As if the afterlife weren’t mysterious enough, it just got even more mystifying: The largest study of its kind claims we’re all aware we’re dead in the first few moments, because our consciousness continues to function even after we’ve flatlined. Theoretically, this means you could hear yourself being pronounced dead as it happens.
The research, which was conducted at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine, examined people who were revived after having been pronounced dead due to cardiac arrest. A large chunk of the participants reported having been aware of their surroundings after they were pronounced dead, and a smaller percentage claimed they were able to hear full conversations and see things going on around them. For any nonbelievers, specific details from their accounts were verified by medical and nursing staff who were present at the patients’ time of death.
This research may lead us to take a hard look at how we define death. “Technically, that’s how you get the time of death — it’s all based on the moment when the heart stops,” researcher Sam Parnia tells The Independent. “Once that happens, blood no longer circulates to the brain, which means brain function halts almost instantaneously. You lose all your brain stem reflexes — your gag reflex, your pupil reflex, all that is gone.” But this study suggests we should redefine what it means to die, since our brains appear to keep chugging along even when blood no longer circulates to them (at least, momentarily).
While these findings are certainly interesting (and terrifying), it should be noted that they’re not conclusive. The men we spoke to about their back-from-the-dead experiences had no recollection of their death whatsoever:
“In mid-March, I was out for a group trail run north of San Diego when I collapsed. I have no memory of the next 36 hours, or even the event itself — the last thing I remember was pulling away from the house and sipping on my coffee in the car.”
But hey, maybe you’ll be one of the lucky (or unlucky — depending on how you look at it) ones who get to hear their own deaths. Yippee!