Death of a Human
Still Life With A Skull
Definition of Death
According to Wikipedia, death is defined as:
"Death is the permanent cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism."
Notice the word permanent. We will come back to that later regarding the Christian belief that Jesus was resurrected from death.
Also notice the word living. The same definition applies to non-living entities - as in "dead battery".
A recent forum post from Beth37, described how she explained death to her children.
"I will explain it like I did to my kids when they were little. Our bodies are like cars. Our souls are like the drivers. Our cars take us from place to place, but when we die, our cars break down and our drivers get out and leave them behind."
This is a heart-warming anecdote to most of those that believe in life after death. But is is erroneous to think that "cars have souls" as it is just as erroneous to think that human biological entities have 'souls'.
Major Religious Views of Death
Resurrection, then reward or punishment.
Reincarnation or different planes of life.
A state of non-living.
Are Cars Comparable to People?
Cars are cars.They are considered to be robots in certain situations. They have evolved to the point of having a 'brain'. New cars have physical sensors that tell its brain that there isn't enough air in the tires. A sensor on the car can sense an object around it and move itself to avoid the object. Sensors can tell it where it is regarding Global Positioning Satellite navigation (akin to self-awareness). There are cars that can drive all by themselves now. Are they alive with souls? Are we Gods for having created 'sentient' cars?
In Beth's analogy, the driver is the car's brain. But this may not be the case. The car's brain is actually its operating system which may be mechanical or biochemical (someday). When it is started up (when the right chemicals and electrical energy come together), the car operates as a whole, not needing a driver. When it is shut down (when the gas runs out or the electrical misfires or for any number of other reasons), the car is effectively dead.
So, when our particular biological body parts come together through evolution and reproduction (or even cloning), and our brain fires up, we are "alive". When our bodies senesce (get old), we die. Of course, other external factors may cause death, but this is the general path.
When some scientists figure out how to keep the body alive (or even just the brain alive), we will be immortal. Our bodies will not die, and our biological organism will sustain our electrical impulses (patterns). This is also true for cars, or non-biological organisms.
There is already evidence for immortality. A jellyfish called Turritopsis nutricula is thought to be immortal. The only way to kill Turritopsis nutricula is to destroy it by unnatural, external means. This jellyfish has the ability to transdifferentiate its cells. It can revert to being a polyp, even after it has reached maturity. Then it goes through the life cycle again. It may do this forever without dying.
The truth is that we are biological machines that are started up when the right conditions exist and again, under a different set of circumstances, we simply stop functioning.
At the very least, medicine has figured out ways to extend our lifetimes. Yes, even re-animate a corpse that at one time would have been considered very dead.
Was Jesus truly dead when he was placed in his cave? Was he actually just on the borderline of death when he regained his senses? Was he perhaps saved by a very early method of cardiac stimulation? Was he permanently dead? Maybe not.
None of us will ever know. Jesus had no autopsy. He had no modern medical examiner to determine the parameters of permanent death. He may very well have survived the cruxifiction.
His contemporaries would have experienced a "miracle" upon seeing Jesus walk around again. As for him ascending to heaven, this may be either a mis-translation of the story, or some sort of fanatic hallucination. It may have been a sort of Chinese secret round that was told and re-told until the actual facts were obscured. Again, we will never know. We cannot prove that Jesus ever really lived.
His reward was to enter the kingdom of heaven, which is a place no one has ever been able to find or prove. If he had been judged a different way, his punishment would have been hell. Again, another place which does not appear to have an actual physical location.
Other Abrahamic faiths either believe or don't believe in heaven and/or hell, but stick to the postulate that there is life after death. There are some sects that do not believe in life after death even while having faith in the Christian God. Religions do not agree on what happens after we die.
Reincarnation and Ascension to Various Astral Planes
Some religions teach that death is a step on a pathway to a different reality. These realities are known as planes of existence. Some call them Astral Planes. Others call them dimensions. Some call them alternate universes. Some invoke Karma which is a system of reward and punishment similar to Abrahamic religions.
The spiritual plane is also invisible to us. It occupies no locatable physical place. It seems that when a biological death occurs, the 'spirit' or 'soul' simply flies about or passes on to another dimension.
Since no one can locate these planes (or even the spirits/souls), there is sincere doubt that they even exist. Some people claim to be able to see them, but no solid evidence exists. Just as heaven and hell are invisible, Dharmic religions claim that their 'afterlife' is just as believable as the Christian one.
Do you remember where you were before you were born? Was your spirit, soul, essence somewhere? Did it coalesce into an embryo? Or did an embryo develop that sucked in your spirit from somewhere?
Was your body created through evolution and reproduction? Did it just all of a sudden animate itself with your spirit?
Atheists believe that biological entities were evolved from the chemical building blocks of matter that have always been present in the universe. They did not 'come from' somewhere, they were always here.
When the chemicals and gravity and cosmic 'glue' arranged our atoms into an embryo, the electrical energy in the brain evolved to the point of having patterns of personality. We coalesced to become a unique human form. Our biological forms evolved and changed over time and will continue to do so in the future.
As our forms senesce (get old and wear out), our bodies eventually cease to support the electrical patterns that make us unique and we die. Our bio-electrical patterns that make us unique will dissipate. They will become part and parcel of the universe as they always were. This happens right before our eyes. We witness this exchange on a daily basis.
This is true of everything in the universe. Matter and energy (many kinds of energy)* coalesce for a while, then the forms/patterns change and new forms appear. This has been going on for infinity and will continue to do so. The universe does this on huge, incredible scales. It also does it on unimaginably small scales. As the saying goes, "matter cannot be created or destroyed". Our atoms are infinite in their existence.
*Energy in this hub is defined as a measurable substance such as gravity, electricity, kinetic, centrifugal, magnetic or other definable, purposeful action by the universe. Energy is not necessarily 'seen', but its effect can be measured and proven. This is not the same thing as an undefinable thing such as a spirit, soul, astral plane, angel dust, or other imaginary thing.
The Infinite Universe
How do you see death?
Which of the three opinions here do you most agree with?
© 2013 Lela