Don't be afraid. Scientists looked into the brain of a dying person – there is only peace and euphoria
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Researchers believe that they have managed to get closer to understanding why people experience peace at the time of death.
Facing death seems terrifying, yet near-death survivors (NDEs) typically describe their experience as a moment when they felt peaceful, comfortable, and even calm. Scientists have been struggling for years to unravel what happens to us at the time of death and it seems that they are finally getting close to solving it, writes Science Alert.
One might assume that this sense of peace is our brain's way of coming to terms with the fact that it is dying. However, it is possible that something more complex is actually happening. A group of near-death scientists at the University of Virginia have several theories about the physiological changes that occur in our brains when cells die.
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According to Bruce Grayson, professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences, NDE research is complicated by the fact that it is literally impossible to study them in real time. That is, in fact, researchers are forced to rely on stories, memories, and only in some cases, on animal studies, to understand how the brain changes after a near-death experience and how this can be useful for future medicine.
What looks like clinical death
When asked to describe their near-death experience, people tend to remember seeing:
- the faces of loved ones;
- a bright light at the end of the tunnel;
- a feeling of leaving one's body;
- “hovering” above one's body;
- a feeling of being sucked into a tunnel with light at the end;
- a spiritual encounter with a higher being, aliens, or lost loved ones.
Researchers note that near-death experiences have two sides of the coin: physical and psychological. Physically, it is usually associated with extremely painful sensations, such as a head injury, heart attack, or respiratory arrest. But psychologically, the brain, on the contrary, tends to turn off the sensation of pain, at least the memory of it. That is why NDE survivors rarely report pain.
Many of these phenomena cannot be explained by science, but in 2022 something amazing happened – scientists obtained a brain scan of a dying person, which shed light on some of the events that happen to us at the time of death, and which we knew nothing about.
Scanning the brain of a dying person
Back in 2016, an 87-year-old patient was hooked up to an electroencephalogram (EEG) when he suddenly had a heart attack and died. An EEG measures the electrical signals that the brain produces, which can help diagnose and investigate certain neurological conditions, such as seizures or memory loss.
Then the researchers observed the patient to investigate a series of recent seizures, then the patient's heart suddenly stopped, and in the hands of the scientists were invaluable data. The researchers found that a heart attack was preceded by a 15-second period of high-frequency brain waves (gamma waves) thought to play a role in creating and retrieving memories.
According to study co-author Dr. Jamal Zemmar, it is extremely difficult to make any statements based on just one case, but it can be argued that scientists have evidence of signals immediately before death and immediately after cardiac arrest, similar to those that occur in healthy people during periods daydreaming, remembering, or meditating.
These findings may help explain why post-NDE people often report seeing the faces of loved ones, Grayson said.
What clinical death does with a brain
In their study, the researchers also scanned the EEG of people who were trying to remember their near-death experiences. These observations also provide researchers with many clues. For example, researchers have found that at this moment the human brain “shows increased activity” in several parts at once – those associated with memory, vision, hearing and emotions.
According to Louis David San Filippo National University doctor, the temporal lobe is thought to be associated with out-of-body experiences and near-death memories. This, according to the scientist, led some researchers to believe that near-death experiences are, in fact, just biological and chemical reactions to the dying of the brain.
Scientists also conducted an experiment on rats, which showed that near-death ” “positive” experience may be due to the release of serotonin in the brain – in this way, scientists believe, our brain can prepare the body for death, giving us a feeling of euphoria and relieving pain.
Some researchers, including San Filippo, believe that near-death experiences are essentially as much biological as they are spiritual. Scientists note that regardless of age and culture, NDE survivors tell essentially the same story, with slight differences depending on cultural and spiritual beliefs. This, according to scientists, may indicate that this experience occurs outside our brain.
Researchers note that the study of near-death experiences is extremely difficult, and therefore difficult predict how it might develop in the future. However, researchers believe that understanding these processes can help develop new ways to treat terminally ill people, as well as help their loved ones.
Scientists believe that by understanding what exactly causes this peace and euphoria before death in people, researchers could use this to develop powerful therapies for people who are confused. In addition, this will make death less “mysterious”, and therefore less “terrifying”.