“When life flashes before our eyes” .. a psychologist explores the mystery of the near-death experience!

Steve Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology from Leeds Beckett University, researched the NDE and the mystery surrounding it, listing a number of exciting experiences.

He mentioned the incident of a trainee construction worker living in Nottingham, Tony Coffey, who was 16 when he fell from the third floor of a building. Time seemed to slow down dramatically to him, and he saw a complex series of images flashing before his eyes.

As he described it, “I saw in my eyes many, many things: children I had not yet had, friends I had never seen before but now my friends”, then Tony fell on his head and lost consciousness.

When he was taken to the hospital, he felt like a different person and did not want to go back to his previous life. Over the following weeks, the images kept flashing again in his mind. He felt that the pictures represented his future.

Later, Tony saw a picture of a saxophone and recognized it as the instrument he saw he was playing. He used the compensation money he got from the accident to buy one. Now, Tony Coffey is one of the UK’s most successful jazz musicians, having won BBC Jazz Awards twice, in 2005 and 2008.

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Although it is uncommon for Tony to believe he saw his own future, it is by no means uncommon for people to report seeing multiple scenes from their past during split-second emergencies. And after all, this is where the phrase “and my life flashed before my eyes” comes from.

However, what explains this phenomenon? Psychologists have proposed a number of explanations, but Taylor argues that the key to understanding Tony’s experience lies in a different interpretation of the same time.

When life flashes before our eyes

The experience of life flashing before one’s eyes has been reported for more than a century, and in 1892, a Swiss geologist named Albert Heim fell off a cliff while climbing a mountain. “As if I were on a faraway stage, my past life flashed through in many scenes,” he wrote in his account of the fall.

More recently, in July 2005, a young woman, Jill Hicks, was sitting near one of the bombs that exploded on the London Underground. In the minutes after the accident, she hovered on the brink of death where, as she describes her, “my life was flashing before my eyes, swaying in every scene, every happy and sad moment, everything I’ve ever done.”

In some cases, people do not see a review of their entire life, but rather a series of past experiences and events that are of particular significance to them.

Explanation of life evaluations

Perhaps surprisingly, given how common it is, the “life review experience” has been so little studied. A number of theories have been put forward, but they are tentative and somewhat ambiguous.

For example, in 2017, a group of Israeli researchers suggested that our life events may exist as a continuum in our minds, and may come to the fore in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.

Another theory is that when we are about to die, our memory suddenly “empties” itself, like the contents of a jump thrown. This may be related to ‘cortical de-deactivation’ – the breakdown of the brain’s normal regulatory processes – in highly stressful or dangerous situations, causing a ‘chain’ of mental impressions.

But life review is usually reported as a calm and orderly experience, as opposed to the chaotic series of experiences associated with cortical inhibition. None of these theories explain how such a wealth of information – in many cases, all the events of a person’s life – can manifest itself in the span of a few seconds, often much less.

An alternative interpretation is to think of time in a “spatial” sense. Our logical view of time is as an arrow going from the past through the present to the future, in which we can only have direct access to the present. But modern physics has cast doubt on this simple, linear view of time.

In fact, since Einstein’s theory of relativity, some physicists have taken a “spatial” view of time. They argue that we live in a static “universe” in which time spreads out in a kind of panorama, where the past, present and future coexist simultaneously.

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Modern physicist Carlo Rovelli – author of the bestselling book The Order of Time – holds the view that linear time does not exist as a universal truth. This idea reflects the view of the philosopher Immanuel Kent, who argued that time is not a real, objective phenomenon, but a construct of the human mind.

This may explain why some people are able to review the events of their entire lives in an instant. A great deal of previous research has suggested that our normal perception of time is simply a product of our normal state of consciousness.

In many altered states of consciousness, time slows down so dramatically that seconds seem to stretch into minutes. This is a common feature of emergencies, as well as situations of deep meditation and drug experiences.

The limits of understanding

But what about Tony Coffey’s clear visions of his future? Did he really peek into scenes from his future life? Did he see himself playing the saxophone, because in a way, his future as a musician had already come true?

There are clearly some mundane explanations for Tony’s experience. Perhaps, for example, he became a saxophone player simply because he saw himself playing it in his vision. But Taylor doesn’t think it’s impossible for Tony to glimpse future events.

And if time really does exist in a spatial sense – and if it is true that time is a construct of the human mind – then perhaps future events in some way already exist, just as past events still exist.

Admittedly, this is very difficult to understand. But why does everything have to make sense to us? As Taylor suggested in a recent book, there must be some aspect of reality that is beyond our awareness.

After all, we are just beings, with a limited awareness of reality. Perhaps more than any other phenomenon, this is especially true of time, according to Taylor.

Source: Science Alert

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