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Death - What is it good for?
Life and death are inextricably intertwined. There is no life without death. Ironically, for life insurers it is all about death. Actuaries need to know death rates in order to calculate premiums and ensure the survival of their life insurance company. For life insurers, death is part of their business. Death is a mere statistic. For the individual death is part of her life, fate, tragedy and destiny.
Life an involuntary adventure – Thank you mom and Thank you dad!
Life for everyone starts involuntary. We are thrown into this life not willfully and mostly do not leave life willfully. We are placed on earth and must leave without consent. Our death is life´s great mystery and lies at the fundament of the key philosophical questions. Why is it that our mind can think in centuries, even millennia and imagine our existence into the fare future, while our body is bound by steady entropy and restricted by physical laws? We are conscious of our mortality but cannot imagine to be dead. We simply cannot image not being here. Our mind does not allow us to truly understand and accept our future non-existence.
Since humans have gained consciousness, thoughts about life and the knowledge of death have been at the center of most cultural development. Terror Management Theory teaches us that death is of fundamental importance in human behavior and that fear of death is at the center of human existence and of universal influence. Ernest Becker determines death as the driving force behind human endeavor. We fear to be forgotten and thus want to lengthen our existence through symbols. We erect statues, fill rooms with gold plates, construct palaces among many other things. All with the intention to not only elevate our status but also to live long after we have passed and thus defy death.
To Religion or not to Religion – Two opposing views
As humans we want to know where we come from, where we are going, and what the purpose of it all is. The answers to these questions explain why many over the centuries have followed religions and their doctrines: they give hope that death is not the end of human existence. Religion helps humans endure life and gives hope on the purposefulness of their lives. Religion is center stage for many people and ensures structure for many societies. It very often functions as a binding force. Thus any questioning of human´s special position on earth is often forcefully rejected. Challenging religious doctrine threatens the belief story of eternal life and thus the purpose of one´s very existence.
For many the idea that life could be of no deeper higher purpose without a special creator is frightening. To think that we are like all other animals and merely are searching for procreation in its manifold and subtle variations is very unsatisfying and unacceptable. Understandably people ask: How can we humans, who have a free will, who are self-conscious not be more than the simple beast and not fulfil a special position in this universe?
This question has been central to the works of many great scholars. Thinkers like the great Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza questioned the idea of a free will in humans in his seminal work Ethics. Charles Darwin while working on his seminal book On the Origin of Species very much started doubting human’s divine position on earth. New research, especially in the fields of evolutionary biology and neuroscience, has raised further doubts on the notion of free will. Ilya Sutskever a leading researcher in the field of machine learning states on the matter of free will, that “the brain may as well be deterministic for all intents and purposes, yet it feels like we have free will. A possible reason is that our model of ourselves is not ourselves, so our decisions surprise our self-model and feel like free will.” In the future, near or distant, the rise of computational power will further erode and question human´s seemingly distinguishing ability of intelligence and accepted place and purpose on earth.
Where does this all leave us?
If you do not follow a religious belief system, life can be challenging at first but no reason to despair. For some it might be liberating to realize that one’s own life is of no deeper purpose and that death is the end. How could such a thought be of any advantage? Thinking in this way can let us realize that death is the ultimate denominator of all human life and life more generally. It lets us feel compassion toward our fellow men. It pulls us back from our human pedestal and equalizes us with nature. We understand that as mortal humans we cannot escape being human as well as escape accepting to be a human. Realizing that this life is the one life and that there is no second chance opens our focus on the present. Knowing that there is no second chance highlights the fragility of life and its preciousness.
Meaning of Life – Try to Create a Masterpiece of Life
So what can we await, what can we hope and strive for? We must hope for living life and not fear death for not having lived. We must live, not simply exist. This thinking also underlies relevant mental models which have been used by the greatest entrepreneurs of our time. When the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, had to decide on embarking on a new venture opening an online bookshop, which required him to quit his well-paying job, he used a simple mental heuristic to come to a solution. Bezos used a method he named the regret minimization framework, that includes three simple mental steps:
1) project yourself to age 80
2) imagine yourself looking back on your life at that age, knowing that you want to feel as few regrets as possible
3) Ask yourself, "In X number of years, will I regret taking this action (or not taking this action?)
A simple model, helped Bezos break down a multitude of factors into one focal point: Regret of not having lived his life to the fullest. This powerful emotional feeling helped Bezos clarify his mind as well as think long-term in order to focus on the bigger picture when making decisions. Bezos made his decision wanting to live life and not fear death.
When faced with death we must thus answer with courage. Life can only be conquered in a courgeous manner. In the face of death we should focus our energy on creating a masterpiece of life. A life we would live again and again. This is what we must strive for. In full consciousness that we share fate with all humanity, compassion and empathy must lead the way. Sadly, most of us are captured in societal and cultural norms, which do not let us live a life WE would want to live again and again. As Jean Paul Sartre has stated: “Everything has been figured out, except how to live!”.
Help and inspiration comes from Andrew Ng a leading AI researcher. He states that the meaning of life should be in helping others achieve their dreams in life. To help others on their path to their dreams. In giving life meaning you should ask your fellow men: “If what you're working on succeeds beyond your wildest dreams, would you have significantly helped other people? If not, then keep searching for something else to work on. Otherwise you're not living up to your full potential.“ So let us all follow the advice of Andrew Ng and create a masterpiece of life in which our existence helps others.
Pure Life Insurance – Component of a Masterpiece of your Life
As death is an unavoidable fact of life we should not avoid thinking about death. Awareness of death and understanding of its influence on our actions and thinking, is of centrality to leading a life not filled with regret. Death is a fact of life, and we should not forget the consequences it can bestow on our loved ones, might it strike prematurely. Life lived as a masterpiece also encompasses taking care of our loved ones once we are gone. We want our loved ones to be financially secure and live life with no financial worries.
Buying pure life insurance, also known as term life insurance, accomplishes exactly this goal. Insuring your loved ones against financial hardship should something happen to you, shows your responsible character, foresightedness and altruistic motivation. It signifies that you strive to make your life a masterpiece. With just as little as CHF 1 per day you can get CHF 300k coverage for a term of 15 years. In Switzerland SafeSide has made it easy for you to apply for pure life insurance. You can now get pure life insurance in less than 3 minutes. Fully digitally, simple and fast. No paperwork involved. Don´t wait until tomorrow, do it now and be a hero to your loved ones.
Thank you very much for reading this short eclectic post on the importance of death in human existence. It was inspired by the works and ideas of many great thinkers such as Ernest Becker, Charles Darwin, Robert Sapolsky, Baruch Spinoza, Erich Fromm, Ilya Sutskever, Andrew Ng and many more. Your comments are very welcome.
 Actually this is not completely true. Life insurers are also interested in morbidity and disability, but the key area of focus for them remains statistics and probabilities around death.