Death Watch

Modern science is now able to explain most aspects of our lives though details will continue to unfold over time. But while we know a great deal about the processes of living and dying, we will never be sure about the presence or absence of an afterlife. This great mystery, long a source of fear, anxiety and wonder, will escape the scrutiny of science.

Humans are the only animal with the intellectual capacity to anticipate death and, since our earliest days on the planet, we have developed rituals and beliefs to quell the emotions induced by that knowledge. Religious persons "know" what to expect and psychics profess the ability to communicate with the dead. But they, as well as the rest of us, are drawn to the subject like no other.

Our fascination with death and dying is exploited by the media; this week's tragic slaying of a young woman in Iran, caught on video, will become the latest exhibit in a morbid collection that dates back to the Zapruder film and beyond. Murder mysteries blanket the airwaves, detailing the brutal deaths of innocent victims. News coverage of accidental death, while important in the context of cause and prevention, often focuses on the presumed mechanism of injury, stirring the imagination of a curious public. We need to watch. We need to know. It is, after all, one certain event in our future.