The Myth of Death

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“The influences of the senses,” Emerson wrote “has in most men overpowered the mind to the degree that the walls of space and time have come to look solid, real and insurmountable; and to speak with levity of these limits in the world is the sign of insanity.”

The contemplation of time and the discoveries of modern science lead to the same assertion – that the mind is the ultimate reality, paramount and limitless. I remember the day when I first realized this. From around the corner came the trolley car, scattering sparks above it. There was a grind of metal wheels, and with a jolt and a sailing glide, the electric machine was on its way to my past, back through the decades, till it came to the place where, for me, the universe began. I hoped I might find a set of initials scratched into a tree, or perhaps an old, half-rusted toy, which I might put away in a shoe box as evidence of my own immortality.

But when I reached that place I found that the tractors had been there and left. The city had reclaimed some acres of slum; the old house I lived in, and the houses next door where my friends played, and all the yards and trees of the years I grew up in – all those things were gone. And though they had been swept from the world, in my mind they still stood, bright and heliographing in the sun, superimposed on the current setting. I picked my way through the litter and the remains of some unidentifiable structure. That spring day – which some of my colleagues spent in the lab carrying out experiments, and
others in contemplation of black holes and equations – I sat in a vacant city lot agonizing over the perverse nature of time. Not that I had never seen the fall of leaf, nor a kind face grow old; but here, perchance, I might come across some hidden passageway that would take me beyond the nature that I knew, to some eternal reality behind the flux of things.

The extent of the dilemma was realized by Ray Bradbury in his masterwork, Dandelion Wine.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Bentley. “Once I was a pretty little girl just like you, Jane, and you, Alice….”
“You’re joking with us,” giggled Jane. “You weren’t really ten ever, were you, Mrs. Bentley?”
“You run on home!” the woman cried suddenly, for she could not stand their eyes. “I won’t have you laughing.”
“And your name’s not really Helen?”
“Of course it’s Helen!”
“Good-by,” said the two girls, giggling away across the lawn under the seas of shade, Tom following them slowly. “Thanks for the ice cream!”
“Once I played hopscotch!” Mrs. Bentley cried after them, but they were gone.

Standing in the rubble of my past, it seemed extraordinary that I, like Mrs. Bentley, was in the present, that my consciousness, like the breeze meandering across the lot, blowing leaves before it, was moving on the edge of time. “My dear,” said Mr. Bentley, “you never will understand time, will you? When you’re nine, you think you’ve always been nine years old, and always will be. When you’re thirty, it seems you’ve always been balanced there on that bright rim of middle life. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You’re in the present, you’re trapped in the young now and an old now, but there is no other now to be seen.

Mr. Bentley’s observation is not so trivial a point. What sort of time is that which separates a man from his past – which separates one now from the next – and yet gives continuity to the thread of consciousness? Eighty is the last “now,” we say; but who knows that time and space aren’t actually “always.” A cat, even when mortally ill, keeps those wide calm eyes focused on the ever-changing kaleidoscope of the here-and-now. There is no thought of death. We believe in death because we have been told we’ll die. Also, of course, because most of us strictly associate ourselves with the body, and we know that bodies die, end of story.

But physics tells us that energy is never ever lost, and that our brains, minds, and hence the feeling of life operates by electrical energy, and therefore this energy like all others simply can’t vanish, period. The biocentric view of the timeless, spaceless cosmos of consciousness allows for no true death in any real sense. When a body dies, it does so not in the random billiard-ball matrix but in the all-is-still-inescapably-life matrix.

Logical, everyday experience puts us in a milieu where objects come and go, and everything has a natal moment. Whether pencil or kitten, we see items entering the world and others dissolving or vanishing. Logic is a fabric woven of such beginnings and endings.

The Eastern religions have of course argued for millennia that birth and death are illusory. When a person strictly identifies his only existence with his body and is certain the universe is a separate, random, external entity, then saying “Death isn’t real” is not only ludicrous, it’s untrue. His body’s cells will all indeed die. His false and limited sense of being an isolated organism – this will end, too.

The concept of death has always meant one thing only: An end that has no reprieve or ambiguity. That fine wine glass you inherited from your grandmother can have a death when it falls and shatters into a dozen fragments; it’s gone for keeps. Individual bodies also have natal moments, their cells destined to age and self-destruct after about 90 generations, even if not acted upon by outside forces. Stars die, too, albeit after enjoying lifespans usually numbered in the billions of years.

If we’re only our bodies, then we must die. But if one pins things down, the “alive” feeling, the sensation of “me” is, so far as science can tell, a sprightly neuro-electrical fountain operating with about 20 Watts of energy. Now the skeptical might argue that this internal energy merely “goes away” at death, and vanishes. But one of the surest axioms of science is that energy can never die, ever. Energy is known with scientific certainty to be deathless; it can neither be created nor destroyed. It merely changes form.

The implications of this recently hit home with the death of my sister Christine. After viewing her body at the hospital, I went out to speak with family members. Christine’s husband – Ed – started to sob uncontrollably. For a few moments I felt like I was transcending the provincialism of time. I thought about the 20-watts of energy, and about experiments that show a single particle can pass through two slits at the same time. I could not dismiss the conclusion: Christine was both alive and dead, outside of time.

Christine had had a hard life. She had finally found a man that she loved very much. My younger sister and mother couldn’t make it to the wedding due to other engagements. The wedding was one of the most important days in Christine’s life. Since no one else from our side of the family showed, Christine asked me to walk her down the aisle to give her away.

Soon after the wedding, Christine and Ed were driving to the dream house they had just bought when their car hit a patch of black ice. She was thrown from the car and landed in a banking of snow.

“Ed,” she said “I can’t feel my leg.” She never knew that her liver had been ripped in half and blood was rushing into her peritoneum.

After the death of his son, Emerson wrote “Our life is not so much threatened as our perception. I grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real nature.”

Scientists think they can say where individuality begins and ends, and we generally reject the multiple universes of Star Trek and such as fiction. But it turns out there is more than a morsel of truth in this popular genre. One well-known aspect of quantum physics is that observations can’t be predicted absolutely. Instead, there is a range of possible observations each with a different probability. One mainstream explanation states that each of these possible observations corresponds to a different universe. There are an infinite number of universes, and everything that could possibly happen occurs in some universe. Death doesn’t exist in any real sense in these scenarios. All possible universes exist simultaneously, regardless of what happens in any of them.

Whether in these experiments, or turning the driving wheel ever so slightly this way or that way on black-ice, it’s the 20-watts of energy that will experience the result. In some cases Christine’s car will swerve off the road, but in other cases the car will continue on its way to my sister’s dream house.

Christine had recently lost 100 pounds, and Ed had bought her a surprise pair of diamond earrings. It’s going to be hard to wait, but I know Christine is going to look fabulous in them the next time I see her.

Based on “Biocentrism” by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman. Learn more at

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