Page last updated at 09:04 GMT, Friday, 24 October 2008 10:04 UK

Out of body or all in the mind?

By Paul Burnell
The One Show

Russell Wain had led a normal and quiet life until he went for a ride on his motorbike one evening.

Russell Wain
I literally floated back to the ceiling and woke up
Russell Wain

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The 24-year-old from Lichfield believes the aftermath of a horrific head-on crash six years ago gave him a glimpse into what happens when we die.

He saw existence from an unexpected angle, as doctors at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, fought to save his life.

"The next thing I remember is waking up in a dark tunnel," he told BBC One's The One Show.

"I was going down a cave and actually felt the side of the cave walls where it is all smooth and damp with an old Roman paving on the floor and a big bright light at he bottom, with an arch."

He added: "The next thing I remember is looking down on myself in the ICU ward and my mum was holding my left hand crying and my dad hugging her.

"I literally floated back to the ceiling and woke up."

Interest in experiences like Russell's has burgeoned since the publication of Dr Raymond Moody's best-selling book Life After Life in 1975, which recounted the experiences of 100 patients who were clinically dead and reported having some kind of near death experience.

Sceptical voices

Dr Moody's book, which sold 13 million copies globally, said these experiences involved typically a dying patient experiencing heading down a tunnel towards a light which gave them a great sense of well-being.

Others reported looking down on relatives gathered round their hospital bed.

Dr Sam Parnia, of the University of Southampton is sceptical of such claims but dealing with these patients when he worked in an intensive care unit, has forced him to challenge his own scepticism.

"People who have been brought back to life after clinical death often describe a sensation of separating from themselves and that's called an "out-of-body" experience' and that can be tested and validated scientifically," he told The One Show.

"So if it's real we should be able to prove it and if it's just a trick of the mind we should be able to prove that as well."

Dr Sam Parnia
We know that in the sub-atomic world, smaller than atoms - things behave in really bizarre ways we don't understand
Dr Sam Parnia

Doctors at 25 UK and US hospitals will study 1,500 survivors to see if people with no heartbeat or brain activity can have out-of-body experiences.

The three year study will set up special shelving in resuscitation areas. The shelves hold pictures, but they are visible only from the ceiling.

Dr Parnia said it would be remarkable if people report seeing these pictures during an alleged out-of-body experience.

But others are still sceptical.

Psychologist Dr Susan Blackmore said: "Dr Parnia and I both agree that there's a great mystery to the nature of consciousness. But he's taking the old fashioned, traditional view that most people on the planet believe in that there is inside a spirit or soul or something that requires some force science hasn't yet revealed and so on and that he can find this in the experiment.

"All my own research over decades on out of body experiences shows that they are convincing, realistic, quite amazing experiences but that nothing leaves the body."

And Dr Parnia believes that even if his study provides evidence of out-of-body experiences, it may not prove anything about the afterlife.

Near Death Experiment
Experimental shelves hold pictures which are only visible from the ceiling.

He explained: "We know that in the sub-atomic world, smaller than atoms - things behave in really bizarre ways we don't understand, they call it quantum physics.

"At that level things can be none-localised so it could simply be the human mind is not produced by big brain cells connected together but something at a much smaller level that makes it do these incredible things and this would open up an whole new branch of science."

Though for people like Russell Wain, who say their experiences were life-changing, the mystery of what happens after death has been solved.

"When I die I'm going to go somewhere else. I'm 110% what I saw is what I saw."

Have you had a near-death experience?
19 Sep 08 |  Have Your Say
'Near death experiences' probed
30 Nov 01 |  Health

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