I still need to talk about this.
I am currently living in a discontinuous, unpredictable state of fear of death. I’m not sure when it started. Probably sometime just before we started reading The Road, and it just keeps coming now.
At the beginning I wished for ignorance and solace, just to forget the whole thing, but now I’ve realized that I’m going to have to face it, and possibly sooner than I would like, and I’m in too deep now.
Here are some of my fears.
- If, as I’m dreading, death is lack of existence, then I won’t be around to be afraid of it. No fear, no pain, no worries, just absolute, blessed peace. I get that, but it’s not comforting. What I fear is simply the lack of existence. I don’t want to be snuffed out like that. I want to keep going on and on indefinitely, spending sluggish afternoons doing math problems and puzzles, and playing ultimately pointless games.
- Note the use of “indefinitely”. I’m also significantly unsettled by the idea of immortality. Just imagine existing, on and on and on, for thirty, three hundred, three thousand, three million, three billion years, long after the universe has succumbed to heat death. What do you do for three billion years? There are only finitely many reasonable-length novels that can be written, only finitely many reasonable-length math problems or puzzles or Gmail-statuses or webcomics. It’s horrifying. Do we rely on morality alone? Love and peace and meditation? That’s good and all, but such a three billion years seems doomed to become repetitive. In fact, assuming we departed to the next world with our brain functioning much the same, there are only finitely many states our brain can be in! We could literally be nothing but googolplexes of Game of Life patterns. It would probably take something like three googolplexes of years to exhaust all possibilities, but the point is that humans are so hopelessly mortal that any eternal existence just doesn’t make sense to us.
- I feel bound by my mortal body. As pointed out by the scientists who do not believe in a soul, a normally happy person who gets Alzheimer’s or something worse may end up punching some other random person. Do we claim that the bouyant soul still exists in the body, with all the joy warped into energy for beating people up? Antidepressants feel creepy too; we would be happy to be permanently rigged up to a brain-zapping device that stimulates our happy nerves continuously, because, well, we would be happy, and this sort of induced, fictional happiness really freaks me out. Where then does the joy of Heaven come from?
- On a related note, what can the point of life be? If we’re going to be annihilated when we die, does it make any difference if we just jump off a balcony? Sure, our family and friends will become very sad and possibly kill themselves as well, but they were going to die as well. Within five centuries, if humanity even manages to survive that long, I doubt anybody who knew me personally would be alive, no matter whether or not I had jumped. Once the sun supernovaes, nothing I did will have affected the universe. Even if humans escape that, there’s the heat death to contend with. Of course, thic all presupposes that there is no afterlife and no final judgment.
- Even supposing there were an afterlife and all, so what? That would give people even more reason to do some nice things and then jump off a cliff. I will take it for granted that the God, if He exists, is utterly omnibenevolent. Then there is no eternal Hell, at most a purgatory that lasts uncomfortably long. At the same time, if God revealed himself in an obvious and undeniable way, wouldn’t most of humanity become excessively generous philanthropists? Not that that’s bad, but what’s the point of living? God just made all your choices for you, and there’s no getting out of actually doing your predetermined tasks.
- I can think of some more unpleasant afterlifes. For instance, I imagined a huge, magnificent, but completely empty Golden Elevator which we’re supposed to take to Heaven, except the trip lasts approximately five hundred thousand years, and each person gets his or her own elevator. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? 500000 years of nothing but staring at the gold floor. Or, it could be nothing but a disembodied brain, and you have no senses, but just float there thinking thoughts forever, not even capable of ending your existence. The ideas make me cringe with terror sometimes. Of course, maybe you achieve complete peace like that, but I doubt I could do it forever. It’s a terrible time.
I have some solutions, but they’re awfully incomplete, and to be honest I don’t really believe in them sometimes. My fear is really essentially completely irrational, and I’m stuck.
- We could call it (and this is almost plagiarism) “the blessed end of everything”. There is no gain, but there is no loss, because it was simply something not given to you. Where’s the point of fearing that? You still have your life to live. To quote Isaac Asimov, “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” Unless the god turns out to be evil, death will be very peaceful compared to the disturbing mess that is our lives now. So what are you going to do about it?
- Any attempt to understand God and eternity with our mortal and imperfect minds is doomed to failure. I’m not even sure normal analogies will work. It’s just not something the human brain is prepared for dealing with.
- We don’t know our body is entirely a lump of meat. There may be a soul. People on the Net are just mad over this point. People use science to prove it, people use science to disprove it, people say “that’s not a disproof because blah blah blah”, people say “oh well we don’t stand a chance of converting any of you guys anyway”. Me, I’m not sure just yet. What makes it even more disturbing is that chances are good I will never know. Then again, none of the big philosophers really knew when they died.
- If (and again, apologies from copying random pages) a patient is suffering extreme pain and knows his condition is terminal, it certainly matters if the doctor can help him with painkillers, or even euthanasia. True, the doctor and patient will all be dead in a couple decades, and all related people will have passed away in 300 years, and the Earth will blow up, but it matters to the patient just for that one day. Things don’t have to last forever to matter. In fact, mattering is all about things happening NOW. Raising a child is not forever. Donating money is not forever. But they mean things. Furthermore, even if humans were immortal and had lots of space and resources, the same question would be there. What do our lives mean? It may feel like perhaps exercising while you’re 10 (in this immortal world) will affect you for the remaining …999990 (and this is half a joke and half serious) years of your life, but so what? Nothing was accomplished except making your life a bit more comfortable. And that’s what a lot of us spend our life doing, making it a little more comfortable at a time, and in the end it all falls out. Did all that matter?
- I’m not so sure about this one. I guess it’s why God doesn’t just prove himself to everybody alive.
- All the more reason to enjoy your life.
Anyway, I have to go now, so I’ll brood about whether I feel better next time.