Doctors to study 'out-of-body' experiences

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The Independent Online

Doctors are to investigate whether "out of body" experiences, in which people claim to have observed events while they are clinically dead, can be scientifically demonstrated.

Dr Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist, is seeking co-operation from 25 hospitals and patients who suffer cardiac arrests in which their heart stops for longer than 11 seconds. He says that if they can recall items left around the room, out of view of people on the ground, that could prove the mind exists in some way independently of the brain.

"Studies suggest the 'near death experience' may arise when the heart has stopped and the brain is not functioning," Dr Fenwick told the British Association meeting at the University of Salford. "The mind may exist outside the brain and may be better understood as a field, rather than just the action of neurons in the brain.''

After 11 seconds, electrical activity in the brain stops, although people can be resuscitated successfully up to five minutes after their heart stops. "Out of body experiences on their own aren't interesting. But they are if they happen when we know the brain isn't functioning, neurophysiologically speaking.''

Studies have found that about 15 per cent of heart attack patients report having had an "out of body'' experience after their heart stops. Dr Fenwick believes that after a year there should be about 100 reports from people who have had arrests long enough to be included in the study.

Cards with pictures and markers will be placed near the ceiling or in places where a patient could not normally see them. If those who were revived can correctly describe the contents of the cards, that would be strong evidence for the "field" theory, although Dr Fenwick had no idea how a field might work.

He said that if the subjects gave wrong or no answers, then "it's going to show that [out of body experiences] are a mechanism in the brain, which creates them". To suggest that people who were clinically dead might be able to see without a functioning brain or eyes seemed outrageous, "but these people seem able to get information outside their bodies".