The right angular gyrus is close to areas involved in vision, hearing, balance and touch. [R]esearchers think it could be responsible for integrating sensory information about the body, and that a failure to perform this task correctly could account for out of body experiences (OBEs).
The angular gyrus is particularly susceptible to a drop in blood pressure, as happens during anaesthesia…. “It is in a frontier region between two vascular systems. If you have problems with arterial pressure this area is less nourished. Maybe that ‘tickles’ it—and that could be the underlying mechanism for OBEs”….
The Swiss team stumbled across the finding while mapping the brain of a patient with epilepsy, prior to surgery. The woman had suffered partial seizures for 11 years.
The angular gyrus was not linked to the epilepsy but initial stimulations to the region produced unusual balance-related experiences. The patient reported “sinking into the bed” or “falling from a height.” Increasing the current led to a full OBE: “I see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk.”
Further stimulation while she watched her own limbs resulted in experiences of her arms and legs being shortened.
Archive for the ‘NDEs and OBEs’ Category
In a recent study, Canadian psychologists investigated the out of body experiences frequently associated with ketamine use. Leanne Wilkins and colleagues define an OBE as “the experience of discrepancy between the location of one’s subjective sense of ’self’ and one’s own physical body” and detail three OBE variants: (1) the feeling of separateness, or taking leave of one’s physical body (out of body feeling or OBF), (2) seeing your own body from what seems to be an external viewing station (out of body autoscopy or OBA), and (3) a combination of OBF and OBA.
Out of body experiences “have been associated with various neurological conditions such as epilepsy, migraines, infections and also with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and dissociative disorders.” To this list we might add practices well known to shamans and similar practitioners: dancing, fasting, pain, dreaming, and deprivation.
Regardless of causal mechanism, the authors correctly observe that OBEs “have been an important part of folklore, mythology and spiritual experiences reported across the centuries.” Such experiences, in other words, are put to religious use. With this in mind, the authors assert that ketamine-induced OBEs point to a simpler explanation:
[E]nhanced understanding of cognitive and neural mechanisms of sensory disintegration contributing to the breakdown in the feeling of the integrity of one’s embodiment can legitimize and naturalize the OBEs experienced by neurological patients and those with mental illness and demystify them as ‘‘paranormal’’ and ‘‘anomalous’’ experiences.
This is a circumspect way of saying that OBEs can be caused or induced given certain conditions that affect an important sensory association area in the brain: the Temporo-Parietal Junction (TPJ). This area of the brain is important not only for the integration of external-internal sensations and normal perception of self-embodiment, but also for theory of mind (i.e., attributing mental states to others, whether those others are real or imaginary). It is not surprising, therefore, that lesions or damage to the TPJ often cause out of body experiences. In the Wilkins study, the authors hypothesize that ketamine, which is an NMDA receptor antagonist, similarly disrupts the TPJ and causes out of body experiences.
Out of body experiences are a human universal. Why? Because human brains are constructed in a way that enables such perceptions. Dreaming, drug use, and near death experiences regularly give rise to such experiences. How a person interprets the sensation of being outside the body will largely depend on the context and culture in which it occurs.
In pre-state societies, shamans deliberately induced altered states of consciousness and engaged in what have been termed “soul flights.” For Christians, such experiences are often cited as evidence there is a soul inhabiting the body. For those living in societies where reincarnation is a major belief, such experiences are taken as proof of recurrent life.
As Richard Alleyne reports, scientists using virtual technology have been able to reliably replicate this dissociative experience:
Throughout history people have described how they have floated from their bodies and looked back at themselves, often when close to death or on the operating table.
The accounts have been so vivid that they are often cited as proof of the existence of the soul or Heaven.
But scientists now claim they have dispelled this myth by artificially creating an out-of-body experience using computers and cameras.
They believe the feeling of detachment occurs when the brain becomes confused by conflict between the senses—and is not proof of any “spiritual dimension” to existence.
Out of body experiences result, in other words, from impairment of the temporal-parietal regions of the brain, which have long been known to be association areas.
Anyone who has taken the time to read books by neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio, Michael Gazziniga, or V.S. Ramachandran—or even summary articles in popular media venues such as Scientific American and Science Daily—is quickly presented with some difficult and puzzling questions about the nature of the self and consciousness.
Phenomena such as split-brain experiments, anterograde amnesia, bizarre results of various types of brain damage, or even mental illnesses such as schizophrenia all seem to present an intractable problem for the believer in souls, namely, if the soul is separate and independent from the body (and has ‘free will’), then why can’t the soul overcome these difficulties?
[I]t is possible to pharmacologically manipulate body ownership with a drug called ketamine, which reliably generates out-of-body experiences in normal people. Patients on ketamine report the sensation of hovering above their body and watching it. If someone gives them a sharp poke, they might say, “My body down below is feeling the pain, but I don’t feel it myself.” Because in such patients the “I” is dissociated from the body it inhabits, they do not experience any agony or emotional distress (for this reason, ketamine is sometimes used as an anesthetic)….
The great English neurologist MacDonald Critchley described many other patients who—depending on the parts of the parietal lobe involved—felt like giants or pygmies; experienced their body parts as distorted or swollen; disowned an arm, claiming it belonged to their mother; or even hated a particular limb—claiming, for example, that “my hand is a communist.”
The left hand, presumably.
During sleep paralysis, it is possible to enter a REM-like state in which you dream of moving or flying. Under these circumstances you are conscious of a sensation of movement, yet your brain is aware that your body cannot move. In an attempt to resolve this sensory conflict, the brain cuts the sense of self loose (Cortex, vol 45, p 201). “It resolves by splitting the self from its body,” says Cheyne. “The self seems to go with the movement and the body gets left behind.” Perhaps similar sensory conflicts cause classic out-of-body experiences….
[T]he study of out-of-body experiences promises to help answer a profound question in neuroscience and philosophy: how does self-consciousness emerge? It’s abundantly clear to us that we have a sense of self that resides, most of the time, in our bodies. Yet it is also clear from out-of-body experiences that the sense of self can seemingly detach from your physical body. So how are the self and the body related?
The rest of Siegel’s Fire in the Brain:
There are striking parallels between changes in real stimuli seen with open eyes and those reported for mental images seen with closed eyes [under the influence of hallucinatory drugs]. Probably the same mechanisms in the brain are responsible for duplicating images of polygons or [external objects]. These processes can just as easily scramble mental images or structures of the real world into random and sometimes nightmarish arrangements, like pieces of a picture puzzle thrown on the floor….
This madcap universe is in constant motion. For reasons that are still not understood by psychologists, heavy objects do not appear to move as much as lighter ones. Mountains will hardly shimmer, but matchsticks jump about. A bowl of spaghetti may look like a churning knot of worms while the table it sits on remains motionless….
Sounds are amplified, but they are not always clear. A simple swallow, for example, might sound like the crashing surf, but where is it coming from?….
Hallucinogens generate a continuum of electrical activity in the central nervous system that progresses from mild excitation to seizures. It begins with irregular waves of high-frequency, low-voltage activity in the brain. People experience excitement and euphoria during this initial stage. As the process continues, the brain activity is characterized by intermittent bursts of synchronous waves, the signpost of hallucinations. This increased excitation starts to overload the part of the brain that regulates incoming stimuli. The result is a failure in the brain’s ability to modulate incoming signals, thus permitting all signals to enter with full power. The gates of the brain’s sensory systems swing open, so to speak, and we are given access to many more inputs than we are able to sort through. This creates the sensory confusion. (p. 47, 49)
Sleep paralysis provides a fertile setting for hypnopompic hallucinations. In the hypnopompic state, the brain cannot instantaneously switch from dreaming to a waking state, and the dream extends into the waking period. The brain circuits activated during dreams then send signals—such as an image of the succubus—to the cerebral cortex, where they are processed as if they came from the outside world. Thus, dream images extend into waking and the sleeper sees visual images (or has sensations in other modalities) within the context of the real bedroom.
Our brain knows what state it is in only from the surrounding context. In dreams, the context is of disorganized images, and this tells the brain it is sleeping. In the sleep paralysis/hypnopompic state, the context is of organized perceptions and the brain assumes that it is awake despite the very different nature of the experience….
Awakening in a state of sleep paralysis can cause the person to hyperventilate and experience feelings of tightness or heaviness in the chest. Hyperventilation, even in the form of sighing respirations, also diminishes the supply of oxygen to the brain. This can produce hyperacusis, whereby sounds seem especially loud. Simple background noises, ticking clocks, even one’s own labored breathing can provide the seeds from which grow more complex auditory hallucinations such as opening doors, footsteps, and garbled voices. If the oxygen supply is sufficiently reduced, sexual pleasure centers in the brain may be affected for both men and women. This effect is utilized in autoerotic asphyxia, a bizarre practice of tying ropes or scarves around one’s neck during masturbation in order to intensify the orgasm. Some sexual arousal may also be a carryover from REM sleep, which, for males, is accompanied by penile erections.
Intense efforts to move against the paralysis increase awareness of the rigid muscles, the body lying in bed under the covers, and the perspiring skin. In the hypnopompic brain, the restraint can turn into pressure from a grasping hand, the covers become another body folding itself over the sleeper, and the sweat nurtures gelatinous sensations complete with odors. Even the movement of the mattress and creaking of the bed were probably the result of my own struggles, not the intruder’s. Autonomic nervous system changes in cardiac activity, skin temperature, and skin resistance can make additional contributions to the tingling, sensations of cold, and strong emotional response….
You don’t have to have a medieval mind to see a succubus emerge from all these data points. One of the best cognitive “fits” the brain can make of these sensations is that someone or something is sitting or lying on top of the body….
During the Middle Ages, paralyzed sleepers thought they were being drained of blood by vampires…. The Eskimos believed the attacks were proof of the spirit world, which was out to get them. (p. 88-90, 106)
[S]ometimes it is possible to tell if a person is engaged in a fantasy or an actual reminiscence by the shifting of their eyes. Shifts to the left usually indicate that the person is imaginative and prone to vivid fantasies, while shifts to the right indicate that person has the information readily available from a minimal search of memory. (p. 103)
Inside the darkened lecture hall, a small object was barely visible in the right corner of the screen. The object resembled Venus as it appears in the eastern sky just before sunrise. “This is a typical hypnagogic image of a starlike dot as drawn by a subject who saw it just before falling asleep”….
“And here we see two stars in the same position, the result of diplopia, or simple duplication of imagery.” I pushed the advance button again. A thousand points of light lit up the right side of the screen, creating a Milky Way that curved from the bottom to the top of the screen. The audience gasped. “This is the final stage, polyopia, the multiplication of the image, usually seen in one eye,” I said.
These specks of light, I explained, are produced by electrical activity in the visual system and brain….
Even when the hypnagogic forms are not consciously noticed, they can still register as subliminal stimuli and influence subsequent image formation and fantasy. For example, a person may not notice some wavy lines moving about in the corner of the visual field. However, depending upon the subject’s particular thoughts at the moment, the wavy lines could turn into blades of grass blowing in the wind, flames from a fire, or even snakes. Similarly, two lines forming the letter V, when duplicated, can become a row of menacing teeth. If presented upside-down, they can turn into a range of mountain peaks.
“So, the Milky Way could easily become …” I advanced the slide projects and dimmed the lights again. A brilliant shower of fireworks covered the screen. (p. 117-8)
If human beings, as a simple consequence of our neurology, have been seeing internal Milky Way-like images since the dawn of time, we would certainly have connected that “mystical vision” with the external Milky Way in the night-time sky—being equally ignorant of the real causes of both, but keenly noticing the visual similarities. The Jivaro Indians in South America actually take the form constants seen in their drug-induced visions as being an archetypal basis for creation, upon which the physical world is patterned. In fact, it’s precisely because they’re able to distinguish between those hallucinogenic reveries and real life, that they regard the hallucinations as being a separate and higher reality.
Sleep deprivation also causes the fine movements of the eye to decrease, creating the tendency to stare. Lacking fine movements, the eye begins to move in a jerkier fashion, resulting in illusions of movement in the periphery of vision. (p. 127)
There were six black lines joined together in a ring. This had to be the structural formula for benzene, a form from organic chemistry that had been embedded in my brain during many all-night study sessions fueled by NoDoz. But it was actually nothing more than dots connected with black lines, the basic elements of a hypnagogic form. It would have been a simple matter to rearrange those six lines into the six lines of a twisted cross [i.e., swastika]. (p. 132)
Kekulé, of course, stumbled on the benzene-ring form in the most famous hypnagogic dream of them all.
[Mark David] Chapman played with thousands of “little people” who lived in the walls of his living room. He created an entire imaginary world in which the little people worshipped him like a king. Chapman was a benign ruler who frequently staged imaginary Beatles concerts for his subjects. But if any of the little people dared to get out of line or anger him in any way, Chapman would kill them by pressing an imaginary destruct button on the arm of his family sofa. When John Lennon angered him, Chapman discussed plans to murder the ex-Beatle with the little people. “They were shocked … they didn’t want any part of it,” Chapman later told his psychiatrist. So Chapman went to another imaginary figure, Satan. (p. 201)
Not exactly the “John Lennon was killed for being a stupid Leftist” argument that the bothersome Christian conspiracy-theorizers in my life have put forward, is it? And, of course, Chapman’s kingdom of little people, and Satan, are every bit as (un)real as God and Jebus.
And, why would Satan want to kill the Leftists, anyway? Aren’t they his best tools? Something in that (“conspiracy”?) does not compute.
But of course, that’s just what the Illuminati … and the Jews … want me to think, isn’t it?
Visionary drugs like hashish cause cerebral excitation that enables thoughts and memories to become transformed into sensory impressions. Drugs that anesthetize the body and kill pain act to block awareness of sensory impressions, thus allowing the mind to focus on the same internal imagery of thoughts and memories [i.e., in a "sensory deprivation" state]. Some researchers think that the emotional or physiological processes in dying or in near-fatal accidents work in similar ways [producing] a sense of detachment, flashes of past memories, and a mystical state of consciousness including visions of the afterlife….
Just as physiological shock helps keep the body together, the near-death experience keeps potentially disorganizing emotion in check. It’s an adaptive way for us to survive a life-threatening situation. (p. 254-5)
So, you see, there’s an evolutionary reason for it.
I described how a team of psychologists taught a gorilla to communicate with American Sign Language. Once he acquired a basic vocabulary, the gorilla showed that he had sophisticated thoughts about life and death. There was great wisdom in his signs, especially when asked “What is death?”
I signed the answer he gave….
The sign meant finished, the end. (p. 256)
There’s plenty of controvery about gorillas’ use of language. And you wouldn’t expect apes to have a detailed mental cartography of, say, the afterlife. But it makes one wonder whether such primates have a conception of death. There have been other situations where conspecifics and children have doted on the body of a murdered ape, so it’s quite possible that they do.
Good essay on Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences:
Even if we disregard the overwhelming evidence for the dependence of consciousness on the brain, there remains strong evidence from reports of near-death experiences themselves that NDEs are not glimpses of an afterlife.
Accessing Anomalous States of Consciousness with a Binaural
Beat Technology. Via the out-of-body traveling, remote-viewing Monroe Institute.
Binaural beat mp3’s: Downloads.
Auditory Driving as a Ritual Technology. Thesis/Intro to Neher, Rouget, biofeedback, etc.
Speaking with One’s Self. On out-of-the-body-like experiences in Kabbalism. Tedious and uninsightful.
While I was looking for an old article on the oculocardiac reflex, I stumbled on this small goldmine, from ReVision magazine in 1994: The Internal Mystery Plays: the Role and Physiology of the Visual System in Contemplative Practices. They (Questia) have a 72-hour free trial, so I used that to copy-and-paste the contents of that paper into a Word document. Man, I love the Internet!
[T]he foundations for all mystical experiences can be found in various aspects of the near-death reflex, which is the ultimate reflex of the “fight-or-flight” mechanism of the autonomic nervous system for fear and stress responses….
The eye has long been held in high regard as a mysterious organ and, therefore, has been associated with the secret mysteries of all the world religions for over five thousand years. The sense of sight was considered more excellent than all the rest of the senses because it did not depend upon contact with or close proximity to the object….
The eye was also considered analogous to the chemical mercury as the catalyst for transformational change…. This is due to the reflection seen of one’s self when looking in the eye of another, similar to the reflection of oneself when looking at a small ball of mercury. This is representative of the transformational process in the psyche….
Since the transformational process is the equivalent of a “rebirth,” the pupil of the eye as a metaphor for the rebirth of the soul has also been associated with the yoni of the Hindu religion. The analogy is made to the birth into this life through the yoni of the female, while birth into the afterlife passes through the opening of the “Inner” eye….
What [Wilder] Penfield found was that stimulation of the right temporal lobe in the area of the anterior Sylvian fissure led to typical, reproducible images of neardeath states, angels, the Virgin Mary, and other archetypal forms of images with significant physiological and theological aspects attached to them….
[W]hen there is an excessive stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which can also occur in darkness, a vasodilation of the peripheral circulatory system occurs, leading to a slow decrease in blood flow to the cerebral cortex. When this occurs, the areas most sensitive to decreased blood flow and decreased oxygenation are those areas called “watershed” areas at the end of capillary beds. These areas occur where the capillary beds of one major artery comes in contact with the capillary beds of another artery, such as those seen in the occipital lobe and brainstem. The occipital pole, which serves central visual acuity, is one of the most common areas involved in cerebral vascular accidents of the watershed type. Typical to loss of blood flow to this area leads to a condition known as a cortical release phenomenon … with the generation of a large, white light in the central portion of the vision…. As this white light extends, it increases to involve the entire occipital cortex and, thus, the entire visual field.
This is what occurs in profound mystical states such as those seen in Zen Buddhism and Hinduism, where profound relaxation (i.e., parasympathetic overload) occurs with marked peripheral vasodilation … leading to cortical ischemia of the type described above. This has also been called “Nirvana,” “Samadhi,” or “Union With God”…. Also, the sudden loss of blood pressure to the brain that elicits this phenomenon is basic to the neardeath experience and the commonality of vascular collapse seen in those patients….
[W]hen [the over-stimulation of the sympathetic arc] occurs in certain physiological states, such as in meditations or while lying horizontally with a vascular collapse, then the stimulus can be prolonged and, in some cases, remembered, thus leading to reports of neardeath states, vision of angels, dancing with elves, or other “hallucinations.” The remembering of these states is enhanced through meditation by a purposeful increase in parasympathetic tone for relaxation to counter the physiologically and physically painful stimuli that increasingly drive the sympathetic nervous system and these images. Hence, in eliciting trance and near-death states, the advanced meditators may be causing ischemia to these vital cortical areas, with possible permanent damage. These damaged neurons will become supersensitive and, thus, enhance the reflex when reelicited….
Why do these reflexes cause people to feel as if they are “suffused with light” as the White Light experience is occurring? This, I think, can be explained by the various physiological aspects that are occurring at the same time as the White Light experience. When this light occurs, there is a profound and sudden decrease in peripheral vascular resistance due to the excessive parasympathetic stimulus (Jevning 1978). This sudden release in vascular resistance will cause a very rapid increase in blood flow throughout the entire body, beginning centrally and moving to the extremities. This gives a sensation of energy, or “light,” being transmitted through the body. Along with this decrease in peripheral vascular resistance there is also a profound relaxation of the skeletal muscles due to this parasympathetic stimulus, which also adds to the feeling of “something” flowing through the body. After years of practice, members of certain Buddhist sects can raise their skin temperature through this mechanism (Benson 1982), showing one instance of where conscious mind can control autonomic functions….
[A]s the White Light develops, blood is being shunted away from the occipital lobe, thus enhancing the White Light and simultaneously increasing blood flow to the extremities in such a rapid fashion that an actual tactile sensation of “energy” flowing through the body is realized. This is also accompanied by a profound release of B-endorphins and other neuropeptides that will induce an “ecstatic” state. This profound parasympathetic state also leads to marked relaxation of the entire body, a state which can only be achieved in deep sleep, Stage IV anesthesia, death, or certain contemplative states….
After the blood has drained from the cortex [in the neardeath experience], the remaining circulatory pressure is shunted into the circulation of the basilar artery, providing circulation to certain areas of the cortex as a result of evolution’s extension into those areas that are related to the persistence of visual, auditory, and memory functions during the near-death state….
During darkness, the visual association areas of the brain, and specifically the occipital and temporal lobes, become supersensitive during visual deprivation. After approximately thirty minutes of total dark adaptation, both the retina of the eye and the occipital cortex of the brain begin having spontaneous discharges of activity due to a lack of external stimulation, which are seen as various lights, phosphenes, and visual phenomena [e.g., form constants] that can be perceived and characterized verbally….
One aspect of eye closure for contemplative practices that is sometimes mentioned, but that I feel is underemphasized, is that of bringing the eyes in convergence (i.e., “crossing your eyes” or looking at your nose) during these exercises, which drives the meditative process to a more rapid induction into the trance state and is usually described as looking at the “third eye” (Rouselle 1960). This occurs through a neurological mechanism known as the “oculo-cardiac reflex” (Duane and Jaeger 1990). This reflex occurs when the muscles surrounding the eyeballs are placed in tension or there is pressure placed on the globes, and this stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system through the vagus nerve to slow the heart rate (Arnold et al. 1991). This reflex is commonly seen in eye surgery when the extra-ocular muscles are stimulated. It is exactly these two muscles, the medial recti muscles, that are over-stimulated in crossing the eyes, and this is mediated through the parasympathetic nervous system (Miller 1985).
Thus, crossing the eyes is not only a result of stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system but of itself will further stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to slow the heart rate. Forcibly crossing the eyes through closed eyelids while meditating will stimulate this reflex to its maximum and thus facilitate the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system….
The temperature that the body experiences can lead to profound states of mystical experience when brought to an extreme, as seen in hyperthermia and hypothermia (Fay 1959). Cold has played an important role in the internal mysteries in that many of the ancient practices included the placing of the initiate in a cold environment, such as in the underground pits of Eleusis, in caves or on mountain tops, as practiced in the Himalayas. Excessive cold will cause a decrease in the temperature of the anterior hypothalamus, causing a secondary sympathetic stimulation and vasoconstriction of the peripheral blood vessels to preserve body heat. Thus, this decrease in body temperature can add to the overall sympathetic stimulus, inducing the reflex parasympathetic response and increasing its effect on the imaging process….
Similar to visualization is the aural isolation that occurs with these practices in the form of chanting (Glueck and Stoebel 1984) or rhythmic sounds, such as shamanic drumming. These monotonous sounds isolate the hearing to also allow cortical release phenomena of sound. As the trance reaction develops, it is common to have a “rushing sound” in the ears (Harner 1972), similar to the sound of the ocean, preceding the sound of a “tinkling of bells.” This is followed by musical arrays that are unique and sometimes cacophonous, sounding very much like a Buddhist band. It has been shown through electroencephalographic tracings that these monotonous sounds, when given to naive subjects over extended periods of time (i.e., greater than fifteen minutes), can induce marked theta synchronicity across the cerebral cortex (Maxfield 1991), which is the hallmark of meditative state of mind (Kasamatsu and Hiri 1969)….
In these isolated states of mind, including sleep, meditation, and panic situations, the gain of the parasympathetic nervous system is increased to help pick up more information about the potential threat and to facilitate the spread of that information to more areas of the brain for interpretation. It is during these states of isolation that the lower brainstem centers take over because there is no cortical sensory input coming into the system, that is, normal vision and hearing.
This amplifying gain in the sympathetic nervous system increases and takes any information obtained, applying it to its memories through a temporal spreading of information that allows the brain to act as a comparitor (Livingstone 1988; McClurkin et al. 1991), so that, when someone is in a meditative trance while listening to shamanic drumming that is beating at a constant rate, after a period of ten to fifteen minutes or sometimes sooner, many overtones are heard due to increasingly finer discrimination attempts by the brain to identify differences from one tone to the next. Occasionally, this leads to perceptions of hearing songs or voices and, more commonly, changes in tempo (Maxfield 1991).
Likewise, in the visual system, the phosphenes that are spontaneously generated within the retina due to dark adaptation, micro-saccades, and other forms of retinal stimulation, get multiply integrated by numerous areas to try to interpret the shapes it is perceiving (Livingstone 1988)….
Rebirthing and holotropic breathing both utilize hyperventilation techniques to induce first a trance state and, eventually, near-death states. With hyperventilation, there is decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide going to the brain, which acts as a chemoreceptor messenger to decrease bloodflow to the brain to allow carbon dioxide to increase to normal levels. However, after only a few minutes of hyperventilation, there is a paradoxical stabilization of the lowered carbon dioxide levels that is maintained even with normal breathing. Hyperventilation is well known to induce both theta (Kellaway 1979) and delta (Kooi et al. 1964) waves, which are associated with meditative states….
[I]n severe fasting, as hypoglycemia occurs in the brain, there is a sense of ensuing death; this fear of death alone can have sufficient sympathetic stimulation to stimulate the survival-maintaining images of the right temporal lobe….
Other forms of ascetic practices, such as mutilation and sacrifice, have similar reflex stimulation to the sympathetic nervous system. Any painful stimulation on the body surface usually evokes a vasopressor response in the body through the vasomotor areas in the medulla; thus, the pain of these practices will increase sympathetic stimulation and become additive to any other sympathetic stimuli occurring simultaneously in the body.
With contemplative practices, a balance of these parasympathetic states are consciously waged against the sympathetic stimuli that are entering the physical body. The goal of such practices is to maintain a high state of alertness while simultaneously maintaining as much relaxation as possible in response to the stimuli, such that the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system are both simultaneously and maximally stimulated. With experience, the practitioner of these rituals will gain the ability to withstand extremes of stress to the physical body, psyche, and spirit through the control of these stressors, while developing relaxation techniques to reach altered states of consciousness. So as this balance is upset, the increase in the parasympathetic nervous system tone will lead to increasing levels of controlled cerebral ischemia, leading to the visual imagery and various Light experiences….
Many of these conditions are related to actual stresses on the physical body or perceived threats to the physical body. Physical stress, such as that seen in the Ghost Dance of the North American Indians, or the psychological stress of knowing that one is about to die, can be of sufficient magnitude to stimulate the appropriate reflexes and begin the cascade of events that leads to a near-death experience and the ability to elicit the aid of the entities of the “other world” (Eliade 1958; Walsh 1990). This is the key to the mystical process and to the rebirth of the soul and the individual.
Over many years of meditative practice the great healers have been able to heighten their sensitivities to the point of reaching levels of autonomic quietude, with maximal gain of the sympathetic system, such that the brain feels that the only other state it remembers and identifies with is near-death state. It is at this point of meditative practice that the adept has the spontaneous near-death experience due to the paradoxical feeling in consciousness that there is a total disconnection between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic sides of the autonomic nervous system and, therefore, loss of control of the physical body—hence the shamanic death and rebirth….
The [near-death] reflex itself appears to be a paradoxical disconnection between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, with vascular shunting away from the cortex with relative preservation of oxygenation to the brainstem and memory centers of the temporal lobes. This would account for the marked amount of catalepsy that occurs in the physical body while vivid imagery is simultaneously playing within the conscious mind….
There has now been enough significant research done in shamanic journeying and near-death experiences to realize that there needs to be an actual fear that one is losing one’s physical body and actually dying before the neardeath experience will manifest. This would seem appropriate as a protective mechanism to an animal in the jaws of a predator, who then reflexively collapses to avoid the pain of death. The feeling of “ecstatic rapture” that occurs is most likely mediated by certain chemoreceptors, such as beta-endorphins, as has been suggested by Candice Pert (Dossey 1989), and is identical to the “runner’s high” or any other physical stress that will produce a reflex endorphin surge in response to pain….
This state is also seen in lower animals and man as the “dive” reflex. In certain psychological experiments, laboratory animals have been placed into a pool of water that has no egress; after a period of frustrated swimming, the animal will dive to the bottom of the pool and die. On autopsy, there is no evidence of drowning but only that the heart stopped suddenly of an atrio-ventricular block. However, if the animal is rescued as the dive reflex is occurring and resuscitated, the animal can be put back into the pool and it will then swim for three to five times longer. This indicates that the animal has learned the concept of “hope” of rescue, and that there is “faith” in a higher power that it will not have to dive to the bottom and die.
This leads to the second aspect of the near-death experience that I feel is essential for the transformational aspect of the psyche: not only realizing that the physical body is dying but then consciously releasing the physical body from the personal will through the sudden acceptance of a Higher Authority. It is this subjugation of will that is the common feature of almost all persons who have had near-death experiences and have then had a transformation in their psyche in the way they live in the physical world….
This tends to follow the teachings of all the major religions of the world, all of which have stemmed from shamanic practices of stimulating neardeath experiences to make the shaman a “wounded healer” (Achterberg 1988). It is this “willingness” to guide the physical body through these experiences that allows the mystic to reach levels of understanding and compassion that could not otherwise be obtained….
The numerous techniques of achieving ecstasy that have developed over the past fifty millennia are distinctive, separate, and equally capable paths to that same, singular goal of an “asexual rebirth” into the same physical body found in the near-death experience (Eliade 1969; Eliade 1972; James 1982). This rebirth, in some cases, has been metaphorically referred to as “virginal,” as seen in the stories of the Jesus, Buddha, the Hindu’s Shiva, the Sumerian’s Mwuetsi, and the Egyptian’s Osiris, to name a few (Campbell 1949).
Amazing that ReVision would have published such a reductionistic piece, as it pretty much undercuts their whole spiritual worldview.
Biblio: Peters, Larry (1994), “The Internal Mystery Plays: the Role and Physiology of the Visual System in Contemplative Practices,” in ReVision, Volume 17, Issue 1, p. 3-11.