Near-death experiences: 30 years of research
In the past 50 years or so, a phenomenon termed near-death experiences (NDE) started to gain people’s attention. People who were pronounced dead, or who came close to death, speak of experiences such as leaving their bodies, going to other realms, or meeting deceased people, giving rise to the idea that the mind is independent of the brain.
Previously in this series, we explored different aspects of near-death experiences. After over 30 years of research, the discoveries unanimously point to the concept that NDEs are real experiences and something beyond the current understanding of science. So, what do NDEs reveal to us? What can we learn from them?
NDE researchers Robert and Suzanne Mays developed a theory to explain the phenomenon. The theory, submitted for publication in a scientific journal, was presented by Robert Mays at the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) conference this year.
Analyzing the features of NDEs, Robert and Suzanne Mays proposed that the mind is an entity independent of the brain which might exist as an energy field that can interact with neurons in the cerebral cortex via electrical exchanges. During an NDE, Robert and Suzanne Mays believe, the mind leaves the brain, and when the near-death experience (NDEs) comes back to life, the mind is united with the brain again, but the connection is not as strong as before.
Consistent with the near-death phenomenon and modern research concerning the brain, they suggested that the mind is the locus of consciousness, but when connected with the body, it needs electrical activity in the brain to be conscious.
Then, to explain why people can see themselves as having a separate body from the material body lying on the bed, they proposed that the mind also assumes the form of a body, which would also explain the phenomenon of phantom limbs, where people with missing limbs can still feel the existence of the missing limbs.
In support of Robert and Suzanne’s theory, researchers have reported the case of M.G., a subject with missing fingers from her left hand since birth but with a sense of her phantom fingers. When she “touches” other people with her phantom fingers, the other subjects could sense the touch. When she touches the back of others’ heads, she could even elicit images in their minds.
There was also an instance where a person severely injured in a car accident on a foggy night reported rising out of his body, flying over to a house, and jumping up and down and yelling for help outside the window of the second floor. A man who was on the second floor heard the NDEs and called the police. After the police came, the man reported having seen the fog in the shape of a man jumping outside the window.
In another occasion, a child experiencing an NDE left his body and hovered near a dog in a playground, and the dog wagged its tail, jumped up, and barked at him. Robert proposed that the “mind body” might be visible to dogs because dogs’ visual spectrum is different from ours.
The child was also reported to have tickled another patient’s nose three times, and each time the patient sneezed.
Robert further recounted cases where NDEs reported going into the physical bodies of other people. In one instance, a man tried to commit suicide by hanging but regretted it during his NDE, so he went into his wife’s body to communicate with her and seek help. After he made contact with her, she said, “Oh, my god,” took a knife, went directly to where the husband was, and cut him down.
Another documented case involved George Rodonaia, M.D. and Ph.D. in neuropathology, who underwent an NDE while being pronounced dead for three days. During his NDE, he experienced going inside his wife’s head and hearing her thoughts as she, thinking that he was already dead, thought about men that she could date and become her future husband. His wife confirmed that she indeed had those thoughts before he came back to life.
This theory further points out that this theory can explain the aftereffects of NDEs. If the mind is indeed an energy field that after an NDE isn’t as tightly united with the brain as before, it is possible that it could affect electronic devices outside one’s body, sense others’ thoughts (telepathy), and have other paranormal abilities.
Because neural activities associated with consciousness are mostly in the gray matter of the cerebral cortex, Robert and Suzanne proposed that an interface for interaction between the mind and the physical body exists there, specifically at the apical dendrites of pyramidal cells.
This is in line with the theory put forward by David LaBerge and Ray Kasewich of Simon’s Rock and Stanley Laboratory of Electrical Physics, published in the journal Neural Networks in 2007, that the elevated activity of the apical dendrite underlies the neural basis of consciousness.
As of now, we have no way of knowing to what degree this theory is true. As Bruce Greyson, M.D. said at the IANDS conference, “we have just scratched the surface of the NDE.” But so far, this theory is consistent with current findings, and it is a starting point for scientific interpretation of the NDE phenomenon.
Robert and Suzanne Mays - NDE Evidence of the Localized Individuated Mind-Entity and the Brain