By: Zach Good

What Happens When You Die?

What happens when you die? It’s a question mankind has asked since the dawn of time. In this video, I provide an answer to that question.

Key takeaways:

All things that live also die.

This is a very simple concept. We all know and understand that plants die, insects die, animals die, and we, too, will die.

But when we look beyond Earth, we see that not even stars are exempt from death. Stars are formed when enormous swaths of Hydrogen atoms are herded together by gravity and compressed so tightly that the atoms begin fusing together to form Helium (and heat and light). The fusion of Hydrogen into Helium creates an outward force that keeps the inward force of gravity at bay. But this process has a shelf life; at some point, there will be no more Hydrogen atoms that can be fused together to form Helium. When that happens, gravity will start winning and will push the Helium atoms residing within the core of the star into a tighter and tighter space. The Helium atoms will then begin fusing together to create heavier elements at the core. Soon, however, the star will have no Helium remaining, and gravity will start winning again, at which time the elements at the core of the star will be pressed together until they fuse and create even heavier elements. At some point, the outward force created by element fusion will no longer counteract the force of gravity, and when that occurs the star will unleash a significant portion of its mass into the universe via a supernova or nebula. The star will effectively be dead, and the elements that once made up the star will be recycled within the universe.

This segues nicely into the next rule.

All living things rent their atoms.

Some of the atoms in our bodies were formed during the supernova phase of a distant star. Think about that for a moment: some of the atoms in our bodies were formed during the supernova phase of a distant star. If not for the death of a star, we wouldn't exist.

For a more earthly example, let's look at fruit. Pineapples are rich in Vitamin C. In humans, Vitamin C is used to produce collagen, which is a protein that makes up skin, cartilage, and tendons. When you eat a pineapple, you absorb the Vitamin C through your gastrointestinal system and your body uses it to help form tissues within your body. That means a fraction of the atoms making up your body were once growing in a tropical plant.

All living things exist because the causes for them to exist were suitable.

Revisiting our solar system for a moment, our solar system could not have existed during the very early days of the universe. The reason is because our solar system contains elements such as Iron and Carbon that did not exist at that time. Iron, Carbon, and other such elements heavier than Hydrogen needed stars to form them, and when the universe began it was mostly just a collection of protons, neutrons, and electrons, meaning atoms other than Hydrogen were virtually non-existent. At least one or two generations of stars needed to form, fuse elements heavier than Hydrogen, then send those elements into the universe by means of a supernova or nebula. This explains why the universe is around the order of 14 billion years old but our solar system is only about 4.5 billion years old—our solar system could not have existed in the very early days of the universe.

Returning to a pineapple, if a drought, hurricane, plant virus, or bug invasion impacted the pineapple during its growth, the pineapple would not exist. In much the same way, if our mothers didn’t sustain us in the womb through good nutrition, we would not exist.

Living things require all the necessary causes for them to exist.

A brain without a body is not a human. A hand is not a human. Neither is a foot, leg, or pint of blood. Only when a human exists in its entirety and with fully functional anatomical parts does a human exist.

What was it like to be born? We don’t remember. Why? Because although we existed, our brains were not developed enough to be able to store and recall memories. We experienced pain at the time we received a vaccination or had a cold, but when we look back at our early years (about birth to age three or so) we can’t remember a thing. Again, this is because our brains were not capable of storing memories at that time such that they can be recalled today.

When living things die, they no longer exist.

This sounds very straightforward, but is actually profound when you dissect it.

When we die, our brains and bodies will no longer function and we won’t be able to think, perceive the world, or form memories. Even more, when we die and our bodies are put into the ground, various worms, grubs, and bacteria will eat our bodies. Just like stars provided the atoms our solar system needed to exist, and just like the atoms in a pineapple nurtured us, our bodies will be a source of sustenance for other organisms.

When you die, you no longer exist.

What was it like to live during the Civil War? We can only read history books to determine that because we weren’t alive at that time. What is the weather currently like on Mars? Again, we have no way of knowing because we aren't there. In much the same way, when we die we will have no perception of our experiences because we won’t exist in any time or space.

The thing that our society colloquially calls our ‘soul’ is actually our inherent ability to use a functional brain and body to perceive our existence. When we die, our brains and bodies will no longer function in a way that allows us to perceive our existence, and therefore what we call our ‘souls’ will cease to be.

This concept scares a lot of people. We tend to think that if there’s no afterlife, then living becomes pointless and society will fall to anarchy. Probably due to this, a majority of humans living today believe there is some kind of afterlife—often one in which we are either rewarded or punished for how we lived on Earth.

If we all accept that there’s no afterlife, then the world will become a horrible place in which to live, right? The opposite is actually true.

When we know that there’s nothing next, this life matters more.

Imagine a group of parents take their children to a local museum, and the moment they step foot in the museum they tell the kids that they’re taking them to Disney World right after they visit the museum. What happens? The children couldn’t care less about the museum; they’re too excited about going to Disney World. On the other hand, if the parents take the children to the museum and tell them it's the only stop of the day, the children would care much more about being in the museum. In the same way, when we think that there’s a “better” world waiting for us, suddenly this world doesn’t seem all that great.

When we realize that this world is all we have, we appreciate what we’ve been given. We demonstrate pride of ownership. Let’s say you’re staying in a hotel and drop some crumbs of food. What do you do? Make a halfhearted attempt to clean them up—if you make any attempt at all. Why? Because you’re only going to be there for a couple days, and if roaches or mice come in next week because of the crumbs it won’t be your problem. Now let’s say you’re at home and drop some crumbs. What do you do? Clean them up thoroughly. Why? Because if roaches or mice come in, you’ll have to deal with them and pay money to have them exterminated.

When we accept that there’s no afterlife, committing a crime seems like a horrible idea. Who would want to sit in jail for the entirety of their one chance at life? Who would want to disrupt the beautiful sense of interconnectedness we all share?

When we accept that there’s no afterlife, strapping bombs to ourselves and detonating them in the middle of a crowded marketplace is a worthless idea because there's no "paradise" waiting for us. When we accept that there’s no afterlife, standing on a street corner and shouting at “sinners” is a fruitless endeavor. When we accept that there’s no afterlife, we see the value in caring for and nurturing each other because we realize that we're all in this together.

Live like there is no afterlife.

You only have so much time left; it could be 50 years, 50 months, 50 weeks, or 50 days. Appreciate every moment you’re given! After all, you’re incredibly lucky—your existence is astronomically improbable considering the intricate conditions needed for you to be alive today.