Human beings and living beings in general are subject to a continuous cycle of life and death. We are born, we grow, we reproduce and we die. Our existence is, in principle, something ephemeral. But is this really so?

Many religious beliefs and philosophies propose that there is no such thing as death as the disappearance of the organism, but rather that we reincarnate or that a part of us (whether soul or consciousness) transcends or reincarnates.

What does science think? Is there life after death? In this article we will explore the different hypotheses established by science.

The concept of death

In general, in Western culture and from a scientific point of view, death is conceived as the end of life. The organism stops being able to perform its basic functions, losing its homeostasis or state of balance and causing the heart to stop beating and pumping blood , we stop breathing and the brain stops functioning and registering electrical activity. In this sense, it should be taken into account that the real death is considered to be the brain’s death, that is to say, the one that implies that the brain stops its activity, since other functions can be artificially resumed. But this death is not a sudden moment, but a more or less prolonged process in which the organism turns off.

That dying means that our organism stops functioning as it used to by itself is something shared by most traditions, beliefs and scientific studies. However, it is from this point that the debate begins. Our organism has stopped working and we have finally died. What does this mean? Is there no turning back? Does something happen after that?

Scientific hypotheses about life after death

Before starting to comment and debate on whether or not there is life after death, it should be noted that although it seems universal, death can be understood from different perspectives . For example, in the case that life exists after it, it would cease to be something definitive and finalist and become a kind of boundary to the next phase of existence. Otherwise we would be talking about the end of being, of existence, and the progressive decomposition of what we once were.

Having said this, let us look at some of the different hypotheses and theories based on arguments (although in many cases they are considered pseudoscientific or biased by the scientific community) regarding the existence of a possible life after death .

Near-death experiences: core of theories that assume the existence of a life after death

Many of the hypotheses referring to the existence of life after death arise from the study and analysis of near-death experiences: situations in which a subject has been clinically dead (brain function included) for a short period of time but has finally been revived by means of different techniques. Especially well known is the study carried out by the University of Southampton on this subject, which began in 2008 and whose results were published in 2014.

The study reflected a large number of cases of near-death experiences in patients with cardiac arrest who were clinically dead but eventually resuscitated. In many of these experiences and after having managed to recover the patient, it seems to be reflected that the patient has maintained a thread of consciousness during the whole process that causes him or her to be able to even relate what was happening in the ward during the period in which he or she was clinically dead. They also refer to feelings of floating, of seeing themselves from outside the body (and it is from this situation that they usually describe what was happening while they were dead), a sense of time slowing down and peace. In some cases they also report having entered a tunnel of light.

It should be noted that it is true that the brain can remain alive for a short time after the cessation of breathing and heart activity: our consciousness and perception is not suddenly deactivated, which could mean that even if our constants were incompatible with life we still possess a few seconds or even minutes of consciousness . But studies carried out by the University of Southampton indicate that in many of the near-death experiences the brain was not active during the period in question and that the descriptions given by the patients were very precise when describing the objects and situations that occurred during their death.

Another experiment of the same type has been carried out at the Technische Universität in Berlin, with believers and atheists who have been resurrected after being clinically dead and whose experiences reflect patterns similar to those described above. These types of theories are some of the most important and supported, and conclusions have been presented at the UN.

Biocentrism: quantum hypothesis

Another of the scientific hypotheses that consider the possibility of life after death is, according to Robert Lanza, biocentrism, which is based on quantum physics . In fact, he considers that death is only a product of consciousness, an illusion. This theory implies that it is not the universe that forms life but the opposite, that life generates what we consider to be reality. It is our conscience that gives form to what we consider to be the world, among them death itself. Also space and time.

To support this theory the author takes into account the results of double-slit experiments , which show that a particle can behave both as a particle and as a wave depending on how it is observed. It also starts from aspects such as visual perception, which can change if the receptors dedicated to it are altered.

The aforementioned author takes into account the physical theory of the possible existence of multiple universes. Theoretically, our death could mean the journey of our consciousness to another dimension or universe. Life is considered to be something continuous from which it is not possible to leave.

Theory of Orchestrated Objective Reduction

This theory also starts from quantum physics to consider that consciousness is nothing more than biologically programmed quantum information in microtubules within neurons. After death this information only returns to the universe . This theory has also been used to try to explain the visions that some people seem to have in near-death experiences.

The Yuri Bérland equation

Yuri Bérland is a Russian student who has created a mathematical equation in which, starting from the consideration of life as information and being linked to time, offers as a result a constant. This could indicate, according to this student, that mathematically it is possible to consider life as something constant and that therefore it does not have an end, although it is a hypothesis that has not yet been able to be published .

Counterfactual to the existence of life after death

A large majority of the scientific community considers death to be the end, with no evidence of the existence of anything beyond it. The neuroanatomical substrate that allows consciousness is the brain , which implies that after the cessation of its activity is also stops working.

It is also proposed that near-death experiences and the sensations that those who suffer them manifest are normal and to be expected as a consequence of the biological alterations produced at the time of death: alterations in the temporal cause effects very similar to those mentioned, the vision of light or a tunnel would be associated with the narrowing of consciousness and pupil dilation characteristic of a person in his last moments and the capture of details may be due to the persistence for a few seconds of brain functioning while the organism stops functioning.

Bibliographic references:

  • Lanza, R. and Berman, B. (2012), Biocentrism: life and consciousness as keys to understanding the nature of the universe. Editorial Sirio.
  • Parnia, S. et al. (2014). Awareness during resuscitation. A prospective study. Resuscitation, 85 (12); 1799-1805. Elsevier.
  • Penrose, R & Hameroff, S. (2011). Consciousness in the Universe: Neuroscience, Quantum Space-Time Geometry and Orch OR Theory. Journal of Cosmology, 14.