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Coping with Death - Comments

Skeptic Pete's Avatar Comment 1 by Skeptic Pete

Well I pretty much resign myself to the fact that my time is limited whilst trying to ensure I have as few regrets as possible.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 10:34:10 UTC | #598935

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 2 by Richard Dawkins

Yes, there can be something frightening about the prospect of an eternity of oblivion. Look carefully, however, and I think you’ll find it’s the eternity that’s frightening, not the oblivion. Oblivion is something we experience (actually don’t experience) every night during the non-dreaming part of our sleep, and when we have a general anaesthetic.

Eternity would be frightening if you had to live through it. Actually a lot more frightening than oblivion (for once ‘infinitely more’ might be permissible!). Steve Zara, one of our most thoughtful and original regulars, put it like this, in a delightful set-piece.

We live for say, 80 years. 1000 years later we are in heaven, in some kind of drugged-up happy state worshipping god. 10,000 years later, the same. 1,000,000 years later the same. 100,000,000 years later, the same. Life has changed on Earth, and so have the continents. But in heaven, it's just one happy drug party. 3 billion years in the future, the Milky Way collides with Andromeda. The heavens change, but not Heaven. 100 billion years, and most of the stars have gone out. Civilizations cluster around black holes to farm their energy. Heaven is still a permanent High. Trillions of Trillions of years, and perhaps the universe is more full of intelligent life than ever, as black holes provide vast energy. In Heaven we are still praising God, and he shows no sign of getting bored of it. 10120 years, and the last black holes have evaporated. There is still potential for change, and so there might still be life, but with each thought lasting a billion years. God is getting a bit bored, so a promotes a couple of angels to become Seraphim. But on with the bliss and praising! Uncountable trillions of years, and a random fluctuation creates a point of inflation and a new big bang. But even this time is infinitely small compared with the endless bliss and praising the Lord that is our fate, our initial 80 years of life seeming of utter insignificance.

If there has ever been an idea that renders life utterly meaningless it is theism

Oblivion itself has no terrors. As Mark Twain said,

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

If I am at risk of enduring pain – say a surgeon needs to cut me open – I want a general anaesthetic. If I am at risk of enduring eternity, again I want a general anaesthetic. And that is exactly what I am going to get.

I don’t want it soon, although there may come a time when I do. In the best of all possible worlds I might prefer to be woken up for a couple of weeks, say once per century, just to see how things are going. But eternity – no, count me out. I’ll take the anaesthetic when my turn comes. But I’m grateful to be one of the few who was allowed to awake for a few tens of circuits of the sun.

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. . .

We are the lucky ones. Let’s be grateful for life, and then grateful for the general anaesthetic when it is time to face eternity.

Richard

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 10:34:14 UTC | #598936

RDfan's Avatar Comment 3 by RDfan

Cheer up, Eileen!

Today is the first day of the rest of your life! That applies to everyone, including newborns. Make the most of it, burn both ends of the candle and leave a well-worn corpse. You will eventually return to the earth and elements from which you came. You are made of star-stuff, and the stars always reclaim their own. So shine for as long as you can!

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 10:40:02 UTC | #598937

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 4 by Stevehill

Well, I'm 57 this month so we're probably in a pretty similar position. And I don't fear oblivion for the reasons already given above. I've watched some of my loved ones die, including my first wife after 27 years. I would hope, like most of us, for an easy death rather than some protracted affair involving a lot of pain or the complete loss of my marbles (an assisted dying law, please).

I shan't miss anyone. I won't be able to. I hope one or two people will miss me. I hope in some small way I may have left my stamp on the world, perhaps through my children. But I'm not going to lose a lot of sleep about it.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 10:54:23 UTC | #598945

alexi's Avatar Comment 5 by alexi

I struggle with this a bit myself. I tend to avoid concieving of death as "nothingness," since as humans we tend to think of "nothingness" as something along the lines of a blank screen that we get bored of watching. I think the best description of death I've heard is as follows:

We're all like droplets of water falling down a waterfall. When we hit the bottom, the shape and individuality of the water droplet is destroyed, but it's still there - it's just rejoined with the rest of the water.

It's just a metaphor, and I know people on here probably are sick up to their eye balls of metaphors about the afterlife, but I think something along those lines might be conceptually more telling than trying to imagine a timeless blank screen.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 11:22:28 UTC | #598953

Galactor's Avatar Comment 6 by Galactor

Ellen's story is one I occasionally come across; it regards being brought up to expect an eternal life when there is no real understanding of what that entails only to later stumble across the meaning of it and the realisation that it is bunkum.

That realisation often seems to happen at a later stage in life when one looks back and wonders if life has been lived to the full only to discover that you have been cheated of the years that you could have lived life with a real grasp of its reality.

Yet another reason why religion is so pernicious; it actually cheats people of their lives and prepares them to be set up for disappointment and a dreading of their own demise. People may think that religion can galvanise people to take positive action - I think there is a good case to be made that in general religion renders the potential of every living human who succumbs to it to a mere fraction of what it could be.

I have my doubts that Ellen will be consoled by Richard's moving explanation and Steve's fabulous perspective on what an eternal life means and the very paucity of the theistic claim. I sincerely hope I am wrong and that Ellen can take comfort from everyone's opinions.

For sure, there is nothing to fear of being dead; but I wonder if Ellen feels she has been cheated and I wish that our understanding of life and death are taught to children at an earlier age.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 12:02:13 UTC | #598963

Ode2Hitch's Avatar Comment 7 by Ode2Hitch

The Twain quote is one of the best around regarding the fear of death. That said, sometimes no amount of logical thinking and rationilising can dampen the fear. As Hitch has often stated, it is also a matter of the party continuing in your absence.

Ultimatley you simply need to distract yourself with life..... There is nothing worse or more pointless than wasting your life by spending the whole time thinking about and fearing death.. that would be the greatest tragedy.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 12:04:46 UTC | #598964

Space_Suzie's Avatar Comment 8 by Space_Suzie

I like to live and I hope to live healthy, happy and long, but I'm not scared of nothingness. After death is probably just like before birth: you don't know, feel or think anything. You don't exist.

I look at it as going back to where we came from: we are made of star dust, we are a part of the universe, our atoms and all and we just go back there and become one with the Universe again. When I look up the night sky on a starry night I'm very much at peace with this thought, I even have a sense of "belonging there", if that makes sense. When someone I love dies, of course I'm very sad about not seeing him again, but also somehow it gives me peace about it to think of the fact we will all end up the same and that we will all go back to be part of the Universe.

To me the concept of eternal hell is a lot more horrible than eternal nothingness. And according to the Bible most of mankind will end up in eternal hell.... I had a lot more struggle with afterlife as a Xtian. Fearing and worrying about me or/and my loved ones ending up in eternal hell, just for a mistake they might have made. No, thank you.

I'm also not really attracted by the concept of eternal Heaven. It seems pretty boring to me to be mindless zombies and eternally worship a vain and narcisstic god.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 12:16:25 UTC | #598966

areeves's Avatar Comment 9 by areeves

I imagine death to be exactly the same as the state I was in before I existed. Nothing. I didn't exist before I was conceived and I will cease to exist when I die. I feel comfortable with that. In fact it's a strangely relieving feeling. However, it's important to enjoy life for what it is as so few of us have had the amazing opportunity of having existed at all and it would be a great pity to let the worry of death damper your enjoyment of life. Death is inevitable and beyond our control so just let go and live life to the full while you have the opportunity. You have nothing to lose.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 12:18:20 UTC | #598967

alexi's Avatar Comment 10 by alexi

I think it's slightly off to say that you don't wish that there were some kind of afterlife. I'm in no way suggesting that there is such an afterlife, but I think we're being dishonest if we don't own up to the fact that a genuine belief in the afterlife really would let people dodge what is possibly the most painful bullet life deals you: contemplating the death of someone you care about.

I take seriously the idea that fully acknowledging the inevitability of oblivion for yourself and everyone you care about gets you close to the worst misery a person can experience. So its difficult for me to confidently discard belief in heaven as intrinsically undesirable. As it happens, religious people cry at funerals also (simple though it is, this has always baffled me), so I'm inclined to think that on some level they don't actually believe in the afterlife either and its just a vacant story to tell each other that helps to distract them from their circumstance.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 12:41:18 UTC | #598969

The Alchemist's Avatar Comment 11 by The Alchemist

What I would like to know is how other Atheists cope with the knowledge that there is nothing after death and this nothingness lasts forever.

Isn't it like taking a position to say "there is nothing after death and this nothingness lasts forever ", considering nobody really knows what happens after we die as a fact?. I don't think we can call something like this knowledge since nobody has ever brought back any knowledge of whatever happens after death. I think, the real knowledge about death is that we do not know anything about it. We simply do not know, and it is still a big unsolved mystery. That's the real knowledge. And it is more relaxing and comforting, too.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 12:48:09 UTC | #598970

Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 12 by Rich Wiltshir

30 years ago I feared death: in my twenties with huge opportunity ahead I feared death.

No more: I've seen death remove pain, dispel fears of what other discomforts she may have suffered. I have no fear of death now. There's an aphorism in arenas of conflict that suggests the threat is more effective than the execution - opponents and allies change stance, strategies, loyalties and resources in anticipation of an action or event. I will not let fear of death be poisonous, like the vile syringe of religoon junkies would impose.

Death will be my final achievement. If I can meet it with honour, dignity and an intact mind with my standards remaining, I'd've been happy. It's fear of losing those things that's invasive to a happy life. I hope it's a long way off: but if not, I hope I did some good to compensate for all that life has permitted me.

We can take nothing with us, so be sure to leave some good behind.

Look at Steve Zara's words again. Nothing last forever, so you must be something! Only one day of your life will not have a tomorrow.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 12:48:53 UTC | #598972

alexi's Avatar Comment 13 by alexi

Comment 11 by The Alchemist :

What I would like to know is how other Atheists cope with the knowledge that there is nothing after death and this nothingness lasts forever.

Isn't it like taking a position to say "there is nothing after death and this nothingness lasts forever ", considering nobody really knows what happens after we die as a fact?. I don't think we can call something like this knowledge since nobody has ever brought back any knowledge of whatever happens after death. I think, the real knowledge about death is that we do not know anything about it. We simply do not know, and it is still a big unsolved mystery. That's the real knowledge. And it is more relaxing and comforting, too.

By that logic we can't know that evolution happened either since nobody ever time traveled over the last 4 billion years and brought back first hand testimony. If that's your position, prepare to be devoured by the wolf pack of Dawkins.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 12:55:51 UTC | #598976

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 14 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 10 by alexi

I think it's slightly off to say that you don't wish that there were some kind of afterlife. I'm in no way suggesting that there is such an afterlife, but I think we're being dishonest if we don't own up to the fact that a genuine belief in the afterlife really would let people dodge what is possibly the most painful bullet life deals you: contemplating the death of someone you care about.

If there were some definitive afterlife, wouldn't those in the here and know that have been dealt a shitty deal not be offing themselves to get there?

Anyway, every moment one gets to lap up the wonderment of life is a bonus. Having lost my wife suddenly at the young age of 27, I regret all the things she has missed and all the things her children have missed, enjoy the here and now for what it is, wasting one second of it on woo woo nonsense is the ultimate "sin".

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 13:00:06 UTC | #598978

The Alchemist's Avatar Comment 15 by The Alchemist

By that logic we can't know that evolution happened either since nobody ever time traveled over the last 4 billion years and brought back first hand testimony. If that's your position, prepare to be devoured by the wolf pack of Dawkins.

This is the truth. We don't know what happens after we die. There is no such thing as 'knowledge' of whatever happens after death. No such 'knowledge' exists. If death is frightening to someone because of whatever, getting to know that we know nothing about death and the afterdeath should make death less frightening, since anything can happen after death. Just trying to help here.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 13:05:42 UTC | #598981

alexi's Avatar Comment 16 by alexi

Comment 14 by Ignorant Amos :

Comment 10 by alexi

I think it's slightly off to say that you don't wish that there were some kind of afterlife. I'm in no way suggesting that there is such an afterlife, but I think we're being dishonest if we don't own up to the fact that a genuine belief in the afterlife really would let people dodge what is possibly the most painful bullet life deals you: contemplating the death of someone you care about.

If there were some definitive afterlife, wouldn't those in the here and know that have been dealt a shitty deal not be offing themselves to get there?

Anyway, every moment one gets to lap up the wonderment of life is a bonus. Having lost my wife suddenly at the young age of 27, I regret all the things she has missed and all the things her children have missed, enjoy the here and now for what it is, wasting one second of it on woo woo nonsense is the ultimate "sin".

I agree completely, I'm just saying that death is the mother and father of all things which suck. Sometimes I hear atheists argue that they are totally cool with everyone just winking out of existence after a few decades of life and everything is ok. That's a line of argument that looks a little sketchy to me. I think there IS something very disturbing about there being no afterlife. Unfortunately, most of what we take ourselves to be seems attributable to the arrangement of the pieces that make us up, not to the pieces themselves.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 13:15:04 UTC | #598984

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 17 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 15 by The Alchemist

You're doing that thing, ya know, that religious thing, in the event of ignorance, godidit. You fully acknowledge that there is no way of knowing what is after the electricity in the brain fecks aff and nothing is going on up there, then ya proceed to invent concepts and ideas based on mythical ramblings. As is often posited, if something is not known until it is known, it is not known to all. Atheists just base life on the probability that there is nothing, anything else that may be, no matter how improbable, will be a bonus.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 13:26:39 UTC | #598985

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 18 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 16 by alexi

I agree completely, I'm just saying that death is the mother and father of all things which suck. Sometimes I hear atheists argue that they are totally cool with everyone just winking out of existence after a few decades of life and everything is ok. That's a line of argument that looks a little sketchy to me. I think there IS something very disturbing about there being no afterlife. Unfortunately, most of what we take ourselves to be seems attributable to the arrangement of the pieces that make us up, not to the pieces themselves.

You are probably right, just not an eternity. I myself would like to reinvent myself each time a pegged it. If am allowed to fantasise, I'd like to bounce in and out at will. Reappearing at say 13, just in time to go back to school again. But realistically, I'm not looking forward to slipping off this mortal coil, am just not finished yet, but when it happens I'll not be fretting about what's happening next.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 13:38:17 UTC | #598987

alexi's Avatar Comment 19 by alexi

Comment 15 by The Alchemist :

This is the truth. We don't know what happened before we were born. There is no such thing as 'knowledge' of whatever happened before we were born. No such 'knowledge' exists. If the theory of evolution is frightening to someone because of whatever, getting to know that we know nothing about what happened more than 2000 years ago and the origins of life should make prebirth less frightening, since anything can happen before birth. Just trying to help here.

Sorry that was quite snarky, I don't think your stupid or anything. But do you see my point? Not having first hand accounts is not the same as having "no knowledge." Inference is used all over the place in the acquisition of knowledge. I know Sam Harris is fond of pointing out the uncertainty after death, but I think he overstates it as some kind of political hedge (or maybe he has his own woo woo issues, or maybe I'm wrong).

We 'know' that subjectivity is directly traceable to brain function, and when certain brain functions stop, the congruent subjective experiences cease (i.e. loss of sight). This is a pretty solid basis for saying that if the brain stops functioning completely, all the experiences that it was previously mediating stop completely. What is left when all sensory and cognitive experiences cease? If there is some kernel of subjectivity that remains in unscathed, I doubt it would be at all recognizable as "conscious," anymore than we recognize ants or rocks as conscious.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 13:40:05 UTC | #598989

The Alchemist's Avatar Comment 20 by The Alchemist

Comment 17 by Ignorant Amos

'Anything can happen after death' is just an acknowledgment that we do not know what happens after death. Better than believing in something like we switch ourselves off, like Arnold Schwarzenegger does it in T2. A message appears on the screen of our minds that reads 'program terminated', then blackness and nothingness. Tell you what, this is some scary stuff. No wonder the guy is asking for help here.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 13:45:08 UTC | #598993

mmurray's Avatar Comment 21 by mmurray

Comment 19 by alexi :

I know Sam Harris is fond of pointing out the uncertainty after death, but I think he overstates it as some kind of political hedge (or maybe he has his own woo woo issues, or maybe I'm wrong).

Is he really that fond of it ? I know he mentioned some reincarnation studies in The End of Faith but I can't recall him talking about it anywhere else.

Michael

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 13:47:37 UTC | #598994

alexi's Avatar Comment 22 by alexi

Comment 21 by mmurray :

Comment 19 by alexi :

I know Sam Harris is fond of pointing out the uncertainty after death, but I think he overstates it as some kind of political hedge (or maybe he has his own woo woo issues, or maybe I'm wrong).

Is he really that fond of it ? I know he mentioned some reincarnation studies in The End of Faith but I can't recall him talking about it anywhere else.

Michael

In that recent debate with hitchens and the rabbi's he opened by saying that he has no idea what happens after death, and neither does anybody else. Later in the debate he made some rather definitive pronouncements about how plausible various ideas are and seemed to argue for materialism, so yeah he seems to wiggle around a little there.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 13:54:18 UTC | #598996

The Alchemist's Avatar Comment 23 by The Alchemist

Comment 19 by alexi

Tell you the truth, I don't know what exactly you are implying here. I think what happened 2000 years ago to the world, and what happened before my birth to me are two different things. Pretty much in the same way what will happen to me after my death, and what will happen to the world in 2000 years after my death are two different things.

Have you read any of C G Jung's works on the human unconscious by any chance?

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 14:01:40 UTC | #599000

alexi's Avatar Comment 24 by alexi

Comment Removed by Author

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 14:06:09 UTC | #599001

alexi's Avatar Comment 25 by alexi

Comment 23 by The Alchemist :

Comment 19 by alexi

Tell you the truth, I don't know what exactly you are implying here. I think what happened 2000 years ago to the world, and what happened before my birth to me are two different things. Pretty much in the same way what will happen to me after my death, and what will happen to the world in 2000 years after my death are two different things.

Have you read any of C G Jung's works on the human unconscious by any chance?

No I haven't, sorry if I'm missing something important he said but I don't think I'm arguing anything very radical or necessarily complicated.

What I'm implying is that you are always free to isolate a certain set of facts and just declare them "unknowable," but that there is no good basis for doing so. Creationists who say evolution is just a theory do this with what happened before we were born, and you're doing it with your own subjectivity. For example, take the age old problem of how do you know that anyone but yourself is actually conscious? Everyone else could be robots without subjectivity, and this is perfectly plausible if you isolate consciousness from the rest of knowledge and declare it all a mystery. But as soon as you allow some inferences and start stitching together the various apparent facts about what subjectivity is and does and how it fits with the physical world (and you immediately notice that brains are absolutely critical), we can make progress and say that we KNOW other people are conscious just like us, because they are put together like us and do the same things as us.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 14:19:01 UTC | #599004

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 26 by bendigeidfran

Cope with it when you're dead. Shouldn't be too much effort.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 14:24:07 UTC | #599005

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 27 by bendigeidfran

If however you're planning on being alive when you're dead, the worry becomes more serious.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 15:01:22 UTC | #599020

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 28 by InYourFaceNewYorker

Funny how there's the second death thread this week, the other which I started...

I've never had anybody super close to me die, though last week I found out that a friend from my 1997 Israel trip (no, not that God awful Birthright Israel) fell off a waterfall cascade while on a hike and died. Even though the last time I saw her was in 2007, and the time before that in 1997, and we hadn't really kept in touch much, I did feel a sense of loss... even if not the same as her close family and friends. And yes, I did cry. But then I thought about Richard's, "We're going to die and that makes us the lucky ones..." quote. Did it magically make me feel better? No, of course not. But it was consoling: At least my friend LIVED.

And when it comes to thinking about death, look at it this way: We all hope to live to a ripe old age. I hope so too. My DNA test predicted that I have a good chance to living to 100 (my dad's side of the family lives well into their 90s), but I also realize that I could get hit by a bus while crossing the street tomorrow. Another thing I found out is that I have "moderately increased odds" of getting a brain aneurism, which is disconcerting because my mother had a brain hemorrhage in 1997 (she lived and made a full recovery). But again, I could also get hit by a bus. Or a car. Or fall off a cliff, as in the case of my friend.

Death is never easy to accept, but looking at it from a different angle, "Most people aren't going to die because they aren't going to be born" helps. At least I had the chance to live, and I'm going to make the best of every day I have.

I guess what's hard for me about death is thinking about how a person who was conscious one minute can be NOTHING the next. We can think about our deaths, but a dead person doesn't realize they're dead. Just weird to think about and wrap my head around.

Julie

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 16:13:02 UTC | #599040

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 29 by InYourFaceNewYorker

Oh, and now I am jealous of Steve Zara! ;)

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 16:19:14 UTC | #599041

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 30 by bendigeidfran

Better late than ever.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011 16:33:34 UTC | #599043