Q: If energy is neither created nor destroyed, what happens to the energy within our bodies and brains when we die?

Quick note: If you’re presently grieving, don’t read this.

The original question was: If energy is neither created nor destroyed, what happens to the energy within our bodies and brains when we die?  I think I understand that the metabolic energy tied up in our cells will be used in the decomposition process, but what about the electrical energy in our brains/bodies?  This would seem to be a measurable amount of energy that at the moment of death is no longer required by the body/brain and would have to go somewhere.  I’m not asking from a theological or spiritual perspective, but strictly as a question of physics.

… [is there] a measurable radiation of heat at the moment of death.  Do you know if there have been experiments that have measured the heat loss and correlated it to the known amount of electrical energy in the human body?


Physicist: Electrical energy is nothing special.  Just like the chemical energy in our bodies, it breaks down into heat.  For example, the heat given off by light bulbs (or electric heaters for that matter!) is a result of electrical energy.  When electricity is flowing to a light bulb, that’s where the electrical energy is going; it’s turning into light.  When you pull the plug (so to speak) what tiny, tiny amount of electrical energy there is in the wires runs out almost immediately.

The term “electrical energy” is actually a little vague.  So, to be specific, in our nervous system there are tiny ion pumps that maintain an imbalance of charges between the inside and outside of the nerve cells.  When a nerve cell fires, charges are allowed to suddenly flow through the cell membrane in a process called an “action potential“.  The way electricity flows along nerve cells is different from the way it flows down a telegraph wire (“inside-to-outside” instead of “along”), but whatever.  The point is, there are mechanisms that maintain an imbalance of charge (which is electricity waiting to happen), and that imbalance is drained a little bit every time the nerve fires.

Death (excluding spectacular deaths) isn’t instantaneous.  In fact, what with medical science, it’s become more and more difficult to even define when people are dead.  Time was you could define death as being a lack of heart beat, but people have come back from worse (by that metric, Dick Cheney has been dead for a while).  Death is more of a break-down of the whole system, as opposed to a sudden event.  The heart stops doing whatever hearts do when they’re not loving, oxygen and nutrients stop going where they’re needed, and in short order the nerve cells in the body lose the wherewithal to pump ions.  Like batteries that are no longer being recharged, they run down.  Nothing special.  Like every kind of energy, whether electrical, kinetic, sonic, or sports fever, the electrical potential in the body eventually becomes heat energy (it’s an entropy thing).

The energy we “carry around” takes the form of chemical energy like fats and sugars.  When our nervous system creates electrical energy we lose an equal amount of chemical energy.  So, rather than being energy itself, life is all about moving energy around from one form to another.

What this question is clearly really about is the fact that it seems as though there’s a fundamental difference between animate and inanimate people.  Admittedly, dead folk are a hair less energetic than living people (with some exceptions).  There are a few kinds of energy (surprisingly few), but spiritual energy doesn’t seem to be one of them.  In terms of physical energy, the difference between a living body and a very recently dead body is just a question of how that energy is being organized.  Living critters in general are very good at using chemical energy for things like moving, growing, etc.  Newly dead critters have about the same amount of chemical energy, it’s just that they don’t use it.  Instead, whatever comes along to consume the body uses it (whether that’s fire or decomposition or whatever).

There have been many, surprisingly callous, attempts to measure a drop in energy and/or mass leaving the body at the so-called “moment of death”.  However, these experiments have been vague and, much worse, unrepeatable.  The most famous is the experiment by Dr. Duncan MacDougall in which, by putting patients dying of tuberculosis on giant scales, he found that those patients lost 21 grams on average between life and death.  To be fair, homeboy had 6 data points (that is: people) and a lot of statistical noise, so his conclusions have about the same amount of statistical weight as “vaccines cause Autism“.  To date, there are no confirmable experiments that show that anything special happens during death, other than a general “shutting down”.  In particular, nothing that’s both “inspiring” and verifiable seems to suddenly leave the body when we die, materially or energetically.

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218 Responses to Q: If energy is neither created nor destroyed, what happens to the energy within our bodies and brains when we die?

  1. Michelle Cory says:

    To Rachel,
    hope you read this, everything the author said in the article is scientific fact. when you die you start loosing your energy very fast, it dissapates into the universe and turns to heat . all energy turns to heat. Your energy does not contain thoughts or feelings once you die.
    the neurons die and the thoughts die.

    people came up with all this garbage back in the seventies to prove their was life after death. That neurosurgeon was not brain dead. If he was he wouldn’t have come back with his brain working.
    I have become obsessed with all this at different points in my life, until i studied biology and death.
    Once the heart stops you have about 4 minutes to get it pumping. or you will be brain dead. once your brain dead you don’t come back.
    hugs Michelle

  2. john smith says:

    You are wrong. Read this article about a footballer whos heart stopped for 78 minutes and he is no brain dead. http://www.theguardian.com/football/2012/mar/25/muamba-collapse-minute-by-minute

  3. jon says:

    I would like to ask the same question but relating to listening through headphones.
    Assuming (and I realise its not absolutely true, but in theory) the sound does not leak out 7 goes straight into the ears & brain, what happens to this sound after you ve heard it?

  4. Randy says:

    Everyone has a life force.

  5. Nora Paramo says:

    Does anyone know what happens to the matter? They say matter is always recycled and there’s possibly the same matter in our bodies as historic people. If this is true (which it probably is), could someone please explain why and how? Thanks. 🙂

  6. Sam says:

    In general the electrical and chemical energy in a human body is disseminated in a variety of ways. we first evacuate all orfices as waste, then decomposure starts as heat and micro organisms began to take on the varies energies. when electrical energies can no longer maintain stability close to 100% is dissapated as heat.

  7. Wes says:

    Quote:
    “jon says:
    May 10, 2016 at 3:39 pm
    I would like to ask the same question but relating to listening through headphones.
    Assuming (and I realise its not absolutely true, but in theory) the sound does not leak out 7 goes straight into the ears & brain, what happens to this sound after you ve heard it?”
    jon, This brings up an interesting parable. But first I will answer your question. The sound from the headphones does leak. It immediately leaks partly through the headphones, but much of it goes into your ear canals and vibrates your eardrums. And some ear canal vibration still leaks through your head. Each sound vibration creates a little heat within your ear and that heat leaks out your head too. From there it leaks into Earth’s atmosphere where the vibration can’t leak into outer space because there is a vacuum there. So the sound is trapped on Earth where it gets weaker and weaker. Why does it get weaker? Because the molecules that make up earth gradually turn the vibration to heat energy from friction. Then it leaks out to outer space because radiation doesn’t mind traveling through a vacuum. Where does it go from there? It helps fill space with energy just like the half-life decay of atoms finally do themselves (after eons). Eventually everything, even atoms, will become radiation in the vacuum of space.

    Which brings up the parable I mentioned earlier. “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_a_tree_falls_in_a_forest)
    If the very last atom decays to energy and no matter remains in the universe to detect it, does it make a light?

    Quote:
    “Nora Paramo says:
    May 14, 2016 at 3:48 pm
    Does anyone know what happens to the matter? They say matter is always recycled and there’s possibly the same matter in our bodies as historic people. If this is true (which it probably is), could someone please explain why and how? Thanks. 🙂 ”
    Nora, this is absolutely true. Suppose someone ancient dies trying to cross the Alps. Dust and atoms of their former makeup began to escape the cadaver. This matter floats down into a meadow and fertilizes the grass where sheep graze on it and grow fat. The shepherd’s family has mutton for supper a few months later and they eat some of the travelers atoms. Voila!

    We got smart and bury almost all cadavers nowadays. But we might breathe some of the same air that was once breathed by an ancient relative. This relative might have turned some air into a hydrocarbon within their body. After they were buried, the dust was trapped. But gases still escaped from the grave. Voila!
    ——————————————————–
    With all the interesting posts the Physicist has made, this is the one that attracts the most email notice responses. Human nature, I guess.

    Wes

  8. Sandra says:

    I enjoyed reading this article, and I haven’t read through all the comments, but I’m curious. The author states “dead folk are a hair less energetic than living people [with some exceptions]” and that “spiritual energy doesn’t seem to be one of them”. My question is if perspective influences the chemical and electrical energy that causes nerve cell ‘action potential’ which is emitted before and after death, and whether perspective perhaps reflects the reference to ‘spiritual energy’ and even ‘some exceptions’?

  9. SammyD says:

    In response to our esteem physicist, all of what you stated is scientific fact of the organic machine, so why can’t the Dr.Frankensteins in the real world ever create life? Did they not find the “God” particle? If it is such a well understood mechanism, what has stopped their success?

  10. Benny says:

    This denies a basic truth. Energy doesn’t carry consciousness. Consciousness directs energy. Every neuron triggered, every action you take, every pulse, every wave, all light, all sound, all radiation, we’ve been looking for the spirit within them, but they’re all within the spirit. To the bang’s last echo, all that is will always be.

  11. Nikhil jose says:

    energy can neither be created nor be destroyed(energy conservation law)*when a person die,the carbon in his body is transferred to insect which makes food on it and then the carbon is transferred to predators who makes food of this insects.*when a person die,the nitrogen & iron in him is transferred to the soil and then to the plants.

  12. Wes says:

    The Physicist basically asks (and answers), “What happens to the ‘life energy’ after death?” This is, by far, the most popular Question/Answer, The Physicist has ever presented.

    To understand ‘life energy’ followed by death, perhaps some (or many) people would find it helpful from a scientific standpoint, to understand what life is, how it has come into being and how it is lost. To more thoroughly answer this question, there is a current TV PBS Stephen Hawking series that has a quite interesting heuristic explanation that makes it rather simple for anyone to understand. For the one hour program (called What Are We?), click on:
    http://www.thirteen.org/programs/genius-by-stephen-hawking/episode-5-what-are-we–full-episode/

    Surely anyone who wants to know what happens at death (the end of life), is willing to spend 55 minutes to first learn what happened at creation (the beginning of life).

    Wes

  13. TP says:

    I also have been consumed for years studying consciousness life and death religion science blah blah blah . Sometimes I’m firm with a belief for a while than I change my mind . Anyhow today what I’m floating around is people say consciousness is everywhere what does that mean ? What is consciousness maybe a form of energy maybe a spirit maybe just the air in earths biosphere Eco system maybe a undiscovered form of energy no machine can measure yet ? I’m wondering if the human body our skin our biology to Keep it simple is for all practical purposes a blanket of sorts that wraps around consciousness resulting in narrowing down consciousness to the size of a new born baby hence newborn innocent naive ignorant no awareness of self and as it grows bigger it opens the field absorbing consciousness based on its body the skin . In other words our bodies limit our consciousness until we grow and lean because the body skin wrapped itself around consciousness which is everywhere all the time like the body is a handicap a wall locking in a narrow perspective of consciousness . The energy field has been contained by our bodies this explains why we want to learn and grow but really we want to shed this spacesuit and be released freed back into higher levels of conscioness !

  14. DHART says:

    Dark Energy: could this mysterious form of energy be the accumulation of the remnants of the life energy which departs from all living organisms throughout the universe when they die?

  15. Derik says:

    This article shows how arrogant people can be. How do you know what happens after your body dies? You have no clue. You won’t know until your body dies. Almost every religion in the world talks about life after physical death. Unless you are God, and you aren’t, you will never know anything beyond the physical realm until you are not physical anymore. So stop pretending you are some kind of intelligent source. You are ignorant of all things.

  16. Sam says:

    @Derik – Tell that to the 10E5 people who have experienced out of body NDE’s

  17. ENGLISH BOB says:

    All most everyone alive at this moment, will be dead in one hundred years or less. why not make the most of today. and let tomorrow take care of tomorrow, which never arrives anyway.

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