Humans could still be Conscious after Death

Humans could still be Conscious after Death

Humans could still be Conscious after Death
Image Credits: The Atlantic

According to a study, called AWARE, human consciousness keeps working (for some time) after clinical death.

Regardless of the means of death, the ultimate cause is generally cardiac arrest. A drop in blood pressure compromises the heart’s ability to keep pumping. The flagging blood supply causes key processes such as respiration and neural activity to cease. The heart eventually stops beating altogether.

No meaningful brain activity can be detected 2 seconds later, or 20 at most. Similarly, a bright light is shone directly on a person’s eyes. The failure of the pupils to contract reflexively is taken as a sure indicator that the brain stem has stopped functioning, and the person is pronounced dead.

AWARE and Initial Stages of Death

Recent research suggests that the person might actually be able to hear this pronouncement. A 2014 study found that survivors of cardiac arrest were able to recall certain details of their resuscitation. The study was dubbed AWARE and was conducted for investigating what happens to the human mind and consciousness in the initial stages of death. It was the largest study of this nature to be conducted and was spearheaded by Dr. Sam Parnia. He works at the NYU Langone School of Medicine.

According to his reports, people who have survived cardiac arrest knew a lot of details about their surroundings. They were capable of providing these accurate descriptions while their heartbeat remained absent. He explained his findings by saying,

“They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working. They’ll describe having awareness of full conversations of visual things that were going on that would otherwise not be known to them.”

These accounts were also verified by medical staff. They were actually quite amazed to learn that the patients could recall the details of their resuscitation.

The Tale of a Cardiac Arrest Patient

One man saw his blood pressure being taken, and a doctor inserting a tube into his throat. He also saw a nurse performing chest compressions on him. He was able to describe the people, sounds, and events of his “resurrection” vividly and with astounding accuracy. According to Dr. Parnia, the man may have experienced conscious awareness for 3-5 minutes while the brain seemed dead.

This study lends some credence to Sam’s belief that consciousness can persist even if the heart has stopped beating. He mentioned that the possibility has been raised that the thing that “makes me Sam”, and from which our unique identities arise might not originate in the brain at all.

Death might not Annihilate Consciousness Immediately

It could be a separate scientific entity that is yet to be discovered because we currently lack the required apparatus. It may have a nature that is similar to that of electromagnetic waves. These waves can carry sound and pictures. Sam believes that evidence from AWARE and other studies point towards this possibility. The entity we call consciousness is not necessarily “immediately annihilated” as soon as all signs of life fade.

Goals of Dr. Sam Parnia

Parnia is not especially religious. He insists that he is not seeking evidence of an afterlife, or a supernatural hereafter. He wishes to build an understanding of brain function in the immediate aftermath of cardiac arrest. His primary goal is the improvement of the quality of resuscitation and prevention of brain injuries while restarting the heart. In the process, he is finding out whether consciousness continues after death and for how long.

Ultimately, he wants to better understand how to bring back a whole person with an intact brain and mind. He hopes to determine an optimal oxygenation level for the brain that doctors can target while administering CPR. He and others are trying to find better ways to save the brain and avoid horrific “disorders of consciousness”. One of these unfortunate incidents took place in Florida to a woman who had a cardiac arrest. The brain of Terri Schiavo entered a permanent vegetative state after it was starved of oxygen.

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