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Summary of Sam Parnia’s NYAS “What happens when we die” event:

Both the afternoon presentations and the evening panel discussion were livestreamed. Only one talk was excluded and that was a presentation by the “Pig Brain Team” from Yale, presumably because there may have been some proprietary technology discussed. They are available to view at the NYAS site now.

Recording of Livestream 1:

Recording of livestream 2: 

Recording of livestream 3 (evening panel discussion):

There was a lot of very interesting content in the afternoon session which can be bucketed into the following themes:

  1. History of resuscitation medicine
  2. Advances in resuscitation medicine and preserving the brain
  3. The ability to revive consciousness, and to what extent depending on damage to the brain
  4. The transformative nature of NDEs

I am not going to go over much of it since most of what was relevant to this blog has been discussed many times before. However, it is what was absent that was notable to me. There was no mention of the data from AWARE II that was presented over the weekend at the American Heart Association meeting and the subject of previous posts. I understand that the focus of the day was resuscitation medicine, but NDEs were discussed and I found it a bit odd there was no mention of the 2 abstracts at AHA considering this was the first data to come out of Dr Parnia’s landmark study. There was the opportunity to pose questions in the comments section on the livestream, and I did ask about the abstracts but there was insufficient time to answer the questions in the room, let alone on line.

The only tidbit that came up was regarding the sounds generated in the Bluetooth headsets. He described it as “timed sounds” that were delivered through these headsets. Does that mean that sounds were administered intermittently and for a timed but limited number of periods, or that there was a continuous stream of sound with the different kinds of sounds timed, and the time at which they changed recorded? This is very important with respect to the direction of the discussion initiated by Tim we had regarding abstract 287 at the AHA meeting. If the sounds weren’t continuous then the fact that one or more of the 4 “NDErs” heard voices from the room would potentially be less relevant, given the findings from abstract 387 depending on whether there was corresponding EEG and rSO2 data that showed sufficient levels of oxygen to support consciousness. I suspect we aren’t going to learn more at this stage and will have to wait till the data is published, which may be many years from now!

Dr Parnia did refer to a number of new studies that will be starting in the next months and years:

future studies

The one that is of most interest to me is the study looking into consciousness during deep hypothermic arrest. This is effectively COOL II. At this stage they are just performing a pilot study to help inform them on design for a larger landmark study. It looks unlikely we will hear anything from this for a number of years, but this has the potential to produce data more efficiently than AWARE II due to the controlled conditions. Also the prospective study into children’s NDEs will provide interesting insights into the differences that have been previously discussed. This will take a long long time as thankfully children are much less likely to be near death, or actually dead, than adults.

He also presented some data that had been collected from going back over historical interviews from numerous NDEs. This has been done before in various publications in IANDS, but I suspect that his team will apply greater systematic and academic rigor. I wasn’t quite sure where these NDEs were sourced from, but they included a whole host of parameters beyond the simple core elements previously described.

Finally, Dr Parnia did get a bit agitated when describing the impatience of the likes of us! He did look at the camera, and actually said that he was speaking “to the camera”…i.e. some of us. Busted! He was insistent that this research takes a long time, that there are not always enough staff to attend CA events etc. This does not explain why he didn’t refer to the abstracts from the weekend, but we must give him the benefit of the doubt and accept that there are protocols etc that he must follow. He did say that there was more data now, but not that much.

I doubt he does come to this site, but if he does, I hope very much that our enthusiasm/impatience doesn’t in anyway hinder his work, or damage what he is trying to do. If it does in any way, then he must tell me. I would rather dial back on the number of my posts than risk his work. If not, as I suspect is the case given how he is disposed to going on TV and talking about NDEs, then he must recognize that it is only natural for people like ourselves who have a keen interest in his work to be eager to learn as much as we can, and express our frustration at not having all the answers now. As always we wish him the very best in his quest to shed light on the nature of consciousness before and after death.

The evening session was just a panel discussion on what had been presented and what they thought about the various different issues. This was very much focused on the resuscitation medicine side of things and potential ethical implications.

Overall it was enjoyable, but for regulars of this blog, nothing new unfortunately. Now I’m going to bed!

Edited to add the morning after:

While there may have been nothing “new” from the perspective of insights into the recent findings from AWARE II, there were a couple of things that happened in the meetings that have refreshed my perspective.

Firstly there was the testimony of the woman who had received CPR for an hour and the doctors were ready to give up, except one, who took over and carried on. That was 10 years ago and now she is well and living a full productive life due to that doctor and modern techniques. Really rammed home to me what an amazing job the likes of Parnia and his team do.

Secondly was the NDE account described by the ER physician Dr. Tom Aufderheide in the panel session in the evening. That was mind blowing and it reminded me of why I first became hooked on the subject of NDEs. We really don’t NEED the results of AWARE II, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of reliable human testimonies, many of them from health care professionals themselves, that one hundred percent corroborate the validity of the OBE. But more than that they attest to the spiritual nature of humans and our ultimate destiny.

On here, we, I, have become so obsessed with the hit, the smoking gun, and I realised last night that I may have lost my focus on the true wonder of these incredible accounts…they are mind blowing. I don’t need AWARE II. I know from my own experience that there is another reality beyond this life. I have experienced it myself, and through the accounts of others. I know I have a soul inside of me…my brain just sometimes forgets!

Anyway, we will continue to follow developments, but Dr Parnia said to the camera, to us, that we must follow the NYU website for any updates. As much as I respect and admire him, I think I will continue to rely on the great contributors here like Tim, David, Eduardo, Z, Samwise, Chad and others who keep finding things on the web now that might just make it to the NYU website in a years time!


Update on status of AWARE II

Just a quick update on the AWARE study. I recently contacted the study team, and they informed me that the study opened and began recruiting on May 1st 2015. I asked for an updated protocol, but they are being a bit cagey about specifics at the moment, which is pretty understandable (if the exact details were known to outsiders it would be easier to discredit any positive results). What info we do have is available on the UK research website link below. The study is anticipated to run for 2 years. As I have stated before, I have concerns about the exclusion criteria not being broad enough, and that potentially we could see a repeat of AWARE I in which they recruited over 2000 Cardiac Arrests, but only a small minority of these were relevant in terms of providing data. In my view, unless they only include all CA survivors who had the crash cart plus LCD monitors in attendance and were able to complete a post event interview, then they should not be included.

Hopefully they have considered this and are proceeding in a more focused way with their new protocol.

AWARE II study

Finally, I know people come here from to time, and are disappointed that new posts are few and far between. As I have explained before, I have a very busy job in research, in addition I write novels in my spare time and this has been the primary focus of my energy of late. I will however attempt to post more thoughts and comments on NDE research as time goes by so sign up for updates so you will be notified when these appear.

Setting the Scene

While we wait for the official publication of the AWARE study in a peer reviewed medical journal, I thought it would be interesting to visit some of the previous research in this area. Over the next few weeks I will be commenting on the main prospective studies which were previously published in mainstream medical literature (as characterized by their searchability on PubMed), this would not include studies published in the Journal of Near Death Studies. I subscribe to this journal, so I do not mean to belittle it, however, at this stage I feel that referring to journals accepted by the academic establishment makes these articles more credible to those who are visiting this site who are not “believers”.

The first paper that I am going to comment on is Incidence and correlates of near-death experiences in a cardiac care unit by Bruce Greyson M.D. This was published in General Hospital Psychiatry in 2003. Here is the abstract:

Near-death experiences, unusual experiences during a close brush with death, may precipitate pervasive attitudinal and behavior changes. The incidence and psychological correlates of such experiences, and their association with proximity to death, are unclear. We conducted a 30-month survey to identify near-death experiences in a tertiary care center cardiac inpatient service. In a consecutive sample of 1595 patients admitted to the cardiac inpatient service (mean age 63 years, 61% male), of whom 7% were admitted with cardiac arrest, patients who described near-death experiences were matched with comparison patients on diagnosis, gender, and age. Near-death experiences were reported by 10% of patients with cardiac arrest and 1% of other cardiac patients (P<.001). Near-death experiencers were younger than other patients (P=.001), were more likely to have lost consciousness (P<.001) and to report prior purportedly paranormal experiences (P=.009), and had greater approach-oriented death acceptance (P=.01). Near-death experiencers and comparison patients did not differ in sociodemographic variables, social support, quality of life, acceptance of their illness, cognitive function, capacity for physical activities, degree of cardiac dysfunction, objective proximity to death, or coronary prognosis.

Greyson is one of the most widely published researchers on NDEs in the established literature with a host of citations to his name. He is also the creator of the Greyson NDE scale, an interview tool used by researchers to establish whether the experience is an NDE or otherwise (if the subject scores greater than 5-7, then the experience is classified as an NDE). In other words Greyson is NDE royalty, along with the likes of Raymond Moddy, Michael Sobom, Kenneth Ring and relative newcomers like Sam Parnia.

This study was prospective, which means that it was set up in advance of the events recorded in it, with clearly established protocols designed to capture various data around the phenomenon. Subjects were included in this study if they had been admitted to the University of Virgina Hospital with a number of possible different cardiac outcomes. Once the patients had stabilized (within 6 days) they were asked to complete a questionnaire which identified various baseline (pre-existing) characteristics such as sociodemographic factors (income, social isolation etc) and severity of cardiac incident among others. They were also asked to complete the Greyson scale questionnaire, and if they had a score higher than 7 they were assigned to the experiencer group.

The aspect of this study that differentiates it from others is the use of matched controls. Matched controls are basically a way of trying to identify what variables (changeable characteristics such as belief) might contribute to a phenomenon when key characteristics are fixed. In this study they “matched” the subjects who experienced NDEs with subjects who didn’t experience NDEs but had similar age, gender and primary diagnosis. They took the NDEers and the matched controls and conducted more in depth interviews identifying such things as prior paranormal experiences. By doing this it is possible to identify factors that are associated with someone having an NDE. They also compared characteristics of the NDEer group to the wider, unmatched, cohort who did not experience an NDE.

I won’t repeat the results that are presented in the abstract above, but rather highlight a few interesting findings and comment on some of the conclusions.

• NDEs were most common in those who had survived a cardiac arrest (10%), compared to 2% of the entire cardiac event cohort. This makes this a landmark study because it is the first to show that NDEs are associated with the patient actually being close to death.
• The mean Greyson score for the NDE group (27 patients in total) was 12.7. This compared to 21 of the 23 matched controls achieving a score of 0, and 2 of the controls who scored 1. This finding extends to the wider non-experiencer population, 96% of whom scored 0 and the remainder who scored less than 5. This has clear implications in that there is no grey area here (which might be the case if this was a purely physiological effect). You either have an NDE or you don’t.
• NDEers reported more prior paranormal experiences than the matched controls. Greyson makes the following remark “Experiencers in this study did in fact report more prior purportedly paranormal experiences than did non-experiencers. That difference may suggest that persons who believe they had a paranormal experience are more likely to report NDEs; or it may suggest that persons who have NDEs are more likely to interpret past experiences as paranormal.”

There is of course another potential explanation for this last observation that Greyson does not include. People who have NDEs report more prior paranormal experiences because they are more “spiritual” i.e. there is something about them that makes them more likely to have paranormal experiences AND NDEs.

This last notion, a predisposition towards spirituality, is something I discuss in much greater length in my book Aware Of Aware. One explanation could be that there is a genetic predisposition to being spiritually sensitive (the God Gene). Another explanation is that some people do not have a spirit (they either weren’t born with one, or they spiritually died). This may seem abhorrent, but if the NDE is real, and therefore the conscious (spirit) is real and independent of the body, then one perfectly valid interpretation of the data from NDE studies is that only 10% of people have a spirit.

Greyson addresses this very question in his study, speculating that the reasons that only 10% of subjects report an NDE is because they either couldn’t remember it or didn’t want to disclose. This may indeed be the case, and they are less troublesome explanations, but as disturbing as it might be, to exclude the possibility that there are two types of people, one with a spirit and one without, with no evidence one way or the other, is unscientific.

book cover image



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