Consciousness ends at death, right? The lights go out, everything goes black, and whatever happens afterwards, it has noting to do with the lump of grey matter in our heads.
Well, things might not be as clear cut as that. According to a study led by Dr Sam Parnia, Director of Critical Care and Resuscitation research at NYU Langone School of medicine, many people who are clinically dead, still retain awareness of what its happening around them.
This particular study is the largest study ever carried out in the world. It was done in 15 medical centres across the U.S. and Europe. And we studied more than 2000 people who’d gone through this cardiac arrest or process of death, and we did not expect people to have any consciousness or awareness, but intriguingly, up to 40% of people came back, and had had a perception of being aware of what was happening to them, even though they had technically gone beyond the threshold of death.
Only a small percentage of this group (2%) had what Dr Parnia described as “full awareness”, where they could describe everything that was going on around them in a way that could be validated. But the research still has intru=iguing implications for our understanding of consciousness, as it’s possible that the rest of the participants were also aware but simply forgot their experiences as a result of the efforts to resuscitate them, much as we often forget the content of our dreams.
But whatever the case, this is a fascinating reminder that there’s still more to learn about what this consciousness stuff is all about.