Is The Brain Still Alive When You Die?!

Spooky, Spooky Neuroscience  

It’s Halloween (if you’re reading this apres-halloween then this’ll seem weird), which makes it the perfect opportunity to talk about something morbid and spooky. So we’ve jumped right in at the deep, squishy end with the topic of death and the brain. And you’re going to want to stick around to hear about this mind-blowing thing the brain does when you die (cue evil cackle).   

Long has the world battled with the question of what happens to us when we die. With some believing in an afterlife, reincarnation, nothingness and more, it’s quite exciting that neuroscientists are unveiling new findings which relate to consciousness after death.

The study that everyone has been talking about was done by Dr Sam Parnia and his team of scientists at Southampton University who have found evidence that awareness can continue for several minutes (up to 10!) after clinical death. This has astounded fellow scientists as it was previously thought to be impossible. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty details and analyse the findings scientifically:

Study name: 

AWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study


Sam Parnia, M.D., Ph.D – British associate professor of Medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center.


Many cardiac arrest survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many assumed this could be due to the traumatic experience of CPR (being brought back to life), however Sam Parnia and his gang of scientists found something never discovered before… 

We’re now going to dissect the study and translate their heavy scientific findings into something a little more digestible. Our version is in bold. 

Their Methods:

  • A 4-year observational study. 4 years of observing ongoing behavior without intervention from the researcher.
  • Using a quantitative and qualitative interview system. Looking for reasons why these findings were being discovered, whilst gaining usable stats to share with the world. 
  • “The feasibility of objectively testing the accuracy of claims of visual and auditory awareness was examined using specific tests.” They found out what the survivors saw and experienced and then examined their accuracy. 
  • “The outcome measures were (1) awareness/memories during CA and (2) objective verification of claims of awareness using specific tests.” They measured awareness and memories of the survivors using impartial specifically made tests. 

What They Found:

  • 140 cardiac arrest survivors completed stage 1 of interviews and 101 completed stage 2 interviews.
  • “46% had memories with 7 major cognitive themes: fear; animals/plants; bright light; violence/persecution; deja-vu; family; recalling events post-CA. 
  • 9% had NDEs (Near Death Experiences).
  • “2% described awareness with explicit recall of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ actual events related to their resuscitation.”
  • “One person had a verifiable period of conscious awareness during which time cerebral function was not expected.”

What They Concluded:

  • Cardiac arrest survivors “commonly experience a broad range of cognitive themes.”
  • 2% exhibited full awareness. 
  • This indicated that “consciousness may be present despite clinically undetectable consciousness.

What Does This Mean For Us? 

This is exciting stuff and highlights how little we actually know about the brain. Since these findings there have been further similar studies uncovering the incredible layers and abilities of our brains. So we anticipate 2020 will be a BIG one for neuroscience. For now, these findings offer a small window into something beyond that which scientists originally had presumed happened after death. Hold that thought, brain. 

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Sources Cited:

Maisie Bygraves

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