ISLAMABAD: Suddenly amidst all this pain I saw a light very faint and in the distance. It got nearer to me, and everything was so quiet; it was warm, I was warm, and all the pain began to go [...] I was finally there, and I felt as if someone had put their arms around me. I was safe, no more pain, nothing, just this lovely, caring sensation."
Near-death experiences: not as paranormal as they sound?
The quote above comes from a 48-year-old woman who, on one occasion, almost died from complications related to a spinal tumor; it evokes much of the general emotion associated with a classic near-death experience story.
The term "near-death experience" (NDE) is well-known throughout America, but the phenomenon is not restricted solely to the Western world. Most cultures have an equivalent experience; even children have related NDEs.
An NDE might involve walking toward a bright light at the end of a tunnel, meeting gods, speaking with relatives who are long-dead, out-of-body experiences (OBEs) or feeling bathed in light.
Almost unanimously a significant life experience, conversations about NDEs are often accompanied by discussions of the afterlife and the mind surviving the mortal body.
These kinds of esoteric tales would normally be banished to the realms of pseudoscience and parapsychology, but their pervasive nature - an estimated 3 percent of Americans report having experienced an NDE - has sparked a smattering of genuine scientific research and a wealth of conjecture.
One Dutch study, published in The Lancet, set out to investigate the regularity of NDEs and tried to tease apart causal factors.
The investigators reported that 50 percent of individuals who experienced an NDE mentioned an awareness of being dead, 56 percent regarded it a positive experience, 24 percent reported an OBE, 31 percent described traveling through a tunnel and 32 percent spoke of interacting with deceased people.
The study also showed that, of the patients they interviewed, although all were clinically dead at one point, only a small percentage (18 percent) experienced, or remembered, the NDE. The likelihood of having an NDE was not related to the level of cerebral anoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain), the amount of preceding fear or the type of medication they were taking.
According to the paper, NDEs were more often experienced by patients under 60, and women more commonly described deeper experiences. Conversely, those with memory deficits following resuscitation were less likely to report NDEs, which is to be expected.
There is obviously something driving these experiences, but the factors that impact them are still very much up for debate.