This mundane theory has occurred to many of us, and it is strenuously put forward in the recent pseudo-religious pulp novel by Dan Brown, “The Lost Symbol.” Evidently it is widely suspected that the act of death may be a final, huge, complex burst of mental energy.
To what end, this invisible blast? Only the dead could tell us, and they’re not talking. There are tales of near-death, episodes of some kind of mortis interruptus, where I suppose it is possible that some final process was initiated only to be rendered anti-climactic by a clever doctor. This is sometimes described as “coming back from the dead,” but that strikes me as the ultimate oxymoron. What, then, would death be if not final?
Dark tunnels, white light, the presence of long gone loved ones, there is a recurring pattern to these accounts. Whatever the import of these stories, they hint at a frozen moment where the ordinary rules of time, space and reality are suspended, or distorted. In Mr. Brown’s novel, several people suffer through various stages of such a process.
I have long wondered if something like this were actually the case. The human brain is a mysterious device, fully capable of creating new realities, of accelerating or protracting time. It is a device that was designed to bring order to our surroundings, order out of chaos (another recurring theme of the novel). So why not wire in a last minute debriefing process, a way to take an entire life, wrap it up, and put a nice bow on it.
Perhaps the penultimate instant of our lives is devoted to a final preparation for oblivion, or, more ominously, to a final re-assessment of our life’s work, our successes and failures, our deeds, good and evil, or even, most terrifying of all, to a recounting of our regrets. I do not immediately see the utility of such a mechanism, but the very possibility is disturbing.
This is really death as a NAKED LUNCH moment, a sudden, shocking burst of clarity when the morsel at the end of one’s fork makes itself completely understandable. A version of Shakespeare’s “. . . perchance to dream,” however briefly.
I have no fear of judgment by some mythical, omniscient other, the old-school, personal God of legend, the proverbial man at the celestial desk, the Hoary Head. If I would be condemned as a failed experiment and consigned to hell or oblivion, I would at least be in good company. I haven’t been so bad, and whatever foibles I have displayed I have shared with much of humanity. I am afraid, however, of some super-powered final self-judgment. I have been harder on myself than God probably would be, harder than Sweet Jesus certainly.
Ultimately, I guess that we’ll just have to wait and find out, won’t we?