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Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences

Susan J. Blackmore

Near-death experiences (NDEs) have remarkably similar characteristics the world over, leading many to cite them as proof of a hereafter. Blackmore, a British psychologist, carefully reviews the literature and her own research for something like an opposite claim. NDEs do indeed have universal aspects, but that's because they manifest the chemistry of dying brains; what's universal is the brain itself. Moreover, components of NDEs (such as "tunnels," down which the dying travel toward bright lights; sensations of well-being; and the appearance of comforting relatives from the beyond) can also be found in LSD trips and dreams. Tunnels are the most universal element of NDEs, but they, too, can be explained as chemical aberrations--brought on, in this instance, by the distress of optic nerves. Having said all this, Blackmore goes on to discuss the profound psychological -- not to mention religious -- impact NDEs can have on individuals, but clearly her account is valuable because it looks rationally and with as much scientific rigor as possible at this strange, almost unmeasurable phenomenon.

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