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Near-death experience makes neurologist question the concept of death and consciousness

Following the near-death experience, Dr Cummings found that his priorities had shifted.

Near-death experience makes neurologist question the concept of death and consciousness
Cover Image Source: YouTube | IANDSvideos

Editor's note: This article was originally published on August 25, 2023. It has since been updated.

Once a firm believer in scientific explanations for consciousness, Dr. Peter Cummings' near-death experience profoundly altered his beliefs. A whitewater rafting accident in Costa Rica, reported by The Epoch Times, completely changed the perspective of Dr. Peter Cummings, a respected neuropathologist and assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine. 

Image Source: YouTube | IANDSvideos
Image Source: YouTube | IANDSvideos

Having a fear of water, Cummings often practiced holding his breath, thinking it might one day be useful. After his raft flipped, Cummings found himself underwater, overwhelmed by the fear of drowning. As he struggled to stay afloat, he experienced a moment of calm and acceptance, "There was a point where I was drowning. And I knew it," said Cummings in IANDSvideos. "I thought about the autopsies I’d done on people who had drowned. This is supposed to be a very peaceful way to die. And then I’m thinking well, ‘What the heck is taking so long?'"

Image Source: Pixabay | Photo by  Engin Akyurt
Image Source: Pixabay | Photo by Engin Akyurt

At the river's bottom, Cummings experienced what might be described as a hallucination from a neuroscience perspective. He saw a bright light and felt an overwhelming sense of love. He heard a voice reassuring him that his family would be fine and that they didn't need him. At that moment, he also knew that his wife and son had already been pulled out of the water and were safe. His scientific reasoning attributed the experience to hypoxia, motivating him to surpass his breath-holding record. With that thought, the light vanished. Eventually, Cummings was pulled out of the water, and he discovered that his heart had stopped during the ordeal, as indicated by his Apple watch, which recorded eight minutes of unrecorded heart rate.

After the near-death experience, Cummings' priorities and career goals dramatically shifted. "I became very uncomfortable with my career pursuit. Those things weren’t important to me anymore. I say I’ve written a couple of very bad novels. And I couldn’t identify with any of those things," said Cummings. After his own near death experience, he said, "The number one question I’ve always been asked is ‘Did they suffer?’ And as a physician, you always say, ‘No, of course not.’ But I always felt like a liar. Because I don’t know."


Cummings' perspective on death transformed, and he realized that it should not be a topic avoided in conversations. He believes that the experience of dying is a profound transformation, and society should celebrate and embrace it rather than keep it behind a sterile curtain. Talking about death without being in discomfort he concluded, "We’ve made it so sterile and kept behind this curtain. That we don’t get a chance to really experience and celebrate the transformation that is happening."

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