Home / Freethought and Humanism: Atheistic and Theistic (Deism) / Talk Nerdy to Me asks, "What Happens When We Die?"
Talk Nerdy to Me asks, "What Happens When We Die?"

Talk Nerdy to Me asks, "What Happens When We Die?"

The near-death experience could be nothing more than "a really good trip".  Cara Santa Maria explains in the video at the end of this article.

Many people who say they had a near-death experience often report calmness, lack of fear, and feeling of being one with the universe.

However, there is an explanation for this experience.  Basically, the upper part of the brain shuts down and the lower parts of the brain, needed for survival, continue working.  Thus, the person is not actually dead and in this case, because only the lower parts of the brain function during a traumatic injury that causes the brain severe trauma, a person may see only a bright light.

What's clear is that when the brain undergoes severe trauma, like reduced oxygen flow, blood pressure drops, or sharp increases in blood carbon dioxide levels, interesting things start to happen psychologically.

First, a white light at the end of a tunnel, as David Hovda, of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center explains, is the only thing we can really expect a person to see as they get closer and closer to death. For efficiency's sake, the brain tends to function only in areas needed for basic survival, like the hindbrain, which includes the pons and medulla. Given that the rest of the higher brain regions are essentially shut down, if visual areas like the superior colliculus or occipital cortex are suddenly activated, no higher-level processing can exist, and a bright light is all we would be able to see.

Researchers inSwitzerlanddiscovered they could induce the same experience by stimulating the temporo-parietal junction on the right side of the brain.

This research offers compelling evidence that disruption of the very brain region thought to be responsible for sensory integration and the so-called sixth sense of proprioception–or understanding where your body is in space–could produce a sensation like we're floating above our own bodies. And anyone who has abused the drugs ketamine or dextromethorphan understands what a dissociative anesthetic can do. These drugs act on NMDA receptors in the brain and can produce a sensation that you're detached from your own body or even from the world. Knowing that out-of-body experiences can be induced both during neurosurgery and recreational drug use provides clues that such experiences likely have a neurological basis.

Dr. Rick Strassman proposed in the 1990s that dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is not only found in the human brain, but the brain releases the chemical in large quantities from the pineal gland as death approaches.  DMT, a naturally occurring psychedelic, is called the "spirit molecule" due to the intense psychotropic properties.  Researchers are currently researching Strassman's proposal and if found an accurate hypothesis…  What a trip!

About Mriana

Mriana is a humanist and the author of "A Source of Misery", who grew up in the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. After she became an adult, she joined the Episcopal Church, but later left the Church and became a humanist. She has two grown sons and raises cats. Mriana raised her sons in the Episcopal Church, but in their teen years, they left the Church and she soon followed. One of her sons became a "Tao Buddhist" and the other a None, creating his own world view. She enjoys writing, reading, science, philosophy, psychology, and other subjects. Mriana is also an animal lover, who cares for their welfare as living beings, who are part of the earth. She is a huge Star Trek fan in a little body.
  • Deborah_B

    When I had a brain CT that revealed damage on the right side due to a car accident, I told the doctors/techs gathered about that I'd love to experience the "God Helmet" to see if the experience I had could be replicated. One of the techs said that he'd be afraid to do that and when I asked why, he said "It could erase hope."

    I had an NDE in the accident, but it was not the white light tunnel … it was more like I was looking down at what was happening, seeing the people, including my body, and some other things.There seems to be more and more evidence that these NDEs are the result of some sort of brain function.

    Interesting article. And as the lady in the video said, "It's a really good trip" when you have these experiences.

    • Thanks. If one's belief cannot stand up to reality, then they need to change their view of hope.

      Yes, out of body experience is another one description (for want of a better word) people experience when lower brain function is the only thing operating. When I was first started studying this in the very beginning years of college this, I was still religious (Episcopalian religious that is) and first started studying this subject, I hypothesis the soul was in the lower parts of the brain. Metaphorically, with the DMT called the "spirit molecule" label, I was not too far off as a novice psychology student. The problem with that hypothesis, is that when the lower parts of the brain shuts off, there is no more "spirit molecule" or rather DMT. The chemical stops producing and the person is actually dead. Up until this point, the person isn't dead.

      Now the scientifically minded religious people (like some Episcopalians for example) can take that anywhere they want, in part because science hasn't answered anything beyond that. However, as far as I know, there isn't anything beyond that. That's it when all the chemicals in the brain shut off and the person is dead. Where else can things go after the chemicals completely stop producing and there is no more "molecules"? Molecules cease to exist when there are no more elements producing molecules. Into outer space? If that is the case, than JC is still ascending into heaven and hasn't gotten there yet.

      I can see why the extremely religious are afraid of science, as well as religious studies, and scared to death that "it could erase hope", but really it's not so bad if we view death as a natural part of nature. However, Julia Sweeney is right- we have to go through mourning our dead love one's again, after we lose "faith in faith". I understand the difficulties and fears people have with learning scientific facts and realities of life. It throws the brain into shock when we realize what we were taught in church/synagogue/etc isn't factual, but mythical. Even when one comes close to have those myths busted, the brain goes into "panic mode" and many people start to cling very hard to the myth instead of the science. It can be a hard one to accept, esp when it sends the brain into shock for a time. As one theologian put it, when he realized Jesus never existed, it was like a lightening bolt hit him and Tom Harpur said he sat there for days staring at the text that threw him into shock. What finally threw me into shock was further studies in neuro/biological psychology and the Gita. I walked around in a daze for hours after discovering that Krishna was not only the "I AM", but the reincarnation of Vishnu (God). I already knew about this study and was already on shaky ground faith wise and on the cusp of losing "faith in faith", yet I still believed that JC at one time actually walked the earth, but the studying the Gita in college was the straw that broke the camel's back. When one has a "God compartment" in their brain, it's virtually impossible to get it back after it shatters to pieces and the person has to learn to deal with it. Some deal with it like Harpur and Spong have and others don't even bother trying to get any assemblance of it back again, because it really is nothing more than a human concept and they'd just be creating a new one.

  • Bible Bob

    is more on the other side than just a bright light. I have heard literally
    dozens and dozens of testimonies from people who have died and stood right on
    the doorstep of Heaven but where not allowed to enter after having been
    prevented from doing so by Christ. From that position, they described what they
    saw beyond the vale and what they witnessed was certainly not just a figment of
    imagination from a brain that was overstressed. On the other hand, there are
    also countless testimonies from those who have also died and then gone into Hell
    and what they saw could not have been as a result of anything other than there
    having actually been there. There is a life after death, and once a person
    passes they either go to Hell or Heaven, of that one fact you may be certain.

    • That was nothing more than a dream that occurred due to what they grew up with and were indoctrinated with. A deeply believing Hindu person might have dreamed something totally different. The person is not actually dead. They still have lower brain functioning and as long as the lower brain functions they aren't dead and having a dream like state.

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