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A barefoot behaviorist would tell you that's just the end state of your brain, unloading neurotransmitters in a last ditch effort to send you off into nothingness in peace. Aside from the fact that this wouldn't just evolve over time - considering that mates are assuredly not picked based on their ability to have more peaceful near death experiences - there really isn't a cold cruel universe reason for this to happen.
Why would an uncaring, unconscious universe be so concerned with your death that it decided to program into the governing laws a mechanism by which you could be at peace at the moment of death?
Let's get the biological explanation out of the way first.
Normally, about 20% of blood flow is directed at the brain. When blood pressure rapidly drops, this blood flow can decrease to as little as 6% before you pass out. When this happens a nerve that connects to the heart called the vagus nerve will force you into into unconsciousness, and towards REM sleep. For some, that sleep can fluctuate between states that mimic consciousness and dream states. In near death experiences (we will call them NDE's for the duration) these states will fluctuate.
Tunnel vision? Biologists have you covered there too.
Drops in blood pressure will also decrease blood flow to the retina. If you've even ridden the Titan at Six Flags, or been a fighter pilot, you've probably experienced some tunnel vision associated with the G-forces associated with the extreme forces of inertia you encounter.
Out of body experiences? Check.
A neurologist named Wilder Penfield conducted studies that showed when stimulating a certain area of the brain in the parietal region (the region associated with your ability to move and feel things) patients reported leaving their bodies. When the stimulation stopped, they returned. Though there's not a whole lot of evidence that seem to support malfunctioning electrical stimulation of the parietal area in dying patients, behaviorists still hold this as their primary evidence in order to claim that we have no souls.
Researchers have also been able to associate higher level of carbon dioxide in the blood with likelihood of reporting near death experiencing.
So what do we actually have here? Proof?
The only thing this proves is that states of consciousness are reproducable in laboratory conditions. Given the dirth of psychotropic medications available (with the explicit purpose of mimicking brain states, no less through various neurotransmitter mechanisms) this should come as no surprise.
Even though it is true that the brain seems to be experiencing these states, this should come as no surprise either.
If something good happens to us, we experience happiness. Neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine flow through the brain. If we do cocaine, we experience happiness. Neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine flow through the brain. What's not to like?
Let's pretend we are scientists and watch someone dying while hooked up to a computer that records brain activity and we can watch what all happens onscreen. Our computer is going to show us patterns indicative of what we would expect of someone dying. Makes sense, right?
Now let's say we can produce a drug of some sort that excatly mimics these brain states and we can watch the same fluctuations on the computer. Does this mean that the person's soul is actually coming out of their body and they are having a real near death experience? Nonsense.
The fact that you can mimic brain states does not mean that you can rule out a particular proclaimed experience any more than I can rule out the fact that I am having a happy moment just because I can mimic that brain state with amphetamines.
Once again, what we have here is another ideologue with an agenda looking to make a splash by ruling out something that a majority of the population hold dear, specifically the notion that have free wills and souls and that there is an afterlife awaiting us.
So do we have any evidence that souls exist?
Unfortunately that cupboard is fairly barren as well. When neurology was first starting out way back when, scientists found an area of the brain now known as the pineal gland. They felt this must be where the soul lives because it was in the middle of the brain and it was sort of hollow, as though something (an alien intelligence? a soul? the evil monkey from Family Guy?) could have taken this area up as a habitat.
After lots and lots of rigorous inspection we have yet to see a soul living in there or anywhere else in the brain for that matter. We've not caught any souls with proton packs. And other than a few questionable photographs purporting to be ghosts, we have never seen souls in any reliable, replicable condition, hallucinating psych patients notwithstanding.
So if we don't have souls, who's at the drivers seat?
The most recent research seems to indicate that consciousness is not a unilateral process, but rather the affect of various parallel processes occuring through different brain regions.
Douglas Hofstadter in his award winning masterpiece Goedel Escher Back an Eternal Golden Braid puts forth the assertion that consciousness is a result of recursive processes that seem to refer to each other, a complex result of Kurt Goedel's Incomplete Theorem of mathematics which basically says that within any element of truth, there will be axioms that cannot be proven true or untrue, thus giving rise to recursive equations which once sufficiently complex will produce consciousness.
Got it? Let's keep going...
So being able to have the conscious experience of watching the waves break in the ocean as you lay out on the beach is a result of the light hitting your cornea, the optic nerves sending information to the thalamus, which then interprets the data and allows for the cerebral cortex to ... bing bang boom smash vroom ... make you conscious.
In other words ... we still don't have a clue.
Pursuit of Happiness
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