Eli5: why do people experience terminal lucidity?


Eli5: why do people experience terminal lucidity?

In: 5

I think you’re going to have trouble with an answer here when a lot of other ppl, myself included, will need an ELi5 even for the phrase “terminal lucidity”

Terminal lucidity is not a medical term. There’s not even credible evidence that it actually happens, much less a scientific explanation for it.

Every once in a while a headline comes out about it, but it’s more clickbait than science.

However, if we’re to assume that it’s a real phenomena… people’s best guess was that this supposed sudden burst of clarity/awareness occurred because the brain was going into a fevered frenzy as the body died and organs shut down. The final desperate firing of dying neurons.

At least, they assumed fever had something to do with it. They really, and this cannot be stressed enough, *had no idea*. We’re not talking about today’s doctors here. We’re talking about physicians from the 1800s. Discussion of Terminal Lucidity hit a decline as time marched on and we approached what you can think of as a modern medicine.

That isn’t to say that the idea was dropped completely from discourse forever, of course. Terminal Lucidity was used as a plot device in classic literature, so every couple of years someone digs up all these FICTIONAL examples of it and says “maybe they’re talking about Terminal Lucidity, and maybe it’s real?” but this conjecture *usually* confines itself to the English department. You won’t find a credible peer-reviewed scientific study about terminal lucidity.

From wikipedia:

>According to Macleod (2009) in his observations, explanative causes could not be found for the variety of cases, but it was suggested that due to the modern pharmacology in terminal cases, the condition may be less common today. A recent proposed mechanism includes a non-tested hypothesis of neuromodulation, according to which near-death discharges of neurotransmitters and corticotropin-releasing peptides act upon preserved circuits of the medial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, promoting memory retrieval and mental clarity.

So, dying brain releases all the brain juices into the brain soup at once. (People have also suggested that this, if real, could be behind the “my life flashed before my eyes!” trope.)

Keep in mind that terminal lucidity makes a comforting story for those left behind. *”I told Grandma [an important thing] as she died, and I just KNOW she understood me, with a sudden burst of clarity, despite spending the past 20 years of her life totally unaware of who I even was”* is a lie loved ones might tell themselves to make the loss easier to deal with.

People like to have closure, and death rarely affords it, so there are numerous feel-good superstitions involving death.