What happens after I die?

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1. Beyond life

One of the biggest unanswered questions about life is – what happens after it ends?

We all have to face death at some point, and for thousands of years humans have been pondering on whether death really is the end, with our concepts of an afterlife varying greatly.

In the modern world, the mystery of death and what happens next – whether you're a scientist or a spiritualist – still has the power to both fascinate and frighten in equal measure.

2. The stages of death

In the last 60 seconds, roughly 100 people have died around the world. People, of course, die in many different ways, but in general the physical body breaks down in three main stages. Click on the labels to find out more.

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3. Near death experiences

Reports of near death experiences can stir up excitement in some and scepticism in others. For believers, they are proof of the existence of another realm beyond our lives, while sceptics will argue they are nothing more than an illusion of the mind.

Knowledge about the borders of life and death are very complex. Researchers sometimes turn to other species to find out what might be going on. Biomedical research on animals is understandably controversial, and must never be conducted carelessly and callously.

4. Religious beliefs about the afterlife

All major religions believe in some form of life after death. Click to see outlines of the beliefs held by a selection of faiths.

Buddhism

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Buddhism

All life is in a cycle of death and rebirth, and people can be reborn as a human or an animal. Good actions in one life lead to a better rebirth in the next.

Christianity

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Christianity

Someone’s soul lives on and God sends them to Heaven for eternity if they have been faithful during their life on Earth. Some believe sinners are sent to Hell.

Islam

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Islam

On the judgement day, the dead will rise from their graves. Allah will weigh up their good and bad deeds and send them to Jannah (Paradise) or Jahannam (Hell).

Sikhism

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Sikhism

Sikhs believe in a series of reincarnations, through up to 8.4 million forms of life, until they achieve purification and are reunited with Waheguru (God).

5. A taboo subject

For many of us, the topic of death and what comes after is still considered strictly off-limits in conversation.

A survey of more than 2,000 people, commissioned by the Dying Matters Coalition, found:

  • A third of people in the UK think about death and dying at least once a week.
  • The majority of those don't make a will, secure life insurance or register for organ donation.
  • More than half of Britons in relationships do not know their partner's 'end-of-life' wishes.
  • The most common age at which people would like to die is between 81 to 90 years old.
  • 79% of those surveyed also said quality of life was more important than longevity.

6. Which afterlife would you choose?

For centuries, religion has offered a promise of eternal bliss. But is 21st Century science now proposing more appealing afterlife alternatives?

Biogerontology

Can we extend life by creating a healthy old age?

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Biogerontology

Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey believes ways to end or even reverse the ageing process will be found in the next few decades.

Cybernetics

Is it possible for us to live on beyond the life of our bodies?

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Cybernetics

Millionaire Dmitry Itskov is funding a project to turn a digital copy of his brain into a robot life-like avatar by 2045, to try to achieve immortality.

Nanotechnology

In the future will we be able to repair ourselves?

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Nanotechnology

Author and futurist Ray Kurzweil thinks we will conquer disease and death by creating nano-robots to work inside our bodies, repairing damaged cells and organs.