Consciousness After Death: Strange Tales From the Frontiers of Resuscitation Medicine

I saw this on yesterday. It's an interview with Dr. Sam Parnia, part of the AWARE study.

The Dr. describes death as a process that takes time and not an instantaneous moment. They have even devised methods chilling the body of a cardiac arrest patient where they can then preform surgery and revive that person in one instance 40 minutes after his heart stopped. He notes that in the body after a certain period of time, decay starts, and a person can no longer be revived, but that consciousness continues on for a few hours in a "hibernated state." Even though there is no measurable brain activity, independent studies have verified that a small percentage ( the AWARE study claims 10-20%) of cardiac arrests remember things that they shouldn't have been aware of if their brain had no activity showing that it was processing external stimuli.


Here's an excerpt:

Wired: How do we know after-death experiences happen when people think they do? Maybe people misremember thoughts from just before death, or just after regaining consciousness.

Parnia: That’s a very important question. Do these memories occur when a person is truly flatlined and had no brain activity, as science suggests? Or when they’re beginning to wake up, but are still unconscious?

The point that goes against the experiences happening afterwards, or before the brain shut down, is that many people describe very specific details of what happened to them during cardiac arrest. They describe conversations people had, clothes people wore, events that went on 10 or 20 minutes into resuscitation. That is not compatible with brain activity.

It may be that some people receive better-quality resuscitation, and that — though there’s no evidence to support it — they did have brain activity. Or it could indicate that human consciousness, the psyche, the soul, the self, continued to function.

Wired: Couldn’t the experiences just reflect some extremely subtle type of brain activity?

Parnia: When you die, there’s no blood flow going into your brain. If it goes below a certain level, you can’t have electrical activity. It takes a lot of imagination to think there’s somehow a hidden area of your brain that comes into action when everything else isn’t working.

These observations raise a question about our current concept of how brain and mind interact. The historical idea is that electrochemical processes in the brain lead to consciousness. That may no longer be correct, because we can demonstrate that those processes don’t go on after death.

There may be something in the brain we haven’t discovered that accounts for consciousness, or it may be that consciousness is a separate entity from the brain.


The question that's been eating at me is: how can the body form, process, and store memories when our the brain shows no measurable activity?

I'm curious to know your opinions.

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It begs a question in assuming it takes electrical activity all the way, neurons not nerves. By crude analogy were the mind the developing process for camera film the exposure would not generate anything. But as brain activity returned the exposure would be "processed." Crudely, while there is no brain activity the doctor steps the finger. The brain does not say ouch until it is active again.

When it comes to vision the optic nerve and eye motions do a lot of pre-processing before the brain gets to work with it.

Yes I know storing a time sequence of events to be observed by a reactivated brain is a serious question but I am not trying to produce a scientific explanation rather only to propose a possible mechanism which would fit the observation.


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