Monday, March 19, 2012

Research Paper on Near-Death Experiences

Research Paper on Near-Death Experiences

1. Introduction
Death had always been considered as something to be afraid of. It is like the border between live on Earth and something else which is unknown. And everything that is unknown is frightening. Near-death experiences (NDE) are very complex and extremely interesting topic for research and study not just from the standpoint of trying to find out what is behind the edge of life, but also from the standpoint of analyzing and comparing how people are describing and interpreting their NDEs and whether they actually saw everything that they tell about. In this paper I would present results of my research done on regard on NDE issue, as well as present my own ideas on the basis of the research.

I had always been skeptical, when I heard people telling of their NDEs. When such people are speaking on public or even writing books about their “amazing” experiences, they are telling the same things- they flew out of their body, saw themselves from the ceiling, then tried to talk to people, but nobody heard them, their bodies were edged with light and they were not knowing whether they were alive or not. There can be two explanations for such similar evidences of NDEs. The first one implies that they really saw and experienced the same and things went actually as they described. And the second explanation implies that all they experienced were imaginary things, the way they thought of death, as well as there are a lot of movies and cartoons about ghosts and how they behave when being out of body. I strongly believe that the second explanation is more adequate and I will explain why. People through their lives gather information that they believe or not, the information that astonished them, and they describe what they see with the notions that are familiar to them, but world is such a mystery, that people cannot know everything about it and explain what is going on in reality. They can do that just from the frame of reference of their personal experiences. People that experienced NDE usually speak about the tunnel of light, but it is the tunnel only because they know nothing, but the word “tunnel” (Mauro 35). I have found eight scientific theories, which attempted to explain the phenomenon of NDE from physiological and psychological points of view.

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2. Near -Death Experience Theories
NDE Theories are: Dying Brain Theory, Charles Darwin Theory, Hallucination Theory, Temporal Lobe Theory, Lack of Oxygen Theory, Depersonalization Theory, Memory of Birth Theory and Afterlife Theory.

Dying brain theory, which was supported by Dr.Susan Blackmore in her book “Dying to Live” (46-54), questions that if people are having the same visions when having NDE, and they pass through the same stages when they do that, that might be explained that it is the spiritual journey to the place, where all people are anticipated some day. But it equally can be not real experience and not the spiritual trips at all, but only the way the dying brain functions. As all brains are physiologically the same, they are dying in the same way, and that is why they can induce the same visions in people’s minds. But I am wondering- if people think and percept the reality with the brain, then how they can percept NDE and explain afterwards, what happened to them. Probably the consciousness is not located in the head, or skull or brain and there is another organ by means of which we percept environment. And if the brain is just a sophisticated lump of tissue how its death can make people experience such extraordinary things. It becomes clear that this theory presents poor explanation or at least is not comprehensive enough to provide the whole picture of NDEs. A psychological approach should also be involved in the process of finding the right explanation. During NDEs people claim that they are being told that what they are experiencing is not death, and that they will be brought to life in a moment- which is totally unexplainable by Dying brain theory.

The other theory is that of Charles Darwin, which do make some sense, but is not also comprehensive enough. It claims that NDEs are the ploy for the human race not to be afraid of death and to accept it calmly. According to Darwin, people are the only complete masters on the Earth and they decide what will happen to them, which is very questionable statement.

Hallucination theory explains NDEs by the fact of dying secrete endorphins, which are hormones that act on the central nervous system to crush the pain. But this theory is groundless for the reason that endorphins are not hallucinogens and are not able to recreate the same state the person experience during NDE. It may participate in the action of NDE, but cannot explain the whole process. There is also an idea that anesthetic ketamine participates in the process of NDE, as it can reproduce many states people have during NDE (Becker 6-9).

Temporal lobe theory explains that some features of that occur during NDE as the type of epilepsy that is associated with the damage to the brain’s temporal lobe (Greyson 327-34). This chemical mechanism cannot be denied and is obviously present in the brain, but it doesn’t imply that there are nothing more than that chemical reactions happening.

Lack of oxygen theory implies that the explanation for NDEs can be found in the oxygen shortage in brain, or on the contrary with too much of carbon dioxide. But this theory is not able to explain why people, who had such experiences, were able to describe everything what was going on around them when they were not in conscious state. Oxygen shortage brain states are generally characterized with confusion, fear and disorientation, while people having NDEs report the feelings of comfort, calm, tranquility. Evidences of people who experienced both NDEs and lack of oxygen states claim that it is impossible to confuse them.

According to depersonalization theory, what people are doing is just trying to replace the idea of frightening illness and death with the pleasurable fantasies about heaven to protect themselves. And thus they “depersonalize” by going out of body, but still features of depersonalization do not match that of NDEs.

Memory of birth theory seems ridiculous to me, as it states that NDEs has nothing in common with death, but with birth n during NDE a person remembers his factual being born. The main argument against this theory is that nervous system of the baby is not developed enough to be able to store memories about the process of birth.

After life theory seems to be the most rational as it doesn’t seek for explanations, and just take things as they are (Moody 112). It says that there is no explanation for the light and the tunnel, and claims that human experiences cannot be just reduced to the biological processes, and insists that NDE is primarily the transcendental experience.

Bruce Greyson in 2003 wrote the following regarding this issue: “No one physiological or psychological model by itself explains all the common features of NDE. The paradoxical occurrence of heightened, lucid awareness and logical thought processes during a period of impaired cerebral perfusion raises particular perplexing questions for our current understanding of consciousness and its relation to brain function. A clear sensorium and complex perceptual processes during a period of apparent clinical death challenge the concept that consciousness is localized exclusively in the brain.”

3. Conclusion
I have never had NDEs, but I have an impression that it is something that cannot be explained with words. Something divine that brings universal knowledge to the person, and s/he will never be the same again, as s/he will know that death is not the end and there is nothing to be afraid. These are jst words and real experiences are far more powerful. I believe that physical and spiritual bodies that are undividable since we are alive and our physical bodies are just temporary, while our spirit is eternal.
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