Are near-death experiences just hallucinations?

A bright light or a long tunnel? Near-death experiences has mystified scientists for many years. 

6th April 2011
Are near-death experiences just hallucinations? (iStock)

Asked by: Anonymous

Yes, but they’re compelling and often life-changing hallucinations. All over the world people who come close to death report rushing down tunnels towards a bright light. This is caused by excessive activity in the brain’s visual system, and similar tunnels can be induced by hallucinogenic drugs.

Some people find themselves looking down on their body in an ‘out-of-body experience’ (OBE), which is caused by disruption in the temporo-parietal junction – part of the cortex that controls our body image. OBEs can be induced by artificially stimulating that spot. A few report visiting other worlds that they interpret as Heaven or Hell, but these depend on the person’s culture. So Christians tend to see Jesus or St Peter, Hindus see Ramdoots and Buddhists may report the ‘bardos’, those transitional states between reincarnations described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Many people believe that the soul leaves the body during near-death experiences and survives after death, but in 20 years of research on out-of-body and near-death experiences I never found any convincing evidence that this is so.

 


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