Friday, September 7, 2012

Life After Death: What's it all about?

The discussion of if there's life after death is usually prompted and/or ended by talks of near death experiences, so we'll start there.

I want to begin with the actual medical definition of near death experience (NDE):
  1. Person is physically compromised to the extent that they are clinically dead (no pulse, no respiratory movement and no corneal reflex)
  2. At the time of clinical death, they have a generally lucid, highly organized experience
On the surface, it sounds crazy. I mean, the dead can't see, hear, or experience anything. How do the clinically dead make new memories? Because, guess what, they do. There are numerous cases where people put into a clinically dead state for surgical purposes, wakes up knowing intimate and accurate details of the procedure. All the way to conversations between the clinical staff they overheard.

You know science, though. There has to be a non-metaphysical explanation to this. So, let's take a moment to go over one of the dominant scientific theories for NDE. Scientists theorize NDE is actually the sleep disorder rapid eye movement (REM) intrusion. During this REM intrusion, the mind wakes up before the body, triggering hallucinations and the sensation of being detached from the body. (The REM state is where we enter the dreaming part of our sleepy case you didn't know.)

But, if our brain is officially considered dead, how can this be? Well, the area of REM intrusion is located in the brain stem, so can operate independent from the executive organ residing within your skull. Sounds plausible, right? So, based on this, no spirituality or post physical body reason involved.

Whoa, but what about when we factor in the out of body experience (OBE), where people have watched and could describe actions the surgical team did during the surgery? You guessed it, science has a theory for this to: temporal parietal junction (TPJ) misfires.

When the TBJ misfires and becomes crossed it gives the sensation of being outside your physical body. Test subjects have proven this. That's all good and nice, but guess what? The TBJ area is controlled by the higher brain, which in the NDE is clinically dead. Where are those kind of test subjects?

If it sounds like I'm mocking science, please believe me I'm earnestly not. As a science fanatic, I love all the discoveries science makes on a daily basis. My restraint comes when science finds the reason for how something happens and closes the book without exploring why something happens. The REM intrusion and TBJ misfires during NDE explain the how, but doesn't explain the why.

The why can literally be explained in thousands of ways. You have each religion and spiritual movement explaining the why in their own way. Then each human takes their own twist based on their religious or spiritual belief merged with their life experiences.

For me, the movie Flatliner's was an interesting take on the subject. The angle of each med student needing to come to terms with their own life trauma was intriguing. Imagine, you croak and find yourself in an experience/memory maze, having to tie up all the loose ends of your life to get to the beyond point.

I do wonder if REM is truly the door to our spirituality, and not only just our subconscious mind. When you think about it, it is our subconscious that processes our conscious thoughts and actions to turn them into beliefs and our core moral and ethical structures.

Personally, I was both relieved and disappointed that I missed out on the NDE and OBE experience during my craniotomy in early 2011. Relieved because, hello, knocking on death's door. The tad of disappointment surprised me until I drilled into it (of course).

I'm not just a sci-fi geek, I'm a science geek and a bit of a spirituality geek. Having a near death experience would've been the ultimate of ultimates in merging both science and spirituality in a single adventure. Now that I think about it, maybe it was a good thing I didn't. With my curiosity, I would've gone towards the damn light and then where would we be, huh? Definitely not blogging about life after death today, that's for sure.

The argument will continue, there's no doubt about that, but beyond the experiences of a few, no one will ever know until our hearts actually stop, our brain nerves cease sparking and the docs can't bring us back.

I don't know about you all, but I'm not in a hurry to find out. So, what are your thoughts on the whole life after death thing?

"Is There Such a Thing as Life After Death?" by Laura Fitzpatrick,8599,1955636,00.html
"Has science explained life after death?" by Josh Clark


  1. You had a craniotomy? Wow--now that's an experience. Glad you didn't get the chance to explore the white light. :)

    I believe in life after death. I'm a Christian, so I'm kind of wired to believe it... but I don't think it will be what we expect. I think it will be beyond our immediate comprehension.

    1. Yeah, April 2011 and I'm really glad I didn't experience it either. I like good ole' Earth and physical body (and ice cream).

      I am looking forward to seeing what comes next...when I'm ready and I've got at least some of my bucket list done.

  2. Amber, there are two great books by Michael Newton, "Journey of Souls," and "Destiny of Souls," which explore life after death and reincarnation. Food for thought. I find them fascinating.


    1. Hmm... I'll have to check them out, though I have to say you're feeding the addition of my TBR list Steph!

  3. I too am a science geek and a spirituality maven. Some people don't think these two can merge, but here I am. Glad you survived the craniotomy, wow! There was another study down, I wish I had bookmarked it - scientists put a note on top of a light fixture in an operating room - long story - they ask people who'd experienced NDE about it and 100% saw what was written on that note. This is a very abbreviated version of the story - but you gotta figure there is something to this. Great thought-provoking post.

    1. Oh, that's interesting Linda! I'll have to look for it. Trippy!

  4. I don't believe there's anything after death any more than we have an existence before conception. But sometimes I dream things so vividly and yet so unlike my perception of myself that I wonder if there's anything to the theory of reincarnation. Like there's only a finite amount of consciousness to go round so it has to be recycled. Or maybe shared.

    1. ooh, that is interesting Pippa! Limited amount of consciousness. That lends itself well to SFR.

      I do believe in reincarnation, and totally see my kids representing the concept: two are old souls and two are brand new.

  5. I am a Christian, so I do believe there is life after death, but it is not a reincarnation life. It's a faith thing and for a lot of people where as science is their thing, I understand how hard it is to understand my kind of faith. It's kind of like, you can't see the wind, but do you believe it is there? Well, kind of along those lines. Another discussion for another time.

    On another note, I do enjoy hearing about the physiological discoveries and studies being done today. I enjoy reading how the brain works. There is a very interesting book called 'Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain' by David Eagleman that I found very interesting and would recommend. How the neuro pathways are formed and how the neurons fire, to which degree, and how things like strokes, disease, addictions etc can change how we think, respond, influence our dreams etc. is very fascinating. Also, how our unconscious really is the true driver behind our functionality. I have known a couple of people that one had a car accident, and another a massive stroke and how that has completely changed their personalities. In fact, my co worker today told me how her mom raised them all in a vegetarian household. Something happened to her and now her favorite thing to eat now is steak, and doesn't remember a thing about being vegetarian! How the functioning of our brain chemistry can be easily changed and have us desiring something completely different.

    All just food for thought. What a fun topic and thank you for the invitation to share. Cheers!