The issue of consciousness and how to define it has been the topic of much debate over millennia and many different points of view from the fields of science, philosophy, spiritualism and religion have been proposed through the ages. Nowadays it is safe to say that more people than ever believe in materialism, that is that the consciousness is generated in and bound to the body, more specifically, the brain. The study which is the subject of this article indicates something different, however.
In 2015 a team of scientists at the University Of Southampton conducted a study with the aim of investigating whether consciousness seizes to exist after clinical death occurs. This was done by placing “objective markers” in rooms of 15 different hospitals across the UK, the US and Austria. If a patients heart in one of these designated rooms stopped beating the hospital staff would try to resurrect them, as is standard procedure. If the resurrection was successful and the patient was well enough to be interviewed afterwards, the scientists would investigate if the patients remembered anything from the time they were clinically dead, including the aforementioned objective markers.
Although how and where exactly consciousness is generated (and for that matter, how to define consciousness itself) is still being debated, it seemed clear that the brain plays a major role in the process. Now, it’s important to mention that according to the study, brain activity seizes 20-30 seconds after cardiac arrest. Thus, consciousness should seize to exist as well.
What the study showed, however, is that 39% out of 2000 people were conscious whilst they were clinically dead and could recall things that happened around them during that time. The fact, that 61% of the interviewed patients could not remember anything during the time they were dead is explained by memory loss caused by brain damage and/or the influence of received medication. 39% is still a significant enough percentile for the results to be taken seriously. Because this was the first time a study of this kind had been conducted with such a large sample size it remains to be seen if the results can be reproduced and thus confirmed. Fortunately the University Of Southampton is in fact conducting another study on the topic, which is supposed to be finished in September.
What do the results mean?
Although it could still be argued that consciousness is generated in the brain it doesn’t seem to be bound to it, at least not in the first few minutes after death. Whatever happens afterwards remains a mystery, but especially for spiritually or religiously inclined people it is tempting to assume that the results are an indication for life after death. And they wouldn’t be wrong, there seems to be life, or at least consciousness, after death for up to three minutes. There is no indication to connect this fact to any particular religion, however, as most religious belief systems have some sort of afterlife at their core.
To conclude, there’s definitely room for speculation about what the results mean for our view on our own existence and existence in general. But before jumping to rash conclusions more research will have to be conducted. In the context of this the second part of the study will hopefully shed further light on the issue of consciousness. What we can say already is that Socrates has been proven right once again: We truly do not know as much as we think we do.
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