The notion of knowing the thoughts and feelings of a dying person has been pondered for ages.
What kind of experience should we expect to have as we depart this material world?
If we knew, we humans would perhaps experience a deeper and more meaningful sense of empathy and compassion for one another.
Amazingly, it would appear that humankind has gotten a little closer to such a thing.
Brain Waves of a Dying Person
For the first time, we’ve been able to see what human brain waves look like in a dying person.
An 87-year-old male visited the emergency room after a fall, where he rapidly deteriorated while connected to an electroencephalograph (EEG) machine that recorded his brain activity as he went into cardiac arrest.
There have been previous instances of brain activity observed in a dying person — some people who had the life support removed before having their simplified EEG recordings made. However, this is the first time we’ve ever seen detailed recordings that might explain what happens to us when we die.
Heightened Consciousness Before Death
For decades, people have reported incidents of paradoxical lucidity and elevated consciousness concerning death. This is fascinating since it appears to be happening in brain regions shutting down as we near our deaths.
The popular explanation for the occurrence of this reality had been that it was just a tale. According to population surveys, this event affects about 10% of people, and billions live with it worldwide.
They collected roughly 900 seconds of brain activity, and the bulk of their study focused on the first 30 seconds before and after the patient’s heart stopped beating.
They observed alterations in brain waves involved in higher-order cognitive functions, including information processing, concentrating, memory retrieval, conscious perception, and the various phases of dreaming. Such observations suggest the brain was actively engaged in memory recall after cardiac arrest.
Lucidity during Dying Moments
Instances like these could be due to changes in neural activity, which may happen when the brain shuts down at the end of life. The research backs up these descriptions and strongly suggests that a sign of mental clarity at the end of life has been discovered.
However, because the elderly man’s health was already failing at the time of death, the team that worked with him wasn’t completely sure that his life was passing before his eyes —as he had suffered brain injuries, including bleeding, swelling, and convulsions.
He also had been taking anti-seizure medications, which added to the data’s uncertainty and meaning. There were no healthy brain scans available to compare against the newer images in which he was already in decline.
The researchers who treated this patient postulated that “cross-coupling” between alpha and gamma waves indicates memory recall in healthy persons was likely taking place.
This particular case might have been a “recall of life,” or what is known as seeing one’s entire existence before their eyes, according to the team who worked with him.
Alpha waves are generated whenever we are awake yet calm and help us with tasks like learning and coordination. The quickest of all brainwaves, gamma waves, are linked to high-level alertness, thought, memory, and focus.
Partial Disinhibition of the Brain
When the brain is shutting down and dying, parts of it (such as functions that are usually suppressed by our regular brain activity) become disinhibited. As a result, we are given access to portions of reality at death that we usually would not have access to, such as the depths of our consciousness.
Although it may be challenging to find out what goes on in our brains during death because researchers would need to scan the brain activity of healthy people, doing so is essentially improbable.
“We do not anticipate death in healthy subjects and therefore could not obtain recordings in the near-death phase in anything other than from circumstances involving pathological conditions in acute care hospital settings,” the author of the final report emphasized.
The research team was able to capture the 87-year-old patient’s brain waves as he died. This happened by chance, after all.
Raul Vicente, Michael Rizzuto, Can Sarica, Kazuaki Yamamoto, Mohammed Sadr, Tarun Khajuria, Mostafa Fatehi, Farzad Moien-Afshari, Charles S. Haw, Rodolfo R. Llinas, Andres M. Lozano, Joseph S. Neimat, Ajmal Zemmar. (February 18, 2022). Enhanced Interplay of Neuronal Coherence and Coupling in the Dying Human Brain. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnagi.2022.813531.
Med.NYU.edu. Parnia Lab. https://med.nyu.edu/research/parnia-lab/parnia-lab.