I was wondering if the Out of Body Experiences, Near Death Experiences and Spiritual Experiences associated with the God Module might also happen in our sleep: particularly while dreaming. I found a great article called, “Fear & Loathing in the Temporal Lobes“, by Iona Miller. The following excerpt was especially interesting. Please check out the original article and read the whole thing.
Without further ado, here’s the fascinating excerpt . . .
Rapture of the Neurological Deep
How do we get from existential anxieties about death to intensely personal spiritual experience? Many of our spiritual notions come from the reports of the dying, or those with near-death experiences (NDEs). When the brain begins to shut down certain typical experiences appear as each of the major areas of the brain crash and billions of functional neurons heave their last gasp (McKinney).
Deeply embedded neurons in the brainstem are among the last to go. Unless the brain is physically destroyed, dying is a process. It doesn’t instantly collapse, but degrades in a somewhat predictable manner with associated characteristic phenomena.
Meanwhile, there is a regression toward the oceanic feelings of life in the womb as the process of birth gets played in reverse and we return to eternity. We journey back through earlier forms of consciousness, in a dreamy haze once the frontal lobes cease their rationalizing and abstractions.
As in dreams there are irregular bursts of neural static and discharge (Hobson) that affect the visual, affective, motor, orientation, time, and memory areas. There is no more chronological sequencing of events. Our experience of dying is synthesized holistically from the confabulation of all these elements. We may be unconscious and yet still somewhat aware with scintillating electrical surges creating their last faltering messages as they fail.
We dissociate from the body. As in deep meditation, attention is withdrawn from the extremities and external senses. We return to a simpler mode of being, the undifferentiated mind, where time seems endless, if it exists at all. As oxygen levels drop, and opiate-like endorphins are dumped into the system, the sense of peace and contentment may rise along with our spirits. Phantasmogorical images flood our awareness.
Between the dissociation from the body and the last glimpse of light, we may experience a culturally conditioned transcendence. Some might say the soul leaves the body as it journeys into the Light. Bright white light may be the melding of all colors of the visual spectrum once the visual cortex is disinhibited.
Perhaps as many as 1/3 of those coming close to death report a characeristic group of experiences. Bruce Greyson, in a paper in Varieties of Anomalous Experience (Cardena et al), lists the common elements of adult near-death experiences and aftereffects:
- Hearing oneself pronounced dead
- Feelings of peace and quiet
- Hearing unusual noises
- Seeing a dark tunnel
- Being “out of the body”
- Meeting “spiritual beings”
- Experiencing a bright light as a “being of light”
- Panoramic life review
- Experiencing a realm in which all knowledge exists
- Experiencing cities of light
- Experiencing a realm of bewildered spirits
- Experiencing a “supernatural rescue”
- Sensing a border or limit
- Coming back “into the body”
- Frustration relating experiences to others
- Subtle “broadening and deepening” of life
- Elimination of fear of death
- Corroboration of events witnessed while “out of the body”
The reports of those with near-death experiences moving through a tunnel toward the light, accompanied by ancestors, deceased friends and their cultural divinities are now well known (Ring; Moody; Sabom). A minority experience emotional problems requiring psychosocial rehabilitation following NDEs, including anger and depression at having been “returned” perhaps unwillingly, broken relationships, disrupted career, alienation, post-traumatic stress disorder, “social death” (Greyson).
Gradual death is often gentle, creating its own palliative. Heavens and hells are fully immersive virtual reality constructions of our dying neural networks. But when the brain comes close to an irreversible coma on the journey towards death, the great endarkening comes before any great enlightenment. Hence many with NDEs do not report seeing the Light and may even focus on their experiences as being intensely negative in content and tone.
Unable to calm their disoriented mind, their dismal experience is largely one of panic, pain, and terror. This may be the result of toxins in the blood including carbon dioxide buildup. If we die a sudden violent death, we may miss heaven, but mercifully we will never know that.
The whole process may be greatly compounded by the release of powerful endogenous hallucinogenic DMT from the pineal gland (Strassman). In highly stressful situations, such as birth, sexual ecstasy, extreme physical distress, childbirth, near-death and death, the normal inhibitions against the production and circulation of this potent mind-bending “spirit molecule” are over-ridden. Massive DMT dumps may also create intense visions of blinding white light, ecstatic emotions, timelessness, and powerful presence.
A neurobiological model proposed by Saavedra-Aguilar and Gomez-Jeria suggests temporal-lobe dysfunction, hypoxia, psychophysical stress, and neurotransmitter changes combine to induce epileptiform discharges in the hippocampus and amygdala. They contribute to life review and and complex visual hallucinations.
When the visual cortex begins to crash (Blackmore), there is a cascade of distorted imagery, then a shift down the color spectrum toward primeval redness and impenetrable black. Maybe there is still a dull glow or scintillating pinpoints of light, like stars in some inner universe.
As the reticular activating system dies there may be a final burst of distant light, somehow familiar from the very dawn of our existence. As our last cells die, the mind is finally unwound. We have closed the circle of life and entered the Great Beyond.
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