*Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Discovery*
Is there an afterlife? It's an age-old question that has been pondered for thousands of years, set the foundation of religious beliefs for billions and perplexed scientists for centuries. The Discovery portrays a world where the answer to that question has been definitively proven with science.
In #Netflix's thought-provoking sci-fi, after the initial revelation that brain waves persist in those who have died, millions of people commit suicide, encouraged by the news that the afterlife is real. Acclaimed scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford), who made the finding, opens the movie by explaining:
"I can't comment on terminology like soul and heaven and afterlife, but what I can say, with scientific certainty, is that once the body dies, some part of our consciousness leaves us, and travels to another plane."
This view is closer to real life science than you might expect. Over the years, science has replaced the blind faith of religion by analysing the world in an open, evidence-based manner. The words Harbor mentions — soul, heaven, afterlife — are all traditionally spiritual terms. But, as with The Discovery, what if science could one day prove there's more after death?
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The Real Science Behind 'The Discovery'
An important caveat to establish from the off — the idea of an afterlife doesn't necessarily mean proof of heaven or hell. Instead, curiosity is based around discovering more about different states of consciousness. What consciousness is, and where it comes from, is still a mystery, and science is yet to quantify or explain it.
In #TheDiscovery, Harbor's machine proves that brain waves on a subatomic level leave the body, to head for another "plane of existence." More and more scientists in the real world are beginning to look at the human mind as a quantum machine, and the theory that consciousness itself arises on a subatomic level, with our environment changing depending on how we observe it.
The concept of brain waves continuing after death is also based in fact. In March this year, a study by Canadian doctors in an intensive care unit uncovered something extraordinary — brain activity may continue for up to 10 minutes after a person dies. Despite doctors confirming death through standard observations, in some cases the brain continued to function in a wavelength similar to deep sleep.
Bizarrely, the study by the University of Western Ontario identified that almost everyone had different patterns of brain activity following death, which only adds to the mystery surrounding what happens in those moments, as well as shattering the common held belief (especially for non-religious types) that death is the final destination.
While the previous study is from an outside perspective, what about from the point of view of the person who has "died"? Dr. Sam Parnia, from the State University of New York undertook a study 140 patients who had suffered cardiac arrest. Out of that number, 101 reported that they remained aware of their surroundings after their hearts had stopped, with 2 per cent reporting details audio and visual sensations.
The kind of awareness possible after cardiac arrest can be staggering. In total, 13 per cent of those asked said they felt separated from their bodies. One patient was even able to give precise details of events that were happening around him during the time he was "dead," in what could be the first scientifically proven out-of-body experience.
Scientific Theories On Parallel Universes And The Afterlife
In The Discovery, Harbor's machine is able to record this brain activity from the perspective of the deceased, leading to the discovery that when we die, the afterlife is not a celestial destination, but another plane of our own existence.
It is explained that when someone dies, they go back to a specific point (of regret or significance), which will be repeated, over and over, until they make a different decision. For Will (Jason Segel), that point is his first meeting with Isla (Rooney Mara) on the boat.
This big reveal surprisingly also has a basis in science. There are many theories that suggest parallel universes could exist; the most apt, the Many-Worlds Interpretation, uses quantum physics to argue there could be an infinite number of alternate realities. But how can that link to an "afterlife"? According to Dr. Parnia's aforementioned study, those experiencing a near death experience report:
Feeling like they were dragged through water, seeing plants and animals, seeing golden light, seeing family members and having deja vu experiences.
The theme of water, identifying family members and déjà vu are all elements adopted by The Discovery. In that explanation, these visions occur because our lives are repeated. Is it possible these patients are describing something similar? There's a long way to go to prove it, of course, but for a film that initially appears fantastical, real life science may be beginning a huge discovery of its own.
Do you believe the depiction of the afterlife in The Discovery is true?