In scientific circles, many experts think that research on human consciousness is the ultimate challenge. How consciousness fades away is a sheer mystery. As a consequence near-death experiences have become hotspots in biological, iatrology, psychological and philosophical research. The near-death experience (NDE) has been defined as 'a lucid experience associated with perceived consciousness apart form the body occurring at the time of actual or threatened imminent death' by the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF).
Near-death experiences are a global phenomena. In 1978, a 24-year-old worker in Barcelona was horrifically injured and rendered comatose by a falling box. He suddenly awoke in March 1990 and revealed his unconscious adventure. In his description, he turned back to a child. His late aunt led him through a flaring tunnel into another world. Ten minutes later, he drifted back into coma and never regained consciousness.
Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway himself went through an out-of-body near-death experience. During WWI, he was seriously wounded by shrapnel while fighting on the banks of the river Piave, near Fossalta, Italy. He recalled that he felt his soul coming right out of his body, as smoothly as people pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. According to Hemmingway his soul circled around and then returned to his body. Great German poet Goethe, French critical realist writer Maupassant, American novelist Allan Poe, and British writer David Herbert Lawrence all agreed that the soul must be a perfect replica of the physical body which resides inside a person; when it leaves the person will enter a dreamlike state.
'Death experiments' into the near death phenomena have been carried out. In Germany, 42 young volunteers took part in an experiment in which all entered a drug induced unconscious state. After 22 seconds they awoke and all recorded different experiences. Some saw colourful lights; some met relatives and friends; some saw themselves free from their earthly bodies whilst others saw a shining tunnel of light.
Since the 1980's, medical circles have attached much importance to people's dying state. Though experiments are varied and results differ, people who have suffered near-death experiences share many common feelings. They feel the 'self' has left the body and is hovering overhead, some feel they are peacefully and quietly moving through a tunnel into another world, encountering light, meeting others, or entering into a garden. Some who have come back to life believe their lives flashed before their eyes, others had a sense of understanding everything and perceiving all the intelligence and power in the universe.
Even though those who have gone through these experiences insist on the veracity of their claims, there is doubt and many Scientists see this type of experience as completely subjective. To many scientists these feelings are merely hallucinations brought about by oxygen debt in peoples about to die. One Biologist, Roland Seeger, believes the experiences are the result of chemicals excreted by the brain at such times.
However, not everybody close to death has this kind of experience. Scientists say the inconsistency may have something do to with education, past experience or personality. Oddly, people with religious beliefs seem more often to encounter near-death experiences than others.
The near death mystery awaits conclusive confirmation and many more experiments are needed. In fact none of the experiments carried out so far go anywhere near proving any 'life after death' concept. A more cautious explanation is that NDEs suggest that some aspect of human consciousness may continue after physical death. (Liu Min)