Some researchers believe that near-death experiences are a biological mechanism like the fight-or-flight response, a means of pretending death to avoid a predator. They call it thanatosis:
The authors propose that the acquisition of language enabled humans to transform these events from relatively stereotyped death-feigning under predatory attacks into the rich perceptions that form near-death experiences and extend to non-predatory situations. Of note, the proposed cerebral mechanisms behind death-feigning are not unlike those that have been suggested to induce near-death experiences, including intrusion of rapid eye movement sleep into wakefulness,” Daniel Kondziella explains.
“This further strengthens the idea that evolutionary mechanisms are an important piece of information needed to develop a complete biological framework for near-death experiences.”
No previous work has tried to provide such a phylogenetic basis. Steven Laureys concludes, “this may also be the first time we can assign a biological purpose to near-death experiences, which would be the benefit of survival.”University of Liege, “Biological Purpose of Near Death Experiences Uncovered” at Neuroscience News (July 1, 2021)
The paper is open access.
Two problems arise from this analysis:
➤ Implausibility: Most of the people who have survived to tell of near-death experiences are not “death-feigning.” They are clinically — and, in most cases, involuntarily — dead.
Modern medicine can bring people back from actual states of death or even induce such states, for surgical purposes. That’s why we hear so many reports of near-death experiences these days. There is no physiological basis for the belief that, in general, humans can just “play dead” when it suits us, as can marsupials like opossums. Many might wish we could but we can’t.
➤ What does “the acquisition of language” mean? Human language, as opposed to animal signal systems, is only possible due to the ability to reason abstractly. There is no plausible evolutionary explanation for that at present. It appears to come from something that is not part of the animal world at all. It is not directly related to survival chances because all other life forms thrive without it. It may be part of a non-animal world in which near-death experiences are possible.
You may also wish to read:
Physician explains why he takes near-death experiences seriously Near-death experiences don’t fit easily into traditional science categories because they occur — often with life-changing effects — when the brain is damaged or unconscious
Why reasonable people think that near-death experiences are real Distinguished engineers Walter Bradley and Robert J. Marks sift through the evidence.