What is death?
Have you ever asked yourself the question? I am sure you have. Can we comprehend death? Can we really die for good?
We can be as sure as we could probably need be that neither this enormous explosion that set the universe in motion, which is still moving away from us at a great rate, nor this amazingly complex billion year period of evolution, we can be pretty certain it was not designed so that you and I could be meeting in this room. We are not the objects of either of these plans. These plans don’t know we’re here. I’m sorry to say, wouldn’t know or care if we stopped being here. We have to face this alone with the equipment, intellectual and moral, that we’ve been given, or that we’ve acquired, or that is innate to us. – Christopher Hitchens- Authors@Google, August 16, 2007
After reading endless quotes by Hitchens dating back from the early years of his career through to his thoughts on terminal illness and mortality, the above stood out to me. Not that there was a shortage. I could spend all day reading what great arguments he had against unoriginal ideology and stone age thinking.
‘Surely this can’t be it?’
‘We must have a soul, I cannot imagine the physical body is all we have.’
‘The world had to be made with us in mind.’
Before you were alive, you did not exist. You know this, I know this. How farfetched is that notion? I admit it is quite bizarre, only a quarter century ago was I not present on this earth. Nine months before that, I was not even in early stages of development for life on this earth. I simply did not exist. And, like Hitch said, earth got on fine without me.
Now from a living and thinking perspective, what was not being alive like? Can you remember? Can you paint a picture of total non-existence? No. Because that is not how our minds work.
Since the day of birth, possibly further back to the womb, all we know is consciousness. Even during sleep the body and mind is active in one way or another. We respond to loud noises, we still breathe subconsciously and can incorporate external sensations such as touch and sound into our dreams. All we know is being alive. Living. Not able to comprehend non-existence.
Compare it to mastering chinese if you havent learnt the language. As hard as you stare at the characters it doesn’t make it any easier, or understandable. You have to put effort into understanding the language. I guess in this example learning the language could be compared to observing those around us who are yet to be born and those that have already passed. This is how we help to understand death, making it easier to fathom.
If all you know is life, how do you expect to comprehend anything outside of that? It doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Have you ever whacked your keyboard after your computer crashed or shouted at the car for not starting? We even struggle to comprehend non-living machines as being non thinking!
The British Humanist Association’s YouTube channel has a video created with this in mind. With the wonderful voice of Stephen Fry, it is titled ‘What should we think about death?’:
Death is a part of life, we should not go about it like it doesn’t happen. We simply aren’t programmed to comprehend it because that is what death is. A lack of existence resulting in a lack of comprehension. So don’t spend your life worrying about death because when it comes, we won’t notice it anyway 🙂