Should I Die?

published on July 9, 2020

Someday, I will dieBut should I?If I was offereda longer life,I would take thatin a secondBut how long is too long?Is death somethingI should deny forever,or is death and the roleit plays in the universe

Something I am better offaccepting?I want to start by lookingat a particular waydeath affects how we liveand treat one anotherTerror Management Theoryproposes that peoplelike you and memanage the terrorof death's inevitability

By embracing cultural valuesThat the more aware a person isof their own mortality,the more vehementlythey will enforcetheir particular viewsof the world onto othersCreated by social psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski,

Terror Management Theory, or TMT, suggests that, often, we are afraid of change because we're afraid of death Each one of us has a worldview, a set of beliefs, customs and norms we identify with that can live on

After our physical bodies die TMT suggest that rises in nationalism and prejudice are correlated with rises in the salience of mortality That is, how present the inevitability of death is in people's mindsNow this role that death plays fascinates me,

and two of TMT's originators, Jeff and Sheldon, have agreed to work with me on a pilot study of Terror Management Theory and real-life reminders of deathWhat's your hypothesis today?Well, I think we're goingto hope for the participants

Who are remindedof their mortalityto be more punitivein their assessmentsSee what happens For our study, we created a fake research center, staffed by actors,

and invited participants to be a part of what they were told was a focus group about the criminal justice system During the actual study, each group will hear a list of several different crimes that have been committed, and will then be asked to propose a punishment

for each offender with a severity level ranging from 1 to 7, with 1 being the most lenient and 7 being the most severe The control group will simply enter the survey room and be asked to answer the questions The experimental group, however,

will first be exposed to reminders of their own mortality with strategically placed posters in the lobby Also, the questionnaires they fill out will include questions about their own death Decades of TMT researchhave shown that when presented

with violations of common worldviews, those who are more aware of their own deaths will recommend bigger punishments for the crimes presented But will our real life reminders of death, not just the survey questions usually used,

make a difference? Well, first, let's look at the control participants Well, thank youso much for being hereNow, I cannotemphasize this enoughThere are noright or wrong answersThis is just aboutyour gut-level reactions

All right, let's beginAfter raising millionsof dollars in grant moneyto fund educationfor needy children,a fundraising managerunhappy with this lifefled with all the moneyand was arrested months laterin Tasmania,

Where he was livingunder a different nameSo, 1, least punishment:three months in prison;7 is most severe:ten years in prisonPlease answer nowThis is one that I think doeshave worldviews on both sides That is a lot of 7s

If our control group is already maxing out like that, well, then our scale has no room in that direction to show any effect of mortality salience Discovering issues like this,learning how to better isolate mortality salience's effect, is exactly what a pilot test is for

Hey, personal differences, huh? An imposterwith no medical trainingposed as a surgeon and bungleda minor operationto remove a child's tonsilsThe patient recovered fullyafter additional treatment1 is six months on probation,7 is ten years in prison

OkayIf you are taking on the personaof a doctor,we would expect good behavior The surgeon botchedthe operationand was found to be underthe influence of narcotics,causing her to have permanenthoarseness

And ruining her careerA 16-year-old girl who had justreceived her licensedrove through a red light,hitting another carthat was being drivenby a talented pianistA couple was taking their twochildren to the playground

When they saw a womansunbathing nudeLook at thatThere could be a gender gapWe're also learning a lot aboutthe worldviews people haveYeah, absolutelyAn anti-government protesterwas arrestedfor spray-painting profanitiesat the Lincoln Memorial

In Washington, DC1: 40 hoursWow, she went 1right awayShe's not a fan of authorityand rulesYeahOkay, thank you so muchfor your time

We really appreciate itAll right, so here's the resultsin a mathematical analysisThese are averages per questionThese are the averagesand medians per participant The 4s are greatThe 3's great

But this is groundfor optimism, at least 7 was the max sentencing value, and our control group gave an average of 45I'm really happy with thatas a control groupAbsolutely Now, our experimental groups

Remember, they will be seeing posters that remind them of their own mortality, and will be asked different questions in their questionnaire For example The point is to prime their mortality salience

Let's see if this group is more punitive towards worldview violationsAfter raising millionsof dollarsto fund educationfor needy children,a fundraising managerfled with all the moneyand was arrested months laterin Tasmania

1: three months in prison;7: ten years in prisonPlease answer nowOkay, he's thinkingabout itPlease hold up your answersAll rightThank you so much

Ah, okay An imposterwith no medical trainingposed as a surgeon and bungleda minor operationto remove a child's tonsils1: six months on probation;7: ten years in prison

-They are thinking a lot more-Yeah- Wow- A 10I'm pretty sure she knowsthat 7 is the highestWe'll call it a 7It's funny to seewhen people feel bold enough,even though I'm breakingthe bounds

And the rules of the taskAn anti-government protesterwas arrestedfor spray-painting profanitiesat the Lincoln Memorialin Washington, DCI really do appreciate the waythey clearly seem to betaking a bit more time

-to deliberate-YeahOkay, they can putthe papers down,and tell them that we will be inshortlyOkay, thank you so muchWe've finished with this partof the studySo if you won't mindhanging out for a moment,

And our researcherswill be in here in a momentto ask you a couple questions Let's find out if the reminders of mortality we showed our experimental group were salient enoughLet me ask you about one thingOut in the waiting room,

Did you all noticethe posters at all?Yes, they are all death-relatedOkay All rightYeah-That's right-So we are looking into

Something that's calledTerror Management TheoryAnd it's the idea that your ownawareness of your mortalitycan affect the behaviorsthat you exhibitThat we all manage the terrorthat we feelknowing that we are mortal,by behaving in certain ways,especially in ways thatreinforce our own worldviews

Because we could kind of live onthrough the societiesand cultures and identitiesthat we have today Did any of you feel likeyou were still thinkinga little bit about deathwhen you came in here?I was definitely goingafter people who transgressedagainst my worldview,to use your term

-Yes, I noticed that-I was definitely doing thatSo this was incredibly helpful- Yeah- Thank you very much Thanks so muchI appreciateIt looks like our experimental stimuli were successful They were salient, but didn't cause the participants

to think they were related to the studyThe control participantsaveraged about 45The experimental participantswere close to 47,if we round upSo there's a slight tendencyfor the experimental peopleto be leaning in the directionthat we predicted

But we're talking aboutrelatively inconsequentialdifferencesThat's right It just makes mehungry to run more peopleAnd with the number that we had,that's statisticallyinsignificantDo you think that we didsee any effects

Of mortality salience today? I feel like the mortalitysalient groupstended to think a littlelonger before respondingYeah, me tooAnd they seemed more thoughtful-They were really—They put more effort into it,

Into trying to dothe right thingThe difference was dramaticenough that we picked up on it-Absolutely -Although our stimuli might need to go through more passes and more vetting, we did find an interesting difference in the time it took

for our groups to respond Our control group took an average of 4 minutes and 46 secondsto decide on their punishments, but our experimental group took an average of 7 minutes, 18 secondsIn a sense,that really is the prediction

The right thingby their own worldview,but by the same token,when we think about death,we want to do what's rightAnd if we're actinglike jurors,we want to makethe right decisionsAs we very much learned today,

The goal isn't to proveone thing one way or the otherIt's just to reduceuncertainty-That's correct-in the most careful wayAbsolutely To know a little bitmore today than yesterdayYeahOur pilot test shows

That there's still a lotto discoverabout terror managementand many promising waysto do itI'm particularly intriguedby our observationthat for allthe closed-mindednessmortality salienceappears to cause,

It also leadto what looked likeincreased considerationand thoughtI'd love to see more researchon that ideaBut the point is this:if death's effectsaren't all entirely bad,what if, instead of,

Or at least at the same timethat we hope for the abolitionof natural death,we also find a wayto accept it?Now, obviously I don'twant to die, at least not soonBut accepting the inevitabilityof my own deathand being less afraid of itfeels powerful and honest

I'd like to learnwhat that looks likeAnd I have a friendwho can help I'm paying a visit to Caitlin Doughty, a mortician, author,and death positivity activist, who has made an entire career out of discussing the aspects of death that most of us prefer to ignore

What do you say to someonewho comes to you and says,"I think death is terrifyingIt's"so scary and sadthat I'm just here now"?Is this person dying,or is this person?This person is mein front of you right now

This person is youOkay, soI would tell youa couple thingsFirst, you're dealing withthe primal existential quandaryof human existence-Yes-And you are one of, you know,the many billions of peoplewho have felt this

So you're not alonein feeling this waySo we go through life–We reach a certain age,and we begin to understandthat someday ourselvesand everyone we love will dieAnd that's powerful,painful knowledgeAnd I think from that moment,

We have to start developingdefense mechanismsto handle that and to integratethat into our livesSo, what are those defensemechanisms?I think that the more obviousones would be having a child,writing a book,making a TV show,creating a legacyof some kind

But there's also a moreinsidious version,which is warTaking other countriesBeing rich and being okay withother people being poorI think those are all signsof death denialThey're all saying,

"But I'm okay,because I have this money,"or I have this power, or I havethese kind of dark impulsesthat allow me to say, at leastI can outrun death in that way"And, of course,that's not trueNo one can outrun deathBut you can trick yourselfinto believing that

So how would youcharacterizethe Western relationshipto death?Take America 150 years agoIf you were my husbandand you died,I would be entirelyin charge of youI would wash your body

I would get the neighborto make a wooden coffin for youWe would put you in the coffinand carry you on our shoulders,to the grave which someonehad dug themselves-Right-It would have beenan entirely self-sufficientprocessBut what happened aroundthe turn of the 20th century

Is really three big thingsin my mindOne, you had the riseof hospitalsSo people were no longerdying at homeYou had the riseof funeral homes,which means that we are nowoutsourcing our deathThe third oneis slaughterhouses

So all of a sudden,all food productionand the killing of animalsis also hidden as wellAnd we live inour suburban houses,where all those thingsare outsourcedAnd it's just these layers andlayers of denial around deathBut what does it meanto accept death?

I don't think that you evertruly accept deathBut I believe that the movementtoward accepting deathinvolves really trueself-awarenessabout where you're hidingyour fears of deathThat's where real awarenessand acceptance can come fromFor me, the thing that's justsuch a bummer about death

Is that I just am doneI don't get to continuelearning thingsand seeing what happensAnd I'm just not partof Earth anymoreIsn't death kind of what givesyou that passion,when you think about it?

Like, I love learning,I love ideasIf you didn't have an end point,are you going to come in herewith all these cameras and dothe huge amount of legwork-that creating a show requires?-NoNo Right Because you're like,"I don't know, maybe I'll do it200 years from now"

Whereas right now, you're takingin information left and right,because you wantto produce contentYou want to produceexciting thingsand share with other people-Because this is my one chance-This is your one chanceThe passion and the realnessto life comes from an ending

That's the great giftthat death gives usWhat's an unhealthy relationshipto have to your own mortality?The pursuit of immortality,and the pursuit of,"I will stay aliveuntil I can upload my braininto the cloud"That worries me

The idea that everyoneis just allowedto live foreverfrom here on outis not environmentally sensibleIt's not– You know, it's justnot a sensible position to take We are seeing the dawn of a new era of possibilities unfold

on planet Earth What will our amazing world be like in, say, 80, 100, or even 200 years from now? Wouldn't you like the possibility of finding out? To understand why some people

feel like death shouldn't be inevitable, I've come to Alcor, one of the world's leading life extension facilities-Linda Hi, I'm Michael-Hi, how are you?-Great to meet you-Nice to meet you too-Welcome to Alcor-Thank you for having me here

I'm meeting Linda Chamberlin, who co-founded Alcor nearly 46 years agoSo this facility that we are inright nowis where you both cryo-preservepeople and store themYes We have 160 patients-Wow-And we have

Eleven hundredand ninety-something members-It changes-And a member is someone-who is alive today but has-Alive todayThey've made the arrangementsfor thisOnce they are cryo-preserved,they become patientsYou're usingthe word "patient"

-Yes-OkayTell me about why you usethat wordFor us, death is not somethingwhich is like an on/off switchOne second you're alive,the next second you're dead-Mm-hmm-What we are trying to dois to slow down and stopthe dying process

To become a patient at Alcor, first you have to pay between 80 and $200,000 Then you have to die, or more specifically,be pronounced clinically dead This generally means that your heart and lungs have stopped functioning

At that point, Alcor can begin their workNow, there are two waysthat a person could sign upfor this procedureThere's a whole-body patient,or as a neuroOh, and does "neuro"just mean head?It means, yes,the cephalon, actually,

Which is all of the structuresdown to about the clavicle-Uh-huh-I'm a neuroEverybody in my family,who's now in stasis, is a neuro-Really?-Most of the peoplewho really understandthe technology are neurosThe primary reason that peoplechoose whole body is emotional

-Of course-And they're not comfortablewith the idea of their bodybeing removed and discardedSo let's say that our patientis whole bodyThe moment the patientis pronounced,they go into an ice bathAnd this is just crushed ice

And it's waterin there as wellTheir heart has started againwith a mechanical thumperThey're intubated, and theirlungs are functioning againBeing ventilatedCirculating the coolertemperaturesYeah, yeah, yeahSo you need the veins,

The arteries,the vasculature, the heartYou need all of those continuingto pump and circulateThis is our operating roomWowSo basically,when the patient comes inthrough the door there,

They'll go into this speciallydeveloped operating tableIt is going to be circulatingnitrogen gas over themto help cool them externallyAnd if it's a whole-bodypatient,then the surgeonsopen the chest,and then we begin circulatingthe organ transplant solution

Once in the operating room, the patient's blood is replaced with cooled organ transplant fluid and circulated through the vascular system to rapidly cool down the internal and external temperatures of the body

Just before the water within the body tissue reaches its freezing point, cryo-protective fluids are introduced These act like antifreeze, preventing the formation of ice crystals that could damage soft tissue

This is called the vitrification processNow, say that it isa neuro patient-So they come in first here-Yup, their whole bodyRight The surgeons will dothe neuro separation first-Okay, yeah, that makes sense-Separate the cephalon,which is all of the structuresdown to about the clavicle

Bring it over hereto this operating fieldWe'll wash the blood outAnd we introduce the organtransplant solutionI'm imagininga person's cephalon,essentially their head,in here

I can see how it's goingto get clamped inYeahThat looks like, I'm sure,a crazy sci-fi movie-But it really happens-It really happensAfter the vitrification process is complete,

the patients are placed inside bags that are attached to open metal cases, which are then placed inside cylindrical tanks filled with liquid nitrogen, called dewarsSo this is ourpatient care bayWe have 159 patients

-In these tanks right here?-In these tanksThere are approximatelynine patientsin each one of theseFour whole bodiesand five neurosThis one right hereis where my husbandis currently housed

-This one right here?-RightThis is where Fred isat the momentMy mother and my father-in-lawarein this oneWow, it's so weird,because I am right nownot in a graveyard

No Alcor is very muchlike an ambulancetaking their loved onesto a hospitalnot down the street,-but a hospital in the future-YeahWhen technologycan help themThey're not being transportedthrough space,

-but through time-Time To see what drivesthis time-traveling ambulance, I'm going to sit down with Max More, Alcor's CEO, and a future neuro patientSo, Max, what's the statusof the technology neededto revive cryo-preservedspecimens?

-Are we getting closer?-We are getting closerIt's going to be decades,at least,before we can bring backwhole human beingsBut we already cryo-preserveeggs, sperm,microbes of skin, corneas,heart valves,all kinds of things

So those are single tissuesAnd we can reverse that process-Mm-hmm-You move from that to an organ,things get more difficultBut we actually did anexperiment a few years agoWe took this little tiny wormWe used a certain chemicalso we'd learn that,

Oh, my food's over hereand not over hereAnd we cryo-preserved themAnd then we just waited,brought them back,and then we tested themWe were able to demonstratewith the memory testthat the ones that have receivedthe training

Retained that memorySo it was the first timeany organismwe've proven to survivewith memorySo now we're asking, okay,what's the next step?Because whole organisms aredifficult to reverse right nowBut step by step,the more progress we can make,

-the more convincing this is-WowWhen it comesto extending life,some questions come up, like,"should people die?"I know we don't likethe idea of death-I know what you're getting at-But you lose somethingby getting rid of death

Yeah, we'll lose somethinglike we lost somethingwhen we got rid of slaveryor smallpoxSo I think peoplepeople are tying themselvesin knots to rationalize deathI believe that,right now,

We're kind of inthis tragic situation where,over time, hopefullyyou kind of learnYour wisdom grows over timeAt the same time,your cognitive and physicalhealth is decliningThat really sucksThat's a bad situation

What if they both could keepgoing up indefinitely?So you could live for hundredsof years or longer,and get smarter, and moreknowledgeable, and wiserHopefully more mature,and have more foresightbecause you got a much longerplanning horizonWhat we'll have is a worldof, I call, ultra-mature people,

Which I think will actuallybe a better worldthan the onewe have todayAnd if they say, well–And this comes up all the timeThey say, "Well, death is whatgives life meaning"Bullshit, okay?If that was true,then would they also advocatepeople who live to 90

Should be killed off at 45?Will that double the meaningin their life?In fact, I think life gets moremeaning the longer you live,because you can buildon what you've done beforeSo if anything, it increasesthe meaningfulness of life,in my view

You're making me realizethat, in many ways,I am rationalizing deathI'm looking for waysto excuse it and accept itI don't think it's unhealthyto accept that you are mortalWell, I have to accept it,because I could get killedat any time

One thing I have to stress,because everyarticle written,they always have to usethe word "forever,"or "immortality"And that's noton the table hereWe're just offering a chancefor people to be revived

When we've beaten agingAnd eventually something'sgoing to get youSo we're not offeringimmortalityWe're offering an unknownextension of human lifespanDo I think that someday we willbe able to cryonically freezean entire personand then revive them?

Yes, I doI believe thatcryopreservationwill change the meaningof death,and lead to breakthroughsin medical technologythat will improveall of our livesBut do I want to extend my lifeindefinitely?

Well, on the one hand,obviously deathis a bummerBut on the other,the universe managed finewithout mefor billions of yearsAm I really so important

That it should nevernot have me again?Should I be aroundas long as possible?Or do those who will come laterdeserve their own world?Should I tryto extend my life?Or should I decide to diewhen my time comesand return all this matterI'm borrowing back to the world?

Well, I don't thinkthere's a right answerIt's a personal choicewe each get to make,and should be able to makeAnd I've been thinkingabout it a lot So I'm going to speak again with my friend Caitlin, the mortician, to confront my own mortality

Well, Caitlin, thanks formeeting with me againI've been surroundedby death latelySpoke to youI visited AlcorAnd, you know,if we never invented technologyto bring people back,then the Alcor patientsare dead

But they have that hopeI worked onTerror Management TheoryAnd I even had a loved onepass away just two weeks ago-My grandmother-Oh, I'm sorry to hear thatShe was cremated,as was my fatherAnd I realized, you know,

I've never made a clear decisionabout what should happen to meBecause I just figuredI'll figure that outwhen I'm older-But I could die at any time-You sure couldSo I want to be preparedAnd I want my wishesto be known

-Yeah-So I have decidedwhen that moment comes,I want it to be my final momentof existenceI want to give all my atoms andmolecules back to the universeAnd I've decided thatI want to dieOh, I'm so gladyou've made that decision

And you've cometo the right placeI want to be naturally buriedI want to have a green burialYou know, become worm foodand plant foodI want it allto go back to earthBut I kind of want a placewhere people can come

To be like,that's where he was buriedSo there's everything fromjust little discs in the groundwhere you are,to GPS that locates you,to natural cemeteriesthat are trying to reintroducenative plants-Yeah, yeah, yeah-So, you know,

You can have your ownJoshua treeSo the first thing I'm goingto give you to give a look overis what's calledan advanced directive-Okay-And everybody needsto have one of theseAnd why it's so importantis that it's you

Not only designating someoneto be in charge of your bodyas you're dying,right after you die,and then with however you decideto dispose of itBut also who that person isSo this isn't just about burialThis is dyingIt's about death, dying,death and after death

-Interesting-Mm-hmm A choice like this is extremely new to humansIt used to be your only options upon death were cremation, embalming, or rotting away But today, you can chose topause yourself at death's door

until the door has been moved somewhere else But I've decided not to do thatSo I'm ready to make thisofficial-Fire in the hole-Okay-Whoo! All right-How do you feel?Weirdly, I feelvery relaxed and good

It was kind of life-changing,but what it really waswas death-changingHa, well, thank you, andI'm glad you've decided to dieThank you Jeff and Sheldon, thank you for showing methe power of death's influence

Caitlin, thank you for helping me accept it Max, thank you for the work you are doing and the opportunities you are offering humanity And, all you out there,as always, thanks for watching

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