Lots of people have been pondering Steve Jobs final words, which are reported to be “Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow.” I have a theory, and it relates directly to two very important elements that have not really been combined as far as I’ve seen.
1) In the Steve Jobs biography it’s revealed that he dropped acid and that he believed it made him more creative.
2) He was deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism.
There is a very powerful combination of things working here. Let’s start with the science. Upon death the brain releases a flood of Dimethyltriptamine, which is a very powerful hallucinogen. Amazonian shamans ingest it through a drink called Ayahuasca, and they experience things like alternate lives, time distortion and most importantly light. It’s supposed that “the light” that people see is part of the DMT experience that hits the brain at the time of death.
The second part of this is the Buddhist component. Surely someone who has been deeply influenced by Buddhism knows about the Bardo Thodol, known in English as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This book describes the elements surrounding the different liminal states that one experiences in life and death, particularly in death. There are three phases of the bardo of dying, the moment of death, the space of visions, and then the moment of rebirth. This process is best understood if you watch the absolutely amazing film by Gaspar Noe called Enter the Void.
It’s my hypothesis that Steve, who had a passing familiarity with drug experiences, and more than likely understood the experiences described in the Bardo Thodol was able to put two and two together in his final moments and find a place of understanding and beauty. His “Oh Wow” moment was confirmation, reverence and joy.
Oh to have a moment like that.