Research News

Researchers to investigate what happens when we die

Bruce Greyson, MDWTVR-com2Station WTVR in Richmond reports that beginning in January, Dr. Bruce Greyson and his team at the University of Virginia will participate in a research study where doctors will attempt to monitor near-death experiences as they occur in the hospital, using computers near the ceiling to project random images in places where people tend to go into cardiac arrest. The images will be visible only at the ceiling, looking down.

“We know that 10 percent of people who have cardiac arrest will say during the arrest, they left their bodies and many say they hovered above their bodies, looking down on it,” Greyson said. His team hopes to determine whether what the patient saw corresponds to what was shown on the computer.

The article also recounts the NDEs experienced by Dr. Eben Alexander and also Wayne Hart, who said, "There was a perfect sense of peace, of belonging, of being home... [Afterward], everything changed. I was a completely different person."

AWARE study & two others receive Templeton grants

Immortality ProjectThree studies relating to NDEs have been award grants in the Immortality Project, including the AWARE study directed by Sam Parnia of Stony Brook University, according to a University of California Riverside report. The size of the individual grants was not disclosed but they average $240,000.

Sam Parnia, MDThe AWARE study grant will be used to "examine the nature of human consciousness and mental processes during cardiac arrest and their relationship with brain resuscitation".

Another study by Ann Taves and Tamsin German of UC Santa Barbara will include a "quasi-experimental field study" of IANDS to examine the role that NDE accounts and experiences play in shaping and reinforcing the potency of afterlife beliefs in the NDE movement. In the third study related to NDEs, Shahar Arzy of Hadassah Hebrew University will examine the life-review experience reported in many near-death experiences, including its prevalence and relationship to life events.

Study finds NDE memories are not of imagined events

steven_laureys2Skeptics have long proposed that NDEs are dream-like memories of events that never happened or are altered memories of real events which are partly or fully imagined. A recently published study from the University of Liège in Belgium compared the memories of NDEs with memories of others who were in coma without an NDE. They found that memories of NDEs are significantly different from coma patients without an NDE. In particular they have significantly more characteristics, like visual details, memory clarity, self-referential information (being involved in the event) and emotional content.

The researchers propose that NDEs can't be considered as imagined events. which have significantly fewer characteristics. NDE events are really perceived but since the events did not occur in reality and likely result from physiological conditions (e.g., neurological dysfunction), the events are actually hallucinatory (see also ULg video). This conclusion is based on assumptions that are inconsistent with other evidence from NDEs. Other interpretations are possible.

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Parnia interviewed on Fresh Air about his book 'Erasing Death'

Dr. Sam ParniaErasing Death Dr. Sam Parnia was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air about his new book, Erasing Death: The science that is rewriting the boundaries between life and death, released in February. The book reveals that death is not a moment in time, but rather a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Dr. Parnia reveals how some form of "afterlife" may be uniquely ours, as evidenced by the continuation of the human mind and psyche after the brain stops functioning.

NPRIn the interview, Parnia relates some initial results of the AWARE study: only about 1 in 1,000 patients has remembered an NDE with an OBE component. A number of OBEs were reported but some occurred with no target images installed and some patients looked at events at a different angle from where the target was installed, but still described accurate details. The researchers are adjusting the study. See also excellent article in The Guardian.

Alexander debates skeptic Shermer on Larry King Now

Eben AlexanderMichael ShermerNeurosurgeon Eben Alexander debated skeptic Michael Shermer on the Larry King Now show about "Does heaven exist?", along with spiritual activist Marianne Williamson and Rabbi Marvin Hier. Larry King had earlier interviewed Dr. Alexander and later the debate among the four thinkers was recorded.

Shermer's argument was that all experience derives from the brain as we can see from cases of senility and dementia. Alexander's near-death experience can be explained completely by neurological phenomena occurring very quickly as he came out of coma, producing a very powerful dream-like hallucination which Alexander later elaborated with confabulations. Alexander countered that his experience was way too real and rich to be an hallucination and that it is a mistake to assume that all experience occurs through the brain.

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AWARE study preliminary results due in the fall

The AWARE study (AWAreness during REsuscitation) is a multi-hospital clinical study of the brain and consciousness during cardiac arrest, including tests of the validity of perceptions during the out-of-body portion of near-death experiences. The latest status is that more data and larger scale studies will probably be required, and an end to the study is not anticipated in the near future. A report of preliminary results from the first five years of the study is likely this fall, to be presented through a scientific journal or a scientific conference.

Dr. Sam ParniaErasing DeathIn the meantime, Dr. Sam Parnia, Director of the AWARE study, has written a new book, Erasing Death: The science that is rewriting the boundaries between life and death, to be released in February. The book reveals that death is not a moment in time, but rather a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Dr. Parnia reveals how some form of "afterlife" may be uniquely ours, as evidenced by the continuation of the human mind and psyche after the brain stops functioning.

Author uses IANDS NDE accounts in her new book

Revelations of Profound LoveAnn Frances Ellis, Ph.D.IANDS member Ann Frances Ellis drew on 478 NDE accounts submitted over the years to the IANDS research archives for her book Revelations of Profound Love (also here). When people submit their near- death experience to IANDS, the account can be used by NDE researchers.

Dr. Ellis used the IANDS research archives to write her Ph.D. dissertation and now to publish a book on the profound Love that is revealed in NDEs. She was recently interviewed on Fox News about her book. In 2010, she presented her research at the IANDS Conference in Denver (part1, part2). One reviewer said, "Revelations of Profound Love is a rich book filled with stories of many people who have experienced near-death experiences. When you read story after story of people experiencing profound love, you gain confidence and faith that we don't die when our bodies do."

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Eben Alexander answers skeptics' criticisms

EbenAlexander3Sam Harris, Ph.D.In October,a Newsweek article featured an excerpt from neurosurgeon Eben Alexander's new book, Proof of Heaven. Several skeptics wrote articles critical of Dr. Alexander's Newsweek account, notably neuroscientist Sam Harris. Harris disputes that Alexander's cortex was shut down which allowed the “hyper-real” experience of heaven Alexander reported. While the severity and duration of the meningitis infection, the resulting coma, an enhanced CT scan and neurological examinations all indicate global impairment of the neocortex which would not support consciousness, to Harris these constitute only secondary evidence and consciousness could still have been possible. For Harris, complete brain inactivity can be demonstrated only by brain imaging like fMRI and EEG. It should be noted that while he has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, Harris does not practice neuroscience and is not a clinician.

Alexander responded to these criticisms on Alex Tsakiris' Skeptiko podcast.

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Dancing Past the Dark available in paperback!

Dancing Past the DarkNancy Evans BushDancing Past the Dark: Distressing Near-Death Experiences by Nancy Evans Bush is available in paperback!

The IANDS Conference bookstore will have copies at a discount, or it can be ordered from the publisher, Parson's Porch Books. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other outlets will have it shortly. IANDS will receive half of the income from this groundbreaking book. Ask your local library to order a copy.

“…absolutely enthralling—literary, adventurous, incisive, informative and smart… one of the strongest, most thought-provoking books on the paranormal I've ever seen.” -- Steve Volk, author of  Fringe-ology

Dancing Past the Dark is what we have all been waiting for… a must for any experiencer of…any type of encounter with the numinous. -- P. M. H. Atwater, LHD, author of Near-Death Experiences: The Rest of the Story


$5M Templeton grant for NDE and afterlife research

Philosopher John FischerThe John Templeton Foundation has awarded a three-year $5 million grant to University of California Riverside philosopher John Fischer to research aspects of immortality, including near-death experiences and the impact of belief in an afterlife on human behavior, according to a UCR report. The Immortality Project will solicit research proposals from scientists, philosophers and theologians whose work will be reviewed by respected leaders in their fields and published in academic and popular journals. "We have a deep human need to figure out what happens to us after death," said Fischer, principal investigator of the Immortality Project.

"Anecdotal reports of near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences and past lives are plentiful, but it is important to subject these reports to careful analysis," Fischer said.

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