Scientists Study Out-of-Body Experiences

A British scientist leads the world's largest study of near-death experiences.

ByABC News
September 30, 2008, 2:24 PM

Sept. 30, 2008— -- Jim Chapman didn't think it was possible until it happened to him.

In the fall of 1999, after suffering a heart attack while exercising at a local fitness club, Chapman said he came back from what should have been a one-way trip. He was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. But after half an hour of resuscitative treatment, Chapman's heart stopped beating.

Later, doctors told him that his heart ceased functioning for 2½ to four minutes. But during the time doctors declared him clinically dead, Chapman said he felt as if he wasn't even in the hospital.

"I know when my heart stopped there was a consciousness that continued from being in the ER," Chapman, 59, said. "Everything went silent. When I opened my eyes, I was standing on the edge of a valley, with the sun shining and the breeze on my face."

When he looked to his left, he said he saw "a shimmering area" that coalesced into his family. After the picture of his family faded away, Chapman said he became overwhelmed by a feeling of exhilaration.

When he blinked again, he said he was back in the ER, on the gurney, facing a nurse and doctor.

No longer a cynic, the retired Canadian broadcaster said his near-death experience changed his outlook on life.

According to conventional science, when people's hearts stop beating and they stop breathing, the brain shuts down and consciousness disappears. That school of thought believes that without the brain, consciousness isn't possible.

But a new study launched earlier this month will test a different theory: that consciousness is not localized to the brain and when the brain ceases functioning, the mind can continue to exist.

Led by Dr. Sam Parnia, an expert in the field of consciousness at the United Kingdom's University of Southampton, the study will monitor brain activity during cardiac arrest and test the validity of near-death and out-of-body experiences.

Called the "world's largest-ever study of near-death experiences," the Aware (Awareness During Resuscitation) study is a collaboration between 25 hospitals in the United Kingdom and the United States. U.S. participants include Indiana State University, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, the University of Virginia and New York University, according to a spokesman for the University of Southampton.