The mind is a powerful, unknowing organ. There is much we have still yet to learn about the big, mushy encephalon contained within our skulls, and we continue to do so on a regular basis. A recent research study aims to dispel the legend of heavenly near-death experiences, which is believed to be provoked by electrical illusions of the mind.
During the study, conducted by Dr. Jimo Borjigin, a professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School, along with his associates, the team recently investigated the neurophysiological state of rat brains, subsequent to induced cardiac arrest. The group performed electroencephalography (ECG) studies on the rats, whilst experiencing cardiac arrest. For obvious ethical reasons, studying the same phenomenon in human is somewhat more difficult.
BBC News reports Dr. Borjigin’s remarks on his work. In his opinion, the results offer up some surprising conclusions, which disproves a common misconception:
“A lot of people thought that the brain after clinical death was inactive or hypoactive, with less activity than the waking state, and we show that is definitely not the case… If anything, it is much more active during the dying process than even the waking state.”
As part of the experimental procedure, the team oversaw the cardiac arrests of nine rats, mimicking a typical death. They used the ECG equipment to measure gamma wave oscillations, an electrical pattern of alternating peaks and troughs, which range between approximately 20 to 100 Hertz in human beings. The ECG simply analyzes the brain’s voltage changes, as different collections of neurons fire electrical action potentials, which are just electrical signals that help transmit information around the brain.
Studies have differed over their interpretation of gamma wave oscillations. Some researchers suggest gamma waves are an indication of neuronal consciousness. However, a recent study into the influence of somatic and ocular motion has suggested that these fast electrical rhythms do not reflect cognitive activity, but electrical activity seen in the scalp caused by bodily movement.
None-the-less, the research group, through their observations, established that these gamma wave oscillations were even greater following a cardiac arrest event, than when contrasted to the pattern witnessed when the rat’s were alive and healthy.
Borjigin postulated that the results of this model could be translated to the human brain. He suggests that the change in the brain’s electrical pattern could induce the stereotypical near-death experience that so many dying patients describe, arising from a surge in brain activity, which encourages elevated consciousness. These could be described as electrical illusions of the mind, and could go some way to invalidating the heavenly apparitions and white lights that so many claim to see.
But, how do these individual’s imagine outer-body experiences and hallucinations? Borjigin speculated the brain’s visual cortex, located at the brain’s posterior, becomes increasingly engaged during the near-death experiences. These conclusions were substantiated by her own experimental observations, she explained:
“… we have seen increased gamma in area of the brain that is right on top of the visual cortex… We have seen increased coupling between the lower-frequency waves and the gamma that has been shown to be a feature of visual awareness and visual sensation.”
Dr. Jason Braithwaite, located at the University of Birmingham, offered his support to the study’s findings. He suggests the experiment adequately supports a pre-existing notion, where the brain simply becomes “… overstimulated and hyperexcited.”
It is thought that a reduction in blood flow to the brain, which in turn reduces delivery of critical respiratory resources (oxygen and glucose), is what provokes this “hyperexcitability.” This, essentially, produces electrical patterns that are typical of a conscious individual.
Other major theories have been suggested, including those involving dissociative mechanisms of defense, during times of danger, dimethyltryptamine (DMT) release from the pineal gland, endorphin release and cerebral hypoxia (as mentioned).
Many people saw these near-death experiences as a sign of heaven. Unfortunately, many of the contemporary studies into the matter are highly conflicting. These latest studies, although insightful, need further analysis before we can pass off such experiences as electrical illusions of the mind. The mystery goes on.
By: James Fenner