Does conscious awareness or ‘soul’ exist after clinical death? The consciousness or ‘soul’ can’t yet be explained scientifically. Cultures and civilizations across the world have tried to explain the phenomenon of death and the ‘soul’ for thousands of years. Outside of spiritual and religious beliefs, many scientific reports see the possibility of conscious awareness or the soul being separate from the human brain and physical body. Our brain might be an interface between the mind and consciousness. The brain can just act like a modem, the computer being the physical body and the internet being the spiritual realm for consciousness or soul.
What happens after death?
To this date, there is a debate on what triggers ‘Near Death Experiences, NDEs’ and ‘Out of Body Experiences, OBEs’ in patients who were resuscitated after being pronounced dead. The consistent and detailed reports of near-death experiences (NDEs) include experiencing a bright white light, a tunnel, a celestial landscape, deceased relatives, a life review, an overwhelming feeling of peace and joy, and, in some cases, floating out of the body or out-of-body experiences.
When there is no pulse, heartbeat and active brain function, how do people revived after cardiac arrest form vivid memories, complex thoughts, and in some cases, detailed descriptions of objects and events through out-of-body experiences while being presumed dead?
Despite being deemed clinically unconscious at the time, people experience watching their unconscious body along with events unfolding from the corner of the room. They can give accurate depictions of the activities, people, and sounds at the time when they have no heartbeats. Details of such accounts are often verified by the medical staff present at the time.
What happens when soul leaves the body?
Majority of people who experience near-death experiences after cardiac arrest describe a feeling of serenity, peacefulness, and joy that they have never experienced before. The peace and warmth of love is so strong that they resent being revived.
Modern science has no explanation for NDEs and OBEs, or in-the-brain consciousness. Through scientific methods, it is possible to understand neuronal signals, synaptic transmissions and other brain functions, but it can’t explain conscious awareness, free will, inner life, qualitative characters of sensation ‘qualia’, subjective nature of experiences, feelings and awareness. Since it is not possible to scientifically explain consciousness in the brain, NDEs, OBEs and after-death consciousness are disregarded as hallucinations.
Consciousness after death
To provide anesthesia, Anesthesiologists use high-frequency synchronized electroencephalography (EEG) in the gamma range to estimate the depth of anesthesia and prevent patients from unintendingly becoming conscious during surgical procedures.
The ‘BIS’ or ‘SEDline’ brain monitor are used to record and processes EEG to produce a digital ‘bispectral index’, or BIS number on a scale of 0 to 100.
- BIS number of 0 equals EEG silence (No conscious or awareness)
- BIS number of 100 (Full conscious or awareness)
BIS number between 40 and 60 is recommended for a level of general anesthesia by the manufacturer.
Researchers have used EEG monitors to study the brains of dying patients to record brain activity near the moment of death. The results reveal unexplained brain activity after the heart stopped beating.
In a study, seven critically ill patients were withdrawn from the life support system to allow them to die naturally in peace. As part of the end-of-life care protocol, the patients were monitored with a BIS or SEDline brain monitor. While on life support, the patients had normal brain functioning, with BIS or SEDline numbers near 40 or higher.
After the withdrawal of life support, at the time of cardiac death, the BIS/SEDline generally decreased below 20. Post-cardiac death, in all 7 patients’ BIS or SEDline spiked to between 60 and 80 (in most cases) or even higher. The activity lasted from 1 minute to 20 minutes and then dropped abruptly to near zero. In one patient, raw SEDline data analysis revealed the brain activity to be apparent gamma synchrony (conscious awareness) after cardiac death.
In another study, three critically brain-injured patients (technically not brain-dead) were removed from the life support system. Prior to the withdrawal of ventilatory support, two patients had BIS numbers of 40 or lower, with one patient had BIS number near zero. At the time of cardiac death, the BIS number spiked to approximately 80 in all three cases and stayed there for 30 to 90 seconds. The number then abruptly dropped to near zero.
There are many more such studies on near-death patients to suggest that the brain activity measured after cardiac death might correlate with NDEs/OBEs or signify the soul leaving the body. Since all the patients died, it cannot be said with conformity that such experiences occurred.
The mystery, however remains as to how any activity occurs in brain tissue that resembles consciousness when the brain is metabolically dead and receiving no oxygen or blood. After the heart stops beating, the BIS and SEDline numbers, indicators to signify awareness, are almost zero. Then, a burst of synchronized, coherent bi-frontal brain activity raises the BIS and SEDline numbers near 80, the activity persists for a minute or more. Then it abruptly ceases.
Research suggests such NDEs and OBEs occur due to low oxygen levels in the brain (ischemic/hypoxic brain) when the heart stops beating. But hypoxic/ischemic patients are usually confused and agitated. They can’t recollect events due to deprived higher brain functioning and don’t form memories. Excess extracellular potassium and associated last-gasp neuronal spasms throughout the brain can’t explain synchronized global coherence. Calcium-induced neuronal death and associated neuron finding can’t be the cause of NDEs and OBEs because they can’t explain bifrontal brain activity.
Possibility of life after death
Consciousness, when viewed with quantum mechanical phenomena, such as quantum entanglement (quantum particles separate but still remain mysteriously connected. Albert Einstein called it ‘spooky action at a distance’), quantum superposition (particles can exist in multiple locations or states simultaneously), quantum coherence (multiple quantum particles can condense to a unified state), can help understand the brain function of consciousness. A quantum mind has the potential to scientifically answer the potential of the afterlife and phenomenon of soul. It opens the possibility that after death the soul or conscious leaves the body and remains active in quantum space-time.
Brain activity at the time of death and associated NDEs and OBEs bring spiritual satisfaction. Patients that experienced NDEs become more kind, loving, and empathic. They understand the purpose and inner meaning of life. They don’t fear death and appreciate the people around them. Even scientists skeptical of NDEs agree to its beneficial effects on survivors.
The people whose loved ones passed away due to sudden heart failure can think of a strong possibility that during their last moments, they remembered them briefly, relived the happy memories, and felt peace.
Hunaid Germanwala is a digital marketer and content creator at Health Products For You since 2014. He has an MS from Ulm University in Germany. His mind is always buzzing with creative ideas and is eager to explore new perspectives. His motto in life is “Better to Light the Candle than to Curse the Darkness.”