It may surprise you to learn that the definition of death varies from state in the United States. In general though, the official time of death is considered to be the time when you’ve entered cardiac arrest – the electrical signals that cause your heart to beat stop, and blood stops flowing in your body.
But it might also surprise you to learn that once your heart stops and you’re dead, you’re aware that you have died. Which, honestly… Sounds pretty terrifying.
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Scientists who have conducted research about near death experiences have found that just before rats die, they experience a surge of electricity in their brain. This could explain the “white light at the end of a tunnel” that many people who have had near death experiences report.
Dr. Sam Parnia, who happens to be the director of critical care and resuscitation research at NYU Langone School of Medicine, has conducted research with animals regarding the moments just before death. He’s also investigated near death experiences in humans. With that line of work, I can only imagine that he has an extremely dark sense of humor.
Dr. Parnia has spoken with people who have claimed to see a bright light during a near death experience, as well as people who have felt as though they were watching medical staff work on their (legally dead) bodies. Dr. Parnia has said that after our heart stops pumping blood and our lungs stop taking in oxygen, our cerebral cortex is still conscious for about two to twenty seconds. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making and the part that makes sense of everything we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch.
During this period, Dr. Parnia says “You lose all your brain stem reflexes – your gag reflex, your pupil reflex, all that is gone… If you manage to restart the heart, which is what CPR attempts to do, you’ll gradually start to get the brain functioning again. The longer you’re doing CPR, those brain cell death pathways are still happening – they’re just happening at a slightly slower rate.”
Dr. Parnia has an ongoing study regarding what happens in people before they die. His own explanation of his research is quite beautiful, in a morbid kind of way.
In the same way that a group of researchers might be studying the qualitative nature of the human experience of ‘love’, we’re trying to understand the exact features that people experience when they go through death, because we understand that this is going to reflect the universal experience we’re all going to have when we die. (Big Think)
What does it mean
Everybody dies. I’m of the belief that death is just like before you were born. You’re blissfully unaware and unaffected by it because “you” don’t exist in any capacity.
We were born from star dust, and we will all eventually become star dust once again.
But… I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do with this information. There’s some level of comfort in knowing that things are over, that you are about to be no more. But there’s also a level of sheer terror in knowing that your life has ended, and being unable to move or do anything to change it.
Hopefully your existential dread hasn’t increased too much after reading this article.
h/t Big Think
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