Scientist: Mind Continues After Brain Dies
June 29 — A British scientist studying heart attack
patients says he is finding evidence that suggests consciousness may continue
after the brain has stopped functioning and a patient is clinically dead.
The research, presented to scientists last week at the California
Institute of Technology (Caltech), resurrects the debate over whether there
is life after death and whether there is such a thing as the human soul.
"The studies are very significant in that we have a group of people
with no brain function ... who have well-structured, lucid thought processes
with reasoning and memory formation at a time when their brains are shown
not to function," Sam Parnia, one of two doctors from Southampton General
Hospital in England who have been studying so-called near-death experiences
(NDEs), told Reuters in an interview.
"We need to do much larger-scale studies, but the possibility is certainly
there" to suggest that consciousness, or the soul, keeps thinking and reasoning
even if a person's heart has stopped, he is not breathing and his brain activity
is nil, Parnia said.
He said he and colleagues conducted an initial yearlong study, the results
of which appeared in the February issue of the journal Resuscitation. The
study was so promising the doctors formed a foundation to fund further research
and continue collecting data.
During the initial study, Parnia said, 63 heart attack patients who were
deemed clinically dead but were later revived were interviewed within a week
of their experiences.
Of those, 56 said they had no recollection of the time they were unconscious
and seven reported having memories. Of those, four were labeled NDEs in that
they reported lucid memories of thinking, reasoning, moving about and communicating
with others after doctors determined their brains were not functioning.
Among other things, the patients reported remembering feelings of peace,
joy and harmony. For some, time sped up, senses heightened and they lost
awareness of their bodies. The patients also reported seeing a bright light,
entering another realm and communicating with dead relatives. One, who called
himself a lapsed Catholic and Pagan, reported a close encounter with a mystical
Near-death experiences have been reported for centuries but in Parnia's study
none of the patients were found to have received low oxygen levels, which
some skeptics believe may contribute to the phenomenon.
Skeptics have also suggested that patients' memories occurred in the moments
they were leaving or returning to
consciousness. But Parnia said when a brain is traumatized by a seizure or
car wreck a patient generally does not remember moments just before or after
losing consciousness. Rather, there is usually a memory lapse of hours or
"With cardiac arrest, the insult to the brain is so severe it stops the brain
completely. Therefore, I would expect profound memory loss before and after
the incident," he added.
Since the initial experiment, Parnia and his colleagues have found more than
3,500 people with lucid memories that apparently occurred at times they were
thought to be clinically dead. Many of the patients, he said, were reluctant
to share their experiences fearing they would be thought crazy.
The brain itself is made up of cells, like all the body's organs, and is
not really capable of producing the subjective phenomenon of thought that
people have, he said.
Parnia speculated that human consciousness may work independently of the
brain, using the gray matter as a mechanism to manifest the thoughts, just
as a television set translates waves in the air into picture and sound.
"When you damage the brain or lose some of the aspects of mind
or personality, that doesn't necessarily mean the mind is being produced
by the brain. All it shows is that the apparatus is damaged," Parnia said,
adding that further research might reveal the existence of a soul.