[A brief note before I launch into the actual subject of this entry: The radio segment in which I heard about this topic was broadcast originally on either the CBC's Quirks and Quarks or NYC's Radio Lab. I could look it up, but in this case I'm not going to not because I don't feel like it, but because if you're reading this and you are unfamiliar with either of these shows, you ought to check them out. They put out an hour show - each - once a week, they also podcast, and they have some of the coolest science segments on radio.]
So, the truth is out there now. (Yes, blatant X-Files reference.) Turns out that light at the end of the tunnel? Well, unless you're in the subway, it's not the A-train, and it's not the land of clouds and wings and harps, either. Before going any further, let me preface this by saying the following has nothing to do with a belief in life after death, or any religious system of belief, or anything of that nature. I, for one, have a firm belief that something of who we are survives the transition from life to death, and it's based on personal experience. ... Which is probably where some of you have now tuned me out as being slightly more whacko than you thought I was already.
For those of you still reading, there was a series of studies done, not just recently but going back to experiences of test pilots during the 1950's, where they have now been able document both that "light in the tunnel" you see when you're dying, as well as the out of body experience (known as an OBE in the paranormal parlance... at least I think so and will call it such to shorten my typing). OBE's were actually experienced by test pilots, not only in the planes themselves but also after performing tests in ground-based apparatus, so long as the pulling of heavy g-forces was involved. It was some of these experiences which also led to the development of the g-suit as a way to counteract the effects of pulling g's on the body.
Just in case you aren't versed in techno-geek, a "g" is the effect of gravity on your body. Normally, you're at 1 g. Higher g's, known as "pulling g's" can be caused by rapid acceleration, among other things. Lower g's, or negative g's create a less than 1 g feeling on your body. You can demonstrate this yourself on a swing. The little "blurp" your body does at the end of the forward upswing is where, for just a moment, you have a slightly negative g. ... and if I'm wrong, I'm sure some physicist out there will eventually correct me, but I'm pretty darn sure on this one.
It turns out that one of the effects led to the OBEs the test pilots had, as a result of some chemistry/blood flow thingy in the brain. Thingy is a technical term, trust me. The upshot of the study was that they were able to reproduce the effects, and figure out why they had happened in the first place.
Along with that, they also tumbled onto the "light in the tunnel" bit. And, again, were able to reproduce the triggers in the brain that set it off. Without having to kill anyone or bring them near death. Which I think is probably a plus during scientific experiments. Now, this whole set of experiments does some very interesting things, and says some very interesting things about the way our brains and bodies react (mostly our brains) and this is where I again plug the above shows and encourage you to go take a listen.
But it also struck me, that in validating the OBEs as something that does actually occur, in taking what was largely assumed to be a paranormal event and one of those things we laugh at in the tabloids, it ought to make us take another look from time to time at other things we might just flat-out dismiss. Even the light in the tunnel, though it doesn't lead to heaven, is in fact a real phenomena and, while on the one hand it is "just in people's heads" we shouldn't look askance at people who claim they've experienced it.
Also makes me wonder what gets proved next....