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There Is Only Dying

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.
Dec 9, 2018 · 2 min read

I was recently having a conversation with an ultrasound technician who was checking that the vein in my shoulder is now clear of clotting after the medical crisis that happened a year ago (you can read about that here). We talked about a lot of things, including AI and consciousness, which I may write about another time.

We started talking about death, as you do. I pointed out that she was already dead. Not dead in the not breathing and not thinking sense, but dead in the sense that what she always thought she was, a separate individual, was never really a thing. It’s more of an assumption, an inference. “There are all these things that are happening that seem to be happening to a person, and everyone else keeps educating me about this apparent person, so there must be a person.”

But there is obviously no person. It’s hard to believe that this is even a topic that’s worth writing about. Imagine if I was writing about how there is day and night, and about how one precedes the other; it’s like that. Anyway, the interesting part of the conversation was not that she’s dead because she was never actually born. The interesting part of the conversation was about how the body is continually dying.

We talked about what death is in the context of the body. The body that’s here now is not even the same body that was here seven to fifteen years ago; most of the cells have been replaced. The body is just a collection of cells that keep being replaced. When the cells are replaced, the old ones die. So the whole body is constantly incrementally dying. Old cells are dying and new cells are being formed.

As cells replicate, there can be the introduction of genetic mutations and the telomeres get shorter. The telomeres are the caps on the ends of the DNA double-helix that stops it from unraveling. So each version is not as good as the last one: each version is closer to not functioning, closer to being dead. By the way, you can increase the chance of living longer by lengthening your telomeres. You can lengthen your telomeres by having more telomerase. You can have more telomerase by meditating.

The process of cell replication starts at conception. The sperm enters the egg and the two gametes are destroyed in the production of the first cell. Then that cell divides into two, starting the process of death. So dying actually starts at conception and persists through the entire life. Dying is all that’s happening. You’re welcome.

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