Category Archives: DYING & DEATH

Body decomposition video (“Body Farm”) to help round out your Halloween 👻

Curious about what kinds of physical changes happen post mortem? The video below will fill in many blanks. Of greater concern to you is likely how and when you’ll shuffle off this mortal coil. Naturally, most of us prefer to “stage left” with as little pain and discomfort as possible, something medical science has make more certain than was true long ago. But die we must. The larger question is what lies afterwards – click to read.  First, satisfy your curiosity about what becomes of your “earth suit” after death and then read what follows below.

 

So you know what’s coming: You die and then face judgment. It is natural to think “Well, OK, I  think my good deeds outweigh my bad so I am good to go, right?” Wrong.  Ahem, dead wrong. The penalty for sin either must be paid by you or by someone qualified to pay it for you. The trick is there is only one individual who qualified to pay the penalty for your sins which he did. However, like a gift certificate purchased for you by a benefactor, you have to claim or redeem it and then follow the directions that come with it to preserve it. So how do you learn about this gift and how to claim it? The best way in my opinion is to hear from someone who has done it. In this vein, I heartily recommend you watch this video featuring scholar Dr. Michael Brown in which he shares how he went from hell bound to redeemed:  https://askdrbrown.org/about/personal-testimony/

 

© 2015 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved

Book review: “To Heaven & Back” by Mary C. Neal, MD (Great read but it raises many concerns)

To Heaven & BackI am like many of you reading this fascinated by unusual happenings and accounts including NDEs (near death experiences), UFOs, Bigfoot, and so forth. Actually so long as a claim does not violate the established laws of physics or chemistry and has not already been convincingly refuted by contrary evidence, one must allow that the phenomenon or what-have-you in question might one day garner sufficient proof to compel acknowledging its reality. However, until the jury is in (solid evidence) it is usually prudent to remain agnostic on the matter (With the exception of things believed on the basis of faith and not testable using the tools of science — such as the existence of God).

There is nothing, for example, to disallow the existence of Bigfoot (Sasquatch) or a Yeti. The existence of such primates do not require a violation or suspension of the laws that govern the natural world nor even quality as extraordinary in the same sense, say, as an alien or fairy or ghost would. The problem with Bigfoot and the Yeti lies in a lack of evidence. There has been lots of frauds and biological samples that turned out to be from cows and bears and such, but no hair or tissue DNA (much less corpses) that reveal a previously unknown bipedal primate.

CLICK TO READ THE REST OF MY REVIEW

State sanctioned executions: What’s wrong with “Hang ’em high!”?

Prisoner Holding Cigarette Between BarsHardly a month passes without one US state or another putting a convicted murderer, rapist or what-have-you to death (It’s 7-26-2013 and Reuters just ran an on-line article titled “Alabama executes man advocates said was mentally ill” at http://reut.rs/13h21aj). While I understand where folks who view this as closure for the victim’s family or “just deserts” are coming from, I quite honestly detest the idea of the state possessing the power to terminate a life under any circumstances. History clearly shows how easy it is for governments to slip into abusing this sort of thing in the name of national security, the war on this or that real or imagined nemesis, or what-have-you. To my way of thinking no modern state should ever have the power to take from any citizen that which it can’t later restore.  I actually took this conviction and planted it squarely in a literary brainchild of mine that incorporates satire and humor to convey certain realities & truths.  You’ll find it on page 1 of my “FUP Manifesto” at http://www.scribd.com/doc/115383259/The-Fook-U-Party-Viva-La-Revolution.

Or if you are too busy, lazy, drunk or stubborn to click the link and find it, here is the salient entry:

Party Prime Directive: The (Seig!) State should never be able to take from anyone that which it can’t later restore if required or compelled, for whatever reason.

If you think this “excessively liberal”, imagine yourself awaiting execution in one hour’s time.   Or what if your daughter, son, nephew, niece or other blood relative were to be executed shortly? 

 

Green cemeteries: An alternative to environmentally-unfriendly burials!

  Most of us naturally resist thinking about our earthly demise and the “disposal” of our remains. We Baby Boomers likely tend to harbor hope that we will somehow cheat death — or at least put it off for 100 or more years. Whether you happen to live 100 years or more, one day you will “pay the piper” — that is, kick the bucket, buy the farm, cash in your chips, etc. For us American Indians death is simply a matter of changing worlds. We trust that the Great Spirit/HaShem/God is not a jack booted thug intent on consigning most people to some sort of eternal torment for missteps committed during a handful of years or decades but, rather, is intent on reconciling most of humankind to himself. You may disagree — which is something we American Indians respect — though I personally am hard-pressed to understand people who promote a theology which portrays God as a judge who (to be honest) differs little from those who populated the “People’s Courts” in Nazi Germany. Be that as it may, I am here to place before you something more pragmatic — more “here & now” – namely how you will dispose of your mortal remains. Many will opt for being embalmed and buried in an airtight coffin that is sunk in a concrete jacket so as to minimize deterioration through time. This is a personal choice, though there are powerful arguments against this — if only because embalming fluid and such has a deleterious impact on the local environment. If you are open to an alternative — something ”green” — consider having your mortal remains disposed of in a green cemetery (If it could be pulled off I’d argue for the establishment of burial platforms much like my Plains Indian ancestors and brothers utilized in various localities. There is something inherently appealing about raising a body up to meet the world above and beyond IMO):

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3947912/ns/us_news-environment/t/texas-cemetery-offers-green-burials/

http://www.greenburials.org/FAQ.htm – includes a list of green cemeteries

http://www.ethicianfamilycemetery.org/ – for my fellow Texans & interested others

Nota Bene: I have no financial or other ties to MSNBC or the Ethican Church or the Ethical Family Cemetery.

Copyright 2012 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved but spread it around anyway.

To slow aging => Reduce HIF-1 alpha (?)

Key protein may explain the anti-aging and anti-cancer benefits of dietary restriction

“Animals that were designed to over-express HIF-1 did not get the benefit of lifespan extension even though their diets were restricted. Animals that under-expressed HIF-1 lived longer, even when they had a nutrient-rich diet. Furthermore, it was found that the lifespan extension resulting from dietary restriction required activity in signaling pathways in the endoplasmic reticulum, the part of the cell involved in processing and the proper folding of proteins. This finding supports the theory that aging stems from the effects of misfolded proteins and opens up a rich area of investigation to examine the mechanisms by which stress in the endoplasmic reticulum affects lifespan”

Carcinogenesis. 2009 Apr;30(4):636-44. Epub 2009 Jan 8. Links

Grape seed extract inhibits VEGF expression via reducing HIF-1alpha protein expression.

Lu J, Zhang K, Chen S, Wen W.

Department of Molecular Medicine, Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, 1500 East Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010, USA.

Grape seed extract (GSE) is a widely consumed dietary supplement that has antitumor activity. Here, we have investigated the inhibitory effect of GSE on the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and the mechanism underlying this action. We found that GSE inhibited VEGF messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein expression in U251 human glioma cells and MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells. GSE inhibited transcriptional activation of the VEGF gene through reducing protein but not mRNA expression of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) 1alpha. The inhibitory effect of GSE on HIF-1alpha expression was mainly through inhibiting HIF-1alpha protein synthesis rather than promoting protein degradation. Consistent with this result, GSE-suppressed phosphorylation of several important components involved in HIF-1alpha protein synthesis, such as Akt, S6 kinase and S6 protein. Furthermore, in the MDA-MB-231 tumor, we found that GSE treatment inhibited the expression of VEGF and HIF-1alpha and the phosphorylation of S6 kinase without altering the subcellular localization of HIF-1alpha, correlating with reduced vessel density and tumor size. Depletion of polyphenol with polyvinylpyrrolidone abolished the inhibitory activity of GSE, suggesting a water-soluble fraction of polyphenol in GSE is responsible for the inhibitory activity. Taken together, our results indicate that GSE inhibits VEGF expression by reducing HIF-1alpha protein synthesis through blocking Akt activation. This finding provides new insight into the mechanisms of anticancer activity of GSE and reveals a novel molecular mechanism underlying the antiangiogenic action of GSE.

PMID: 19131542 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

PMCID: PMC2664452 [Available on 2010/04/01]

 Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2009 Apr 24;382(1):96-101. Epub 2009 Feb 28. Links

D-glucosamine down-regulates HIF-1alpha through inhibition of protein translation in DU145 prostate cancer cells.

Park JY, Park JW, Suh SI, Baek WK.

Chronic Disease Research Center, School of Medicine, Keimyung University, 194 Dongsan-Dong, Jung-Gu, Daegu 700-712, Republic of Korea.

D-glucosamine has been reported to inhibit proliferation of cancer cells in culture and in vivo. In this study we report a novel response to D-glucosamine involving the translation regulation of hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-1alpha expression. D-glucosamine caused a decreased expression of HIF-1alpha under normoxic and hypoxic conditions without affecting HIF-1alpha mRNA expression in DU145 prostate cancer cells. D-glucosamine inhibited HIF-1alpha accumulation induced by proteasome inhibitor MG132 and prolyl hydroxylase inhibitor DMOG suggesting D-glucosamine reduces HIF-1alpha protein expression through proteasome-independent pathway. Metabolic labeling assays indicated that D-glucosamine inhibits translation of HIF-1alpha protein. In addition, D-glucosamine inhibited HIF-1alpha expression induced by serum stimulation in parallel with inhibition of p70S6K suggesting D-glucosamine inhibits growth factor-induced HIF-1alpha expression, at least in part, through p70S6K inhibition. Taken together, these results suggest that D-glucosamine inhibits HIF-1alpha expression through inhibiting protein translation and provide new insight into a potential mechanism of the anticancer properties of D-glucosamine.

PMID: 19254699

 

The Spiritual Aspects of “Holistic” Medicine

The foundation of holism or holistic medicine rests on a triumvirate — body, mind and spirit. Actually, as the mind is an expression of the various regions of the brain — a species of the physical — we are really dealing with body/brain and spirit. The former, of course, has been probed and explored using the tools of medicine and science. No one questions their reality. Spirit, on the other hand, by most definitions is non-material, and thus lies beyond the purview of science; that is, one cannot demonstrate spirit using a gas chromatograph, scanning electron microscope, or any other tool in the armamentarium of science.

But what of the effects of spirit? If it exists, should we not be able to detect its effects on the physical realm? This is a question which now occupies many philosophers, some scientists and physicians, and many laypeople.

One very often cited manifestation of spirit lies in the realm of answered prayer. Numerous studies have been carried out in which patients with a given affliction were divided into two groups: One received prayer (experimental group) and the other (control group) didn’t. The prayers were offered off-site and no one involved in the study knew who was being prayed for and who wasn’t (double-blind).

The bottom line of many of these studies is that prayer appears to have made a significant difference in the relief or cure of the malady or affliction in the experimental group, while those in the control group had no appreciable change in their condition. The rigor of these studies has been found wanting by countless impartial investigators. That is, flaws in study design, methodology and/or execution have basically invalidated the findings of these clinical trials.

What of the healings connected with religious shrines, such as Lourdes? There have been approximately 69 healings connected with Lourdes which have met the Catholic church’s criteria for a bona fide miracle — 69 out of the hundreds of thousands of petitions for healing. This is not statistically significant. In short, the numbers do not support the notion that the rate of recovery/healing at Lourdes is greater than would be expected to occur as a result of normal processes. (One can expect a certain percentage of even incurable illnesses to suddenly and inexplicably go into remission. These recoveries happen to non-believer and believer alike — and hence appear contingent on natural and not supernatural mechanisms.)

I know what many of you are thinking — “Leave it to a skeptical, non-believing blankety-blank scientist to trash our sacred beliefs.” If you are nodding your head in agreement — you are dead wrong. First of all, I am a theist. I also believe that God hears and answers prayer — and even heals people through various means including the ministrations of physicians. Well, wait a minute, isn’t this contradictory or hypocritical, given what I wrote above? No, indeed, for I do not allege that my beliefs are based on hard science nor the manifestations of spirit, or God so physically evident as to permit measurement or quantification. In fact, those who believe that spirit, God, or any aspect of the supernatural can be demonstrated in a controlled study or lab experiment invite upon themselves the unenviable task of proving their claims. (It is always incumbent on those who propose the existence of something which can be physically detected and, thus measured, to do just that.) And I, for one, do not believe that they will ever garner any substantive proof. Why?

Consider this: In virtually every religious tradition God requires that humankind both apprehend His existence and relate to him via faith — a conviction based not on the physical and demonstrable, but on sheer belief. If God were to reveal Himself in the lab or clinical trial setting — say, by answering the prayers for healing in an experimental group at rates which exceed chance — the need for faith would be dispensed with. We could base our confidence, our belief in the spiritual and a First Cause (God) on the hard data provided by the study in question.

This, of course, would make God the author of a serious contradiction and would obligate most major religions to toss out many of their principle doctrines concerning the nature of the deity, the need for faith as a requisite for apprehending the divine, et cetera. It would also raise serious questions as to the reliability of revealed truths about God (oral and written traditions).

Since I do not believe God would ask one thing (faith) and then reveal Himself in a concrete, scientifically demonstrable fashion, I am not surprised or dismayed that laboratory experiments and clinical trials do not turn upon any credible data which stands up to scrutiny. I also realize, however, that there are some who believe that faith isn’t the only requisite to apprehending God or the supernatural and will continue to carry out studies aimed at catching a glimpse of the divine in action.

In my opinion they are wasting both time and money, but should they one day prove to be right — if they do incontrovertibly demonstrate the efficacy of prayerful supplication (to God) in healing a given malady — skeptic and believer alike will be making some rather profound changes to their distinct perspectives. This isn’t beyond the pale of possibility. I think, however, that such definitive proof will in some ways weigh more heavily on the religionist then the agnostic or skeptic.

While the debate rages and the studies plod along, what role then should the spiritual play in healing/medicine? I think most physicians — even diehard atheists — at the very least accommodate a narrow species of “spirituality,” in the sense of encouraging hope and making use of patient expectation to afford relief, if not cure.

In holistic medicine, on the other hand, the spiritual element more often takes on a different character and importance. The holistic medical community plays host to wide range of spiritual beliefs, including American Indian, New Age, Buddhist, Christian. As long as this spirituality is not called “scientific” or “hard science-based,” or makes claims which can be tested using the tools and methods of science, its place in the patient care repertoire of holistic health care practitioners remains a matter of personal prerogative. And doesn’t faith and personal prerogative lie at the core of human spirituality?

In the final analysis, I think we will find that the substantiation of faith begins and ends on one’s knees — and in one’s heart — and not in the laboratory. 

© 2009 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved

Frankl & Custer: We are all headed to the Little Big Horn

MONTANA VALLEY TOO - Free MorguefileOne of the most beloved verses in the Hebrew Scriptures comes from the 23rd Psalms:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For you are with me”

In Japan, where I lived and taught for many years, a general sense of “gloom & doom” pessimism pervaded the lives of many folks. This was especially evident among my university students. Japan’s protracted economic woes had apparently sapped the vision and vitality out of many of these otherwise industrious, tenacious souls. A great many kids spoke of there being “no real future” for them. Needless to say, depression and despair reared its ugly head fairly often. 

Now reactive depression is a wholly expected and understandable response to intractable adversity or woe. We all have a tendency to get sorely vexed when our lives are turned upside down and held there by trials and tribulations. In such a situation, one tries to console and counsel the suffering as best one can. (A touch of satire and self-deprecating humor sometimes doesn’t hurt either). And this I ably extended to my angst-ridden student charges with varying degrees of success. But more was needed.

The “more”, I reasoned, had to lie in something that would get these kids to change their outlook or perspective on certain aspects of life. To do this I looked to a tried-and-true source for generating insight and encouraging change: history. Specifically, I had my students tackle and examine two notable chapters: Famed psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s account of his years of struggle in various Nazi concentration camps (as recounted in his timeless classic, “Man’s Search For Meaning”), and the saga of Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

Dr. Frankl and his imprisoned compatriots suffered cruelly at the hands of sadistic SS guards, all the while struggling with scarcity and living conditions so calculatingly appalling as to beggar the imagination. Mindful that he could not change his circumstances and that his Nazi tormenters could snuff out his life at any minute, Frankl nonetheless felt empowered by a single fact: They could take everything from him but his power to choose how he would react to their brutal actions! And it was this realization that essentially helped buoy up Dr. Frankl during his agonizing walk through the “valley of the shadow of death”!

Frankl emerged from Hitler’s reign of terror intact and went on to establish an influential school of psychotherapy called logotherapy (http://logotherapy.univie.ac.at/). He died in 1997 at the ripe old age of 92, having survived the Third Reich by 52 years.

While Dr. Viktor Frankl was the victim of totalitarian oppression and a state-sanctioned policy of malignant racism and genocide, Brevet Major Gen. George Armstrong Custer stood on the other side of the divide, so to speak. Custer played a somewhat pivotal role in the United State’s 19th century pursuit of lebensraum (“living space”) and its calculated program of conquering and containing indigenous peoples (American Indians). It was not Custer’s successes in the so-called Indian War that helped advance the narrow social and political agenda of his time, but rather his death along with that of over 200 of his soldiers at the Little Big Horn (June 26, 1876). The “massacre” of then Lt. Col. Custer and his troops elicited a massive military response that ultimately led to the total subjugation of American Indians during the early years of the 20th century.   

After my students had fully acquainted themselves with the lives and feats of Dr. Frankl and Lt. Col. Custer, I had them conduct an open comparative analysis of the two (men) for the purpose of extracting principles they felt to be especially insightful and personally meaningful.

Of course, these bright, eager young people came up with an illustrious roster of “goodies”. Among them: The power of choice; how evil seduces people by playing up to their basic desires and egos; the futility of life spent focused on narrow, self-serving and self-aggrandizing goals; the nobility of service to others informed by prior suffering; etc.

After we had reviewed their litany of ideas and comments, I asked them to sum up what we had learned from the lives of Frankl and Custer. The general consensus was that we must all have the power to make choices that will steer us through life; choices that may decide whether we end our days with a tally sheet that favors having achieved something worthwhile,…..or its opposite.

I had only one thing to add to what their conclusion, which was this:

“Each of us is headed into the valley…to our own “last stand”. Whether you get there as a young person or during middle-age or as a very old man or woman,….we all have to the enter the valley and depart this world. No one escapes this fate. But as you correctly surmised, it isn’t that final battle alone that determines the meaning and value of the life you have lived, but what you do in the days, weeks, and years leading up to it. And yes, the impact of your life and the ripples it sets in motion are determined by the choices and subsequent actions you take while en route to the valley.

“Now I have but one final point to make – an admonition, really – which is this:

“If Dr. Frankl could exercise choice in his dire circumstances and by so doing not only survive the fiendish horror that was Nazi Germany, but set in motion ideas that have transformed countless lives ever since,….then certainly you can lay hold of the promise that lies in the abundant choices and options you have in life.”

Of those students who have stayed in contact with me in the intervening years, most appear to have made prudent choices that have helped them forge personally meaningful, productive and fulfilling lives. 

How goes your journey to the valley? 

 http://www.examiner.com/article/frankl-custer

Terrorist beheadings and other forms of inflicted, violent death: Are victims aware of what is happening around them after their heart and lungs have stopped working?

The many beheadings carried out by insurgents in Iraq during the past year or so not unexpectedly generated expressions of revulsion and denunciation far and wide. It is difficult for all but the most callous souls not to feel pangs of anguish for those who have been dealt this grisly fate. No doubt many of you have at one time or another found yourself trying to imagine the thoughts and feelings of the victims prior to and during decapitation. And then thinking, “Were they aware of anything following this despicable act?”

This concern has a lot to do with our human capacity to emphasize and sympathize with others, but there is an element of “enlightened self-interest” in our curiosity and even fascination with dying and death. When we ask “What did that poor soul experience?”, we are in some way seeking in the death of others some idea of what we might sense or think or visualize as we go through our own final, irreversible “systems failure”.

Modern science has amassed a great deal of evidence that the dying brain can and often does generate a wide range of images and such, not unexpectedly reflective of individual beliefs, expectation, and history. But what of the period immediately following cessation of heart and lungs? For example, does the brain of a just severed head continue to function?

Consider this account tendered by a French physician named Beaurieux who attended the state-sanctioned guillotining of a criminal named Languille during the early morning hours of June 28th, 1905 (France abolished the death penalty in 1981):

“I consider it essential for you to know that Languille displayed an extraordinary sang-froid and even courage from the moment when he was told, that his last hour had come, until the moment when he walked firmly to the scaffold. It may well be, in fact, that the conditions for observation, and consequently the phenomena, differ greatly according to whether the condemned persons retain all their sang-froid and are fully in control of themselves, or whether they are in such state of physical and mental prostration that they have to be carried to the place of execution, and are already half-dead, and as though paralyzed by the appalling anguish of the fatal instant.

“The head fell on the severed surface of the neck and I did not therefore have to take it up in my hands, as all the newspapers have vied with each other in repeating; I was not obliged even to touch it in order to set it upright. Chance served me well for the observation, which I wished to make.

 “Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. This phenomenon has been remarked by all those finding themselves in the same conditions as myself for observing what happens after the severing of the neck…

“I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. The face relaxed, the lids half closed on the eyeballs, leaving only the white of the conjunctiva visible, exactly as in the dying whom we have occasion to see every day in the exercise of our profession, or as in those just dead. It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: “Languille!” I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.

Next Languille’s eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. “After several seconds, the eyelids closed again, slowly and evenly, and the head took on the same appearance as it had had before I called out.

“It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. The there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement – and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead.

 “I have just recounted to you with rigorous exactness what I was able to observe. The whole thing had lasted twenty-five to thirty seconds.

 A Little Background

 The human brain is a complex assembly of interactive biological modules (as it were) that make it possible for us to do a myriad of things that favor our survival like eating, drinking, getting about, making love, and… thinking (Among just a few of its many faculties and features). When specific components of this system shut down we sleep and dream. When certain others do so, we lose our sense of time, space and position and can even experience disembodied states (Out-of-body, near-death, etc.), “oneness with God, the universe, and everything” (Mystical episodes), and similar wonders. These varying shades and expressions of this “neural network” — this brain-generated, emergent faculty we call mind and consciousness – fascinates us to the point of obsession. We all want to know how it is all this hardware in our heads comes together to work in the way it does, as well as what kind and degree of consciousness we muster after our brain ceases to receive life-sustaining oxygen and glucose.

For most of human history,…in most cultures of the world… the matter of consciousness and such was primarily if not exclusively the province of philosophers, theologians and mystics. With the expansion and refinement of the probing, powerfully explanatory tools and methodology of science, this state-of-affairs shifted. We are gradually, inexorably moving closer and closer to fathoming what was once unfathomable; to making explicable what was once perplexing and stupefying to the point of being “magical” and “miraculous”.

Here is but a few examples of things that have come to light through scientific exploration and testing:

Brain scans of people deep in prayer or meditation have revealed activity in specific brain regions that correlate with states that range from “enlightened insight” to awe to oceanic bliss (transcendence) to ecstatic visions. The areas of the brain involved and the way in which they are activated actually creates a blurring of the demarcation between self and “not-self” that gives rise to a boundary-lessness the brain experiences and interprets as a state of oneness with the universe. These brain states appear normative for our species and not pathological (There are conditions such as frontal lobe epilepsy and certain forms of schizophrenia in which hyper-religiosity, visions, delusions and such appear, but these manifestations are markedly different from what transpires in folks who have no brain disease or disorder present). 

  • Out-of-body experiences have been linked (in part) to malfunctions in the angular gyrus, a part of the brain that plays an important role in the way the brain analyzes sensory information that informs how we perceive our own bodies. In a 2002 paper published in the prestigious journal, Nature, scientists stimulated this structure in the brain of a 43 year old woman who had an 11 year history of epileptic seizures. During periods when electrical stimulation was applied, the woman spoke of seeing herself “lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk.” She also described “floating” near the ceiling above her (A distance of 72 inches or so).
  • Near Death Experiences (NDEs) including  traveling down a tunnel towards a bright light and such have been duplicated by persons using an audio system called the Hemi-Sync® developed by the Monroe Institute. In addition, Laurentian University neuroscientist Michael Persinger, Ph.D. has done some pioneering lab work that supports his contention that temporal lobe instability can produce OBE and NDE-like episodes and that these can be set off by various naturally occurring phenomena and events (Dying being one of them).

It seems likely that science will in the fullness of time demonstrate that all OBEs, NDEs, mystical experiences, and such are manifestations of physiological activity in the human brain evoked by external and internal influences and processes. But as proving a negative such as “there is no life after death” is virtually impossible — and given that whatever lies well beyond brain death cannot be probed or accessed by the tools of science — there is a point at which disbelief (as in “you die and that’s it”) or conversely faith in a post-mortem existence share a level playing field.

 However, the focus and concern of this foray is not what lies well beyond cessation of all brain activity – electrical, biochemical, etc. – but rather what might be transpiring in the 4-10 minutes or more in which the brain is oxygen and glucose starved, is dying but yet has not reached that state of equilibrium or inactivity that is total brain death. And more pointedly, what does the dying brain perceive and experience, especially in the wake of having been placed in this state by a violent, terror-filled act?              

Consciousness at death

Despite the fact scientists have not reached a consensus on the nature of consciousness or the complete neurological network and its interactions that give rise to it, we possess enough information and insight to determine various states and degrees of consciousness, e.g., aroused and alert v. asleep, epileptic, drugged, etc.  In the context of this minor tome, “awareness of self and what is happening to self” is a good working definition of what it is to be conscious. This view is consistent with what one neuroscientist has posited:

“The content of consciousness, also known as awareness, represents the sum of cognitive and affective mental functions, and denotes the knowledge of ones existence, and the recognition of the internal and external worlds. It has been argued that consciousness has two dimensions: wakefulness and awareness. Awareness is the same as the content of consciousness. Wakefulness is provided by the arousal. 

“Normal conscious behavior requires both arousal and awareness. Patients in coma are unconscious because both arousal and content of consciousness are disturbed.

“According to these important facts that show the relevance of the interaction of both components of consciousness (arousal and awareness) to govern conscious behavior in humans, I have recently presented a definition of human death. I used the term capacity for consciousness as synonym for arousal. To prevent possible nomenclature misunderstandings, it is better to use the term arousal. Awareness is a synonym for content of consciousness.

“The irreversible loss of both components of consciousness, arousal and awareness”

From “A new definition of death based on the basic mechanisms of consciousness generation in human beings” by Calixto Machado, M.D., Ph.D.

Head of the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology at the Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Havana, Cuba

http://www.changesurfer.com/BD/Papers/Calixto1.html

 

 Arousal and awareness requires that at least 2 brain structures be fully interconnected and up and running: The activating reticular formation and the cerebral cortex (Some researchers dispute the need for the cerebral cortex except for planning and conscience, but for now we will posit that both it and the activating reticular formation are needed to generate the kind and degree of waking consciousness we would recognize as being “fully operational”).

This brings us to the big question: Do these 2 structures continue to function pretty much true-to-form following cessation of heart and lung activity? And if they do,  for how long after death?

According to Laurence Schneiderman, M.D. a bioethicist at the University of California, San Diego,   “You have in your brain the cerebral cortex, which is actually a very thin structure on the outer surface of your cerebral hemispheres. Four to six minutes of anoxia, lack of oxygen, destroys that completely. The rest of your brain, particularly the brain stem, can survive for fifteen or twenty minutes without oxygen. That disparity accounts for what we now see in as many as 30,000 to 40,000 people being kept alive in permanent unconsciousness.”

http://seeingthedifference.berkeley.edu/schneiderman.html

So using his statement, the cerebral cortex and reticular activating formation can both continue to function for 4-6 minutes before the latter deteriorates and “disengages”. So we have the potential at least for the continued operation of the physiologic “essentials of consciousness” in a fuel (oxygen and glucose) deprived brain – for at most 6 minutes or so.

It can be argued that the cerebral cortex may indeed be functioning following immediate cessation of blood and oxygen flow, but not fully normally. Especially when death is sudden and traumatic. But what are we to make of case history accounts of folks who died suddenly – car wrecks, for example – remained clinically dead for 6 minutes or so —  were resuscitated – and who report they had cogent thought patterns and a level of awareness that did not differ greatly from normal day-to-day life? This alone suggests that the cerebral cortex functions in a normal fashion for 4-6 minutes or so following clinical death.

Coming full circle: Are those who decapitated by terrorists aware of the murderous act being inflicted on them, as well as what takes place thereafter?  

 Given the fact the reticular activating system and cerebral cortex function in an apparently normal fashion until lack of oxygen disengages the latter (6 minutes or so after clinical death), it isn’t difficult to surmise (however tentatively) that people subjected to murderous deaths – be it by hanging, gassing, decapitation, etc. — are conscious of most if not all that is taking place (Again, at least up to 6 minutes of so following clinical death). Unless, that is, the crucial brain structures involved in generating consciousness are obliterated by the violent act – a bullet sent careening through consciousness-vital neurological structures, for example – or by administration of drugs or other compounds that suppress the function of one or more of these physiologic areas prior to clinical death.

This line of reasoning suggests that those poor souls who were decapitated by terrorists in Iraq did experience a meaningful degree and kind of consciousness for at least 6 minutes or so following their demise.  Not unlike what was suggested by the post-decapitation reactions of Languille in 1905.

A final thought

Those who decapitate non-combatants in wartime are criminals, plain and simple. If these terrorists do drug their victims prior to dispatching them, it does not excuse or mitigate their criminal culpability or their lack of humanity. But it might in some way console the victim’s family and such – which would constitute a tiny decency in the midst of a malignant indecency. 

But what of state-sanctioned executions? Can our brief foray into the nature of consciousness at and immediately following death help inform this aspect of national policy? I think it can.

Whether one believes that state-sanctioned executions are ethically or morally right – or not* – it is a legal recourse that prevails in many states and countries and apparently will do so for some time to come.  In light of what we know and can conjecture concerning the nature of consciousness at death and afterwards, executions that involve obliterating consciousness prior to lethal act would seem more humane than those that do not. As such, the use of drugs which render prisoners unconscious prior to the administration of lethal drugs or such are probably sparring them undue suffering and anguish. It is a kindness – however convoluted or oxymoronic the whole concept of “humane execution” itself may be.

 * I do not – based on a conclusion I reached as a boy: The state should never take from a citizen what it cannot later restore.  If this were universal and fully enforced by the member nations of the world community, state-sanctioned genocide and such would seldom if ever occur. 

                                                                                                             

© 2005 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

Dr. Payne can be reached by e-mail at biotheoretician@gmail.com  

 

To learn more

For more on the history and folklore surrounding the guillotine: http://www.usd.edu/~jbulman/the_guillotine.htm   

 To learn about the Monroe Institute’s Hemi-Sync® audio system :  http://www.healingproducts.com/monroe.htm (Dr. Payne has no commercial or other interest in this company or device)

Neuroanatomy of the Brain Stem Reticular Formation: http://www.anatomy.dal.ca/Human_Neuroanatomy/handout%20gifs/Reticular%20formation.html

This website looks at NDEs as representing more than a manifestation of a dying or otherwise dysfunctional brain: http://www.near-death.com/experiences/research08.html

%d bloggers like this: