Tunnels of light. Meeting with dead loved ones… the truth about near-death experiences
Posted May 19, 2011on:
Are those extraordinary stories proof of the afterlife – or plain hokum? A top brain specialist has a compelling new theory…
Gillian MacKenzie remembers feeling worried for her unborn child, as the world around her fell into darkness, save for a dot of brilliant light.
She was somehow aware that her delivery had gone wrong and she was losing a lot of blood, but there was comfort in the light.
‘It was like a tiny pinprick at first and then I realised I was being drawn closer to it and it was getting bigger and bigger,’ she says. ‘The brightness was shining like the walls of a tunnel.
‘I felt no fear as I went into the tunnel and emerged fully into the brilliance. There was the most wonderful feeling of bliss. I can only describe it as ecstasy.
‘Suddenly I heard a man’s voice saying: “Gill.” It was a very nice voice and I thought:
“Oh no, I’ve come before God — and I don’t even believe in Him!” He asked if I knew who he was and I said: “Yes, but I’m afraid I can’t say your name.” He obviously had a sense of humour because he chuckled at that.’
Gillian’s experience happened many years ago, before the term near-death experience had been coined, but it is as real to her today as it was when she began haemorrhaging during a difficult childbirth.
No one knows for sure, but scientists believe as many as one in ten of us will have a near-death experience, most likely during cardiac arrest.
Typically, we will see a light, travel through a tunnel, have an encounter with a lost loved one or float above ourselves and watch doctors and nurses trying to resuscitate us.
Those who have had such experiences often describe profound moments of joy and insight that change them for ever.
Many believe they have had a glimpse of the afterlife, an experience that shores up their faith and leaves them unafraid of death. To them, it is real, lucid and precious.
It might come as something of a shock, then, for them to learn that a respected American neurologist believes he can explain all the symptoms of near-death experience in physiological terms — terms that would firmly close the door on thoughts of souls departing for the afterlife before returning to Earth.
Kevin Nelson, Professor of Neurology at the University of Kentucky, has been studying near-death experiences for more than 30 years.
In his new book, The God Impulse — Is Religion Hardwired Into The Brain?, he puts forward explanations for all elements of the near-death experience, but central to his argument is the involvement of REM — rapid eye movement.
This is the time during sleep when we dream most and during which the sleeper is paralysed apart from the eye muscles, heart and diaphragm (which controls breathing).
Professor Nelson believes that some people are more susceptible than others to a condition called ‘REM intrusion’, where the paralysis that accompanies REM happens while an individual is awake — and is often accompanied by vivid hallucinations.
Research conducted by Professor Nelson examined the cases of 55 people who had described having a near-death experience.
Of those, 60 per cent had previously had episodes of REM intrusion, compared with only 24 per cent in a group of people chosen at random.
‘Instead of passing directly between the REM state and wakefulness, the brains of those with a near- death experience are more likely to blend the two states into one another,’ he says.
This places the subject into what he calls the ‘borderlands’ of consciousness.