Post No.: 0704
Is it sensible to worry about dying?..
When we’re alive, we’re logically not dead. And when we’re dead, we logically won’t be around to experience it because we won’t be able to have any sort of experience whatsoever – never mind a bad one!
You (or ‘you’) will feel like how you did before you were born i.e. without pain, or like someone who was never ever born – like your 86th sibling your parents never give birth to and whom you don’t feel sad for or grieve.
This does prompt the question – why do we lament for those who had a chance of life but then perished more than those who never even had a whiff of life at all? Does this suggest that, to minimise all suffering, we should simply not bring any offspring to this world? We don’t cry for those who never existed, and they don’t/can’t cry either. Before we were born, we didn’t/couldn’t feel any pain, worry, regret or any problem whatsoever about, or for, not being born.
However, our genetic instincts urge us to bear offspring. And we treat the past and future differently – we’d rather the empty abyss is behind, not in front, of us.
Yet it’ll probably feel like when you’re in a deep, non-dreaming phase of slumber – and that’s not scary. Although it’ll be an infinite slumber – imagine it as a googol-year kip. You could regard being dead as like being in a permanent state of sleep from the perspective of you; and as just you having gone on holiday for an extremely long time from the perspective of those who survive you. So make peace with dying. There’s no need to fear it.
Some adults start to dread every birthday they cross, while others don’t give it a thought. A near-death experience leaves some neurotic about chasing youth and other anxieties, while others feel more grateful of every remaining day they’re alive like it’s a bonus or blessing and thus they’re more relaxed. “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” I suppose.
If you believe in an afterlife then there’s that to look forward to. This poses another question – should we all simply believe in incorporeal souls if this mitigates the fear of dying since we’d consequently believe that eternity awaits us?
We cannot just contrive a belief in something if we cannot believe in it without proof though. Faith alone isn’t persuasive enough for some.
For the rest, we might be drawn to believe in spirits, afterlives or spiritual realms because there must be more to this life and the world that’s apparent? There must be some grand purpose, meaning or design that’s not obvious to us now? Meaning is crucial to us – but is it only subjective or personal in an arbitrary and objectively meaningless universe or is there a fundamentally prescribed meaning written in the fabric of the cosmos?
Religion can be helpful here. Without religion, we’d have to find the meaning to life for ourselves. (Without religion, we’ll still possess the underlying psychological inclinations that give rise to the belief in gods, spirits, afterlives and indeed religions themselves, hence many who don’t consider themselves as religious can still consider themselves as spiritual and believe in superstitions.) Rituals can also provide comfort and form chapters in our life story, like our baptism, wedding and funeral (which unfortunately often evolve to become more commercialised events and about signalling behaviours – especially weddings i.e. the more expensive the ceremony, the supposedly more one signals one’s spirituality). The dead are memorialised, and can even be communally celebrated in some cultures (e.g. Día de Muertos in Mexico) thus they don’t have to be sombre events. So different cultures treat dying or the dead differently. We can give lives a sense of closure. Without closure, we might fall for fraudsters claiming to be mediums who can help us to contact our deceased loved ones.
If you believe in heaven and hell then you’ll only be afraid of eternal damnation if you know you’ve done something seriously awful! If so, it’s time to repent and make amends before you die. Even safer would be to not do anything really awful in the first place. In which case you’ll have nothing to worry about. (Unless your god is fickle and erratic – but if so, why bother worshipping Him/Her/Them? You’ll get given a random judgement whatever you say or do!)
We could instead understand that we – or our atoms anyway – will continue to exist by forming a part of other living creatures, as our bodies decompose and then provide food or material for new life to utilise. Understand that anything we have is merely borrowed, not ours to keep. So when we have to go, or let someone else go, or something gets destroyed – we, or they, are just returning to eternity.
An estimated >100bn humans have lived so far. Therefore many more have died than are currently alive hence you’ll hardly be alone.
Even the legacies we leave behind are nothing to worry about in the grand scheme of the universe. From the view of the biggest picture across all time possible – if there’s infinite time then if we divide our finite lives by infinity then we’ll get zero i.e. it’ll all amount to essentially nothing in a mathematical sense. Alternatively, if there’s finite time and this universe and thus everything in it will come to a vanishing end some day then it’ll all eventually get wiped clean i.e. it’ll again all fundamentally amount to nothing.
So nothing meaningful lasts forever – not even supermassive black holes since they’ll evaporate over a finite time span too. Even a centillion years is no match for infinity. Any unscrambled trace of your life, this world, and even possibly this universe – including the memories of you (because even those who’ll remember you after you’ve gone will eventually perish) – will one day essentially disappear.
This all sounds bleak(!) Yet there’s a certain peace in understanding this unconventional viewpoint – it’s liberating. It takes the pressure off life to know that nothing ultimately matters – all your embarrassing gaffes, failures and unfavourable social comparisons. Know that no pain, regret or grudge will be permanent. Life is too short for those sorts of concerns!
So embrace impermanence for the pros, not the cons. We also need to acknowledge our impermanence to understand that we might as well all get along in our own individual finite lifetimes because no one ultimately ‘wins’ in the end. We’ll all end up in the same place whatever happens… from a purely scientific perspective anyway.
Things come and go, like leaves in the wind. Life is brief yet we pursue and avoid things as if they’ll last forever.
Comprehending that nothing really ultimately matters might be one of those lines of thought we’d rather ignore, and ignorance may sometimes be bliss – but philosophical thinking requires open-minded curiosity rather than ‘we should avoid certain enquiries because they’re not nice to explore’. Just because we don’t want to hear or think about something, it won’t make it either not true or not worthy of consideration – like how life is objectively meaningless (although it can be subjectively meaningful), how humans are inherently capable of evil as well as good, or how voters are also to blame for an inept government because they voted that government in (even though we have a habit of always pinning the blames on politicians for everything that’s wrong!), and more.
This blog exists to stimulate thought more than claim what’s right or wrong. And Fluffystealthkitten and I aren’t personally afraid of exploring any avenue of contemplation even when we ourselves don’t ordinarily want to hear or think about something. You might disagree with some of the post titles in this blog but you’ll hopefully fathom them if you actually fully read the posts themselves.
Notwithstanding – these philosophical cogitations on the subject of death may be arguably reasoned but they’re not easy to take on if one is close to dying or has just lost a loved one. And it’d be tasteless and maybe offensive to tell someone to stop fretting about dying or death for these reasons if they’re terminally ill or are mourning the loss of a loved one. It won’t likely provide consolation during these moments. But maybe these reflections can be rehearsed before such traumatic circumstances arise? It’d arguably still feel abhorrent to ever eventually achieve a state of detachment towards a deceased loved one, even if it might be fine to feel detached towards one’s future self after one’s own passing, though.
…Dying is nevertheless inescapable. And if we don’t talk routinely and candidly about dying – if it remains a taboo subject – then it’ll become a lonely and private subject that we must terrifyingly navigate alone (like how mental health is often treated), and usually when we’re at our weakest too i.e. when we’re close to dying rather than in more youthful or otherwise healthy and less vulnerable circumstances. We believe we shouldn’t be macabre to raise the issue when no one is currently dying, but we need to talk about death with others and while we’re not yet feeling its cold breath on our necks. In a practical sense, we need to sort out wills and discuss preferred arrangements while we can, before it becomes urgent and petrifying to. We won’t always know when the time will come and we don’t want to be too late or in a panic when we do.
Perhaps it’s not really about being dead that we fear but the pain we’ll likely feel when we’re dying (or indeed the pain from any illness or injury whether we die in the end or not), and about how our passing will hurt the loved ones who’ll survive us? Maybe the process of dying feels worse than the state of being dead for us. Yet our state of death will turn the worlds of those who’ll survive us upside-down.
In that case we should again be kinder to those we’ll leave behind by sorting out our (updated) wills, powers of attorney, advance decision/directive instructions, organising our financial and legal documents, sharing answers to the basic questions that may be asked by doctors, lawyers and banks, etc. before we pass away. Otherwise the surviving will have to try to sort these kinds of matters out, such as wondering how to access one’s bank accounts, where the safe deposit box keys are, where the life insurance certificate is, where the passwords to pertinent accounts are, who the relevant people to contact are and their phone numbers, what to do with social media accounts… all during a cataclysmically stressful time when they’re also bereaving our passing. It’s not easy to think about things like our wishes for when we die but we should discuss what sort of memorial or funeral we want too. Our wishes can update as we age, so changing our minds isn’t a problem. Estate planning tends to revolve around the desires and needs of the deceased – but they’re not the ones who’ll have to live with those decisions. Not planning for these things is akin to offloading our hard decisions onto the shoulders of our loved ones during a draining and befuddling time for them.
Thinking about death or loss once in a while can even make us feel grateful for the heartbeat of life we currently still have and for the people who are still around us. We’ll take them less for granted. We should view life as a gift instead of an entitlement or inevitability.
Woof. It’s tough to not be distraught by the loss of a loved one. But if you still remember someone and love them, and periodically think ‘what would she think?’ or ‘what would he do?’ whenever you don’t know what to do then, maybe, they’ll essentially continue to live in you…