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If a person's head was cleanly and rapidly decapitated by a sharp blade slicing through the neck, such as would happen on the guillotine, could that person remain conscious? If so for how long? Long enough to be aware of (the head) falling down and hitting the ground?

Obviously it would be brief due to lack of blood supply, but it seems plausible that it could be a few seconds.

Or is there some inherent neurological shock due to the severing the top of the spinal cord that would cause near instantaneous loss of conciousness?

Could Marie Antoinette have seen her own severed neck from the basket below the blade?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

According to this, in rats it takes about 17 seconds after decapitation for the EEG to become iso-electric. But there is no known correlation between EEG and consciousness. Also at 50-80 seconds after decapitation, EEG being iso-electric, a very slow, late wave appears on the EEG record.

The same article concludes that it takes about 3-4 seconds after decapitation for the animal to lose conscience and perceive no stress and pain.

Also, dr. Harold Hilman states in An unnatural way to die article from october 1983 issue of New Scientist, page 277 that:

Consciousness is probably lost within 2-3 seconds, due to a rapid fall of intracranial perfusion of blood.

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So "yes", Marie could have looked up from the basket and seen her own severed neck. Whoa... – Bohemian May 8 '14 at 12:42
interaction with the head covered in extreme detail by this "classic" – PlaysDice May 8 '14 at 15:56

I remember reading that during the French Revolution Antoine Lavoisier arranged with his assistant condemned to death to blink after the cut off if he still had conscience (Lavoisier was to call his name first to limit automatisms). He reported a possibility that the assistant did hear him (the blinking was apparently not that obvious)

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