Cotard's Syndrome and Capgras Delusion — When You Think You Are Dead and Everyone Else Is An Imposter

Dr. Jules Cotard stunned his audience when he delivered a lecture in Paris back in 1880. Apparently, he had this forty-three year old woman patient, whom people once had thought to be a rational woman, she believed she lost her brain and other organs and thought she was eternal (even though she thought herself dead) and that neither Heaven nor Hell existed. No matter what people told her, she still believed she was dead. She thought she didn't have to eat and ended up dying of starvation.


Dr. E.Wayne Massey from Duke University had this fifty-eight year old male patient that one day as he was sitting on the john, it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead. A few weeks earlier he had had a major operation to repair a weakened aorta. He then became depressed and frightened about dying and eventually believed he had died on the operating table. Of course, no one believed him, especially his wife when he tried to tell her he was dead.

There have only been a handful of cases of Cotard's Syndrome over the years. It still stuns neurologists today when a seemingly intelligent, rational person who speaks normally, knowing where he is at the present moment in time and space and capable of obeying complex commands insists that they are dead. 

Cotard's Syndrome patients are convinced they are dead and decomposing, or are walking around in the afterworld, often referring themselves as the Walking Dead. That they don't exist, even in the face of clear contradictory evidence. 

If you think that strange, it gets worse.   

To aggravate matters more, people that suffer from Cotard's Syndrome usually suffer from Capgras Delusion also. People with Capgras Delusion believe that loved ones and familiar people in their lives have been replaced by imposters and it is only him that can detect the imposters, everyone else has been fooled. 

Something about the right hemisphere in the patient's brain fails to recognize the emotional value of their loved ones. The left hemisphere makes up for the failure by unleashing a "creative narrator" who makes up false explanations for these people.

Cotard's has been attributed to many causes; concussion, seizures, the interruption of blood flow to the brain, schizophrenia or Parkinson's Disease

If the region could be identified in the brain where Cotard's exists it might be where the brain affirms our very existence but we can't, it just raises more questions. It should give us reason to pause, because it is so rare and fleeting. 

The power of our brain is awesome, with the ability to create experiences so perfect, so believable, so utterly convincing, it's often referred to as "realer than real" as if they had stepped outside for some fresh air into a deeper, truer appreciation of the nature of the universe and the meaning of life.

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