What Happens When We Die? – Glad You Asked S1 (E3)


Our understanding of death
has changed dramatically in the last hundred years. I’m wondering what happens
when we die. Alex:
So, I have been on a journey
to try to answer that one
impossible question,
and it’s taken me to a lot
of interesting places.
Questions drive our show,and this one comes
from a YouTube viewer
from Norway.
– Woman: Do you hear me?
– Yeah, you sound great. About your question– What is that one question
that everyone wants to know but no one has the answer to? I’ve lost a lot of people. Someone I know really closely who’s been like
a mother figure to me just got terminal cancer, and she has, like,
a couple weeks left now. I don’t wanna sit here and think
that they just die sadly and fall into emptiness. I’m super terrified of dying. So, I’m not trying
to prove the afterlife.
That’s unknowable. But what if modern science could
reveal what we’ll experience in the final moments
of our lives?( music playing )More people are searching
for what happens
at the end of our lives, so we’re gonna figure that out. You’re gonna figure out
what happens when we die? Uh, I already have. When Helle brought
this question to me,
I started digging, and one thing
that kept popping up
was this video on a dog that was brought
back to life.In 1926, a scientist came up
with an experiment
that would redefine
the way we would interpret
the process of dying.
Dr. Sergei Brukhonenko
drained dogs of blood,
and they died while connectedto his new machine
the autojektor.
They stopped breathing
and then their heartbeat ended.
They were believed
to be completely dead.
Then the doctors waited.After ten minutes without
a heartbeat or breathing,
the autojektor cycled
their bodies
with re-oxygenated
arterial blood
and then the dogs
came back to life.
And over time,
they made a full recovery.
The dog experiment shows us
that death was not just
a moment in time,
but it was a long process.So, that raised the question,
if death is a process, at what point
do we truly die? In the case of the dog, that dog was actually
never dead at all. He had never died. – What was he?
– Allow me to explain. That’s a transition. So what I have here
are some custom “Glad You Asked”
tarot cards. – Okay.
– I picked these because we tend to search for
answers in the supernatural, but there’s still so much
to be learned from science. For most of human existence,
life was thought to reside
in two organs. You had the heart
and you had the lungs. Do you have any idea why? Those seem to be
the ways that we can tell if someone is dead
from the outside– – if they’re breathing, if you
can feel their heartbeat.
– Exactly. Alex:For thousands of years,
we considered somebody dead
if they had no pulse
and they weren’t breathing.
But these signs can be
misleading,
as people can actually
recover from both.
This lead to fears
of being buried alive.
Jean Jacques Winslow,
a medical expert of his time,
stated that the safest way
to define death
was putrefaction of the body,
or decomposition.
But we still relied on
that heart-lung definition.
Without signs of either, you’re
considered clinically dead.
In the last hundred years,
that started to change.In the ’30s and ’40s,
two new machines
were commonly used
to extend life.
We got the defibrillator
that could restart the heart,
and the iron lung,
followed by the respirator,
that could pump
the lungs with air.
At around the same time,we used another machine,
the EEG,
to study electrical signals
in the brain.
The brain will flatline within
two to 20 seconds on an EEG
once the heart stops beating.Alex:
So, if each of these organs
was not required to be working all the time
for you to be alive, maybe we have
to start thinking about
death differently.In 1978, President Carter
mandated a commission
to study and define death.He hoped to find
a modern definition
which took into account
recent medical advances.
In 1981, they published
their report, “Defining Death.”
This lead to the act
that hospitals today use,
making the old definition
of death obsolete.
The focus shifted
over to this– the brain. This became the final
indicator of whether
you were alive or dead.Now, there are levels
to this–
the higher
and the lower brain.
Most medical experts today saythat once you lose higher level
brain functionality,
which is where logical thinking
and personality reside,
you are considered dead.You are dead even ifsome of the lower level
brain functions,
those controlled by
the brain stem like breathing,
still persist.So you can be brain dead,
but still be breathing, and have a heartbeat–
everything. Totally. And that gets
into kind of murky territory
with how we define dead. So, to answer
what happens when we die, we have to focus on one thing, getting as close as possible
to the final moments of life to see what we feel and
experience in those moments. – To here.
– The near-death experience.( music playing )So I started
researching NDEs.
They’re in Medieval accountsand as far back
as the writings of Plato.
They’re in the artwork of Bosch
from 500 years ago.
They’re seeing a bright light.They’re going through a tunnel.They’re hearing voices and
communicating with the dead.
To help go through the research, I’m getting Joss
to help me dive in. Hey, Joss. – I need your help.
– Okay. So I’ve been looking into
near-death experiences. Maybe there’s a medical reason – why these things
are happening.
– Mm-hmm. So, just kind of survey
whatever research is out there – on how legit these
experiences are.
– Yeah. Alex:While Joss is
looking at NDE experiments,
I’m getting some caffeine
and researching the history,
the controversies,
and cultural impact of
near-death experiences.
First, history.1975, Dr. Raymond Moody
publishes a book,
“Life After Life.”He coins the phrase
“near-death experience.”
Over the next two decades,he’s established as
the preeminent expert on NDEs.
He proclaims the transformative
effects of NDEs
and becomes the subject
of this 1992 documentary.
Once they come back, they tell us that they’re
totally transformed and they have no more doubt
whatsoever.It’s engrained into
the public consciousness.
Even celebrities are saying
they’ve had them.
It’s just a lot
of white light, and you see people
that have passed on and– When you’re in a coma
for eight to ten days, you’re basically knocking
on the door. I was talking to my dad. I sort of floated
into this tunnel.YouTube data shared with usindicated that between
2017 and 2018,
views on videos related
to death increased by 40%.
So clearly a lot of people
have questions about death,
and one of the phenomena
they’re looking at
is near-death experiences.
All right,
that’s enough internet. I need to find an actual
experiencer and talk to them.I’m on my way to meet
with Tony Cicoria.
He’s an orthopedic surgeonwho in 1994 was struck
by lightningand experienced an NDE.But something weird
happened to Tony.
Tony became obsessed with music and started to play it
all the time, and today he is
a renowned composer. ( playing piano ) Tony: It’s 1994,
I’m at a family gathering and I tried to call my mom. I took the phone away
from my face. I was gonna hang it back up, and I heard this huge,
loud crack. And I saw this big flash
of light come out of the phone and hit me right in the face. And it just threw me back
like a ragdoll. And I was confronted
with myself on the ground
about ten feet away. And, you know,
the first thought that popped into my head was,
“Oh, ( bleep ), I’m dead!” And I’m looking down
at the ground and I noticed that
my legs were dissolving. You’re seeing your body
on the ground. – Yeah.
– You’re feeling yourself
outside of your body, but you still feel yourself
walking and present. Yeah.
Yeah, that was really weird. I was just a ball of energy. And right about the time
I realized this is the greatest thing that
could ever happen to anyone, it was like somebody
flipped a switch, and, bam,
I was back in that body. And I was pissed. Some circuits got fried,
and some that got opened, and I had access
to parts of my brain that I didn’t know
existed for me.But then within a couple weeks,
all of a sudden
I started to have
this insatiable desire
to hear piano music. Being struck by lightning,
having an NDE, didn’t give you
instant super powers. I wish it had given me
super powers. I was skeptical. I was a scientist
before I went into medicine. I– you know, I thought
about things and, you know, there has to be
a structure to follow. But I’m absolutely certain that consciousness
survives death and that we keep going
through the cycle. It doesn’t seem like
you’re afraid of dying today. No. No. And that’s a blessing
and a curse.I think that there’s
a process that happens
as we approach death.It’s an incredible experience.It’s certainly
not something to do
before it’s time to do it,but it also is something
to not be afraid of. Alex:
That was great! I’m about to speak
with Dr. Pim van Lommel, and he a scientist
from the Netherlands who’s been tracking near-death
experiences for years. Alex:
Hello, Dr. van Lommel. Yes. How would you define
near-death experience? I think there’s a lot
of studies out there that have tried to prove
that near-death experiences and out-of-body
experiences exist. Have you heard
of Dr. Parnia’s AWARE study? – So I asked you to look
into this AWARE case.
– Yes. Joss: This was the largest
scientific study of near-death experiences. I put a little model
of their experimental method. – You made this yourself?
– Yeah, I spent a lot
of time making this. – Amazing.
– You better like it. So, this is a hospital room
where patients were likely
to experience cardiac arrest. Medical professionals
would be rushing in and trying to resuscitate
this person. And in those rooms
they installed a shelf – near the ceiling
– Oh. and placed a picture
on top of that shelf. And the idea was that
if someone was going through
an out-of-body experience, they often claim that
they’re looking at themselves
from the top of the ceiling– that they would be able
to see this picture and report back what they saw.During this study period,
around 2,000 patients
had cardiac arrests,
but only one of them
was healthy enough to explain
an out-of-body experience.
But they didn’t have
a shelf in his room!
So the study was inconclusive
on out-of-body experiences,
since nobody could describe
the picture on the shelf.
I spoke to a NDE experiencer. His name is Tony Cicoria. What does that tell you
about how influential
these experiences are? This is definitely not
what all of us experience
at the end of life, and I’ve been looking
at this other case that does tell you
what might be happening at the end of life
for all of us. A researcher up in Buffalo has been looking at these cases
for the past five years. So you’re going to Buffalo. I’m going to Buffalo. So after a long trip,
we finally arrived over
at Hospice Buffalo. We’re good? Thank you.The thing that makes
this facility so special,
is they’ve been cataloging
the dreams
and end of life visions
of patients.
So these patients will tell us
what they’re experiencing
at the very final moments
of their lives.
Man:So can we just talk
for a second?
We’re just filming. Woman: Oh. – We can go this way
to inpatient unit.
– Okay. …there’s little coves
where people can hang. There’s an English garden
out here, so we actually push people
in their beds outside. – Hi.
– Hi, Helen. – Yes. Hi.
– I’m Alex. – Great to meet you.
– Nice to meet you. – How are you doing today?
– I’m doing very well. Christopher: You’re a good
Polish girl, I see. Yes, I am.
Polish and Serbian. Christopher:
Have you been having
unusual dreams at all? – No. No, nothing.
– No, nothing. It tends to come
as people are closer to dying. But she’s too–
you’re too healthy.You’ve got time.I did the first study
that attempted to quantify what happens to people
at the end of life by asking patients directly,
you know, “What is it you’re
experiencing?”, every day until death. And, so attempted
to put definition around what people were
feeling or experiencing
as they were dying. It went like fire
around the world. A doctor at a hospice
in Buffalo has been studying this
for years. Man: He and his team have
documented 1,400 cases. He says the dreams are
comforting to the dying. Christopher:
“New York Times,”
“Huffington Post”
a couple of times.
Ireland, China, India,
you name it, been there. – And it just keeps growing.
– What did you start to discover – when you were looking
at the research?
– Well, it was remarkable. People were having these
very intense experiences. We call them dreams because it’s the only
reference point we have. But the thing we hear
most common from patients is, “No, no, you don’t understand.
This is different than any other dream I had.
This happened.” When I woke up I–
it was like they were there, you know, all three of them
together. And it was nice. The vast majority of people,
greater than 80% if you ask
them, you know, for weeks– – 80%?
– Yeah, at least having
one experience that was distinct
and different
from normal dreaming. Heightened acuity,
clear thinking. In fact,
half the people said
they weren’t asleep. And in terms of themes,
far and away it was
seeing the deceased, some living a past
meaningful experience. I’m back in the service. I’m at Fort Devens up
in Massachusetts. You know, when you dream,
you kind of put things together
and it’s all a fog? – Right.
– That’s not what happens. This is recalled as though
it’s a lived event. I was laying in bed and people were walking
very slowly by me. My mom and dad were there. My uncle. Everybody I knew
that was dead was there. There’s this kind of paradox
where you’re physically dying, but inside you’re very much
alive and feeling. You know, we all have wounds
for having lived, and they just seem
to kind of get addressed. I can’t say that my mother
and I got along all those years, but we made up for it
at the end. Woman:
Paul is my dad.
He was 82
when he passed away about six
and a half years ago. There was this study
going on and we were looking into dreams
and dying and so forth. He, of course, said yes. They were forming this company
that were gonna oversee. A new company.And the guys are all young.They’re like I remember them,
and I’m old.
And I’m trying to tell them,“Guys, I’ve been here,
I’ve done this,
I’m not gonna do it again.”
– ( chuckles ) Do you think
that he was okay with death
when it finally came? I think he had
come to grips with death. He took comfort
in the dreams that he had. I think sometimes
in his dreams he was kind of
wrapping things up, like getting closure
with his buddies
in the service. He was not afraid. You know, it was–
this was good. Christopher:
Dying’s a process.
We tend to view death
as that last gasp,
that grabbing of the chest,
what have you.
Most dying is less dramatic. It’s quieter. It’s gentler. It’s more natural. Alex:
Dr. Kerr’s studies suggest
that the majority of the dyingmay eventually have ELDBs.In his 2014 study,he found that more
than 80% of his patients
had these vivid experiences.This isn’t just happening
in America. These stars represent
a few of the areas where ELDBs have been
recognized. A Swiss study found
nine out of ten patients
in palliative care experienced
these very real dreams
and visions before dying. Tony:
What happens when you die
is you will experience
absolute love and peace.It’s gonna be an earthshaking
feeling and freedom. Christopher:
It tends to bring folks
this comfort or closure.
They’re made whole again. So, of course, there’s more
research to be done. But maybe our brains,
faced with the specter
of no longer existing, are stepping in
to prepare us at the end by revealing
what life was all about. And if that’s the case,
we don’t need to be afraid, because if we’re lucky,
we’ll be ready. Helen:
Everybody dies. We just don’t know where
or when or how. But I’m 92, so I think
it’s time for me to go. This is a copper casket. – Truly copper.
– Wow, it’s like memory foam. ( laughs )
Sorry to laugh. – Almost like
a really soft mattress.
– It’s a mattress.

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