What happens when we die? Obviously, it's difficult to talk to someone who is dead, but those who have been close or been brought back from the brink describe a very similar scenario.

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People of all nationalities and faiths talk about their life flashing before their eyes and a bright light. Thanks to a Michigan group of researchers and 4 dying patients, we may now have evidence of what the brain experiences moments before death and how it may be perceived by those in the last seconds of their life.

How Michigan Researchers Were Able to Capture the Moment of Death

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In order to conduct a study on the moment of death, the University of Michigan researchers had to sort through thousands of medical records to find 4 people who had died while having their brains monitored via EEG. In each case, the person's family had made the decision to turn off their loved ones' life support and allow them to die of cardiac arrest.

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Of the 4, 2 showed an increase in heart rate as well as a surge of gamma wave activity. This type of fast triggering of neurons is associated with dreaming, hallucinations, and altered states of mind. The burst lasted for a few minutes and would vary in intensity. Borjigin and his team were unable to confirm if the patients had any visions. Several years ago, the same U of M team studied the cardiac arrest brain activity in rats and found that they have a surge of electrical activity too.

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Similar studies have been conducted to determine whether these gamma surges are pointing to proof of a hidden consciousness or even a near-death experience.

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The other 2 patients had a history of suspected epilepsy, which may have permanently altered their brains.

Is it a Near Death Experience, or the Brain Dying?

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Some experts think these experiences are just illusions people have as they recover in the hospital. Though he finds the U of M studies findings interesting, Dr. Sam Parnia of New York University (NYU) argues that the surge of gamma waves could a result of falling oxygen levels in the brain, which may impact its ability to naturally 'brake' certain types of brain activity. Parnia explained to New Scientist:

This allows for the activation of normally dormant pathways, which are seen as transient electrical spikes. The braking systems that require energy are lost. The findings provide additional evidence for awareness in some people who are otherwise thought to be unconscious at the end of life.

A consensus may never be reached, but one thing remains certain: we as a human race will continue to ponder what happens when and after we die.

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