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Bio 103, Week 11

Paul Grobstein's picture

Welcome to the on-line forum for Biology 103.  This is a place for thoughts in progress, a place to leave thoughts and questions that others may find useful and find ones that you might find useful, a place for conversation.  Join in, and let's see what we can make of life together.  If you're registered for the course, be sure to sign in before posting.  Others are welcome to join in as well but posting of comments will be delayed to check for spam. 
You're free to write about whatever has struck you.  If you need something to get you started though, our discussion of "falling apart" continues to raise a number of interesting (and practically important) issues about death and its relation to life.  "Without death there is no life" in the universe, in biological evolution, in human existence?

lcorhan's picture

afraid of death

i think the concept of fearing death is very interesting. i mean humans fear the unknown and we know nothing of death. i think it is humorous all the stories/religions we as a human race have come up with to explain the unknown/death and give our life purpose.

Terrible2s's picture

This past week we were

This past week we were talking about the ever cheerfuly topic of death. I believe, as some have already pointed out, that our class tended to be a little cold about the topic which ended up being disturbing to me. However, this is a class discussion and we are taught most of the time to look objectively at the subjects we study, so it's always a balancing act as to what we should do and say.

Last week was a very interesting week. We talked about bioethics, philosophy, and life on other planets! I was really interested by the conversation about energy and life under the sea and on other planets. I guess I must have made the connection between two of our conversations: the convesation about life tending toward entropy, and the sunlight convo we had on wednesday. Last week we talked about how life tends toward entropy and how we only stay together in our imporbable assemblies because of outside factors. In class we talked about the sun and energy from it as well as water and other resources. I guess it was fun to see how we need sunlight to provide so many things, one of them being heat, but the creatures at the bottom of the sea use the heat from the earth for energy and to live. I was able to see the connections between the components of the earth which allow up to live, their necessity in our assembly, and their temporary effect which ultimately allow us to age and die.

ktan's picture

death, dying, decay, etc

I thought this link fitting to our discussion about death and medicine to prolong life. It touches upon the idea of a "death panel" in the practice of medicine, and who gets to say who lives/dies. What I find sad (or maybe even hopeful, depending on viewpoint) about it is how these issues that people are very sensitive about (whether we are for one side or another) are always used to serve political purposes.

"[Terri Schiavo] became a symbol, used by politicians to curry favor with a segment of the population who view the removal of feeding tubes as euthanasia. The use of death as a political tool is long-standing: effigies burned, martyrs’ coffins marched through the streets. It remains an ugly part of rhetoric today, as opponents of health-care reform suggest “death panels” would decide whether a patient deserved the expenditure of precious dollars. But it defies description. We all face death with as much dignity as we can muster. We swing our arms out at it, pushing it away, for ourselves, certainly for our loved ones, as long as the pushing makes any sense at all. It is not unnatural that those who love the same patient might disagree about when that moment has come."

We are all selfish in one way or another when it comes to the issue of death. Every individual will find a way, through force, subtle manipulation or through other means, to ensure that the people they choose to care about will benefit first (live longer, healthier, better). The sad truth is that there is insufficient resources in the world to compensate everyone's needs--someone's loss is another's gain, and vice versa. I think of it as the modern evolution of the concept of "survival of the fittest."For me, the real question is, why is it so difficult for people to accept?

achiles's picture

sorry to be sassy, but

I believe that there has been a remarkable lack of emotion within our in-class discussion of death. Yes, the emotions conjured up by death are socially constructed, but this does not mean they are not functional! Our discussions have revolved around certain assumptions that I'm just not okay with. It seemed that every conversation of death was limited to death in old age.

Are we really okay with the notion of arresting scientific research that aims to eradicate and prevent disease? Why? because death is natural? Cancer may be a breakdown into a more probable state but what is natural about pediatric leukemia? I feel like sometimes we get lost within our context in this class and forget that what we say has implications. 


ktan's picture

I completely agree with you.

I completely agree with you. Sometimes, when I think back to what we have said in class, it makes me feel guilty/ashamed of our insensitivity. But at the same time, I think we should just remember that everyone in class has had their share of experiences with death, all different from one another, and we can't expect everyone to cater to our emotions. Maybe that's why there has been this lack of emotion during discussion--we're not talking about/relating to personal experience, but rather the context of the class, as you pointed out. 

I think that if you disagree with something someone has said, or you find it insensitive/offensive (either personal experience or whatever), you should speak up and say so. We will all benefit from another viewpoint and may even make us think twice about what we just said.

jmstuart's picture

 Thank you! I couldn't agree

 Thank you! I couldn't agree more.

Kalyn's picture

Death & It's Consequences

 I think people fear death because of what death is associated with. Death conjures up images of pain, loss of loved ones and other negative thoughts. In this way people feel they have nothing to look forward to in death. Such a concept scares many because death is not practical or convenient. A five year old can die before a elderly person of ninety-eight there is no definite pattern to the loss of life. The unpredictability of death makes people worried and they look for answers to calm their fears. People like having options and death provides none so science seeks to make them. 

Lili's picture

Week 11

i think that the fear of death comes from very primal human instincts - to survive and to procreate. In relation to our discussion of cancer screening, those instincts might be reasons someone would want to get checked out his or herself; but that doesn't account for why we would want our friends and loved ones to do so. I'm not sure how to explain that part in any other way, besides in terms of human emotion. 

Serendip Visitor's picture

Afraid of Death

I'm extremely afraid of dying. The very thought of not living consumes all my focus and many times I'm unable to think of other topics. I understand that this fate in inevitable and this class has provided some biological reason to support this. Yet it still does not lessen my fear of death. We're all made up of millions of trillion of improbable assemblies and the day will come when these assemblies come to be more "probable". I don't want this to happen. I'm very content with the random motion going on in my body and would want this randomness to continue forever. But I know that it won't.

As for the breast cancer screening discussion, I still believe that this tool has elements of efficiency. It's true that the test has been unable to decrease the amount of people with breast cancer and new methods need to be invented in order to better combat the spread of this disease. Yet knowing that for one more year I had avoided the painful ordeal associated with breast cancer, is enough to qualify the test as effective for me.

Karina G's picture

Week 11

 Indeed death is necessary for life to exist. Questions that have been brought up in class lately are whether we should continue to prolong human life. The issue of screen cancer raises this question in some degree. Humans are meant to die but I don't find it wrong to prolong our life at the end we will die anyways. There is only as much as we can do. What I like to stress is that everyone should have the choice to prolong their lives. 

I do think people are obsessed with not dying and that is why they do screenings or other tests. But what is the point if like professor Grobstein mention the report shows there is no significant change on death rate. Science will definitely improve but I think we still don't fully understand the balance that exists between molecules, atoms, DNA . Another example is cholesterol. Reducing cholesterol may prevent you of dying from a heart attack however you die of something else. This means we don't really understand how different things interact within us. I supposed we ought to keep on trying.

dchin's picture

Week 11

Death is unpleasant, but practical. If organisms did not die, they would overwhelm the Earth, subsequently making life more difficult for everyone. This is, of course, much easier to say when we are discussing death in the abstract. When it comes to the death or impending death of someone that we care about, we are probably more likely to advocate finding ways to preserve life. The fight to prolong life is unavoidable; the drive to stay alive is hardwired into our brains. It would be trying to fight our very natures if we decided to stop exploring and practicing ways to put off death. However, I believe that while we should do all that we can to stay alive within a certain time span, it would be unfairly taxing on future generations if we were to attempt to go beyond that boundary. For example, given the current medical advances, many people live well into their 80s and 90s. The norms that I have grown up with tell me that this is a normal lifespan. If a person were to live beyond this age, then yes, we should make their years as pleasant as possible, but I don't think that research should be done on ways to prolong life indefinitely or past a natural lifespan.

Serendip Visitor's picture

The possible advantages of prolonging life

What about the benefits of conserving or prolonging life? This may not mean forever, but maybe an extra 20-30 years or so. What about the social, scientific, educational contributions that humans could make if they were to live a lot longer? It's true that the cycle of life must continue or the Earth would become overpopulated thus quickening the depletion of its resources. Yet, no one has ever considered the role of human adaption in this hypothesis. Human have adapted to difficult environmental circumstances before so what's to say that this perseverance combined with further scientific achievements that humans will not be able to adapt tot his worst case scenario?

cejensen's picture

Quality of Life

Without death there is no life, and life is a process of change. Something we've been asking ourselves in class a lot lately is, "should we delay this process?" It seems a lot of people think that we shouldn't. Now, I am not in favor of prolonging life artificially, but I think that improving the quality of people's lives is important. This includes health care, which I do believe should be available to everyone regardless of socio-economic status. This also includes the opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle, which some have more than others. Some people can only afford to buy food that will speed up their process of change. Some people don't have time to exercise. The fact is, some people can afford to live a lifestyle that delays the process of change and some people can't. This is an injustice. Improving the quality of people's lives may mean that we have more people alive longer, but I think it's worth it. (besides, there is a global decline in birth rates anyway...)

Yashaswini's picture

Love for life and fear of death

We know and fear death because we know life, and we understand and love life better only because we know of death. Life without death would probably just be.. mere existence. A void. Sheer monotony. Just like it is with emotions and feelings, we understand and realize the good only because we can compare and contrast it with the bad. We treasure happiness only because we can identify and differentiate it from sadness. Similarly, love for life and fear of death are two faces of the same coin, neither can exist independent of the other. We love life, our OWN life and life around us, and we cherish it because we know of the inevitable stop to our existence death will bring us. All of us value things so much more when we know the happiness we get from it is ephemeral and is prone to self-destruction. We feel a need to make the most of whatever we have in the best way possible, specially when what we've got is not.. eternal, because if it WERE eternal, we probably would end up taking it for granted, and not give it as much importance. But since we know life ultimately, inevitably ends in death, we enjoy every moment, and value life. However, having said this, it is also important to mention that we fear death only because we're so.. attached to and deeply involved in our lives. For a person not enamored my life, for someone who doesn't notice the beauty of everyday things, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the winter breeze etc, for someone not in love with life, death probably wouldn't be that serious an occurrence. We fear death BECAUSE we love life, and we love life BECAUSE we fear death. This again reminds me of the discussion we had.. ages ago, and again today, in class about the cyclic nature of everything in science--from patterns in evolution to the very fundamental question of what science is--everything travels a circular trajectory. There is never a definite beginning or a definite end.