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‘End-of-life brain activity’ – A sign of the soul?

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posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 12:53 PM
‘End-of-life brain activity’ – A sign of the soul?

Stuart Hameroff MD

The idea that conscious awareness can exist after death, generally referred to as
the 'soul', has been inherent in Eastern and Western religions for thousands of years. In addition to spiritual accounts, innumerable subjective reports of conscious awareness seemingly separated from the subject's brain and physical body occur in conjunction with so-called near death experiences (NDEs) in patients resuscitated after cardiac arrest (1,2). Such patients describe remarkably consistent phenomenology including a white light, being in a tunnel, serenity, deceased loved ones, life review and, in some cases, floating out of the body (out-of-body experiences – OBEs). Comparable experiences have been reported in various types of meditative and altered states, traumatic psychological events, or seemingly without cause. A Gallup poll estimated some 10 million Americans have reported NDEs/OBEs (3). The drug ketamine, used as a 'dissociative' anesthetic, can produce subjective reports of conscious awareness outside the body (4), as can various other psychoactive drugs.

Modern science is unable to explain NDEs/OBEs, and ignores and derides such reports as unscientific folly or hallucination. But modern science can't explain normal, in-the-brain consciousness. Despite detailed understanding of neuronal firings and synaptic transmissions mediating non-conscious cognitive functions, there is no accounting for conscious awareness, free will or 'qualia'- the essence of experienced perceptions, like the redness, texture and fragrance of a rose. Philosopher David Chalmers refers to this as the 'hard problem' - explaining qualia and the subjective nature of feelings, awareness, and phenomenal experience - our 'inner life'. Unable to explain consciousness in the brain, it is easy to see why conventional science ignores out-of-body, or after-death consciousness, rejecting even the possibility of their occurrence.

Science can measure brain electrical activity known to correlate with consciousness, for example high frequency synchronized electroencephalography (EEG) in the gamma range (‘gamma synchrony’). Monitors able to measure and process EEG and detect gamma synchrony and other correlates of consciousness have been developed for use during anesthesia to provide an indicator of depth of anesthesia and prevent intra-operative awareness, i.e. to avoid patients being conscious when they are supposed to be anesthetized and unconscious. The ‘BIS’ monitor (Aspect Medical Systems, Newton MA) records and processes frontal electroencephalography (EEG) to produce a digital ‘bispectral index’, or BIS number on a scale of 0 to 100. A BIS number of 0 equals EEG silence, and 100 is the expected value in a fully awake, conscious adult. Between 40 and 60 is recommended by the manufacturer for a level of general anesthesia. The ‘SEDline’ monitor (Hospira, Lake Forest, IL) also records frontal EEG and produces a comparable 0 to 100 index.

In recent years these monitors have been applied outside of anesthesiology, e.g. to dying patients at or near the moment of death, revealing startling end-of-life brain activity.

In a study reported in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, Chawla et al (5) reported on 7 critically ill patients from whom life support (medications, machine ventilation) was being withdrawn, allowing them to die peacefully. As per protocol, they were monitored with a BIS or SEDline brain monitor. While on life support the patients were neurologically intact but heavily sedated, with BIS or SEDline numbers near 40 or higher. Following withdrawal, the BIS/SEDline generally decreased below 20 after several minutes, at about the time cardiac death occurred. This was marked by lack of measurable arterial blood pressure or functional heartbeat. Then, in all 7 patients post-cardiac death, there was a burst of activity as indicated by abrupt rise of the BIS or SEDline to between 60 and (in most cases) 80 or higher. After a period of such activity ranging from one minute to 20 minutes, the activity dropped abruptly to near zero.

In one patient, analysis of raw SEDline data revealed the burst of post-cardiac death brain activity to be apparent gamma synchrony, an indicator of conscious awareness. Chawla et al raise the possibility that the measured post-cardiac death brain activity might correlate with NDEs/OBEs. Of course the patients died, so we have no confirmation that such experiences occurred.

In another study published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia, Auyong et al (6) describe three brain-injured patients from whom medical and ventilatory support were withdrawn prior to ‘post-cardiac death’ organ donation. These patients were hopelessly brain-damaged, but technically not brain dead. Their families consented to withdrawal of support and organ donation. Such patients are allowed to die ‘naturally’ after withdrawal of support, then quickly taken to surgery for organ donation.

The three patients in the Auyong et al study prior to withdrawal of support had BIS numbers of 40 or lower, with one near zero. Soon after withdrawal, near the time of cardiac death, the BIS number spiked to approximately 80 in all three cases, and remained there for 30 to 90 seconds. The number then abruptly returned to near zero, followed thereafter by declaration of death and organ donation. Various sources of artifact for the end-of-life brain activity were considered and excluded.

Auyong et al did not consider the possibility of NDEs correlating with the observed end-of-life brain activity, nor did an extensive editorial accompanying their article (7).

Obviously we can’t say whether end-of-life brain activity is indeed related to NDEs/OBEs, or even possibly the soul leaving the body. Nor do we know how commonly it occurs (10 out of 10 in the two studies cited). Those issues aside, the mystery remains as to how end-of-life activity occurs in brain tissue which is metabolically dead, receiving no blood flow nor oxygen. The BIS and SEDline numbers, indicators of level of awareness, are near zero. Then, a burst of synchronized, coherent bi-frontal brain activity occurs, seemingly gamma synchrony EEG (an indicator of consciousness). As marked by BIS and SEDline numbers near 80, the activity persists for a minute or more. Then it abruptly ceases.

There are proposed explanations for the end-of-life brain activity as non-functional, generalized neuronal depolarization. Chawla et al suggested excess extracellular potassium causes last gasp neuronal spasms throughout the brain. But that couldn’t account for the global coherence – synchronized, organized. Another suggested cause is calcium-induced neuronal death which could implicate disruption of cytoskeletal microtubules inside neurons as the precipitating factor. But again, how and why the bifrontal coherent synchrony?

Perhaps the end-of-life brain activity IS related to conscious NDEs or even OBEs, but without the ‘Near’, i.e. the patients have the experience and are not revived. White light, tunnel, serenity, deceased loved ones, floating life review. What would that imply?

Some see NDEs/OBEs as metaphysical or spiritual events, manifestations of consciousness, or the soul, leaving the body (8). Skeptics suggest NDEs/OBEs are hallucinations or illusions, manifestations of an ischemic/hypoxic brain (9). But hypoxic/ischemic patients, if conscious, are confused, agitated and don’t form memory.

If end-of-life brain activity does correlate with conscious NDE/OBE phenomenology, we still face the question of how/why conscious activity of any sort is occurring in the nearly dead brain. But here we at least have some logical possibilities based on disparities between energy requirements for consciousness and other brain functions. Neuronal hypoxia and acidosis would disable sodium-potassium ATPase pumps, preventing axonal action potentials, but temporarily sparing lower energy dendritic activity which may correlate more directly with consciousness (10), Another possibility is that consciousness is a low energy quantum process (11), in which case reduced molecular dynamics may limit thermal decoherence, providing a temporal window for enhanced quantum coherent states and a burst of enhanced consciousness. A quantum basis for consciousness also raises the scientific possibility of an afterlife, of an actual soul leaving the body and persisting as entangled fluctuations in quantum spacetime geometry (12).

We can’t as yet say for sure, but end-of-life brain activity could very well represent NDEs/OBEs phenomenology which is remarkably consistent among subjects, generally pleasant and often described as life-changing and helpful. Even skeptics of NDEs as metaphysical, soul-related events contend they convey beneficial effects to survivors (9). They should be valued.

Anesthesiologists or other physicians taking care of such patients face several ethical dilemmas. Following withdrawal of support such patients may exhibit the ‘appearance of suffering’: labored breathing, sweating, grimacing. Whether the patient is actually suffering depends on whether they have any conscious awareness, which means we don’t actually know. Physicians would normally treat such signs with sedative and/or pain-killing drugs. However without ventilatory or medical support, such intervention could be seen as ‘hastening demise’, pushing the patient toward death. The American Society of Anesthesiologists prohibits such interventions, as do hospital protocols for post-cardiac death organ donation. We do not actively push patients toward death.

posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 12:54 PM
The American Society of Anesthesiologists prohibits such interventions, as do hospital protocols for post-cardiac death organ donation. We do not actively push patients toward death.

Now, end-of-life brain activity and the possibility of NDE/OBE phenomenology present another dilemma – how to avoid actions which could conceivably prevent end-of-life brain activity, as that could be seen as also preventing NDEs/OBEs, and perhaps even the soul from leaving the body.

I think the optimal management in end-of-life patients with apparent suffering is to give ketamine which alleviates suffering without hastening demise (ketamine does not generally depress breathing nor cardiovascular function). Moreover ketamine by itself has been suggested to induce NDE-like phenomenology(4), elevate BIS numbers during anesthesia(13), and could preserve or possibly enhance end-of-life brain activity, whatever it actually is.

Based on the possibility that end-of-life brain activity could correspond with NDE/OBE phenomenology, or even the soul leaving the body, end-of-life patients deserve to have it. I want it. Patients and their families should be aware of this when making agonizing decisions about withdrawal of support and organ donation.

End-of-life brain activity just may be a sign of the soul.

Stuart Hameroff MD
Diplomate, American Board of Anesthesiology
Professor, Anesthesiology and Psychology
Director, Center for Consciousness Studies
The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona


1. Parnia S, Spearpoint K, Fenwick PB. Near death experiences, cognitive function and psychological outcomes of surviving cardiac arrest. Resuscitation 2007;74(2):215-21

2. van Lommel P, van Wees R, Meyers V, Elfferich I. Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands. Lancet 2001;358(9298):2039-45

3. Chopra D. 2006 Life After Death – The Burden of Proof. New York, NY:Three Rivers Press

4. Jansen KL. A review of the nonmedical use of ketamine: use, users and consequences. J Psychoactive Drugs 2000;32(4):419-33

5. Chawla LS, Akst S, Junker C, Jacobes B, Seneff MG. Surges of electroencephalogram activity at the time of death: A case study. J Palliative Med 2009;12(12):1095-1100

6. Auyong DB, Klein SM, Gan TJ, Roche, AM, Olson DW, Habib AS. Processed electroencephalogram during donation after cardiac death. Anesth Analg 2010;110(5):1428-32

7. Csete M. Donation after cardiac death and the anesthesiologist. Anesth Analg 2010;(5):1253-54

8. Greyson B. Varieties of near-death experience. Psychiatry 1993;56(4):390-399

9. Blackmore S. Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences. London: Grafton, 1993

10. Hameroff S. The "conscious pilot"-dendritic synchrony moves through the brain to mediate consciousness. J Biol Physics 2010;36(1):71-93

11. Hameroff S, Quantum computation in brain microtubules - The Penrose-Hameroff "Orch OR" model of consciousness. Phil Trans Royal Society London (A) 1998;356:1869-96

12. Hameroff S, Chopra D (2010) Can science explain the soul?

13. Hans P, Dewandre PY, Brichant JF, Bonhomme V. Comparative effects of ketamine on Bispectral Index and spectral entropy of the electroencephalogram under sevoflurane anaesthesia. Br J Anaesth 2005;94(3):336-40

Now this comes from Stuart Hameroff’s site. He brings up some good ideas talking about end of life activity how the brain sort of spasms in a way before death, and that could be the result of NDEs or a soul. If you are not familiar with Stuart hHmeroffs work I urge you to check it out. Even if you do not agree with it, it is a thought provoking read.

[edit on 3-9-2010 by Maddogkull]

posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 01:31 PM
Here is my problem with the whole "life after death" notion. When your body dies on you, so goes your brain, eyes, nerve endings, ears, etc.. Without eyes, how are you supposed to see? Without nerve endings, how are you supposed to physically feel anything? Without your brain, how do you process the data come from any of your senses?

For instance, science believes it has found the part of the brain that gives us self awareness or abstract thinking. If this part of the brain dies, then you are no longer self aware. How would you even know that you are in heaven? If you can't see, speak, hear or touch, then how enjoyable could such a life after death be?

I don't buy it, instead I believe that our energy just gets recycled into something else, whether it be plant life, heat or even visible light (somewhere down the road).

With that being said, because energy has no mass, according to Einstein, our energy could be recycled anywhere on the timeline of the universe, not necessarily on our current time path. Just something interesting to chew on.


posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 01:41 PM
reply to post by airspoon

Ever heard of magnetic conductance of the brain? Or Stuart Hameroffs quantum effects of microtubules for that instance? Those are some interesting thoughts, especially the magnetic conductance of the brain. I just don’t believe a universe can spawn from nothing. That is the most illogical thing I have ever heard (which is why I have been questioning the big bang theories) Another reason I have been leaning towards other alternatives like the Aether physics model by Dave Thompson or plasma cosmology. I would agree with Roger Penrose as he says that we just go on day by day thinking the universe just goes on for no reason. That is not really fruitful thinking. I am just trying to show, even though a god might not exist, consciousness is very complicated, and neuroscientists have not found the part of the brain that gives us consciousness, look at amoebas, they have sex, look for food and survive, with no brain, you can call that them just following a pattern, but there is something behind this universe that is mysterious.

When you said "With that being said, because energy has no mass, according to Einstein, our energy could be recycled anywhere on the timeline of the universe, not necessarily on our current time path. Just something interesting to chew on. " Are you referring to reincarnation, or am I just misinterpreting what you are saying.

posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 01:48 PM

Whatever might be the origin of this Universe, of one thing we can be reasonable sure, that it is within "nothing at all". If it "started", then it must have started from nothing at all. It always was, this it has nothing at all around it. Whatever there might be beyond this "nothing at all" we have no way of knowing for we are within it and of this Universe and have no concept beyond it. This idea of nothing at all is a most difficult one to come to grips with, but it is an absolute necessity to an understanding of even the first ideas of cosmology. Nothing at all means exactly what it says: NOTHING AT ALL; no space, no time, no substance, no energy, no change. To approach it one must slough off all reality and proceed deliberately into the void of nothingness. It is something extremely personal which must be experienced by the individual as a basic exercise; it is something which cannot be "taught". Most people recoil from the idea of nothing at all, feeling that it is akin to annihilation, which it is, but we must know of "nothing at all" before we can understand the basic concept upon which our Universe is built. Subsequent lessons are futile without this basic understanding.

Check this out ------- Way more on the site, that is just a little section

posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 01:55 PM
reply to post by Maddogkull

Who knows electricity might be the originator of consciousness, or something around the lines. If you buy into Birkeland currents, and a factual/ holographic universe, life after death makes sense. Ever seen electricity strike in slow motion? Looks fractal towards energy going through the brain, in my opinion. I am just saying the universe is a mystery, there might be an afterlife there might not be, and the brain to me is like a cosmic receiver. DNA is the blue print towards that cosmic receiver. What is the thing connecting us? Electrical impulses? Microtubules? Aether? Who knows? The earth is a giant capacitor, we are just the energy stored in it. ... 1&page=232

[edit on 3-9-2010 by Maddogkull]

posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 01:55 PM
reply to post by Maddogkull

Are you referring to reincarnation, or am I just misinterpreting what you are saying.

Sure, it could technically be considered reincarnation, as your energy has to go somewhere else. Now whether your energy stays intact or recycles wholly into another form is what most consider reicarnation to be.


posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 01:57 PM
I was in your boat airspoon when it came to death. I thought my energy would somehow be recycled. Then I started having OBE's after starting regular meditation. Now there is no way I could covince you, as it takes a firsthand experience to understand, but my awareness is not tied to my body forever. The body is just a vessel.

Also OP what about the large amounts of '___' released into the body at birth and death?The Spirit Molecule by Rick Straussman goes into great detail about the various strange occurances in the body at death.

The cool thing is one day we will all get to experience it!

posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 02:04 PM
reply to post by bringthelight

O, yeah I have definitely looked into '___' as well, which could be a factor towards a NDE. But from reading NDEs and looking at the science behind them, I cannot say they are the same thing as a NDE. They might contribute, but I do not want to talk about anything illegally, but from the '___' experience you do not feel infinite love, or a feeling of going to some sort of tunnel (that acts like a giant magnet to me). Also people everywhere on ATS honestly thinks '___' when dying is a fact. Let me tell you it is not. Go on a forum that specializes is psychopharmacology or just an advanced discussion drug forum, and you will realise this is a myth. '___' might be realised during death, but it is not a fact.

posted on Sep, 3 2010 @ 02:24 PM
fifteen years ago I was electrocuted with 15,620 volts for about a minute.
I had a NDE/OBE probably just as the light in my eyes was rapidly dimming out for the last time.

If you ever watched some person or animal die up close you know what I refer to.

Well somewhere deep inside my physical brain, my soul/spirit/essence unhooked and disconnected from its anchor point. kind of like a hydraulic coupler on a tractor.

This soul/spirit/essence just left my physical body like smoke leaves a firecracker when it explodes.

So I was met by two identical guardian angels, white robes, brown sandals, about 6'6" tall, wings, which were not beating.
They asked me if I wanted to die.
I said no.
And here I still am.

However my conscious awareness of me as a being left was a component of my spirit/soul/essence and was not and is not a permanent part or component of my physical body.

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