"Near death" experiences are controversial to say the least. A recent Newsweek cover story on one such experience claimed to offer "proof" of the afterlife, only to be widely criticized by scientists for sensationalist and unscientific claims. But now comes scientific proof that for some animals — rats in this case — conscious brain activity does continue at least for a few moments past the point when they've been declared clinically dead. "This study, performed in animals, is the first dealing with what happens to the neurophysiological state of the dying brain," said Jimo Borjigin, an associate professor of physiology and neurology at the University of Michigan who led the led the team behind the discovery.

Borjigin and her colleagues looked at the electrical activity in the brains of nine rats who had been anesthetized and had heart attacks artificially induced. Even after the rats' hearts stopped beating, and the flow of blood to their brains halted — the conditions needed to declare a mammal clinically dead — the researchers observed "highly aroused" brain activity consistent with that of a living, conscious rat, for about 30 seconds, according to the University of Michigan. The researchers published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, and are hopeful they could be used to study the human "near death" experiences that are reported by 20 percent of people who have survived cardiac arrest.