General, Research, Technology

Secrets of the brain: is euphoria really awaiting us before death?

Sooner or later you will die. We all will die. Everything that has a beginning has an end. This is an inevitable consequence of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics. Nevertheless, few people like to think about this alarming fact. The thought of one’s own death is hidden in the shadow of the unconscious, but one cannot completely get rid of it. But if death cannot be avoided, is it possible to find out what it really will be? Is it true that before death, all life flashes before your eyes and that while dying, a powerful release of endorphins and other chemicals occurs in the brain that give the dying people a feeling of euphoria?

Perhaps in the future, researchers will be able to find out what exactly we see before death and why

Abstract knowledge of the inevitability of one's owndeath can one day turn into a perceived reality - I will die! It is not known when and how, but in the end it will happen. Evolution has provided us with powerful defense mechanisms to combat the anticipation of our own demise - in particular, psychological suppression and religion. The first prevents us from consciously recognizing or reflecting on such an unpleasant truth, and the second reassures us by promising an endless life in heaven, an eternal cycle of rebirth or loading the mind into the Cloud - just like in the series Black Mirror.

Moreover, death does not have such dominance overother animals. At least there is no reliable evidence that monkeys, dogs, crows and bees have sufficient self-awareness to be bothered by the understanding that one day they will be gone. Thus, these protective mechanisms should have arisen in the recent evolution of hominids in less than 10 million years.

Anyone who is trying to understand death,he soon realizes that death is not well defined both scientifically and medically. Moreover, throughout the history of mankind, everyone knew what death is. When someone stopped breathing, and his heart beat, this meant that the person was dead. Death was a well-delineated point in time. However, everything has changed with the development of medicine and technology. Modern high-tech intensive care has separated the heart and lungs from the brain, which is responsible for the mind, thoughts and actions.

A huge number of people around the world believe in life after death

In response to these technological developments in 1968In the famous report of the Special Committee of the Harvard Medical School, the concept of death as an irreversible coma - loss of brain function - was introduced. This adjustment was officially adopted in 1981. The document defines death as an irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions or an irreversible cessation of brain function. It's simple - you are dead when your brain stops functioning. This definition is used today in most countries of the world. The vast majority of deaths occur after the cessation of cardiopulmonary activity and then the functioning of the brain. Neurological death - caused by an irreversible coma, lack of reactions or breathing - is rare outside the intensive care unit, where patients usually have head injuries or after an overdose of opioids. Brain death may be a determining factor, but it does not simplify clinical diagnosis - biological processes can persist even after brain death.

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  • 1 Why is biological death inevitable?
  • 2 What happens to the human body after death?
  • 3 What is it like to die?
  • 4 Is there an endorphin release before death?

Why is biological death inevitable?

Death creates space for new things. This statement is also true for the human body, which consists of billions of cells that divide every day and thus provide growth. Living organisms have a very effective method of killing excess or potentially dangerous cells, such as viruses or cancer cells: programmed cell death - when old cells are replaced by new, identical cells. But over time, cell division slows down and stops. The telomeres — the terminal sections of the chromosomes — are probably responsible for this: if telomeres are shortened by cell division, then eventually the cells stop dividing, as a result, old cells do not die. Today, scientists know that the shorter the telomeres, the faster the aging of the body. This happens even despite the existence of telomerase, an enzyme that can ensure continued cell division. The fact is that telomerase can also accelerate the development of cancer and for this reason the enzyme is active in only a few cells.

In fact, everything in our universe does not exist forever - even stars have their own life cycle

It turns out the process of physical agingends with the failure of several organs: the cardiovascular system, the lungs and the brain do not function. From a medical point of view, there are various types of death: “clinical death”, in which the cardiovascular system fails, the pulse and breathing cease, the organs are no longer supplied with oxygen and nutrients. In the event of clinical death, cardiopulmonary resuscitation is still possible and often successful. However, in the event of brain death, resuscitation is not possible.

What happens to a person’s body after death?

From the moment doctors diagnose death,organs can survive for some time without oxygen and nutrients. Only gradually cell division stops completely and then the cells die. If too many cells die, organs can no longer regenerate. The fastest reaction occurs in the brain, where cells die in three to five minutes. The heart can continue to beat for half an hour. As soon as the blood ceases to circulate, it sinks and forms “spots of death”. They can give the medical examiner information about the cause of death and the place of death.

Death happens not only with others. We just try not to think about it.

After two hours, posthumous rigidity sets in,because the body no longer produces a vital source of energy for cells. - adenosine triphosphate. Without it, the muscles become stiff. After a few days, this posthumous rigidity weakens again. The activity of the gastrointestinal tract completely stops only after two to three days, and the bacteria in it accelerate the decomposition of the body. Pathogens, however, remain dangerous for a long time. For example, hepatitis pathogens live for several days, and tuberculosis bacteria live for years. In total, the decomposition of the human body takes about 30 years.

What is it like to die?

Results from a study by Jimo Borjigin and hiscolleagues at the University of Michigan, published in PNAS, can help explain what happens in the brain just before death. During the study, scientists caused cardiac arrest in rats while measuring electrical activity in the brain using electroencephalography (EEG). What they discovered was amazing: before death, brain activity at a certain frequency, called the gamma range, more than doubled compared to when the animals were alive. For many years, gamma waves were considered a sign of consciousness of the human brain. It is believed that waves of activity in the gamma range appear when we indulge in memories and are aware of what is happening around us. But could rats be in such a conscious state just before death?

Unfortunately, the exact answer to this questiondoes not exist today. The fact is that correlation is not the same as causality. No matter how tempting it is to establish a connection between these bursts of neural activity and consciousness, there are at least two problems. First, we do not know whether rats perceive consciousness in the same way as we do. In addition, we do not know what kind of brain activity it is. Secondly, even if the rats are conscious, we cannot conclude that these bursts of activity reflect consciousness, proceeding only from brain activity.

Most likely, consciousness dies with the brain

But why does the brain arrange such a showjust before death? Does this reflect an attempt to understand unusual internal signals, or is it just a mechanism for overcoming stress? The researchers tried to exclude pain as an explanation of the results. During the study, they found the same bursts of activity when death occurred painlessly using carbon dioxide, rather than artificial cardiac arrest. However, to obtain accurate answers, it will probably be necessary to conduct similar studies in humans. One such approach is to record EEG in patients at the time of death.

Would you like to participate in such an experiment at the end of your life? Share your answer in the comments to this article and with the participants of our Telegram chat

Another approach may be tocause similar bursts of gamma activity in people at the time of wakefulness and check the level of consciousness. According to Cardiff University neurophysiologist Dave McGonagle of The Guardian, checking whether near-death experiences can be triggered by neurostimulation - through experiments that increase gamma-synchronization in humans - can be a confusion between correlation and causality.

Do endorphins release before death?

The actual moment of death is difficult to understand. However, according to the results of a recently published study, immediately before death, the amount of hormones and chemicals associated with stress in the body increases. These same chemicals are present in the body of sick people and cause inflammation. Given such a change in chemicals in the body, it can be assumed that immediately before death, a powerful release of endorphins can occur - chemicals that are responsible for pleasure and a sense of happiness. So, the results of a study conducted in 2011 showed that the level of serotonin, another chemical that is believed to also contribute to a sense of happiness, tripled in the brain of six rats at the time of their death. Thus, it cannot be ruled out that something like this could happen to people.

The brain is the most complex and poorly studied organ of the human body.

But what can cause euphoric feelings intime of death other than endorphins or other neurotransmitters? When the body ceases to function, brain activity also ceases. It is possible that the way this happens somehow affects what we experience at the time of death. American neuroanatomist Jill Bolt-Taylor in her speech at TED described the feeling of euphoria she experienced during her near-death experience as a result of an injury to the left hemisphere of the brain. It is also interesting that although the Bolt-Taylor injury was on the left side of the brain, the injury on the right side of the brain can also enhance the feeling of closeness and involvement in a higher power.

The process of dying is sacred torepresentatives of various religions, including for Buddhists who believe that the moment of death provides great potential for the mind. They see the transition from life to death as the most important event in life - the moment when a person transfers karma from this life to other lives. However, this does not mean that religious people experience more joyful experiences at the time of death. Ultimately, every death is unique and we cannot predict who and under what circumstances will leave this world.

And yet, the results of another study,published in the journal Psychological Science indicate that immediately before death, negative thoughts and fear are replaced by happy thoughts. Let's hope that the way it is.