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Timesaving with Social Clarity

12 A Closer Look at Life and Death

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[1] Elaine Esposito, born in 1934, was in a coma for 37 years, between six and her death. She was alive during the coma; otherwise, her loved ones would not have put much effort into caring for her unconsciousness for almost four decades. Only one in ten recovers from a coma, during which you’re a patient and alive even without consciousness. The following three Thumoslang thumbnail definitions should help clarify the concept.

  • Perception; that means, sensory understanding.
  • Awareness; that means, first-hand perception.
  • Consciousness; that means, contextual awareness.

[2] Before death, Esposito was technically alive. If you’re growing old, you’re active even if you could not lift a finger. When is death?

[3] Using cell biology, let’s explore the question. Consider the following terms. An organelle is a specialized subunit with a specific function in a cell. Eukaryotes are organisms whose cells have a nucleus enclosed within a nuclear envelope. The cytoplasm is all material besides the nucleus surrounded by the cell membrane.

[4] Protozoa is an informal term for a group of single-celled eukaryotes, either free-living or parasitic, that feed on organic matter such as other microorganisms–or organic tissues and debris. The ciliates are a group of protozoans characterized by hair-like organelles called cilia. The video [This Ciliate Is About to Die](v=ibpdNqrtar0) shows the death of a ciliate, Loxodes Magnus. It sheds cytoplasm and cell membrane for several minutes when it stops living normally. However, the organism seems just as alive as earlier. Its chemistry continues as the chemicals spill out of the organism. When is death? Consider the following Thumoslang thumbnail definition.

  • Death; that means, no further energy consumption.

[5] That brings us to a more consequential question; what is life? As you’re reading this, you know the meaning of being alive. You must understand what life is. Why bother to define it?

[6] Jonathan Kwee (pictured), an alumnus of Cornell University, was one of the first college graduates who studied the original Thumos textbook and encountered Thumoslang for the first time. He was so impressed with the new knowledge that he wanted to write a book on living a good life using the new vocabulary. That desire brought him to collaborate with its creator, Nickantony Quach.

[7] On the third Monday of October 2017, they had a three-hour argument over defining life. Jon believed the concept was so basic that explaining it was unnecessary and condescending. Nick felt the opposite, yet for precisely the same reason. Nick believed society feeds us misconceptions about basic terms that are not well defined.

[8] A typical dictionary definition was unsuitable for their purposes. Traditional dictionaries define life as a state of animation or existence, helpful in telling if something is physically alive. However, that definition does not help write a book about living a good life. In the end, Nick challenged Jon directly with a simple question.

[9] “What is your definition of life?” asked Nick. Jon, an idealistic millennial, initially viewed life as a collection of memories and stories. Nick, a veteran Quality Assurance Engineer, thought of life as a biological unit. It did not take them long to have a startling revelation. What hope would they have to write a book about having a good life if they couldn’t even reach a shared understanding of what life meant?

[10] You may want to try it; ask others around you to define life or any other concept fundamental to our humanity. Its definition seems obvious, yet a simple question reveals that few people share the same understanding. Some might think of it as a resource to be managed. Others might consider it an ongoing struggle, an experience of continuous growth, or something else entirely. Believing you know what each term means is easy, but developing genuine shared understanding is more challenging. Otherwise, we have no hope for matched understanding.

[11] How you think about something determines how you act about it. Someone who views life as competition will behave differently than another person who sees it as a journey. Each paradigm has a different set of implications. No wonder we struggle to understand one another when we take a closer look at the concept of life.

[12] “Take a closer look at the life of President Abraham Lincoln,” your history teacher might have told you at school. What does life mean in this case?

[13] “Do something for your life now,” your parents might have told you at home. What would they mean by life?

[14] “We must deliver on our promise to make the life of our customers easier through smarter solutions,” your boss might have told you at work. What is life in this case?

[15] Why not challenge yourself now and write a short sentence down on paper to define the concept of life and answer the question; what is life? Would your definition work at once for the above history teacher, your parents, and your boss? Revise your definition several times and see if you could develop one that would work for all three cases. It should not take you long to appreciate the difficulty involved.

[16] “Take a closer look at the life of President Lincoln.” Your history teacher might be thinking about the result of what Lincoln did before death. Included therein is the value he offered us all even after his death.

[17] “Do something for your life now.” Your parents were talking about how much you would eventually be worth, but they might not be aware of that.

[18] “We must deliver on our promise to make the life of our customers easier through smarter solutions.” Life in this case means what the customers do, doesn’t it?

[19] To be applicable in all conversations about a good life, a practical definition of life must involve the concept of assessment. Try the following idea for size. Life is the assessment of what you’ve done and what you will do. Living is the process of getting such an assessment generated. In other words, life is an assessment of what you can and could do between birth and death. This idea aligns more with your intuitive definition of what life is. It allows you to answer a question like, what do you think about the life of Albert Einstein? It’s impossible to answer this question without a general assessment of his past activities. It allows you to answer a question like; what do you think about your friend’s life? It’s impossible to answer this question without involving a rough assessment of your friend’s past and future activities.

[20] Since we involve history, let’s consider the following thumbnail definition. Your history teacher might applaud it.

  • History; that means, chronologically connected events.

[21] Do you think Elaine Esposito is part of recorded history? The Guinness World Records immortalized her. Consider the following argument. To exist, you must, even while doing nothing, generate related events as part of your personal history. Existence is the generating of history. Human existence is the generation of history by a human between birth and death. You will generate the past that others and yourself may or may not remember during existence. You may or may not control the process but be mindful of developing your history due to its repercussions. This argument gave Thumoslang the following thumbnail definition.

  • Existence; that means, generated history.

[22] That brings about these two thumbnails:

  • Entity; that means, independent existence.
  • Being; that means, existing entity.

[23] Let’s argue further. A being is an entity that exists and generates its history, even without consciousness. Elaine Esposito was but is no longer a human being. However, her human existence is still in the book. Existence is about the embodiment, whereas being is about individuation.

  • Embodiment; that means, in material form.
  • Individuality; that means, personal distinctions.
  • Individuation; that means, giving individuality.

[24] Some believe collective learning is what it takes to turn a living being into a human being. The acquisition of new knowledge for humanity turns a man into a human. When and how did the man in you become a human?

[25] Plant biologists argued that plants are not conscious in a paper published in Trends in Plant Science on July 3, 2019. They pushed back against those who studied plant neurobiology and argued that plants could learn, respond to their environment, and have some consciousness.

[26] It is safe to assume that plants are living beings, even without consciousness. Elaine Esposito’s immobile predicament reminded us that you must not have consciousness to be a living being or even a human being. At this point in our argument, we know this much. To live is to add more to your age.

[27] Let’s get our Quality Assurance Engineer involved. Here are three thumbnail definitions he came up with for Thumoslang.

  • Excellence; that means, high-level achievement.
  • Quality; that means, the level of excellence.
  • Assessment; that means, quality snapshot.

[28] When you take a snapshot of an object’s quality, you conduct one of its assessments. Assessments lead the way in deliberation and illuminate the gap between reality and ideals. These three thumbnails should clarify further.

  • Consideration; that means, weighed decisions.
  • Deliberation; that means, documented consideration.
  • Reality; that means, agreement by independent peers.

[29] We can all agree that Elaine Esposito is dead, but her life is not. We can also all agree that President Lincoln is gone, but his life is not. We’re still talking about their lives. When we discuss her life and his life, we think of their reputation even after death. You establish a reputation when what you do makes others experience admiration and trust towards you.

  • Reputation; that means, the support driven by emotion.

[30] When others talk about your life, even while you’re still alive, they talk about your reputation after death without realizing it. The following Thumoslang thumbnail definition says it all. It’s a perfect definition because it applies equally well to living and dead human beings.

  • Life; that means, reputation after death.

[31] Now that death is a necessary concept for defining life, you’re forgiven for fear of life once in a while. If you want to be alive here and now, you have to stare directly into the eyes of your eventual death. “No one wants to die; even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die.” However, “remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life,” said Steve Jobs. “Almost everything–all external expectations, pride, fear of embarrassment or failure–these things fall away in the face of death, leaving what is truly important. Remembering that you will die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

[32] When we think of our parents’ lives, we think of the value their activities bring us. That’s an assessment. Suppose you have a sister. Your sister’s life is an assessment of what she did and will do, even after death. What you think about the life of anyone, dead or alive, is your assessment of that person’s past and future activities. Who was the person last giving you their view of your life? Did that assessment have any impact on you?

[33] Living is the process of generating assessments, which happens in the present. Your teachers and parents have various reviews of your activities. Likewise, your friends have another set of evaluations about you. You do, too, have several assessments of your past and future. You and only you can decide which assessments are essential to you. You and only you can live your life.

  • Living; that means, adding more to life.

[34] The most fundamental question for any human being is; how should one live? How should one think, behave, experience, and perform? If you want to move from a simple existence to complex life, ask yourself the fundamental question and live according to the answer. What should you do with your existence; what should you do with your body and its capabilities? What should you do for your life; what activities should you carry out to influence your reputation after death? “Your life will be what you make of it or let it become,” says Jonathan Kwee. “The choice is yours!” Elaine Esposito’s life lives on; so does President Lincoln’s life. Will yours?

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