19 January 2008

Death as a hole

My Grandmother has been dying this winter, and indeed, she did finally die late on Tuesday night. Not having been especially close to her, I spent more time thinking about death in general than her death in particular, which I feel bad about — I'm not quite sure how to make myself feel something I don't feel.

Of course, anyone who tells you that they know what happens after you die is lying to you and probably selling something. It shouldn't be news to anyone that death is a great mystery and everyone is basically guessing about what happens when we die. I have, in the last year, been unfortunately slipping towards the opinion that when we die, we lose our consciousness entirely and that's it. This unfortunately seems to make the most sense to me, as a creature who has gained consciousness through brain maturation and will, one day, lose that ability. I say unfortunately because I don't like the idea of not existing in a conscious way. It bothers me much, much more than the thought of hell. At least in hell, you are something and you have a chance. If you lose your consciousness, you are nothing and the thought of you as nothing is unbearable, if you take a couple of minutes with it.

The thought of me as nothing got me thinking about me before I was born. I am not really bothered about thoughts of my existence before I was born. It doesn't keep me up at night when I think about a universe before me. Why should I be bothered by thoughts of a universe without me again? And why can we conceptualize of a beginning of ourselves, but not an ending? We can clearly observe that all of our conscious, cognitive processes are held in our brain. There's no mystery about that. What makes us think that there is some other part of us that we can't observe or understand — why do we insist that it hold our real consciousness.

The idea of ceasing to exist after we die has any bearing at all on whether or not there is a god or gods or anything that created us. If there was a god, it would have no responsibility for us anyway, especially not to keeping our consciousness going after we die. A god could do whatever it wanted to do. The two seem unrelated.

If I'm honest, I don't know what bothers me more, the idea of eternal life, eternal death, or non-existence. They all seem to be pretty unfavorable to me. I even did a little reading on near-death experiences and read that many people experience meeting whatever they perceive as a god or gods. This, however, seems to be easily explained in the brain dreaming right before it loses consciousness or right before it regains consciousness. Yoko tells me the story of a man in Japan who died and saw a river and heard someone calling his name to come the other side. He couldn't go and when he realized he couldn't go, he knew he was not really dead. The other side of the river was hell, if you actually believe. What sense does that make.
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