Death (n.) — the permanent end of all life functions in an organism or part of an organism
When human beings experiences death, all our functions of life end permanently. We can no longer think, act or make decisions that will affect the world. Everything that we were becomes a part of the past. We can discuss the contributions of those who have died, we can even write books about them and build monuments if we consider their lives sufficiently noteworthy, but their ability to contribute to the here and present now is at an end. All humans die eventually. You and I will one day cease to have the ability to use our minds, in conjunction with our bodies, to interact with this world.
We, as Human beings, do not live in a conscious state of our own mortality. We cannot. If we lived in the realization of our own mortality, of the fact of the inevitable and unpredictable end to our existence, we could not function. So we simply don’t consciously think about it. We plan and speak as if we will continue living to some undetermined point because it is the only way we can function in life.
“To put it concisely, we suffer when we resist the noble and irrefutable truth of impermanence and death.” -Pema Chödrön
Because of the unknown that is death, we have also developed ideas and concepts about an afterlife. Hundred if not thousands of religions and ideologies, imagined since man first formed the concept of language, have in some way tried to explain birth and death in a cycle. Some religions believe the thought processes of our being continues on after death. Others believe our being continues to live in another being through reincarnation. These are all just theories about what happens after death, yet true believes in their faith take these theories to be absolute truth and place these concepts, such as heaven, in their own current reality.
But the fact is, no one knows what happens after we die. Death is, by definition, that unknown after which all functions of life seem to stop. We can claim that other beings, deities and gods, have raised people from the dead to tell us of the afterlife, but these are just stories and are not based on any type of science that can be reproduced.
So what happens after we die? Could what we consider our thoughts and consciousness continue to exist long after our lungs stop supplying our blood with oxygen, our heart stops carrying that blood to our brain and those organic semiconducting neurons in our brains cease to fire their electrical impulses? It is a possibility. At one time we were unable to perceive why our sun rose and set, why oceans tides came and receded or that diseases came from bacteria and viruses and not from the vengeance of an angry god. So maybe there is something we cannot yet perceive about what happens to those electrical impulses after brain function stops. Maybe consciousness does continue on in some form.
Or maybe it doesn’t. After those neurons die off, the whole which was greater than the sum of its parts, returns to being simply the lesser of the parts. We may only exist thereafter in the firing neurons that form memories of those who knew us, or of us, or vaguely about us. Maybe this is all there is.
But the fact is, no one knows. No matter how much a religious zealot may say with absolutely certainty that, “I know where I’m going after I die,” they cannot possibly know for the reasons stated. It is a belief system not reconciled to this reality. If that belief system helps people deal with their own mortality, sobeit. But it becomes a danger to others when those beliefs bring forth either action or inaction based around the idea that there is an absolute existence beyond this world.