In an attempt at the big question that surrounds this whole issue of dying is - what's next? Every culture has a rich tradition of attempting to answer “what's next”, but the best and most intellectually honest answer I can come up with is – I don't know. Having grown up in the Episcopal church (thanks to my mother, the daughter of a priest) and having worked and lived in churches as a way to cover lodging all through college I have a solid background in Christianity. But as a scientist I'm fully aware of the difference between belief systems and observable testable facts. I can not rule out any notion of “what's next” based on what I can observe and test. While some notable scientists are atheists, any of the possibilities (including atheism) can not discounted and I'm forced into the position of “I don't know”. I learned to say “I don't know” in graduate school. In fact it was during my oral qualifying exams when my pride would not let me say “I don't know” and the examining committee lead me down a garden path with a series of questions that if I had answered “I don't know” would have been alright but instead I tried to answer the questions and was eventually cut off at the knees and made to look foolish because I would not say the simple words “I don't know”. It was a lesson I have never forgotten, I was embarrassed and felt incredibly foolish, but I can see it was a lesson I needed to learn, so while I may believe I rule the world in reality I don't know. Admitting that I don't know something is generally my first step in learning something new. While many are comfortable in their belief systems, this simple admission that the universe is much larger than me holding many unknowns has served me well and I'm OK with I don't know, but I will find out.
With respect to the question I was asked “do you have Jesus” (an event describe in described in a previous post) I was taken aback primarily by the intrusion into my privacy when I'm in pain and uncomfortable by someone I do not know. Both my sister and mother have strong religious beliefs but for my sister it is a matter of living a life that reflects those principles but not talking about them. I guess that comes from a career working in the emergency room. A very pragmatic approach in my opinion.
I thought this topic would be harder to write about, but it doesn't take much verbiage to say “I don't know” and I will leave you with this video sent to me by a friend and biologist from Louisiana which captures the