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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Visiting the dead on Google Street View

Over at OK Whatever, Jessie Schiewe tells of people who have looked up family addresses on Google Street View and found ghostly images of their dead loved ones in the midst of their everyday lives -- mowing the lawn, grabbing the mail, washing the car. From OK Whatever:

...For most people, finding dead relatives in Google Street View can be a great comfort. The father-in-law of a Reddit user called lovelyriver2929 was elated when he discovered his late-wife standing in front of their home in one of the photos taken of their address.

“He goes and looks at it sometimes,” she wrote. “He loves it because it was just her doing something completely normal on a completely normal day.”

For some people, it’s a reminder of what their loved ones looked like before they got sick, when they were still healthy enough to go outside and wash the car or mow the lawn. Sometimes these are even the last known images to be taken of a person.

“My grandpa died in 2017 and no one had any pictures with him from recent years. He only took photos when he was holding babies, and all us grandkids are in our teens and 20s,” one Reddit user wrote. “But I did this same thing and found a Google Street View photo of him mowing his front lawn from 2016. It was really good to see him doing something he loved to do and was always doing when he was here.”

And then sometimes, the ghosts vanish. Read the rest

Human composting may soon be legal in Washington state

On Friday, the Washington state legislature passed a bill legalizing the "recomposition" of human remains, defined as the "contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil." If signed by Governor Jay Inlee, the bill will become law next year. From CNN:

Katrina Spade is the CEO of the human composting company, Recompose, and told CNN affiliate KIRO-TV she is hoping her company can be one of the first to build a facility for the practice...

"(The) body is covered in natural materials, like straw or wood chips, and over the course of about three to seven weeks, thanks to microbial activity, it breaks down into soil," she said.

While the dead body is being broken down, Spade said families of the deceased will be able to visit her facility and will ultimately receive the soil that remains of their loved. It is up to the family how they want to use that soil, Spade said.

"And if they don't want that soil, we'll partner with local conservation groups around the Puget Sound region so that that soil will be used to nourish the land here in the state," she said.

image: "Vision of a Future Recompose Facility" by MOLT Studios Read the rest

If you could choose to find out your death date, would you?

Today we travel to a future where everybody knows exactly when they’re going to die. Read the rest

Custom gravestone "wraps"

French firm Funeral Concept creates custom crypts wrapped in glossy art of your design. My immediate thought is that marketers may be interested in these monuments as a new form of advertising! After all, I'm sure people will be dying for them. (via Vice) Read the rest