Does life flash before your eyes?

Neuronal connections in the brain. Image by ZEISS Microscopy (CC BY 2.0)


Most people who have had a near-death experience have claimed that their life flashed before their eyes. We can all agree that the statement sounds a bit dramatic but what if I tell you that it could be true?

The sudden death of an elderly patient suffering from epileptic seizures during a routine brain scan allowed scientists to accidentally record data of his brain activity during the last moments of his life. The patient was getting an electroencephalogram (EEG) to detect any abnormalities in the electrical activity of the brain that could be responsible for the seizures he was experiencing. During the brain scan, the patient had a fatal heart attack. Data recorded during that time showed that 30 seconds before and after the patient’s heart stopped, brain wave activities included increased levels of gamma oscillations similar to those recorded during dreaming, memory recall and meditation[1],[2]. Experiments performed on dying rodents revealed similar brain wave activities[3], suggesting that seeing your life flash before your eyes before you die could in fact be true.

There are a few theories about memory recall in near-death experiences. It is believed that due to the high stress imposed in these situations, the normal regulatory brain processes have broken down, resulting in cortical disinhibition[4]. Cortical disinhibition is the selective reduction of synaptic inhibition of neurons that leads to an increase in neuronal activation,[5] which could explain the vast amount of information going through a person’s brain during these events.

As this case study is the very first evidence of this phenomenon, researchers cannot conclude that life recall is a universal experience. The neurophysiological events occurring at the time of death or in a near-death experience are difficult to establish due to the unpredictability of such experiences. It is also possible that the epileptic nature of the man’s brain and the injury-induced were the leading causes of the altered gamma wave activities recorded.

More insight is required to conclude if these findings are reflective of dying brain activity. In the meantime, we should all work on making the last “trailer” of our lives a good one!







Edited by Liam Butler
Copy-edited by Claire Thomson


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