Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Mystery of Life and Death

"We can then look at survivors and see if they can recall any of these stimuli, and when they were able to receive information, and how that relates to their brain resuscitation quality."
"What happened to this person's mind and consciousness, this sweet human being that I was talking to just a half an hour ago? Is he conscious? Is he able to see us, hear us? When did he lost it, if he did lose his consciousness?:

"Transcendental mystical or spiritual experiences close to death have been described for millennia. The problem with all those studies are that none of them are causative -- none of them show you how brain cells could possibly generate a thought, which is the fundamental problem of consciousness."
"Why would my brain cells, millions of them connected together, suddenly feel guilty, or have a sentiment of guilt, like if I were to throw a brick in my neighbour's window, or be rude to somebody or do something immoral?"
"Yet, paradoxically, what we started to see is that millions of people have now been resuscitated, and many of them have reported these very lucid, well-structured thought processes [able to to form memories, describe conversations and what people were wearing] Except that their brain has shut down and they've gone through death. Which is completely a paradox, it should not happen."
"We're all conscious, thinking beings. Everything we do starts with consciousness. Yet we don't know fundamentlaly where it comes from."
Dr. Sam Parnia, author, AWARE, awareness during resuscitation, resuscitation specialist, NYU Langone Medical Center
Cornelia Li for National Post

"If you take that organ [the brain] away or kill that organ or that organ dies, you cannot be conscious. [While there is no identified conscious centre of the brain, nothing to point to and claim] 'there, that's where it all happens."
"And I know of no case in the literature of a brain dead patient coming back."
Adrian Owen, neuroscientist, Western University

"Serotonin in particular was very high [in dying brains]. We know that the serotonin is associated with hallucinations and other mental functions."
"But the part that is at least partly responsible for conscious information processing is actually increased tremendously in the dying brain [for 30 seconds at least]."
Jimo Borjigin, associate professor, University of Michigan Medical School
Dr. Parnia believes that human consciousness may very well go on even after our heart stops beating for an undetermined period of time. He has taken the testimony of many people whose detailed descriptions of their out-of-body-at-death experience he gives credence to. A man, for example who suffered a cardiac arrest, and his brain "flatlined", with no sign of brain activity of any meaning. He described someone beckoning to him from the ceiling, and then the next second, "I was up there, looking down at me", a corpse, surrounded by doctors, nurses.

He witnessed his blood pressure being taken, a doctor placing something down his throat, saw a nurse pumping on his chest. He described the people, the sounds and the events of his eventual "resurrection". The man experienced conscious awareness for three to five minutes in the absence of detectable brain activity, "When no human experience should be happening whatsoever", stated Dr. Parnia, who cited the case in his study published in 2014 called AWARE.

According to Dr. Parnia, who has made himself an expert on the phenomenon, evidence from AWARE along with other related studies brings in the possibility that the mind or consciousness; the psyche, the "self", the spirit that reflects our uniqueness may not originate after all in the brain as popularly imagined as reality, but may rather reflect a separate, as yet-undiscovered scientific entity. Modern science at the present time lacks the tools required to demonstrate this, that when we die, what we name consciousness or the self does not become "immediately annihilated".

Dr. Parnia is not religious, he is not looking for proof of an afterlife; he and others who believe as he does are attempting to discover improved methods whereby the brain can be saved to avoid "disorders of consciousness", such as that which afflicted a Florida woman who suffered massive brain damage which resulted in a permanent vegetative state following a cardiac arrest. He is also searching for a method whereby he can test the accuracy of fantastical claims of near-death experiences with the use of objectively scientific approaches.

He plans to measure, second by second, oxygen levels inside the brain through a planned study of 1,500 people in cardiac arrest when a "code" is called so participating researchers, once alerted can dispatch themselves to resuscitation rooms with backpacks carrying portable brain oxygen monitoring devices. A portable EEG will measure whether the brain is functioning, and patients will be fitted with wireless headphones where random words and sounds will be transmitted and images beamed upwards as people undergo CPR.

The ultimate goal is to understand the optimal brain oxygen levels to be targeted by doctors during cardiac arrest and CPR to be able to optimize survival and bring a whole person back from cardiac arrest, with intact brain and mind and full functionality for their living future. This reflects advances in resuscitation where death can be reversed in those who have lacked a pulse for hours. Even greater numbers of people could be brought back across the death threshold, believes Dr. Parnia, if more hospitals implemented advanced techniques; chilling bodies to protect the brain, or using automated mechanical devices for chest compressions beyond what a human could perform.

Most people ultimately die of cardiac arrest, irrespective of how it has come about; the drop of blood pressure, the heart's inability to pump sufficient blood to supply the body, the heart eventually stops, respiration stops, electrical activity to the brain stops, and the brain flatlines. Studies suggest that six to 23 percent of cardiac arrest survivors report having clear memories fitting the parameters of a near-death experience. From a functional perspective, the moment the heart stops, the brain shuts down, said Dr. Parnia; even so, people become resuscitated, they form memories, describe conversations, "Except that their brain has shut down and they've gone through death".

The notion of a soul or mind existing separate from the body, charge his detractors is absurd. "I thought to myself, we can probably figure this [conundrum of brain-mind and near-death phenomenon] out in, like, a year, year-and-a-half of research", muses Dr. Parnia. He's still struggling with it after twenty years, with no end in sight, but opportunities to conduct further research, looking for that elusive "eureka!" moment of discovery.

Cornelia Li for National Post

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