Do reports of consciousness during cardiac arrest hold the key to discovering the nature of consciousness?

Med Hypotheses. 2007;69(4):933-7. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2007.01.076. Epub 2007 Apr 24.


Perhaps the biggest challenge facing neuroscience at the dawn of the 21st century is understanding the relationship between mind, consciousness and the brain. Editorials in recent years have highlighted the difficulties faced by cognitive neuroscience in attempting to answer questions regarding the nature, as well as the mechanism by which subjective experiences and our sense of consciousness may arise through neuronal processes. Current scientific views regarding the origin of consciousness vary widely and range from an 'epiphenomenon' arising from neuronal networks, to neuronal quantum processes, to a separate undiscovered scientific entity. Although there has been a lack of experimental studies to test these theories, recent studies have indicated that the study of the human mind during cardiac arrest may hold the key to solving the mystery of consciousness. Four published prospective studies of cardiac arrest survivors have demonstrated that paradoxically human mind and consciousness may continue to function during cardiac arrest. This is despite the well demonstrated finding that cerebral functioning as measured by electrical activity of the brain ceases during cardiac arrest, thus raising the possibility that human mind and consciousness may continue to function in the absence of brain function. In this article the broad theories for the causation of consciousness are reviewed as well as a novel method to study consciousness during cardiac arrest. This may provide a unique experimental method to determine the nature of human mind and consciousness as well as its relationship with the brain.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Critical Illness / psychology
  • Heart Arrest / physiopathology*
  • Heart Arrest / psychology
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological