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Chapter 3: Worms, Mumsi, & Limbo

If you listen around you, plenty of folks are ready to tell you what they think.  Take astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a man who enjoys talking so much that even if he doesn’t know an answer, he will delight you with a 20-minute soliloquy explaining why you were an idiot for asking him in the first place.  Famed television anchor Larry King (who himself has had plenty of brushes with death in his 284 years on earth) asked Tyson, “What do you think happens when we die?”  Tyson responded:

“Put me in the ground.  Let the worms, microbes, come in and out of my body, and the energy content of my body, that I had assembled, over my lifetime consuming the flora and fauna of this earth.  My body then returns to them and thus is the cycle of life.  I know that’s gonna happen because you can measure where the energy goes.  And that’s how I wanna go out.”

Of course, that didn’t answer King’s question at all.  Nor did it shed any new light on what we already knew happened during decomposition of the physical body.  This is what Tyson does better than anyone else – use so many words to say nothing at all.  Frustrated, King tried a more direct approach, asking, “You’re not conscious, and that’s for eternity, right?”

Acting almost insulted by the silliness of the question, Tyson stammered, “Uh yeah, there’s no evidence that I have any consciousness of anything.”  Thanks, Neil.

Dr. Brian Weiss offered a different perspective on what happens after death, saying, “I think that we never die because we’re never really born.” 

Say what? 

The psychiatrist and hypnotist went on:

“We existed before.  You existed before this birth.  You were probably a spirit guide to your mother or someone else.  You were on the other side.  Then you come into a physical body as a baby, and you go through life, and the next stage though is leaving the body.  So if you are the soul, you never die.  When the body dies, you go on.”

While giving his take, atheist author and speaker Hemant Mehta picked up on that same parallel to existence prior to birth, only in the gloomy, hopeless, futile sense you would expect from those who believe there’s no meaning behind life:

“Well, where were you before you were born?  You weren’t around.  It’s not like you were in pain.  It’s not like you were in elation.  You were just not there.  And that’s what’s gonna happen when you die.  You’re just no longer there. 

And that’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a part of life, really.  And I think what we can hope for is that you’ve left behind a legacy of some sort.  That your physical body is not gonna be there anymore, but hopefully your memories will be and people will still talk about you, and remember you.  And that’s probably the best we can all hope for.”

Well what a ray of sunshine that is, Hemant.  Do you suppose Hemant has ever been asked if he can name his great, great grandma?

If Mehta’s atheist despair is a little too despondent for you, there’s always the upbeat prediction of inspirational speaker and New Thought life coach Ilyana Vanzant who had this exchange with The Oprah:

The Oprah:     What happens when we die?

Ilyana:            We just keep going, it just looks different.  We just, it’s here!  I, you know, I can’t think what happens when we die, I have to imagine what happens when we die.  And I think it’s like we just wake up the next day in someplace and continue on what we (sic) doing.

The Oprah:     Mmmm.

Ilyana:            I don’t think it’s the end and the darkness and all that.  And for me, again, back to my Master Teacher Jameya.  About a week after she died and I was in the shower weeping my heart out.  And I said, “Oh Jameya where are you?”  And she said, “I’m right here Mumsi.”

The Oprah:     That’s what I believe.  I believe they’re all right here.

Ilyana:            Mmhmm.

         With all due respect to Mumsi, perhaps something a little less reliant on grief-filled shower encounters and more grounded in science would be helpful?  And even though he’s not a real scientist, Bill Nye played one on TV.  Here were his enlightening thoughts on...