No living person is honestly able to know what happens to the mind and consciousness after death, but a mediocre remake of the 90s film Flatliners explores this concept

Scientists continue to explore age-old questions regarding what happens to the mind and consciousness after death, albeit in a much more rational way than actors depict it in the awful remake of the 90s film Flatliners. Dr. Sam Parnia is one such researcher who has explored this topic for many years. But unlike the actors in both the Flatliner films, he isn’t keen to test things out upon himself.


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Rather than take turns with his colleagues from the Stonybrook School of Medicine in New York, to experience a few minutes of death as depicted in Flatliners, they opted to review studies. These studies they accumulated from the US and Europe specifically examined the near-death experiences reported by individuals who had suffered a cardiac arrest.


There are essentially three types of “death” as defined by medical literature

And indeeed, controversy surrounds each of these definitions. Brain death, for example, is considered irreversible.  Those that return from supposed brain death likely still had a small amount of brain activity to enable them to do that. Nevertheless, occasionally those who claim to have experienced brain death describe near-death experiences.

The second type is respiratory death, and this can lead to cardiac arrest. However, it is cardiacarrest patients that Parnia studied. When a patient suffers cardiac arrest, they only have approximately 6 minutes in which it is possible for a medical team to revive them. It is this type of death that the characters in both the Flatliners films artificially bring upon themselves, and have their colleagues revive them from.


Cardiac arrest patients who recollected a near-death experience described varying phenomenon. In some cases, unique events never before reported by others



Parnia and his team studied 2000 cardiac arrest patients. They finely analyzed each moment from when the patient’s heart stopped to the moment that physicians officially declared them dead. 16% of these patients returned to life after the declaration of death, and Parnia managed to interview over 100 of these. Ultimately, it was only 50% of these patients were able to recall what they would describe as a near-deathexperience.

Consequently, he and his team concluded that near-death experiences involve at least seven general themes:

  • Fear or terror
  • Recalling events that occurred after their cardiac arrest/out of body experience
  • Seeing plants or animals
  • Seeing family members or religious figures
  • Encountering a bright light
  • Deja-vu
  • Experiencing persecution or violence

Each of the phenomena was almost hallucinatory in their nature. However, some patients described how the experience felt “more real than reality.” Shockingly, though were the quantity of patients who felt terrified by their near-death experience. This is opposed to what many assume will be an experience of bliss and light.  An experience they see depicted in many films and books. Nevertheless, 22% of patients did report the “bliss” that many assume accompanies death.




What Parnia noted, interestingly, is that patient’s near-death experiences were closely tied with their pre-existing beliefs from their lifetime

For example, a patient from America may describe seeing Jesus, while a patient from India may describe seeing Krishna. Nevertheless, Parnia believes that the scientist must retain a level head when recording the experiences people have had.

Parnia states “All of these things – what’s the soul, what is heaven and hell – I have no idea what they mean.  There’s probably thousands and thousands of interpretations based on where you’re born and what your background is. It’s important to move this out of the realm of religious teaching and into objectivity.

What is clear to Parnia, however, is that in many cases the mind is aware that it has died

Each patient assumes that their altered experience is an indication that they have experienced death. But still, skeptics do remain. Skeptics assume these phenomena are occurring on the fringe of death, and are not an experience of death itself. Indeed, no one has returned a year after being lowered into a grave, and come to report on what their experience post-death has been. All of these experiences appear to be occurring before any decay of the body had transpired.

Parnia and his colleagues do intend to do further research and do not see the above conclusions as final. If anything, this is the tip of an iceberg that literally goes on for eternity. Whether or not the 90s film Flatliners, or it’s recent pitiful remake are representative of the experience of an afterlife is likely just Hollywood drama rather than anything real that the viewer should take seriously.


References: The Sun, BBC, Resuscitation Journal

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