Holy Moses, the afterlife is real! At least, that’s the impression you might get reading about the “AWARE” study (recently published in the Resuscitation Journal). The Telegraph‘s headline, for instance, trumpets, “First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study.”
This is followed by a far less exciting, but more accurate, description:
Southampton University scientists have found evidence that awareness can continue for at least several minutes after clinical death which was previously thought impossible
The study focused on cardiac arrest patients. Of 330 survivors (of an initial pool of 2060), 140 recounted some level of “awareness while being resuscitated” following cessation of cardiac activity. Lead researcher, Dr. Sam Parnia, believes actual numbers of near-death experiences might in fact be much higher, but brain injury or sedatives might limit later recollection. Of reported experiences, however, researchers identified several distinct themes.
The experiences manifested in somewhat contradictory fashion from person to person, ranging from a “sense of peacefulness” to heightened senses. A third of the patients recalled time either slowing down or speeding up; some claimed to see bright light or the sun, but others “recounted feelings of fear or drowning or being dragged through deep water.” Some patients “said they felt separated from their bodies”; one account in particular seems to have stood out to Parnia.
A 57-year old Southampton man went into cardiac arrest prior to being resuscitated. After the fact, he described in detail the actions of those who resuscitated him and the noise of one of the hospital machines.
“We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating,” said Dr Sam Parnia… “But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped.”
And where did this figure of three minutes of post-death consciousness come from?
“The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for.
“He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.”
Two points come immediately to mind. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable; it is doubtful that being at the center of a traumatic incident — your own death — would improve matters. It is, therefore, fully possible that the patient involved is absolutely convinced that two beeps occurred during his death (making what he claims to have experienced very credible)… yet is still wrong. There is, it seems to me, some reason to be skeptical about the time frame put forth. Secondly, even if the three minute time frame is accurate, this indicates that consciousness can linger at least two and a half minutes longer than previously indicated; that an afterlife exists is another matter entirely.
This is what the study says are indications that “consciousness may be present despite clinically undetectable consciousness.” It may well be that our methods of determining human consciousness are not fully accurate and that human consciousness continues for some time longer than currently thought. But it’s important to note that this study hasn’t proven that — nor do the researchers involved claim that it has — much less that there is no termination to consciousness.
A better understanding of human consciousness’ limits is to be desired for any number of reasons. But jumping to the conclusion that dying memories are somehow indicative of a life after death is simply unwarranted based on what (little) we know. It might make for eye-catching headlines, but there is no rational basis to doing so.