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One idea I used to hear a lot about was that when people are near-death and saved by medical science that they sometimes see "a light at the end of a tunnel" in a vision.

Today I read about an article about a new best-seller from an ambitious 4-year-old in Nebraska:

'I met great granddad...and he had wings': Boy who 'went to heaven' is now best selling author.

Here's his #1 New York Times Bestselling book "Heaven is for Real" on Amazon:

The only problem is that I remember seeing shows on TV that suggest near-death experiences can be repeated in a controlled environment.

Is there any evidence to suggest that near-death experiences and "the light at the end of the tunnel" have a scientific explanation?

{ asked by Mark Rogers }


There is ample scientific explanations for the physiological reactions that people experience. From PubMed (my emphasis):

The Near-Death Experience (NDE) is a dissociative mental state with characteristic features. These can be reproduced by ketamine which acts at sigma sites and blocks N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) linked phencyclidine (PCP) receptors to reduce ischaemic damage. Endogenous ligands, alpha and beta-endopsychosin, have been detected for these receptors which suggests an explanation for some NDE's: the endopsychosins may be released in abnormal quantity to protect neurons from ischaemic and other excitotoxic damage, and the NDE is a side effect on consciousness with important psychological functions.

The light in the tunnel effect is an easy one, since I have personally experienced it numerous times in a high-G environment. Your eyes naturally create a tunnel effect as they start to lose oxygen.

As for seeing loved ones, in the case of this particular book, that is more likely a post hoc occurrence for financial gain as well as societally influenced expectations. The personal history and background of the boy Colton, and the author Todd Burpo, align exactly with what they wrote about (isn't it funny that no one ever experiences a "vision" that would be opposed to their expectations and personal history, like a christian seeing Vishnu for instance?).

And it is established that autobiographical memories can be implanted in individuals, and that children are especially susceptible to this.

Loftus (1997) investigated memory distortion and the relation with the degree of confidence in the existence of a false memory. She calls this phenomenon the "misinformation effect". She observed that if witnesses of an event are later exposed to new and misleading information about it, their recollections become distorted (Loftus, 1997). Loftus was able to empirically demonstrate this phenomenon with autobiographical memories. With corroboration from the participants' family members, Loftus was relatively successful at implanting false autobiographical memories.

EDIT TO ADD: I just found this article today that is relevant to this answer.

This week, in “The neurology of near-death experiences“, Alex debunks the religious trappings that attach to the “out-of-body” and similar experiences that occur in conjunction with operations and medical episodes. In particular, he shows that experiences such as dreamlike states, tunnel vision, and leaving and returning to one’s body are all phenomena that have well-understood medical causes. Some of them can even be reproduced by stimulating people’s brains.

I suggest anyone interested in the subject check out the links.

{ answered by Larian LeQuella }