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Death has always been a mystery to human beings. What can people see or feel when they are dying? Scientists who recorded the brain waves of a dying patient may have insights into the mystery.
When using continuous electroencephalography (EEG) to record the brain waves of an 87-year-old epileptic man, an international team of scientists monitored his brain activity as he suffered a heart attack and died. The study was published in the February 2022 issue of Front Aging Neuroscience.
Brain Waves Highly Active After Cardiac Arrest
Dr. Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville who took part in the study, said specific patterns of brain waves appeared in the patient’s brain 30 seconds before and after his heart stopped beating.
“Through generating oscillations involved in memory retrieval, the brain may be playing a last recall of important life events just before we die, similar to the ones reported in near-death experiences,” Zemmar told Frontiers.
A 2013 study published in the National Academy of Sciences found that all nine mice in the experiment had highly active brain waves for 30 seconds after cardiac arrest. This is strikingly similar to what Zemmar’s team found in their patient near death.
Near-Death Experiencers Look Back on Their Lives
The phenomenon of “looking back on life” just before or while dying has happened to many near-death experiencers.
Dannion Brinkley, author of Saved by the Light, wrote about his two near-death experiences. After its publication in 1994, the book was listed as a best-seller by The New York Times for five consecutive months.
Brinkley recalled to readers his first near-death experience on Sept. 17, 1975. During a storm that hit Aiken, South Carolina, the 25-year-old Brinkley was at home, talking on the phone with a friend, when a bolt of lightning struck him through the telephone line, throwing him into the air.
After experiencing immense heat and pain, Brinkley says he felt his soul leave his body and that he felt bathed in peace and tranquillity. He said he floated in the air watching his family and friends panic and give him first aid. He saw ambulances rush in and take his body to the hospital. Brinkley’s soul went through a tunnel into a place of light.
Brinkley then began to look back on the 25 years of his life, seeing even the tiniest details. He was surprised to find that he could relate to the feelings of other people affected by incidents he was involved in. Brinkley grew up unrestrained and was a bully who took pleasure in fighting and humiliating others. In reviewing his history, he felt firsthand the pain, fear, panic, and helplessness felt by his victims.
In one such memory, Brinkley shot and killed a North Vietnamese officer during the Vietnam War. In his near-death experience, Brinkley felt the confusion that the officer felt when he was shot in the head, as well as the helplessness and sorrow that he could not see his family again. What’s more, he felt the pain the officer’s family felt for years after they learned of his death. When the flashback finished, he was overwhelmed with remorse and shame. After returning to the mortal world, Brinkley changed himself completely and did everything he could to help others.
Near-Death Experiences Not Uncommon
The term “near-death experience” was coined by Dr. Raymond Moody, a renowned psychologist, and professor at the University of Nevada. In 1975 Moody published “Life After Life,” a book based on his study of 100 patients who had experienced “clinical death” and came back to life. He shared their experiences about the world after death in their own words. Since then, much more scientific research has been conducted on near-death experiences.
In a 2014 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers studied 190 near-death experiences with different characteristics, including those that occurred after non-life-threatening events such as sleep, meditation, and fainting—as well as near-death experiences that occurred during coma caused by lack of oxygen, trauma, or disease.
Several similarities were found in the near-death experiences, including seeing bright lights, the sensation of being outside of one’s body, and flashes of past events. The most frequent near-death experience, reported by 89 to 93 percent of participants in each category was “a feeling of peace or pleasantness.”
A fact that may be surprising to some is that many people have near-death experiences. A study published in Psychiatry in 1993 estimated that about five percent of the adult U.S. population has had a near-death experience—that’s 30 to 40 percent of individuals who come close to death. A 2001 Dutch study published in The Lancet found that of 344 patients who were successfully resuscitated after a cardiac arrest, 62 (18 percent) reported having a near-death experience.
Hong Kong Writer Shares Miraculous Near-Death Experience
Chip Tsao, a Hong Kong writer, recounted his 1994 miraculous near-death experience in an interview on the YouTube channel of Stephen Chan Chi-wan, the chief advisor of Commercial Radio Hong Kong.
Tsao recalled that in 1994 when he was 36, he was taken to a hospital dying after a serious car accident. After 15 hours of emergency surgery, the doctor told him that all medical options had been exhausted and “now it’s up to your willpower.” As he lay dying, Tsao saw a large sea in front of him, with golden and pink lotus flowers as big as round tables floating in the sea. He also heard sutras being chanted in his ear.
Tsao said the experience was very clear and real as if there was a force pushing him over, but there was also a voice inside him telling him not to cross over because he had so many unfinished undertakings.
“It was a feeling of fear, but also peace,” he said. “I kept asking myself. It would be comfortable to cross over. Those lotus flowers would take me to another place like a boat.”
The famous writer also experienced several things that even science couldn’t explain.
As he lay in the ICU, Tsao could hear his parents discussing his treatment and whether to hire a second chest doctor to join the team. He also heard his parents crying. Half a month later, Tsao was moved from ICU to a general ward. When his parents came to visit him, he told them that while he was unconscious, he heard them discussing hiring a specialist.
His father said it was true but was surprised because they had discussed it in a hotel room away from the hospital.
“How could you possibly hear it, so far away?” The father asked.
Yet Tsao was assured that he was not hallucinating since he heard the conversation clearly and could even repeat it.
Another miraculous event was that when Tsao was in ICU, his friends came to visit him. The next day, Tao saw these friends visit him again, wearing the same clothes and speaking the same words. Tao felt very strange. After inquiring, he learned that he foresaw his friends visiting him the next day in his near-death experience.
These experiences gave Tsao a deeper understanding of the meaning of life and death.
“Having seen things in the future and left this space, there should be another place for people after death,” he said. Later in his life, Tsao had two more brushes with death, which gave him a new view on life, space-time, and afterlives. His experience also made him believe that there is a higher force above mankind.
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