TED Conversations

Student , Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art


This conversation is closed.

How does life/death manifest itself in the human brain? Is brain death the ultimate end stage of life?

Recently, I watched the TED talk “Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor (http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html), in which she discusses the experience of having a stroke from a scientific perspective. She was able to diagnose herself throughout the process, even as her brain functions slowed or stopped altogether. Her story gives rise to a very important question: what is the connection between life, death, and the human brain?

In my Bioelectricity class this week, we discussed the use of EEG’s to record brain waves. A patient whose EEG reading shows a lack of brain activity is declared to be “brain dead.” In the medical community, “brain death” is considered to be equivalent to “death.” However, many consider this definition of death to be problematic. Even when a patient exhibits a lack of brain activity, her or she may still have functioning organs. The circulatory and respiratory systems, for instance, have been observed to be active in people who are brain dead. Is it really appropriate to define death as the cessation of brain function? Or, should the medical definition of death be modified from its current form?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Mar 11 2012: I really think the brain is a digestive organ as it is our intestines and stomaches... In that I say the brain is capable of processing "food" energy impulses into thoughts and ideas... the challenge then becomes to prove where this energy impulses come from... since food is real and we can touch and chew it, its is easier to know that we process food within our bodies. But it seems to me that our minds is likely to, through mental focus, "eat" ideas and thoughts from an outside place from us, thus we can think and process these thoughts within our brains, but they weren´t there all the time, as the food was not there until we ate them and it won´t remain there forever for we will use and eliminate part of it. As science starts thinking about this posibility the first question will be: where are the plantation fields of thoughts we, through focus, feed our minds upon? Can we track this web of intelligence outside of ourselves, how this web gets connected with human brain, or the animals brains? I mean what is the point of connection and contact?

    If you think about any subject and focus upon it most likely ideas and thoughts about it will show up in your mind, this "show up" process that we need to explore further. Where do they come from? For like food, thoughts and ideas come from somewhere, that I can assure you. And they also move through us out transformed back to a "mental environment" as real as our "physical environment" where, we too, release our processed food and liquids we ingested...

    This is a logical thinking, crazy, but logical, isn´t it?? :)
    • Mar 11 2012: What a great analogy between the workings of our brains and our stomachs! The processing of information within the brain is certainly a very interesting and complex topic. Your suggestion that we might be able to learn more about the brain if we look at our mental functions from a physical perspective is intriguing. Perhaps if we can tap further into the web connecting an individual's brain to his or her surroundings, we can prevent or even reverse brain injury and death. I think that it's fair to say that a person in a vegetative state (or, one who is brain dead) but still has functioning organs is alive yet disconnected from the world. Maybe one day, doctors will be able to find the break in the connection that's preventing a person's brain from processing incoming information and mend it, thus brining patients back from comas, brain death, etc.
    • thumb
      Mar 11 2012: "The plantation fields of thoughts", as you say, from which ideas come from is not on outside of ourselfs, as i belive, it's inside us.
      i don't know whether the concept of subconscious mind is relevant in medical field. But, all that things we does daily, what we say, feel, hear and even things we dont notice is stored in our subconscious mind. Its like a huge memory hard disk. What we think depends on these datas, things we gone through since then and ambience in which we lived. Even things that happen around us which we dont notice will effect our thoughts. Subconscious mind is also said to have infinite information and connection with the physical world.
      Also subconscious mind have no logical thinking ability. If we imprint something in subconsciousness the whole universe will help that impression to be a reality in physical world. But to know and to be in that subconsciouss mind takes lot of effort and practice. We should bypass mind-intelligence-consciousness and unconscious state of mind to reach subconscious state.
      To pass on an impression to subconscious mind one should have strong belief of that thought in conscious mind. Since subconscious state have no logical thinking ability, if we pass on a negative impression to subconsciousness it will try to make it reality. Here comes the importance of positive thinking in daily life. And its the secret behind the prayers and beliefs.
      Things i said here might have no relevance with the question asked here and it might have gone a bit wayward. But i felt i should share this side of our brain activity too.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.