No matter who you are, where you’re from, what you do, or how much money you make, death will eventually touch you. Since the dawn of time, humans have pondered their own mortality. We await the fateful day when our lives will be over . . . and it will happen in an instant.
Have you thought about what it will be like to experience the moment of death?
Science has a lot to say about the termination of our human consciousness—the moment we expire. Through modern tools and research, we can peer more deeply into what death is and what the experience is like for the subject.
Ambiguity surrounds the idea of what it means to be officially dead. There are concepts like “legally dead” and “clinically dead” (which is actually an unclear term). Most people believe that you’re dead when the body reaches a point at which animated life cannot return. Some individuals define death as that moment when the heartbeat stops, while others think it’s when your brain ceases to function.
So what is death?
There really is no answer. Even if the heart completely fails and the brain has no activity, the circulatory system can still be powered by machines long enough to resuscitate you.
So while there is definitely a moment of no return that we all know intuitively exists, death is a process whereby all the biological functions fail one by one until there is simply a complete inability to resuscitate the patient.
What happens to our consciousness when we die?
The current scientific framework tells us that consciousness is a by-product of the brain, that the brain creates consciousness through neural activity, and that the death of the brain is the death of consciousness. But consciousness isn’t the whole story.
Although questions about consciousness are probably some of the toughest that philosophy and science have ever argued, that isn’t the defining factor of life. Under general anesthesia, all consciousness stops but the patient undergoing surgery is very much alive. Many thinkers, both religious and scientific, have chosen to view consciousness as a spectrum rather than a switch which is either on or off.
In general, modern science views organisms as either more or less conscious, starting with the fundamental building blocks of life and evolving all the way up to the prefrontal cortex of human beings who are self-aware.
This is a critical concept in understanding the moment of death: What happens to “us,” or the self? If we take the view that consciousness stems from the brain, we simply cease to exist upon the moment of death. Time, experience, thought . . . everything that we know goes away.
We undergo the one thing that none of us has ever experienced in our lives—true timelessness, a concept so far removed from any human reality that it’s virtually meaningless to those of us who are alive.