When Does Our Consciousness Die? Attitudes of Scientists and Philosophers

Not so long ago, the physical death was an understandable thing. A stopped heart meant that a life of a human being was over in every sense. However, the description of a death was extended about 50 years ago. With the capabilities of a modern medicine it is still possible to revive a stopped heart, as a result, it does not mean the end of life now. As the ordinary boundaries of death have been faded, scientists have met with philosophers at a common point that consciousness works even when the heart and brain are not functioning anymore. When does a person die completely?


The Irreversible Limit of Death

Usually, everything happens like as the following: the heart stops, blood circulation is ended, and after a few minutes, the medical equipment can no longer record brain activities. Of course, people die in a variety of ways, but in this case, the dead brain is thought to mean that human consciousness has also disappeared irreversibly.

It is the line where is no return and that is considered death. But philosophers have defined it for quite some time. Scientists and medics have only pushed that limit forward. If 100 years ago that threshold had stopped the heart, and now it can be forced to beat again, then perhaps even once the stopped brain will not be an irreversible fact?

Posthumous Awareness and the Mystery of Perception

We are not equally conscious all the time. Anesthesia, sleep, some illnesses, or hits to the head reduce our level of consciousness but do not completely turn it off. When our brain cells die for hours or days, our consciousness should gradually deteriorate also. However, could it be that a person realizes that he is no longer alive, or can he hear doctors saying that his brain activity is no longer being recorded?

Posthumous Awareness and the Mystery of Perception
Posthumous Awareness and the Mystery of Perception

Actually, everything is more complicated. The brain also stops functioning like other organs, although some cells remain viable. For scientists it is difficult to say how many living cells are needed to maintain any level of consciousness, but it is clear that no recorded activities should mean that a person at least can no longer understand the world around. On the other hand, you do not recognize the moment when you turn on the other side while being asleep because you are at a lower level of consciousness. Therefore, if there is such a thing as a posthumous perception, it would be very limited.

In 2016, a research was conducted with humans. Four patients were disconnected from life-support equipment. The brain of one of them was noticeably active even 10 minutes after the death as the brain was still emitting waves detected by medical equipment. Just like the brain of a sleeping person. Scientists are now confident in saying that consciousness does not die with the body. It is still active for a while and it is related to the slowly dying brain cells. However, it is impossible to say when the consciousness eventually disappears.