Did medical equipment capture a near-death experience (NDE) in the brains of two very different comatose patients after they were taken off life support? This is the question at the center of a a new studywhich may have evidence of two women meeting a bright light or having a similar experience.
The first of the patients, aged 24, suffered a heart attack at home and underwent three defibrillations at the hospital – Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan Hospital – plus a pacemaker operation. After she slipped into a deep coma and her doctors deemed her beyond medical attention, her family agreed to take her off life support.
The other patient, aged 77, presented with stroke symptoms at home (nausea and droopy face) and underwent brain surgery at the same hospital for treatment of a hematoma. In a situation similar to that of the first woman, her family agreed to end her life.
What happens to your brain when you die?
In both cases, the women died with electroencephalogram sensors attached to their scalps to record brain waves and brain activity. The machines ended up logging much more than the minimum activity dictated by conventional wisdom.
The gamma waves entered the brain and passed through an important “hot zone” at the back of the brain, the junction of the temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes.
Read more: What happens in your brain moments before death?
The temporo-parietal-occipital connection is thought to play a role in several modes of consciousness, including waking, dreaming, and psychedelic states. Could it also light up during so-called NDEs, which can be highly spiritual in nature?
Medical emergencies are more than capable of causing NDEs. About 10 to 20 percent of heart attack survivors report having NDEs that were very vivid or “more real than real,” the study said.
NDE sufferers also report out-of-body experiences and encounters with bright lights and dark tunnels, according to University of Virginia Department of Perception. Some have reviewed past life experiences (their lives “passed before their eyes”) or predicted future ones.
Read more: Can science explain near-death experiences?
Can brain scans detect near-death experiences?
In the study, the women could not tell the researchers what they experienced before they died. And the collection of these experiences from the readings of the sensors, the so-called neural correlates of consciousnessraises numerous philosophical questions and extensive ongoing debate.
Nusha Mihailova, a clinical professor at the University of Michigan, acknowledges these limitations in press release and adds: “Nevertheless, the observed findings are certainly exciting and provide a new framework for our understanding of hidden consciousness in dying humans.”
The study also looked at data from two other patients, a male and a female heart attack patient who fell into a coma and died in the same manner as the two women. Their brains did not show a wave of gamma waves, possibly due to a weakened autonomic nervous system, the report said.
A related 2015 study found that when researchers suffocated rats with carbon dioxide, it caused a “brain storm” triggered by the autonomic nervous system. The hypoxia caused the heart attack, the article says, which prompted the autonomic nervous system to powerfully stimulate the brain.
Read more: Psychedelic drugs and near-death experiences reduce fears of dying