Entry 756: Dead Brain

So a study at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine has found that people have a sudden burst of brain activity at the exact moment they die. These findings seem to confirm the results of a previous study with rats at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (motto: “You don’t have to be in New York to have rats.”) which concluded, “the fingerprints of neural consciousness at near-death is at a much higher level compared to the waking state.”

I don’t know about you, but I find these revelations to be very disconcerting. I think they mean that your brain functions better just before you die than it has your whole life.

What the hell is that all about? You’re laying there on the hospital bed, and all of the sudden you think, “Eureka! The answer to perpetual energy!” and then you flatline? That would be like Paul Ryan saying, “You know, Trump really is an idiot” on the day he leaves office. It’s a good thought, but you’re no longer in a position to do anything about it.

You spend your whole life slogging along on 10% of your brain, watching Fixer Upper while you scan your iPad to see what the Kardashians are up to, and then, when you’re on your deathbed, you turn into Stephen Hawking? Which makes me wonder: what sort of world-changing idea did Stephen Hawking come up seconds before he died?

Scientists think this brain activity might be the cause of the near-death experiences that are often reported by people who have been technically dead for a couple of minutes. About 5-10 percent of such patients describe experiences like being out-of-body; going through a tunnel or on a river toward a warm light; seeing lost loved ones; and being told it’s not time to go yet.

I’m sure my loved ones will tell me it’s not time to go yet. My wife does that now. “It’s not time to go yet,” she’s always saying to me. “We’ll be early.” What can I say? I like to be punctual.

Past research has revealed that these near-death experiences are more vivid than real life, which also bothers me. It sounds like you live your life in a fog, only to have this sudden moment of clarity . . . and then you flatline.

And none of the studies explicitly say this, but I’d guess this brain surge is a temporary thing. There are no reports that the folks (and the rats, I suppose) who are brought back from the brink are any smarter than they were before. The Trump supporter who has a heart attack, gets this gush of gray matter activity and is paddled back to life won’t wake up and say, “Teachers with guns? That doesn’t sound very logical.”

Seriously–how can you go on living after your short-lived death knowing you had that one brilliant moment before being revived and reverting to your usual level of stupidity? It’s like that movie Charly, where an experiment turns Cliff Robertson into a genius, but then the effect wears off, and he turns back into a regular actor (but not a real person).

Of course, the “Stephen Hawking Deathbed Effect,” a phrase that I just coined and want credit for in future scientific papers, probably wouldn’t result in any groundbreaking ideas. I don’t think our minds work that way. Let’s say our brains do rev up before our death. Just because it’s now firing on all cylinders (or at least more cylinders), does that mean it will think about different things? Or will it just think better about the same things? If you don’t know anything about physics, you’re not going to prove string theory before you die, right? It’s more likely, if you’re suddenly Einstein for a minute or two, that you’ll come to understand how the entire internet seemed to know you were interested in purchasing a new washer/dryer.

I suspect if it was me, my pre-death burst of brain activity would result in a shining neon sign that said, “You forgot to turn off the coffee machine!”

And then I would flatline.

See you soon.

P.S. As an aside, how did folks show someone having an idea before light bulbs were invented?

P. P.S. As readers of this blog know, my sister-in-law died recently after a long, cruel battle with cancer, and it would be nice to think she had one last hyper-vivid revelation before she passed away. Perhaps the answer to a question that had always bugged her, or an image that let her know her children and husband would be fine, or something else that gave her some degree of peace. Maybe a vision of the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup.

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