Problem: One time I went to a Target in Indiana and all the “Non-Fiction Bestsellers” were arguments for the existence of heaven, with the exception of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and maybe a cookbook or something. A lot of the evidence for these popular and controversial books comes from the testimonies of people who’ve had near-death experiences and, upon recovery, claim they’ve seen heaven, based on incredibly lucid visions they had as they approached death. And they’ve gotten some support from scientists—neurosurgeon Eben Alexander in his October 2012 Newsweek cover and corresponding book outlined his own heavenly encounter during a near-death experience.
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If you fear death, as you should, it’s easy to see why these theories are popular. But a study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a more scientific explanation for this phenomenon.
Methodology: Researchers from the University of Michigan created a near-death experience for nine anesthetized rats by inducing cardiac arrest with an injection of potassium chloride. They recorded the rats’ electroencephalogram (EEG) signals to measure their brain activity in the frontal, parietal and occipital cortices. A separate experiment did the same thing with rats that had inhaled CO2.