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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Now that is really interesting

26 April 2019

Yesterday I was browsing YouTube, as I so often do, and an incredibly interesting video popped into my "suggested videos" feed.

The video is an interview with neuropsychiatrist and neurophysiologist Peter Fenwick, who I had never heard of prior to watching this video.

However, I have had a bit to do with neuropsychiatrists as a result of the diagnosis and treatments we sought after my wife's unfortunate accident of a decade or so ago.

Based solely on my own interactions with some of NZ's leading players in this field, I was somewhat less than impressed. Although they were pretty quick to admit that we still have a great many gaps in our understanding of how both the brain and the mind work, they did seem to presume to draw some rather unusual conclusions based on this admittedly sparse level of comprehension.

As a result of these previous encounters, my expectations were not high when I began to watch the video suggested to me but I was surprised, very pleasantly surprised by Mr Fenwick's perspectives, open mind and understanding of the concept of death.

One thing that made me sit up and listen was that, unlike the members of his profession I'd encountered here, Mr Fenwick seemed more than happy to accept that he was wrong and change his position accordingly.

I guess I should explain why I was watching a video about death...

No, I'm not in any danger of departing in the foreseeable future (are those sighs of disappointment I hear coming from the direction of the South Waikato District Council?).

Like most people, I fully appreciate that dying is simply a part of living and can not be avoided. It makes sense therefore, to learn a little about the process and the experience, if that is at all possible.

From what I've read previously, the "near death experience" (NDE) is easily explained by the rapid firing of neurons as they suffer from a lack of oxygen in the final phases of brain death. When this happens in the area of the brain which processes visual information (a surprisingly large chunk actually), the result is the "bright light" which, I believed, was experienced in almost all NDEs.

I learned some stuff in this video which would appear to contradict that simple and easy explanation. It would very much appear that NDEs are affected by the culture of the person experiencing them. In the West we get the "bright light" effect but in other cultures there may be simply a journey or the crossing of a river that forms the basis of the NDE. It's pretty hard to explain that away as simply a mass firing of neurons.

Mr Fenwick goes on to explain a number of theories that have been postulated as to the way the brain processes information -- the most intriguing of which is that we actually filter out much of the reality that surrounds us to produce the world we experience. Some believe that during the act of death, those filters break down and we are exposed to things that were previously hidden by those filters.

Okay, so now we're getting to the "yeah, right" aspect of things. This is a great theory but without any kind of concrete evidence it is just a fantasy, as far as I can see.

However, Fenwick's words will likely be a huge comfort to anyone who reaches the point where they have to come face to face with death -- either their own or that of a friend or loved one. He has done a stunningly good job of putting a whole lot of stuff in neat perspective and making the process seem a joyful one, or at worst a benign one.

I've bookmarked this video and will likely refer friends and family to it whenever they're in a position that involves dealing with loss.

Of course that's assuming that YouTube doesn't delete it because it might be considered "unsuitable" due to the inclusion of the word "death". No, I'm not kidding!

Hmmm... perhaps I'd better download it and keep a local copy.

Take a look when you get a moment and tell us what YOU think about Mr Fenwick's view of death and how credible you feel his perspectives are.

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