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When Am I Dead?

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1. Soul Has Weight, Physician Thinks: Biologist Lee Silver tells us the story of a physician’s ambitious 1907 experiment to discover the weight of the soul. 2. Metamorphosis: One possibility of the afterlife from David Eagleman, read by actor Jeffrey Tambor. 3. When Am I Dead?: Is life over when your heart stops beating? When you take your last breath? When your brain fizzles out? Author and researcher Gary Greenberg and John Troyer explore these questions. 4. Anyone for Tennis?: We ask neuroscientist Adrian Owen, can the dead play tennis?

Comments [41]

Kate1234567 from Oregon

The operatic song at the end of the segment behind the tennis match is called Songs My Mother Taught Me by Charles Ives, performed by Jan DeGaetani.

Apr. 14 2018 05:59 PM
Nova from Berlin

"My mind is sleeping but I'm wide awake" is from the Temptations song "Take a Stroll Thru Your Mind".

Mar. 11 2018 11:43 AM


Jan. 15 2018 09:33 AM
Shar from PA

It's interesting you are carefully speaking about humans only in this context. I have been working professionally in animal care for the past 15 years (animal shelters, veterinary practice and the last 11 years in the zoo field) and I have seen a lot of different species deaths. Been present at the moment of death, looking into there eyes. You can see it, truly when "they" are no longer there and all that is left is a hunk of flesh. I found it particularly profound and noticeable at euthanasia's at the animal shelter I worked at. Dogs that were sick and weak would go easily and not fight and often looked peaceful. Looking into there eyes as they left it was usually calm. However, the dogs we had to do for space that were healthy and full of life often would fight it, light lingering in the eyes before finally going out almost angrily. It is hard to describe how I can discern so much from watching so many animals die for the last 15 years. Maybe it's projecting, but I don't think so. I am not a religious person. But I do know every death of each creature I have witnessed was unique and moving and in it's way some level of spirituality I don't pretend to understand. From little rats to large hoof-stock.

May. 28 2016 01:15 PM
Imclc from United States

part 2-Your Grandpa's fine, we've only been gone 20 or 30 minutes... I tried to tell Her He was Gone, that I knew it for a Fact, that I was somehow with Him, but was still walking down the Corridor to his Room with Her... She keep trying to reassure me Grandfather was Fine, and we would be to His room Soon, and I would see for Myself... But I KNEW what just happened, even though I had a hard time explaining it, and didn't understand it myself, it didn't change the fact I knew He was Dead... We finally got back to His Floor heading down the corridor, when out of Grandfather's Room came the Nurse and a Doctor, They approached my Aunt, and Said, "We're So Sorry, Mr. Arnold just passed away"... Aunt Ruth just turned white, She keep asking me How, and Why didn't She experience it, how could we be arm and arm, and me in another Realm with Him, I don't know the Answer to Any of that, All I realized, was when you Draw your Last Breath you enter into an indescribable place, that can't be compared to this world, or explained.... but strangely enough, that encounter with the Spiritual Real didn't alter my Life, I continued on my Same Path, just with the knowledge When you Die, you go to this Perfect place of Love and Peace and Warmth and Acceptance.. where you are Loved in a way that can't be explained.. So Fully, Intently, Purely, Deeply, and Unconditionally.... but sadly, It would be several Years Later that My Life would be Changed in an instant....

May. 12 2015 07:58 PM
Imclc from United States

I'm going to share my experiences with the afterlife with you, You are not obligated to read it, it's probably longer than you expected, but there is a lot of ground work that goes with the experience. I had every reason to believe God didn't exist. it has to do with being Kidnapped and Tortured the day after I got Baptized, I was around 14 or 15. I was sure there couldn't be a God if that Happened, and if there was, he wasn't anyone I ever wanted to know. you might say, I needed to believe He couldn't exist with that experience happening the very day after being Baptized. but then years Later two major events happened in my Life.
I have no other reason to post on this upload, except to share these true events of my life. I wasn't raised in any type of religious upbringing, and my kidnapping the day after being Baptized left a bitter taste for anything God Related. but non the less both these things occurred in my life almost 20 years apart. You don't have to believe me, but I do have to warn you, Heaven and Hell are Real.

1986 my first insight to a spiritual realm-My Grandmother and Grandfather raised me for 11 Years of my Childhood. He was in the Hospital quite Ill, but He was such a tough old Coot, and we were sure He would pull through. All His Kids and Relatives gathered at the Hospital in Support, His Sister's and 5 or 6 of the His Kids were in the Room talking to Him, When His Younger Sister, my Aunt Ruth, ask me to walk Her down to the Chapel so She could Sit and say a Prayer, Grandpa's Room was so crowed, So I took her down, we stayed for a while, then headed Back, as We were heading down the Corridor, (Here is where I am going to have a difficult time trying to put into words what happened) I was arm in arm with My Elderly Aunt, when I became part of, or stepped into, a Spiritual Realm, My Grandfather was there, It Was Nothing I HAD EVER felt/experienced before, The PEACE, JOY, LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, HAPPINESS, was penetrating, it wasn't like feeling those emotions, it was being them, it was what you were. It was as if I had witnessed a Private Celebration for a small town War Hero Coming Come, as if the Whole Town was Full of Love, they all held WELCOME HOME SIGNS for someone they Missed immensely and he was finally coming home after being gone for years. the Love and Joy, pureness was indescribable, as hard as I'm trying, It was My Grandfather they were Welcoming into this Realm, a realm I had no idea existed. I looked at My Aunt and Said, "Did you just Feel Grandpa leaving Here", Now here's something I have never understood, She was a Christian, and regular Church goer, I had never stepped inside a Church after that experience I had, so there we were, arm in arm and she never experience one bit of it, She looked at me bewildered, and said "What are you talking about". I said "Grandpa just Died, and I was with Him" She said, What's wrong with you, why are you saying that, Your Grandpa's fine, we've only been gone 20 or 30 minutes.

May. 12 2015 06:39 PM
Louise from uws

There is no such thing as a "statistically insignificant" difference;
a difference is either statistically significant or it is NOT statistically significant.

Ask someone who knows if you don't trust me.

May. 02 2015 12:12 PM
james from california

What is the piece of music being played behind the tennis match, from minute 23:19 to 23:56? Anyone know?

Mar. 12 2014 02:10 PM
Rev. Joanne Countee from Chester, PA 19013

I and you do not have to die to go to Heaven. I and you do have to be born-again to go to Heaven John 3 and First Thessalonians 4:13-18. Many who do not receive Jesus (John 1:12) will go to Hell (Luke 16:19-31) until they stand before a great white throne and God and the Book of Life is opened (Revelation 20:10-15). I and many believers/saints aka The Church will be alive when Jesus returns to take us to Heaven (John 14:1-3 and Acts 1:9-11). This is why I'm glad to see and love cemeteries. When I see cemeteries I look to see believers rising from their graves, because I know I'm next.

Oct. 07 2013 07:07 PM
Zimra Beiner from bowling green, Ohio

The music at seven minutes into this podcast is David Shire from the soundtrack of The Conversation.
This drove me crazy for weeks, and finally figured it out. I hope all of you asking about this are also relieved!

Aug. 28 2013 09:45 AM
David Heyl from Michigan

Thanks, good program! I especially liked the last comment on the death of the universe. From another point of view, however, “death” may be understood as another word for “beginning.”

That life/spirit survives death should not come as a surprise. Yes, it’s true that there is no room for a consciousness that questions, i.e., free will, in the physical event—the electro-chemical firing of synapses occurring in squishy grey matter; however, life/spirit works through the transition from the eternal to the actual, and from the actual back to the eternal. In this respect, the entire physical universe may be thought of as processing its way back to God. God/Affirmative Ideal is the reason for all becoming and as such is one with nature and the learning process that both asks and answers questions, questions pertaining to Divinity, nature, and everything else. In the end, the answer to why we exist, why life exists, and why life after death exists can/will be found in the inescapable depth and center of all there is, that is, in that place where Beauty, Love, Freedom become as One. bwinwnbwi

For more see:

Feb. 26 2013 08:50 PM
21 grams from Boston MA

The guy who took a moment to leave his body after dying wasn't a doofus! He had a Slinky Soul! It just took a minute for the memo to get to the on/off switch. Maybe he died feet first.

Sep. 12 2012 11:21 PM

Science to me is pretty much a religion in the sense that in its most orthodox form has its own dogmas about life, creation, etc. And in its more mystic form it has scientists seeking the same answers to life as religious mystics are, except from without instead of from within.
Both are valid imo.

I'm fascinated by science and it's discoveries and theories, but for me it's the more expansive practical awareness and understanding gained from inner discoveries and dreams that I like most.

Could it be that dreams, inner spiritual experiences including obe's are glimpses of the parallel universes quantum physics theorizes about? Beyond quantum physic's reach?

As an aside....

HU (pronounced hue) is a sound I like to sing. It's not connected to any religious doctrine, so anybody, religious or not, atheist, scientist, anybody can use and benefit from it. Can be sung aloud or softly while sitting comfortably with eyes closed up to 20 minutes or so, followed by silent contemplation. Or sung silently during the day at work. Or before bedtime. Especially wonderful if sung with love.
The benefits have been many.

Can sing it silently or out loud, or softly

Jul. 29 2012 04:39 PM

Does anyone know what the piano music is playing in the background during Metamorphosis?

Jul. 24 2012 08:24 PM
JLHOSPRN from South Haven MI

Hospice nurses I work with have commented on the work of dying. It does sometimes seem to BE work, people may need to be alone - without family. They may not want to be touched - even when comfort is being offered. They may frown if touched as if they are being interrupted.
Everyone and every situation is different - but this was new information to me.

Jul. 21 2012 02:14 PM
Scott from NJ

Thanks so much for these stories. Not only did it help me a great deal in helping manage my pain over the loss of my father, but I've had a great time spooking people out by telling them about playing tennis in your mind!

Feb. 22 2012 11:23 AM
Brad from Richmond, VA

Anyone know the tune(s) that play underneath Metamorphosis? It's earth-shatteringly beautiful stuff.

Nov. 08 2011 02:26 PM
Ah Ha!

Found it here!
Temptations: Take a Stroll Through Your Mind

Feb. 25 2011 07:57 PM
Kate Foley-Beining

Which group did the song "My Mind is Sleeping but I'm wide awake"?

Feb. 25 2011 12:44 PM
A. Nonymous

I've never been actually moved by any particular NPR or Radiolab segment before. But listening to Jeffrey Tambor's reading of "Metamorphosis," I had to go back and listen several times.

It's fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

Jan. 03 2011 09:35 AM
minsk from los angeles

i like what youre trying to do but some of what you said is kind of misguided as air has a weight too, so air leaving the lungs wouldnt make a body heavier.

Oct. 12 2010 12:08 PM

first off let me say I mean no offense here

about thorns feeling the weight increases

this could be 2 reasons

1. psycolegy... it's not unheard of in time of grief to feel like everything is heavier...

2. im not sure wether you held her in your arms or that you where just holding her hand but as someone dies the body goes limb and it always make it heavier

Sep. 27 2010 09:24 AM

hey I had a discussion with some family members about weight leaving the body... it was a pretty good one till someone came in and said

when *loved one* died I saw him sweatting and it's just sweat leaving the body....

now at this point nobody dared to contradict him cause we where talking about someone close who died....

but I want to (for my own sake of mind) make sure that this statement is completly ridiculous...

if someone is sweating sweat is still on the body so that weight isn't gone yet

air leaving the lungs would increase the weight

and if it is consistantly(no matter how crude the matter of mesuare) it happened to everyone so there is something leaving

Sep. 27 2010 09:18 AM

Great show, as always.

I had one thought about the last item, "Tennis" -- the ending thought is a pointless one: proving a negative is impossible, by definition. You cannot prove someone is dead, you can only prove they are alive.

May. 31 2010 11:50 PM

This episode isn't on the iTunes feed. What gives?

Feb. 05 2010 08:02 AM
Grit from Texas

Is it just me or did Sanjay Gupta totally steal this concept and write a book about it? I just heard him on the Colbert report and it seems like a point by point recap of this segment.

Oct. 13 2009 12:52 AM
Tom in Omaha from Omaha, NE

The story of afterlife seemed to me another take on Sartre's No Exit. In the room those who were remembering were heard in the room until they were no longer remembered.

Additionally, I have worked as a chaplain in a hospital and in a hospice agency. I have been present at around 50 deaths, when the person actually died. There is clearly a difference in that moment when death occurs, obviously the skin color in the face changed. But that element of animation, the last bit of self-will is gone in that moment.

The only time I did not see that was with a patient who had been declared brain dead. I was there when the tests were performed to determine that brain death had occurred. The was no sign of response in any form, nothing that showed there was any self-will. When he was extubated, he did not breathe and his heart continued to beat for nearly twenty-five minutes before cardiac death occurred. There was no real change in the person appearance other than the paleness of the skin from the loss of blood flow.

There is something that happens to the family present when death happens. It is never simple and direct, there is a sense of a brokenness, a undesired knowledge of what is inevitable, that is something that will ripple in various ways throughout the remaining days of their life.

This is the spiritual aspect of death for us as humans, when we recognize what has changed in our loved one and ourselves.

Sep. 20 2009 11:20 PM
Phillip Wiecek from Sacramento CA

In segment 7, David Eagleman totally misses the point. If the technology he posits existed and we were to make a perfect copy of someone's brain, it would not be that person. It would be a copy. The person whose brain had been copied would still exist inside their own body.

Sep. 20 2009 11:04 PM
Fred from Brooklyn, NY


Out of curiosity, whom exactly are you railing against? Sure. the RL hosts feign some interest in 'spiritual' questioning, but the rhetorical "what happens when we die" is really just a canard -- a bit of marketing, maybe, to draw in those NPR listeners who like their pop science leavened with some new-agey fantasies. The show's bottom line is as unsurprising as it is clear: hard core (if cutesy and rather self-satisfied) nihilism. Worry not. You're among friends.

Sep. 20 2009 12:24 AM
Nick from UWS

It's all nonsense.

Nothing happens when you die, and after. You stop functioning. You then have no more awareness than you did before you were born. You become an inert bag of chemicals that rots away.

A human being is like a candle. It's ignited at conception, burns, expressing its energy and personality along the way, and then burns out. Whatever "soul" it has is expressed during life. When it's over it's over.

Sep. 18 2009 12:46 PM
Jason from San Fran

I meant "kind of death"...

Sep. 17 2009 07:44 PM
Jason from San Fran

I believe we all suffer many deaths, the most intimate ones being within ourselves. I look back at my life, 40 now, and think of the chapters that have taken place. It seems to me each ends with a king of death. How closely related am I today to that 4 year old I once was...

Enjoyed the show.

Sep. 17 2009 07:43 PM

i was holding my mom's hand when she died unexpectedly and very fast. as i looked at her, among the many awarenesses that hit me at that moment, was: "she's not using this anymore."

what was left lying there seemed heavier, though. not lighter.

Sep. 01 2009 02:15 PM
Neal Deesit

The Afterlife by Billy Collins

While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your
or riffling through a magazine in bed,
the dead of the day are setting out on their journey.
They are moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
You go to the place you always thought you would
the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot up a funnel of flashing colors
into a zone of light, white as January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding
judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on
the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air-conditioned room full of food and
chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hole
in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
of animals—eagles and leopards—and one trying
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,
while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate

There are even a few classicists being led to an
by a mythological creature with a beard and
He will bring them to the mouth of a furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three
headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light
They wish they could wake in the morning like
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

Aug. 21 2009 04:51 AM
Radiolab from WNYC

Hey there, for those of you wondering, “My mind is sleeeepin” is The Temptations.“Take a Stroll Thru Your Mind” from Psychedelic Soul.
Feel free to write into to ask about other song references.

Aug. 17 2009 06:01 PM
Valerie from Austin, TX

Hello there,
Lovely podcast. Where can I find out what songs were being played in the background of this episode. There was one in particular in the middle of the episode, a woman singing a very opera-like song.
Thanks and keep up the awesome work!

Aug. 05 2009 03:19 PM
Chris from Austin,Tx

Beautiful show, i really enjoyed it. I've gotta second Marcie's comment, please let us know where these samples come from!

"my mind is sleeping but i'm wide awake..."

Aug. 05 2009 02:17 PM
Marcie from Berkeley, CA

As usual, brilliant editing and inspiring content. Would you release a list of the music used in this episode?

Aug. 05 2009 12:37 PM
Jerome from Luxembourg, Europe

I really liked this episode! Good work.

Loved the topic and the humor.

Looking forward to the next episodes :)

Aug. 04 2009 04:07 PM
Phillip from Silver Spring, Maryland

I really enjoy this show. And I enjoyed this episode. However...

Much of this episode was not really about science. It was more about beliefs and spirituality.

In the end, I thought it strayed a little too far into territory covered by PRI's "This American Life."

Just a thought. Keep up the good work.

Aug. 02 2009 08:17 AM
Sarah McClary from Dayton, Ohio

The 21 grams is probably merely the weight of pressure from air in the lungs and other gasses that would be expelled from the body after death. The Egyptians believed that a person's Ka (life-force) left the body along with the Ba (soul) at the time of death.

Also, I think it would have been interesting to look at what happens after life if you believe in reincarnation. That belief system holds that your soul is reborn as a sentient being over and over again until the destruction of the universe.

Is the soul made of matter? One of the basic laws of physics says matter can be neither created nor destroyed.

Jul. 29 2009 11:46 AM

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