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The near-death experience (NDE) has blazed its way back into mainstream media this week, with the long-awaited publication (in the journal Resuscitation) of the results from one of the biggest ever scientific investigations into awareness after cardiac arrest. A number of years ago, Dr. Sam Parnia, an expert in the field of resuscitation, established the AWARE project, which is now a major collaboration between doctors and researchers in the coronary units of medical centers and hospitals across the globe. In the AWARE study, patients who survive a cardiac arrest were asked if they had any memories or experiences while ‘dead’ – and if they had an out-of-body experience during their brush with death, whether they were able to see certain ‘hidden targets’ placed in hospital rooms that can only be seen from a vantage point near the ceiling.

The headlines have been a little over the top. “First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study“, the Telegraph announced.

Death is a depressingly inevitable consequence of life, but now scientists believe they may have found some light at the end of the tunnel. The largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.

[S]cientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria. And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.

One man even recalled leaving his body entirely and watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room. Despite being unconscious and ‘dead’ for three minutes, the 57-year-old social worker from Southampton, recounted the actions of the nursing staff in detail and described the sound of the machines.

I’m really glad to see the AWARE study results finally published in a journal, but despite all the news headlines, there is little new information in this paper. As readers of my 2013 book Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife (available in paperback or as a Kindle ebook) would know, I covered the results of the AWARE study back then. If you haven’t read the book, I’ve posted the relevant excerpt today here on the Grail for those seeking more information about the AWARE study, and a more detailed description of the experience of the patient who left his body.

For those with TLDR syndrome: the paper examines 2060 cardiac arrest events at participating hospitals, of which only 16% of patients survived (330). Of those 330 patients, only 140 proved eligible to be interviewed for the study. 85 out of 140 (61%) reported no perception or memories during their cardiac arrest. However, one of the interesting findings of the study was that 55 patients (39%) responded in the affirmative to the question “Do you remember anything from the time during your unconsciousness?”, despite the fact that cardiac arrests are believed to shut down the brain and inhibit any of this sort of consciousness.

However, another interesting finding of the study was that 46 of those 55 “described memories incompatible with a NDE”, such as “being dragged through deep water” and “seeing a golden flash of light”. So even though their perception during cardiac arrest was ‘anomalous’, it wasn’t an NDE. Only 9 patients had NDE-like perceptions, and of the entire 2060 cardiac arrests just one patient had an out-of-body experience (OBE). And sadly, it wasn’t in an area with one of the shelves intended to test the reality of the OBE.

Nevertheless, the OBE patient was able to describe a number of aspects of the hospital room scene accurately – a so-called “veridical NDE”. On its own, this doesn’t seem much, but as I point out in my book, it adds to an ever-growing list of accounts where people who should not be able to perceive anything due to their physical condition are able to give accurate details about thing happening both in the room they are in and outside of it. Contrary to the Telegraph’s “first hint”, this new paper just adds to an already long list of hints.

The shorter summary of the AWARE paper?

  • If you have a cardiac arrest, the odds are really not in your favour.
  • That if you survive, there’s about a 5-10% chance you might have a near-death experience.
  • That people don’t just experience NDE consciousness during cardiac arrest – they also find themselves in other modes of consciousness with totally different perceptions and imagery.
  • That the AWARE study recorded what seems to be another veridical NDE account, to add to the growing number already on record.
  • These veridical NDEs appear to suggest either (a) that some people are hyper-sensitive to their surroundings during a cardiac arrest, using any sensory modes available to reconstruct the scene in their minds, or (b) that the mind is actually able to somehow perceive things from a vantage point outside of the body – in short, that consciousness is not confined to the brain.

So, when looking at all the news stories and blog posts on this topic, be aware (hah!) that (a) a lot of the headlines are hyped up, and (b) plenty of them are looking at this study in isolation, when it is perhaps more interesting when considered with other evidence already collected.

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