by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
OK, that’s it. I’m getting cremated when I die. I don’t care how. Stick me in the city power plant, I really don’t care. I’ll just get scattered on the road with the cinders.
Regardless of how it is done, I don’t want anything left of me.
What has got me so freaked out is that I just finished reading an article about the “daughter of Lucy,” a child whose fossil remains have been dug up after 3 million years. Not an actual blood relative of the famous Lucy fossil, but a member of the same species of human, Australopithecus afarensis. Apparently this poor child fell into a tar bog and was preserved for modern-day scientists to discover in the African desert. To quote from the Nature article about the find, “The skeleton’s brain case also suggests the brain of the species had started to evolve towards that of modern humans.”
I do not want some anthropologist digging me up 3 million years from now, showing my cranium to his friends and asking, “How do you think he managed to get by with such a primitive brain?” I don’t care if that means I am denying him the opportunity to be published in Nature. He’ll just have to find someone else to dig up.
Besides, burial is expensive, and who knows if you’ll be buried anyway? When Alistair Cooke, the longtime host of “Masterpiece Theatre,” died, his family thought they had laid him to a peaceful rest. Turns out the undertaker buried an empty coffin and sold off the bits of poor Alistair to various “medical research” firms. What shocks me most is that there is a market for bits of old English gentlemen. Who knew?
I had actually been thinking that donating my body to medical research would be a good end. After a recent trip to a local osteopath, I am not so sure. His office was decorated with old-time photographs of the Class of 1894 from the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. One was a picture of a nice spring day – a nice spring day when the students decided to dress up their cadavers and bring them outside for a picnic and class photo.
Look, I don’t even like to get photographed now! I certainly don’t want to have my picture taken after I am dead. In fact, I am going to start taking proactive measures the next time I have surgery. Not only will I write “Don’t cut off” on all my good extremities, but also “NO PHOTOS” on my forehead, just in case I don’t survive the operation.
I could always have myself frozen. It might be my only chance to rub elbows with the rich and famous. While it sounds like a good idea, I am skeptical. What if all that makes you unique – your personality, your knowledge and your consciousness – is stored in the electrical and chemical reactions in your brain? If the freezing process alters these reactions, one could come back as a zombie. Of course, if they could guarantee I would come back as a zombie, that might be worth considering if I could pick which city I would be set loose in to terrorize.
Perhaps my biggest worry with cryonics is that I don’t believe future generations will be interested in spending time and money to thaw out people left over from previous generations. Consider that after nearly four years of combat and nearly 3,000 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, two-thirds of Americans ages 18 to 24 still cannot find Iraq on a map. These are the people I would be counting on to correctly revive me? No thanks!
I saw a documentary about a group of monks in East Asia who had an interesting way of dealing with their dead. They would place the body behind a large rock. Then they would have a grand feast and celebration to honor the dearly departed. While this was going on, large vultures would fly down and have a feast of their own. By the end of the event there weren’t any table scraps left on either side of the rock.
That seems like the ideal way to go, but with my luck, some dumb vulture would probably drop my head in a tar bog.