afterlife death

(Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)

NEW YORK — What happens when we die? It’s a question people have been asking throughout time and the answer is still a mystery. Now, a new study exploring what people experience when they’re close to death has come to one important conclusion — “near-death experiences” are a real thing, even if we can’t explain them.

Countless people have claimed that their life “flashed before their eyes” or that they actually left their body and traveled somewhere else while close to death. Critics have called these experiences hallucinations or illusions, but researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine say something else is actually happening.

A team of researchers from several medical disciplines — including neurosciences, critical care, psychiatry, psychology, social sciences, and humanities — have come up with a number of scientific conclusions after reviewing unexplained lucid episodes which involve a heightened state of consciousness.

What exactly is a near-death experience?

The main finding is that these events don’t have much in common with the experiences someone has if they’re hallucinating or using a psychedelic drug. Instead, people who have a near-death experience typically report five different events taking place:

  • A separation from their body with a heightened, vast sense of consciousness and recognition that they’re dying
  • They “travel” to a different location
  • A meaningful and purposeful review of their life, involving a critical analysis of all their past actions — basically, their life flashes before their eyes
  • Going to a place that feels like “home”
  • Returning back to life

Researchers note that the near-death experience usually triggers a positive and long-term psychological transformation in the person. The team notes that people who had negative and distressing experiences while near-death did not experience these kinds of events.

Something is happening in the brain

The team found that there’s more to a near-death experience than just the stories each person tells. It turns out scientists can actually see physical changes taking place in the brain when someone is close to death.

Researchers found the presence of gamma activity and electrical spikes when people are technically dying. This is typically a sign of a heightened state of consciousness when scientists measure it using an electroencephalography (EEG). The findings further back up the claims from people who say they “left their body” while dying.

Study authors note that advances in medicine over the last century have brought back countless people from the doorstep of death. For many of these patients, they come back with stories of unexplainable events, which until now, have not been studied in detail.

“Cardiac arrest is not a heart attack, but represents the final stage of a disease or event that causes a person to die,” says lead author Sam Parnia in a media release. “The advent of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) showed us that death is not an absolute state, rather, it’s a process that could potentially be reversed in some people even after it has started.”

“What has enabled the scientific study of death is that brain cells do not become irreversibly damaged within minutes of oxygen deprivation when the heart stops. Instead, they ‘die’ over hours of time. This is allowing scientists to objectively study the physiological and mental events that occur in relation to death,” Parnia continues.

Death may not be the end

Study authors conclude that neither physiological nor cognitive processes completely end at the moment of death. While prior reports haven’t been able to prove what people are saying about their near-death experiences, the new report finds it’s also impossible to disprove what they’re saying.

“Few studies have explored what happens when we die in an objective and scientific way, but these findings offer intriguing insights into how consciousness exists in humans and may pave the way for further research,” Parnia concludes.

The findings are published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. Don Lavoie says:

    I had Sudden Cardiac Arrest after swimming a mile then on deck collapsed. Feb 2017. Now Pacemaker/Defib. It occur on the 72 degree springs (year round) Rainbow State Park, Florida .

    A friend called 911 and immediately chest compressions. EMT was less 10 minutes away. Shock me twice with no outside motion (may have got a pulse). Put me in ice . After 36 awoke with respirator and tied to bed.

    Lost almost 30 pounds in first days. Went rehab in week and stayed a month. Still swim daily now.

  2. jim says:

    Have had 5 near death experience’s. All as described above. Last one looking down at self on stretcher, And as rose-up saw the instruction manual for oxygen system up opened. hahahah
    Jesus and heaven ARE REAL. The window of his grace is closing. Come to Jesus NOW. Is is the ONLY way to GOD. Hurry up people. Eternity in hell will roast you alive forever.

  3. J. R. Atnip says:

    This is an opinion and not a known fact. As a Christian, why would I say this? Simple, dieing is a lot like when we go to sleep. We go from awareness to unawareness and we don’t know that we have gone asleep until we awaken. Death is the same way, we go from awareness to unawareness and we don’t know that we died or that we are dead…. THAT IS WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS! Most preachers teach that as soon as we die we immediately go to “Heaven”. That is a lie and is not Biblical. The saved know nothing when they die and will not know anything until they are awakened at the second coming of Jesus the Christ. IF the saved immediately went to Heaven, then there would be no need for Jesus to return the second time. NO MAN will ever go to Heaven except for Jesus, who came from there. The saved will go to New Jerusalem which will be located on the New Earth that God creates. New Jerusalem is where the streets are paved with gold and the gates are of a single pearl. Read about it in Revelation chaper 21. The unsaved will not be awakened until another thousand years have passed. The unsaved will suffer the second and eternal death and it will be as though they never existed. No one will ever remember them and they will never be awakened from the second death.

    1. Kim says:

      Apparently you have never read Revelation were the martyred saints are robed in white near the throne awaiting the end and Christ’s judgment against Antichrist and unbelievers who follow the Deceiver.

      Your theology is flawed.

  4. Bill Halcott says:

    I think I was gone for three hours. That was 50 years ago. I have wondered about it many times a day every day.

  5. Matt Blackman says:

    Fascinating work that follows in the footsteps of greats like Dr Ian Stevenson (, Dr Brian Weiss (Book – Many Lives, Many Masters) and others. Pioneer researcher Dr Stevenson authored around 300 papers and 14 books on the subject of reincarnation. His 1966 book, “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation,” became a classic in the annals of reincarnation research.

    Considering that “Near-death experiences (NDEs) are reported by about 17% of those who nearly die,” it is hard to ignore the growing clinical experience.

    (See – )

  6. Rocky Raccoon says:

    A precarious balancing act for those that have encountered alter-dimensions, ethereal in nature, that require a subjective brain to compute a logical sequence and pattern that can be communicated as a fact.
    There is the scientific ethos and the human pathos. Scientifically energy does not die. Therefore the energy by the beating heart and synaptic plasticity of the brain, that energy exists in humans.
    The human pathos does not oppose the scientific ethos but human beings, morphed by societal mores defined by eons of religious images, will define the near death phenomenon…accordingly.