Millions of patients in critical condition are going through an Experience of Imminent Death

Mathematics is not reality, but it helps us to understand it. The same happens with biology, with its knowledge the complex reality is not exhausted, but it helps us to understand it.

near death experience (nde) or Experience of Imminent Death (EMI) is called a series of phenomena reported by people who have suffered a clinical death. These include the feeling of detachment from the body, lights in a tunnel that is opening up, serenity in most cases -although some experience anguish-, display loved ones or people they have known at some point, etc.

obviously exist different perspectives to analyze this complex circumstance. From the transcendental or religious point of view, this is a perception of the afterlifewhat awaits us after death.

From the point of view biological it is a subjective phenomenon of multisensory integration in a disturbed body.

Although there are accounts of these experiences since time immemorial, the name imminent death experience (EMI) was awarded by Victor Egger (1848-1909) around 1896, to the story of mountaineers, soldiers and workers who fell from great heights who recounted what they had experienced at that time.

Impending Death Experience. Saint Paul of Tarsus also lived it and, as happened to several converts, his life changed.

It was the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004) who analyzed different clinical cases in her book published in 1969, granting her a clinical entity to this picture that many increased as a mystical experience.

He Dr. Raymond Moody (1944) is his book life after lifepublished in 1975, disseminated these clinical cases, their follow-ups, and offered the first physiological characteristics.

Today there are millions of reported cases that occur between 1 to 10% of critically ill patients or who have been about to die.

From a biological point of view, cerebral hypoxia would be responsible for the massive release of endorphins – which will give that feeling of well-being to those who have experienced this condition.

Serotonin is also released, such as those induced by psychotropic substances such as LSD. The abnormal activity of the temporal lobes are responsible for the “golden” that precede some seizures and that will be responsible for those “extra-body” sensations that refer to those who have suffered an NDE.

return from death
Impending Death Experience. Extreme hunger and fasting can also induce Impending Death Experience that, finally, are the cause of a spiritual rebirth. he happened to gautama buddha (s. VI BC).

Light perception could be explained because the occipital lobe –responsible for visual function– is the first to recover when circulation is restored because the occipital pole receives double circulation, both from the vertebral and the carotid (through the hindbrain).

The changes produced by the hypoxia in the hippocampus and the amygdala -the inner brain which are the most primitive structures of the nervous system-, are responsible for the mnesic experiences, the memories that appear in the “return” through the tunnel of light or that general idea that one sees his life go by in the moments before death.

experience of imminent death

In 1902, it was William James (1842-1910), the founder of the school of functional psychology and brother of the writer Henry James, who began to analyze mystical experiences and defined them by their unethical (ie intellectual) quality and infallibility.

Walter Pahnke (1931-1971) deepened the studies of James and gave a qualification to these experiences.

Today there are millions of reported cases that occur between 1 to 10% of critically ill patients or who have been about to die.

After the introduction of Moody’s NDE concept these two processes began to be related. Many people who have experienced NDE turned their lives upside down becoming people with spiritual inclinations, better self-esteem, less fear of death and detachment from material goods.

In an analysis published in 2014 by Bruce Greyson (1946), of 360 NDE cases analyzed, this relationship between NDE and mysticism was achieved in a statistical analysis.

If we analyze it from a historical approach, many of the founders of current religions had an NDE.

Experience of imminent death and mysticism

The most significant is that of Saint Paul of Tarsus (5-10 -/58-67AD), the artifice of the construction and expansion of Christianity in times of the Roman Empire. Although he initially persecuted the followers of Jesus, on the way to Damascus he suffered a fall from his horse while hearing a voice that said to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

After this episode they took him to Damascus where, according to “The acts of the apostles” (9, 1-9) he spent three days without seeing, eating or drinking.

After this “appearance,” Paul converted to Christianity, was baptized, and began an arduous missionary task, traveling miles of miles preaching the word of God and laying the foundations of the Christian Church at the Jerusalem Council.

Bruce Greyson analyzed 360 cases of Experience of Imminent Death and realization of the relationship between NDE and mysticism

Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuit order and bastion of the Counter-Reformation, he also had a conversion that led him to abandon his military life, to found the Society of Jesus and to initiate another energetic missionary activity throughout the world.

In 1521, near Pamplona, Ignatius of Loyola he fought against the French, when he was hit by a cannonball which broke both of his legs and forced him into a long convalescence.

After a vision of the Child Jesus, he began a long and enthusiastic activity as a Christian that ended in the consecration of the Company to which he issued a military order.

But in order not to limit ourselves to Catholicism, we must point out that Muhammad (571-632), the founder of Islam, also suffered an NDE in his youth. In the hadith relates that the archangel Gabriel descended and opened his chest to remove his heart from which he extracted a black clot and said: “This was the part where Satan could seduce you.” The children who accompanied him believed that he had died, but when they returned they saw him alive.

patients in critical condition

How to interpret this event carried out by Muhammad? There are cases of children who suffered NDE and who from then on had mystical inclinations, even though they did not receive any religious training before that traumatic episode.

Finally, gautama buddha (lived during the 6th or 5th century BC), a prince of Kapilavastu, left his father’s palace where he lived an existence far from the sorrows of the world and had the “four encounters” with old age, disease, death and a ascetic

During his long pilgrimage, the Buddha suffered from starvation that led him to extreme weakness. Cecile Vogt-Mugnier and Oskar Vogt (1870-1959) have described several cases of NDE in severely malnourished people.

There are many more cases that we can relate to, such as those collected in The Tibetan Book of the Dead and I mention an infinity of Catholic martyrs, but with this brief text we do not intend to refute or explain the need for transcendence of the human condition, but to show another, more biological perspective on religious thought and the mystical experiences that can be explained, in part, in light of these new knowledge that barely take a few decades of evolution.

There are already millions of patients with EMI

Our task, that of men in general and scientists in particular, is to push that limit between knowledge and belief. Otherwise we would still be in medieval obscurantism. Can we one day explain all spiritual, mystical, religious or mysterious phenomena? We do not know, it is debatable matter.

Nor does this organicist perspective exhaust reality or try to bastardize religious thought because I understand that it is a unique and intimate part of each individual.

Ultimately, each one believes in what he needs to believe, according to his education, his life experiences, his environment and his particular existential and psychological condition.

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