What happens to your brain?
Does your life really flash before your eyes when you die? Definitely, maybe. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
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Life flashes before your eyes
Think for a brief moment about the most important milestones in your life.
Think of the friends and family you've loved, and the experiences you've had.
Think of the people you've known, the key lessons you've learned, and the things you've built and grown.
Think also of what you're not as proud of: the mistakes you've made and the choices you would have done differently if you had a second chance.
Now, imagine what it would be like to remember all of this, in a single flash of an instant, at the very same time.
It sounds like science fiction, or fantasy, or maybe a completely speculative idea. But a new article in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience explores the possibility that it might be exactly what happens to your brain when you die.
In other words, a real-life application of the idea: "My life flashed before my eyes."
The article stems from a case in which doctors used electroencephalography to study the brainwaves of an 87-year-old epilepsy patient. Unfortunately, the patient suffered sudden cardiac arrest and died during the examination.
As tragic as that was, from a purely scientific perspective, it was a fortuitous accident, explained Dr. Ajmal Zemmar, a neuroscientist at of the University of Louisville who was one of the article's authors, because it meant that doctors compiled a detailed record of what the man's brain was doing for a 15-minute period around the time of his death.
"Just before and after the heart stopped working," Zemmar explained, "we saw changes in a specific band of neural oscillations, so-called gamma oscillations, but also in others such as delta, theta, alpha and beta oscillations."
These oscillations are associated with memory retrieval, which leads to the theory that, as Zemmar continued, "the brain may be playing a last recall of important life events just before we die, similar to the ones reported in near-death experiences."
Now, let's quickly acknowledge two limitations of this accidental experiment.
First, there's the fact that while monitoring suggested significant brain activity just before and after death, it's obviously impossible to know what, exactly, the man was remembering—and whether it was a voluntary or involuntary recall.
Second, the scientific method requires replication of results, and for perhaps obvious reasons, it's near-impossible to set the stage to replicate these observations.
You'd either have to predict when people are likely to die and somehow convince them to let you record their brainwaves, or else record the brainwaves of a very large number of people on the theory that statistically, some of them might die during the experiment.
Barring either option, you'd just have to be on the lookout for another serendipitous medical accident like the one that prompted the journal article to begin with.
However, Zemmar said he sees two useful things to take away from the theory—which revolve around both the very idea of the "life flashes before your eyes" moment, along with the hope that it would be comforting to loved ones to think that when someone dies, he or she remembers the "nice moments" of life most vividly.
In other words, it's just a theory. But maybe it's also an opportunity.
Sometimes, you might wonder whether everything you've accomplished matters, or whether you've done all that you were meant to with your life.
And, you might wonder whether anyone will remember all those things that we listed at the start of this article—the relationships, the experiences, the mistakes, and what you learned from them.
If this theory of a last chance to remember is actually true, it strikes me that it's a extra incentive now to choose your experiences and actions wisely, so your memories will be worth the instant it takes to remember them.
But, I hope you don't get the chance to test it for a very long time.
Ask me anything event
Ugh, I’m a bit cursed. We have a lot of good questions to go through for the AMA, but due to a scheduling conflict, I need to change the date to next week. I’ll have an update on timing shortly.
7 other things worth knowing today
Three out of every 5 people in the U.S. now have antibodies from a previous COVID-19 infection with the proportion even higher among children, demonstrating how widespread the virus was during the winter omicron surge, according to data from the CDC. (CNBC)
One of those 3/5 of all Americans would now be Vice-President Kamala Harris, who has COVID. "She has exhibited no symptoms, will isolate and continue to work from the Vice President’s residence," her press secretary said. (Fox News)
President Biden granted the first three pardons of his term, to a Kennedy-era Secret Service agent convicted of trying to sell a copy of an agency file and to two people who were convicted on drug-related charges but went on to become pillars in their communities. Biden also commuted the sentences of 75 others for nonviolent, drug-related convictions. (AP)
Somebody please cancel me, if this is what it looks like: Joe Rogan says the controversy over his podcast earlier this year—regarding his past use of the N-word and some "anti-vax conspiracy theorist guests"—ultimately netted him 2 million additional subscribers. (Hollywood Reporter)
Nice website you've got there, be too bad if something happened to it: Twitter locked down its internal product changes, reportedly out of concern that disaffected employees might otherwise wind up "going rogue." (Bloomberg)
How some "elite trusted reviewers" on Yelp have allegedly begun selling great reviews to companies they've never tried. (Vice)
Hilarious: Russian security services stand accused of creating a fake assassination plot and blaming it on Ukraine. But, in displaying some of the equipment they say they found, whoever put together the allegedly fake evidence apparently read his list wrong, and put out three copies of a video game called "the SIMS," instead of three SIM cards for cell phones. (NY Post/Twitter)