• Question: what happens when we die?

    Asked by bethelunssy to Amy, Drew, Julia, Kimberley, Sara on 15 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Amy MacQueen

      Amy MacQueen answered on 15 Jun 2011:


      Well, when we die our bodies rot in the ground down to their constituent chemicals which then get absorbed into the ground and taken up by the grass, the antelope eat the grass, the lion eat the antelope…the circle of life! The rotting of our flesh happens fairly quick but our bones (and DNA) can stick around for quite a long time – and depending on how we are preserved (in rock layers laid down with mud or as mummies for a VERY long time!).

      But if you mean by your question “is there an after life?” – that is something that science can’t answer. It is purely concerned with measurable entities of the world around us and not with the existence of a spiritual realm – which it can neither prove, nor disprove. I personally believe that we do have a “soul” and that when we die that goes somewhere…heaven or hell.

    • Photo: Julia Griffen

      Julia Griffen answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      Hey again…. we rot away… or if we’re frozen or preserved, i guess our bodies stay around longer..bt generally as amy says we decompose into well dust..

      the idea of where our consiousness goes.. well who knows!

    • Photo: Kimberley Bryon

      Kimberley Bryon answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      As Amy and Julia have said our bodies decompose when we die. What happens to consciousness or our soul is anyones guess. I like to believe that there is something else after death.

    • Photo: Drew Rae

      Drew Rae answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      Hi Bethelunssy,

      The part of you that knows it is you is probably (we aren’t totally sure) a combination of the current chemical, electrical and solid physical structures of parts of your brain. Some philosophers have said that in fact you die constantly, since the you right now is materially different from the you who started reading this.

      Full death is a bigger, quicker version of what is happening to us all the time. I am both a scientist and someone who doesn’t believe in God (these are two separate things – one doesn’t make the other) and it motivates me to accomplish things that won’t change or disappear when my current mind and body does.

    • Photo: Sara Imari Walker

      Sara Imari Walker answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      Hi bethelunssy! I love all the philosophy Drew is bringing into the discussions! Drew, what philosopher is that? Sounds really interesting!

      I am not sure I can say much about what happens when we die, even in the context of just the pure things we can measure. Amy and Julia have covered the recycling part – our atoms will be put into other wonderful things. Right now, you probably have at least one atom in your body that was part of Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Einstein and anyone else from distant history you can name! (I personally prefer to say I get my smarts from my Einstein part and my fashion sense from my Cleopatra part 😉 ). As far as the brain, your conscious thoughts as you pass on, I don’t think we really know what is happening there. The electrochemical interactions are very complex. Most people who have been close to the brink of death, or have actually been declared dead for a few minutes and come back, report seeing a bright white light. That could have something to do with how our brains shut down. They are massive computers after all!

      As far as the rest – whether we have any uniqueness/personal identity that carries on as a soul (or whatever you wish to call it) I do not know. Its interesting to think about. But it could very well be beyond the realm of science if it exists. I am not sure if I think such a picture is more beautiful than the universe as I see it now. I think that we are so inextricably linked to the cosmos is absolutely profoundly beautiful. A lot of scientists grow into a spiritual feeling about the natural world after years of study – something akin to how many people feel about religion. I think it is about where you find peace, and what comforts you. For me I don’t know where I fall, and I am ok with that right now. The one thing I know, in this crazy universe we live in, whatever it is it will be spectacular!