The Meaning of Death

The meaning of death

We are all concerned (obsessed?) with extending our lives and those of our loved ones. I can’t blame us; life is awesome. Saving a life is the most noble cause, and is one of the only notions the entire human race seems to agree on. Some are more concerned with saving the lives of their own kind, but in the hypothetical case of endless resources I’m pretty sure they too would agree.

All religions stress the holiness of life. Judeo-Chrisitian dictums lead to extreme opinions on the part of most believers when it comes to abortion rights, for example. Secular people don’t need a “higher force” to underscore the importance of life. We want to live as much as the next guy. If anyone ought to die, who am I (or anybody else) to decide?

Religious notions of heaven, hell, and the afterlife are implausible and improbable, and in any case only apply to believers of a particular religion or sect. They promise believers a happy afterlife (to infinity and beyond), while non-believers are conveniently doomed to eternal hellish existence. Being a non-believer of every conceivable religion – and some inconceivable ones – I wonder which hell I’d go to. After all, the stories are conflicting and it’s impossible to go to more then one at the same time (or is it?). In any case, I’ll take my chances.

When you die, the molecules that make up your body stop “cooperating” as a single organism and get recycled into other organisms and byproducts. That’s about the most significant contribution you make by dying (life insurance notwithstanding). This is not a lot; therefore even those who believe they’ll go to heaven are in no particular hurry. They too know that if their fantasy ends up in disappointment, they’ll become worm fodder. That’s not very attractive, so they’d rather stay on this side as long as humanly possible.

Humanity’s focus on life extension often ignores the impact on the planet and its depleting resources. At the current rate of technological progress we can probably keep going for another century or so. Our grandchildren will pay the price long after we expire. Life extension technologies are becoming so ridiculously advanced that it is possible to live to an old age, often with major physical and mental handicaps. But how long do you want to live, and in what state?

As much as I can affect it I’d rather not have my life extended if I’m terminally ill or end up in a vegetative state. I’d much rather get recycled than kept on life support for years. When they scatter my ashes from an airplane over the ocean, I want them to acknowledge the fact that I exercised my life’s meaning and lived for the right amount of time – not too much, not too little. And no regrets.