We're reluctant to face the black hole again, but what's happening is inevitable, we are running low on future..

Running Low on Future

by Martin Overby

There are some things in life we can see coming, and we wisely prepare for them. Big things like weddings, children or even a house move take a lot of thought and there's always friendly advice from the experienced to help us through. But there is one thing we each have to face, with very little practical assistance and even less advice, and that is death. The idea of death is for most people simply a black hole. And the prelude to death we imagine as lingering pain, incapacity and confusion. We wouldn't look forward to our car breaking down, and the same goes for our bodies. Yet the failure of our bodies is a process that medical science does understand, and has developed steps to ameliorate.

An Inspired Machine

The body, for descriptive purposes, is an inspired machine. It is robust, flexible and intricately balanced. There are systems we know that give us our fuel to live: respiratory (air), and digestive (food). We have regulatory systems (hormones) and cleaning systems (kidneys and liver). We have a communication system (our nerves), a skeleton and muscles to help us move about. Our skin acts as a guard system to protect against disease and infections. Our blood and circulatory system move nutrients and wastes about through the body via elaborate plumbing. We have a reproductive system. Lastly there's our brain, which helps manage the lot and interact with the world and each other. Those systems function together without instruction, and keep running until our death with only the addition of food, water, air and exercise. Simply amazing!

What brings us ultimately to our end is system failure. The system that doctors fight hardest to keep going is respiration, because the brain only lasts a few minutes without oxygen. And the point when the brain's electrical activity stops - is the moment doctors record as our death.

Unfortunately, the respiration system isn't always the main problem when the systems begin to fail. Time and use wear out our bodies, or disease weakens the systems and they become ineffective. We built up clots, toxins or blood imbalances of salts or acids, or cancers grow and consume vital tissues, stopping their contribution to our health. We're reluctant to face the black hole again, but what's happening is inevitable, we are running low on future. What we don't know, and oftentimes doctors don't know either, is how long we'll last.

Doctors specialise in healing, but our penultimate bodily end is death, and for the physician - that is failure. Our natural desire is for life and so we draw upon their talents. But technology has changed the path to our end. There are numerous interventions available to give us those extra days, or even years and every case is different. The Hippocratic Oath, which guides doctors' behaviour, says 'do no harm' and it also warns of the difficult choice between doing nothing and letting nature takes its course, and the equal error of overtreatment. This is significant because some life sustaining techniques are incredibly noxious and employing them can degrade the quality of life during the last days. This is where our individual choices lie.

Rejuvenation or Resurrection

In some medical and futurist circles there are great hopes for 'rejuvenation' therapies using stem cells or genetic engineering to replace worn out body tissues - but those techniques are at the experimental stage. The emphasis is of course on the physical body with the assumption that the mind and mental capacities will continue undiminished. The 'Rejuvenators' are convinced that technology will win the day and with that thought have themselves literally deep frozen at the moment of death for a future resurrection.

Perhaps our greatest unvoiced thought about death is that we'll be alone in some way at our end - and this concerns us. We've taken comfort from companionship of friends and spouses throughout our life. Yet the fact that we go alone to the last portal, unaccompanied, and without turning back, for some reason chills us. It is the unknown. We have all experienced the unknown before, perhaps our first swim, going to a new job, or moving to a new city. We now look back and think - well it was more manageable than I expected - and so the unknown became known. What happens in death is that we are released from our body. We've become quite accustomed to our body. We've experienced its growth (and shrinking), felt its strength, used its coordination, relied upon its stamina, benefited from its resilience, watched it heal. We've ridden it through sickness, exhilaration, fatigue and monotony. It's survived (at times) a poor diet, too little or too much to drink, a great deal of cold and heat, wet and dry. To sum it up - it has been very reliable - and soon it will fail.

Some say that at the moment of death our whole life passes by in a flash of images. This interesting phenomenon would certainly be something to look forward to - provided your life met with your own approval throughout. But I'm doubtful that there's anyone who wouldn't mind leaving out a few chapters, or even half the book. But we are more than the sum of our experiences, and that may be why we feel we never truly know someone completely, or feel we've made ourselves completely understood. It's also interesting that we would aspire to 'know someone completely' or to aspire to 'make ourselves completely understood'. I suspect that these urges are somehow something from beyond the physical world we know. We've had a lifetime to get to the bottom of them, and still they persist.

The Rejuvenators, mentioned earlier, have done us a favour here because they argue our case for us, in that the act and mystery of a resurrection is an event to be looked forward to. It is funny that those who reject a spiritual after-life, passionately expect a future physical immortality. To borrow the concept is to pay a compliment. This desire for a new body was mentioned as a theme in religious writings 2000 years ago. How strangely prescient on the part of those early religious writers.

Furthermore, the One whom all these religious writers extol, said simply this on the subject that concerns us here: "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. ( John 14:1-3)

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