The Scientific Cause of Near-Death Experiences


Although the specific causes of this part of near-death experiences remain unclear, tunnel vision can occur when blood and oxygen flow is depleted to the eye. Credit: Neil T/Flickr

Near-death experiences that have been widely reported by patients now have a scientific explanation. This phenomenon is thought to be caused by the abnormal functioning of dopamine and oxygen flow.

The scientists published their findings in the journal Trends of Cognitive Sciences. Approximately 3% of the US population reports to have had a near-death experience, and they have been widely reported since ancient Greece. One study reported that many of people experiencing near-death experiences weren’t actually in danger of dying, though most thought they were.


This feeling is also common in patients with Cotard or walking corpse syndrome. They hold the delusional belief that they are deceased, and this occurs generally following trauma, such as the advanced stages of typhoid or multiple sclerosis.

The use of a number of medicinal or recreational drugs can often mirror the euphoria felt in near-death experiences, such as ketamine. All of the features of near-death experiences have some basis in normal brain function that has gone awry.

There is a problem with being able to analyze these near-death experiences experimentally instead of anecdotally but there is hope using cognitive neuroscience. Researchers might be able to duplicate these sensations by stimulating brain funciton in the lab, without putting anyone’s life in danger.

Reference: “There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences: how neuroscience can explain seeing bright lights, meeting the dead, or being convinced you are one of them” by Dean Mobbs and Caroline Watt, 17 August 2011, Trends of Cognitive Sciences.
DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.07.010

26 Comments on "The Scientific Cause of Near-Death Experiences"

  1. OH RIGHT!!! Like the many people who were clinically dead over 30 minutes and came back!! Missing there arm and leg and had already bled to death.. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.. they weren’t REALLY in danger of death! More stupid science to show science from Darwidiots is just plain! DOOPID!

    • Each perception has a chemical reaction as phisical explanation, but our scientists cant make it to some other reason than a merely physical one.

    • Kenny.. that is such a scramble.. but “came back …. and already bled to death”.
      It seems in that instance if there was a logical explanation, hypoxia.. lack of oxygen to the brain, coz the person had bled to death.

    • Kenny, you were going to use “their” instead of “there” I like your new word “Doopid”

    • The only Doopid thing that I see here is you. You’re too lazy to go pick up a science book and learn from it, but you’ll chalk it up to magic as a valid explanation for something that has a naturalistic explanation that we haven’t completely figured out yet. The Secular Web/ has a very lengthy article explaining and debunking Near Death Experience. Go read it moron.

    • KennyYouSlurpSemen | August 17, 2013 at 10:20 pm | Reply

      Funny how Religotards dedicate their whole life to the most disgusting scam ever devised preach how things magically happen,
      yet somehow can still say darwidiots.
      “stupid you are, breed you should not.”

  2. And how do your scientists explain out of body experiences, which are experimentally proven, where some person can deceive actions in a place hey werent apparent, while their bodies lay asleep, and in watch? Even some of my friends experience such things…

    • Manny.. imagination explains it all.. havent you dreamed, and it has been an out of body experience.
      I have dreamed I saw myself fly and walk on water.. coz I dreamed it, doesnt make it true, but I recall the dream vividly. I have also dreamed experiencing myself flying and walking on water..

    • There is NO scientific evidence proving out of body experience. Cite your peer reviewed papers plz? I won’t be holding my breath, even if I could hold it for years.

      • There is no hard scientific evidence. Everything documenting these experiences has of course been moved conveniently to the category of “Pseudo Science” by “real” scientists, effectively eradicating decades of research.
        Indeed, the silly argument seems to boil down to a small group of neuroscientists (and their ardent supporters) beating their chests saying “We can account for any experience anyone has reported ever!” and a small group of hippies, religious folk, and old people (and their ardent supporters) saying “No, you really can’t.”
        I happen to be one of those hippies, but I do look forward to the day when this conversation grows up a bit.

  3. The replies of believers in the supernatural are all mostly the same. They remain ignorant, reject science, and make statements to comfort their own percieved knowledge of the truth. The white light is chemistry.

    You can have an out of body experience by experiencing spatial dissonance in your brain or by playing a video game in 3rd person. These are illusions, not where you actually are.

    • Interesting that you think only believers in the supernatural are believers. You want to think that out of body and near death experiences are chemistry. And if anyone claims something else, you call the person a believer, and believing has a negative aftertaste in our society. But the believe in science is also a believe, which is justified by a prove. But what is proven here? This is a chemical arrangement which is being looked at; sorry, mnot a native speaker

    • I can stare at a dot on the wall or stab myself in the eye and have roughly the same visual experience.
      I’ve had many hallucinations brought on by the migraine aura and many visions brought on by meditation and ritual practice. They are similar, in that the experience is not of the external world, but different in many key ways, and yet scientists have used our knowledge of the migraine aura to explain every hallucination ever.

      The argument “We can show that x chemical reaction induces y experience and therefore any experience similar to y is definitely a result of x chemical reaction” is a straight up logical fallacy, and it’s all science really has to lean on to claim there is nothing but a physical world. What can be said is that there is no scientific evidence otherwise. But what can’t be said is that science can outright disprove all claims of extra-dimensional consciousness.

      It is unfortunate that many spiritualists seem a bit cooky when they try to talk about this stuff, but I do wish neuroscientists would continue to approach the matter a bit less conceitedly.

      • Excellent argument.
        The fallacy you mention seems to be that of treating a sufficient condition (the chemical reaction) for a certain kind of experience as its necessary cause.

  4. Madanagopal.V.C. | October 23, 2012 at 10:22 am | Reply

    Once I hit the top of my head against a low ceiling I heard a clear ringing sound of Bell in loud tone. Again another time when I fell back from a chair and hit at the back of my head resulting in swooning briefly, I vividly remember a bright green light going on a circle till I lost my consciousness. This is because when I hit my head the region of the brain responsible for audition was perturbed and it interpreted the electric jolt of neurons as pure sound. In the other case the backside region of the brain where optic nerve`s electrical responses are processed, the same disturbances are revealed as optical phenomena. In both the cases there were no bell ringing or light seen by me.When I come back from the brief trauma, I clearly remember them. At a very young age when the chloroform was administered to me for a minor surgery, I could vividly recall green light drawing towards it to the tunnel when I just lost my senses. Why I am adducing these anecdotes because I want to substantiate that all of them are due to brain chemistry without any hallucinations. These near death experience also brought back the subjects back to life, coupled with hallucinations they were undergoing under the trauma they suffered. Why don`t we therefore agree with scientists the brain chemistry explained by them without assigning any metaphysical reasons for them ? Thank YOu.

    • Correlation does not prove causation, and the experiences scientists think they can explain away are far more vivid and vast than their chemical experiments can account for.

  5. I don’t believe in such’s just a hallucination

  6. Is it hallucinations or real?is there any super natural power?i am lil bit confused.

  7. I have been dead for over 10 minutes and went into a toradial vortex (tunnel of light) permeated with love and part of the omnipresent consciousness. I even witnessed love creating life. I have done astral travel many times have been to different realms. I told a person that I did business with that I had dreamt of him twice. I said there was four cargo containers on a dirt lot and drew a picture. he stepped back holding his chest saying that I was doing our body travel and that he has four cargo containers on a dirt lot positioned that way. I could go on and on about transcending time and space and other amazing things.

    • But what’s the point? I have had many-a-vivid experience proving plainly to me the sub astral and astral worlds (and more) but as long as those dimensions continue to defy experimentation, no one will listen to us.
      I do like the wave of reason threatening to sweep humanity though. I think there are so many religious norms that need to be wiped out, and that science may even yet stumble into the next dimension. Mathematics already show us that these dimensions exist – hard to convince anyone that we are part of them without giving them that direct experience though.

  8. There seems to be two constants in the universe, one is Change , the other is that the vast majority of people will believe what they want to believe. I don’t claim to know much of anything for a fact but i do believe that science is humanities best chance at understanding anything and everything . The moment you chalk something up to God exploration and any chance at actual understanding stops. Btw. I don’t consider myself an atheist however i do reject all major religions.

    • It’s confirmation bias. However, with all due respect, how do you know that you yourself are not suffering from confirmation bias (i.e. believing only what you want to believe) when you reject religions?

      (I am agnostic myself)

  9. It’s interesting to me that so many people who pride themselves on holding a “scientific” wold view are still clinging to outdated science. Read about quantum physics. Read about the discoveries that have been made by the scientists at Cern. We are living in an exciting time. Science is beginning to prove some of the concepts of metaphysics.

  10. This proves nothing.
    Just because something similar to the near-death experience can be induced artificially by certain brain stimuli does not mean that all purported near-death experiences are reducible to illusion.

    The argument is akin to saying:
    “Person can be fooled into thinking it is daytime when it is actually night, by putting electric lights outside their windows, therefore the sun is actually just an electric light outside your window.”

  11. i have a cavernous angioma on my brain stem ive died 3 times my firt bleed at 5 i wasnt dagnosed untill my 40s and 2 in child birth the one after 5 left me seeing dead people i didnt realise they were untill my grandmother died when i was 10 from my first bleed iwas unable to wear a watch and clocks and electrics behave oddly around me if i get upset its a lot worse i know things i cant possiably well and see into the future its not something i practice it just happens i know that there is life after death not as we know it but in a non physicall way our awarness our core being goes on we go back to were we camme from nothing trully dies its everlasting i dont care what others think if they think its true or not you cant measure the imesurable you can only trust yourself and your own exsperiances

  12. Madanagopal.V.C. | January 31, 2017 at 4:42 am | Reply

    In the near death experience you don’t come across any strangers in vision except your relatives whose thoughts are always embedded in your brain. Thoughts can hover only from the brain which either imagined such things or had experienced some anecdotes. In near death experience there is always a trauma in the brain and all the regions of vision, hearing, smell neurons get excited. The clocks and other things around turning topsiy turvy is due to the convulsions of the brain only.Thank You.

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