I don’t obsess about death or life after death but I have thought about it a lot over the years. Haven’t you? After all, one of the main consequences our religions offer us for a life well lived is eternal life in heaven once we die. Some offer the eternal antithesis as well and I know that motivates quite a few. An afterlife. Have you ever thought about what that would be like? I’ll bet you have. What really happens after we die? Everyone seems to think about it. With far fewer years ahead of me than are in my rear-view mirror, I have to admit I think of it even more, especially when I try to imagine the consequences of my death if it occurs before my children are adults and well on their way to a truly independent life. It matters because I’ll be 72 when my oldest is 18 . . . and I’ve already outlived my father by nearly six years. Not saying it’s going to happen, but it’s a reasonable alternative and it concerns me at times.
Now to the other side of the void. I’ve often wondered what the allure of life after death is for most people. I have a hard time believing anyone truly understands what eternity or, more accurately, death is . . . or means. Imagining what it’s like to be dead has got to be one of the most difficult intellectual pursuits known. Consider the following. When you wake up after even a very deep sleep, there’s some sense of time having passed, isn’t there? We may not remember precisely what our dreams are – or even that we dreamt at all – but there is some sense that time has passed and all is well. This is not the case if you’re unconscious. When you come out of anesthesia after surgery it’s entirely different. Almost everyone comes out of anesthesia, even after many hours under, with no sense of time having passed. It’s not uncommon for a person to ask when their surgery is going to begin, the sense of the passage of time having been entirely suspended. And they weren’t even dead!
Now try and imagine what it would be like to not wake up, ever. Can you do it. I would argue it can be approached, but I think it takes some time and, most likely, can never be done completely. It’s like imagining being pond scum, only vastly more difficult. The latest evidence and theory seem to point to the universe being around 14 billion (that’s 14,000,000,000) years old. Do you have a sense of loss for not being around most of that time? Yet, I maintain it’s difficult to imagine that same nothingness now that you’ve experienced consciousness. Somehow, we just can’t imagine the absence of everything.
Now, this isn’t a scholarly article. It’s based entirely on my experience, the things I’ve read and observed, and some obvious guessing. I have not been able to interview anyone who’s been dead for, say, 100 years to learn about their experience. Now that would be something! There is ample evidence the only experience they have is that of returning to dust, and only dust. I am, philosophically, a Materialist. I believe the physical world is a necessary prerequisite to the world of ideas, that is thought and consciousness cannot exist without a brain (and it’s attendant system, a body) to “think” it.
I know there are those who believe after (or as) we come into existence we are imbued with an eternal soul, so what happened before we were born (many would say conceived) is of no consequence afterward. I’m not one of them. I think once you’re dead you will not be looking down on your friends and relatives. Maybe there’s a short period of time, while everything is shutting down, you will imagine looking upon your now lifeless body, but I doubt it. I am quite convinced there is no afterlife and we won’t miss our family, friends, or anything else . . . because there won’t be any we to do so.
Much to my consternation, I just can’t imagine how that will feel.