What is it like to die?

We form a set of memories in our daily life that are most active for our daily lives. We tend to move through our life in phases. The way we felt 3 years ago is different from how we feel today. The set of memories we frequent today differs from the set of memories we frequent from years back.

This may be based on our job, our current hobbies and projects, or anything that consumes our daily thoughts. The memories we access most, will tend to be strengthened in our mind. The flow of blood tends to express itself most where activity in the brain occurs most. This means that neurotransmitters may be more likely to flow towards the more frequently used neurons and less likely to flow towards lesser used neurons.framesThere likely exists a hierarchy of highly used memory sets that represent different phases of our lives for when we had other jobs, faced other problems, and had other mindsets. Since the older sets were at one point highly used as well at one point, there is probably still significant blood flow and other neurological promoters that support these memories. We can label this as the health status of the memories. This health status includes strength of the memory based on long term potention and blood flow at the very least.


Anecdotally, I have noticed that consumption of substances that block or reduce NMDA activity are capable of bringing me back to states of mind I had years ago. Cannabis is a prime example of this. It is known that cannabis causes NMDA receptors to downregulate. It is also thought that cannabis may reverse age-related cognitive decline. It could be that age-related cognitive decline is actually additive problems, rather than subtractive.

Glutamate is the neurotransmitter that binds to NMDA receptors in your body. It is known that blocking NMDA receptors causes glutamate to release. Learning and perception are both heavily mediated by the NMDA receptor. Blocking the receptor causes amnesia and anesthesia.

It makes sense that if you take cannabis or an NMDA receptor blocker that it would first flow towards the most reinforced and most used neurons and then with increasing doses the blockade would extend towards the lesser reinforced neurons.

If you combine the fact that blocking NMDA receptors causes glutamate to release, and that the receptors on neurons would be blocked in a hierarchy organized based on frequency of use, then we can assume that your most recent memory sets will be blocked into amnesia first, while the increase of glutamate will cause enhancement of recall towards the memory sets lower on the hierarchy. In some sense, this effect is likely synonymous with age reversal on some level.

Hierarchy of Memories

memory age2

This fact gets increasingly interesting when we look at cases of near death experiences (NDEs). It is known that glutamate levels are increased substantially during a near death experience (this link shows a ketamine model of NDE which is basically what I am describing now). Increased glutamate levels can result in neurotoxicity and so another neurotransmitter is released during hypoxic and ischemic conditions (which are common when dying), a neurotransmitter known as Agmatine. Agmatine is one of our bodies’ natural NMDA blocking substance.

It could be that as we are dying, glutamate levels continue to increase which causes more Agmatine to release in order to compensate for the increasing glutamate levels and protect NMDA receptors from glutamate-induced neurotoxicity. In some sense, it is that age essentially decreases more and more as you cycle through the sets of memory throughout the hierarchy that is based on reinforcement levels.

This seems to give a theoretical neurobiological model for the colloquial phenomenon of “my life flashed before my eyes”.

life flashingI’ll leave you with this awesome post that gives evidence of Agmatine being involved in NDEs. This paper gives evidence of the out of body NDE effect.



As a farewell note. . .

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