‘Exciting’ new research could shed light on what happens to us after we die, according to scientists.
The new research may help explain the claims of those who have had near-death experiences.
Researchers at the University of Michigan observed four patients who died of cardiac arrest in the hospital while they were being monitored using EEG recordings — tests that measure the brain’s electrical activity.
The four patients were comatose and unresponsive on life support machines.
The scientists analyzed the patients before and after the life support machines were turned off.
Doctors said they had no access to medical help and they were removed from the machine with the family’s consent.
What did the scientists discover?
When doctors removed the ventilator, they found that two of the patients showed signs of increased heart rates and surges in gamma wave activity — the fastest type of brain activity associated with consciousness.
Both patients had previously had seizures, but no seizures were reported in the hour before their deaths.
This activity is located in the “hot zone” of neural correlates — the brain activity that corresponds to and is required to produce a particular experience — consciousness in the brain.
This is the junction between the temporal, parietal and occipital lobes in the back of the brain, an area that has been implicated in dreaming, visual hallucinations in people with epilepsy, and altered states of consciousness in other brain studies.
“Two of four patients exhibited rapid and pronounced surges in gamma energy, surges in cross-frequency coupling of gamma waves, slower oscillations, and increased interhemispheric functional and directional connectivity in the gamma band,” the study said .
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The team found that the other two patients did not show similar increases in heart rate or brain activity.
Similar gamma activation signatures were recorded in the dying brains of animals and humans during hypoxia following cardiac arrest.
A New Way to Understand Death Consciousness
Dr. Nusha Mihaylova, a clinical associate professor in the U-M Department of Neurology, acknowledged that the study did not detect this activity in everyone.
“We were unable to correlate the observed neural signatures of consciousness with corresponding experiences in the same patients in this study,” she said.
But she added: “However, what was observed is absolutely exciting and provides a new framework for our understanding of implicit consciousness in dying humans.”
Larger studies may provide key data to determine whether these bursts of gamma activity are evidence of hidden consciousness or even near death.
The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences