According to a new study, brain activity may continue for over 10 minutes after one’s body appears to have died.
The influential psychologist and controversial counterculture icon, Dr. Timothy Leary, whose psychedelic experiments helped to shake up the cultural and social paradigm of the 60’s, had famously expressed his fascination and anticipation of this period of time after body death during which the brain was still alive, revealing in a 1996 Rolling Stone interview shortly before his death:
“It’s true that I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. The two minutes between body death and brain death, the two to 13 minutes there while your brain is still alive – that’s the territory. That’s the unexplored area that fascinates me. So I’m kind of looking forward to that.”
Canadian doctors in an intensive care unit have reportedly observed a person’s brain continuing to work even after they were declared clinically dead. The doctors confirmed their patient was deceased using an array of the normal observations, including the lack of a pulse and unreactive pupils. However, tests showed that the patients’ brain appeared to remain functional – experiencing the same kind of brain waves that are observed during deep sleep.
In a study that noted the findings could lead to new medical and ethical challenges, doctors reported that they had seen “single delta wave bursts persisted following the cessation of both the cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure (ABP)”. The findings have been published in a new study by a team from the University of Western Ontario.
Only one of the four people studied exhibited the long-lasting and mysterious brain activity, with activity in most patients dying off before their heart stopped beating. But all of their brains exhibited different behaviors in the minutes after they died – adding further mystery to what happens to them after death.
The doctors don’t know what the purpose of the activity might be, and caution against drawing too many conclusions from such a small sample. But they write that it is difficult to think the activity was the result of a mistake, given that all of the equipment appeared to be working fine.
Researchers had previously thought that nearly all brain activity terminated in one huge mysterious surge about a minute after death. But those studies were based on rats – and the research found no comparable effect in humans.
“We did not observe a delta wave within 1 minute following cardiac arrest in any of our four patients,” they write in the new study.
What happens to the body and mind after death remains almost entirely mysterious and unknown to scientists. Two other studies last year, for instance, demonstrated that genes appeared to continue functioning – and even function more energetically – in the days after people die.