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New Study: Your Brain Knows You’re Dead After You Die

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Finding out what happens to your brain after you die has intrigued researchers for decades. Centuries even. In the past, researchers have had to rely on the recollection of patients who had near-death experiences, but those recollections are hard to substantiate. So a group of doctors decided to look beyond the patients for some answers.

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Dr. Sam Parnia and his team, located at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine, spoke to people who had medically died and were then revived by life-saving procedures. The study consisted of subjects who had died from cardiac arrest in the United States and Europe and was the largest study of its kind.

Parnia and his team documented the information they received from the patients about their experience while technically dead and then cross-referenced it with the doctors and medical personnel who were present at the time of the subject’s death.

“They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they’ll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them,” Parnia told Live Science.

These confirmed accounts of their deaths would seem to indicate that the brain knows you’ve died. Before this study, no one knew if the brain stopped working immediately upon death or if it was aware of what was happening after death.

To be clear, you are considered medically dead when your heart stops beating, and a part of your brain called the cerebral cortex does not produce any brainwaves. This part of the brain is commonly referred to as the “thinking part,” and can take anywhere from two to 20 seconds to flatline, according to the Daily Mail.

Television shows and movies often depict the spirit or consciousness leaving a person’s body during a life-after-death experience and then looking down at medical personnel who are working to revive them. It would seem these depictions are accurate as medical personnel did confirm the patient’s recollections in this study.

Brain activity after death has been recorded for varying lengths of time. According to the New York Post, a Canadian doctor recorded one subject’s active brain activity for over 10 minutes after death before it disappeared.

Dr. Parnia discussing the near-death experiences the team studied in the video below.