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Near Death Experience And Brain Death Itself


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I wonder if The Near Death Experience is related to dementia and the senses clearing (bright lights as when coming out of a cinema into daylight) and inhibitions going (return to childhood). Could the dead people seen actually be memory release and projection into the outside world, through organic breakdown of grey matter? I was thinking of Wilder Penfield's experiments on the brain, where stimulating certain areas released memories as though they were happening now in the present. I was also thinking of hallucinogens and how these brightened up the senses (Aldous Huxley ‘The Doors of Perception’ et al).
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It's such an interesting topic, the tough thing is that I don't think we will figure this out anytime in the near future. I'm sure you know the theories range from random brain misfires to hallucinations to a dreamlike state when the brain creates scenarios based on memories. Before we start to understand it better, I think there needs to be much more work on brain mapping at the time of death, which is a touchy subject.

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I wonder if The Near Death Experience is related to dementia and the senses clearing (bright lights as when coming out of a cinema into daylight) and inhibitions going (return to childhood).

I don’t think so what you’re imagining happens.

When a human or similar animal is near death, deprived of oxygen, our brain and sense organs begin to fail. There’s some evidence they do strange, possibly wonderful things, but I wouldn’t describe these things as the opposite of dementia or “clearing”. More likely, I think, they subjective experience of them resembles experience involving non-fatal oxygen deprivation, such as those experienced from choking, or breathing oxygen-blocking gasses such as carbon monoxide or nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”). Sometime these experiences can be described as involving a loss of inhibitions, but in the case of death, one either loses all consciousness and dies, or recovers, regaining normal consciousness.
 

Could the dead people seen actually be memory release and projection into the outside world, through organic breakdown of grey matter?

You seem to be suggesting that decaying brain tissue can release information about the thoughts and memories the brain’s person had before they died.

I think this isn’t true.

What decaying tissue releases, primarily gasses such as putrescine and cadavarine, which is produced by bacteria breaking down those tissues, is chemically fairly simple and well understood. Unlike living brain tissue, or very large molecules like DNA, the molecules in these gasses can’t carry much if any information.

People such as [wiki]Rupert Sheldrake[/wiki] have proposed that information from living or dead organisms is contained in a “morphic field” distinct from biological molecules, but these ideas are considered pseudoscience by nearly all scientists.
 

I was thinking of Wilder Penfield's experiments on the brain, where stimulating certain areas released memories as though they were happening now in the present. I was also thinking of hallucinogens and how these brightened up the senses (Aldous Huxley ‘The Doors of Perception’ et al).

Most hallucinogens make light appear brighter mainly because they cause pupil dilation. There’s some evidence, mostly anecdotal, of tryptamines (such as DMT and Psilocybin) and similar more complex molecules (such as LSD), actually increasing perceptual acuity, but this subject is not well-studied, mostly, I think, because these drugs have been illegal in most countries with strong pharmaceutical research organizations since the 1970s.

Many endogenous (created naturally within our bodies) neurochemicals, especially serotonin, are tryptamines. It’s possible, but not well known, that these chemicals are released in unusually high concentrations near death. So it's possible that they play a role in NDEs.
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It's such an interesting topic, the tough thing is that I don't think we will figure this out anytime in the near future. I'm sure you know the theories range from random brain misfires to hallucinations to a dreamlike state when the brain creates scenarios based on memories. Before we start to understand it better, I think there needs to be much more work on brain mapping at the time of death, which is a touchy subject.

With proper privacy controls, I don’t believe neurological research of near death is unethical. For example the 2009 analysis the EEGs of 7 terminally ill people recording during their deaths done by Lakhmir Chawla (see this article, or the paper) has been criticized for being not very important, but not for being unethical.

More than ethical touchiness, I think the main barrier to such research is that most researchers think it’s not very important. It doesn’t promise to improve medicine by preventing illness and death. It’s deeply philosophically interesting and profound, but these qualities don’t much drive medical research.

I’m hopeful research like Chawla’s will continue, but it’s likely to be a small, semi-professional (Chawla is a clinical – actual patient treating – MD, not a professional researcher) field of study.
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