Death is inevitable. Everything should have a beginning and an end. Death is usually conceived as the latter. Put reincarnation aside, many atheists or regular folks on the street would consider death is the ultimate end of our life. Ironically, we can literally talk this topic till our death! But, today, I would like talk about scenarios of ‘what if’ we know about our own death.
People are curious of our future and would like to know what is gonna happen ahead of the time. Cuz, they think they can take advantage of it. For example, if we know the lottery outcome of next round, we can bet and win. That could be a potential life-changer. However, few people would like to know about their own death. Cuz, death is usually related to something unpleasant, sad, painful, or simply bad! Our minds usually incline to think about things that are positive and promising. That’s why we dream! We don’t dream about our own death, when that happens, we call that nightmare. People only seriously think about death when they have to, like they or someone they are closed to have terminal illness or accidents. However, given the fact that death is inevitable as I mentioned, it may be diplomatic for not talking about it with others who may be sensitive, conservative or seeing that as a social taboo, but simply ignoring it in our own thought is just kinda silly. I’m not saying we have to actively plan about that, but we do actually take that into account in our daily life, liking buying life insurance, watching traffic while crossing streets, etc. Those are issues that actually related to death. So I guess we should regard it fair and square, and don’t ignore it outright.
Ok, get back to what I’m trying to say in the post, I would narrow down the aspects of knowing our own death to just two: time and cause.
Scenario 1: Do you wanna know when you will die?
I think it is a very tempting to answer either yes or no. What if we know when? The problem is the answer.
If you know you are gonna die in 30 years, sure it depends how old you are. If you are 16, 46 is still way to young to die. In fact, a 16 years old person has a much weaker sense of time. Nevertheless, that person can plan. He will still go to college, get marry and have children. Perhaps, he will do that earlier, so he can enjoy the married life longer, and be able to see his kids more grown up before he’s gone. Also, he can max out his life insurance plan and pay for his mortgage accordingly. Or, he can plan to stay single, go adventure for his next 30 years all over the world, etc. Then, he may spend most of his last year with his love one. The bottom line is that he will just have plenty of time to plan. Even though the clock is ticking every minute, he has 30 years to get ready to die, for crying out loud!
On the other hand, if you know you are gonna die in 3 days, that sucks no matter how old you are! This answer will turn your world upside down. That’s just not enough time to do much. You will probably feel like falling into a deep hole, you will feel desperate, angry, helpless, a cocktail of emotion. You will look at the clock all the time. Those 3 days will probably be the worst time of your life, somewhat like you are on the way to electric chair. Totally sucks big time!
So you see, it is absolutely a catch 22, the answer to the question is a yes or no depends on the answer, but you won’t know that unless you say yes. From my point of view, the safe bet is to say ‘no’, just like what we have been all along.
Scenario 2: Only know the cause of your death.
That’s also a very interesting. Some might say that knowing the cause of your death would make you try the best to avoid it. Certainly, the pre-requisite of my scenario is that you can’t change the future, no matter what. So, if you know that you will die in a traffic accident, would you simply stay home for the rest of your life? That would make your life so boring and would probably not any better than die in jail.
On the other hand, if you know that you will die in a rare course, like falling into a volcano. Then, I guess you will still feel much better since the chance of that happening is relatively low than like dying of food poisoning. Of course, the best scenario of death is like the female lead in the movie Titanic that die in old age naturally in sleep. I wonder how often that happens in real life. So, my guess is that, it is still better of not knowing, so as to live our life freely with dignity.
Actually, what I said about knowing about time and cause of death still has plenty of room to further drill down to make more interesting cases. For example, how precise is the time, down to year, month, day, hour? It could make huge differences. For the cause, it can be drill down to place, and more exact circumstances.
In addition, how would you know about your death? Would that be simply told by someone like a fortune teller? Or you dream of seeing exactly what happen? If so, do your dream in third person or in first person? Also, how long is the dream? All of these would have different implications as well. For example, if you see that you die in a traffic accident as a first person in your dream, you happen to be the driver in your car you’re your vision of death is just few seconds. In this case, you may not see what car you are driving, what hit you and where. Also, you may not have long enough time to see if your hands are old hands or young, to guess if the accident happens when you are old or young. All of these would make the whole scenario much more complicate than it is. Basically, just a minor change of one factor would have a much different view of the whole thing. The worse case is that it is about your own death! It is the ultimate serious stuff. Both the known and unknown would simply drive a person crazy! Cuz, the known part could be unpleasant, but the unknown part would be scary and confusing, there are just so many ways to connect those dots.
Come to think of it, my bottom line is that I don’t wanna wish I would know anything about my death till it comes. Not sure if the speaker did live by what he said, but I really admire what Steve Jobs who once said something like, try to live each day as your last one. Try to enjoy it, do as much as you should, and don’t leave anything you would regret later. I do think this is really a wisdom of life that we can live by for the rest of our life, no matter how long that would be.