Secrets of the brain: whether before death, we are waiting for the euphoria?

Sooner or later you will die. We will all die. Everything that has a beginning, has an end. This is an inevitable result of entropy — the second law of thermodynamics. Nevertheless, few people like to think about this disturbing fact. The thought of his own death lurks in the shadows of the unconscious, but to completely get rid of it. But if death cannot be avoided, it is possible to know what will it be, really? Is it true that before you die before my eyes flashes of life and that dying in the brain is a powerful release of endorphins and other chemicals that give the dying a feeling of euphoria?

Abstract the knowledge of the inevitability of our own death at one point can turn into a perceived reality — I die! It is not known when or how, but eventually it will happen. Evolution has provided us with a powerful defense mechanisms to combat the foreknowledge of her own death — in particular, psychological suppression, and a religion. First let us consciously acknowledge or think about such unpleasant truth, and the second calms us, promising eternal life in heaven, the eternal cycle of rebirth, or download mind in the Cloud — just like in the TV series “Black mirror”.

In this case, the death has no such domination over other animals. At least there is no credible evidence that apes, dogs, crows and bees have sufficient self-awareness to be disturbed by the understanding that one day they will be no more. Thus, these protective mechanisms would have arisen in the recent evolution of hominids, less than 10 million years.

Anyone who attempts to understand death soon realizes that death is not so well defined as a scientific and medical point of view. Thus throughout the history of mankind all knew what death is. When someone has stopped breathing and his heart beat, it meant that the man is dead. Death was a well-defined point in time. But everything changed with the development of medicine and technology. Modern high-tech intensive care separated the heart and lungs from the brain, which is responsible for the mind, thoughts and actions.

In response to these technological developments in 1968 in the famous report of the ad hoc Committee of Harvard medical school presented the concept of death as irreversible coma — loss of brain function. This adjustment was formally adopted in 1981. The document defines death as irreversible cessation of the functions of circulation and respiration or the irreversible cessation of brain work. It’s simple — you are dead when your brain stops functioning. This definition is today used in most countries of the world. The vast majority of deaths occur after the cessation of cardio-pulmonary activities and then the functioning of the brain. Neurological death due to irreversible coma, absence of reaction or breathing rare outside intensive care units, which are usually patients with traumatic brain injury, or after an opioid overdose. Brain death may be determining factor, but it does not simplify the clinical diagnosis and biological processes can persist even after brain death.

Why biological death is inevitable?

Death creates space for new things. This statement is also true for the human body, which consists of billions of cells that divide every day and thus ensure growth. In living organisms there is a very effective method of destruction of excess or potentially dangerous cells, such as viruses and cancer cells: programmed cell death — when the old cells are replaced by new, identical cells. But over time, cell division slows down and stops. The responsibility for this probably are the telomeres — the end segments of chromosomes: if by cell division, the telomeres grow shorter, eventually cells cease to divide as a result, old cells do not die. Today, scientists know that the shorter the telomeres, the faster comes the aging process. This is happening despite the existence of the telomerase enzyme, which can ensure the continuation of cell division. The fact that telomerase can also accelerate the development of cancer and for this reason the enzyme is active only in a few cells.

It turns out that the physical aging process ends with failure of several organs: cardiovascular system, lungs and brain are not functioning. From a medical point of view, there are different types of death: “clinical death” in which the cardiovascular system fails, the pulse and respiration cease, organs are no longer supplied with oxygen and nutrients. In the case of clinical death, cardiopulmonary resuscitation is still possible and often successful. However, in the case of brain death, resuscitation is impossible.

What happens to the human body after death?

From the moment the doctors diagnosed the death, the organs can for some time survive without oxygen and nutrients. Only gradually cell division completely stops and then the cells die. If you killed too many cells, organs can’t regenerate. The fastest reaction takes place in the brain where cells die in three to five minutes. The heart may continue to beat for half an hour. As soon as the blood ceases to circulate, it sinks and forms a “spot of death”. They can give the examiner information about the cause of death and place of death.

Two hours later comes the post-mortem rigidity, because the body no longer produces vital energy source for cells. — adenosine triphosphate. Without it, muscles become stiff. A few days later the post-mortem rigidity is weakening again. The activity of the gastrointestinal tract is completely terminated only after two or three days, and the bacteria therein hasten the decomposition of the body. Pathogens, however, remain dangerous for a long time. For example, the causative agents of hepatitis live a few days, and the bacteria of tuberculosis for years. In total, the process of decomposition of the human body is about 30 years.

What is it like to die?

The results of the study Jimo Bordjigin and his colleagues from the University of Michigan, published in PNAS, may help to explain what’s going on in the brain immediately before death. In the study, researchers caused cardiac arrest in rats during the measurement of the electrical activity in the brain using electroencephalography (EEG). What they found was remarkable: before death, activity in the brain at a certain frequency, called gamma-band, has increased more than twice compared with those when the animals were alive. For many years, gamma oscillations were considered a sign of consciousness of the human brain. It is believed that the wave activity in the gamma range appear when we reminisce and realize what is happening around us. But could rats be in a similar conscious state immediately before death?

Unfortunately, the exact answer to this question does not exist today. The fact that correlation is not the same as causation. It may be tempting to establish a link between these bursts of neural activity and consciousness, there are at least two problems. First, we don’t know, do rats consciousness like we do. Besides, we don’t know what kind of brain activity. Second, even if rats are conscious, we cannot conclude that these bursts of activity reflect consciousness, based only on brain activity.

But why the brain arranges this show to death? Does it attempt to understand the unusual internal signals or is it just a mechanism for coping with stress? The researchers tried to eliminate the pain as an explanation of the results. In the study they found the same bursts of activity when death came painlessly using carbon dioxide, not an artificial heart. However, to get accurate answers, you will probably want to conduct similar research on humans. One such approach is to record EEG from patients at the time of death.

Another approach may be to encourage similar bursts of gamma activity in humans in moments of wakefulness and consciousness. As reported by the neurophysiologist Cardiff University Dave Mcgonigle edition of The Guardian, checking whether a near-death experience to be caused by the neurostimulation using experiments that induce increased gamma synchronization in humans — may be a confusion between correlation and causation.

If before death the release of endorphins?

The actual moment of death is quite difficult to understand. However, according to the results of a recently published study, immediately before the death of the body increases the amount of hormones and chemicals associated with stress. These same chemicals are found in the body of sick people and cause inflammation. In light of this changing chemical substances in the body, it can be assumed that immediately before the death can be a powerful release of endorphins — chemicals that are responsible for pleasure and feeling of happiness. Thus, the results of a study conducted in 2011, showed that the serotonin, and other chemicals, which is believed also contributes to the feeling of happiness has tripled in the brain of six rats in the moments of their deaths. Thus, we cannot exclude the possibility that something similar could happen with people.

But what can cause euphoric feelings at the time of death, in addition to endorphins or other neurotransmitters? When the body ceases to function, brain activity stops. It is possible that the way it is, in some way affect what we experience in the moment of death. American neuroanatomy Jill Bolte-Taylor, in his speech at TED, he described a feeling of euphoria that she experienced during a near-death experience as a result of injury of the left hemisphere of the brain. Interesting is the fact thatthe injury Bolt-Taylor was on the left side of the brain injury on the right side of the brain also can enhance the sense of closeness and belonging to a higher power.

The dying process is sacred to adherents of different religions, including Buddhists, who believe that the time of death provides great potential for the mind. They see the transition from life to death as the most important event in life — the moment when the person carries the karma from this life to other lives. However, this does not mean that religious people experience more joyful emotions at the time of death. Ultimately, every death is unique and we cannot predict who and under what circumstances leave this world.