August 13, 2013

"Brains Of Dying Rats Yield Clues About Near-Death Experiences."

 "Just after the rats' hearts stopped, there was a burst of brain activity. Their brain suddenly seemed to go into overdrive, showing all the hallmarks not only of consciousness but a kind of hyperconsciousness."
"We found continued and heightened activity... Measurable conscious activity is much, much higher after the heart stops — within the first 30 seconds.... That really just, just really blew our mind. ... That really is consistent with what patients report"....
I thought this was already well known, but I guess euthanizing rats and getting this data is new. Still, were the scientists' minds actually blown? Isn't this what they expected? Wouldn't it have been more mind-blowing if there hadn't been a brain activity burst — because that's what would support the supernatural interpretation of the near-death experiences reported by human beings?

IN THE COMMENTS: Hagar asks: "Why is euthanizing used as a euphemism for killing?" Yeah, euthanasia is killing to spare the animal pain. These rats were killed just to watch them die, like Johnny Cash and that man in Reno, except Johnny Cash didn't have electrodes implanted in the man's brain, nor did he seriously collect and analyze data or shake our beliefs in the existence of heaven and hell.

25 comments:

Moose said...

"The Drowned God"...

Greg said...

Wouldn't it have been more mind-blowing if there hadn't been a brain activity burst — because that's what would support the supernatural interpretation of the near-death experiences reported by human beings?

And the burst in brain activity couldn't have anything to do with the supernatural? Why is that? The rats were dead, after all.

Lem said...

First step, first base, first black president...

Skyler said...

Hyper activity doesn't imply intelligent activity. That the brain spasms on shutting down is hardly surprising, and that the brain interprets this upon resuscitation as something supernatural is not indicative that it is supernatural.

gregq said...

It's surprising, because the brain is losing access to resources, but getting more active. Not the expected behavior. (If you block blood flow to the brain, people immediately faint, bringing them level, making it easier for blood to get to the brain.)

What makes you think that a "supernatural" near-death experience wouldn't have a physiological component?

traditionalguy said...

It must be science day. Dying rats and horny female monkies have been studied and they confirm our deepest political biases are correct. That takes real talent.

bpm4532 said...

It would be interesting to have the rats tell us what they saw, but it's interesting to me that the story of near death experience is relatively consistent among those who experience it. I'm not sure what that would be the case and I don't see the article explaining as a mere shutting down.

Inga said...

Until the rats can be killed, then revived and then taught to speak, we won't learn anything more from this research except that there is high intensity activity that occurs in the dying brain. Too bad, I'd love to know if the rats went to an animal heaven of sorts.

Ann Althouse said...

"What makes you think that a 'supernatural' near-death experience wouldn't have a physiological component?"

I didn't mean to imply that I think that. I'm talking about what would surprise the scientists and trying to understand why the expressed surprise.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Makes perfect sense. And they should not have been surprise.

I would guess that, just as in dreams, the unconscious tries, with only some success, to 'make sense' of memories, providing as it does so the dream narrative - so also with the near death experience.

We have an explosion of activity after the heart stops, and the unconscious tries, with only some success, to form it into a narrative, 'religious' if the person was so.

Hagar said...

Why is euthanizing used as a euphemism fot killing?

Matthew Sablan said...

"And the burst in brain activity couldn't have anything to do with the supernatural? Why is that?"

-- Definitional. If there is a natural explanation for the burst in brain activity, then it is not super natural. God, for example, could cause something to happen using purely scientific/naturalistic methods (a sort of Rube Goldberg miracle, if you would), but that still isn't "super" natural. It is the difference between walking on water because, for lack of a better term, magic, and using some scientific device to do the same.

Ann Althouse said...

"Definitional. If there is a natural explanation for the burst in brain activity, then it is not super natural...."

But there's also the argument that the person is entering heaven and that's what the brain is reacting to. Just as seeing something in regular life activates things in the brain, this is an exterior event that lights up the brain.

Alternatively, the brain is reacting to what it perceives occurring within the body.

Mitch H. said...

Actually, that is surprising. I seem to remember that previously the physical explanation/argument for near-death experiences relied on the idea that the brain was shutting down, connections winking out, that sort of thing. It was used to explain the tunnel phenomenon as a stretching, the bright-light thing being a loss of mental resolution and decay. If there's actually a burst of activity and the near-death experience is an imaginative response to an excess of activity, that's the opposite of the previous conception.

(Connie Willis's Passage was a great illustration of the previous conceit, using the metaphor of the dying protagonist racing around a mental Titanic slowly flooding.)

n.n said...

The underlying order of the universe, and human life, is chaotic. With death there is a loss of coherence and the process follows a divergent path.

cubanbob said...

While no doubt interesting and maybe true of humans it doesn't account for NDE experiences of people who recalled with great accuracy details of what was going on durring the resuscitation process long after any brain function is possible. Sam Parnia has written a book about his research of NDE durring cardiac arrest and about NDE after there could be no biological basis for higher brain function. Absent some other alternative process for neuronal activity there is no current biological explanation for NDE that occur after apparent neuronal activity ceases.

Nihimon said...

"Euthanize" means to kill without pain. There's a common connotation of doing so to end suffering, but that's not part of the real meaning of the word. I think it's an appropriate word in this context.

Seeing Red said...

Dad had a heart attack in middle age and had a near-death experience.

He had no fear after this, didn't mind going, it was very peaceful. Then he heard a voice telling him it wasn't his time yet. He got another 20 years.

Rick67 said...

This scientific finding plays a key role in the science-fiction novels of Dan Simmons, Endymion and Rise of Endymion.

Don't want to give away too much of the story-line. Let's just say there's a civilization of artificial intelligences (non-human) who figure out that they can make use of human brains to increase their computing power, and not only that they can significantly increase this computing power by killing human beings on a regular basis.

Michael K said...

I've had a couple of trauma patients who had "near death" experiences. I can't explain them. Maybe hallucinations. One kid was able to describe what we did in the trauma room as though he was looking down on us from above. Maybe it was from a TV show but maybe not. I'm agnostic.

Paul said...

Could it be the great increase in brain activity is the soul departing?

Makes you wonder.

ILow said...

Luminarium, by Alex Shakar, explores some of the more modern scientific interpretations of near-death experiences fairly nicely, as a complement to the old-school science of Passage.
This is one of those times where I wish the actual paper was open to the public--it'd be nice to cut through the fluff and read what the scientists had to say in full.

Fred said...

Agatha's law: Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science.

JAM said...

When you turn off a radio and hear the music for a few more seconds, that's capacitors and inductors in the circuitry dumping their energy as a result of the change (stopping) of the current. (EE 101 class)

I'd think that since our brains are highly electrical, there is something similar going on when the body dies.

Probably what is happening is the brain's equivalent of capacitors and inductors resisting the change in current by dumping their energy as in physical electrical devices made by men, hence the "furious" activity the instance(s) after death.

When you turn off the radio, the components release their stored energy to try to counteract the loss of them receiving continued energy, but as the radio stays off, we just hear the music fade over a period of a few seconds.

But believe me, those capacitors and inductors are FURIOUSLY dumping energy there at the end.

My $0.02

ELECTROSONIX said...

Its not proven that the rats saw a tunnel or had an NDE. So thats a big huge leap to say it parallels NDErs. Also with NDE studies, doctors are interested in the accounts from the people who have brain activity "flatlined" not the opposite. Brains flooding with DMT at death is folklore and whenever you rule out one chemical claimed to produce NDE the skeptics go oh well its ketamine or its oxygen deprivation or its this or that. The fact is we dont know for sure whats going on accept that millions of people are reporting these experiences and the experiences have common themes. Despite the cultural interpretations from various people of differing backgrounds there are commonalities. Differences are in interpretations of the experience. And often times hard for people to put in words to describe accurately. For example atheists may refer to encountering a light being while a christian might refer to the same encounter as being with Jesus. The stories are rich and meaningful unlike a psychodelic trip and these experiences are life changing and sometimes the NDE'r will learn things they didnt previously know of their family history, events surrounding the surgical procedure or events that happened whiile they were "dead" or could otherwise not know.