What is death? This is certainly a meaningful question that has been addressed by Robert Kastenbaum in Chapter 2 of his book Death, Society, and Human Experience. It is a question that is definitely worth asking and arguing on. Although the author has already presented a rather unconventional point of view on death, it is surely worth elaborating on what death really is. Death is inevitable; death is a reality we all must face. Intellectually, everyone knows that they will die one day. In the past, several confident words have been used to define death. In simple, death is simply the lack of heartbeat, pulse and respiration. Then why is it that we interpret death in several different ways?
Death is certainly a grand mystery. Maybe, what makes it even more confusing and mysterious is because we have been using one word in so many different ways. As Kastenbaum clearly states that “how we interpret the state of death can influence our thoughts” (Kastenbaum 50) and no doubt, our thoughts are somewhat influenced by the way death is interpreted by us. Although, Kastenbaum presents us with an example of two people who are in a precisely similar scenario with a different view of death, but the truth is that the variations in the ways of interpreting death and how they affect our thoughts are far more diverse than this. So is it possible that the way we interpret death affects the way we live our life?
Kastenbaum’s reference to the Old Testament: Num. 19 is a clear indication of how an individual’s life and even their reaction to death can be influenced by the way they interpret death. For instance, adding to Kastenbaum’s example, some people tend to not be afraid of death; hence they might live life more courageously, yet they might not be sensitive or stricken by fear by the death of others, unlike the “ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, and Hebrews,” (Kastenbaum 50) who as Kastenbaum apparently alludes, were afraid of approaching a dead body, fearful of being contaminated by it. Similarly, some of us are afraid to die, so much so that we live our life in fear, fearing death. However, what if there was no such thing as death? What if we didn’t have to die?
Many of us don’t want to die but we know that we all have to. In this context, the thought that we might never have to die is the jolliest thought that we could possibly have. Although we see people and hear about people dying around us almost every day, but surely our perception of live and even the practices in our life revolving around death would be so different. If there was no death, then surely we wouldn’t have to “put up with certain relatives,” we “do not especially cherish,” and we wouldn’t have to deal with the “physical aura of death and decay.” (Kastenbaum 50) Probably this is what Kastenbaum tries to allude when he introduces the concept of virtual reality within the context of death. While writing about how we are becoming more accustomed to remote interactions, he also subtly hints to this idea as well.
“The virtual universe can go dark to our command and return in all its glory whenever we choose to access it again.” (Kastenbaum 50) So, despite the fact that we know how real death really is, we do think about the possibility of not dying and we even make attempts to erase death from our lives. Maybe, one of these more feeble attempts is virtual reality, which to some extent makes us feel that we are in control, not only of our life but our death too. Through virtual reality, we can make our life whatever we want it to be. However, virtual reality is making us believe in the biggest lie of them all. It is allows us to keep death “where we like best: somewhere else,” It might not be “as messy as real life and death,” (Kastenbaum 50) but might lose our touch with death, which is imminent.
So what is death after all and why is it interpreted in so many ways? We all know death is the opposite of life, when the soul is separated from the body. Then why is it that we keep death in so many different places, refer to it in different contexts, yet at the back of our head we are aware what it truly is. Maybe death has so many meanings because death is not static. With changing situations and circumstances, probably the meaning of death itself also changes and how we deal with it also evolves. Probably, different interpretations of death help us define death or divert our attention to several problem areas, (Kastenbaum 50) or maybe they serve the purpose of making death even more mysterious. Whatever the reason, we know what death is, and no matter how we interpret it, it is inevitable, and it cannot be avoided even with virtual reality.
Kastenbaum, R. Death, society, and human experience. 11. Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.