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Why do people see white lights during near-death experiences?

Could this be the explanation for all those mysterious out of body experiences some people talk about?

A study published by PNAS found that brain activity peaks during the closing moments of consciousness before death.

The brain has always been assumed to be inactive during cardiac arrest; however, this study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan found high-frequency neurophysiological activity in rats in a near-death state.

Researchers put lab rats under experimental cardiac arrest and analysed changes in the rodents’ brains, finding activity exceeded the levels present during consciousness.

This data shows the mammalian brain can actually generate heightened conscious processes while close to death.

“We reasoned that if near-death experience stems from brain activity, neural correlates of consciousness should be identifiable in humans or animals even after the cessation of cerebral blood flow,” said neurologist Jimo Borjigin, one of the authors of the 2013 study.

The findings contradict the current notion that the brain stops working altogether as soon as blood ceases to flow after clinical death.

“This study tells us that reduction of oxygen or both oxygen and glucose during cardiac arrest can stimulate brain activity that is characteristic of conscious processing,” Borjigin adds.

“It also provides the first scientific framework for the near-death experiences reported by many cardiac arrest survivors.”

Although there is no reason to believe for certain that a human brain will go through the same cognitive process of that of a rat, the study establishes a new framework for understanding where those frequent testimonies of white lights and long tunnels come from.

Sam Parnia from Stony Brook University interviewed more than 100 survivors of cardiac arrest and released what is perhaps the world’s largest study examining near-death and out-of-body experiences.

During the study, 46 per cent of the interviewees retained memories of their encounter with death, with common themes of bright lights, flashes of past memories and family.

“We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating, but in this case conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating,” Dr Parnia told The National Post.

“Even though the brain typically shuts down within 20 to 30 seconds after the heart has stopped.”

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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