Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
Theists have a pernicious habit of countering non-believers with the ultimate cruelty of a life snuffed out in an instant. How can there be nothing beyond, when we are surrounded by beauty and complexity in this world? This world has afforded us a myriad of outlets and the tools to understand it or even master it, while we are still living.
For a number of years I have taken a scholarly interest in this scientific question: Is there a fate worse than death? We’ve all read about spooks and spectres, ghouls and ghastly demonic entities. They seem a million miles away as we stare into the abyss of our computers, relatively safe in our homes.
Contrary to popular belief, death is no more absolute medically than in centuries past. We continue to bury, burn and chill people very much alive. Of course, that’ll rarely make the papers. It’s old news.
The two supposedly modern standards of death continue to be debated by the medical community to this day: cardiac arrest and brain death. The former is a catch-all term when the coroner has nothing to go by excepting the presence of a corpse on their table. The machines measuring heart rate are eerily outdated, they can miss comatose conditions, for example. Brain death is never tested for, why waste the money on a steady stream of EEG?
Which of these matter? To doctors, the cheapest, naturally.
To the body on the bed? There’s another story. It’ll be you, eventually.
In my years of research I have found many a strange fact about the brain. For brevity I shall try to make this scenario simple.
Neuroscientists choose their wording carefully. When we speak of oxygenic deprivation in terms of brain damage, we mean damage. As in, not death. We elect to ignore the qualia, or experiental element of clinical cases because we are rarely capable of the detachment necessary to cover them objectively.
Death as we are taught it is the swift cessation of life.
In the brain, nothing could be farther from the truth. The modular organisation of the brain could be compared to a whack-a-mole. Shutting off a few cells will be painful but the whole will remain. Have you ever spoken to a stroke victim about their experiences? Have you seen the fear shine in their eyes? I have.
They know what I know. They know we are fallible.
We are vulnerable at every moment. Our world can cave in, twist, distort and become as alien as a distant planet. Look up the cases if you don’t believe me, we are rather powerless. Human neuropsychology case studies, they’re online nowadays. This knowledge I share because you deserve to know. It can become your Carpe Diem.
A reaper psychopomp bearing your soul away to places unknown with the speed of a scythe would be a blessing. These were our ancestors’ fairytales for a reason, in times of plague and pestilence no less. Tolkien was correct to dub it The Gift of Man, if it be true.
What if there was a fate worse than a snuff?
What if there was nothing you could do to prevent it?
What if you were born this way, bound into a fleshy tomb?
The fate worse than the textbook clinical death is open to interpretation. Ponder it as you wish. I know what I think. Let’s take the cited preference of dying in one’s sleep elderly. Your heart rate slows. They trust the local doctor called out to verify the death, he checks at the wrist. Your pulse is too slow for the machines to detect anyway. You might be aware of him in real time, he might blur to you as your memory slows. He might appear as a looming shade, if you’re unlucky. He pronounces your death, your body is paralyzed from sleep. You slip from dream to nightmare, this cannot be real. You feel rough as the ambulance drives you to the mortuary. You are laid on a slab and feel the cold. When you get goosebumps, the assistant tells your family it’s a nervous response, you can feel no pain now. You beg they don’t do an autopsy. Let’s say they do not. You beg they don’t embalm you. The mortician insists, because it pays them more. You hear with pinprick precision as they explain to your loved ones what it involves. Antifreeze running through your veins. They might put you in the freezer. It won’t make much of a difference, your thoughts would become agonizingly slow. Would that be better? Let’s say they do not. You are left lined up with others of your rank. You wish to speak to them, to know if they are going through this with you and what might lie ahead. You vaguely recall stories of people buried alive. What does that mean anyway? Your nose is burned by the chemicals in your surroundings, they might be preparing your neighbour. Some of the workers talk to you, they are jovial and kind. Are they in on this? Do they know? You are left in the dark at night, surrounded by dead people. You wish to black out. If a visitor notices your pupils constrict through the clouding, it’s just a reflex, they’ll shrug. Bodies do it all the time. Your stomach begins to ache. You realize it must be the acid, burning through the mucous lining, the muscle walls, the abdominal cavity. Wait long enough and your skin will liquify, they’d keep you out of sight then. Alone. You consider your life. Your regrets flash beyond your eyelids. If you wrench them open, they are promptly closed. Perhaps taped or hooked. You would weep, if you could. You would wail, if you could make a sound. You work up a groan. It’s just air escaping, they tell the intern. Your lungs are empty, you can do nothing more. One by one your memory fades, who you are and what you once were. You become confused by this situation. Where am I, you panic. What is this place? I’m here. I’m here. I’m always here.
Is there an end to this? I cannot tell you. The coffin lid, the pyre, the weight above you crushing your body when the wood gives in. They seem pretty final. This is the fate worse than death. You live. The flesh dies. Almost enough to make you believe the old fairytales. A reaper doesn’t seem so bad now, eh?
Please, check on everything I have told you. You will find it to be totally true.
Credit To – J Smith