A letter to my son (about death)

Dear son,

It is the year 2020. Here are some things that are, as far as I know, true: All of humanity lives on Earth, the third planet from our local star the Sun. The Earth is orbiting the Sun at a speed of approximately 108,000 km/h1. The Sun itself is travelling through the galaxy at a speed of approximately 782,000 km/h2, orbiting the Milky Way. We think the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old3 and we think the Universe is about 13.8 billion years old4.

There are about 7.6 billion people on Earth5. Humans are, as far as we know, the only self-aware beings on the planet. We evolved from primates approximately 5 to 8 million years ago6. A human, if they are fortunate, can live up to 100 years old and even longer in some cases. The average life expectancy varies greatly depending on different factors, such as where you are born on Earth.

In 2020 humans still live and die. To live forever and never die is the ambition of some people but here, early in the 21st-century, it is still not possible. Maybe, one day, we will extend our average life expectancy significantly, and maybe one day we will extend it indefinitely. For now though death is inevitable. When we are alive it is difficult to contemplate death, being alive is so intense and vivid it feels hard to imagine one day it will stop. People deal with the fact we all die differently. Most people don’t like to think about it or talk about it.

I was raised by my parents to believe that I wouldn’t die and that I would live forever. As an adult I realised this probably wasn’t true. The evidence shows us that we are living organisms that live, die, & decompose.

I think people deal with the reality of life and death differently. Some people choose not to think about it. Some people try to do lots and lots of different things to keep themselves busy so they don’t have time to think about it. Some people choose to believe they won’t die & they will live forever.

Some people think that all of our reality is a computer simulation. There is currently no strong evidence to confirm or deny this. We live relatively short lives with the fear of death hanging over us, so if this is a simulation I don’t think I want to meet the makers of such a place.

Some people think we should aim to try and find ways to live forever, and some people think it is good that life has a natural end and to live forever would be worse than living knowing we will die one day. I can see the concerns about the challenges we would face if we did find a way to live forever. But I believe whether immortality is a good thing or not is still an open question. I believe there is still the possibility that with the power to live forever could come the power to make immortality enjoyable.

Most of the time I choose not to think about death. Sometimes I do think about it and it makes me feel scared. Sometimes dying can be painful for people, and I don’t want to die painfully. I try to remind myself that most people die in hospital and their family is with them and they are taking medication that takes the pain away. And that doesn’t sound too bad.

I want you to know it is okay to find death scary. And it is okay to not want to think about it. That’s normal, pretty much everyone does that or something like it. I’m here if you ever do want to talk about it.

Love,
Dad


Footnotes

  1. https://phys.org/news/2014-11-earth-orbit-sun.html
  2. https://www.universetoday.com/18028/sun-orbit/
  3. https://www.space.com/24854-how-old-is-earth.html
  4. https://www.space.com/24054-how-old-is-the-universe.html
  5. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/how-many-people-live-in-the-world.html
  6. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/faq/cat02.html

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