The apparently dead subject was shown images of different human faces, which displayed a variety of emotions. A brain scan of a type called fMRI showed brain activity when some of the images were changed. It appeared that the brain, even after death, was perceiving visual images and thinking about the emotional meaning of them in some way.
At least, that’s one way to interpret the data. Another way to look at the data is to take into account that the dead subject was a salmon, which is incapable of registering human emotions even when it’s alive.
It was part of an experiment to test the degree to which scientific equipment can provide false positives – the appearance of meaningful data where none exists. Turn on an fMRI and don’t put anything inside, and you’ll still get occasional random peaks of data that can appear to be significant, if you don’t actually consider the context. Put a dead brain inside the fMRI, and the researcher gets a context where he or she is looking for something that could be there, which creates a bias toward seeing something happen where in fact there is only random noise.
The experiment did not prove that there is life after death, that the brain keeps on thinking and feeling things long after the heart and lungs have stopped. It merely showed that people eager to find such things could easily do so, just by looking at the equivalent of snow on an old broadcast television.
The case of the dead fish brain scan ought to serve as a warning to people eager to jump on the noetic science bandwagon after reading Dan Brown’s new novel, The Lost Symbol. People who are predisposed to see patterns in data will see those patterns, and interpret them as proof of what they already believed. That’s just a part of being human.
Science requires more. It requires that an experiment be replicated independently, and repeatedly, by those who doubt the results of the initial experiment. That’s something that fictional scientist Katherine Solomon never even solicited in The Lost Symbol. She kept her data secret from other scientists. Critical replication of results has also never been accomplished for the noetic science experiments that have been released to great hoopla out here in the real world.