What happens when we die? What science knows so far

Mariela de Diego Mariela de Diego Meteored Argentina 5 min
death in the movies
Scene from the movie “Ghost”. Cinema has often represented the experience of dying.

the question of death, in its final moment, has intrigued Man since the beginning of time. For thousands of years, philosophy, art and religion have tried to answer and represent what happens at the moment when we passed from life to death.

Of course, modern science is also trying to understand these big unknowns. Today we know that, in general, at the moment of death, we all lose consciousness in the same order: first we stop feeling hunger and thirstthen we lose the ability to speakthen we lost the vision. The last senses to disappear are hearing and touchand so many people, even if they seem unconscious, can still hear and feel what is going on around them in their final moments.

At the moment of death, we all lose consciousness in the same order: first we stop feeling hunger and thirstthen we lose the ability to speakand then the vision.

But also, with the advancement of imaging technology, scientific research can know very precisely what happens in the body and brain the moment we lost our lives. And surprisingly, some studies suggest that it wouldn’t be such an experience terrifying, as it was.

Teaching Rats and Psychedelia

In research at the University of Michigan in 2013, it was discovered that mice have an increase in brain activity shortly after experiencing “physical” death. And that the brain’s gamma waves are more synchronized than in the normal waking state. It was then deduced that, between clinical death and brain death, mice can experience “something”. The following questions were raised: what is ‘something’? And is it the same in humans?

Neuroscientist Chris Timmerman of Imperial College London led the research, in which two seemingly different experiences were compared. The hypothesis was that there may be similarities between what happens in the our brain when we die and the effects on consciousness induced by psychedelicsor DMT (Dimethyltryptamine), which causes hallucinogenic effects.

For the study, we compared reports of people who were clinically dead for a few moments and then came back to life. This is called a “Near-Death Experience”or NDE, for short.

mortal line
In the movie Mortal Line, a group of medical students experiment with the passage from life to death.

On the other hand, a group of volunteers received DMT, which produces effects on brain functions such as perception and cognition. During the experiment, their brain activity was measured and when they came back to reality, they were asked to describe the experience using the same verification tool used to assess near-death experiences.

And here’s the most interesting, because the descriptions of both experiences are identical.

Many people describe the moment as “a sense of peace, a state of unity with others and with the world”, a “state of transcendence in time and space”.

The brain activity detected in the scanners also proved appealing. The research leader said: “What we know now is that there appears to be a increased electrical activity. These gamma waves appear to be very pronounced and may be responsible for near-death experiences.” That is, according to this study, the near-death experience would turn out to be surprisingly similar to the effects of a powerful hallucinogen.

Questions are still openbut science is obstinate. “It’s very interesting what’s happening today with brain scans and how we can decipher what goes on in it. There are brain scanners to be done on people where you can reproduce, if they’re watching a movie, what kind of movie they’re watching,” Timmerman explained.

If humanity has ever wondered what it would be like to fly, or to set foot on the moon, it is likely that soon the passage of life to death also ceases to be a mystery. So finally you can no longer be so distressing to know that we are leaving.

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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