We do not want to think about it, but we know that every living thing will die. All things must pass.

We do our best to avoid it and prolong life and we do it at many levels. You do your best to keep your plants and flowers living. You do it for yourself and people you love.

I had to deal about a year ago with my mother dying. I had to make choices. After she died, friends told me “it was her time.” They meant well. Some had religious beliefs behind that thought. Some had another sense of the inevitability of death.

I was prompted to think about this by something online by Robert Krulwich titled “Nature Has A Formula That Tells Us When It’s Time To Die.” Krulwich is the co-host of Radiolab which I wrote about earlier today.  In this piece, he talks with a physicist, Geoffrey West, who believes we can read patterns and see death coming. It is a recent discovery that posits that there is a mathematical logic and regularity in the life of plants and animals.

It seems that death has a relationship to size. Shorter lives for the smaller creatures. As Krulwich writes, “algae die sooner than oak trees; elephants live longer than mayflies.”

The mathematics comes in when someone comes up with a formula that takes the size of something and predicts how long it will live.

Of course, this applies to groups or species. It can never predict the circumstances of an individual oak tree or person.

There is a formula – a plant/animal’s metabolic rate is equal to its mass taken to the three-fourths power. You can read the article for the math. Krulwich comments that West was inspired by an earlier biologist, Max Kleiber, who in the 1930s noticed the correlation between metabolic rate and mass. What West and others did was actually map it onto species.

Not to dismiss the science, which is interesting, but I am more interested in the idea that we know when to die.

Coincidentally, the same week as I read the article, Iheard a Radiolab episode called “The Bitter End.”  In that program, they examine the way that we turn to doctors to extend our lives. Although it seems to be a time for us to die, we want to be healed, repaired and allowed to go on. Well, most of us want that. There is a significant perentage of people who elect not to continue. They request no extraordinary measure be taken – no CPR or breathing tubes or resuscitation.

The interesting point of the show is that al though most of us want doctors to do what they can to save us, that’s not the case in what doctors want done for themselves. It turns out the majority of doctors – knowing what comes with those extraordinary measures – opt to let the end come when it comes.

I have read stories about animals (in respected publications like the New England Journal of Medicine) that seem to be able to sense approaching death. One story is about a cat that could “predict” the deaths of patients in a nursing home several hours before they died. Oscar, a cat adopted by the staff, predicted at least 25 times which patients would soon die by sitting at their beds.

I have also heard tales of people who seemed to know and told others that they were to die very soon. Do animals and people have any kind of sixth sense about their impending end? Have any of you had any experiences with this phenomena?


Krulwich’s article is illustrated with some cool animated photos of leaves “dying,” one of which I have linked to below.

Yunfan Tan is a young Shanghai artist/product designer who calls these short animations “Dancing Leaves.”


Now the darkness only stays the nighttime
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
Its not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

George Harrison, from All Things Must Pass

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