Death. It’s what makes us human. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. All living things die – that’s kind of baked into the definition of what it means to be alive. Still, as far as we know, human beings are alone in the universe in our awareness and understanding of our own mortality.
Philosophers, theologians and other thinkers have termed this state the human condition. Every major religion has tried to offer an answer for it, usually through some version of life after death. Shakespeare wrote his most famous play about it, seemingly unconvinced by arguments that there’s anything after we shuffle off our mortal coil.
Still, humans alone have developed elaborate customs and diverse rituals to honor our dead, from mummification in Ancient Egypt to jazz funerals in New Orleans. We’ve laid the foundations for great cities and created works of art meant to endure well beyond our lifetimes. In our next series from Hieronyvision, we’ll examine some of the questions around death and what it means to us.
Do we exist after our death? If not, how do we accomplish anything in our lifetimes with the knowledge that we will one day cease to be? What is the best way to honor the dead? Is being remembered a form of immortality? Has death made us the most dominant species on the planet, or have we succeeded in spite of the human condition?
Let’s face it. We probably won’t come up with a whole lot of definitive answers to these questions. But if we have a hell of a lot of fun trying and maybe tell some cool stories along the way, won’t it all have been worth it in the end? That’s the big question.