Tuesday, April 11, 2006

New Evidence Explains Near-Death Experiences

Only one of my readers has ever used NDEs as evidence for God's existence, but I thought this was interesting anyway.

Today, new evidence is published that backs the idea that the near-death experience is a biological experience, rather than anything to do with a larger, spiritual dimension, a glimpse of heaven, or the existence of the soul.

People who have had near-death experiences are able to slip into dream sleep more easily than those who have not had one, according to a study published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"I see it as an activation of certain brain regions that are also active during the dream state," said Prof Kevin Nelson, a neurologist and lead study author, from the University of Kentucky, Lexington.


The study compared 55 people with near-death experiences with 55 people of the same age and gender who had not had them.

It found that people with near-death experiences were more likely to have a sleep-wake system in which the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness were not as clearly regulated, and the dream sleep state - when there is rapid eye movement - can intrude into normal wakeful consciousness.

Examples of "REM intrusion" include waking up and feeling that you cannot move - sleep paralysis - having sudden muscle weakness in your legs, and hearing sounds just before falling asleep or just after waking up that other people cannot hear.

Of the people with near- death experiences, 60 per cent reported REM intrusion, compared with 24 per cent of people who had not had near-death experiences.

"These findings suggest that REM-state intrusion contributes to near-death experiences," said Prof Nelson.

Prof Nelson said other factors supported this. Several features of near-death experiences are also associated with the dream state, for example, the feeling of being outside of one's body and being surrounded by light.

Because the brain turns off the body's ability to move during dreaming, muscles can lose their tone, or tension.

"During a crisis that occurs with REM-state intrusion, this lack of muscle tone could reinforce a person's sense of being dead and convey the impression of death to other people," Prof Nelson said.

Link. Via digg.


CyberKitten said...

Beat me to it... [deletes file]

Jewish Atheist said...

Aw, don't do that. I not only post on subjects other bloggers have posted on, I steal it outright! See my legged-fish post. (Always with a "via," though.)

CyberKitten said...

That's OK. I have LOTS more to post on... [grin].

david said...

Interesting . . .

Of course, the finding (or perhaps just your post) presupposes that dreams have nothing, or less, to do with "reality" than "reality" itself.

Which is probably true. But still, it could just be that we're all just tangles of ganglia, having reactions and interactions with other receptacles of sensory perception, and that the removal of this barrier from dream sleep opens a portal to another "reality" from which, for very good reasons, our physiology is designed to segregate our senses.

So that we can pay attention to stuff like that truck coming through the intersection.

Keep up the great work. Happy Passover -- or whatever.

Jewish Atheist said...

Interesting point, David.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I think I'm the reader who referred to near death experiences on your blog … but maybe it's another blog I'm thinking of.

It's interesting evidence as far as it goes, but it stops a long way short of demonstrating that NDEs are reducible to a dream state.

I wish I had time to follow up with some study on all these interesting topics. Anyway, thanks for bringing them to our attention. I don't know where you find the time.

jewish philosopher said...

I think I'm the one with "NDE as proof of God". Actually, I am still actively researching this. It's hard to get good information about NDE since both Christians and atheists would like to avoid the subject.

I will say however that the lessons which NDErs learn from their experiences broadly agree with Jewish beliefs, which is an interesting coincidence at least.