We often hear stories of a light at the end of a tunnel or our lives flashing before or eyes when we die. The actual process of the brain shutting down is quite remarkable, and scientists believe accounts from near-death experiences have a likely explanation.
So what actually happens in our brains when we die?
Your brain shuts down from the outside-in. It does its best to preserve resources, and one of the first things to go in the outer layer is your sense of physical place and proximity (parietal lobe).
The visual cortex, which helps us interpret what we see, also starts shutting down. It's possible that as the aperture reduces a "light at the end of the tunnel" could appear.
As you move deeper into the brain you find your memories, hence, the highlight reel of your life. It's possible that as consciousness fades, you could revisit much of your life in a very short period of time.
It's quite beautiful that our minds work this way. Death, often met with fear and anxiety, in many contexts is entered into with peace. Pain, as we know, exists in the brain, and even pain disappears as the brain continues to turn off.
As I think about my own death and brain shutting down (as all normal people do, right?), I imagine what I'll see in my highlight reel...
I feel the whiskers of my dad's mustache scratching on my neck as he leans down and kisses me. I'm three years old, and he's just arrived home from work.
I'm walking through the woods before dawn, hurriedly following my dad to a tree stand. I'm full of nervous energy but unafraid of what lies ahead, because my dad is the strongest man in the universe.
I flash forward and I'm sitting in a blue rocking chair with my mom, trying to understand the world as she meets my endless questions with her gentle honesty. She shares story after story about her life, family, faith.
The scene changes, and I'm jumping into the ocean waves with my sister, screaming and laughing, like nothing in the world could be more satisfying than that moment on our impromptu beach trip.
Loud music starts to grow from a hum to a roar, and I'm surrounded by drums and guitars, friends, and a dream that one day we would be rockstars.
The music fades and is replaced by laughter, and a thousand moments of pure joy flash before me in the faces of my friends.
Rain starts pouring down all around me. I recognize this place. I look up, and there she is--my bride. She leans in and our lips meet for the first time.
As she pulls back from the kiss, I realize we are now in the chapel by the lake the day we got married. Our loved ones are clapping, and we are beaming in our newfound marriage.
The slideshow continues on like this. My lifetime, in a millisecond, warms my heart and ushers me forward into the greatest resolution of any story: unending peace.