Death is one of the biggest philosophical subjects humans face, and the seemingly impenetrable curtain of death has the power to change our lives. People subscribe to religions, kill one another and make other such huge decisions out of a desire to understand, accept or rationalise death. I have no doubt that as Joseph Campbell discussed, the early roots of spiritual belief come from a desire to understand the flow of life and death. Death comes to us all, and it seems that nothing that lives can escape it.

The barrier to understanding which death comprises is one of our capacity to comprehend. As beings that are largely defined by their perceptions, both of external and internal experiences, the notion of an “end to experience” is essentially inconceivable – in our minds, it amounts to an “end to existence”. Such a dead end (no pun intended) is outside our sphere of experience as we experience the world in a causal A > B > C way, but when we see a dead body, or watch someone die, we must face this possibility of an end to the causal chain as far as that person is concerned. Their body stops causing/behaving (except to decompose), and the “agency” of bodies is our primary method of inferring consciousness in other beings; without beings which seem to behave similarly to us, how can we believe they are “experiencers” in the same way we are?

Religion attempts to explain this sudden change in behaviour another way; that the “soul” exists separately from the body, and at the moment of the death it leaves the body. It’s fine! Don’t panic! The soul lives on, and either moves on to some other plane (heaven/hell) or is reborn in a new body. But in reality we have no evidence for either of these conclusions, beyond the words of certain “enlightened” individuals. That’s not to say these views are necessarily wrong, they’re just not observable unless we actually die, which is not necessarily the most sound methodology of experimentation.

What we can observe, however, is the flow of energy, and the transaction of chemical bodies into the wider environment. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. The energy which drives us and the energetic properties of our cells will return to the environment, as will the chemicals which we’re composed of (these two are simply stores of energy); carbon and water moving out from our corpse or our ashes. These return to the wider system, and fuel whatever happens next: the leaf growing, the deer eating the leaf, the wolf eating the deer, the raven eating the deer, etc etc etc. The raven’s body fertilising the grass which is eaten by the cow, which is eaten by the human… the flow carries on. It is, observably, endless. Life continues. This is, for me, one of the main actions of the living Force.

So it is true that one of the strands of Religious thought is observably correct – the chemical and energetic parts of our bodies return to the ecosystem and are “reborn” in the leaves they fertilise and the animals which eat them; but it can also be observed that we move onto another “plane”, and it’s a mental, or causal one. The people who knew us in life do not forget us. The actions we set into place do not “stop” as our body stops. Our offspring, partners, colleagues, friends and even those who hated us continue to carry the germ of our entity within them. We continue to exist not just in a chemical or DNA-based form, but in a mental (and some would argue, spiritual) form.

The “idea” of us can be stronger than we were in life – look at the “concept” of Jesus for example, which has achieved an enormous amount more than the man himself is said to have achieved in life. This is rebirth in an equally true sense, or perhaps it’s better understood as “immortality”. We cannot die, in the sense that death is an end to existence, it’s simply impossible. Our energy and our matter is conserved, and so too is our conceptual existence. We fade as a clearly delimited, single and distinct being; instead we are part of everything. Our actions may live on conceptually and influence another generation, and this may influence the next generation or some other part of the living world. Each “move” like this leaves the original “essence” which we identify ourselves as, a little less distinct and traceable – but it’s still there. Someone with a sufficient understanding of causality and energy conservation can’t fail to recognise this; and so death is nestled at the core of what the living Force means.

In order to understand death, we must understand the true nature of life: for we too are the dispersed essences of billions, trillions of lifeforms. We are composed of, breathing and eating impossibly ancient microbes, precambrian tree ferns, dinosaurs, trilobites, Neanderthals, ancient pharaohs and jazz singers. What we do is, to an inconceivable magnitude (either micro or macro), influenced by what they did; how they grew, the decisions they made and the conditions they lived in. At the very base level of where we come from, as Carl Sagan so memorably noted, “we are stardust, billion year old carbon; […] we are one species. We are star stuff harvesting starlight”.

For me, this is what it means to understand the living Force:

Life in death; death in life.

Or to put it in a more orthodox way:

Death, yet the Force.