Many people report out-of-body experiences (OBEs) or near-death experiences (NDEs) but they've always been considered to be hallucinatory or illusory. However a study—which was actually published back in 2014 but has been making the online rounds again—published by UK's Southampton University looks at objectively evaluating these experiences.
A large-scale study involving 2060 patients from 15 hospitals in the United Kingdom, United States and Austria was launched in 2008 to look at OBEs and NDEs in a range of patients. It was the first time objective markers were used to determine whether the OBEs were real or hallucinatory.
The study drew a number of conclusions, one of them was that 39% of patients who survived cardiac arrest said in interviews afterwards that they had a perception of awareness, although not all of them could recall something specific.
Others though were able to recall some mental recollections, which included fearful and persecutory experiences. While a much smaller amount recalled experiences common to NDEs and an even smaller amount spoke of full awareness associated with OBEs like 'seeing' and 'hearing' events. In one case they were able to validate and time the experience during cardiac arrest using auditory stimuli.
“This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating." says Dr Sam Parnia, lead author in the study. "In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat. This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events. Thus, while it was not possible to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of patients’ experiences and claims of awareness, (due to the very low incidence (2 per cent) of explicit recall of visual awareness or so called OBE’s), it was impossible to disclaim them either and more work is needed in this area. Clearly, the recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice.”
The biggest takeaway, it seems, is the fact that scientists have found evidence that conscious awareness continues for several minutes after clinical death. Something that was previously thought impossible.