You know that movie scene where the protagonist nearly dies and we all get to see the important memories from his or her life play out like a slide show? It’s long been a part of pop culture, with many books, shows and movies depicting these flashback scenes — but we’re beginning to understand that there may be more to these memory flashes than fictional storytelling.
New research based on the accounts of seven subjects who survived near-death experiences and similar surveys from 264 others, discovered that many who “see the light” when they die also report seeing various scenes and emotions from their life play out behind their eyes. Often the scenes appear to take place from another’s perspective, and rarely fall in chronological order.
The researchers, from Hadassah University in Jerusalem, hypothesized that people experience the phenomenon, which they’re calling Life Review Experience (LRE), since the parts of the brain that store memories are often the last to shut down as other bodily functions and parts of the brain fail.
Creepy, but also super cool.
“This suggests that a representation of life events as a continuum exists in the cognitive system, and maybe further expressed in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress,” the authors of the study noted.
Many who experienced a near-death experience noticed a general loss of time, meaning the flashbacks seemed to jump from period to period — not linear from start to finish, as is often the case in the movies — and lasted an unknown amount of time.
“There is not a linear progression, there is lack of time limits,” one of the study’s subjects reported. “It was like being there for centuries. I was not in time/space.”
Many subjects also reported that their LRE included some of the scenes from another’s perspective, like they were outside their body looking on.
“I was seeing, feeling these things about him (my father), and he was sharing with me the things of his early childhood and how things were difficult for him,” one participant reported.
It may be thanks to our biology, but being able to look back on your life in your final moments really does seems like a gift. Given the choice, we’d definitely want that one last retrospective.