Is Death Natural?
Many of the most beautiful and meaningful facets of life are the way they are because they are ephemeral.
I know that death is natural; Life runs its course before coming around again. Something present in or produced by nature is natural, such as an earthquake or typhoon, or a poisonous mushroom. Death is natural in the sense that to die is to conform to the ordinary course of living things in nature.
Death has been modeled as an exponential increase in the rate of illnesses with age.
Even with no micro-organisms attacking, the body is not well enough designed to function indefinitely. Something always breaks down eventually. What breakdowns, how many, and when they happen, is randomly distributed among individuals, except for conformance to average delays which may have been sculpted by evolution.
Some of those functions our medicine can’t re-establish or substitute for and some of those are necessary for life.
In general, death is an unremarkable event in nature. To die of “natural causes” is not to expire in old age, as is the case in modern human societies, but to typically die young.
Average human life spans between 20 and 30 years for most of our species history. Most people today are thus living highly unnaturally long lives. Because of the high incidence of infectious disease, accidents, starvation, and violent death among our ancestors, very few of them lived much beyond 60 or 70. There was therefore little selection pressure to evolve the cellular repair mechanisms (and pay their metabolic costs). As a result of these circumstances in the distant past, we now suffer the inevitable decline of old age: damage accumulates at a faster pace than it can be repaired; tissues and organs begin to malfunction; and then we die.
It may turn out to be impossible to live forever, strictly speaking, even for those who are lucky enough to survive to such a time when technology has been perfected, and even under ideal conditions. The amount of matter and energy that our civilization can lay its hands on before they recede forever beyond our reach is finite in the current most favored cosmological models.
As for age and death, one of the biggest factors actually has to do with cell replication. Most of our cells are not meant to live forever . We are meant to die. Your cells divide and divide and divide and their daughter cells do the same, so one and such forth.
With every cell division, DNA from one cell is replicated for the next. At the ends of these DNA strands there are sequences called Telomeres. For most of the cells in our body, with each replication this telomere sequence gets shorter. Understand the telomere sequence has no purpose, other than to protect the important part of DNA from being cut off from these shortenings. It is thought that one of the reasons we age is that these telomeres get too short, or disappear entirely simply by the cell of an older individual being a product of thousands, if not millions, of divisions.
Many of us live our lives striving for the infinite, for our own immortality. We refuse to acknowledge our own passing placement in the web of life and in doing so we fail to see our own beauty. It has become our mission to forestall death. Everyday we exercise, eat right, take our vitamins in an attempt to suspend the inevitable. However, the fact remains that in the final analysis there is always death. Even people who have accepted this fact often forget their death can be controlled. We can rightfully be concerned with how and when we die. Today we have a responsibility to reconstruct our understandings of death which have been vitiated by denial and fear. To live full, meaningful lives we must embrace our mortality.