Tag Archives: afterlife

Why Am I Bothering To Learn Anything?

“No one here gets out alive.”
Jim Morrison

We are all the result of a long chain of possibilities that stretch back billions of years. We each are the progeny of a single sperm cell which, out of billions making the effort, fertilized a single egg out of thousands and brought us here; carriers of DNA that has been evolving for eons and eons. Such is life on this planet.

At the other end of the spectrum is death. Do you think about it much? I have thought about it my entire life. Not obsessively, and not morbidly, but I think it would be honest to say I do think about it often. Perhaps it was because a First Cousin of mine committed suicide when I was very young and I saw how devastated my father was at hearing the news. Perhaps it’s because we really are surrounded by it and we learn fairly early that it’s our final destination. Maybe everybody thinks about it frequently. I really don’t know because we don’t talk about it that much, except in literature, song, and the occasional self-help or personal awareness book.

In a previous post I wrote about the concept of an afterlife and my belief there’s no such thing. I’ve tried to imagine what such nothingness might be like and, for the life of me, I can’t. At least not in a way that leaves me satisfied I really understand what the total absence of experience might be like. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Mark Twain’s quote about death hints at what it might be like. He 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.”

After my father’s death in September of 1984, one the many thoughts his absence triggered was the realization virtually all the education, understanding, and wisdom we accumulate over the years almost completely disappears after death. To be sure, there are exceptions; memories, works of art, books and papers, social and philanthropic efforts, etc., but none of these will likely last more than a few millenia. Now, with the benefit of another thirty years of contemplation, I realize there’s a loss that’s at least as profound, and far more personal.

This is the thing that befuddles me the most. As I noted in the previous post I mentioned, above, if I am correct and there’s nothing after death, I have such a hard time contemplating what that means. I agree with Mark Twain’s quote and have used that very same reasoning. Nevertheless, that was before I experienced consciousness and, now that I have, I find it exceedingly difficult to imagine no longer having it. It’s not that I don’t accept it, even gain comfort from the knowledge it really won’t matter to me, as there will be no me to care. It’s just that I find myself trying to imagine that kind of nothingness (or everythingness?) and I fail in the attempt.

Here’s a somewhat silly thought experiment. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, there is such a thing as life after death. Let’s also say it’s possible to come up with a reasonably useful timeframe for the ultimate heat death (thermodynamic equilibrium) of the universe. Some suggest it will be in 10^100 years. That’s an awfully long time. Now, the following may seem a bit trivial, but please bear with me. In my mind, it points out the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife; at least anything that resembles the life we’re living here, on this planet Earth. Assume that, during this time period, I exist corporeally and continue shaving because I don’t care for beards, and once every trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000 or 10^12) years — because, although I’m bound to improve with time and practice, we all still lose focus now and again — I cut myself and, as a result, develop a tiny bit of scar tissue with each cut. By the demise of the universe I would have cut myself 10^88 times. I would think the resulting scar tissue would eventually make me unrecognizable.

Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride.


Will You Miss Your Life After You Die?

Steve Jobs in Heaven

No Doubt!

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. 😀

Graphic shamelessly stolen from BuzzFeed in case the link to their pic didn’t work

How Dare I Discuss Religion!

Hawk Circling

My Gateway to Everywhere & Everywhen

Actually, I’m not going to discuss religion here. I’m not even really going to talk about a lack of religion, except to set up what I really want to talk about. Sit still! I’ll get to it shortly.

I was raised a reasonably devout Jew. Brought up in the Conservative “wing” of the Tribe, I spent four years in Hebrew School and am Bar Mitzvah, a son of the commandments. Sometime after I became a man in the eyes of Judaism, however, I began to question the existence of such a thing as G-d (that’s how Jews spell “his” name . . . in English, that is). I can remember laying on the grass in front of our home, staring out at the night sky, and wondering what might be at the end of the Universe. Was there a wall and, if so, what was on the other side? After all, there’s always another side if there’s a wall.

I don’t remember when I became an atheist, which is the best term I can use to describe how I relate to the question of a deity and his – or her – existence. There was no magic moment, forever imprinted on my memory, that marked the occasion. It just, apparently, happened without my actually marking the moment. It did happen, though. Of that there is no doubt. Some time in my early twenties I also became aware of both Hinduism and Buddhism. If I recall, it was the writings of Herman Hesse that first opened my eyes to these philosophies. Shortly thereafter, when I was experiencing a deep depression brought on by the unrequited love I felt for a young woman I was in a relationship with, I encountered a book that would change my life – The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts.

Now, before I go on any further I would like you, dear reader, to take a moment and watch this short video. It is a beautiful visualization set to the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson answering the question, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” When I watched this I got goosebumps and experienced a moment of bliss so powerful it brought tears to my eyes. I hope it affects you at least fractionally as deeply as it did me. After that I want to share an experience with you.

Neil mentions connectivity, and it’s the essence of my story; an experience I’ve never repeated and likely never will . . . because it isn’t necessary. This happened to me sometime in the Summer of 1990 or thereabouts. I was living on the third floor of a well-kept apartment building, a block from my place of employment. I had a nice one-bedroom apartment, with a balcony overlooking a garden area with a fountain. My view was to the West and there was a hill not far away. It was late in the afternoon on a beautiful, temperate day. The Sun had gone behind the hill and, though I was standing in shadow, the sky was still a bright, luminescent blue.

The situation was reminiscent of many late afternoons I’d spent in Palm Springs when I was a boy, where my family used to spend long holiday weekends in the late 50s and early 60s. The city was hard up against the San Jacinto Mountains to the West and the sun would disappear behind them very early in the day, creating an almost cathedral-like atmosphere as the town rested in shadow, the sky remaining a vibrant, cerulean blue, made even more so by the contrast with the city streets.

As I stood on the balcony I looked up and noticed a hawk lazily circling on the thermals created by the hill and watching it I became more relaxed, beginning to enter a somewhat meditative state. I can’t explain why – perhaps I had seen a program on quantum theory; maybe I’d read an article in Science News; or possibly I’d had a recent conversation with one or more of the scientists I worked with – but I experienced a transition that felt like I left my body. My mind’s eye began to soar above the hawk, out into low Earth orbit, beyond Geosynchronous orbit and, eventually, deep into the cosmos.

I became more and more disassociated from my body, for how long I can’t say (thought it couldn’t possibly have been very long), and came to feel as though every fiber of my being was interwoven with the entire Universe . . . everywhere and everywhen. I experienced a sense of peace and a calmness I had never before quite known, and have yet to experience like that again. The sensation, the feeling I was part of everything that ever existed, or ever would exist, was profound. It has changed me forever.

I earlier mentioned a book by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was the catalyst for a life-changing experience and, now that I think of it, that book may have triggered my transformative moment. I had read it at least 15 years prior to this and, perhaps, had read it again. This was not too long after my father’s death and was right around my 40th birthday, so I may have been particularly engaged with contemplating my mortality. I’ve now read it at least three times, the last being when I was diagnosed with a melanoma and was required to once again face the possibility of my death . . . at least until the surgery to remove it was over and the biopsies all came back negative. <whew>

So . . . back to Mr. deGrasse Tyson and his most astounding fact. We are, indeed, stardust (“We are golden, we are billion year old carbon” Thank you, Joni*) and the things we’re made of, on a quantum level, have likely existed since the beginning of time; perhaps before, whatever that might mean. Zen (this is what Alan Watts ultimately wrote about) holds that we are all part of the Godhead (which I interpret to mean the entirety of the Universe) and all that matters is now so, perhaps the nature of time is irrelevant. I don’t know. Mostly I don’t care. My idea of faith is to accept the Universe as unfolding rather nicely all by itself, regardless of what you or I believe. We have but to pay attention – using science, not blind faith – and our understanding can continue growing.

What I have gained from my experience and my reading and contemplating, and what I get out of this marvelous video and this most astounding fact, is that we are very special and very lucky . . . and that we are all connected, intimately, with time, space, and matter (and each other) in a way we have only begun to understand. Is there an afterlife? Frankly, I don’t much care. Mostly, I hope not. Imagine how boring it would be to spend eternity with some of the people who think they’re going to Heaven. If my feelings that day are any indication, beforelife and afterlife have no meaning. There is only now that matters. I believe if you understand this, you can’t possibly fear death and you have no need of an afterlife. So sue me.


* God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) bless you, Joni. You wrote these lyrics and the music, but I’m a rock n’ roll guy at heart and this rendition of your song is the one that floats my boat.

Circling Hawk Pic courtesy of 68photobug


How Dare I Discuss Religion!

Hawk Circling

My Gateway to Everywhere & Everywhen

Actually, I’m not going to discuss religion here. I’m not even really going to talk about a lack of religion, except to set up what I really want to talk about. Sit still! I’ll get to it shortly.

I was raised a reasonably devout Jew. Brought up in the Conservative “wing” of the Tribe, I spent four years in Hebrew School and am Bar Mitzvah, a son of the commandments. Sometime after I became a man in the eyes of Judaism, however, I began to question the existence of such a thing as G-d (that’s how Jews spell “his” name . . . in English, that is). I can remember laying on the grass in front of our home, staring out at the night sky, and wondering what might be at the end of the Universe. Was there a wall and, if so, what was on the other side? After all, there’s always another side if there’s a wall.

I don’t remember when I became an atheist, which is the best term I can use to describe how I relate to the question of a deity and his – or her – existence. There was no magic moment, forever imprinted on my memory, that marked the occasion. It just, apparently, happened without my actually marking the moment. It did happen, though. Of that there is no doubt. Some time in my early twenties I also became aware of both Hinduism and Buddhism. If I recall, it was the writings of Herman Hesse that first opened my eyes to these philosophies. Shortly thereafter, when I was experiencing a deep depression brought on by the unrequited love I felt for a young woman I was in a relationship with, I encountered a book that would change my life – The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts.

Now, before I go on any further I would like you, dear reader, to take a moment and watch this short video. It is a beautiful visualization set to the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson answering the question, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” When I watched this I got goosebumps and experienced a moment of bliss so powerful it brought tears to my eyes. I hope it affects you at least fractionally as deeply as it did me. After that I want to share an experience with you.

Neil mentions connectivity, and it’s the essence of my story; an experience I’ve never repeated and likely never will . . . because it isn’t necessary. This happened to me sometime in the Summer of 1990 or thereabouts. I was living on the third floor of a well-kept apartment building, a block from my place of employment. I had a nice one-bedroom apartment, with a balcony overlooking a garden area with a fountain. My view was to the West and there was a hill not far away. It was late in the afternoon on a beautiful, temperate day. The Sun had gone behind the hill and, though I was standing in shadow, the sky was still a bright, luminescent blue.

The situation was reminiscent of many late afternoons I’d spent in Palm Springs when I was a boy, where my family used to spend long holiday weekends in the late 50s and early 60s. The city was hard up against the San Jacinto Mountains to the West and the sun would disappear behind them very early in the day, creating an almost cathedral-like atmosphere as the town rested in shadow, the sky remaining a vibrant, cerulean blue, made even more so by the contrast with the city streets.

As I stood on the balcony I looked up and noticed a hawk lazily circling on the thermals created by the hill and watching it I became more relaxed, beginning to enter a somewhat meditative state. I can’t explain why – perhaps I had seen a program on quantum theory; maybe I’d read an article in Science News; or possibly I’d had a recent conversation with one or more of the scientists I worked with – but I experienced a transition that felt like I left my body. My mind’s eye began to soar above the hawk, out into low Earth orbit, beyond Geosynchronous orbit and, eventually, deep into the cosmos.

I became more and more disassociated from my body, for how long I can’t say (thought it couldn’t possibly have been very long), and came to feel as though every fiber of my being was interwoven with the entire Universe . . . everywhere and everywhen. I experienced a sense of peace and a calmness I had never before quite known, and have yet to experience like that again. The sensation, the feeling I was part of everything that ever existed, or ever would exist, was profound. It has changed me forever.

I earlier mentioned a book by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was the catalyst for a life-changing experience and, now that I think of it, that book may have triggered my transformative moment. I had read it at least 15 years prior to this and, perhaps, had read it again. This was not too long after my father’s death and was right around my 40th birthday, so I may have been particularly engaged with contemplating my mortality. I’ve now read it at least three times, the last being when I was diagnosed with a melanoma and was required to once again face the possibility of my death . . . at least until the surgery to remove it was over and the biopsies all came back negative. <whew>

So . . . back to Mr. deGrasse Tyson and his most astounding fact. We are, indeed, stardust (“We are golden, we are billion year old carbon” Thank you, Joni*) and the things we’re made of, on a quantum level, have likely existed since the beginning of time; perhaps before, whatever that might mean. Zen (this is what Alan Watts ultimately wrote about) holds that we are all part of the Godhead (which I interpret to mean the entirety of the Universe) and all that matters is now so, perhaps the nature of time is irrelevant. I don’t know. Mostly I don’t care. My idea of faith is to accept the Universe as unfolding rather nicely all by itself, regardless of what you or I believe. We have but to pay attention – using science, not blind faith – and our understanding can continue growing.

What I have gained from my experience and my reading and contemplating, and what I get out of this marvelous video and this most astounding fact, is that we are very special and very lucky . . . and that we are all connected, intimately, with time, space, and matter (and each other) in a way we have only begun to understand. Is there an afterlife? Frankly, I don’t much care. Mostly, I hope not. Imagine how boring it would be to spend eternity with some of the people who think they’re going to Heaven. If my feelings that day are any indication, beforelife and afterlife have no meaning. There is only now that matters. I believe if you understand this, you can’t possibly fear death and you have no need of an afterlife. So sue me.


* God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) bless you, Joni. You wrote these lyrics and the music, but I’m a rock n’ roll guy at heart and this rendition of your song is the one that floats my boat.

Circling Hawk Pic courtesy of 68photobug


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