There have been a number of theories – some based on religious principles, some on philosophical ones – about what happens to our “souls” when we die.
But scientists have largely rejected such claims, mostly because science relies principally on documentable and replicable proof. Now, when it comes to human consciousness after the body dies, that’s a different thing altogether.
With that in mind, a group of researchers at Southampton University in the United Kingdom recently conducted the largest-ever study about what happens to consciousness after death. The team has concluded that, while it is not known why or how, there nonetheless appears to be some consciousness and awareness for some time after physical death has occurred. That suggests consciousness and the body are intertwined in some fashion, but they may travel down a separate non-physiological path after what humans describe as death.
The research was lead by Dr. Sam Parnia, and the study has been published in the medical journal Resuscitation. The study involved more than 2,000 people who had suffered a cardiac arrest in the UK, United States and Austria.
‘The evidence suggests consciousness is not annihilated’
The results found that 40 percent of persons who survived a cardiac arrest were aware during the time they were clinically dead and before their hearts started beating once more.
“The evidence thus far suggests that in the first few minutes after death, consciousness is not annihilated. Whether it fades away afterwards, we do not know, but right after death, consciousness is not lost,” Parnia said.
“We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating,” he continued. “But in this case conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped.
“This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted,” Parnia further noted. “But not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.”
“Potentially reversible process”
“[T]hirty-nine per cent… described a perception of awareness, but did not have any explicit memory of events,” he said, suggesting that “more people may have mental activity initially but then lose their memories, either due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory recall.”
“One in five said they had felt an unusual sense of peacefulness while nearly one third said time had slowed down or speeded [sic] up,” the researcher continued, as quoted byBioethics.Georgetown.edu. “Some recalled seeing a bright light; a golden flash or the sun shining. Others recounted feelings of fear or drowning or being dragged through deep water. 13 per cent said they had felt separated from their bodies and the same number said their sense[s] had been heightened.”
In the end, Parnia said he believes that, “contrary to perception, death is not a specific moment, but a potentially reversible process that occurs after any severe illness or accident causes the heart, lungs and brain to cease functioning.”