Everybody does it, and it’s only natural, so why are we so afraid of it?
I have no fear of death.
For obvious reasons I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my life to contemplate death. When I was about 5 years old on CFB Summerside, one of my friends was killed in a tobogganing incident. When I asked Richard if everyone dies he looked at me and said yes, everyone including me would die one day.
In my dysfunctional household the thought of dying and death was always seen as viable escape from Richard or his mother.
Death is one of the phases of life. Rich, poor, young, old, there is no escaping death. Death IS the great leveller.
From the time a human being is born until the time a human being dies the body is experiencing the physical world. Even when we sleep the brain is processing information from our environment. Once we die though, the brain no longer exists. There is nothing left to process information. A dead brain cannot sense. A dead brain cannot feel. A dead brain cannot fear.
I think the main reason that humans are afraid of death is that death is something that the human brain simply cannot comprehend.
Just as the human brain cannot comprehend the existence of time before its birth, the human brain cannot comprehend no longer existing. Ask yourself this, what do you envision happening after you die?
Can you comprehend the size of the universe? Can you comprehend the universe continuously expanding in all directions? Here’s one to ponder, what’s at the edge of the universe and what’s on the other side? If the universe has no edge, does the universe just go on forever? Nothing lasts forever, including nothing. Everything has an end, including nothing.
Can you comprehend that the universe is over 14,000,000,000 years old and that for the vast majority of that time life as we know it did not exist. Or how about the fact that in 5,000,000,000 years the Sun will become a red giant and will have become so large that it will have engulfed the Earth and destroyed it. Can you comprehend that in 10, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 years the universe is expected to undergo heat death meaning that there will no longer be any detectable energy in the universe.
The human brain is happy dealing with topics that it can reason with and experience. Music? The human brain is great with rhythm and melody and pitch and scale.
Language? The human brain can learn multiple languages as it can experience the use of language in everyday use.
Combining materials mined from the Earth into computer chips and high capacity batteries? The human brain has the ability to learn and to apply knowledge learnt from previous experiments towards new creations.
How are these advances possible? It is the passing of knowledge from one human to another. The only knowledge that the human brain isn’t able to pass to another human is what happens after death.
I believe that the inability of our brain to understand death is one of the driving reasons behind the existence of religion. The human brain needs to know that it came from somewhere and that it has some place to go after the body dies.
The human brain is extremely curious and inquisitive. The human brain doesn’t like it when it can’t figure something out. It has to have answers. So it creates gods and nymphs and fairies and prophets and witches and warlocks and other mythical creatures. Does the Earth reside on the back of a giant tortoise that swims through the universe? Is the Earth flat? Did Noah create an ark that housed all of the animals in the world including the Kangaroos that hopped on over from Australia or the penguins that swam up from the Antarctic?
Religion and gods served a purpose. They explained things that early humans couldn’t have explained. The drought that caused a massive crop failure? You didn’t pray hard enough, or you prayed to the wrong god. The flood that wiped out a village? Again, you must have done something to upset the appropriate god. Need to justify you war and subjugation of a neighbouring village? God wanted you to do that, the others were heathens worshipping the wrong god.
I realized quite a while ago that human knowledge doesn’t die. The body dies. The brain dies. But the knowledge contained within the brain lives on by passing from one human to the next. Human beings didn’t just learn to speak one day. This feat took hundreds of thousands of years for us to develop. Humans didn’t just start building ships out of steel. The ability for forge steel and make alloys took thousands of years. Same thing for any piece of technology in use these days.
The human brain is programmed to view death in a negative manner. Death is attributed with diseases, and illnesses, and violence. Even when a person passes away peacefully in their sleep, those who find the corpse tend to respond to the corpse with fear.
It’s no doubt that our general fear of death and dead bodies has been somewhat beneficial over the years. Exposure to a rotting corpse exposes the living to all sorts of unpleasant possibilities. Humans know that it is generally a good idea to get rid of a corpse as soon as possible to avoid any diseases that the corpse may harbour. Burying corpses also seems to be a great idea that also prevents the spreading of diseases. Don’t forget, refrigeration wasn’t a thing until rather recently.
When a body dies it goes through various stages before decomposition renders the body to a skeleton.
- Pallor Mortis is the first stage after death. This is where the blood recedes from the skin. Lips turn blue and the skin loses its pinkish hue. The resulting change in colour is especially noticeable in people with white skin.
- Algor Mortis is the second stage of death. This is where the body, due to the lack of oxygen required to power the cells, starts to cool down as the cells in the body start to die.
- Rigor Mortis is the next stage of death. As the body is no longer able to manufacture ATP the muscles in the body are no longer able to relax. They start to become rigid and inflexible. Further, as ADP is release into the muscle fibres, the muscle fibres contract and are unable to relax as the body no longer has the ability to reabsorb the ADP and cannot create new ATP. The muscles only relax after the muscle tissue has started to decompose.
- Livor mortis comes next. That’s where the blood and other body fluids are drawn by gravity to the lowest parts of the body. If you die lying down your back will take a on very deep purple bruised complexion. If you were to die sitting up, your legs would become dark purple and swollen.
- Finally, putrefaction sets in. This is where the internal organs, the muscles, fat, and skin start to break down and liquify. Bacteria will start to consume the corpse from the inside while insects and small animals will start to consume the corpse from the outside.
At the completion of the five stages you’re typically left with a skeleton.
I find it really sad that I can’t really give my skeleton away. Not even just parts of it. There’s a few people I know of that would love to have my skull. And I have no doubt that they would enjoy it.
Thankfully a person is dead by the time rigour mortis sets in. Can you imagine what a full-body Charlie Horse would feel like. Rigour mortis is a very power force. It can break bones. I’ve seen pictures from early 20th century medical text books that demonstrated the strength of rigour mortis. One picture had a corpse with a saw horse under the neck and a saw horse under the ankles and the body only had a slight bow in the midsection. Another picture had the head of the corpse resting on a chair and the ankles resting on another chair and again the body was so stiff that it barely flexed in the middle.
What do I intend to do with my body?
I’d actually love to have my body placed on a body farm. That’s probably the closets to a natural decomposition one can have these days. Body farms are basically training grounds for law enforcement, pathologists, and coroners to observe and learn how a body decomposes under various circumstances when exposed to the elements. They can dress the corpse up, or leave the corpse naked and exposed, or wrap the corpse up in plastic bags. All to simulate the various conditions that a deceased could expect to be found in. This is to allow police and pathologists and coroners to hone their skills and to learn how to read a corpse in order to figure out how the corpse died and how long the corpse was dead before it was discovered.
There’s actually only one body farm in Canada, and that’s in Quebec.
The next option for my corpse would be to have it go to a medical school. I’ve watched numerous autopsy videos and it always amazes me how much can be learnt from the body be examining the viscera of a body. The human body is often called “The Soft Machine” and what an intricate and intriguing machine the human body is. If medical students can learn something from my corpse, all the better. I honestly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to view at least one autopsy I their life.
In either scenario I’d love for my brain to be sent to one of the various research facilities in Canada that deal with neurological disorders. Even though I’d be dead, and my brain would be completely non-functional, researchers can still tell a lot about a brain and the mental illnesses it suffered from while it was alive. Even though I’d be dead at that point and I wouldn’t benefit from any research carried out on my brain, if researching my brain provided clues to treatments for others suffering from what I’ve suffered from, then it would be worth it.
I really don’t want my corpse to be pumped full of chemicals. I’ve never understood the present day need for embalming. We have modern refrigeration that will slow down the decomposition rate of a corpse while funeral arrangements are being made, so no, no embalming for me. Fancy satin lined coffins, talking headstones, and cement vaults? For what? I don’t get it.
Cremation? What a waste. All that fuel being consumed and all of that pollution being released. Not good.
Alkaline hydrolysis looks fairly interesting. Not sure if it’s legal in BC yet. It is legal in Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec. The process is fairly simple. Water is heated to 177 Celsius. Lye is added to the water. The water is circulated in a stainless steel chamber in which the body has been placed. It takes about 6 hours for the body to completely break down to the point that the only thing left is a bleached and brittle skeleton.
Anyways……. enough about death……
I the next post I will talk about why I’m scared of dying, but not of death.
Or maybe I’ll talk about hobbies or my lack thereof.