Parapsychological phenomena and the idea of a parallel or other world has always been intriguing. Parapsychology is related to both science and faith and covers an astoundingly wide and fascinating range of subjects. Does life end with death or is death a continuum or a new beginning of life? Each of these premises has supporters armed with strong arguments or experiences to buttress their beliefs. My own experiences and observations include my mother being taken on a whirlwind trip to the other world by a spirit.
In a steady stream of scientific studies scientists have also weighed in on the subjects of life, death, an afterlife and so on. Yet scientists too are often divided over the interpretations of the findings. Previously, researchers believed that irreversible damage occurs when brain activity flatlines, but a new study shows that’s not the case. This is a new finding. Moreover, “we don’t have a way to be certain when all capacity for awareness is lost,” noted Jed Hartings, a neuroscientist at the University Of Cincinnati College Of Medicine.
Last year, National Geographic carried an article “This is what happens 30 seconds before you die”. Lulu Morris wrote, “Many people who have had near-death experiences report having an out of body experience. But as it turns out, it’s just the brain tricking you in your final moments. Your brain does not shut down as quickly as the rest of your body when you die; it’s still working. New studies have found that your brain can enter a ‘hyper state of perceptual neural activity’ at the time of death. Essentially your brain is still projecting imagery.”
According to Aussie-based neurologist Dr Cameron Shaw who dissected the brain of a woman to try and understand her last moments “the out of body experience some people report after having a near death experience isn’t real… The brain can create a visual world around you that resembles something close to reality that isn’t reality because you’re actually blind.” But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You experience tunnel vision when you lose blood to the brain, followed by immediate blackness. Almost like a flash of white light at the end of a tunnel. Almost.
In an earlier study done at Hadassah University in Jerusalem, which examined the near-death experiences of seven different people, each person reported a flashback. One patient told the researchers of having flashbacks of friends and family in their final moments. As Lara Deauville wrote in the UK Express in January this year, “What happens when you die? It’s the most fundamental question there is, asked at one time or another by every single human being who ever lived… Do we live on after death? If so, where? … What happens to my soul? They are the greatest of all of life’s imponderables which have been tackled, with varying degrees of success by science, art and religion…Without any scientific evidence of an afterlife, many religions offer their own explanation as to what happens after death.”
“Christians believe that after dying, spirits are sent to heaven or hell depending on their Earthly behaviour… The Islamic faith teaches that Allah will raise the dead on ‘The Last Day’—a date known only to him. On this day, he will judge all souls and send them to either paradise or hell. Muslims believe that until then, the dead remain in their graves. According to Buddhists, spirits are reincarnated into new bodies until they achieve enlightenment… the concept of an afterlife isn’t central to Judaism, but… the Torah talks of an afterlife called Sheol— a shadowy place down in the centre of the Earth, where all souls go to without judgement.”
Patricia Pearson, veteran journalist and award winning author of Opening Heaven’s Door: Investigating Stories of Life, Death, and What Comes After spent five years investigating what happens when one dies and interviewed dozens of people who work with terminally ill patients, or have had deathbed experiences or had come back from death. She learnt that the dying often seem to know that they’re going, and when. In one major cross-national study comparing deathbed experiences in US and India, the majority of patients who were still conscious within an hour of death saw deceased loved ones beckoning, regardless of whether they were medicated.
In some cases, people see friends or family members they simply weren’t aware had died. “It came as a true surprise for me to learn that study after study confirms that roughly 50% of the bereaved sense the presence of lost loved ones, either in the moment of death, or sometime later… Although psychiatrists call these instances ‘grief hallucinations’, the science of such subjective experiences remains poorly understood; certainly, it doesn’t explain how we can have them before we know someone has died.” The psychologist Joan Borysenko, PhD, for instance, described having such an experience when her 81-year-old mother died at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston while Borysenko was on faculty at Harvard. The room seemed to fill with a brilliant light, which both she and her teenage son saw, as they watched her mother rise spectrally out of her body.
Even when things have been proven to happen, the explanations remain elusive. But a lack of explanations does not affect abiding beliefs. For believers, perhaps the most famous death poem—“Death Is Nothing At All”—delivered by Henry Scott-Holland, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford and a canon of Christ Church, Oxford as part of a sermon in 1910 while the body of King Edward VII was lying in state at Westminster, and more than a century later still often read at funerals, says it all. “Death is nothing at all./ It does not count./ I have only slipped away into the next room./ Nothing has happened…/ Life means all that it ever meant…There is absolute and unbroken continuity/What is this death but a negligible accident?/ Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?/ I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner…All is well. /Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost…/How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!” And perhaps, also smile at the interminable findings and discussions which continue to revolve around the many mysteries of death and other parapsychological phenomena.