The British Psychological Society’s (BPS) Research Digest blog currently has a feature which asks the question “What’s the most important psychology experiment that’s Never been done…?” Coming in at #1 is Susan Blackmore’s suggestion of “Watching Death“:
We know that roughly ten per cent of people who come close to death have “near-death experiences” (NDEs) in which they seem to travel down a dark tunnel towards a bright, warm light; see their body from above; experience vivid memories; and even enter another world or meet gods, angels or spirits. A few have mystical experiences of oneness with the universe, or experience the dissolution of the illusory self.
All these experiences can be accounted for, in principle, by disorganised activity in the dying brain. Yet this argument does not convince believers who argue that after all the brain activity stops, the soul or spirit still carries on…
…The most important experiment that’s never been done is to take fMRI or PET scans of people as they die
If you take the time to read the entire article, I think it’s worth pointing out the loaded language used throughout. Firstly, it seems that if you are not convinced by Blackmore’s (flawed) “disorganised activity” theory, you must be a “believer”. Conversely, anyone who is a proponent of materialist explanations for the NDE is given the title of “skeptic” (entirely not the same thing). Lastly, Blackmore tells us that MRI scans would allow for testing of “theories about how NDEs and mystical experiences are generated in the dying brain,” when the core question being debated here is whether they are actually being “generated” by the brain.
Good to see scientific research into the near-death experience getting some high-profile coverage anyhow.