Thinking About Mortality Changes How We Act

Scientific American:

The thought of shuffling off our mortal coil can make all of us a little squeamish. But avoiding the idea of death entirely means ignoring the role it can play in determining our actions. Consider the following scenario:

You’re visiting a friend who lives on the 20th floor of an old inner-city apartment building. It’s the middle of the night when you are suddenly awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of screams and the choking smell of smoke. You reach over to the nightstand and turn on the light. You are shocked to find the room filling fast with thick clouds of smoke. You run to the door and reach for the handle. You pull back in pain as the intense heat of the knob scalds you violently. Grabbing a blanket off the bed and using it as protection, you manage to turn the handle and open the door. Almost immediately a huge wave of flame and smoke roars into the room, knocking you back and literally off your feet. There is no way to leave the room. It is getting very hard to breathe, and the heat from the flames is almost unbearable. Panicked, you scramble to the only window in the room and try to open it. As you struggle, you realize the old window is painted shut around all the edges. It doesn’t budge. Your eyes are barely open now, filled with tears from the smoke. You try calling out for help, but the air to form the words is not there. You drop to the floor, hoping to escape the rising smoke, but it is too late. The room is filled top to bottom with thick fumes and is nearly entirely in flames. With your heart pounding, it suddenly hits you, as time seems to stand still, that you are literally moments away from dying. The inevitable unknown that was always waiting for you has finally arrived. Out of breath and weak, you shut your eyes and wait for the end.

Read the whole story: Scientific American

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