Most religions and faiths believe in the existence of an afterlife. For some, this is in the form of reincarnation. For others, there is heaven and hell.
Is there a way to find scientific evidence that points to the existence of an afterlife? When the physical body dies, how is the afterlife experienced? Is it the human consciousness that enters the next destination? Is control lost over the physical human body but the consciousness prevails?
Scientists have tried to solve the puzzle of consciousness and the afterlife since antiquity. How can the answers to such mindboggling questions be found?
An interesting event used to study a possible connection between the two is the near-death experience, which is defined as personal experiences associated with death or impending death, encompassing sensations such as detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, serenity, light, warmth, or the absolute ceasing of being.
Near-death experiences offer a unique insight into what might happen after death and give scientists a gateway into investigating it.
According to Dr. Christof Koch, professor of biology and engineering at the California Institute of Technology, consciousness governs and controls the human body. Koch, abiding by the definition that consciousness is the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings, says that the loss of consciousness is the loss of life; as losing consciousness renders the individual unable to understand and perceive the world around him, as is the case when someone dies.
However, Dr. Sam Parnia, a pulmonologist at Stony Brook School of Medicine in New York, claims otherwise. Dr. Parnia says that consciousness simply means that one is aware and perceives something, as was seen in a research study he led, which consisted of analyzing cardiac arrest patients, in which the heart completely stops working, and can lead to permanent brain damage and even death and brain flow is not restarted within 5 minutes.
According to the study, in which 2060 cardiac arrest events were recorded, 2% described awareness of their surroundings by recalling what they had seen and heard during their cardiac resuscitation. One even had a period of conscious awareness during which time cerebral function was not expected
Interestingly, 46% had memories with 7 major cognitive themes: fear; animals/plants; bright light; violence/persecution; deja-vu; family; and even recalling events post-CA. these results were obtained after the survivors were interviewed by professionals. Dr. Parnia concludes that consciousness remains despite clinically undetectable consciousness.
Parnia’s research agrees with the work done by neurobehavioral scientist Dr. Bruce Greyson from the University Of Virginia School Of Medicine. He claims that consciousness lives beyond death and that near-death experiences are a result of a living consciousness. He also claims that consciousness is independent of a physical body and that it does not reside in the brain.
Greyson says that individuals who have undergone near-death experiences are not afraid of death and have a more positive outlook on life. Cardiac arrest patients told Greyson during interviews after their resuscitation that they could leave their bodies and see themselves being resuscitated. The findings of Dr. Greyson and Dr. Parnia were highly similar.
They also told him that, for a short time, they could see their deceased loved ones. After the near-death experience, they said they lost interest in a materialistic lifestyle. According to Greyson, individuals who experienced near death experiences seemed to have understood the greater meaning of life, one which persists beyond materialist gains.
Islam & Afterlife
Although the scientific theory behind afterlife is an emerging field of research given the advent of technology, much has already been mentioned about it in the Holy Qur’an. The connection between the two worlds has always existed in the monotheism that Islam preaches.
Allah mentions the afterlife multiple times in the Holy Qur’an. “It is God who created you, then He provided sustenance for you, then He will cause you to die, then He will give life back to you” (Surat Ar-Rum 30:40).
“It is We who give life and make to die, and to Us is the homecoming” (Surat Qaf 50:43).
“He created death and life that He might try you according to which of you is best in works” (Surat Al-Mulk 67:2).
According to the Qur’an, belief in the afterlife, which is an issue fundamental to the mission of the Prophet Muhammad, was also central to the mission of all prophets before him.
Watch Sheikh Omar Suleiman talk about meeting loved ones after death as part of an Islamic proof to the claims made be individuals who experienced NDE.
This article is from Science’s archive and we’ve originally published it on an earlier date.