Death is inevitable but the desire to understand the process will live forever. The near-death experience and autoerotic-asphyxiation offer two possible previews into this longstanding mystery despite their respective positions on the moral continuum. This clash of faith and science seems an interesting and thought provoking example of the divide that exists between secular and religious ideology. The gap is a constant source of debate and a burgeoning point of conflict.
Much is written and reported regarding the concept of a near-death experience. Most of these accounts include some connection to widely held religious beliefs. Many who have had the experience speak about seeing heaven or encountering God. Some report reuniting with family and friends who have previously died or describe the much heralded white light or long tunnel of light. There is often conversation with these previously deceased individuals similar to what one might experience in a dream, although frequently recounted as far more vivid.
I’ve read articles and information that attempt to describe this process scientifically. Generally, the explanation involves an assertion that as the brain begins the dying process, which is exacerbated by the reduction of oxygen, the mind enters a heightened dream state. Evidence indicates that endorphins are increased and that despite the spiral towards death, the mind experience is quite pleasant. Images are vivid and past events are often activated, unlocked or revisited as if they are happening in real time.
Many who have experienced these near-death events reject the scientific explanations and hold steadfast to a religious or after life interpretation with profound implications…God sent me back…there was something I needed to do before I died…a family member sent me back to care for others. Such attributions often comport with long held beliefs which makes them extremely difficult to define outside of this construct.
Recently, while listening to the news, I heard a report on autoerotic-asphyxiation. I had been aware of people having died while performing this obviously dangerous act. Briefly, autoerotic-asphyxiatiion involves restricting the flow of blood to the brain by placing a constricting device around the neck while, at the same time, masturbating. The process is frequently done standing and often includes a rescue mechanism should the individual lose consciousness. In cases where accidental death occurs, the rescue mechanism has often failed to work as designed.
As I listened to the report, I took note of how the experience was described by those who had actually engaged in the activity. What caught my attention was the similarity to a near-death experience, albeit with the added sexual element. Both include vivid and heightened imagery, a sense of euphoria, as well as the white light effect. Both of these events are reported to result from the same scientific mechanism which includes the deprivation of oxygen to the brain, the release of endorphins, and the slowly manifesting death process of the brain. At the same time, the underlying circumstances and attributions have little commonality.
From my own twisted perspective, I find it ironic that religious doctrine and sexual gratification intersects in this bizarre pitting of moral and religious beliefs vis-à-vis primal hedonistic pleasure. It’s such a succinct dichotomy. It serves to illuminate the vast chasm that permeates much of the debate between the secular scientific camp and the theocratic intelligent design clan. One man’s autoerotic asphyxiation is another man’s preview of heaven. Could it be that this debate rests on the long established colloquialism…"I’m not sure if I’m coming or going?" Regardless, the death process is a fascinating topic likely to remain one of life’s largest unsolved mysteries.