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Consciousness After Death: Can Near-Death Experience Explain it?

Consciousness after death is a mystery for all of us. And to learn more about this mystery, we need the accounts of actual cases who went through this experience.

But it isn’t an ordinary experience; it’s death! Have you ever thought anybody can go through death then come back to life?

I think we can agree it’s impossible; however, many people went through a near-death experience and returned to life.

Yes, it’s a horrible experience, but we still want to know how science can explain this phenomenon. And can we assume that there is something in common between a near-death experience and the first stage of death?

Consciousness After Death

What Is Death?

Scientists have various opinions about the definition of death: some of them use a traditional definition that defines death as cardiopulmonary dysfunction.  

While others suggest a new definition that depends mainly on neurological criteria:

  • Coma or lack of response

  • Lack of breath or inability to breathe without a ventilator

  • Absence of brainstem reflexes:

  • No eye movement after cold water flushing inside the ear
  • No cough after swabbing the throat or suctioning the bronchi
  • The absence of face grimacing after poking the nail bed


Brain Cell Death

As soon as the heart stops beating, it can’t pump any more blood to the other body organs, including the brain; so, the brain cells start to die—this process can take several hours to reach full brain cell death.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can give another chance for the heart to work again. And this can slow down the process of brain cell death; however, it does not guarantee brain recovery and the patient’s survival.

Dr. Sam Parnia said in an interview with live science: “Recent studies have shown that animals experience a surge in brain activity in the minutes after death.”  He also said, “People in the first phase of death may still experience some form of consciousness.”

It sounds strange that somebody may have some form of consciousness after death, but the delayed response of the brain cell death even after the loss of cardiac function may support this theory.

Near-Death Experience (NDE)

Some people have had Near-Death Experiences. They were about to die; they lost their consciousness, and their heart stopped working; however, they have returned to life again.

People who went through a near-death experience had different feelings: peacefulness, joy, and fear. And most of them felt that the time was either speeding up or slowing down. While others felt as if they were separated from their bodies. 

Some people remembered awful sensations, like dragging through deep water or drowning.

On the other hand, Kevin Nelson, a neurologist, has a unique point of view: he thinks those people didn’t pass through near-death experience as their brain was still alive and very active.

He explains this phenomenon as REM intrusion or REM sleep: it is a state of rapid and random eye movement, vivid dreams, loss of muscle tone, cortical activation, with visual and auditory hallucinations.  

In his opinion, there is nothing called a near-death experience, but it is just a loss of consciousness because of hypoxia.

According to Kevin Nelson’s opinion, we can’t compare a near-death experience to the first stage of death. And we can’t also predict whether there is some form of consciousness in the first stage of death or not.

To summarize, loss of cardiac function does not mean full brain cell death: it can take several hours to reach this stage. However, death will remain mysterious to all of us until we actually experience it!

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