3. Life

The Mystery of Human Life

Paul J. Dejillas, Ph.D. – September 23, 2023


Our ancient ancestors have tried relentlessly to lift the veil that hides the secrets of life. Questions about it remain to this day. Who or what created life? How did it begin? How should we understand life? What is it meant for?

The definition most known in science is that life is any system capable of performing functions such as eating, metabolizing, excreting, breathing, moving, growing, reproducing, and responding to external stimuli. In biology, its origin is non-living matter, such as simple organic compounds. However, this only applies to the physical perspective. There is a metaphysical way of viewing life.

I will discuss these perspectives in this chapter.

Ancient Myths and Legends on the Creation of Life

The earliest known recorded history about the origin of human life and our appearance dates back to ancient Mesopotamia around 12,000 years ago when the first urban societies like Sumeria, Akkadia, Babylonia, and Assyria were flourishing. It was in the Garden of Paradise where the first couple, Adam and Eve, were fashioned. This Sumerian version later found its way recounted in the Book of Genesis, picturesquely described as an act of God breathing on the nostrils of the clay that was molded as a human being from the ground. As narrated by Moses in the Book of Genesis, we are creatures fashioned according to the image and likeness of God (Elohim) who identified himself as Yahweh.

It was also in the land of Sumer that a detailed scientific version of our origin was narrated and handed down to us. Our creation was made possible because of the need of the Gods and Goddesses for workers who would mine the gold in Africa, harvest wealth and abundance under the big oceans, and build irrigation systems and canals in the four big rivers to irrigate the fields and water the crops, plants, and livestock that were abundant then.

However, due to the hardship of working underground, the lesser Anunnaki citizens (the enslaved Igigi) rebelled against their rulers because of the hardship of working underground, beneath the high seas. They petitioned their masters to be freed from their hard labor. A council, composed of Anu, Enlil, and Enki with their wives, convened and decided to fashion Man from the primates and chimpanzees.

As a result, a new branch of species was created to their image and likeness to replace the aggrieved workers from their hard work. Archaeologists refer to this as the Homo sapiens, the first human life that appeared on Earth. According to the Sumerian legend, we are products of a series of experiments in the Anunnaki laboratories that eventually resulted in the appearance of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

We are told that it was the Anunnaki who came 445,000 years ago created human life by manipulating the genes of animals, at first by crossbreeding, artificial insemination, and in vitro fertilization. Finding all these techniques a failure, they finally combined them applying the blood of their race with that of the Homo species that already existed during that time.

Scientific View of the Creation of Life

After the Sumerian account, another scientific account began to emerge around 500 B.C. during the time of Thales, Anaxagoras, Leucippus, and Democritus. Thales (624-547 B.C.) postulated that life originated from water. However, his student Anaximander (611-547 B.C.) theorized about an unknown unlimited ethereal substance or force that is not subject to decay or old age as the beginning of life. Anaxagoras (570-500 B.C.), a student of Anaximander, had a different view. He believed that life originated from air, water, or an ethereal substance. Not to be outdone, his contemporary, Diogenes (412-323 B.C.) felt that the life-giving force was fire. However, Empedocles (504-433 B.C.) attributed the origin of life to all the four elements of Nature, namely, fire, earth, water, and air.

This was not the end of it.

It was Democritus (470-380 B.C.), a contemporary of Empedocles, who pioneered a novel theory that connected the origin of life to atoms whose movement and merger in space led to the birth of the Cosmos. Yet, it was only recently that a new theory emerged, now known as the atomic theory.

Due to the rapid advances in science and technology, physicists found deeper quantum elements that were much subtler than the natural elements of air, fire, earth, and water. They found out that water is merely a chemical symbol for oxygen and hydrogen; air for nitrogen and oxygen; fire for carbon dioxide, water vapor, oxygen, and nitrogen; and the surface layer of earth for oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

However, deep down at the bottom of these chemical elements are atoms. These are the electrons, protons, neutrons, as well as their sub-particles quarks, leptons, and hadrons that swarmed across the expanding universe right after the Big Bang. These tiny living particles produced the planets, stars, and everything we see around us today. Some billions of years later, the same act of creation was repeated a billion times in another series of fiery explosions, this time in a supernova that emitted heavier atomic particles which became part of the necessary ingredients to produce life.

As it emerged, atoms of similar sizes, mass, and shapes joined together transforming themselves into molecules and genes that resulted in the formation of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecules. DNAs contain millions of atoms strung together in a precise double-helix pattern. It is the master file that guides and directs the production and replication of the first living cells.

How is this possible?

Certain genes within the DNA strand are responsible for performing specific developmental tasks. The living cells assemble themselves into larger molecular units based on the genetic program encoded in the DNA. This genetic code is known by their abbreviations, A, G, T, and C designed in such a way that A fits neatly with T, and G with C. Placed in various imaginable combinations, they look like digital I and 0 in the computer that the software transforms into symbols, words, and languages understandable to human users.

Assisting the DNA is the single-stranded RNA (Ribonucleic acid) that serves as a messenger carrying the instructions from the DNA as well as supervisor to see to it that cells function as they were designed. The development that follows becomes simply mechanical because every combination of living cells is a formula designed to develop into specific organs of the body like the eyes, lungs, heart, digestive system, brain, kidneys, and so on. The formula includes instructions as to where these organs must go.

However, the mystery of life lies not so much in how the whole molecular assemblage operates collectively in a coherent and cooperative fashion as in how a disorganized collection of molecules assembles itself into a coherent whole to create the first living organisms. In particular, one can ask how is it possible that one cell, or group of cells, is able to understand and interpret the instructions set by the DNA in such a way that it is able to know that it is destined to become the eyes, ears, etc., and even knows the place where they are assigned to stay. One also wonders how it produced complex and intricate organs like the nervous system, heart, lungs, eyes, and ears.

Is there such a thing as a single-celled organism or bacteria? What caused its existence? Is there a primeval gene that can be considered as the beginning of life? If so, where can it be found? Underneath the oceans? In the vents of volcanoes? In the core of the earth? In the glaziers? In the atmosphere? Or did they originate from somewhere else?

There are yet no clear and definitive answers as regards the primal origin of life because all sorts of life forms are also found in all of these places. This is where the central mystery of life lies.

Speculations abound. One is the theory of animism of Aristotle (384 B.C.–322 B.C.). According to him, the growing organisms were being directed toward their final destiny by a supervising force that allowed them to sprout as the first living cell. This primal cell became the common ancestor from which everything originated and to which everything must go back. This theory resurrected in the early 20th century bearing a new term vitalism.

Embryologist Hans Dreisch postulated the existence of a primary life force referred to as entelechy or élan vital’, which is responsible for organizing the emergence of human life for some specific purpose. This organizing force is innate in all living things and directs evolutionary changes both in the microscopic and macrocosmic realms. However, the nature and origin of this force is not explained.

Despite decades of rigorous studies, life remains shrouded in mystery. What is clear is that once everything has been defined and programmed, their functions become mechanical, operating following the laws of physics and chemistry. Everything was already directed to perform their respective job descriptions.

However, one can still ask how the evolution of life proceeded.

Evolution preaches that everything is formed by chance, luck, or accidents. The Darwinian view is that life continues to survive through the process of natural selection and random mutation. Mutation may be random in some aspects but natural selection is not because an individual species’ survival and reproductive success are directly influenced by the ways the inherited traits operate in the context of its local environment. These two processes complement each other.

However, biologists do not agree with the idea that life could just appear by pure chance. They contend that it is more rational to accept that there exists an intelligent design that directs and guides the appearance of human life. Chemical substances did not just assemble by themselves independent of any intelligent design. Biochemist Michael J. Behe (2007) refers to a purposeful designer that may not be a theistic God, but any being, principle, mechanism, force, or laws of nature external to our universe. Others suggest the existence of a divine entity, principle, force, or Cosmic Intelligence that designs and guides the emergence and evolution of human life.

Meanwhile, anthropologists advanced the idea that our appearance can be traced back to the Late Miocene Period (23.03 to 5.333 million years ago) starting from the Hominoids, the species that led to the emergence of the Hominines, or Hominids in modern parlance. It was during this period when modern apes and humans separated in their evolutionary path. With the emerging science of molecular biology in the 1960s, geneticists concurred after they found out that 99 percent of our genes are traceable to the apes.

However, a far deeper issue remains unresolved to this day. How did the primates evolve into Hominines, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens? Anthropologists may still be waiting for more archeological discoveries to shed light on these concerns. In the meantime, our origin and evolution remain a mystery to all of us.

In summary, life abounds in the vast Cosmos. Its beginning is traced to the fundamental physical constituents of the universe which is composed essentially of atoms and molecules. Religion, on the other hand, views our origin and nature as a direct act of God. Either way, both views concur that our understanding of the meaning and purpose of life is largely dependent on our personal preferences. Life can be physical, metaphysical, or mystical depending on our beliefs, culture, tradition, and how we perceive the external world.

My Experience of Death and Afterlife:

My Most Defining Moments


I was witnessing the deaths of my loved ones. First, it was my brother-in-law, a retired U.S. Air Force. Then, when I arrived in the USA, I had to go directly to the Hospice where my sister was just hanging on, waiting for my arrival. I had enough precious moments to be with her on her deathbed. The following day, she joined her Lord. 


Then, on November 6, 2021, I received the sad news that my beloved wife had to be hospitalized to undergo some life-threatening surgical operation. On December 17, my daughter Aileen and son Erik traveled hurriedly from the Philippines and arrived at Omaha in Nebraska where my wife was staying with my youngest son Junjun and his family (Cailin and their two daughters Lucia and Kattie).


It was on December 19, 2021, that I received the shocking news that my wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that had spread already to her lungs. Right there and then, we had an impromptu online reunion. I was in Seattle while they were so many miles away. I decided to fly to be with them the following day.


However, I also had my own life-threatening moments. While in the Philippines, I was advised by our family doctor to go to the US because hospitals in Metro Manila were full of COVID-19 patients and could no longer accept non-covid cases. Besides, my doctor said hospitals in the US have better facilities and a supportive healthcare system that could respond effectively to my ailments. Once given the health clearance and the needed vaccination for my travel, I immediately booked myself a plane.


Already very much stressed and worried, my health continued to deteriorate when I arrived. Traveling quickly across multiple time zones can be discomforting and dislocating. Science says that it takes one day for every time zone for the body to recover and adjust to the new surroundings because of jetlag. The time difference between the Philippines and Seattle is about 16 hours, which means that my body was still somewhere traveling in the Pacific Ocean when I arrived in Seattle.


The first few days were the most excruciating. My eating and sleeping regimen were completely disturbed. It was my body telling me when to eat, sleep, and be awake. And my mind was still restless because of the sudden change of environment. The weather was aggravating my disorientation. Sunshine rays seldom penetrated the thick gloomy sky that was just ready to turn its flurry into raindrops. It was better to stay in bed all day long.


My Saturday classes were becoming a great challenge. Giving online lectures was troublesome because I was feeling terribly drowsy and sleepy as a result of traveling backward in time. Forcing myself to stay awake only made my lecture presentations shallow and haphazard as my mind still wandered elsewhere in time. It took 16 days for my body, mind, and spirit to come together again in a synchronous way.


The depressing atmosphere had its toll on my already deteriorating health. Within a span of one week, I literally fell three times headfirst on the tiled floor, making me always unconscious. It always happened between midnight and dawn after trying to get up from my bed. I was lucky my sisters were always around to hear the sudden thudding sound as a result of my fall.


However, I was terribly in pain. I felt wobbly, sensing everything around me was swirling fast at a dizzying speed. I did not know where my spirit went during those moments. I did not remember anything when I fell. It was too dark, a total blackout.


The emergency doctors could not accept me to the hospital since the place was full of COVID-19 patients. Everything had to be done online. While I was familiar with online consultations in the Philippines, they had a different platform that required long and tedious protocols, making me more stressed and distressed. I was having frequent sporadic bouts of panic attacks and irregular heartbeats. The entire situation was just too overwhelming. What was worse was that one day, my siblings got inflicted with COVID-19 one after the other.


It was in this terribly sad condition that I received the sad news about my wife. I could imagine the intense state of shock my children had to bear, knowing that their parents were both in critical condition. I could not visit them, and neither could any one of my children visit me since Omaha airport was closed to incoming travelers. Even if by some twist of magic and luck I could get through, I could not still stay close to my wife since doctors could not risk the danger my wife would face because of my presence.


Wishing to be with her family, my wife calmly expressed her last wish to be brought back to the Philippines. I could only watch in silence and admire the heroism of my children in trying their utmost to make her death wish possible. At first, the doctor refused to give a clearance for my wife to travel. Even if he had issued this clearance, travel by air was almost impossible. The Philippine health authorities refused to allow travelers from the States to enter without prior health clearances. Fulfilling it would entail a long and complicated process, which was circuitous.


We could only pray and storm heaven for some blessings. Daily, we invoked the healing power of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mother (the Lady of Second Chance), and the miracle healer Padre Pio for my wife’s last wish to be granted. Slowly, when we least expected it, miracle after miracle started to pour down like rain from the heavenlies.


A muted voice from nowhere was heard. The doctor announced that there was a small window which my wife could travel through but that they must leave immediately. They must find a plane that could allow them to travel, given my wife’s condition and the various gadgets attached to her body. They must prepare the necessary travel documents. They had to synchronize their travel at a time when the Philippine government would already allow entry to US travelers.


The news uplifted the spirit of my wife. Her condition greatly improved. Her cancer cells and platelet levels drastically went down, which was considered by her attending physicians a miracle. We all saw how calmly and peacefully she accepted her impending demise. All the while, it was even my wife who was more upbeat and enervated, happy at the prospect of seeing her entire family back home. She was encouraging and inspiring my children to be glad and to move on despite the odds.


To make a long story short, the Lord granted my wife’s wish to go back home to her homeland. I could only watch in excitement how the bravery of my children unfolded, to realize her wish. They left on December 26, 2021, after completing all the travel requirements and the doctor’s permit to travel abroad. All this meant they had to travel a grueling journey of 38 hours, which included a layover in California.


On January 4, 2022, after the 10-day required quarantine at a specified hotel in Manila, they proceeded to our family farm resort (Lilim-Casa Sombra) in Nasugbu, Batangas for the much-needed rest and re-acquaintances with the entire Dejillas-Gracilla clan. After all, it was this farm that she suggested to our daughter to purchase. All were present for this one of the most defining moments of our life.

However, I was not with them.


I could not give the details of what happened during the few days they were on the farm. I could not bear to see the photos that chronicled my wife’s short stay there. How happy she was, even to the point of kissing the ground upon her arrival. It was very moving to see a dying person so happy to be with her siblings and close relatives all around her. It was a grand reunion. I was deeply inspired by her courage to face death so calmly. When she was on her deathbed, she was even describing the kind of afterlife waiting for her.


In the past, she did a lot of things beautifying the farmhouse, not knowing that she would be leaving an imprint that would remind us of her presence. She has become one of us even in death. She gave us an example of how to live life both in times of joy and in times of trials and suffering. She has become a model and a saint to us. She will give us the courage and inspiration when our turn comes to cross over to the next dimension of life.


It was so sad that I could not be with them during that time.


The months from November 2021 to May 2022 were the most trying moments for me. I was told by my attending nurse that it would take six months before they could give me a clearance to travel back to the Philippines. It was Seattle’s time to storm heaven and earth so I could be with my wife.


I was finally able to get my travel clearance on April 14, 2022, four agonizing months after my wife arrived in the Philippines. Traveling on Japan Airlines, I reached Narita around 5:00 p.m. My daughter said their mother was hanging on expecting me to be with her on time. I was positive I would see her before she would pass away. But something unexpected happened. My flight to the Philippines was delayed by one hour, leaving at 7:00 p.m. instead of 6:00 p.m.


At exactly 8:15, we were cruising at an altitude of 35,000 feet when the light for the cabin attendant above me suddenly turned on. I had no idea at all who or what turned it on because I was half-asleep. But the young lady stewardess immediately came, politely asking me if I needed anything, to which I responded “No.” I told her that I did not turn the switch on. After a few minutes, the light turned on again, and immediately the flight attendant was back asking me the same thing. It happened three times and the stewardess, now with a concerned look on her face, asked me if I really did not need anything at all.


I am not a superstitious believer but I learned later that my wife passed away exactly during those times when the light turned on and off three times. Was it her way of bidding her goodbye to me? I believed it was. However, it could be providential that I was not with them. My arrhythmia has been becoming more frequent since I have not completed my executive medical checkup in Seattle. Since I arrived there, my heart’s irregular beating worsened and I became more prone to stress, panic attacks, and manic depression at the least provocation. Given this precarious condition, I was not even sure if I would survive a long journey back to the Philippines let alone, stand seeing my wife on her deathbed.


Upon arrival, I was immediately brought to the Heritage Park in Paranaque where the body of my wife lay in a cubicle along a narrow dimly lit hallway. It was just the right atmosphere and moment for me to spend my time communing and conversing with her alone. I could have spent the whole night with her, had I not been alerted by the park attendants that the body had to be placed in a freezer.


I remember I was with her alone for an hour, teary-eyed, recalling in an instant our memories when we were together in life. We were not a perfect couple but we have learned to understand and love each other in moments of joy and pain. If our resurrected bodies reincarnate once again here on Earth, I am too willing to be back with her in my life.


So many thoughts came into my mind. What now that my wife, who has been so loving and patient with me, is now gone? What now that my wife who had been very close to our children and was responsible for keeping the entire family together, has passed away? I am the loner, reticent type, preferring to be alone in silence than be with others. I was always out of the country. I cannot take her role, impossible!  What will the future of the family be? Who will keep it intact for the remaining days of our earthly lives?


However, it is usually in times like this that a leader emerges to fill in a gap. My eldest child Aileen is now taking over the responsibility of managing the entire Dejillas-Gracilla family. We all listened to her. A villa bearing her name was constructed for our lasting memory.


For my part, I continued to live a semi-hermetic kind of life, alone in my Antipolo residence, continuing my passion to chronicle the story of my life and preparing for my journey to the next life.


But my story is far from over. Instead of worrying and wallowing in self-pity, the entire incident challenged me even more to pursue my interest and curiosity about death and the afterlife. Will other defining moments besides death supplant my experience of the fifth dimension? Will I experience death that is less excruciating and agonizing? Will I encounter defining moments that are more blissful and spiritually enriching? Is it possible for me to experience the afterlife again while still here on Earth? What kind of afterlife awaits me? Moreover, what should I do to make all this happen?