Click here to support the Daily Grail for as little as $US1 per month on Patreon

Rethinking Death: Experiences of the afterlife in the ‘gray zone’ of dying

Dr Sam Parnia has been a leading name in the study of near-death experiences (NDEs) for the last couple of decades, most notably via his leading role in the AWARE study, which has sought to test the out-of-body experience component of NDEs by placing hidden targets in hospital emergency rooms to see if patients might view them while ‘floating’ outside their bodies.

At the same time, Parnia has become a leading voice in the science of emergency medicine, in particular resuscitation, and how to best treat patients who are being resuscitated in order to maximise their chance of survival while also reducing the chance of long-term brain injury during this period. 

As such, I found a recent documentary released by the Parnia Lab (embedded at the bottom of this post for viewing convenience) – “Rethinking Death: Exploring What Happens When We Die” – absolutely fascinating. Echoing Parnia’s own career alternating between ‘serious’ medicine and a ‘fringe’ topic, it is very much a documentary in two parts – the first 20 minutes is devoted to recent ground-breaking developments in resuscitation science, while the second 25 minutes takes a bit of a left (though still logical) turn, delving into the mystery of near-death experiences.

While the first half is definitely the more mundane part, I highly recommend watching it. Parnia and fellow doctors point out how the idea that someone must be resuscitated within minutes of ‘dying’ to avoid brain damage is somewhat of a myth – in fact, much of the damage caused during resuscitation is actually caused by the reintroduction of oxygen, causing a ‘perfusion injury’.

Instead, modern medicine has found that cells actually take quite a while after what we have called ‘death’ (absence of heartbeat and breathing) to begin to die, which means that there is actually a ‘gray zone’ of possibly hours after this point where a person is clinically dead, but the body remains viable for resuscitation. Parnia and others are looking into the best ways of bringing people back, while stopping perfusion injuries from causing damage.

The second half of the documentary then explores the topic of near-death experiences – and does so with some impact, as a number of the doctors interviewed in the first half turn out to be experiencers or witnesses to NDEs themselves. This use of people with medical credentials helps bring a feeling of credibility to the topic, as well as the targeted use of so-called ‘veridical’ NDEs – those where the experiencer gained access to information that they should not have been able to given the unconscious state they were in (see my article “Top Five Phenomena That Offer Evidence for an Afterlife” for more on this topic).

Another thing that caught my eye (or more correctly, my ear), was a particular statement from Sam Parnia. There have been many interested in NDE research who have questioned what Parnia’s own belief is when it comes to what is being experienced, and whether he has ‘sat on the fence’ a little too much – does he think they are a hallucination, or something more? Around 35 minutes in, he seems to be quite explicit that he believes NDErs are gaining access to other realities (and additionally, I find his suggestion that it is caused by disinhibition quite fascinating):

What we’re seeing is something completely bizarre – what we’re seeing, is as the brain is shutting down, this disinhibition of brain processes is leading to the activation of certain parts of the brain that are enabling us to access realities in ways that we couldn’t do before – and that these people are now coming back and reporting something that they would otherwise not have been able to access. All of this leads to the natural question: how are the brain, mind and consciousness connected? [my emphasis]

Here’s the full documentary, it’s well worth a watch (45 mins):

Mobile menu - fractal