>What is death and why should we fear it? Posted on March 25, 2010 by thebigqs 7 comments Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading... Related Philosophy Science
>Death is the complete absence of existence. It is perpetual, unthinking, unfeeling, unconscious darkness. As such, there is no reason at all to fear it; it is not painful and it is inevitible.However, while we will not know when we are dead we are all very much aware that we are dying, that existence is slipping away like sand through our hands, second by second. Dying is the erosion of life, everything we know, have known and will ever know. That is scary.Moreover, I don't know that my definition of death really is ceaseless nothiness. Just like uncertainty of what lies beyond determined Hamlet's earthly action (or lack thereof, regarding his suicide and, indirectly, the slaying of his uncle when at prayer) it informs our fear of death. It is the great unknown from which no one returns and which all are hopelessly oblivious. That's pretty scary too.In essence, it's the replacement of all we will ever know with that which we shall never know and that's terrifying. I, personally, think I shouldn't be scared but, when I think about it, I am.PS have you ever lay in bed and 'pretended' to be dead? It's obviously impossible to enforce a state of unconsciousness and as soon as that recognition sets in it's infuriating and kind of unsettling – kind of a reverse Descartes: 'I think, therefore I can't be…so what must it be like??' It's forever unknowable, forever unfathomable and, until the final end, beyond us. There is no dress rehearsal.This is coming from a young agnostic of 24 who has never had a near-death experience or vision of the afterlife, so maybe I'm not the right one to ask and, who knows, with time and experience my views might change, as might my relationship to death.
>Near death experiences don't help you as you're still very much alive when you think those thoughts. And yes I do know what I'm on about. You say we know death is nothingness and yet we cannot know what death will be like. It is true that we cannot imagine nothingness if this is what you mean. Even if you try to imagine air there will always be some background coulour or translucent substance to the thing you imagine. Yet after saying it is nothingness you go on to doubt yourself. But in a way I think this yes/no answer has logic. When a person dies he/she ceases to be as he/she was. That is a fact that none can doubt. The queestion that remains is whether they actually continue to exist in changed form. The answer is once again something that science can answer. We know that when you die your body will decay, with bits and parts breaking away to form bonds with new life-forms and bits of matter. We know that parts of who you were (your character or soul) will live on in others. For we know that people influence each other. If your best friend has a favourite saying it is likely that you will probably adopt it as part of your vocabulary too.So death is not destruction. Nothing can be destroyed, only changed in form. I believe this is a good reason not to feel fear of the afterlife. For that afterlife does exist. But it is unlikely that you will ever exist exactly as you are now again. I think this is part of the beauty and meaning in life. If something is rare and/or temporary in economics it gains increased value. To me the same is true in reality. Can a soul exist as an invisible person able to meet up with lost relatives? No. This is ludicrous. Can you imagine a situation where the number of invisible life forms kept increasing day by day for all eternity? Do you know how your memory works? How can you use this without your brain? How could you see your loved ones without your eyes? How could you feel without dopamine, endorphins, serotonin etc?So basically, as Ross hinted it is not death that is most associated with fear. Fear is an emotion peculiar to life forms. Hence life is associated with fear more than death. However I disagree that we should not fear death. Fear is useful and there is a reason why we have it. Death should be avoided, and therefore fear is useful as a source of motivation to stop us risking death. A clever man would not ask to have no fear but to be able to control it better.
>'Near death experiences don't help you as you're still very much alive when you think those thoughts. And yes I do know what I'm on about.'I didn't mean an ohmigod-i'm-gonna-die kind of moment, I meant that oft-dramatised moment where, unconsciously, a person in a coma or something is heading towards a light or something. Perhaps you meant that, but ifr you didn't there's a big difference there.I like the Newtonian analogy which suggests that energy (which, when it comes down to it, is what we all are) is neither created nor destroyed but simply transforms from one form to another. That is obviously quite true, but it is equally true that not all beings are sentient – we will be transformed into heat energy and compost and animal feed and all sorts – most probably – and then be recycled as energy once again and we'd know nothing about it. There'd be an after-existence (well, actually there wouldn't as, if you think about it, we're all one existence derived from the same energy source; we're sharing atoms and life force with Plato, Shakespeare, the dinosaurs and Genghis Khan, which I rather like) but that's not the same as a knowing, feeling, being afterlife.Your idea of our personalities living on in others is wonderfully romantic and, of course, terribly true and in a way suggests that we live on after death. Only, we don't – our memory does in others and may even become part of a culture, however small, but that doesn't mean that we, as sentient beings, do. Again, we would know nothing about what happens to us – whether culturally how we're remembered, or biologically what becomes of our physical matter. My atoms might help form a rhinocerous or a supermodel (or both) and my memory might live for a generation or two, but I, as I am now, will be gone. In other words, my physical mass and my personality etc. are part of me, but at the same time they are not me. Broken down, into fragments of memory and energy, I am no more. Of course my energy cannot be destroyed and my cultural impact, however small, may be resilient, but I can be and will cease to be – I will not think, act, feel as I currently do and never will. I believe that.This might be nonsense because metaphysics is not my field – I prefer to think of myself as a political thinker when I ever think of myself that way at all – but it's how I see it.Your point on fear needing to be controlled rather than absent is also very well made and wise. It ought to be an aphorism and, who knows, maybe one day it will be (a part of you that lives on, perhaps).
>*'it is equally true that not all beings are sentient''All ENERGY doesn't make up sentient beings', rather.
>"I didn't mean an ohmigod-i'm-gonna-die kind of moment, I meant that oft-dramatised moment where, unconsciously, a person in a coma or something is heading towards a light or something. Perhaps you meant that, but ifr you didn't there's a big difference there."I meant both. Of course I cannot say for certainty but there are many medical explanations for why people feel/think such things close to death. I find these more reasonable to assume than an explanation we have absolutely no proof for. I once knew someone who was rescued from drowning. He told me that as his lungs filled with water he began to feel a great feeling of relaxation. There are two reasons for this: one that it becomes illogical for a person to keep struggling at this point and energy is wasted by doing so; the second is that the water slows and lubricates the bodies' organs. Basically, my point is that there is evidence to believe the body causes these things. There is none to suggest they were sent by God, unless you believe God is all things i.e. nature."I, as I am now, will be gone" Technically, the you who wrote that is already gone, for millions of cells have since died and new ones been created. However I am not arguing for the Judeo-Christian version of the soul. Death is a huge change. And yes, we won't be feeling, thinking etc (at least not unless parts of us form other brains) after death. But we will still exist, just in multiple, changed forms. And if I am right that nothing can be destroyed then it is actually probable that much of what previously formed you will one day form another life form, perhaps even a sentient one."My atoms might help form a rhinocerous or a supermodel (or both) and my memory might live for a generation or two, but I, as I am now, will be gone"Again, yes. But what do you define yourself as? As I said we are all constantly changing, and in sometimes very big ways. It is possible that even your genes may have warped beyond recognition by the time you die (due to epigenetics). You, if defined in a manner most people would generally agree on, will of course cease to exist. However the parts that make you will not. I think I am a little more optimistic than you here, if I can describe the subject in those terms. You say that your influence will only last a couple of generations, but you are wrong. For how you influence one hundred people will affect the way they influence 1000 people etc etc. Your influence will be watered down the further we move forward in time. Yet a causal connection will always exist. If you ceased to exist now the world in 100,000 years would be different to how it would otherwise be.Thanks on the aphorism, though I'm sure similar such aphorisms must exist already.Not quite sure I understand the following: "All ENERGY doesn't make up sentient beings', rather." Could you explain what point you were making?
>I am made up of lots of energy, stored and waiting to use. So is dirt. I am sentient, dirt isn't.You are right, you have a far more optimistic view than I do and, of course, much of what you say is true.I think this is the rub of our differences:'You, if defined in a manner most people would generally agree on, will of course cease to exist. 'I limit discussion to the definition that, as you say, most would agree on – my life as the person I now am which, of course, ceases to exist the moment I expire. After that, I agree, my matter and my cultural legacy (however long and significant that might be) will transform and continue to shape the world. To me, that's almost irrelevant to my view of life and death, which I also think is more individualistic and insular than yours because 'I', using the definition of my human life and consciousness, is no more. To you, it's not irrelevant at all and symptomatic of (and I apologise if I use this word, that you have used but perhaps not in this context, inappropriately) and afterlife. I see that as an after-existence, or even an after-influence or after-effect – a life must be conscious and sentient and that, I think, never comes back.
>Yes you're right. After life is not so relevant. But after existence is. And because existence is maintained then life may one day re-emerge. You say anything after death is irrelevant. I disagree, and I think that comfort can be provided by knowing that death is not an end to all. It is simply an end to you as you are at the time of death.If what took place after death was irrelevent then altruistic sacrifice would be stupid. But it is very easy to justify sacrificing yourself in a reasoned and logical way. This is not simply due to the belief in an 'after-life', for people who believe as we do also sacrifice themselves for the greater good. In fact I don't think there are many people on Earth who would not do that for at least one other person.