You have been dead already. It wasn’t that bad.
You have been dead before. You probably won’t remember, but you have spent more time dead than alive.
Mark Twain said it well:
“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”Mark Twain
I am not religious, and I don’t believe in an afterlife or reincarnation, so for me, death equals non-existence. I have been non-existent for centuries, for millennia, even billions of years, as Mark Twain said, and I didn’t suffer one bit. That’s the advantage of non-existence, you don’t enjoy it, but you don’t suffer it either. There is nothing, nada, zilch.
You have been dead before, for the longest of times, and you will come back to that state eventually again. Life is only a little tiny, microscopic dot of existence in the very long, almost eternal, line of inexistence that is death.
Why talk about death?
You may ask, “and what has this to do with the future of work?” Well, nothing and everything. I like to write about philosophical questions, like the meaning of life or what to do with the time we have left, because I believe they impact many aspects of our lives, including our future and the future of work.
I think everything is linked. I like to look at things holistically and systemically. When I launched this blog almost a year ago, my objective wasn’t to talk about creating a humane Future of Work through techniques, initiatives, and programs (I can do that too and often do it), but to look at it from a general perspective and comprehensive view. I wanted to foster debate and make my readers reflect and think, not only about HR and management, but also about technology, future trends, culture, mindsets, attitudes, and why not, philosophy, and the great questions of life.
If we want to build a more humane future, we need to start from our fundamental values, beliefs, and our mindset towards life. I am trying to reflect on all these topics in public, in front of all of you, my dear readers.
Death is as important a topic as any other topic in life, as there is no life without death. Our attitude towards death will mark our attitude towards life. We are too scared of death, and we don’t talk enough about it. It’s something we should start demystifying.
Speaking about being afraid of dying, plenty of people today are trying to cheat death. It has been a recurring theme in world literature and legends, but as far as I am aware, no human being has ever managed successfully to escape death. Some people believe we might be able to do so soon, possibly in our lifetimes.
I have written already about the techno-utopians and transhumanists that believe death is a technical problem with a technical solution, and we are close to solving it.
Some of these people are working on combating ageing. Cells age due to a natural process that they believe can be reversed. There is some promising research done on it, but it is still early days. If they are right and if we manage to find a cure to all the many illnesses still causing death such as cancer, Alzheimer, heart attacks, etc. (admittedly these are two big ifs), then we would be ammortal. We wouldn’t die due to illness or age, but we could still be murdered by violence or die in an accident.
Others believe we will be able to understand consciousness, and we will create conscious artificial intelligence. It is a natural jump of logic to think that once we manage these two feats, we will be able to upload our consciousness into a computer and live in the cloud forever, (un)happily ever after. We still cannot agree on what consciousness is or where it comes from, let alone reproduce it on a computer, so we are still very far from this option. Still, with the pace at which technology is advancing, you never know what might happen.
We are far from attaining eternal life, but it would be cool if we could do it, wouldn’t it? Who doesn’t want to live forever?
Me. I am not sure I want to.
Sure, I would like to live a longer life. It is going too fast, and I am afraid of not being able to do so many things I want to do. I am afraid of losing the people I love. I am afraid of so many things, but I don’t think cheating death is the solution.
Death is an essential part of life, accepting it is the first step towards a happy life. Without death, time has no meaning, so there is no urgency nor motivation to do anything in life. If you know you’ll never die, why would you learn that new skill, or travel to a new place, or start something new? You have thousands of years in front of you to do all those things, so why hurry?
I may be making this up, but I remember reading somewhere that for Ancient Greeks and Romans, their gods were the same as humans, just with some special powers, including immortality. This immortality made them bored, petty, and cruel. In reality, they envied their mortality to humans because it made them appreciate their lives better.
Accepting death, knowing you will not be here forever, but only for a short time, helps you give life the value it has and to appreciate the wonderful gift it is. As the title of a book says, your second life begins when you realize you only have one.
You have been dead before
The great Seneca the Younger said it well in his Letters from a Stoic:
“’ So death is having all these tries at me, is he? Let him, then! I had a try at him a long while ago myself.’ ‘When was this?’ you’ll say. Before I was born. Death is just not being. What that is like I know already. It will be the same after me as it was before me. If there is any torment in the later state, there must also have been torment in the period before we saw the light of day; yet we never felt conscious of any distress then.”Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Seneca was born at around the same time as Jesus Christ, more than 2,000 years ago. You were already dead back then. Do you feel like you are missing out because you weren’t alive back then? Were you unhappy or suffering in Ancient Roman times? How about when the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 AD? Or in the time of the Black Plague in 1348? Or when Columbus found America in 1492? Do you miss not being alive back then or at any other time in history?
I often wonder what life must have been like in those times, and I would like to be transported in a time machine to peek for a little while, just out of curiosity, but I don’t miss it as such. Most people will agree that there is nothing to miss. We weren’t alive then, as it was before our time, so we don’t think about it.
Then, why do you feel like you will be missing out if you die in a few years and you are not around to see the 2030s or the 2050s?
You will be as dead after your death as you were before you were born, so what is the difference? I believe the answer has to do with us now tasting the full flavour of being alive and not wanting to relinquish it. It also has to do with not wanting to part with people we love, and we’ll be leaving behind when we die.
We didn’t know them before we were born. We didn’t know what life was before, so we didn’t miss it. Now we know. We don’t want it to end, so we hang onto it.
But end it will, eventually, for all of us. For some sooner than for others, but death will find us all at the end, and we will be dead again, same as we were so many years ago, before we were born.