If you’re curious about what a near-death experience is like, there’s a whole Web site devoted to first-person stories from those who know.

A kid hit by a truck says that after he lost consciousness, “I saw the ambulance drive off with my body in it! My spirit was out and free and in no pain at all!”

When he woke up in traction in a hospital, he lost that good feeling. “I actually thought I was in hell, I was so terrified.”

A man who was electrocuted writes that while “unconscious, I recall being on a small boat or raft. I think it was more boat-like because there was a knee high material around the craft, and we were on a gentle (not rocky or wavy — smooth) body of water. … Honestly, I know it sounds fake, but I first thought of the Led Zeppelin 4 album cover of a robed, bearded guy holding a lamp.”

These and other stories can be viewed at the International Association for Near-Death Studies. 

What they tend to have in common is this: People generally have a positive rush when they’re having a “near-death experience.”

They feel peaceful, or see a bright light, or feel a kind of harmony that may elude them under normal living circumstances.

That’s one of the findings of a new study: People near death perceive positive and often beautiful things. “I kept hearing these incredible stories in my consultations,” one of the lead researchers on the study, Steven Laureys, told New Scientist. “Knowing how abnormal brain activity is during a cardiac arrest or trauma, it was impressive how rich these memories were. It was very intriguing.”

More intriguingly, however, the study found that you don’t actually have to be near death to have such feelings. You need not have suffered a cardiac arrest or a brain trauma of the sort that might actually kill you and organically produce unusual perceptions. You only need to believe you’re near death — perhaps in surgery or after an accident — to have a “near-death-like” experience of bright lights and all the rest.

That’s the major finding of the study, published in the latest issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience by a team of European scientists who compared accounts of those who really were close to dying to those who merely thought they were.

The team of researchers, led by Laureys and Vanessa Charland-Verville, studied the accounts of 190 people. Fifty had “near-death-like” experiences and 140 had the real thing: a near-death experience.

Here, in order of frequency, is what both groups perceived:

  • Peacefulness
  • Out-of-body experience
  • Altered time perception
  • Unearthly environment
  • Happiness/Joy
  • Bright light
  • Heightened senses
  • Harmony/unity
  • Border/point of no return
  • Speeded thoughts
  • Understanding
  • Mystical being/presence
  • Encounter with deceased/religious spirits
  • Extrasensory perception
  • Life review
  • Precognitive visions

Previous studies have suggested that about 20 percent of cardiac arrest survivors report visions or perceptions during clinical death, with features such as a bright light, life playback or an out-of-body feeling. People describe a feeling of floating up out of their bodies, gliding to the entrance of a tunnel or a searing bright light.

In people who are truly near death, The Post’s Meeri Kim reported last year, it’s like a show created by the brain, which is still alive. When the heart stops, neurons in the brain appeared to communicate at an even higher level than normal, according to a University of Michigan study,  perhaps setting off  some special effects.

The authors acknowledge many unanswered questions that require further research.

Among them, conceivably, might be whether people who have near-death experiences are influenced in their thoughts or in the stories they recount by movies, literature or anecdotal accounts they’ve grown up with. On the other hand, a cursory unscientific review of those reporting on the near-death-experience Web site showed little sign of either Saint Peter or anything resembling a pearly gate.