Macchars don’t wear sweaters

The Desirability of Death

Posted on: June 30, 2010

It is said that if one believed in life beyond death, one would live life differently, and better, even though there is no objective way of finding out. I agree, positive benefits would flow from a belief in permanence, if one thinks of it. As it is, our life span of 70 odd years is rather short, and even in those 70 years, death lurks as a possibility.

But death as a psychological concept, is not wholly undesirable. A normal person may find the thought of a final end unpleasant, but for a sufferer, death offers the ultimate escape. Think of someone suffering from chronic depression, or worse, from a severe mental ailment, a state of constant inner tumbling. The thought of being eternally trapped, having no escape from the torment of ones state would be horrendous. Not in this lifetime, or the next, but for ever. Imagine the victim of torture, and his desperate scream “does this agony know no end??”.

Heaven and Hell are undoubtedly states of mind, which are not even realized in every life, or as glimpses, but in some lives they are, and they always exist as possibilities. But death ensures no suffering is permanent, there’s a limit to every agony and torment. There can be no Sisyphus or Prometheus. Death is the ultimate relief, the ultimate catharsis. It is the psyche, the self’s final defense mechanism – to be obliterated into nothingness. It is maybe for this reason we even carry the idea of Death.

In the future, we may be happier when we have controlled death.  But we would still like to have a “death switch”.


9 Responses to "The Desirability of Death"

I was reading Rajagopalachari’s edition of the Mahabharata last night and I found Bhishma’s character history rather fascinating.

He was in his previous life an immortal being, cursed to become mortal and suffer as a mortal, who along with his fellow cursed beings had begged the river goddess Ganga for her help in order to be released from the mortal world as soon as he was born. Becoz he knew he wud find no happiness in his mortal life, only struggle and defeat.

By a strange twist of fate, his life is spared at birth, Ganga does not drown the newborn, he grows up to be reunited with his father. Interestingly, his father gives him a boon, that of being able to choose the moment of his death. Your “death switch” so to speak.

And while Bhishma cud not possibly have been conscious of the curse he received in his former life, he cud have chosen to quit the world and escape but he was entangled deeper and deeper into the responsibilities of raising and marrying off the children of two generations and ultimately being defeated in battle.

And even then, felled by an arrow he decided not to die becoz the time was not auspicious. He used his boon to prolong his painful life for six months and only then attained peace by dying.

Very interesting the whole story was. Even controlling his own death only brought him ever more pain. Incredible that I shud read your post today!

Very interesting :). Maybe things are best organized as they are. Once humans do control death (reverse the aging of cells etc) they will have to face queer questions.

I doubt whether an anti-drug vaccine is EVER going to discovered. And it is a good thing too, otherwise beards would be a mile long etc. In any case the we are unable to argue with are:
1. Death is sure.
2.We don’t know when.
3.We don’t know what is beyond.
Any philosophy has to build on these axioms.

I don’t think the time is too far when medicine will conquer death. if not conquer, at least drastically prolong lifespans. It is all about reversing the aging of cells. Accidental death may still remain, but the normal aging process may be reversed.

But, you know, to put a spanner in the works is the highly increased risk of malignancies or atleast neoplasia that mankind will encounter if we try this reverse aging process..there is this lovely textbook we have, Robbins Textbook of Pathology which says, “the longer we live, the more ways in which we can die”

The thing is, the more complex and specialised cells become the more difficult it is to predict their behaviour, like for example..simple organisms with fewer specialised cells like sponges for example live for hundreds of do some trees..but with animals thats a whole different thing, metabolism takes its toll on these cells..which is why they age but you know, even if we reverse the aging and prevent apoptosis, how can we prevent cell malfunction in general? I dunno. But the answer’s somewhere in cell biology for sure..

you are the doctor around here :). i saw a program on tv long ago, and i dont even remember it that well. but what i gathered was that cells age because of the secretion of certain hormones (or something). ultimately, the human body is a complex machine, and i think humans will sooner or later master this machine.

New fact. Crocodiles don’t age. They don’t have a defined life span. they are as vigorous at 70 as 5. They die of disease or accident, but not of old age. Its possible in the animal world. Why not the human world.

Machine it may be, but with an inbuilt non deterministic behaviour, analogous to particle physics, and complexity exponentially beyond any artificial machine. The number of synapses in the brain is ten to power hundred, of the order of molecules in the universe, and per postulations of your very own dear Jung Sahib, the subterrainean layers of the psyche, which he terms as the collective unconscious, store not only the entire past of the individual, not just of the entire human race, but of all life forms that ever pervaded the planet (we have to stop somewhere) down to mosses and lichens.

To paraphrase Voltaire, if death did not exist, it would have to be invented. It is as healthy a necessity as birth and sleep. Imagine dis-inventing sleep! There was a story where this happens and we are shown a population so fed up with boredom more than anything else that they are in a vain desperation to die, no remedy effective.

The point is not to banish death, but to learn to see it not as a problem, but as a nourishing and beautiful necessity. Everything is subject to the phenomenon, even stars and galaxies.

To quote Daisaku Ikeda:

“First, consider birth and death in terms of space. Galaxies wax and wane in size as stars within them are born and perish. In the existence of each star are the births and deaths of myriad living beings, as well as the appearance and disappearance of mountains, rivers and valleys. What about our own lifetime? We do not maintain the same matter we were born with from beginning to end. Most of our body cells continually die, to be replaced by new ones. Their births and deaths — metabolism — keep the body constantly provided with fresh life force and enable it to live on.”

“I don’t think the time is too far when medicine will conquer death”…P

Far enough for either of us…

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