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What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about the Brain

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-near-death-experiences-reveal-about-the-brain/

scientificamerican.com

What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about the Brain
Scientific American is the essential guide to the most awe-inspiring advances in science and technology, explaining how they change our understanding of the world and shape our lives.

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Near-death experiences (NDEs)

Near-death experiences (NDEs)

NDEs are triggered during a life-threatening situation when the body is injured by blunt trauma, e.g., a heart attack or shock.

Many survivors tell of leaving their damaged bodies behind and entering a realm beyond everyday existence, freed from the usual boundaries of space and time. These powerful experiences can lead to a transformation of their lives.

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Negative NDEs experiences

Not all NDEs are positive - some can be frightening, with intense terror, anguish, loneliness, and despair. Distressing NDEs are underreported because of shame, social stigma, and pressure to conform to the positive NDEs.

A close encounter with death reminds us of the fragility of life and can reveal the layers of psychological suppression that prevents us from these uncomfortable thoughts.

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The NDE phenomenon

A 2017 study found that NDEs were recalled with greater clarity and detail than either real or imagined situations were. In other words, NDEs were remembered as being more real than life itself.

NDEs are no more likely to occur in devout believers than in secular or nonpracticing subjects.

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NDEs within a natural framework

When the body is starved of blood flow and oxygen, the electrical activity in the brain has broken down. Like a town that loses power one neighborhood at a time, regions of the brain go offline one after another. In the process, the mind tells a story shaped by the person's experience, memory, and cultural expectations.

For the person undergoing an NDE, it is as real as anything the mind produces during normal waking.

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The fading of the light

Many neurologists have noted similarities between NDEs and the effects of complex partial seizures. These seizures are localized to specific brain regions in one hemisphere and are accompanied by unusual tastes, smells, or bodily feelings as well as feelings of déjà vu, depersonalization, or ecstatic feelings.

Neurosurgeons are able to induce such ecstatic feelings by electrically stimulating part of the cortex in epileptic patients who have electrodes implanted in their brains. Patients report enhanced well-being and a heightened perception of the external world.

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Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness (NCC)

The whole brain can be considered an NCC because it generates experience continually.

  • When parts of the cerebellum, the "little brain" underneath the back of the brain, are lost to a stroke or otherwise, patients may lose the ability to play the piano, for example.  But they never lose any aspect of their consciousness. This is because the cerebellum is almost wholly a feed-forward circuit. There are no complex feedback loops.
  • The spinal cord and the cerebellum are not enough to create consciousness. Available evidence suggests neocortical tissue in generating feelings.
  • The next stages of processing are the broad set of cortical regions, collectively known as the posterior hot zone, that gives rise to conscious perception. In clinical sources of causal evidence, stimulating the posterior hot zone can trigger a diversity of distinct sensations and feelings.
  • It appears that almost all conscious experiences have their origin in the posterior cortex. But it does not explain the crucial difference between the posterior regions and much of the prefrontal cortex, which does not directly contribute to subjective content.

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Cardiac Coherence

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Sleep Paralysis

Sleep Paralysis

Apparent hallucinations of a dark monster holding the sleeping person, while he or she is unable to move or speak, is a phenomenon that is experienced by one-fifth of the population at least once.

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Scientists claim a brain glitch blurs the wakefulness and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) modes of sleep, making the dreams come out in the real world, creating a hallucination.

To prevent you from acting out these dreams, the brain paralyses your body. Sometimes this mechanism fails and you see your dream in augmented reality in the real world.

Cultural Interpretations of Sleep Paralysis

The Egyptians referred to sleep paralysis as something caused by a ‘Jinn’, which terrorizes and even kills the victims. Italians refer to this figure as Pandafeche, a giant cat.

South Africans interpret this as small creatures known as tokoloshe, who perform black magic, while in Turkey the creature has another name, the Karabasan.