Does death gives life meaning? You might think so, looking at the prominence of death and the afterlife in so many religions. For millennia, people have dreamed about immortality, and now transhumanists are trying to extend life by merging our selves with machines.
In this hour, we explore the philosophical and religious dimensions of mortality and the afterlife. We talk about the art and poetry of remembrance, and now that much of our lives are lived on-line, how do we plan for our digital afterlives?
"I’m a different person when I’m in Nepal..." Jeffrey Potter has been documenting life in a village in eastern Nepal for 20 years. During a trip there in 2000, he was present for the death of a young man named Harka. In this story, he talks about how that experience that was both profound and unexplainable.
Zen Buddhist Abbot Joan Halifax has been sitting with dying people since 1970. She says the experience has been a profound gift. She says that she has no idea what happens after we die, and that she's comfortable with that mystery.
Pre-Modern hunter and gatherer cultures believed that dying was a kind of trial which didn't begin until you left your physical body and entered the supernatural world, according to sociologist Allan Kellehear. In these cultures, death is not the destruction of the body, but the annihilation of the personality and its transformation into something new.
What happens to your digital self when you die? Currently, Facebook lets users "memorialize" their pages, giving family members a virtual space to post rememberances. Religious studies professor Candi Cann believes new digital tools like these are changing the way we mourn, by letting anyone share their stories about someone who's died, and preserving social connections to departed loved ones.
In March 2014, hundreds of listeners sent us their science fiction stories as part of the 3 Minute Futures flash fiction competition. Though the story themes ranged from communications, to environmental issues, computing, and reproduction, digital immortality was by far the most popular theme. And, as Anne says, “no one seemed to think digital immortality would turn out very well.”
As we prepared the final hour of the death series, we decided to bring to life a story from listener Mark Pantoja's, called “Reset.”
Our series concludes with the final episode in the story of the end of Dan Pierotti's life. His wife, Judy, says she and Dan were both very open to sharing their story with To the Best of Our Knowledge. "I just think that this is a subject that needs to be discussed in our lives and in our world." And she's had some unexpected responses from people who've heard Dan and Judy's story on the radio, "People that I hardly even know are coming up to me, and hugging me on the street and thanking me for doing this."