Death is the major universal constant in life; it is also the thing we are all most scared of talking about. Obviously there are numerous reasons for this and I am not here to get into the psychology surrounding one’s own mortality. I do, however, have a question: if you could know when and how you were going to die, would you want to?
This question came up in my mid-teens and I gave a resounding yes. “Why not?” I asked. “It’s only logical.” At the time I had (and still have!) a wildly irrational fear of flying, and part of the reason I would want to know was because I figured it could help me with this. If I knew I was going to die at 63 from a heart attack then I would have no reason to be scared of flying halfway across the earth because I knew I’d be safe. That was the immediate reason I thought of, but there are many more.
1. Family and friends: we go through phases in life. Taking our family and friends for granted and then for some reason or other we become aware of the mortality of those we love and we try to cherish every moment more. Then as time goes on we start taking them for granted again, and then the cycle continues. I feel like if we were aware of death – of our own deaths – we would be much more likely to not take these things for granted. Obviously I don’t know this for fact, but I feel like that’s what would happen.
2. Planning. This is important on so many levels. I want to be a doctor, I want to help people (whatever that means) and many other things. Right now my plan is to do the work I’m doing and then go to medical school and slowly but surely climb my way to the position that I feel I can do the most good it. But what if I knew that I was only going to live until 30. Would it really be worth it? There are so many other ways to help people and give back that if I were only going to live until 30 it wouldn’t make sense to spend all that time in school only to die before I’m able to use the knowledge I have gained. I could go out in the world, volunteer my time, it’s not like I’d need savings! Which brings me to my next point…
3. Money. We all talk about saving and retirement and all that other stuff people don’t want to do when they’re young. Now it’s getting even more complicated because people are living far longer and so we’re trying to guess how long we have to work so that we can retire with enough to support ourselves no matter how long we were going to live. But what if we knew? If I knew I was going to die at 50 that would cause me to behave very differently financially than if I were to die at 90 (putting aside the possibility of children and other dependents to take care of).
4. Preparation. There would be many less sudden deaths in which families don’t know what to do and where the money was kept, etc. Things would be more prepared, and on a selfish note we could prepare our stuff. Who wants our families going through everything we’ve ever written when we die? I mean google has created a way for you email to self-delete once it thinks you’re dead so as to stop family and friends somehow reading it.
Those were the main reasons that came to mind.
What struck me then, and now, is how few people seem share my view. I mean, I am used to people disagreeing with me, but I felt like this was such an obvious view to take that I was confused. So I asked around and the main reasons I got against were:
1. Ignorance is bliss. “What good would it do me (mentally) to know?” It seems that a lot of people feel that they health and their life would be better off not knowing.
2. Recklessness. This was an interesting point. If I know when and how I’m going to die then who cares what I do now. If I knew that my death will be in a car accident at age 75 then I can do whatever else I want: bungee jump using a rope I found in the trash, try every drug (all at once!), drive as recklessly as I want. If I know that’s not how I’m going to die, then why care? It could create a strange and reckless culture.
3. Family and friends. Some people believe the opposite to me in this case. Knowing when you and your loved ones will die will make you take the people in your life for granted more than if you didn’t. I am not sure I agree, although I don’t think I disagree either.
4. Anxiety. Those final days. The rest of your life might be great, but what about when you wake up on August 15th 2035 knowing that today you will die of a heart attack. That you won’t be coming home again or going to bed that night. Could you stand that? Would that last day (and probably weeks) of knowing and feeling like this be so bad as to rule out all the positives associated with knowing? I don’t know.
What do you think? If someone told you they could tell you exactly how and when you would die, would you want to know? Why or why not?