(Flickr photo (cropped) by Francis Bourgouin).

Consciousness is one of the great puzzles of modern neuroscience. Most scientists believe that awareness arises from interactions between neurons in the brain, but the details on how that works, exactly, are still unclear. And what happens as we die? Does consciousness disappear as soon as the heart stops beating? If so, how do we explain near-death experiences? Join us for a conversation with three scientists exploring these issues.
Guests: Bruce Greyson, MD, is Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia. He is also Director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia Health System.
Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the School of Medicine of the University of Southampton, U.K. He is also a Fellow in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. His book is What Happens When We Die; A Groundbreaking Study into the Nature of Life and Death. The photograph is of Dr. Parnia.
Melvin Morse, MD, is a pediatrician who has studied near-death experiences in children. He is author of four books: Closer to the Light, Transformed by the Light, Parting Visions, and Where God Lives.
The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. Podcasts can be downloaded for free for six weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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  1. denise
    Reply

    I have a question regarding intestinal neurons. I was surprised these were not mentioned. What role do these play in conscious thought? What is the function of these neurons? Would they have any sensory perceptions?

  2. jean
    Reply

    I, Jean and my husband, Zeke enjoyed this show immensely. We were on the edge of our seats (figuratively) as we listened.
    We would like to have the podcast of the show for our enjoyment as well as for some of our friends. We have been listeners of your programs for a number of years and have learned so much and therefore have helped ourselves and friends so much from doing so.
    Thanks, folks and never give up, please. For us, every Saturday morning, our day starts with you and our first cup of coffee (Healthy Coffee), still in bed at 7:00 AM on Hilton Head Island.
    Fabulous!

  3. Beatrice
    Reply

    I believe in this research whole-heartedly although I personally, have NOT had a near-death experience or anything of the like. Those of you who have commented before me… saying that you HAVE had such experiences… I would be genuinely interested in hearing your stories. These are thoughts I battle with LITERALLY daily, and hearing your experiences would provide some much needed comfort. Thank you all!

  4. LB
    Reply

    This was an excellent show so thank you Joe and Terry for airing it. I too had a NDE when I was 19. I suddenly felt very sick and told my Dad I was preparing to die as I felt my senses all shutting down. My Dad was frightened as he came rushing into my bedroom witnessing my ashen face and motionless body.
    I soon floated out of my body and was looking down on myself and my Dad who was crying over my limp body from the ceiling of my bedroom. I still remember exactly what I was wearing, my Dad crying (which I had never previously seen) and how my hair was fixed as well as a vivid picture of the bed I was lying on.
    I didn’t see a light but I did realize that I wanted so badly to get back into my body as I had much more I wanted to do with my life. I saw myself lying motionless below with my eyes seeing myself from the ceiling. It was such a freeing feeling to no longer be held down by gravity. When I returned to my body (realizing gravity again made me feel overwhelmingly heavy), I told my Dad what had happened, he hugged me and asked me not to tell anyone else what had occurred.
    I think he was so confused by this experience that he had fear that I would be ridiculed for telling the truth of what had happened. I told him that this was a new beginning for my life and I felt renewed and elated.
    After that time, I have led an altruistic life dedicated to serving others in my career and I live following good life principles and values in my personal life. There is no doubt that there is something else after we leave our bodies when we die. I feel so grateful to have had this experience. It has always made me feel special to have gained this valuable insight when I was so young.

  5. DK
    Reply

    It is hard to understand why so many people are not aware of the relevance of quantum physics to understanding our biology. Lynne McTaggart’s book “TheField” is now over 10 years old, but gives a very basic scientific overview of the advances scientists have been making regarding the relationship between consciousness and the zero point field.
    It is becoming clear that the immense power of our subconscious mind interacts with a field of energy that is omnipresent and intelligent. Whether you call it God or the zero point field is a matter of personal preference, but what is perrplexing is why this information is not being heralded as an amazing breakthrough ?

  6. DBurt
    Reply

    I heard from your guest that thoughts can’t occur in the interaction between cells – even many of then. I’m unclear then about the role of synapses, particularly since I was recently told that some mental health issues seem to be caused, if I recall the information correctly – by increases in the spaces between the synaptic connections. Are not synapses the points where and how thoughts, or elements of thoughts, are passed in and about the brain?

  7. David H
    Reply

    I always thought N.D.E. were just a chemical result of “Almost passing” but I want to believe that there is more than the absoluteness of nothing. I had heard of wives and mothers who would wake in a start and cryout that a son or husband had just died in battle hundreds of miles away and my wife and I had the most amazing instants of having the same thoughts at the same time, (ESP).
    If thoughts can travel outside the body that means that some form of yet unexplained energy can be projected that we are waiting for these doctors and their future students to explain. Quiet a moving program.

  8. traveler
    Reply

    I am glad to learn that someone is researching this topic. Having watched a team of medical staff work on me after coding some 30 years ago, the show was quite meaningful to me. Some medical professionals attempted to “explain away” my out of body experience but soon learned that it was not a negotiable matter – especially when I described details that occurred well after the code for me had been called.

  9. SGA
    Reply

    Wonderful show – thank you! I’ve always been a big fan of Jane Goodall’s work and interest in thinking about spirituality. Nice to hear of other scientists who are not afraid to talk about, and actually study, consciousness and life after death!

  10. MSH
    Reply

    I missed the first 15 minutes or so, so I’m not sure if this was mentioned or not. Dr Rick Strassman has done a lot of research with a neurochemical called dimethyl tryptamine with the hypothesis that it plays a part in near death experiences.
    He administered doses of it to test subjects and recorded their response, telling them to describe what they see/feel as best as they can. The things he heard were almost identical to the stories of near-death experiences described in this program and surprisingly consistent with each other (tunnels, light, external beings). So is there something inherent about this molecule (also classified as a halucinogen – yet the brain produces it naturally) that induces these out of body “visions?”
    Or does consciousness actually exist independent of the body, and the molecule dimethyl triptamine facilitates a temporary separation? And if so, what does that say about other, similar “halucinogens?”

  11. phb
    Reply

    I really enjoyed the radio program today (4/24/11). When I was 12 years , I had a tonsillectomy at the same time as my brother and sister. I was 3rd in the line-up. My mother has told me that I was in the OR so much longer than either one of them. The explanation the surgeon and our GP gave was that I had hemorrhaged. The year was 1959; I had never heard of a near death experience, but I certainly experienced one that day. I didn’t say anything about it, but as an adult, when I heard about NDE, I remembered what had happened to me. I had the experience of zooming down a tunnel towards a brilliant white light, but I never got all the way to it. I became conscious and the doctors covered my nose and mouth with ether again.
    I recall thinking when I woke up that I hadn’t died as I thought, but when they put the mask back on, I felt like the situation was hopeless. I could not respond to those around me. I did not have another NDE, but I was surprised when I woke up again and I was all right.

  12. EKB
    Reply

    I had a near death experience at the age of 10 during surgery for a ruptured spleen but was not aware of the significance or meaning of that experience until adulthood. I too saw what I now call the light as was described. I was very interested in the long term effects as it related to adulthood and would really like to know if this experience in childhood has any effect on the career path one chose as an adult. I seem to have this urgency like an energy to complete some task.

  13. KM
    Reply

    I love this! :) Great show! I love to hear this kind of research because it gives us an option other than fundamentalist interpretations of religion or scientific materialism.

  14. KHB
    Reply

    Age 3 to 5 hit by car on a bicycle and fell carrying soda bottles out of the ash pit. Age 7 to 10 Nightmares of coming through the birth canal. Age 19-21 Read Abraham Maslow’s “Toward a Psychology of Being” and Robert Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children.” Age 25-28 hit limb of tree with head while riding a horse. Age 32-34 looking down at myself while in bed at night, stars appeared on the ceiling.
    Met Alan Harrington, writer of “The Immortalist.”
    Why have we not solved aging and found another planet in another solar system and a way to get there?
    With about 7 billion people on Earth in 2010 which is up from about 1.9 billion in 1910 {Erlich}, what resources will we run out of first, second, third, etc.? Are we all stuck on this “Third Rock From the
    Sun?”

  15. emiljean
    Reply

    The radio show was excellent! Thank you! I had a near death experience several years ago and I know we are much more than physical beings. I am blessed to have had this experience. I am not afraid to die!

  16. JBH
    Reply

    Wonderful piece. Thank you.

  17. DeWitt C
    Reply

    I just caught the end of the program about studying adults who had near-death experiences as children. If we could just figure out how to induce this type of experience in everyone we might have the answer to world peace!

  18. JC
    Reply

    Very interesting program. I had a near death experience when I was 21. The observations of the guests ring true in my life and experience. Thank you.

  19. PS
    Reply

    Thank you. This is fascinating research.

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