Medical researcher Dr Sam Parnia has spent the last decade looking into reports that, at the time of cardiac arrest, patients left their body and underwent a 'near-death experience' (NDE). In recent years, Dr Parnia - with other interested researchers - has set out to evaluate the reality of the out-of-body experience (OBE) component of the NDE through the AWARE study. Physicians at a number of hospitals will monitor the brain and consciousness during cardiac arrest, and the the veracity of any OBEs that occure will be tested through the use of randomly generated images that are not visible unless viewed from specific vantage points in the room.
Dr Parnia gave a talk on death and the NDE back in March at the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU) at Goldsmiths, in London. The lecture was filmed, and is now online for those interested - I've embedded it below (approx. 50 mins). I thought it was a great talk with some excellent discussion of such questions as how we can even define the point of death. It would have been nice to have more detail about the AWARE study, but time restraints meant the second half of the talk was a little rushed. All in all though, good stuff and very balanced - which you don't get too much in this field:
I did have some concerns when I heard that Dr Parnia thinks that it won't be enough if just a few people correctly report the target, as this will just be explained away as inquisitive hospital staff breaking the rules and looking at the targets, and then somehow passing on information about them to the patients. Even if it was the case that NDEs are truly a separation of the mind from the body, given that 'veridical OBEs' are only reported sporadically, I doubt that the AWARE study will turn up hundreds of patients correctly reporting the target. So for all the work involved, it's still rather likely the conclusion would end up being either "a few correct cases - interesting, but not conclusive evidence", or "no correct cases - suggestive of the OBE being a hallucination, but not conclusive evidence of that either".
If you watch the video looking for a hint at what the AWARE study has found thus far, you'll be disappointed. No data are given, and the answer as to why can be found on the website of the Horizon Research Foundation:
Although the network is continuing to expand, we have had the early part of the study in place since the early part of 2007 and therefore the team is working to be able to collect the data for the last three years with a view to making a preliminary publication and releasing the findings towards the end of this year or in the very early part of 2011.
Many people have written to us and have asked to be updated with the study results, however, as I am sure everyone will understand, we are unable to release data in a piecemeal fashion. We therefore look forward to being able to release the results of our study once the study has been accepted for publication in a major Pier[sic] Review Journal.
Previously on TDG: