunnel of Bright, White Light

It is perhaps the one thing that everyone knows about and talks about with near death experiences.  Many who come back from death describe a long, narrow tunnel filled with or made from a bright white light that surrounds them as they move through it.

  1.  The Mystic’s View:  As we transition from this life to the next, many claim to see a brilliant white light, often like a tunnel through which the soul moves to the other side.  This is an actual doorway/channel of transition.  We are crossing the veil, so to speak, to a place that is filled with light and positive polarity, and as such, we perceive this light all around us, pulling us forward.
  2. The Scientist’s View:  As blood flow and oxygen become restricted to the eyes, the pupils constrict causing literal tunnel vision.  Levels of carbon dioxide increase which effects the way that the eye processes light and vision, thus creating the sensation of being surrounded by a tunnel of light.  Source

#2 A feeling of peace and coming home

Many people report the feeling of being surrounded by loved ones during the near death experience.  They have reported that not only were they surrounded by light, but that there were people in the light and that they gave the overall feeling of comfort and peace during the experience.

One anonymous poster on Thought Catalog said, “There are these people, some would call them maybe guardian angels, that are actually called our “spirit guides.” They follow us through our everyday life. We designated them to ensure we stay on the right “path.” They’re there when you die. They help bring you back to the “other side:” or as I like to call it, home.”

  1. The Mystic’s View:  It is a long held belief that not only our family members but our spirit guides help us make the journey through the tunnel from life to afterlife.  As a matter of fact, as someone who has spent a great deal of time assisting a hospice nurse in her duties, I can tell you that those who are nearing the time of their crossing often spend a great deal of time talking to loved ones who have already crossed and many times you can feel them in the room.  It makes perfect sense, then, that someone whose time has not actually come would meet those same friends and loved ones on the other side who gently help them to come back.
  2. The Scientist’s View:  Doctors and biologists believe that lack of oxygen to the brain during the dying state can actually cause moments of hallucination, causing people to perceive things and people who are not there.  Likewise, endorphins are released into the body during high stress conditions.  When the body is flooded with endorphins a euphoric feeling takes over, giving a person a feeling of utter calm and relaxation.

#3 The Out of Body Experience (OBE)

Image by Drew Gardner

It is not uncommon for those who have experienced near death phenomena to have experienced a time of being out of their body, viewing the events going on to their physical body from a distance.  In this state, they often report being hyperaware of what was going on around them at the time, and of events occurring while they were physically dead.

Jazmyne Cidavia-DeRepentigny had this to said of her experience, “I must say that this experience was quite unsettling to say the least.  I was floating over my body.  I could see and hear everything that was being said and done.  I left the room for a short while and then returned to where my body lay.  I knew why I died.  It was because I couldn’t breathe.  There was a tube down my throat and the medical staff did not have an oxygen mask on my nose.  I had also been given too much anesthetic.”

  1. The Mystic’s View:  It makes perfect sense to those who believe that we cross to another plane of existence at the moment of death that leaving the body is part of that process.  Physical death loosens the ties that bind our souls to the physical form.  Upon release, we might very well look down on our physical bodies before crossing to the other side and retain that knowledge upon being revived.
  2. The Scientist’s View:  Scientists and neurologists explain that the OBE is related to the same phenomena as anesthesia awareness.  One in 1000 people suffer from the condition wherein while under anesthesia, they are still consciously aware of their surroundings.  A remarkably unsettling occurrence, the patients report everything from the topics of conversation during surgery to music that was playing in the background and tools that were used on them during the surgical process.  Also, during the 1950, a doctor by the name of Penfield was conducting experiments ont he brain.  While treating a patient who suffered from temporal lobe procedures, he applied a current of electricity to the patient’s temporoparietal region of the man’s brain.  The man immediately found himself having an out of body experience.  Upon removing the current, the man “returned” to his body.  It is believed that electrical currents in the brain during the NDE can cause this part of the brain to activate causing the out of body experience.

It is no wonder that these stories and phenomena mystify and intrigue us.  Little is known about what happens after death.  That’s why many of us began our investigations into the paranormal.  Mediums the world over have related what they’ve been told, and yet, due in large part to attention seekers and frauds in the field, the information is viewed as suspect at best unfortunately.

And so we investigate and dig as deeply into our findings as we can to gather information on what really happens in the moments beyond death.  Will it be the scientists or the paranormal researchers who find proof first?  No one can really say.  In the meantime, our fascination continues so much so that films like Flatliners remain in the public consciousness.  The film itself has been remade for release later this year.  You can view the trailer below.

What do you believe happens?  Let us know in the comments below!


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