CBS Local — Scientists may be inching closer to answering one of the greatest mysteries of life: what happens after you die? According to researchers in New York, a person’s brain is still active after death, meaning in many cases they can be aware that they’ve passed away.

A team from New York University’s Langone School of Medicine has been studying patients who have suffered cardiac arrest or a heart attack, which stopped their hearts for a brief period of time.

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“Technically speaking, that’s how you get the time of death — it’s all based on the moment when the heart stops,” NYU’s Dr. Sam Parnia told Live Science.

From Live Science: 

“They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working; they’ll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them,” he explained. According to Parnia, these recollections were then verified by medical and nursing staff who were present at the time and were stunned to hear that their patients, who were technically dead, could remember all those details. 

Parnia and his team are using these accounts from people who’ve been “brought back” to learn more about a strange phenomena that takes place in the brain at the time of death. Studies at the University of Michigan have shown that there is a sudden burst of brain activity when the body dies. The brain waves are associated with consciousness, which lead scientists to conclude the person, on some level, knows they’ve died before their brain shuts down.

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The New York team hopes the experiences of resuscitated patients will give them the vital clues about what the brain is doing before stops functioning.

“We’re trying to understand the exact features that people experience when they go through death, because we understand that this is going to reflect the universal experience we’re all going to have when we die,” Parnia added.