What near-death experiences can tell scientists about how the brain works

Floating out of your body and looking down on it. The story of your life flashing by before your eyes. Seeing a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel. These are just two of the most common experiences that people report after a near-death experience (NDE). For some people, NDEs are a transformative spiritual or mystical experience. But what's the source of the phenomena? That's a question that fascinates Dr. Christof Koch is president and chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science who studies the neuroscience of consciousness. In Scientific American, Koch surveys the science of near-death experiences and what they can tell us about how our brains work under extreme duress. From Scientific American:

Modern death requires irreversible loss of brain function. When the brain is starved of blood flow (ischemia) and oxygen (anoxia), the patient faints in a fraction of a minute and his or her electroencephalogram, or EEG, becomes isoelectric—in other words, flat. This implies that large-scale, spatially distributed electrical activity within the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain, has broken down. Like a town that loses power one neighborhood at a time, local regions of the brain go offline one after another. The mind, whose substrate is whichever neurons remain capable of generating electrical activity, does what it always does: it tells a story shaped by the person’s experience, memory and cultural expectations.

Given these power outages, this experience may produce the rather strange and idiosyncratic stories that make up the corpus of NDE reports.

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The gory details of the whaling expedition that inspired Moby Dick

I've always been a big fan of Caitlin Doughty and her Ask a Mortician YouTube channel, but I especially liked this almost 40-minute mini-doc she did on the disastrous voyage of the Essex, the Nantucket whaling ship which served as part of the inspiration for Herman Melville's classic, Moby Dick. I knew some of this story, but Caitlin provides all of the bone-chilling, marrow-sucking details.

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Grim Reaper visits Florida beaches as Gov. DeSantis lifts COVID-19 restrictions

Well, looks like the reopening of Florida is going great, just great today. Read the rest

Comparing COVID-19 to other causes of death

As the number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States blows past 60,000 faster than officials predicted, STAT [statnews.com] compares the 2020 coronavirus outbreak to other causes of death for which we have historical data. Read the rest

Trump is asked, if he loses more Americans in 6 weeks than died in Vietnam War, does he deserve to be re-elected?

That's what I'm talking about. Read the rest

Significant undercount in U.S. coronavirus deaths: report

“An analysis of federal data for the first time estimates excess deaths -- the number beyond what would normally be expected -- during that period.” Read the rest

New York's 'system for managing our dead' overwhelmed, says NYC councilman

Morgue space overload.

CoronaCoin: A coronavirus speculative deathwatch cryptocurrency

“CoronaCoin” exists. Some cryptocurrency developers on 4Chan cooked up a digital coin that allows traders to bet on the global coronavirus outbreak, based on how many people become infected and/or die. Read the rest

More fun mortuary history with Caitlin Doughty

Since my post about dead babies wearing other babies' skulls as hats went over so well, I thought I'd share several more videos from my favorite funeral director and "death enthusiast," Caitlin Doughty.

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Your "Morbid Minute;" more on dead babies wearing other babies' skulls as hats

You may have seen the archeological news item late last year of a macabre funeral find in Ecuador. Some baby graves from around 100 B.C. were unearthed where the babies are apparently wearing the skulls of other babies and children as hats.

In this "Morbid Minute" installment of the ever-excellent Ask a Mortician, our favorite Goth funeral director and "death positivity" educator, Caitlin Doughty, looks more closely at the discovery and what this practice might have meant.

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Love, loss, and Carrie Fisher’s lamp

I can only imagine what the hospice nurse must have been thinking.



It was an early October evening in 2017, and I was camped in the gigantic, overstuffed leather recliner that I had delivered the previous week.

One of the problems with buying furniture online is you don't truly get a sense of the dimensions in relation to your space. I don't know what made me think ordering a piece of furniture this way was a good idea. Read the rest

Human composting is now legal in Washington, and offered by a Seattle business

A startup based in Seattle says they plan to offer an alternative to human burial and cremation in Washington state, now that it's finally legal. Yep, human composting. Read the rest

"Forgotten" African-American cemetery discovered under Florida high school

At least 145 coffins have been discovered underneath King High School in Tampa, Florida. Apparently a citizen researching area cemeteries advised the school district that in the first half of the 20th century, there was an African-American graveyard on the site. So far, ground-penetrating radar revealed 145 coffins just a few feet below the surface. From Bay News 9:

The pattern of the findings matches historical records for a "potter's field," or pauper's field, called Ridgewood Cemetery, the district said.

"Hillsborough County Public Schools remains committed to respecting the individuals who are buried there, and their families," officials said.

This is just the latest of several "forgotten" African-American cemeteries found in Tampa in the past year.

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Free deaths offered

A company in South Korea will give you a funeral for free, but you have to be alive while it happens. Read the rest

What happens when climate change ravages graveyards?

I spend more time than I probably should wondering when the luxury condo trend will finally come for the dead. Real estate is expensive, and there's lots of valuable land in urban areas that could be used for yet-another fancy steel-and-glass skyscraper used to hide foreign money—if it wasn't for the cemeteries that currently take up all that space. I even have a half-finished short story in a notebook somewhere riffing on the classic Stephen King scenario of towns built on Native American burial grounds, except it's just luxury condos built up on the corpses of, well, everyone.

But I was thinking too far ahead. Because I didn't stop to think about what happens to those graveyards now, as flooding and earthquakes and more extreme weather disturb the soil under which our loved ones have been laid to their eternal rests. As a recent article in Scientific American gruesomely details, coffins are already body-surfing through the streets of Louisiana during storms:

The caskets and their surface vaults are sealed airtight, so pressure builds inside them when a hurricane or flash flood covers them in water. Moisture weakens the vault seal, and eventually the water begins to bubble with dead air—the tell-tale sign a casket is ready to pop out of its grave, Hunter said.

“You hear the bubbles, you see the bubbles, and you know that seal is weakening because of that immense amount of pressure. And then the lid comes off,” he said.

The visual of bubbling coffins popping out of the ground is scary enough. Read the rest

Family at viewing for dead relative sees wrong person in the casket

A family visited the Bragg Funeral Home in Paterson, New Jersey for a private viewing of their deceased relative Doris Chapman. When they opened the casket though, it wasn't Champman inside but someone else wearing Chapman's clothing. And the funeral home employees didn't believe them. The family plans to sue. From KCBD:

The family says that no matter how many times they told the workers that the body was not Chapman’s, they were told otherwise.

"They kept on insisting that was my grandmother, that things do happen, the body does change…we couldn’t believe it, but we had no choice but to believe it for the moment,” (Geralyn) McNeal says.

“We thought that the funeral home knew best. They were telling us that she was not ready, ‘She won't look like this when we're done,’” says Chapman’s niece Valencia Coney.

The family says that Chapman’s body was in the casket the next day for the service. They say that at least one funeral home employee admitted to the mistake.

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Rooster kills woman

A domestic rooster killed a 76-year-old woman on her rural property in Australia. The rooster pecked the woman, twice puncturing her skin, and she died. Unfortunately, she had preexisting conditions that caused her to bleed out very quickly. The physicians published the unusual case in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology. From the abstract:

The decedent’s past medical history included treated hypertension, hyperlipidemia, non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus and varicose veins... Two small bleeding lacerations were present, one of which was located immediately over a perforated large varix. Death was therefore due to exsanguination from bleeding varicose veins following an attack by a rooster. This case demonstrates that even relatively small domestic animals may be able to inflict lethal injuries in individuals if there are specific vascular vulnerabilities present.

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