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Immortality and Death

If you are reading this page then there are two facts I can state about you with 100% certainty. Without knowing anything anything about you I can state that you are alive and I can also state that one day you will be dead. Everything that makes you uniquely you will be gone forever and there is nothing that can be done about it, or is there?

Science fiction treats death very interestingly, there are the usual scenes common to war films, cowboys etc where people are being shot dead everywhere you look and life is cheap and then there are the usual science fiction aspects, such as (a) resurrection and (b) immortality. I will discuss both below, but before I do I have a question for you to think about. Why do we die? There are two answers to this question and I will give you my personal views on both. I stress these are my personal views and so if you feel I have got it wrong, then do get in contact with your own answers.

Why do we die?

Answer 1 - We serve our time and then go to a better place. Our view is that in ancient times the idea that you die is so depressing that a concept developed that there is a better place. Many cultures had/have that view, the Vikings had Valhalla, the Greeks had Elysian Fields etc. Think about it, if you wanted men to go into battle and fight would they have been so keen if they had known how truly precious life is?

Answer 2 - The ant theory, in other worlds you lay down your life for the benefit of your species. Think about it, as you grow older you get more innovative and creative, peaking in your 30s and 40s. After that you start to become more set in your ways and therefore less and less innovative and creative. Now of course there are exceptions, but as a general rule I think it holds up. Therefore when you die you make way for a younger generation and ensure the continuing development of the species. We believe this is hard coded into our genes and is therefore non-optional.

Let's move on to the two science fiction themes:

Resurrection

We've seen it in science fiction. Our hero is dead and along comes some alien technology and he's alive again. First we need to understand what it means to be dead. How would you know if someone is dead? OK let test you out here by giving you some symptoms. A person has no pulse, no blood in their body and electrical readings of brain activity is flat - are they dead of alive? I guess your answer would be that they would be dead and that their soul would be in Heaven/Valhalia/Elysian Fields etc. Maybe not, there is a complex medical procedure for open heart surgery when the patient is cooled right down, the heart stopped and the blood removed into a container. Brain activity falls to zero and to all intents and purposes that person is dead. However, once the complex operation is complete the patient is slowly warmed up, the blood pumped back into the body and the heart re-started. The patient makes a full recovery (as an aside, patients are asked for their experience of being dead. All said there was nothing - they went unconscious and then someone was bringing them round, nothing in between).

In terms of bringing people back from the dead, yes we're already doing it. However, everything needs to be in a fit and decent condition. It would not be possible with current technology to bring a patient back from the dead if a vital organ, such as the heart, had been destroyed. The same applies to science fiction, sure technology will get better and better but the basic fact is that the body, and the brain in particular, starts to decay very quickly and therefore you need to act quickly. Who knows in the future we may have cryogenic capabilities and so the patient whose heart is destroyed can be quickly frozen, a new heart grown from stem cells, patient thawed and new heart installed. Possible, yes, but we're a long way off from that.

Immortality

In the section "Why do we die?" we believe answer 2 to be the correct answer. Therefore immortality is easy, you gentically engineer that command from our genes. The genes do not gradually decay (we've heard this described as errors in making copies of copies over time with the example of a VHS tape - we disagree, we believe the copying process is more like copying one DVD to another, i.e. digitial copies which are always identical without error). However, knowing what to do and doing it are two totally different things. Research on rats have resulted in longer lifespans (scale up to a human and it's about 200 years) but there is still death. However, work is on-going.

If you are interested in finding out more, I recommend the following:

 

IS THERE LIFE AFTER DEATH? (BOOK)

Few books today can be termed ‘totally original’. This one in is a refreshing exception. Using the latest findings of quantum physics, neurology and consciousness studies the book suggests a simply amazing and totally original theory regarding what may subjectively take place at the point of death. The author proposes that consciousness literally falls out of time at the moment of death and continue to live within an inwardly generated version of reality similar to that suggested in films such as The Matrix and Vanilla Sky.

DEATH AND DYING (BOOK)

This book draws together a range of both classic and newly commissioned pieces on the multidisciplinary study of death and dying. Organized into five parts, the book begins with a general exploration of the meaning of death, before moving on to consider caring at the end-of-life. Further readings explore the moral and ethical dilemmas in the context of death and dying. The fourth part of the book examines the issue of grief and ritual after death, while the final part considers some of the issues that arise when researching in the field of death and dying.

DEATH AND AFTER (KINDLE)

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers.

AUTOPSY: LIFE AND DEATH (VIDEO)

How do you imagine your own death? Will it be peaceful? Will it be quick? Will you be old? Our death is a mystery to us. We cast it as an outsider, a thief, robbing us of our breath in an instant, without warning. But death is less mysterious than we imagine. Its origins are in our genes, in the things that happen to us, in what we do. In this series, controversial anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens shows, through live dissections of human bodies, how the two courses of your death can be found in the way you are designed and the way you live your life.

If you are facing death, either personally or of a loved one, then perhaps the books below would be more suitable.

 

DEATH AND HOW TO SURVIVE IT (BOOK)

The must-have guide for anyone who has lost a spouse or partner

ON DEATH AND DYING (BOOK)

One of the most important psychological studies of the late twentieth century, "On Death and Dying" grew out of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's famous interdisciplinary seminar on death, life, and transition. In this remarkable book, Dr. Kubler-Ross first explored the now-famous five stages of death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through sample interviews and conversations, she gives the reader a better understanding of how imminent death affects the patient, the professionals who serve that patient, and the patient's family, bringing hope to all who are involved.