We all die. Death is natural. Death is the logical conclusion of life. Death is nature’s way to clean up and make space for the newly born. Death is a mere illusion. All living things must die. The search for immortality is foolish and immoral….
We all hear statements like these right from our childhood, ingraining deeply into our minds the belief that death is something unavoidable and inevitable. But is that really true?
I, Human decides to take a deeper look into this age-old belief and discover a rational answer to the question: is death inevitable!
It occurred to me the other day that when people speak of death, they are often talking of very different things. For instance, when we say “we all die”, we are talking about the human body stopping to function as a single whole organism which, actually, is very different from the death of a single living cell.
So to answer the question, is death inevitable, we must first clearly define what exactly do we mean by “death”.
Most people think of death as an “event” bound to occur sooner or later which will terminate their life. This might appear to be true at first until we think a little deeper.
Lets run a simple thought experiment as follows:
In 1901, at the age of 21, Mary fell off a boat and drowned in the river for she could not swim. Her husband John immediately jumped in and rescued her but by the time she was dragged out of the river, she had stopped breathing and her heart had stopped. To everyone around her, she appeared dead.
“It was fate! It was her time” said her husband. Then they buried her.
In 2001, at the age of 21, Mary-II drowned in the sea. A few minutes later, her husband John-II rescued her and brought her to shore, but by this time, she had stopped breathing and her heart had stopped beating. To everyone around her, she appeared dead.
But John-II has had first-aid training and so he immediately performed CPR on her and just a minute later, Mary-II came back to life, started breathing and her heart started beating again.
What is the difference between the Mary of 1901 and the Mary-II of 2001?
Was the Mary of 1901 really dead? Was it really fate? Was it “her time”? OR, was it just the lack of knowledge of her husband John of 1901, who did not know what CPR is and how to perform it, which resulted in Mary’s “death”?
In this thought experiment, we used “drowning” as cause of “death”. But it could be anything. Any kind of damage to Mary’s body, which John or anyone else around her did not know how to repair, would have resulted in Mary being declared “dead”.
We all know that countless millions of people died by something as simple as malaria before penicillin was discovered. After penicillin was discovered, all what was needed to save the life of a person suffering from malaria was to give him/her one single tablet of penicillin. Just one tablet.
So, all those millions and millions who died of malaria before penicillin was discovered, was it their fate? Was it their time? Or was it simply the lack of knowledge of people around them to know how to save them?
What we can essentially learn from this thought experiment is this:
Any damage to human body, no matter how severe, does not and need not necessarily result in that person’s “death” if the people around that person KNOW how to help and repair that damage.
What, then, is death?
Would it be fair to conclude, that no matter at what time and in what place I live, my death will be the ability of people around me to help me when my body is severely damaged?
Death, therefore, is not an inevitable event. It is a measure of the knowledge of people around us. When a person’s body is damaged to a level, which cannot be repaired with our existing medical know-how and technology, WE declare that person “dead”. At what point we do that depends not on fate or divine timing but on the level of our knowledge and ability to help.
By declaring someone “dead” we are essentially making a value judgement on ourselves; we are saying “we just don’t know anymore what to do”! Every single person we loved and who died had to die because we FAILED to help.
Interesting thought, no?
If nothing else, this should make us think about the importance of learning basic life-saving skills and, as an intelligent species, the importance of dedicating our maximum resources and efforts to research and development of life-sciences. Who wants their loved-ones to die? Especially if, as we now know, they die only due to our failure to help them. Not due to some “fate” or “inevitability”.
This brings us to another closely related and very important question:
If we could help every person to live indefinitely (except in cases of severe accidents) would it be fair and moral to keep people alive? Would the planet not be over-burdened? After all, there is only so much space on this planet.
Well, lets evaluate this not with emotion, but with logic and reason.
Just about 40 years ago, there lived about 2 billion people on this planet. Today, we are 7 billion. An increase of more than 300% in less than half a century.
We are already waging wars for natural resources (wars to capture oilfields etc.) and in less than 20 years, there will be water-wars and food-wars.
Even if with all the natural and unnatural causes of death our situation is this bad, why make it even worse by helping people to live even longer? Does it make any sense?
Well, no, it does not.
But let me ask you a purely theoretical question: what if, we had virtually unlimited land, water, food and all other resources. Would it be okay then to help everyone to live an indefinite life?
Well, I see no problem with that.
So the fundamental problem is this: we are all stuck on a small planet with limited resources and, while our populations keep growing, the planet and its resources are not growing. It stays exactly the same size as it was a hundred or a thousand or a hundred million years ago.
This is no small problem. It’s an existential threat which needs to be dealt with very very seriously.
But how? What is the solution?
The most obvious solution, which most people and politicians resort to is somehow limiting population growth while at the same time NOT helping people to live longer, even if we could. Take a moment to think about the moral implications of it.
A more extreme version of this, favored by some very “rational” people, is depopulation. In other words, mass-murders through war or other means.
Can we find any other, better solution?
Allow me to take you with me on another journey, another thought-experiment:
John and Mary got married and started living in a small one bedroom apartment. They were happy and content until Mary got pregnant and they had their first child. The one bedroom apartment which seemed perfect before was not enough anymore. So what would be the most obvious solution? What is it most of us actually do IF we have the ability and resources?
They moved out to a bigger 2 bedroom apartment.
Over the next 5 years they had 2 more children. Now the two bedroom apartment was not enough either. Surely, they could have avoided having more children but what if they knew, they KNEW, that they have the resources and the ability to solve the problem in the most rational and harmless way. They would not resort to not having children or killing them to save space.
They would simply move to another yet bigger apartment or house, with four bedrooms.
Twenty years later, all three children are grown up and each one wants more privacy and more freedom to live their lives the way they choose. What do they do? What is the most natural course of action? John and Mary KNEW such a time will come and had been preparing for it. For the past 20 years, they had been saving 20% of their joint income for this purpose. They had foresight. They help their children to buy their own apartments or houses and move out, start their own independent lives.
A few years later, all the three children get married and the whole cycle starts all over again.
So what stops the human species to act in the same rational way?
The most common argument I get is, “we can’t move out”. There is no other place to go. We have one home planet with the right conditions to sustain life and we have to learn to somehow survive on this and this planet alone.
Nothing could be farther from truth.
Our problem is not that we don’t have the ability, the technology, to move out and colonize other worlds. We have the necessary know-how TODAY, we have had it for quite a while now.
Our problem is that we don’t have the necessary will to do it. We are not dedicating enough resources to solve this most serious existential threat to human species and to life on earth itself.
No matter which country you live in, look at your annual national budgets for the past 50 years. How much of your country’s wealth was dedicated to the goal of acquiring the know-how and technology to colonize other planets? Twenty percent? Ten percent? At least 5%? No.
But why? How can we be so shortsighted and not see that no matter what we do, we are heading to an inevitable over-crowding of the world which is bound to result in more and more wars and end of civilization as we know it. Just like John and Mary, should we not have some foresight and start preparing for what is to come twenty or thirty years from now?
Yes we should, but we don’t.
This is mostly due to two reasons:
- Most people do not know that we already posses the necessary scientific know-how about colonizing other planets. We have had it for years. What we lack is the experience of putting that knowledge to practical use. That is to say, we have not been developing the necessary useable equipment to sustain life on, lets say, Mars or Moon. There is no other fundamental scientific bottleneck stopping us from colonizing other worlds, starting within our own solar-system and over time, spreading outwards. All what is needed is a concentrated effort backed by general public support. Don’t wait for your politicians to make this decision for you. They wont.
- There is a popular (but false) counter argument: until such time that we have not learned how to live peacefully and sustainably on this planet, we should not even try to colonize other planets. “Look at what we are doing to our home world, look how we are destroying it. If we start colonizing other planets, wouldn’t we do the same there?”.This appears to be a very sensible and humane argument but, its false. We discussed earlier how we are already in the era of “resource wars” which will soon be followed by much worse kind of wars, the wars for water and food. Here is the point to understand: lack of space and resources IS the source of all other problems we are facing. Ignoring the source problem and trying to solve the problems arising from the source is not sensible and is unlikely to solve anything. It is simply irrational.Our situation is that of passengers aboard a ship which is stuck in a whirlpool but instead of trying to get out of the whirlpool, we are saying we first have to learn how to live peacefully and sustainably on the ship, then we will worry about getting out. Bad news is, there will be no getting out. We are racing against time. If we don’t act now, it will be too late. Already today, we are standing at the point of no return. Just like John and Mary and billions of other people in the world, we need to “move out” and find more space and resources.
So, it seems the argument that we should not help people to live indefinite lives because this would result in over-population which will destroy us all is yet another value judgement we are making on our own failure. Our failure to put our knowledge to use and go colonize other planets.
Most people do not understand what an incredibly vast universe we live in. There are more planets out there than the total number of humans who have ever lived on planet earth.
There are an estimated 100 Billion galaxies in the known universe. Notice the word “known”, it is used because no one has yet found an “edge” of the universe. Therefore, for the time being, we consider the universe to be infinite, meaning, there could very well be 200 billion or a 100 Trillion galaxies out there, we just don’t know.
We live in one out of those 100 billion galaxies called “The Milky Way” which is home to some 100 to 400 billion stars, although this number may be as high as one trillion. There are probably at least 100 billion planets in the Milky Way.
On 4 November 2013, astronomers reported, based on Kepler space mission data, that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars and red dwarfs in the Milky Way, 11 billion of which may be orbiting Sun-like stars.
On 26 February 2014, NASA announced several exoplanets, namely Kepler-296e and Kepler-296f, in the habitable zones of a star similar to the Sun.
On 6 January 2015, NASA announced the 1000th confirmed exoplanet discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope.
In theory, every single family on planet earth could own an entire planet within our own galaxy.
Even if we live indefinitely and continue reproducing at current levels, there is more “land” and more “resources” out there for each one of us than we will ever need in life. Forget about owning a house or an island, you could own an entire planet… perhaps even an entire galaxy!
To sum up then,
- Death is not an inevitable event. When we declare someone dead, all we are saying is we don’t know anymore how to repair the damage to that person’s body. Your death is the level of knowledge of people around you. If we spend enough resources to improve our knowledge, there is no reason why each one of us could not live indefinitely, barring severe accidents or voluntary death.
- Humans have evolved (or were created) with a very strong survival instinct. Our survival depends directly on the resources we have available. As the planet becomes crowded and resources become scarce, it is inevitable that there will be resource-wars, followed by water-wars and food-wars. We are already witnessing resource-wars today. Once the water-wars and food-wars start, civilization as we know it will cease to exist. It is imperative for us to dedicate every possible resource towards developing the technologies and equipment necessary for colonizing other nearby planets and moons.
- Each one of us could live a young indefinite life and have more resources available than needed. There are more habitable planets out there than the total number of humans living on planet earth. The only thing missing is our will to rise up to the challenge.
One last word, human history is full of legends and myths about individuals who sought eternal life. The concept of “eternal life” is a fantasy. Nothing is eternal, not even the universe itself. Everything we have talked so far was about “dying due to disease”! No one is talking of a magical eternal life. Once we learn to fight every possible disease and repair every damage to our bodies, we will have indefinite lives, not eternal, but indefinite. There is no scientific or logical reason why this cannot be achieved.
Have a question or a different opinion? Found something I wrote which is scientifically or rationally incorrect? Just want to share your thoughts? Please go ahead and comment. I would love to hear what you think. A healthy open discussion is the best way to move forward.