I don’t know you, but we journey to the same place my friend

When I was a child I was terrified of death from an irrationally young age. I remember going to a small holiday park, on the outskirts of Dartmouth that my grandparents owned. I loved that place more than I should have – the smell of the arcade room, the shows they put on for the guests, the swimming pool, the climbing frame – and of course the restaurant where my parents would let me order from the grown up menu. It was all I ever wanted as a child. I was ever so young, and I remember sitting by the pool one summer and realising that when I died – other people would still be in this place, enjoying it, reaping the rewards of this fine British holiday and while all this time would be elapsing; I would not be alive. There was a rush of jealousy and fear – which plagued me for many of my formative years.

If we were not scared of death we would drop like flies. We wouldn’t look to cross the road, we would take reckless risks and murder would not seem such a crime. Indeed death is the journey we must all take. But what happens when fear of this journey turns to near obsession? I look to some of the people trying to evade death forever – before concluding with my current perception of leaving my present state of being.

Doing really unusual things to give you longer to live

There are countless lists of individuals who put their body under all manner of stress to live those extra years. An example I read of is Peter Thiel – founder of PayPal. He takes growth hormones in order to preserve his body longer and invests millions into advanced tissue regeneration research. Indeed there are countless other methods I have heard of – from paleo diets to sleep cycling. The fact is some people will go to extraordinary lengths – to the rational mind it seems worth it if and only if the time spent doing these things is less than the life gained from them.

Indeed some studies into anti-ageing medicine have been hugely successful – we have managed to preserve life to 400-500 years. Oh wait sorry have to add – that is the human equivalent and we have only been able to do it to earthworms. Still, a step in the right direction right? It shows living beings can be changed to age in a different manner.

I was born in the wrong era – take be forward

Most people no about cryogenic freezing – the pursuit that used to be only for billionaires now available to millionaires! This who idea hinges on the fact that humans make progress at good rates and that the medicines of 400 years will be inconceivable to what we have now. We just wont be dying in the same way. How do you get there? Jump in a freezer.

Okay I am dumbing it down a bit. It is a little more complex. The idea is that you sign up to a cyrogenic plan and when you are legally declared dead you are frozen. You need to exploit the time differential between legal death and death of the mind – so you must be frozen in this time frame. The body is piped full of chemicals to stop the blood clotting and keep the brain as fresh as one can. Well then naturally you are pickled in a sort of preserving fluid and basically full of an anti freeze, taken down to -130 Celsius and then sat in liquid nitrogen at -190.

The main problem is we dont know if we can vitirfy human organs. Ice damages cells. We don’t even really get the brain yet so how can we protect it? It is a really confusing idea – and in truth we don’t know if it will work. Fact is it does not now but that is the whole point of it. Keep be iced until someone can sort me – then defrost me. Seems worth a shot right? Only catch – it is very expensive.

Ditch my pathetic human shell

Biggest cause of death? In general the fragility of the human body. Well what if we could put that into something more durable? This is what many billionaires are hoping – transport the human brain into a computer. Retain this human bit. I think the core of this idea is that our brains are reduced to little more than electrical signals. Of course there is much more to it than this – or we would of already done it; however the idea is that it is possible.

The biggest problem with this theory? We don’t know about the brain ourselves. We don’t know what memory is or how it works and we don’t fully know what really goes on in the portions of our brain we “don’t use”. So before we can fully determine what would need to do to realise this, we would actually need to work out the human brain totally.

But what do I believe?

I think that there are some very good things that come from being mortal. Human beings have finite existence and even so the squander and waste that time obsessing over fashion and make up, engaging in conflict and killing each other. And infinite life? We are not ready for that just yet. And then there are the other obvious constraints –  a finite world with a population of infinite life? Clear issue there.

I don’t want to die – but equally I do not wish to waste the time I have. I want to make the most of what I have been given and leave something behind me which lasts. In the words of Hunter S Thompson

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

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27 responses to “I don’t know you, but we journey to the same place my friend

  1. I am so sorry, that is a very unpleasant way to go through childhood. Obviously, you must have gotten over your obsession now if not the fear. Death being an inevitable phenomenon is what makes life that much sweeter, makes us attempt to live fuller, experience richer, feel deeper and more. Besides, as you mentioned, it is quite something, to leave behind a piece of you that lasts and is remembered. Even if not in a manner of global significance, we all do, in a way, for the people closest to us; we will always last and be remembered.:)

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    • I think as a young child you see life as eternal. When you are 5, 10 is like your whole life away… seems like so far. So when you realise that it actually will end it is a scary and unnatural prospect. I have a much more sensible handle on the world these days! Thank you so much for your support on the site – it is greatly appreciated 🙂

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  2. Coming to think of it, I did think about death as a child and it scared me too but those were fleeting thoughts. To be honest, I used to wonder, with great intensity, about stuff like, “what am I doing here, what am I, whats this world” . It wasn’t a funny thought or curiosity, just a very disturbing conundrum that plagued me for a long time!

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  3. Dear Joseph, interesting reflections. I recommend an interesting book called Immortality by a british philosopher called Stephen Cave. He discusses at great length about these ‘transhumanists’ who want to live forever and why humans need the concept of immortality, or why it’s so hard to accept the nothingness that comes with death

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  4. What a great quote to end such a wise post. I must admit I’ve never really had thoughts such as those you had when you were a child but I also agree that being scared of death is what propels us forward most of the time.
    Very thought-provoking post!

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  5. Thank you for looking at my blog. I was directed to this entry to read. I also found your earlier entry on complex numbers. Math is beautiful simply to behold, though we need to work through it not only for comprehension but for greater appreciation. Even awe. This said by an English teacher. Every now and then, though, I recite the quadratic equation to myself (which is not complex) simply to stay sane.

    About mortal life, well, you know it’s what we have. You write about it with depth and insight. I’ve often wondered why Ted Williams had his head frozen after death. The cryogenic transfer of consciousness, I guess. As for me, well, the biblical standard is three score and ten. I figure if I make it to eight-one and then I’m done, that will be fine. Would I like to live into the ages? Sure. But, barring that, there is so much that is good to do here and now, even today. As you note with detail, spirit, and reason. Again and further, Thank you!

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    • Thank you very much for your visit and for your kind words! It is wonderful to see open mindedness with regard to subjects – as you clearly have a deep appreciation for both the numerical and the literary. I try to keep on top of the great works there are in this world – and I find with books, much like mathematics you have to prioritise. With finite life you just cannot get through everything worth getting through. I very much forward to following your future posts – the internet is a wonderful thing where you can be taught by teachers long after leaving school! So a thank you to you too!

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  6. Great post! I can’t say that I have ever given my death much thought and I have never felt scared about dying. Having children makes me much more cautious but more so for their wellbeing not mine. I’m certainly thinking about it now. 🙂

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    • It is funny how our thoughts and fears change with time – what once seemed important now seems trivial while things we never thought of before are of great importance. Thank you very much for reading!

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  7. It isn’t death I fear as much as spending ten or fifteen years in declining health suffering without much quality to my life. As I child, I was sick a lot. In fact, I was under a doctor’s care for years up until I graduated from high school. When I was five or six, I almost died in the hospital where I was struggling inside an oxygen tent to recover from a respiratory infection. Eventually, over time, after I survived that life threatening incident, after a host of doctors who couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, my mother found that special doctor, special to me, who discovered that there was this virus attempting to eat my heart and all the other health problems came from that. He treated it for years with shots of some thick milky looking gunk shot into arms and buttocks. I grew up with a dread of needles because I was poked by so many. I think I’m over that now.

    At 18, that special doctor who saved my young life, announced I was cured and could live a normal life, so I joined the U.S. Marines and ended up in Vietnam where several times I came close to death. One incident was the day a sniper attempted to take me out with a round that brushed my left ear in passing.

    Years later, drinking too much alcohol and eating too much unhealthy junk food while suffering from the PTSD that followed me home from the war, I decided I was tired of being sick all the time—again—the flu, common colds, sinus infections, aches and pain all over the place. I decided that life was best lived as healthy as possible. Knowing that I could die at any moment—-the sniper who almost killed me taught me that—-because there is no guarantee that we will live to be a geezer or older, I stopped living the fun nightclub life drowning in alcohol and fast food, and lost weight, ate healthy, exercised regularly and left a lot of illness behind. Now I’m one of those health obsessed vegans. I’ve been a vegan for more than thirty years and during that time, I haven’t had a common cold, headaches, the annual flu or those aches and pains, and I’ve lived a much fuller life, because when we are sick, the illness, the drugs, and the medical problems sideline our having fun. Sick people are in misery all the time even if they don’t know it.

    As a health obsessed vegan, I’ve climbed mountains in the dead of winter and skied in blizzards and white outs—feeling great and healthy without all the decay and drugs from painful diseases that the majority of people are plagued with as they grow older. Once, while climbing one of those mountains in the wilderness, I even came face-to-face with a full-sized black bear, who decided to turn and run away from me instead of eat me and went up a steep mountainside in a blur of speed. There have also been encounters with giant rattlers thicker than my thigh and a mule deer. I find it interesting that when I run into a wild deer, I’ll talk to them and sometimes they stop and listen instead of running away. Maybe they can smell that I’m a vegan and not a meat eater and see me as someone who doesn’t want to have them barbecued.

    I don’t take pain killers. I don’t take over the counter medication for indigestion caused by crappy food. I don’t take any prescribed drugs for anything—-at least up to this moment.

    I know that I could die any moment but at least I’ll leave this knowing I lived the good life as long as possible with health instead of the misery caused by disease. It really is a challenge to enjoy life to the fullest when you have a host of health challenges.

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    • Hi Lloyd – thank you very much for sharing your story; makes me feel so poor in life experience! It is interesting to hear from someone who has tried so many different ways of living (some choices, some forced) and to come out the other end a stronger and healthier person.In many ways you have your own personal Siddhartha Gautama story living a life dominated with extremes before finding comfort and a better way of living somewhere in the middle. It is great and inspiring to hear your story – this one of the reasons I started this site in the first place, to take lessons and inspiration from places I would have no hope of reaching otherwise

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  8. I must say after reading it ‘wow! What a ride’!! We all have our fears regarding death during our younger days, especially on loss of some near one but life itself is a great teacher. It keeps on unfolding itself and its mysteries and with wisdom and true knowledge we become free…hope you too will find your answers that you are seaking! We all are here as students and will keep learning till last day of our class! Its my pleasure I reached your blog 🙂

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  9. Thanks for your reflections! It’s true that science is light-years away from understanding the brain. As you pointed out, we don’t even understand memory yet.

    Two nights ago, I was looking at the stars outside my bedroom window, feeling very tiny, and wondering how I could ever “know” anything significant. Then I remembered reading this fact somewhere: the human brain has as many neurons as the Milky Way galaxy has stars.

    I took comfort in the thought that, perhaps, knowing myself is as meaningful as knowing a galaxy. Maybe if we can just learn to understand ourselves, before death extinguishes the galaxy inside us, our time will have been well spent.

    Enjoying your blog! Thanks for sharing your precious time with us!

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    • Memory really is a strange thing. That is a very interesting thought; it seems there is so much that is worthwhile to understand and so much of it is shrouded in mystery that you really do need to prioritize heavily if you are to truly understand anything at all

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  10. We do indeed all journey towards the same place in the end – there’s no escaping death – or not yet anyway even if a few might see a glimpse sometime in the future 😉

    I like the way you think – we may have many thoughts in common.

    I have to take you up on your second para though: not being scared of death is not the same as having a death wish. If you love life (and i assume that’s also your belief) then you do what is necessary to ensure you get all of it you can – running across a road without looking is foolish and to be avoided as it would be personally wasteful if you died prematurely not just because you are not scared of dying. Someone murdering you and therefore costing you a full life experience would still be a horrible crime to someone not scared by death.

    As for cryogenically freezing in the hope of acquiring more life in the future: Has anyone yet bothered to try freezing someone and bringing them back to life – with all memory intact to prove it can be done? Or are all participants simply hoping for the best we may become smart enough to do that at some distant future point? Seems like a pretty big and expensive gamble to me if we can’t – but i guess those choosing it have no other real options for now.

    It is my opinion that being brought back to life in the future but still having all the memories and life experiences that were normal to everyone back in your past would be a very sad and difficult thing to do. Life will be vastly different even 100 years form now, let alone 1000 or 10,000. You would have nothing in common with anyone and no background references that shared with your contemporaries.

    These are just practical reasons i would not consider being frozen – i will leave the theological and metaphysical ones for another time 🙂

    Nice blog you have here! and thanks for the like.

    love.

    Like

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