2007-11-09

Death as Non-Existence

I find it remarkably difficult to fully conceptualize the extinction of my consciousness and personality upon my death. While I logically expect my subsequent non-existence to be identical to the billions of years prior to my birth, it seems that I actually tend to imagine it more like a deep sleep from which I will eventually somehow awaken at the end of time. I have to consciously remind myself that I won't ever even know that I'm dead because I won't exist. I then naturally wonder what it will be like not to exist and I have to remind myself again that it won't be like anything because it simply won't be. My mind simply cannot grasp what it means not to exist since from its own perspective it has always existed. It has been argued that fear of death is the principal cause of religious belief in humanity and I would argue that our instinctive tendency to think of our minds as always existing greatly contributes to it as well.

Like practically all humans, I certainly want to exist indefinitely. I say indefinitely rather than forever because I don't preclude the possibility that I might want my existence to end at some point. The only aspect of religion which I sincerely miss is the belief that life will continue forever. And it's not that I want just to believe; I want it to really be true. The promise of eternal bliss in a never-ending paradise is alluring, even if inconceivable, but I'm much more intrigued by the idea of repeatedly reincarnating and leading radically different lives in radically different circumstances. I would like to know what it's like to be both sexes, every ethnic group, attractive and ugly, strong and weak, intelligent and stupid, rich and poor, in every combination thereof, in every locale and in every age. It would be necessary that the memory of those lives be maintained, perhaps for later review and reflection outside of the physical universe, in order to distinguish it from an existence of only a single life. It seems that such a spiritual paradigm would be far more satisfying and poetic than the unchanging heaven of Christianity. None of this matters in the least, however, because I have no reason to believe that it's anything but an idle dream.

It's rather difficult to accept that I have no even remotely reasonable hope for life after death and that my consciousness will almost certainly be extinguished in a matter of decades at the latest. It's not that I really fear non-existence; I simply dread an existence filled with the despair of ever realizing my desires. In the end, all I have is a wish to exist indefinitely and all I can do is live this life to the fullest, trying not to waste too much precious time on idle dreams.

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14 comments:

Anonymous said...

My atheism released me from fear of death. Of course I prefer life, but I no longer fear death. Death is non-existence. No mystery in death, hence no fear.

Ralph

Jorge Chediak said...

I feel the same way about death. Death is non-existence. But that does not rid me of my fears. I will carry with me, my fears, I'm sure, until the day I die.

Anonymous said...

I'm almost afraid of posting this, lest I drag someone else into the all-encompassing fear I now feel.
I stumbled onto cryogenics in the weak and pitiful desire to see the world in a more advanced age. One where death has been conquered.
But this promise is fleeting - the death of the sun must come, and if we've fled to the stars, certainly the end of the universe will come.
There is no escape from entropy, and I try to keep myself occupied at all moments so I don't have to wallow in my fear.
If anyone reads this and knows of a good psychologist (one who is atheist!) please write me at aquamala@juno.com
Thanks for listening...

Anonymous said...

I feel like this no one can prove that god exist and no one can prove that god dosen't exist, and no one has die and talked about so who realey knows you just have live life and wait and see cause we all gonna meet it

Anonymous said...

What you wrote describes my exact feelings on death.

My family is catholic but I wasn't really raised religious. I didn't attend church or anything of the sort. As I got older I took to an agnostic perspective and finally arrived at my current destination of being an atheist. I have to say, I don't like calling myself an atheist because virtually all atheists that I've met preach more than any other religious fanatic I know. I personally am not one to preach or try to get someone to take on my beliefs or viewpoints. Anyway, it is SO refreshing to hear of an atheist that actuallys admits to some kind of fear. Death is a terrifying thing not so much because it's mysterious but because it's not. We are very aware that death is the end of everything we are right now. We can't conceive of what it means to not be, because our human minds are only capable of recalling what it's like to be. Of course at one point in time we didn't exist but it's not as if we can say "oh yeah, I remember that, didn't feel too bad afterall". Of course, when I am dead I will feel no fear, no anxieties or sadness over being dead. I will not feel. I will not be. There's no "I" anymore after my death. But there's an "I" now and the fact that my whole universe is based around my very "I" it's impossible for me to imagine otherwise.

I just wanted to express my gratitude for your post. I felt that I was the only atheist who actually does fear death. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the fear of non-existence. Life seems to me to be just a concept; it is dynamic in essence. You are different and separate from who you were two minutes ago, both physically and psychologically. And if you take into account that your body is comprised of individual living cells, each with their own "life" apart from the others, then one could make the argument that none of us is really alive to begin with. Also, I am content with my cells and molecules breaking down and eventually merging to become other forms of mass and energy, both potential and kinetic. I see nothing to fear in that scenario. To me it is ideal.

Secular Planet said...

I never said I feared non-existence. I specifically said that I didn't.

Anonymous said...

Death is non existence, which is not good, bad, or neutral. No properties can be assigned to what we call "nothingness" or "void". I would much rather be as MUCH as I can be now, and then go back to the earth and the rest of the Universe when my time comes. Just float and drift in the sea of matter and say 'goodbye'. That is far more satisfying and stress relieving than worrying about an eternal afterlife.

Memebrain said...

The last time I feared death I was a Christian because there's no clear answer on how to be saved in the Bible.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a fear of death or non-existence, but rather a fear of how we will meet our end. Will it be peaceful or traumatic? Will we be at home in our beds or in a hospital packed with hoses and tubes? Natural causes? Disease? That's where my fear lies. I freed myself from dogmatic thinking years ago, and finally lost my fear of death. It's the circumstance of how I will shuffle off that I wonder about.

Anonymous said...

As a Buddhist I firmly believe in the non-existence of death. The law of the conservation of energy states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant over time. Consequence: energy cannot be created nor destroyed. In a closed system it can change form (chemical energy can become thermal energy).
Being in the presence of death will bring up disturbing emotions in our mind- fear,sadness, attachment, a sense of helplessness, and so forth. Personally I lost this fear by reminding myself of impermanence: the fact that we ourselves, other people, our bodies and minds, and just about everything in the world around us,is constantly changing, never the same from one moment to the other. Awareness and acceptance of impermanence was for me the most powerful antidote to clinging and attachment,as well as to fear, which is often a sense of resistance to change. It took me a long time to learn to let go.

Anonymous said...

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." Eccl 9:10

"The ancient Hebrews had no idea of an immortal soul living a full and vital life beyond death" Wikipedia

King P said...

Non Existence..Okay why don't we believe in God or eternity. It is because it is difficult to perceived or understand. Yet we believe in none existence? which is impossible to perceive or understand? where did we go wrong? Ask yourself that question.

Anonymous said...

I find myself mixed between sharp fear, the feeling of being helpless and frustration.

The fear is just as you described, i'm dreading the fact that i will just cease to exist. It's just cold and sharp fear, i get it at least twice a day or more.

This is followed by a feeling of being so helpless to struggle against my own fate.
I have a hard time accepting the feeling that this was always meant to be, since the young me always believed in something more than non-existence.
My brain tells me that i'm destined to go into a dark void and never think or know a singel thing again, but my heart is screaming that there should have been a way to stay in existence.
The clashing result between my heart and brain makes me feel so helpless to help myself avoid non-existence.

I sometimes also feel frustrated to have been born into existence in the first place, with no way to stay. I'm frustrated with the universe for doing this.

My final conclusion in all this...
Universe, i give u my middle finger for doing this to me.
But while i'm here, i plan on having the most fun i can, all while shaking in fear of when it all ends.