An episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation accurately predicted what happens to our brains when we die, fans say, after a recent study revealed that the brain continues to function for 20-40 seconds after the heart stops.
Published in the Annals of Neurology, the study states that brain activity doesn't immediately cease at the moment of death. Rather, it slowly goes into "cerebral ischemia" as it is gradually deprived of oxygen. This "sleep mode" was depicted in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that aired in 1988.
In the episode entitled Skin of Evil Part 2, crew member Tasha Yar is badly injured by an alien entity named Armus when she challenges its power. Armus was preventing the crew from rescuing fellow crew mates from a stranded shuttle on a remote planet.
When Yar's body was transported back aboard the Enterprise, Dr. Beverly Crusher says that even though there is no brain activity, Yar may be able to be revived. "Neurons are beginning to depolarize," a crew member says, and this is exactly what was demonstrated in the aforementioned study. At the time of death, neurons release their stored energy in a "brain tsunami," after which oxygen deprivation prevents resuccitation.
"Spreading depolarization marks the onset of the toxic cellular changes that eventually lead to death, but is not a marker of death per se, since depolarization is reversible – up to a point – with restoration of energy supply," lead author Professor Jens Dreier, of Charité's Center for Stroke Research, told IFLScience.