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Zoom Out, Zoom In – An Indifferent View On Death

Everyone around was mourning, hard. A drop of tear fell silently from the little girl’s right eye, no one noticed, not even her mother who was holding her hand. Was she sad? What was she thinking about the death of her great-grandmother, whom she had seen just a few times in her life? Did she fake the tear?

20 years later, she was standing in front of the tombstone of her grandmother, whom she had never talked to in her life. Being completely honest to herself, and to her family, she put on a bland face. Was she cold-blooded? Did she not even feel for her father who lost his mother?

It is true that the people who passed away were distant to her despite the genetical familiarity, thus the mere attachment generated no grief. Without tearing apart of the attached souls, would death be as sorrowful and lamentable? Indeed, how much fiction have we created to explain the notions of death? Some believe in the afterlife; some believe we will go to Heaven or Hell; some believe our souls and consciousness cease to exist as our body stops to function and we become nothing; some believe we will be reborn as another individual… Oh! I wonder if all this fiction created by men would matter if only we could emotionally detach ourselves to view death macroscopically and microscopically.

Zooming out, we should not forget that we have only existed for a short period of time in the history of this world. Countless number of creatures have existed and died before us Homo Sapiens; the cycle of life and death is not a cycle of a single creature, but a cycle of a species, of the habitats, and even of an ecosystem. We may have only become intelligent enough now to contemplate death after years of evolution. Looking into the future, it will not be surprising if our species go extinct one day, and maybe then our imaginations on death will also vanish along with us; if the development of a new civilization has no connection with ours, there may be novel visions on death composed and propagated.

To what, then, is our intelligence valuable? Beyond humanity, our stories could be just illusions.

Zooming in, life and death seems no more than the results of biological processes that are completely out of our control. Our body is doing everything to keep us alive – maybe even more than you would like, but it never figured out a way to combat ageing. You squeeze your nose and hold your breath, and you stare at the stopwatch: “10, 20…50, 54, 56, 57, huh… phoo… huh… phoo…” You could not resist the urge to breathe in and replenish your lung with air of a higher oxygen concentration than that in your body. It is not possible to voluntarily hold your breath till death as your conscious attempt to not to breathe can easily be overcome by your body’s mechanism to keep you alive. However, like a machine, it can only take in so much damage from the environment – the radiation from the surrounding, the toxic chemicals we ingested through our mouth or absorbed through our skin, the invasion by bacteria and viruses... The damages start to accumulate in our genetic information (DNA) and are reflected in the malfunctioning of the biomolecules synthesized from it, leading to the breakdown of our body and eventually, death.

But how one reacts to reality, in turn accelerating or decelerating his life towards death could be very much dependent on his inherent temperament, which acts as his guide since the very beginning of his life, with environmental and cultural factors as only add-ons. One can become so determined that he willingly conduct experiments that expose himself to radioactive chemicals with the aspiration to contribute to scientific discovery; one can become so fastidious that he adopts a lifestyle that minimizes his contact with synthetic or natural harmful substances.

Does the design of our creature decide how we are to view death and thus how we are to live our lives? Is our interpretation of different theories of death predestined?

In face of the death of her little hamster, whom she lived with for two years, she buried the dead body under a tree. She never shed a tear. She took good care of him and was in control of his diet; he had lived longer than expected. It was time to let him go; she was prepared.

One day, when she comes to confront the death of the dearer ones, can she still remain composed as she sees death and humans’ sentiments towards it so infinitesimal? Will she cry and remind herself that our emotions may even be evolutionarily developed for our survival?

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