Beyond the fairy tale is empirical truth.
Beyond the celestial dome is inter-planetary space.
Beyond the laws of Physics is the realm of metaphysics.
Beyond the emptiness of vacuum is vacuum fluctuation.
Beyond the domain of matter is the mysterious and exotic sphere of anti-matter (an invisible substance that has most of the mass of the known universe).
Beyond materialism is spiritualism.
Beyond understanding is wisdom.
But what is beyond clinical death?
What transcends the grip of death?
What happens to dead corpses?
Do they cease to exist?
what is non-existence in itself?
The apparent eminence of death, its inevitability and unfathomable grip has made death a source of inspiration and frustration, clarity and gruesome reality. “The awareness of death has been a chief force in the development of civilization. Some scholars believe that much of human progress results from peoples effort to defy death through lasting achievement.” (world book, 2001).
We humans have upheld several notions and constructs about the illusive and notorious nature of reality. Some notions endure while others wither away in light of new paradigm of thinking.
Humanity once believed that the Earth was the centre of the cosmos (geocentrism). This preposterous conclusion boosted our ego exponentially and helped us assume centrality while actually being a celestial footnote. But advances of post Renaissance have shattered our presumption.
A century ago, the milky-way galaxy which spans 100,000 light years in diameter was the entire universe. A light year is an astronomical measure of distance which takes the constant speed of light and the distance it would cover over a year. Accordingly, 1 light year is approximately 10 trillion kilo meters. Our cosmic perception, however has widened drastically as new insights percolate fields of astronomy and cosmology. According to contemporary understanding, the observable universe alone spans more than 93 billion light years or 28.5 gig parsecs and there are at least 2 trillion galaxies within it. What a quantum leap!
The earth is no longer flat and suspended upon giant turtles. The universe had a brief moment of creation as opposed to the steady state model of cosmology which prevailed for over 2 millennia. Our notion that atoms are indivisible was refuted and abandoned due to discoveries made in the fields of particle physics and quantum mechanics.
What else could we wrong about? Some detrimental notions have been upheaved and cemented theories have seen fragmentation. In sharp contrast to these some outlandish and highly doubted hypotheses are now widely recognized scientific principles. Alfred Wegener’s continental drift theory and Gregory Mendel’s rules of heredity are classical examples. Even though Wegener was able to substantiate his claims rigorously than his predecessors providing geometrical, paleontological, and paleo climatic evidences his theory remained a hallucination of a mad scientist partly due to his failure to explain the mechanics of drift and partly due to professional jealousy as he was a mere meteorologist not a geologist. Mendelian rule of heredity was only properly appreciated 34 years after its first publication. As George Bernard Shaw famously exclaimed, “All great truths begin as blasphemies”.
Perhaps our understanding of death and life beyond the grave requires extensive revision and polishing. Currently medical scientists recognize three classes of death which comprises necrobiosis, necrosis and somatic death. Necrobiosis is the physiological death of a cell. Necrosis is the name given to un-programmed death of cells and living tissues. Somatic death on contrary refers to the death of the entire body as distinguished from local death.
Our understanding of the moment of death has gone through major refinement. The stopping of the rhythmic heartbeat (cardiac arrest) and the breathing are no longer moments of death due to the introduction of the concept of brain death and CPR.
The biomechanics of why and how we die have been answered sufficiently. Contemporary medical science is able to provide us a timeline of the physiological processes involved in death vividly and accurately beginning from pallor mortis to rigor mortis. But what comes next is still unventured territory.
A defining attribute of science and academic scrutiny is openness and unquenchable curiosity. Scientists are always open to new system of thinking and illumination. Our grand notions and reputed schools of thought regarding issues of highest relevance have been refined, discarded, argued and doubted. Sadly, the subject of the great beyond remains to be a formidable taboo and established dogma not just for the layman and religious zealots, but also to analytically trained mind of scientists.
With certain exemption of religious doctrines such as Shintoism, virtually every major belief system on the planet cherishes the notion of life after death. Perhaps belief in life after death among geographically isolated civilizations could be an anthropological common denominator.
Science simply discards ancient claims and spiritual enlightenment without offering plausible, objective and naturalistic explanation on the issue. Perhaps the greatest wind of frustration comes from the methodological philosophy of science itself. According to the central canon of science which is the philosophy of scientific naturalism nature is all there is and the only thing we could gain knowledge about.
Standing on this pillar, is science qualified to assess realms beyond objective reality? Can its tools decipher spiritual knowledge? Is science legitimate to study metaphysical and ontological quests?
Shockingly the most disturbing realization comes from bioethicists who argue that death is not a single incident and end of life, rather a domain of life itself. All these profoundly relevant questions should be settled first.
Could this be the new face of scientific imperialism? Could it be inflated hypocrisy? Could it be arrogance amidst of absence of verifiable evidence? Could it a failure of entertaining possibilities in presence of staggering uncertainty? Why does science fail to include the notion of life after death while extensively engaged in longevity studies? Why does science ridicule NDE (Near Death Experiences) while striving to build better humanoids and laboring tirelessly to defy mortality through advancement of biomedical gerontology and cryonics? While investigating and searching extra-terrestrial life and declaring blatantly to make death relics of distant past science failed to provide answer over the subject of the great beyond.
Our doctrine of life after death could impede and hamper our philosophy of existence and meaning. Overlooking such a phenomenal aspect of life will undoubtedly have dire implications and fatal consequences.