What Happens To Your Brain At Death?

Many people find it very interesting — or shocking for a Buddhist — that we live as long as we do by living in a state of constant distraction. We must recognize that, while we might not die instantly after death, the brain does change for the worse over the course of many years and that some form of meditation, in-person or online, helps.

There are plenty of things we can learn by studying brain function at the cellular level. But what we actually learn from this research doesn’t come from the lab. Some of the very things that we take for granted, such as what happens to your memory, actually become quite problematic, if not dangerous or debilitating when we don’t pay close attention to how they’re functioning as we age.

This study, at least at face value, is a very interesting one with major implications for our understanding of how our brains work. However, its basic premise is wrong, and many, if not most, things people learn from this research are very troubling even at face, or surface level.

A few basic points worth noting:

1.            This was a computer simulation. When you look at that diagram it’s almost like a movie. It’s a computer simulation of the brains of various species living over several years (i.e. not our own — which we’ve studied for hundreds of years) looking at a different task each day, and then going through the day as usual while the computer simulates how their brains function when given the same task. What we are seeing here is what happens when people are put in a specific physical situation as a computer simulation of the brain would.

2.            I have already pointed out that if what people are seeing is what the experimenter and the researcher see when they go inside the brain, then that doesn’t mean the results will necessarily be the same as what would happen if they actually studied it — and this doesn’t even take into account that there are variations between species. But still, even at face value this seems to be a lot of computerized brain-simulation.

3.             That is not all, however. We don’t know the details of what the various species are studying or the tasks they are simulating, or what they are actually doing. They could very well be doing things in their own way we have yet to imagine. Furthermore, we have no idea what happens to the brains of the simulated animals after they’ve finished the experiment. What might people experience from looking at their own actual brains? These all are very important points to examine.

4.             It’s important to know that we don’t know the details either of how the simulators live , how their brains function or how their behavior might be shaped. And for all we know, there are differences between species, too. I think those things are worth looking into too, however.

5.             What should a study look like, then? How should experiments be designed and executed? Do we really need the actual brain, or do we use simulations of it?

As far as I can tell, studies of a specific task only are really needed to test a hypothesis about how the brain works, especially as we go farther in the past. What might seem like a very simple question may actually be a lot more complex or subtle than most people assume, and in some cases, the answers might depend on how well the task is done. We do know what kind of information we use to interpret various forms of imagery (i.e. what is your visual cortex telling you?) and perhaps there still is a small piece of the brain that we know exists for that purpose. There are some interesting studies showing how we infer visual information from what we see, and a few other possible visual clues that have been shown to exist.