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Does a New Scientific Study Offer Evidence of Life after Death?

Photo: Life after death, by Christopher Campbell, via Unsplash.

A new scientific study of people whose hearts stopped but received CPR and remained among us found that many remembered what are often called “near-death experiences.” From the NYU Grossman School of Medicine:

One in five people who survive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after cardiac arrest may describe lucid experiences of death that occurred while they were seemingly unconscious and on the brink of death, a new study shows. . . .

Survivors reported having unique lucid experiences, including a perception of separation from the body, observing events without pain or distress, and a meaningful evaluation of life, including of their actions, intentions and thoughts toward others. The researchers found these experiences of death to be different from hallucinations, delusions, illusions, dreams or CPR-induced consciousness.

The study also detected some brain activity associated with the phenomenon:

A key finding was the discovery of spikes of brain activity, including so-called gamma, delta, theta, alpha and beta waves up to an hour into CPR. Some of these brain waves normally occur when people are conscious and performing higher mental functions, including thinking, memory retrieval, and conscious perception.

“These recalled experiences and brain wave changes may be the first signs of the so-called near-death experience, and we have captured them for the first time in a large study,” says Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, the lead study investigator and an intensive care physician, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, as well as the organization’s director of critical care and resuscitation research. “Our results offer evidence that while on the brink of death and in a coma, people undergo a unique inner conscious experience, including awareness without distress.”

Life After Death?

Does this prove that there is life after death? No. But I think it is evidence that could support that hypothesis. Indeed, that seems to be what the study authors conclude, at least between the lines:

Identifying measureable electrical signs of lucid and heightened brain activity, together with similar stories of recalled death experiences, suggests that the human sense of self and consciousness, much like other biological body functions, may not stop completely around the time of death, adds Parnia.

“These lucid experiences cannot be considered a trick of a disordered or dying brain, but rather a unique human experience that emerges on the brink of death,” says Parnia. As the brain is shutting down, many of its natural braking systems are released. Known as disinhibition, this provides access to the depths of a person’s consciousness, including stored memories, thoughts from early childhood to death, and other aspects of reality. While no one knows the evolutionary purpose of this phenomenon, it clearly reveals “intriguing questions about human consciousness, even at death,” says Parnia.

No Natural-Selection Benefit

Or, maybe there is no evolutionary explanation. There is certainly no discernible natural-selection benefit. Moreover, what purpose would such a “soft exit” offer? Why would it appear? How would it develop if consciousness is solely generated by the brain and is purely a materialistic phenomenon?

Perhaps these findings should be deemed circumstantial evidence of something beyond this existence, which moves us out of the scientific realm and into the theological. And — since those reporting on the experience claim to have engaged in an extensive life review — perhaps we should also consider the study as demonstrating that what we do and how we act in the here and now will impact our experience of whatever comes next.

If so, it would be prudent to govern ourselves accordingly, “for nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

Cross-posted at The Corner.