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that light at the end of the tunnel

January 17, 2011

[Salon] What happens near death, and what does it have to do with God? To find out, Salon spoke on the phone with Dr. Nelson from the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington.

First things first: What’s the deal with the tunnel and the light?

The tunnel is easy to explain. Much of the near-death experience is caused by low blood flow to the brain and to the head. When this happens, the eye fails before the brain fails. The outside field of vision goes first, but the center is preserved until the very end, so you develop a tunnel-like sensation. This sensation is also common in people who are about to faint. As for the light, when your eye loses blood flow, light might become all that you’re capable of seeing. Another reason for the light is the REM system, which is the “rapid eye movement” state of sleep. When the eye and the retina shut down, the remaining control system for vision is the REM system — this is why you can see things when you’re dreaming, and this type of vision might be activated during a near-death experience and cause a person to see light. (read)

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