Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Shulman knows a lot about the complex interaction between mind and body .. but when confronted with the question of what happens during near death experiences, he says science still doesn’t have a way to clearly explain it. “there is no paradigm that explains, that can explain..all this stuff physiologicially,” he says.
The doctor at Rush University Medical Center says a purely scientific analysis would point out that physical changes can explain phenomena like the sense of going through a tunnel.
For example, central vision is the last thing to go, so as the eye’s “periphery shuts down , you get the tunnel like experience… the tunnel and the white light.”
And he says there’s research from around the world, showing near death experiences are described in a surprisingly consistent way. “ The light, the warmth, a spiritual well being the notion of a boundary somewhere that if you cross it, you’re not coming back.”
Those similarities, he suggests, could indicate that the common experience here is that we all have human bodies.
But Shulman says the difficultyof examining this subject scientifically is that no matter how curious or interested people might be, hooking someone up to an EEG is low on the priority list if he or she is on the brink of death. “You want to get the heart beating again,” he explain.
What’s more, he suggests that getting a scan and EEG at the point of death.. would be far more significant if there were also baseline scans and EEG’s of the person at a time when they’re alive and healthy. And even then, the information gathered would only be as good as the diagnostic tests available.
The bottom line? “I don’t think our explanations of the laws of the universe, our knowledge of physics, is enough to explain” these experiences at this point.
So that leaves “the true believers in the non-organic explanation of near death experiences” looking for ways to prove it can’t just be a matter of biology.
And the people who are sure these experiences are nothing more than biology “ explain that with time one tries to give an explanation to the experience., and pull in aspects of memory and association they attach to the recalled event. “ In other words, this theory is that people begin to subconsciously craft a story that explains what we remember.
Which Shulman says again leaves us in a grey area, where “neither side has an open and shut argument,” but starts to head into philosophical territory. “It goes back to… does our consciousness persist after death? “
Published at 3:36 PM CDT on Jan 24, 2013