Monday, 19 November 2007

I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit

In my opinion there's hardly a subject that is as misrepresented as death. As discussion subjects go there aren't many that are more avoided than death, so it's about time to discuss it a bit here.
We need to start by defining what death is, and for argument's sake I will say that death is the opposite of life. Great, only that now we need to define what life is, which is where the problems start. As usual, life and death are things we all have opinions on, but we never really question those opinions. Allow me to do so now.
Everybody knows that life doesn't start at birth. What everybody also knows but no one really bothers to think about is that life doesn't start at conception either. Think about it: the sperm and the egg that join hands at conception are both very much living beings in anyone's book long before they combine, therefore life doesn't start with their meeting. And thus when you try and trace life's origins you eventually go back four billion years; everything alive since then is connected in this eternal chain of ongoing life.
Looking at life this way, our definition of death as the opposite
of life is problematic. I will therefore suggest alternative definitions to the terms: What I would define as life is the consciousness that I feel in my head as a result of the chemical and electric reactions going on here, and what I would define as death is the continued loss of consciousness that takes place, well, when you die.
Sure, this definition is not practical for most purposes. When you kill a cow in order to have a steak you don't bother to check what happens in its brain. On the other hand, this definition works well for most of us: if, say, you were to suffer from severe Alzheimer to the point you're not you anymore, than most people would treat you as dead anyway and you would probably prefer to die; just check what takes place in old peoples' places. You wouldn't be the old you anymore, simply because the composition of your brain has changed way too much.
So now that we know what I consider death to be, what do I make of death? Well, I don't think of death itself as that big a deal. At this point I will refer you to Mark Twain in the above quote, said at a time in which people thought the universe was only millions of years old: "I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit". We were all very dead before we were conceived (by my definition we become alive after around six months in our mother's womb) and we were never bothered by it, so why should we be bothered by being dead after our life?
Well, there are plenty of good reasons to be bothered. However, these are mostly to do with not making the most of the life that we've had rather than what takes place after death; or the legacy we leave behind, especially when it comes to our families. Personally, given that I am happy with the way I lead my life, I feel fine about it all, even if I'm sure I will never find a truly proper time to expire in; alas, such is life, and I am happy to be here in the first place.
What does bother me about death is more to do with the how. I don't want to die suffering agonizing pain; I don't want to die stupidly, like in losing control over my car to find myself smashed on a post; and I don't want to die suffering from some some chronic disease like cancer, spending the last years of my life moving between radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Of course, there are plenty of other ways I don't particularly want to die in, but then again there are plenty of ways I don't want to live in: I wouldn't particularly want to survive a nuclear holocaust that takes civilization away and I wouldn't want to live through a disease that would take my life away ala Alzheimer.
But with all that being said, if I was to die the next second while being totally unaware of it... I wouldn't mind it in the least. Simply because there would be no way for me to mind it in the first place. On its own, death is just an inevitable part of life, and we'd all be able to enjoy life more if we didn't spend our life dreading our inevitable death. Statistically speaking, we're all so lucky to be alive we should savor what we can and avoid fruitlessly depressing ourselves with morbid thoughts.


wile.e.coyote said...

being here after the nuclear bomb seems to be a very nice idea (off course we are talking about the clean bomb as I'm very sensative about my fur).
It will leave me a lot of place (maybe that now we you are down under, you forgot how it is to leave in a crowded country.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I wouldn't rush into detonating a neutron bomb yet.
A recent article in Scientific American proposed suggestions for what might happen if humans were to just disappear. The main conclusion is that places like cities rely on lots of people doing lots of work of the type that never gets acknowledged. For example, without someone collecting dry leaves and such, it is just a question of time before a major fire destroys the entire city. The prediction was less than 5 years.

hat said...

I want to know more