Science Proved A Hated 'Star Trek: TNG' Episode Was Right ... 30 Years Later
Star Trek is pretty famous for predicting our technological future. Can’t go without your Bluetooth earpiece? Thank Star Trek. Annoyed with Alexa not getting what you’re saying? Blame Star Trek. From touch-screen technology to universal translators to 3D printing, the franchise greatly influenced what we have today. But, of course, they also got some science parts wrong, which is kind of inevitable since science is an ever-evolving system of knowledge. How impressive is it, then, that an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation managed to illustrate what happens to the human brain when we die, long before actual scientists could.
In 1988, the show did an episode called “Skin of Evil” in which Dr. Beverly Crusher tried to revive Lieutenant Tasha Yar but ultimately failed. Cue sad violins and Captain Picard saying something inspirational. Yar’s death was deemed controversial at the time, with many fans feeling that it was both underwhelming and way too sudden. Little did they know that it was actually pretty groundbreaking.
You see, while Dr. Crusher already declared Yar dead, she was trying to bring her back using technology tapped into her remaining brain waves. Yes, the show theorized that not only do we still have brain activity after our hearts stop but that it could theoretically be possible to bring us back if we could stop the depolarization of our brain neurons. This scientific theory has never been proven in humans until 30 years after the episode aired. In 2018, two German neurologists published a study that showed what happens to our brains when we die, proving that Dr. Crusher knew it all along.
The neurologists used modern neuro-monitoring that can record brain activity with incredible accuracy to study Do Not Resuscitate patients. What they found was fascinating: After about 30 seconds of a person going into cardiac arrest, the body switches into energy-saving mode and shuts down its nerve cells. Right before we completely shut down, our cells release all their stored-up energy one last time, causing what is known as a “brain tsunami” that is so sudden and powerful, it starts destroying all our brain cells. Even more interesting is that this neuron shock wave could explain why people claim to see that bright light in a tunnel during near-death experiences.
Were these two neurologists inspired by this Star Trek episode? No, they only watched it after already conducting their research and were quite impressed with how well the show covered the general principle. Their guess is that the show’s creators read about similar studies that were done on rabbits in the 1940s, then (correctly) applied it to humans. That’s some solid Spock logic, right there.
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Top Image: Paramount Television