Andrew Newberg is a neuroscientist and professor at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital and has made his reputation studying the brain scans of religious people nuns and monks who have ecstatic experiences as they meditate. As your eyesight fades, you lose the peripheral areas first, he points out. Newberg puts forward the following scenario, which he emphasizes is guesswork: When people die, two parts of the brain that usually work in opposition to each other act cooperatively.
The sympathetic nervous system—a web of nerves and neurons that run through the spinal cord and spread to virtually every organ in the body—is responsible for arousal or excitement. It gets you ready for action. The parasympathetic system, with which the sympathetic system is entwined, calms you down and rejuvenates you. In life, the turning on of one system promotes the shutting down of the other. It is possible, Newberg asserts—though not at all certain—that visions of heaven are merely chemical and neurological events that occur during death.
Since at least the s, scientists have theorized that NDEs occur as a kind of physiological defense mechanism. In order to guard against damage during trauma, the brain releases protective chemicals that also happen to trigger intense hallucinations. This theory gained traction after scientists realized that virtually all of the features of an NDE—a sense of moving through a tunnel, an out-of-body feeling, spiritual awe, visual hallucinations, intense memories—can be reproduced with a stiff dose of ketamine, a horse tranquilizer frequently used as a party drug.
In a psychiatrist named Karl Jansen wrote a book called Ketamine: Dreams and Realities , in which he interviewed a number of recreational users.
One of them described a drug trip in a way that might be familiar to Dante, or the author of Revelation. For some scientists, however, purely scientific explanations of heavenly visions do not suffice.
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Kelly believes the experiences of people who have had near-death visions demonstrate that consciousness exists even after normal brain function ceases. Wolf spirit ministries. The Astral Institute. Simon and Schuster.
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The Three Magic Gifts of Gemini
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