Sunday, February 21, 2010

When we die...

During one episode of The O'Riley Factor last week, I saw O'Riley interview Dr. Jeffrey Long. Long is a medical oncologist who recently wrote a book titled "Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences." This book is a summary of approximately 1300 international questionnaires and personal accounts of near death experiences (NDEs).

Most of the book is anecdotal with little to no concrete evidence. Therefore, the argument of an afterlife requires the reader to take a leap of faith and trust that these NDE accounts have not been falsified. But, as someone deeply curious about the philosophical and religious question of what happens when we die, I found myself intrigued by Dr. Long's book.

People that have had NDEs, called NDErs, remember experiencing very lucid visions of coming out of their body. Often, they see their own dead corpse below them during these out-of-body experiences (OBEs). Furthermore, NDErs witness conversations even some distance from their body, and these conversations are often corroborated once they are resuscitated. During an NDE, people frequently encounter known or unknown dead relatives who guide them through this journey. Interestingly, words are often not needed because telepathy is used to communicate to the NDErs. Frequently, NDEs include a life review in which the person sees forgotten actions and judges whether they were kind or good during their lifetime. Finally, the person reaches a barrier in which they ultimately can not pass before they are commanded back to their earthly body. These experiences are so powerful that NDErs are often transformed for the rest of their life.

Like many people, I've heard of out-of-body experiences (OBEs), people seeing white lights as well as past memories. I've also heard the medical establishment's perspective that these lights must be due to the death of optical neurons, that the replaying of past life events are because of dying memory neurons, or that these people are dreaming and not really dead. However, Dr. Long points out that NDEs occur in people who are clinically dead with no heart or brain activity, and thus, who have no ability to produce dreams, visions or conscious thought. Therefore, clearly the current medical explanation is incomplete.

Personally, some of the more compelling "evidence" discussed in this book pertained to people who have been blind since birth. These individuals have NDEs that are identical to people that are not blind. Meaning, people blind since birth have very vivid visual experiences during their NDE. To me, there is no medical explanation for a blind person having residual visual neural circuitry that could be randomly firing during the death of these neurons.

One of the last points of this book, was that there appears to be universalilty to the NDE experience. By comparing NDE accounts from around the world, Dr. Long reports that the same elements are present in NDEs regardless of the culture or religion in which the individual is associated. This is suggestive of a common human bond in life and death.

In conclusion, I found this book thought-provoking. However, I would like to see more data, which reminded me of a news article I read a while ago that can be found at the following website:,8599,1842627,00.html

This article describes an ongoing scientific study called AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation). The AWARE study is an international effort by 25 European, Canadian and American medical centers where cardiac arrests occur. In order to scientifically study the NDE, this study employed the strategic placement of visual elements or cues in locations within an emergency room that can be seen only from the ceiling. The hypothesis is that patients who report out-of-body experiences should be able to describe these visual cues if they were able to hover by the ceiling while looking down at their body. Unfortunately, this study is still ongoing and therefore these data have not yet been reported. But, I am anxious to see the results from this study!

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