Why does everything living die

Five facts about death

"Death is very likely the best invention of life. It is the engine of change in life. It removes the old and creates space for the new!" The farewell speech by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs moved many. At the end of his life, his fortune, his pioneering achievements, his relationships did not help him. At the age of just 56, the technology pioneer died of years of cancer.

Why is biological death inevitable?

Death creates space for something new. This is also the case in the human body, which consists of billions and billions of cells that divide every day and thus ensure growth. Living organisms have a very effective method of destroying superfluous or potentially dangerous cells such as viruses or cancer cells: programmed cell death. The old cells are replaced by new, identical cells. But this cell division slows down and eventually stops. The telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes are probably responsible for this. If these protective caps are shortened by cell division, cell division no longer takes place. Only then do no more new cells come in, and then the old cells die.

The enzyme telomerase can ensure that cell division continues, but telomerase can also accelerate cancer and therefore it makes sense from a biological point of view that the enzyme is only active in a few cells. A disruption of the process - e.g. in our cell power plants, the mitochondria, has far-reaching consequences for every organism.

The body functions biologically for a maximum of about 120 years. What is decisive, however, is the actual life expectancy, which has increased significantly over time due to improved living and hygiene conditions - in Germany, for example, life expectancy increases by around 3 months a year.

How do you define death?

The physical aging process often ends with the failure of several organs: the cardiovascular system collapses, the lungs and the brain fail. Death occurs. From a medical point of view, there are different types of death: On the one hand, there is "clinical death", in which the cardiovascular system fails, the pulse and breathing stop, the organs are no longer supplied with oxygen and nutrients. In the event of a "clinical death", however, resuscitation through ventilation and chest compressions is still possible and not infrequently successful.

This is no longer possible with "brain death". The cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem all failed. Certain brain cells in deeper layers can still be active in brain death, but "consciousness" has already been lost. Nevertheless, "brain dead" can be kept alive artificially for a long time; even brain-dead women could still bear children until they were born. Some brain-dead patients also react to external stimuli, for example during operations. However, from a medical point of view, these are only spinal cord reflexes and no pain sensation. Despite the strictest regulations, for example by the German Medical Association, the definition of brain death remains controversial.

What happens to our body?

First of all, our organs can do without oxygen and nutrients for a while. Only gradually does cell division stop completely, then the cells die. If too many cells have died, the organs can no longer regenerate. The brain reacts fastest, where the cells die after three to five minutes. The heart can hold out for up to half an hour. As soon as the blood stops circulating, it sinks and "death spots" form, which coroners can give clues to the cause and place of death.

Rigor mortis set in after two hours because no more adenosine triphosphate is formed. This is a vital source of energy in the cells. Without it, the muscles stiffen. After a few days this rigor mortis dissolves again. The gastrointestinal tract only dies after two to three days, the bacteria in it accelerate the decomposition of the body. However, some pathogens in the body remain dangerous for a long time. Hepatitis pathogens, for example, live on for several days, and tuberculosis bacteria for years. In total, the decomposition process of the human body takes around 30 years.

What do near-death experiences teach us?

Scientifically speaking, near-death experiences occur between clinical death and resuscitation. Not only science, but also religions and esotericism, deal intensively with the experiences described, which can vary greatly depending on the cultural or regional character. Many of those affected did not have any near-death experience at this stage. Others report of memories flowing in, of a detachment from the body, of landscapes or of a bright light (at the end of a tunnel). Some reported feeling very happy, others experienced states of anxiety or panic.

Apparently, near-death experiences occur more frequently if the resuscitation took a particularly long time and the oxygen supply to the brain is impaired for a longer period of time. This undersupply of the brain mainly affects the temporal and parietal lobes of the brain as well as the intervening gyrus angularis. However, it is unclear whether the near-death experiences also occur there. Scientists are also investigating how near-death experiences could relate to comparable experiences in the living. Some migraine patients, for example, also see lights; some epilepsy patients have also had "out-of-body" experiences.

What has quantum physics got to do with the soul?

Not only theologians and esotericists, but also physicists, have dealt intensively with the puzzling phenomena in near-death experiences. The basis for a "physically describable soul" is the quantum physical phenomenon of entanglement. Albert Einstein already encountered this strange effect, but dismissed it as a "spooky action at a distance". According to this, two entangled particles behave like a pair of twins regardless of the real distance Numerous quantum physicists today believe that this effect actually exists. As with particles, there is a dualism between body and soul. However, the question of whether quantum physics can "prove" the existence of a human soul begins belief, be it scientifically or religiously motivated.

  • Rest in Peace - Funeral Culture in Germany

    Life is finite

    According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 939,500 people died in Germany in 2019. There are around 32 million earth graves in more than 32,000 cemeteries. But the funeral culture has changed significantly in this country: The "divine fields" are increasingly leveled and often remind of parks - with wide lawns between ever fewer earth graves.

  • Rest in Peace - Funeral Culture in Germany

    Cremation trend

    In the meantime, the trend nationwide is increasingly towards cremation and burial in much smaller, cheaper urn graves. Urn walls, lawn graves: the running time is often shorter, the maintenance effort is low. In the case of burials under trees in the "Friedwald" or in the case of anonymous burials, it is even omitted entirely. For cremations, a special fire coffin must be purchased in addition to the urn.

  • Rest in Peace - Funeral Culture in Germany

    The right vessel

    The ashes of a deceased person are placed in a capsule, which is then - often for decorative reasons - placed in a decorative urn made of metal, wood, ceramic, granulate or a biodegradable material. Bremen is the first federal state to have abolished the cemetery requirement: Since 2015, the ashes of the deceased have also been allowed to be distributed there on private property.

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    Back to the roots

    An alternative to the urn grave is tree burial in the cemetery or in a funeral forest, which is expressly declared as a cemetery area. The burial takes place - at a depth of about eighty centimeters - in the root area of ​​the trees. There are no candles, flowers or photos - individual care is not desired. This type of burial has existed in Germany since 2001.

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    Laying out

    Laying out the deceased in an open coffin - called "public viewing" in American parlance - is less common in Germany than in other countries. Embalmings carried out by a thanatopractor are also possible in this country, but hardly common.

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    Do-It-Yourself coffin

    A finished coffin costs from 1,000 euros and up. With four square meters of wood, time and skill, you can build your final resting place yourself for a few hundred euros. Corresponding courses are offered again and again (see picture, course leader in a Berlin hospice). Hobby craftsmen often initially use the coffin as a shelf - far more than an interesting experience.

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    Funeral and mourning culture in the museum

    How did people deal with death and dying in the past? The "Museum for Sepulchral Culture" in Kassel deals with the subject of burial, cemetery, mourning and remembrance. Unique in Germany, the museum has been dedicated to "death in all its facets" since 1992. In the courtyard there is a magnificent corpse wagon carriage from 1880 next to a hearse from 1978.

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    Soldering and shaping

    The undertaker industry has had its own federal training center in the Franconian town of Münnerstadt since 2005. Training to become a funeral specialist has only existed in Germany since 2003. In Münnerstadt, dealing with the deceased and death is practiced during the three-year training period. Undertakers from China and Russia even come to the German center for international seminars.

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    Solid craft

    Germany's first practice cemetery is also located in Münnerstadt, created in 1994 by the Bavarian Undertaker Association. Here aspiring undertakers practice how to professionally dig graves and lower urns. For funeral workers, death is their constant companion. According to the association, the profession requires "a high degree of responsibility for people - the deceased and the bereaved".

  • Rest in Peace - Funeral Culture in Germany

    Condolence and obituaries

    Undertakers like to stock up on suitable special Deutsche Post stamps for memorial cards and thanks. The time and date of the funeral or memorial service are announced in obituaries in the newspaper - sometimes very personal and creative, often with a photo - or on a personal card. Also, whether you want flowers or a wreath or a charitable donation.

  • Rest in Peace - Funeral Culture in Germany

    The funeral feast

    After a funeral or memorial service, family, friends, neighbors and colleagues go to a funeral dinner - the so-called funeral feast - in a restaurant or café, usually at the personal invitation of the bereaved. Traditionally there is coffee, tea, a cup of soup, sandwiches and crumble cakes.

    Author: Dagmar Breitenbach