What if you die clinically

Near Death Experience: What Happens When We Die?

On the verge of death, many people experience amazingly similar things: they see lights and a tunnel, they feel as if they are floating in space and they are happy. Such near-death experiences cannot be scientifically proven - but neither can they be denied.

A bright, warm light at the end of a tunnel, leaving your own body and floating in space: does all of this come to a person when he dies? What happens to a person's consciousness after death is one of the great puzzles that science has not yet solved and cleared up.

But there are women and men who have crossed the threshold between life and death: They were clinically dead, but could be resuscitated. Many of them report near-death experiences in all cultures of the world. Amazingly, similar elements appear again and again in all of these reports: the light, the tunnel and the levitation. There are other things that keep recurring.

The near-dead report that they saw long-dead family members and friends again. They also felt a sense of deep peace and watched their own lives go by like a movie. They were disappointed when they had to go back into their bodies.

According to the "Near Death Experience Network", four million people in Germany have already had such an experience - mostly when they were in a somehow life-threatening situation. British cardiologist Sam Parnia interviewed 140 resuscitated heart patients, nine of whom had near-death experiences.

Many of those affected talk about their experiences, for example in blogs and forums. The network collects reports on its website, and countless books on the subject have been published around the world.

Heaven as paradise

Four-year-old Colton Burpo from the United States had a near-death experience during major surgery. The boy's appendix had burst, his chances were slim.

But he survived and then told what he had seen: In heaven he claims to have met Peter, Mary and God, among others, Jesus rode a rainbow horse. He also met his dead sister - but the boy could not have known about her.

His mother had miscarried years earlier. Colton's father, a pastor, wrote the book "Heaven is Real" about his son's experiences. It became a bestseller and was later made into a film.

The neurosurgeon Eben Alexander also claims to have seen heaven. After a bacterial meningitis, he was in a coma for seven days. Most of his brain was inoperative, so although he wasn't pronounced dead, he was unconscious.

Alexander later also wrote a book, "Blick in die Ewigkeit", in which he described his experiences. He slipped out of his body and rose to heaven. There he wants to have met God, in the form of a mist of endless love.

Alexander's description of the afterlife sounds rather cheesy; so he claims to have traveled on the wings of a butterfly.

The body was floating in the operating room

The experiences of other near-death sufferers are less likely to be overheard. "During a cardiac catheter examination with balloon dilatation, my ego-consciousness 'left' my body completely unexpectedly and 'floated' halfway up in the operating room. I had taken off the 'old' body like an annoying coat," says a report at the Near Death Experience Network.

Another experience describes "a perfect happiness, a lightness and inner calm, the intensity of which cannot be described in words. It was as if the whole burden of earthly life had disappeared from me".

Celebrities also report near-death experiences. Ex-US President Bill Clinton told about a circle of light after a heart operation. Actress Sharon Stone flew toward a white light when she was bleeding internally from a ruptured artery.

A black void without consciousness

The Swede Sasha Eliasson said he was clinically dead twice for two minutes. Once after a motorcycle accident and once after an accidental overdose of painkillers.

But he saw neither a tunnel nor a light, just a kind of "black void" without consciousness. He described the experience as a nap without a dream.

For years researchers have been trying to scientifically investigate such experiences. With the help of machines and operations, doctors can bring people back to life who have been dead for minutes.

But what happens in the time between death and resuscitation? Then what happens to the consciousness? The problem: It is impossible to objectively research a person's subjective experience.

Near death experience as a staging of the brain?

Most scientists assume that without a body, consciousness cannot exist and simply disappears. Accordingly, near-death experiences are only a kind of staging of the brain, the last experience of a dying organ.

This is supported by animal experiments: shortly after a cardiac arrest, the brains of rats were very active again. It remains to be seen whether this can be transferred to people.

The images and experiences of the near-dead could also be explained as a kind of intoxication caused by strong medication or anesthetics. Some researchers also suggest that a lack of oxygen can cause biochemical reactions, as can too much carbon dioxide in the blood.

So-called autoscopic hallucinations, which arise in the central nervous system and are described as detachment from the body, are also conceivable.

Why do people with near death see specific things?

But if those affected were just delusional, how can it be that they saw and experienced real and concrete things while they were unconscious or even dead? So far, scientists have not been able to explain that.

The Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel wrote about one of his patients in a specialist magazine in 2001. This was brought in after a cardiac arrest, he was clinically dead. Doctors reanimated the 44-year-old. A nurse removed his teeth in order to be able to ventilate him with a tube. The man survived.

A few days later the patient saw the nurse again and said: "There is the woman who knows where my teeth are." He also described details of the resuscitation and remembered that the woman had put the dentures in a drawer.

The man said he left his body and saw himself. Van Lommel then interviewed almost 350 patients for his book "Endless Consciousness" who were considered clinically dead and were returning to life. 62 of them reported in detail about near-death experiences - most of them had a tunnel and the bright light, they felt safe.

Van Lommel wanted to prove that people had really left their bodies and came up with an experiment. He put green crosses and red circles in the operating room.

If any of the resuscitated patients had shared the signs after they woke up, it would be evidence that they were really floating outside their bodies. But so far Van Lommel has not had any success: none of those affected remembered the crosses and circles.

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