After countless accounts of near-death experiences, dating as far back as ancient Greece, science is now taking serious steps forward to explore the nature of the phenomenon. A new project aims to determine whether the experience is a physiological event or evidence that the human consciousness is far more complicated than we ever believed.
The Human Consciousness Project sets out to explore the nature of human consciousness and the brain. The first step of the project is the "Awareness During Resuscitation" study, a collaboration among more than 25 medical centers throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.
With the expectation of recruiting 1,500 patients during a 36-month time frame, the study will examine everything that happens to the human brain during cardiac arrest, from oxygen levels to the ability to recall images. The participating hospitals will be outfitted with equipment to monitor any patient who goes into cardiac arrest. While the person is in arrest, resulting in a flat line, doctors will monitor oxygen levels and blood flow into the brain. If patients consent to additional testing after recovery, they will be asked to recall any memories they can from the time while they were in cardiac arrest. Regardless of the recollection, each experience is useful to the study. "If they have no memories, they're useful because we'll use them as a control group," says Dr. Sam Parnia, director of the Human Consciousness Project and leader of the study.
But the most intriguing aspect of the study is its attempt to study consciousness during clinical death. According to Parnia, the science of these "consciousness events" may be somewhat similar to the relation between Newtonian physics and quantum physics. Scientists once believed that Newtonian physics could answer all the questions in the universe. When they ventured into the sub-atomic realm, though, Newtonian physics no longer applied. But quantum physics did. Similarly, the near-death experience could be another state of consciousness with a different set of rules than what we currently understand, and beyond the limits of what current scientific methods can explain.single page
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