Death as a science

Table of contents:

Death as a science
Death as a science

What is death, when a person can be considered dead, what hallucinations do the dying see, and where do the legs grow from the fear of death?


* An article from the journal Naked Science (# 13, May-June 2014).

Having opened the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, we read: “Death is the cessation of the vital activity of an organism and, as a result, the death of an individual as a separate living system. In a broader sense - an irreversible cessation of metabolism in a living substance, accompanied by the decomposition of protein bodies. " It would seem, what else?

Between life and death

No one can pinpoint the line between where life ends and death begins. After all, death is a process, and a slow one.

Once death was considered cardiac arrest, today, as you know, a person is definitely considered dead in case of brain death. And the brain can die long before the moment the body stops breathing. But what then must die in the brain? Trunk. It is he who is the most ancient part of the "second Universe", which is also called the "reptilian brain", the very one that millions of years ago constituted the entire brain of our ancestors - it is the core of our brain. Over the course of evolution, the trunk found itself inside more complex structures, but it is still the basis of life. It controls the basic functions of our body: heartbeat, breathing, blood pressure, body temperature … Therefore, when the brain stem dies, doctors can be sure: the patient has at least clinical death.


Statistics show that most often people die from old age and from diseases associated with it, such as cancer and stroke. However, the number one killer is heart disease, the worst of which is heart attack. They kill about a quarter of the population of the Western world

You will be completely dead

Doctors say that there is a state when a person is "mostly dead", and sometimes when a person is "completely dead." hours. And since death, as befits an old woman, walks slowly, the moment of its onset, with skillful and, most importantly, prompt medical assistance, can often be suspended and a person revived.

One of the most effective means of revitalization, oddly enough, is hypothermia - freezing. True, temporary. Doctors are still puzzling over why hypothermia is so powerful. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that at very low temperatures, cells stop dividing (the limit of cell division is 50 times), and vital activity in them is greatly inhibited. They need less supply of nutrients and oxygen, and the removal of harmful metabolic products.


For Whom the Bell Tolls

Two hundred years ago, people asked in a will before their funeral … to cut off their head. Sometimes the fear of being buried alive took on the character of mass hysteria.

She became the reason for the appearance of the so-called dead waiters, houses of the dead. When people doubted that their loved one was really dead, they left his body in such a corpse and waited until the corpse began to decompose. The decomposition process was the only reliable method to determine if a person was dead. A rope was tied to the finger of such a "dubious" deceased, the end of which went into another room, where a bell hung and a man was sitting. Sometimes the bell rang. But it was a false alarm caused by the displacement of bones in a decaying body. For all the years of the existence of the dead, not a single person has come to life.


It is believed that, having lost the flow of oxygen in the blood, neurons die within minutes.During such supercritical moments, the brain can remain active only in those areas that are absolutely critical for survival

Alive or dead: how to determine?

But there were faster ways to find out if a person is dead. Some of them, oddly enough, are still relevant today. Sometimes they are used by many doctors. These methods cannot be called tricky: disturb the cough centers in the lungs; to conduct a test for the "symptom of doll eyes", which consists in the fact that a person is injected into the ear with cold water: if a person is alive, his eyeballs will react reflexively; well, and quite antediluvian - to stick a pin under a nail (or just press on it), place an insect in an ear, scream loudly, cut a foot with a razor blade … Anything to get at least some reaction. If it is not there, then even a beating heart says that the person is dead. From a legal point of view, it is a so-called corpse with a beating heart (in this case, the heart can beat itself, or be supported by the apparatus). "Living corpses" often serve as organ donors for the truly living.

The cells in our body die throughout our lives. They begin to die even when we are in the womb. Cells are programmed to die at the moment of birth. Death allows new cells to be born and live

Neither alive nor dead

But people are also considered dead if their brains are still alive, but they themselves are in a stable state of coma. This question is controversial, and legislative disputes do not subside in relation to it to this day. On the one hand, loved ones have the right to decide whether to disconnect such a person from the devices that support the vital activity of the body, and on the other, people in a long coma rarely, but still open their eyes …

That is why the new definition of death includes not only the death of the brain, but also its behavior, even if the brain is still alive. After all, a person is nothing more than a "set" of feelings, memories, experiences, peculiar only to this particular person. And when he loses this "set", and there is no way to return it, the person is considered dead. It doesn't matter if his heart is beating, whether his organs are working - it is important if he has at least something left in his head.


Dying is not scary

One of the largest and most widely accepted studies of posthumous experiences was also carried out in the 1960s. It was led by the American psychologist Karlis Osis. The study was based on the observations of physicians and nurses caring for the dying. His conclusions are based on the experience of 35,540 observations of the process of dying.

The authors of the study stated that most dying people did not experience fear. Feelings of discomfort, pain, or indifference were more often observed. About one in 20 people showed signs of elation.

Some studies show that older people experience less anxiety at the thought of death than relatively younger people. A survey of a large group of elderly people showed that the question "Are you afraid of dying?" only 10% of them answered “yes”. It is noted that old people think about death often, but with amazing calmness

What will we see before we die?

Osis and his colleagues paid particular attention to the visions and hallucinations of the dying. At the same time, it was emphasized that these are "special" hallucinations. All of them are in the nature of visions experienced by people who are conscious and clearly understand what is happening. At the same time, the work of the brain was not distorted either by sedatives or by high body temperature. However, immediately before death, most people already lost consciousness, although an hour before death, about 10% of the dying were still clearly aware of the world around them.

The main conclusions of the researchers were that the visions of the dying often corresponded to traditional religious concepts - people saw paradise, heaven, angels.Other visions were devoid of such a connotation, but were also associated with beautiful images: beautiful landscapes, rare bright birds, etc. But most often in their posthumous visions, people saw their previously deceased relatives, who often offered to help the dying person pass into another world.

The most interesting thing is another thing: the study showed that the nature of all these visions relatively weakly depends on the physiological, cultural and personal characteristics, the type of disease, the level of education and religiosity of the person. The authors of other works, who observed people who experienced clinical death, came to similar conclusions. They also noted that descriptions of the visions of people who have returned to life are not culturally related and often do not agree with the accepted ideas about death in a given society.

However, such a circumstance would probably be easily explained by the followers of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. It was this researcher who always paid special attention to the "collective unconscious" of humanity. The essence of his teaching can be very roughly reduced to the fact that all of us at a deep level are the keepers of the universal human experience, which is the same for everyone, which cannot be changed or realized. He can "break through" into our "I" only through dreams, neurotic symptoms and hallucinations. Therefore, it is possible that deep in our psyche the phylogenetic experience of experiencing the end is really "hidden", and these experiences are the same for everyone.

Interestingly, psychology textbooks (for example, the famous work of Arthur Rean, "The Psychology of Man from Birth to Death") often refer to the fact that the events experienced by the dying coincide strikingly with those described in ancient esoteric sources. At the same time, it is emphasized that the sources themselves were completely unknown to most people who described the posthumous experience. One can cautiously assume that this actually proves Jung's conclusions.


Stages of dying

The most famous periodization of the stages of this sad process was described by the American psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross back in 1969. Nevertheless, it is still the most used today. There she is

1. Denial. The person refuses to accept the fact of imminent death. Having learned about the terrible diagnosis, he assures himself of the doctors' mistake.

2. Anger. A person feels resentment, envy and hatred towards others, asking himself the question: "Why me?"

3. Bargaining. A person is looking for ways to extend his life and promises anything in exchange for it (doctors - to quit drinking and smoking, to God - to become righteous, etc.).

4. Depression. The dying person loses interest in life, feels complete hopelessness, grieves about separation from family and friends.

5. Acceptance. This is the last stage at which a person resigns himself to his fate. Despite the fact that the dying person does not become cheerful, peace and a calm expectation of the end reign in his soul.

Despite its wide popularity, this concept is not recognized by all specialists, since a person does not always go through all these stages, and their order may be different. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the Kubler-Ross periodization accurately describes what is happening

The moment of death

Other specialists, however, added to the picture of dying. Thus, the American psychologist and physician Raymond Moody, having studied 150 cases of posthumous experiences, built a "complete model of death." It can be briefly described as follows.

At the moment of death, a person begins to hear an unpleasant noise, loud ringing, buzzing. At the same time, he senses that he is moving very quickly through a long, dark tunnel. After that, the person notices that he is outside his own body. He just sees it from the side. Then the spirits of previously deceased relatives, friends and loved ones appear, who want to meet and help him.

Scientists still cannot explain the phenomenon characteristic of most posthumous experiences, nor the vision of a bright tunnel. It is assumed, however, that neurons in the brain are responsible for the tunnel effect. When they die, they begin to be chaotically excited, which creates a sensation of bright light, and the disruption of the peripheral vision caused by a lack of oxygen creates a "tunnel effect". Feelings of euphoria can occur as the brain releases endorphins, "internal opiates" that reduce feelings of depression and pain. This causes hallucinations in the parts of the brain that are responsible for memory and emotions. People feel happiness and bliss.

True, the reverse process is just as possible - physiology begins to turn on in response to stimuli created by psychological phenomena. It is just as impossible to understand what acts first, as it is to answer the question about the notorious egg and chicken.

Nothing boded trouble

As Bulgakov's Woland said, “Yes, man is mortal, but that would be half the trouble. The bad news is that sometimes he is suddenly mortal. " In this case, scientists also have a lot of research. One of the most famous is the work of the Norwegian psychologist Randy Noyes, who identified the stages for sudden death.

The stage of resistance. The person realizes the danger, experiences fear and tries to fight. As soon as he realizes the futility of such resistance, fear disappears, and the person begins to feel serenity and calmness.

Review of life. It takes place in the form of a panorama of memories, replacing each other in rapid succession and covering the entire past of a person. Most often this is accompanied by positive emotions, less often - negative ones

The stage of transcendence. The logical conclusion of the review of life. People begin to perceive their past with increasing distance. Ultimately, they are able to achieve a state in which all life is seen as a whole. At the same time, they distinguish every detail in an amazing way. After that, even this level is overcome, and the dying person seems to go beyond himself. It is then that he experiences a transcendental state, which is sometimes also called "cosmic consciousness."


Fear of death and incompleteness of life

Despite everything, many perfectly healthy and young people often fear death. Moreover, they do it much more intrusively than everyone else. What is the reason for this? With this question, we turned to specialists.

“The fear of death is a very important“brick”in the foundation of cultures, religions, the development of mankind, civilizations, large and small social groups, that is, a necessary element of some“collective unconscious,”says Lyubov Zaeva, a psychoanalyst, specialist of the European Confederation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. - But this is also something without which there is no development, functioning of each individual personality, separate psyche. Freud believed that the fear of death is generated by the fear of castration: it is a deep fear of losing a part of oneself, the fear of destroying one's bodily "I".

It is necessary to distinguish between the normal presence of this theme in life and the pathological one. Normal should be understood as those situations when the fear of death, for example, helps to include the necessary defenses to regulate behavior and life. This is what protects and saves us. If we are aware that we could die if we do not follow the rules of the road, it helps us to stay safe and avoid dangerous situations.

In a global sense, the fear of death helped entire nations survive, stimulating migration, discoveries, and the development of science and culture. In order not to die, not to perish, to prolong life, to improve it, it is necessary to learn something elementary, to do something, to change something, to know something and remember something. That is, the fear of death is able to push us towards self-improvement and a new life.

Fear of death can include powerful compensatory mechanisms, and then a person, defending himself against it at an unconscious level, begins, for example, to strenuously monitor his health, adhere to a healthy lifestyle. He can become a creator, bearing fruit, "giving birth" in spite of death - then creativity in all its forms, as it were, drowns out the fear of death. The very thought that something will remain after us (children, objects of art and everyday life, the gardens and forests we have planted, ideas, business), as if moving death away from us, adds a "drop of eternity" to life.

The pathological presence of the theme of death in the life of a particular person reveals itself, for example, in states of frozenness and numbness, depression, increased anxiety, phobias. These extremely unpleasant states often hide trauma at a very early age from facing the topic of death, when there was not even a real death of the object (no one actually died), but something was lost in the inner world (a beloved object, a sense of security or trust in the world). At the same time, it is as if a hole is formed in the soul and in the psyche, which every now and then makes itself felt by various disturbing experiences.

The fastest, easiest and "broken" way to deal with the fear of death - various kinds of addiction, dependence. An alcoholic and a drug addict are always at the mercy of the fear of death, but at the same time they do everything to destroy their existence.

A strong fear of death always arises there and when the meaning of life is lost, there is no idea, a goal, calling forward fantasy, that is, when a person is existentially disoriented. Then the music of life does not seem to sound in his soul, and he hears the signals of the end, emptiness … In this sense, most religions offer their short answer to the fear of death, talking about the eternity of the life of the soul, other incarnations in other lives. What is the point of being afraid if there is no death as such? In fact, religious concepts remind of the frailty of one and the immortality of the other in us, the most important. A person who is pathologically tuned in to the wave of the "radio station of the voice of death" is always afraid to say goodbye to something that has become obsolete in his soul, life, and does not see, does not appreciate his real future path. We sometimes go to cemeteries, but we must always leave on time. Remembering death, we must remember much more about the value of life.

The fear of death is different

–What are the causes of the fear of death? We can assume several possible answers, - says Elena Sidorenko, psychoanalytically oriented psychologist, chairman and board member of the regional branch of the European Confederation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, EKPP-Russia-Samara. - First of all, it is the fear of death as such, the fear that it will come. Your own or a loved one, a stranger on the street, etc. In this case, most likely, we are talking about the existence of a fantasy that overwhelms the inner world of the subject, splashing out and interfering with reality. According to the psychoanalytic interpretation, in this case it is appropriate to talk about the presence of a certain desire that feeds and develops a person's unconscious fantasy. This mental content can have roots deep in the distant past and carry the sound of the presence of a murderous drive (i.e., an unconscious desire to kill, destroy), denied by a person due to social disapproval (this is impossible, not accepted, can be punished).

In another case, fear may take place, as an indefinite anxiety. Without delving into Freud's theory of fear, it can be noted that the German word angst does not have an unambiguous meaning. This word can often have a contrasting meaning. Unlike fear, as the fear of something that has a certain object, the feeling of anxiety is characterized by the absence of such an object. This refers to a kind of "anticipation", the anticipation of the experience as such.

And, finally, it makes sense to touch upon the fear of death as a special state, a stable reaction of the subject in a traumatic situation with a stream of internal and external excitations that the subject is unable to control. This is an automatic response. Freud wrote about this in his work "Inhibition, symptom, fear". In this case, we are talking about evidence of a person's mental helplessness. This is an automatically arising fear of death. It represents the body's spontaneous response to a traumatic situation or to its repetition. The prototype of this experience is the experience of the infant as a consequence of his biological helplessness.

Death is the purpose of life

“From psychoanalytic practice, we know that fear of death is not a basic fear,” says the famous St. Petersburg psychoanalyst Dmitry Olshansky. - Losing a life is not something that all people, without exception, are afraid of. For someone, life is not of particular value, for someone it is so disgusting that parting with it looks like a happy outcome, someone dreams of heavenly life, so earthly existence seems to be a heavy burden and vanity. A person is afraid to lose not life, but something significant, with which this life is filled. Therefore, for example, it makes no sense to apply the death penalty to religious terrorists: they already dream of going to heaven as soon as possible and meeting their god. And for many criminals, death would be a deliverance from the pangs of conscience. Therefore, the exploitation of the fear of death for social regulation is not always justified: some people are not afraid of death, but strive for it. Freud even tells us about the death drive, which is associated with lowering all tensions of the body to zero. Death is a point of absolute peace and absolute bliss. In this sense, from the point of view of the unconscious, death is an absolute pleasure, a complete discharge of all drives. It is not surprising, therefore, that death is the goal of all drives. Death, however, can frighten a person, since it is associated with the loss of personality or one's own "I" - a privileged object created by the look. Therefore, many neurotics ask themselves the question: what awaits me after death? What will be left of me in this world? Which part of me is mortal and which part is immortal? Succumbing to fear, they create for themselves a myth about the soul and about paradise, where their personality is supposedly preserved after death. Therefore, it is not surprising that people who do not have this own "I", who do not have a personality, are not afraid of death, as, for example, some psychotics. Or Japanese samurai, who are not independent reflective personalities, but only an extension of the will of their master. They are not afraid of losing their lives on the battlefield, they do not hold on to their identity, because initially they do not have it. Thus, we can conclude that the fear of death is imaginary in nature and is rooted only in the person's personality. Whereas in all other registers of the psyche there is no such fear. Moreover, the drives tend to death. And we can even say that we die precisely because the drives have reached their goal and completed the earthly path.

Our experts:

Image Image Image

* An article from the journal Naked Science (# 13, May-June 2014).

Popular by topic