Near-Death Experiences Might Be an Unlikely Survival Strategy, Study Claims

It is not common for people to travel to the edge of death, and then back again. This is why so many people avoid near-death experiences.New research has shown that near-death experiences could be linked to an animalistic survival strategy called Thanatosis. This is where animals and critters pretend death to avoid threatening predators.Steven Laureys, a neurologist from the University of Liege, Belgium says that "In this paper we build a line of Evidence suggesting that thanatosis may be the evolutionary foundation of near death experiences and that their common biological purpose is to benefit survival."Some people describe a near-death experience as an out-of body experience. They have speedy thoughts, hallucinations and see bright lights.Near-death experiences are usually experienced by someone who is in a life-threatening or dangerous situation.Researchers behind the paper claim that some brain mechanisms linked to near-death experiences can be compared to those underpinning thanatosis. This led them to investigate if they are related.Researchers write that they believe near-death experiences may have evolved from thanatosis, as they provide a survival advantage during predatory attacks.Previous research by the same neurologists showed that 1 in 10 people had experienced a near-death experience. Other data suggests it could be as high as 4 to 15%.This group wanted to know if there were any near-death experiences that involved a predatory threat. It could also resemble thanatosis which is a last resort survival strategy.There are many ways to explain strange and near-death sensory experiences. Some are scientific, some religious, others cultural.Scientifically, near-death experiences can be caused by anesthetic drugs or a deficiency of oxygen. Dying brain cells and endorphins are also possible. However, none of these explanations will explain the vast array of experiences people have.Thanatosis has been described in humans as a defense mechanism that kicks into action during trauma events such as gun violence or sexual assault.Researchers suggest that people might experience a sudden onset of immobility and then "enter a condition of dissociation which assists them in coping with the situation." This sounds similar to the dissociation described in near-death experiences.The team reviewed the literature and found 32 papers that described thanatosis in the animal kingdom, from insects and reptiles to mammals and birds (but not great Apes)."This universality suggests near-death experiences might have a biological origin or purpose," says Costanza Peinkhofer, a neurologist at Copenhagen University Hospital.Peinkhofer, along with his colleagues, analysed cases of near-death experiences using a database that included testimonies from approximately 630 people.Researchers were especially interested in cases in which a near-death experience involved a predatory threat such as a car in a traffic collision or wild animal. To see if there was any kind of thanatosis-like survival advantage associated with quick-fire thoughts, time-warps, or other experiences that people who have come back from the brink often describe.These near-death experiences, which were triggered by predator-like threats, were only found in a small percentage of cases, or about 14 percent, so it is difficult to draw any conclusions.The majority of cases were related to anesthesia, surgery or cardiac arrests.The team looked further and found several near-death experiences. These were documented in historical sources such as this article about a person who was attacked with a grizzly bear."When I realized that I had no other option but to be dead, I went limp. They described me as a ragdoll who didn't move one muscle or move an eyelid. "You can separate yourself from the events."Peinkhofer and his colleagues believe that near-death experience such as this one may hint at a overlap between some near death experiences and thanatosis (also known as tonic immobility).The team concludes that "we hypothesize that the higher sophistication of the human brain, and the acquisition language enabled humans to record their experiences and share them in detail with others,"What have we learned so far? It is possible to draw an evolutionary link between near-death experiences and playing dead for safety. However, this study shows that it appears somewhat tenuous.Researchers say it wouldn't be applicable to all circumstances where someone is at risk of death. However, it would apply only to situations in which people feel threatened or harmed by a predator.They write that this applies only to a small number of life-threatening circumstances. "NDEs don't have any biological purpose, or might have less benefit because humans have no natural enemies.This leaves plenty of mystery.Brain Communications published the study.