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New Life for Near-Death

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From cardiologists to quantum physicists, scientists are bringing near-death experiences into the hospital, the laboratory, and the frontiers of research.

This article appeared in our October 2003 issue. Five years ago my friend nearly died during a kidney transplant. When he regained consciousness he told me he’d met his deceased wife out in the starry ether. “She told me to go back,” he marveled. “She said I’d marry again.” “What was she wearing?” I joked. But he wasn’t joking. He recalled a palpable sense of her presence, the unmistakable particularity of that one woman, which he recognized as easily as a familiar face. I love to hear stories like these; they are sweet with the perfume of immortality. But after listening, I sigh and go on my way, skeptical as ever. In the end, they are stories, not proof. There is growing evidence that the brain itself can create these inexplicable states — a feeling of unity with all life, the perception of brilliant enveloping light, the sensation of spiraling out of one’s body. Drugs, from peyote to LSD, can certainly tweak brain chemistry, flooding us with visions that cease once the drugs have been metabolized. And it seems that each day science discovers more about the intricate structure of the brai …

Jill Neimark was, in 2003, articles editor at Science & Spirit magazine and has written for The New York Times, Psychology Today, The Los Angeles Times, and Natural Health. She lives in New York City.

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