Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Death Chemistry

I've always thought that people and their "near-death experiences" could be placed along a spectrum that begins with bogosity and charlatanism, and ends with neurophysiology. A recent study tends to confirm:
Although the experiments were done in rats, Borjigin thinks they have implications for the near-death experiences (NDEs) reported by one in five people who are resuscitated after their hearts stop. Although they were unconscious, unresponsive and clinically dead at the time, they come back with stories of bright lights, “realer than real” memories, and meetings with people they knew. Some scientists have dismissed these accounts outright. Others have taken NDEs as proof of a religious afterlife or a consciousness that lives on outside the body, as popularised in a recent bestseller of dubious provenance
But Borjigin’s research suggests that these experiences could just be a natural product of a dying brain. That doesn’t make them any less real, but it does root them in the natural world, without the need for a “super-“ prefix.
Of course people love to believe that NDEs are proof of an afterlife; and since no one seems to report (that I know of) scary experiences, it sounds pretty great. (Interesting: wonder what they think of people -- probably the vast majority -- who are resuscitated and have nothing to say on the subject.) Sure, it's only rats in the study. But it makes sense, either in evolutionary terms (last gasp of "clarity" to try to save oneself, maybe?) or just as a terminal event, the brain evacuating itself of chemicals as the rectum and bladder do of other excreta.

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