What happens when we die? Does everything we are just stop? Is consciousness lost forever? Or does some vital spark inside us, a spirit or a soul, live on? We find it almost impossible to think about not having a mind, of our awareness being snuffed out like a candle. Yet the stark fact is that within a century or so, everyone alive today – all six billion of us – will be dead.
Humans are the only creatures on earth that know they are going to die. But that foreknowledge has come fairly recently and it flies in the face of four billion years of evolution. Those eons have genetically conditioned us to do all we can to preserve ourselves and our kin. The result is that we are caught in a dilemma. We are programmed to survive by our genes yet made painfully aware of our mortality by our forward-looking brain. If we admit that death is inevitable, then our will to survive may be fatally weakened. On the other hand, if we deny death, we have to turn a blind eye to a patent fact of the real world. Only one avenue of escape is possible – belief in an afterlife. With this we can face the nightmare that death poses to the rational mind. We distance ourselves from death by institutionalizing it. Whereas in earlier times most people spent their last days at home in the bosom of family and friends, today four-fifths of us are removed to hospitals or nursing homes. We are hidden from the gaze of the young and healthy and tended to by strangers. As the end approaches, we are discreetly moved to wards for the terminally ill and plugged into life-support machines. Technology takes over. And when we do eventually die, it is often the inadequacy of the equipment or the shortcomings of the treatment that are blamed. Instead of accepting death as a natural and inevitable fact of life, we are in danger of convincing ourselves that, given further medical advances, we shall be able to stave it off for as long as we like. "Some people want to achieve immortality through their works or their descendants," said Woody Allen. "I want to achieve it through not dying." Now, for the first time, science seems to be holding out the slender hope of cheating death. Already, some of our vital parts can be replaced with natural or synthetic substitutes. In time, it seems, the transplant surgeon will be able to do for a human being what any competent mechanic in a well-equipped garage can do for a car. Key words – Death, Reincarnation, Consciousness, Cosmos, Science, Soul, Afterlife, Universe Author Bio - David Darling is the author of more than 40 titles including narrative science titles: Megacatastrophes!, We Are Not Alone, Gravity’s Arc, Equations of Eternity, a New York Times Notable Book, and Deep Time. He is also the author of the bestseller–The Universal Book of Mathematics: From Abracadabra to Zeno’s Paradoxes. Darling’s other titles include The Universal Book of Astronomy, and The Complete Book of Spaceflight, as well as more than 30 children’s books. His articles and reviews have appeared in Astronomy, Omni, Penthouse, New Scientist, the New York Times, and the Guardian, among others. David Darling was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, England, on July 29, 1953, and grew up in the beautiful Peak District, close to Kinder Scout for those who know the area. He went to New Mills Grammar School and then on to Sheffield University, where he earned his B.Sc. in physics in 1974, and Manchester University, for my Ph.D. in astronomy in 1977. David Darling’s interests, apart from his work and family, include singing, song-writing, and playing guitar.