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Old 09-19-2008, 11:53 PM   #1
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The Afterlife Experiments

What Happens When We Die? - TIME

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Thursday, Sep. 18, 2008
What Happens When We Die?
By M.J. Stephey

A fellow at New York's Weill Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Sam Parnia is one of the world's leading experts on the scientific study of death. Last week, Parnia and his colleagues at the Human Consciousness Project announced their first major undertaking: a 3-year exploration of the biology behind "out-of-body" experiences. The study, known as AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation), involves the collaboration of 25 major medical centers through Europe, Canada and the U.S., and will examine some 1,500 survivors of cardiac arrest. TIME spoke with Parnia about the project's origins, its skeptics, and the difference between the mind and the brain.

What sort of methods will this project use to try and verify people's claims of "near-death" experience?

When your heart stops beating, there is no blood getting to your brain. And so what happens is that within about ten seconds, brain activity ceases —as you would imagine. Yet paradoxically, ten or 20 percent of people who are then brought back to life from that period, which may be a few minutes or over an hour, will report having consciousness. So the key thing here is, are these real, or is it some sort of illusion? So the only way to tell is to have pictures only visible from the ceiling and nowhere else, because they claim they can see everything from the ceiling. So if we then get a series of 200 or 300 people who all were clinically dead, and yet they're able to come back and tell us what we were doing and were able see those pictures, that confirms consciousness really was continuing even though the brain wasn't functioning.

How does this project relate to society's perception of death?

People commonly perceive death as being a moment — you're either dead or you're alive. And that's a social definition we have. But the clinical definition we use is when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working, and as a consequence the brain itself stops working. When doctors shine a light into someone's pupil, it's to demonstrate that there is no reflex present. The eye reflex is mediated by the brain stem and that's the area that keeps us alive; if that doesn't work then that means that the brain itself isn't working. At that point, I'll call a nurse into the room so I can certify that this patient is dead. Fifty years ago, people couldn't survive after that.

How is technology challenging the perception that death is a moment?

Nowadays, we have technology that's improved so that we can bring people back to life. In fact, there are drugs being developed right now — who knows if they'll ever make it to the market — that may actually slow down the process of brain-cell injury and death. Imagine, you fast-forward to ten years down the line and you've given a patient whose heart has just stopped this amazing drug, and actually what it does is it slows everything down so that the things that would've happened over an hour, now happen over two days. As medicine progresses, we will end up with lots and lots of ethical questions.

But what is happening to the individual at that time, what's really going on? Because there is a lack of blood flow, the cells go into a kind of a frenzy to keep themselves alive. And within about 5 minutes or so they start to damage or change. After an hour or so the damage is so great that even if we restart the heart again and pump blood, the person can no longer be viable because the cells have just been changed too much. And then the cells continue to change so that within a couple of days the body actually decomposes. So it's not a moment, it's a process that actually begins when the heart stops and culminates in the complete loss of the body, the decompositions of all the cells. However, ultimately what matters is, What's going on to a person's mind? What happens to the human mind and consciousness during death? Does that cease immediately as soon as the heart stops? Does it cease activity within the first 2 seconds, the first 2 minutes? Because we know that cells are continuously changing at that time. Does it stop after ten minutes, after half an hour, after an hour? And at this point we don't know.

What was your first interview like with someone who had reported an out-of-body experience?

Eye-opening and very humbling. Because what you see is that, first of all, they are completely genuine people who are not looking for any kind of fame or attention. In many cases they haven't even told anybody else about it because they're afraid of what people will think of them. I have about five hundred or so cases of people that I've interviewed since I first started out more than ten years ago. It's the consistency of the experiences, the reality of what they were describing. I managed to speak to doctors and nurses who had been present who said these patients had told them exactly what had happened and they couldn't explain it. I actually documented a few of those in my book What Happens When We Die because I wanted people to get both angles —not just the patients' side but also get the doctors' side — and see how it feels for the doctors to have a patient come back and tell them what was going on. There was a cardiologist that I spoke with who said he hasn't told anyone else about it because he has no explanation for how this patient could have been able to describe in detail what he had said and done. He was so freaked out by it that he just decided not to think about it anymore.

Why do you think there is such resistance to studies like yours?

Because we're pushing through the boundaries of science, working against assumptions and perceptions that have been fixed. A lot of people hold this idea that well, when you die you die, that's it. Death is a moment, you know you're either dead or you're alive. All these things are not scientifically valid but they're social perceptions. If you look back at the end of the 19th century, physicists at that time had been working with Newtonian laws of motion and they really felt they had all the answers to everything that was out there in the universe. When we look at the world around us, Newtonian physics is perfectly sufficient. It explains most things that we deal with. But then it was discovered that actually when you look at motion at really small levels —beyond the level of the atoms — Newton's laws no longer apply. A new physics was needed, hence, we eventually ended up with quantum physics. It caused a lot of controversy, even Einstein himself didn't believe in it.

Now, if you look at the mind, consciousness, and the brain, the assumption that the mind and brain are the same thing is fine for most circumstances, because in 99% of circumstances we can't separate the mind and brain, they work at the exactly the same time. But then there are certain extreme examples, like when the brain shuts down, that we see that that this assumption may no longer seem to hold true. So a new science is needed in the same way that we had to have a new quantum physics. The CERN particle accelerator may take us back to our roots. It may take us back to the first moments after the big bang, the very beginning. With our study, for the first time, we have the technology and the means to be able to investigate this. To see what happens at the end for us. Does something continue?
It's been a while since we've had a good dose of metaphysics here.

Thoughts?
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Old 09-20-2008, 12:17 AM   #2
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perhaps, I'lll come back and read the article later


until then
two knee-jerk reactions


The Afterlife Experiments > nonsensical

The Afterlife Experiments = junk science



(now, I am going to bed.
I pray I don't die before I wake)
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Old 09-20-2008, 12:24 AM   #3
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That'd be a fascinating study. Though only glitch is that he sounds like he wants to start experiments where he technically "kills" people and then brings them back to life. Good luck getting funding for that. But while it was going, I'd follow it. Real interesting stuff. Would have liked a bit more on his findings though...though I guess he doesn't have much more than his interviews at this point.
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Old 09-20-2008, 12:28 AM   #4
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i think theyre all imagining it.

we evolved from monkeys, who elvolved from fish.

im not buying it.

they all need to be locked up.



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Old 09-20-2008, 12:31 AM   #5
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Well, whatever happens to us probably happens to the monkey and the fish too.
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Old 09-20-2008, 12:37 AM   #6
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i dont think we should lock up the monkeys and fish.

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Old 09-20-2008, 12:41 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by diamond View Post
i think theyre all imagining it.

we evolved from monkeys, who elvolved from fish.

im not buying it.
I knew this subject would "fish" you out into here.

But, to reiterate a point I've made before, evolution and belief in God are not mutually exclusive.
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Old 09-20-2008, 12:44 AM   #8
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god uses evolution as one of his means in creation.

u read that book yet, slacker?


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Old 09-20-2008, 12:48 AM   #9
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i dont think we should lock up the monkeys and fish.

Are you against zoos and fishtanks?
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Old 09-20-2008, 12:48 AM   #10
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u read that book yet, slacker?
Not yet. My apologies. I'm as knee deep in work as before. I look forward to the day that I'll have time to read again!
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Old 09-20-2008, 01:01 AM   #11
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Are you against zoos and fishtanks?
in the purest sense of the concept, yes.

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Old 09-20-2008, 01:06 AM   #12
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It's probably hypocrisy on my part, but I have no problems with fishtanks. Zoos, I'm sorta iffy on.
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Old 09-20-2008, 01:09 AM   #13
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for those that claim ndes do not exist..that it's from the sub-conscious, lack of 02 to the brain and yada yada....so on and so forth..here's a blind person's nde who has been blind from birth...and what she experienced:


A Woman Born Blind Can See
Vicki Umipeg's near-death experience

Vicki Umipeg, a forty-five year old blind woman, was just one of the more than thirty persons Dr. Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper interviewed at length during a two-year study just completed concerning near-death experiences in the blind. The results of their study appears in their newest book Mindsight. Vicki was born blind, her optic nerve having been completely destroyed at birth because of an excess of oxygen she received in the incubator. Yet, she appears to have seen during her near-death experience. Her story is a particularly clear instance of how near-death experiences in the congenitally blind can unfold in precisely the same way as do those of sighted persons. As you will see, apart from the fact that Vicki was not able to discern color during her experience, her account of her near-death experience is absolutely indistinguishable from those with intact visual systems. The following is an excerpt from Dr. Ring's latest book reprinted by permission.

Vicki told Dr. Ring she found herself floating above her body in the emergency room of a hospital following an automobile accident. She was aware of being up near the ceiling watching a male doctor and a female nurse working on her body, which she viewed from her elevated position. Vicki has a clear recollection of how she came to the realization that this was her own body below her.

"I knew it was me ... I was pretty thin then. I was quite tall and thin at that point. And I recognized at first that it was a body, but I didn't even know that it was mine initially. Then I perceived that I was up on the ceiling, and I thought, 'Well, that's kind of weird. What am I doing up here?' I thought, 'Well, this must be me. Am I dead? ...' I just briefly saw this body, and ... I knew that it was mine because I wasn't in mine."

In addition, she was able to note certain further identifying features indicating that the body she was observing was certainly her own:

"I think I was wearing the plain gold band on my right ring finger and my father's wedding ring next to it. But my wedding ring I definitely saw ... That was the one I noticed the most because it's most unusual. It has orange blossoms on the corners of it."

There is something extremely remarkable and provocative about Vicki's recollection of these visual impressions, as a subsequent comment of hers implied. "This was," she said, "the only time I could ever relate to seeing and to what light was, because I experienced it."

She then told them that following her out-of-body episode, which was very fast and fleeting, she found herself going up through the ceilings of the hospital until she was above the roof of the building itself, during which time she had a brief panoramic view of her surroundings. She felt very exhilarated during this ascension and enjoyed tremendously the freedom of movement she was experiencing. She also began to hear sublimely beautiful and exquisitely harmonious music akin to the sound of wind chimes.

With scarcely a noticeable transition, she then discovered she had been sucked head first into a tube and felt that she was being pulled up into it. The enclosure itself was dark, Vicki said, yet she was aware that she was moving toward light. As she reached the opening of the tube, the music that she had heard earlier seemed to be transformed into hymns and she then "rolled out" to find herself lying on grass.

She was surrounded by trees and flowers and a vast number of people. She was in a place of tremendous light, and the light, Vicki said, was something you could feel as well as see. Even the people she saw were bright. "Everybody there was made of light. And I was made of light." What the light conveyed was love. "There was love everywhere. It was like love came from the grass, love came from the birds, love came from the trees."

Vicki then becomes aware of specific persons she knew in life who are welcoming her to this place. There are five of them. Debby and Diane were Vicki's blind schoolmates, who had died years before, at ages 11 and 6, respectively.

In life, they had both been profoundly retarded as well as blind, but here they appeared bright and beautiful, healthy and vitally alive. And no longer children, but, as Vicki phrased it, "in their prime." In addition, Vicki reports seeing two of her childhood caretakers, a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Zilk, both of whom had also previously died. Finally, there was Vicki's grandmother - who had essentially raised Vicki and who had died just two years before this incident. In these encounters, no actual words were exchanged, Vicki says, but only feelings - feelings of love and welcome.

In the midst of this rapture, Vicki is suddenly overcome with a sense of total knowledge:

"I had a feeling like I knew everything ... and like everything made sense. I just knew that this was where ... this place was where I would find the answers to all the questions about life, and about the planets, and about God, and about everything ... It's like the place was the knowing."

As these revelations are unfolding, Vicki notices that now next to her is a figure whose radiance is far greater than the illumination of any of the persons she has so far encountered. Immediately, she recognizes this being to be Jesus. He greets her tenderly, while she conveys her excitement to him about her newfound omniscience and her joy at being there with him.

Telepathically, he communicates to her: "Isn't it wonderful? Everything is beautiful here, and it fits together. And you'll find that. But you can't stay here now. It's not your time to be here yet and you have to go back."

Vicki reacts, understandably enough, with extreme disappointment and protests vehemently, "No, I want to stay with you." But the Being reassures her that she will come back, but for now, she "has to go back and learn and teach more about loving and forgiving."

Still resistant, however, Vicki then learns that she also needs to go back to have her children. With that, Vicki, who was then childless but who "desperately wanted" to have children [and who has since given birth to three] becomes almost eager to return and finally consents.

However, before Vicki can leave, the Being says to her, in these exact words, "But first, watch this."

And what Vicki then sees is "everything from my birth" in a complete panoramic review of her life, and as she watches, the Being gently comments to help her understand the significance of her actions and their repercussions.

The last thing Vicki remembers, once the life review has been completed, are the words, "You have to leave now." Then she experiences "a sickening thud" like a roller-coaster going backwards, and finds herself back in her body.

Such reports, replete with visual imagery, were the rule, not the exception, among their blind respondents. Altogether, 80% of their entire sample claimed some visual perception during their near-death or out-of-body encounters. Although Vicki's was unusual with respect to the degree of detail, it was hardly unique in their sample.

Sometimes the initial onset of visual perception of the physical world is disorienting and even disturbing to the blind. This was true for Vicki, for example, who said:

"I had a hard time relating to it [i.e., seeing]. I had a real difficult time relating to it because I've never experienced it. And it was something very foreign to me ... Let's see, how can I put it into words? It was like hearing words and not being able to understand them, but knowing that they were words. And before you'd never heard anything. But it was something new, something you'd not been able to previously attach any meaning to."
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Old 09-20-2008, 07:22 AM   #14
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All I can think of when I read this is:

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Old 09-20-2008, 09:21 PM   #15
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Not sure if this really fits with the 'metaphysical' thread intent, but I found a rather interesting article about the content of NDEs in Indian subjects. The primary author, a psychologist with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in Bangalore, has researched this topic extensively but, unfortunately, this 1986 piece was the only one for which I could locate full-text. It's Near-Death Experiences in India: A Preliminary Report by Satwant Pasricha with Ian Stevenson, from the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (Vol. 174, No. 3).


Some excerpts:
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Although individual near-death experiences (NDEs) have been reported from India (Osis and Haraldsson, 1977), China (Becker, 1981), and Melanesia (Counts, 1988), there has been no systematic comparison of the features of cases observed in the West with those observed in another culture. We offer the present report as a contribution toward such a comparison.

...All the subjects were Hindi-speaking persons of northern India from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

...The subject does not view his or her physical body, as do many subjects of American NDE cases. Instead the subject is taken in hand by "messengers" and brought before a man or woman who is often described as having a book or papers that he or she consults. A mistake is discovered. The wrong person has been "sent for," and this person is then brought back by the messengers to his or her terrestrial life; or the subject is "pushed down" and revives. The error supposedly made is often a slight one, so that a person of the same given name but a different caste, or someone living in a different but nearby village, should have died and been brought instead of the subject of the NDE.

...In contrast, subjects of American NDEs usually give no reason (in psychological terms) for their recovery; if they do give one they may say that they revived because they decided to return of their own accord, often because of love for living members of their family. Sometimes they are "sent back" by deceased persons who tell them their "time has not yet come."

...Yamraj, the king of the dead, is a well-known figure of Hindu mythology and current Hinduism. So are his messengers, called Yamdoots, and the "man with the book," Chitragupta. Chitragupta's book is conceived as containing a record of all of a person's deeds during the life just ended; judgments from the record determine the assignment of the deceased to heaven or hell until the time for his or her next incarnation.

...On the other hand, Western persons who have become imbued with Indian religious beliefs may have an NDE showing the influence of the Indian culture. Osis and Haraldsson (1977) mentioned, without giving details, the case of a Swedish missionary in India who had an NDE that included the feature of mistaken identity. In another case, reported by Sandweiss (1975), an American disciple of Sai Baba (a well-known holy man of south India) had an NDE with one feature often found in Indian cases--that of reading the record of the person's life. The person who had this experience almost died while staying in a hotel in Madras. According to his account later, he found himself (while supposedly dead) standing in a large hall in a "Court of Justice"; Sai Baba was with him. The records of the patient's previous lives were called for; "armloads of scrolls" were brought and read at length. At the end of the reading Sai Baba asked the judge to allow the subject to continue living (under Sai Baba's aegis) in order "to complete my mission of spreading the truth." The judge agreed and the subject, then, reluctantly, left the realm where this scene had occurred and returned to his body. Unlike the Indian subjects of our cases (and like many American subjects), this man saw his physical body (as from a position outside it) just before he regained consciousness.
Besides out-of-body experiences and encounters with Western holy personages, other typical features of Western NDEs that are apparently uncommon or absent in Indian studies include receiving a 'panoramic' overview of one's life, and a sense of being drawn up to the afterworld through a tunnel of light.
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