Modern resuscitation was a game-changer for emergency care, but it also blew apart our understanding of what it means to be dead. Without many people returning from the dead to show us otherwise, it was natural to assume, from a scientific perspective, that our consciousness dies at the same time as our bodies. Over the last few years, though, scientists have seen repeated evidence that once you die, your brain cells take days, potentially longer, to reach the point past which they’ve degraded too far to ever be viable again. This does not mean you’re not dead; you are dead. Your brain cells, however, may not be.
This popped up on my MSN start page (don’t judge me) today. At first I assumed it to be the standard “brain cells still function when your heart stops” story with a click-bait title. Then I read this:
Where that explanation fails, though, is among the patients who have died on an operating table or crash cart and reported watching—from a corner of the room, from above—as doctors tried to save them, accounts subsequently verified by the (very perplexed) doctors themselves.
How these patients were able to describe objective events that took place while they were dead, we’re not exactly sure, just as we’re not exactly sure why certain parts of us appear to withstand death even as it takes hold of everything else. But it does seem to suggest that when our brains and bodies die, our consciousness may not, or at least not right away.
“I don’t mean that people have their eyes open or that their brain’s working after they die,” Parnia said. “That petrifies people. I’m saying we have a consciousness that makes up who we are—our selves, thoughts, feelings, emotions—and that entity, it seems, does not become annihilated just because we’ve crossed the threshold of death; it appears to keep functioning and not dissipate. How long it lingers, we can’t say.”
Um…. what? (Lingers is certainly an interesting description as well. Leads to all sorts of spooky implications doesn’t it?)
As someone who obviously believes in the afterlife, I have no doubt this occurs. However, seeing it referenced in a reputable mainstream news journal? That takes it from the realm of personal belief I hold to be true to something that’s possibly quantifiable and provable. To paraphrase the common vernacular, stuff just got real.