Aethism & death(18 Posts)
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How do you all get your heads round the finality of death?
I've started thinking about it a bit since DS2's (4) started asking about it all, prompted by the immortal jellyfish on the Octonauts. He's wondering if we're all reborn as babies as he doesn't like the idea that we just all die (not an idea I've specifically put I his head).
It's made me think and worry a lot more about death, especially as my knees are starting to creak, I'm loosing a tooth, and I'm feeling distinctly mortal.
When you're dead, that's it. Not too tricky. This is it and there is nothing else. We are organic beings living on a rock. You die, you rot. That's it. Very freeing to not believe my imaginary friend will take me to paradise if I'm really good.
It's much simpler than the theistic alternatives. We don't exist before we're born; we develop consciousness within our brains; we die and that's it. Make the best of it while it lasts!
You rot and become part of the earth. Its quite nice really.
Ah, thanks for the context!
I gave my DD a gentle introduction to the concept when she was about 3 and a goldfish died. We buried it in the garden and I explained that its atoms would become part of the soil and then other things including the honeysuckle it was buried under.
I suppose we'd all like to live forever, but I think we accept it somehow when it gets closer. I'm a bit creaky too so it's no longer such a distant consideration.
I'm not sure anyone can even conceive of not existing. Maybe that protects us from it?
Some people get comfort from passing on their genes, but even that isn't essential. There are adults now who get some of their ways from being around me. Ideas and habits which they will pass on. The world will be a tiny bit different because I was in it.
I've never really thought about it too much if I'm honest, like pp's say, you live, you die, same as all the other living organisms on earth. To me it seems so natural that it's not an issue. I quite like the idea of my atoms flying off to become other things
I suppose if I'm honest, I'd like to have made an impact on the world in some way before I die, but in a way I have already by having kids. I'm not sure whether that's a good impact or not though!
How did you feel before you were born? Were you upset that you were not alive?
Same as being dead. You won't be able to care.
I like the egalitarian idea that we are all made of the same stuff manufactured in stars - every last atom and every type.
Whilst I am against the idea of making funeral wishes as I think that's for the living, if someone did ask what I wanted, I would only ask for this to be read out. It sums death up beautifully in my opinion.
NAY DO NOT GRIEVE
Nay, do not grieve though life be full of sadness,
dawn will not veil its splendor for your grief,
nor spring deny their bright appointed beauty
to lotus blossom and ashoka leaf.
Nay, do not pine though life be marred with trouble,
time will not pause or tary on its way;
Today that seems so long, so strange, so bitter,
will soon be some forgotten yesterday.
Nay, do not weep; new hopes, new dreams, new faces,
joy yet unspent of all the unborn years,
will prove your heart a traitor to its sorrow
and make your eyes unfaithful to their tears.
I think 'was I upset for the millions of years I didn't exist/have a functioning brain?' And obviously I didn't, I have no reason to think it will be any different after death. Why worry about a time I won't be able to experience?
That said I want to be a benefit where I can while I am alive.
I like this - some kind of comfort without fairy stories:
I try to make the most of my life, to leave things around me better than I found them and to treat others with kindness, respect and courtesy. Although I struggle to tolerate fools and education-wasters.
I don't need the threat of eternal damnation to make me behave in a reasonable fashion. Although it was needed in past times where every calorie was a struggle.
I'm not afraid of being dead. I struggle to conceive of not existing, but then how could I possibly imagine a lack of consciousness when the very definition of it means there's nothing to imagine? It's the same gap that fills in the time before I was born. Just because I can't imagine it doesn't mean it isn't so.
I am afraid of dying, sometimes horribly afraid. The idea of the last time I will ever go out in the fresh air, the last time I see a tree, the last time I speak to my daughter, those are excruciating. But again, just because the thought hurts doesn't mean those things can't or won't happen.
I just try not to leave things undone if I wouldn't want them to stay undone forever. I never want to leave an "I love you" unsaid until it's too late. I try to put in place the things I want to leave behind. And enjoy something in each day.
There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy
As an atheist, my greatest difficulty is with bereavement rather than my own mortality. I know that matter/energy is conserved and that the material form of a human being is recycled rather than lost. However, for me, this is no solace. The unique pattern of mind of the person who has died is so much more significant than the reusable atoms of the physical substrate that accommodated the pattern. To contemplate the abrupt disappearance of all that beautiful and much loved complexity is hard.
At the same time, I cannot bring myself to believe in God and heaven in order to reassure myself that the dead continue in some way. Reality is as it is, regardless of the more bearable outcomes we might conceive of.
For me, the only loophole that offers a small glimmer of hope is that we still don't fully understand the nature of consciousness.
The orthodox scientific position is that consciousness is an emergent property of a sufficiently complex living system and cannot exist independently of that system.
Another possibility, albeit one less favoured by mainstream scientists, is that consciousness is merely hosted by the brain, so that it can interact with the physical world through the brain in life but may separate from the body at the time of death and exist outside of it. This might sound like a convenient fairy story but strangely enough there have been many documented cases of people who have clinically died - their heart has stopped and no brain activity has been measurable - yet subsequently they have been resuscitated and have recalled 'experiences' that support the idea of mind-body separation. No more than the false recollections of brains in extremis? I do not know. The evidence uncovered in the scientific work of Pim van Lommel, Sam Parnia and others in the area of Near Death Experiences is intriguing but not definitive.
Could there be a continuity of awareness outside the body after death that is entirely natural, yet not within current scientific understanding?
An afterlife determined by an anthropomorphised God who rewards the chosen few that adopted the 'correct' set of beliefs in life and punishes the rest seems unlikely to me, though many thoughtful people have come to the opposite conclusion. Oblivion really does seem the most likely scenario, yet I cannot but hold onto the hope that neither the conventional theist nor conventional atheist picture is true as neither appeal to me - not that the universe cares about that!
I agree with a lot of what has been said, but especially the last two posts.
What Gliding said about the last time you ever see a tree, breathe fresh air etc really resonated. I had a health scare at the beginning of this year and had a couple of months facing the possibility i might not be here for much longer. Two things that hit hardest. Separation from my child was a far greater source of grief than my own mortality, and i still can't bear to think about it with any clarity. The other was how things look. I found i was seeing the world in a whole new light, literally. I could spend hours just looking at how light fell on everyday objects and the beauty of it was breathtaking, and the fear of not seeing and feeling any more was overwhelming. When i got the all clear i left the hospital and we drove up the nearest hill and i just stood for hours, feeling the wind and the sun. I still try to capture that feeling now when i let the minutiae of life cloud what is really important.
There are Buddhist meditations that focus on our bodies in death and their decay. It feels like quite an alien thing to do in a society that keeps the nature of death at arms length, but they really do help us to become less attached to the transient nature of our physical selves. I find it helps me accept the ageing process and the impermanence of who we think we are.
I agree with Out though, regarding the possibility of a mind-body separation. I am interested in the truth, not in deluding myself, but just the very possibility undeniably offers a shred of comfort when you think it is all about to be be taken from you. Reality is whatever it is of course, regardless of what we choose to think about it.
Here's the results of Sam Parnia's study into NDEs, or here's a summary instead if anyone is interested.
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