Man is no exception! Every living thing ages and will die. Nevertheless, it seems as if people have a special place in nature – because they are aware of their transience. We meet our death – long before it actually happens. The awareness of the end of our ego triggers multiple reactions: About panic, midlife crisis up to displacement everything is included.
We die from the beginning
Our dying begins long before we become aware of it. It begins before we are even born. In the womb, where we exist as a transparent cluster of cells, superfluous body cells have to make room. Only then can our organs develop and we become a complete human being. Death is programmed into the genetic material of each of our cells. Every one of them, who is no longer needed, goes voluntarily to her death.
Life is a game
Our existence is part of a fragile game between dying and living. The ability to die, according to palliative physician Gian-Domenico Borasio, is the prerequisite for us to be born at all as viable organisms. Yet it is so difficult for us to be finite. Our I want to exist infinitely.
Our multilayered self
To our ego belongs not only our mind, but also our body. How we perceive ourselves as a whole is decided in our brain. There an image of ourselves is formed from our sensory impressions.
Brigitte Röder, Professor of Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology at the University of Hamburg, deals with our body perception and body consciousness. Röder assumes a body representation in our brain. From the many sensory impressions that our brain experiences, it creates a picture of ourselves. This also includes the limits of our body.
Our brain knows the end of our body
Where does our body end, where does the space around it begin? While we move our body through a room as if it were a matter of course, our brain does the calculations. It is only because our brain performs the complex computational power of constantly creating an image of our body in space and constantly updating it – and anticipating every movement in space – that we move without constantly bumping into each other. So the boundaries of our ego in space are a projection of our brain.
I wonder if in our extraordinary brain, also the finiteness in time could be calculated and stored? Because, our body ends not only in the space that surrounds us – but also in time. – We all know we’re gonna die one day.
The tragedy of old age is not that you are old, but that you are young. (Oscar Wilde)
Our body ages – our brain remains young!
Eleanor Maguire and Katherine Woolett of University College London found that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus than many other people. In this area of the brain, tasks such as storing what has been learned and processing information are carried out. In their study, the researchers discovered that the hippocampus enlarges during training as a taxi driver. According to their study, these seem to have better spatial orientation and memory capacity. The brains of the taxi drivers have not only changed during their professional life, but also functionally improved. So this means that we can influence our brain with the subjects we feed it.
Although our brains have the greatest malleability as children, our ability to neuroplasticity is maintained throughout our lives.
The more stimuli our brain is exposed to, the easier it is for us to learn. It is therefore worth leaving familiar territory at any time in our lives – you only learn outside your comfort zone. Over the years, the neuroplasticity of our brain decreases somewhat, but even at an advanced age we can still learn a lot of new things, because our brain remains mutable for a lifetime. Unlike our body, it ages very little. Apparently we have in our minds a little bit of the infinite youth we wish for our bodies.
To shift the boundaries of our body in space and time with the power of thought?
This question shows its full extent when one thinks of the phenomenon of the placebo effect. The good news is that we can obviously influence our brain. Just as we can influence our body through our way of life, we can also direct our brain. With the way we use it, we decide for ourselves how it is formed.
What happens when we start using our brains differently?
No matter if we start a new way of thinking, learn an instrument, start a new hobby or a new sport: Our brain loves to face new challenges. It is young and inquisitive, even if our bodies are already doddering old.
With biohacking free from space and time
Biohacking also means self-optimization based on a deeper understanding of body and mind. It is about the state of flow – a mental state in which both time and space no longer seem to play a role. So – in which our brain must perceive our body free of spatial and temporal boundaries.
In such a state we are fully concentrated and maximally efficient. People who experience flow describe how easy it is to make decisions. Their thoughts will find the right path all by themselves – nothing can stop them.
The psychologist Mihàly Csikszentmihàlyi has extensively studied the flow and found that extreme athletes have this more often. These people develop enormous physical and mental powers. His explanation is that an extreme sport triggers the strongest trigger known to man: the instinct of self-preservation! And a flow is supposed to make you incredibly happy. Even among musicians it seems to be not unknown. The state of flow results from a complex interaction of five different neurotransmitters in the brain.
Beyond the exceptional talent: The flow for the average petrol consumer
Apart from sports and music other methods can also cause this flow. Meditation is one of the methods. Meditation strengthens the psyche, sharpens the focus, increases the energy level and makes you resistant to stress. The prerequisite for this is the regularity of the meditation, not the intensity. Today there are apps and programs that guide you to meditate for a few minutes every day.
Another way to balance our mind is active gratitude. This helps to balance negative thoughts. Basically, humans have a tendency to think negatively. Most of us put ourselves under pressure and tend to see what we did not achieve instead of the fullness of what surrounds us.
The image we have of ourselves is based to a large extent on the experience we have gained. All this is stored in a biographical memory. But – our memories are malleable! They are narratives that we – that is, our brain – reassemble every day. We can manipulate them every day in a desired direction. The legal psychologist Julia Shaw showed with her experiments how fragile the image we have of ourselves is. Our brain is as creative as a child when it comes to creating our self-portrait.
With a fundamentally grateful attitude, we can create a different picture of ourselves and our biography. As a result, our brain will tell us a different story about ourselves and our lives. As paradoxical as it sounds – we will believe this story.
Already the Roman philosophers Cicero and Seneca knew: gratitude is the greatest virtue. Current studies of positive psychology prove this today. Actively lived gratitude increases our competence to master the challenges of our life – this includes the knowledge of our finiteness, our death.
Let the child in you learn and play
No matter whether learned gratitude, meditation, sports, music or another hobby – curiosity and curiosity is the key to youthful light-heartedness!
Cicero would have been enthusiastic about the demand of our time – lifelong learning. He countered the fear of the dwindling mental powers in old age with the idea of perpetual learning. This put him a whole 2000 years ahead of modern brain research.
Even our inevitable death should – according to Cicero – not worry us or prevent us from learning: Either our consciousness will die with our body – and with it all our knowledge but also all suffering, or our brain will live on in eternal youth: Somewhere out there – freed from all limits – without space and time.