The Physics of Death

Physics Jun 02, 2018


I have been through a recent death in my family. Last week my cousin died of cancer and she was just 19. My understanding of physics and particle physics helped me grieve her death and overcome it. However, same cannot be said for others. I am sharing my thoughts on a physicist's perspective of death which also became my own.

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind the sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy is created in the universe and none is destroyed. You want the mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every BTU of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell the weeping father that amid the energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point, you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your broken hearted people there in the pew and tell them that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off you like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your relatives rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let them know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are their eyes, that those photons created within their constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue in the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy is still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone. You’re just less orderly. Amen.

Aditya Bholah

One of the curious chaps who's into tech, AI, physics and humanity.