What happens to your brain when you die? Experiments on rats give an insight

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The experience of one's dying moment remains with the departed. However, scientists suggest that during final moments of consciousness a mysterious and unexplained phenomenon takes place inside your brain.

Research from the University of Michigan has revealed that brain activity in rats gets sparked after clinical death. These electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels are usually found in animals’ waking state, a report by sciencealert.com has revealed.

“We reasoned that if near-death experience stems from brain activity, neural correlates of consciousness should be identifiable in humans or animals even after the cessation of cerebral blood flow,” neurologist Jimo Borjigin is quoted to have said.

This hypothesis proved correct as the rats displaying increased brain activity within 30 seconds of an induced cardiac arrest showed similarities with patterns you would observe in a highly aroused brain.

An exhilarating revelation, this may disprove the notion that the brain must be rendered inactive as a result of the cut-off of blood flow due to clinical death.

“This study tells us that reduction of oxygen or both oxygen and glucose during cardiac arrest can stimulate brain activity that is characteristic of conscious processing,” said Borjigin. “It also provides the first scientific framework for the near-death experiences reported by many cardiac arrest survivors.”

Although enlightening, it does not suggest that humans and rats share the same cognitive reactions. However, if our brains surge in the same way, it has the potential to explain the sense of awareness reported by many people who are successfully resuscitated in medical emergencies.

Real life testimonies

According to Sam Parnia, who released the world’s largest study examining near-death experiences in 2014, research suggests that out of 100 survivors of cardiac arrest, 46 percent retained memories of their brush with death.

Fascinatingly, only two of the patients were able to remember events related to their revival after they had died. According to conventional views about consciousness beyond clinical death, this should be impossible.

Parnia told The National Post, “We know the brain can't function when the heart has stopped beating, but in this case conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn't beating,”

“The brain typically shuts down within 20 to 30 seconds after the heart has stopped.” While these are illuminating findings, it only accounts for two percent of patients and Parnia stated that “the easiest explanation is that this is probably an illusion.”

This could stem from a neurological response to physiological stress that occur during cardiac events. Neuroscientists tend to believe that the cognitive experiences they are recalling could have happened before the event itself, as opposed to after.

However, there are others who do not endorse these findings. “Look, I'm skeptical,” neurologist Cameron Shaw from Deakin University in Australia told Vice earlier in the year. According to Cameron, because the brain's blood supply is pumped from underneath, the brain would die from the top downwards.

“Our sense of self, our sense of humour, our ability to think ahead – that stuff all goes within the first 10 to 20 seconds,” Julian Morgans reported for Vice.

Not necessarily a hopeful way of looking at our demise however it also doesn't accord with the experience of rats – and scientists are still finding evidence of surprising biological processes that continue to thrive even days after death stakes its claim.

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