Sunday, September 26, 2010


Does consciousness continue after brain death? If so, is this evidence for existence of the mind outside of the physical brain? And, ultimately, is this potential evidence for life beyond death?

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take. The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it – white shores and beyond - a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Cardiac arrest study
Cardiologist Pim van Lommel became unexpectedly interested in the continuity of consciousness after death during his medical internship when a patient was successfully resuscitated in the cardiac ward by electrical defibrillation. The patient regained consciousness, and was very, very disappointed. He told the doctor about a tunnel, beautiful colors, a light and beautiful music. [1] Sometime later, after hearing similar reports, van Lommel and others initiated a study which ultimately involved 344 consecutive survivors of cardiac arrest in ten Dutch hospitals. The purpose was to investigate the frequency, cause and content of near death experiences (NDEs). A short standardized interview was conducted within a few days of resuscitation in which patients were asked whether they could recall anything during the period of unconsciousness.

The result was that 62 patients (18%) had some memory during clinical death. An American study found similar results involving 116 cardiac arrest survivors, 11 of which (10%) reported a detailed, in-depth experience. In the Dutch study, about 50% reported awareness of death, 30% moving through a tunnel or met with deceased relatives, and 25% had an out-of-body experience. A longitudinal follow-up study found that, after two and eight years, those patients who previously reported NDEs and were able to be re-interviewed recalled the events almost exactly. So, the experiences were not ephemeral, but enduring and impactful.

Long term changes
Some fascinating positive changes occurred in all patients who had been resuscitated. There was a highly significant decrease in fear of death and a significant increase in belief of an afterlife. Other significantly increased attitudes and interests included: meaning of life, acceptance of others, love and empathy, family involvement and appreciation of ordinary things. Recognizing the transitory nature of this life – as well as the reality of the next – seemed to enhance the importance of both.

Biblical example?
Some have speculated that the Apostle Paul’s reference to a man caught up to the third heaven may be an example of consciousness beyond the physical brain (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Without more information, it is impossible to know for certain if this man’s soul (mind) actually left the body or the experience was merely a vision, completely contained within the physical brain. In fact, in verse one, Paul (probably the same “man”) prefaces this anecdote by mentioning “visions and revelations”.

How significant is this?
NDEs are fertile ground for bizarre spirituality (astral projection, reincarnation, etc.) and this issue is far from resolved. Nonetheless, it is clear that many of the main proponents today are not spiritist frauds, but cardiologists and other medical professionals, who recognized the phenomenon only after convincing evidence. In addition to Dr. van Lommel, other studies have been conducted with reports indicating the reality of conscious experiences after medical death. As far back as 1978, Cardiologist Maurice Rawlings reported his findings which, similar to those of van Lommel, were unexpected. Rawlings found that, immediately following resuscitation of cardiac arrest patients, some reported the usual experiences (looking down on one’s body, tunnel, light, and a beautiful city), but others reported very disturbing hell-like images (darkness, fire, heat, demons, and fear). Dr. Rawlings concluded: “Contemplation of death while we are still in good health affords us an excellent utilization of time and objectives during our short pilgrimage on earth.” [2] Whether or not recent medical research provides evidence of life after death, it is incontrovertible that all will die and the risk is incalculable to enter that great beyond without certainty of one’s destination.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7)
“I was dead and behold I am alive for ever and ever” (Revelation 1:18)

[1] Pim van Lommel, Ruud van Wees, Vincent Meyers, Ingrid Elfferich, “Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands”, Lancet, 2001; 358: 2039-2045.
[2] Maurice Rawlings, M.D., Beyond Death’s Door, (New York, NY: Thomas Nelson, 1978), 117.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, warns that many so-called NDEs and OBEs may be occultic or psychic phenomena, which are condemned by God in scripture. Agreed. This is one of those topics which must be examined carefully. That is why we would find more credibility with scientifically-based studies of these phenomena.