It is, of course, impossible to imagine the loss of the personality and consciousness that is you and it is certainly something I have some difficulty with. There are however a couple of reasons why I haven't gone mad trying to imagine the unimaginable or simply given up, taken the easy option and tried to drown my fears in the unbelievable, but rather comforting, god stories.
One reason is thinking about what it would really mean to live for all eternity. This is certainly not something that anyone who believes, or hopes, they are going to live forever can seriously have contemplated. To be able to do absolutely everything it is ever possible to do and still be left with an infinite amount of time in which to repeat those things an infinite number of times. That would, for me, be a true definition of hell and something that I'm sure I would beg to be released from after only a few million, never mind billion, years.
Another thing is remembering what Carl Sagan said about us coming from star dust, which provides a far more satisfactory and picturesque portrayal of the time before you existed than simply saying, 'I didn't exist'. Taking this idea into the future, my consciousness will one day be gone but the stuff I'm made of will continue to be recycled throughout the universe. Who knows where my atoms will be in a few billion, billion years. I find musing over the future possibilities rather more satisfying than imagining an eternity at the knee of a celestial sky daddy. It's just a shame my consciousness won't be there to witness those future travels.
Someone on another website said the words to the well-known children's song should be 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder WHO your are.' What a lovely idea. That's the sort of future I want ;-)
I haven't come to terms with it yet. That fear of the unknown just KILLS me. (pun maybe intended?)
It creeps up on me at the most inconvenient times--while having sex, shopping for groceries, playing with my child...it's really quite annoying.
I guess I'm afraid of the death process. Will it hurt? Will I know I'm dying? What will happen to my loved ones after I'm gone? What about all the memories and possessions I've gathered during my lifetime? Will they just get thrown away and forgotten about as if they never existed?
It causes me a lot of anxiety.
One thing I'm NOT afraid of is the old "What if you're wrong and there is a heaven and such and such" thing. I find the idea of an afterlife, particularly the Christian afterlife, kind of absurd.
I can't change the fact that someday I will die. Therefore, it is of no use to obsess and fret over it. Everyone that has ever lived has or will die. And while I still fear the actual process of dying, I have no fear of death because I realize that I will not experience it. I try to instead focus on life and enjoy it as much as I can.
But don't think that you are abnormal for worrying it over. It is normal to have some anxiety over the issue, especially in those dark and solemn times just before sleep when the mind wanders.
I don't really think about this issue before sleep. :) I' heard before (even in the earlier posts here) about people doing that, but it's not my thing.
I don't worry and I'm not afraid about death per se, because I am aware that I am not going to experience death, I am more worried that someday I will not be here anymore.
Renouncing all you've ever thought, done or planned, all you've ever fabricated or constructed, all those relationships you have invested in, all those feelings you've ever felt... The hopes and expectations, the memories and all that ever filled your inner life is about to stop. That's the tough one to swallow.
My feeling is if you are a true atheist you have no fear of death. If you, by any chance, even slightly believe in an afterlife of some sort, I can see where the fear originates.
Christopher Hitchens has said that he has a fear of dying; not death, and I agree. He is fearful of a slow and painful death or gradually losing his ability to think clearly before dying. I feel exactly the same way.
Why not just concentrate living life to the fullest? Worrying about what happens after death is a true waste of time. If you have ever seen a dead animal or a dead insect - realize that that is death. Nothing more and nothing less. Your fears are definitely unfounded.
You were profoundly lucky to have lived at all; considering the ways of the world.
My fondest wish is to live long enough to see the end of religion, hatred and war; however considering that that could take at least another millennium, that won't be possible. So I am learning as much as I can stuff into this head during my time here and enjoying every moment!
Your soul is the memory of those who knew you or knew about you. The treatment of "your soul" will depend upon your relationship with those who remember. Hitler is in heaven to many Germans. So the most you can hope for is to have more good memories than bad. Once there is no record of you and no-one alive remembers you, you cease to exist. My epitaph will read "All Ye who pass here, speak my name, that I might attain immortality".
Just remember; Death rides a horse named Binky.
I call myself an agnostic in the pure sense of the word, and as Huxley intended it. In so far as it applies to god, so also does it apply to the prospect of another life after this one. We may say - and I agree - there is no real evidence of such an existence, but the lack of evidence is not conclusive proof, and it would only be possible to have such proof if you had been there and come back.
What happens after death - if anything - must remain a mystery until we each arrive at that point. But consider this: As it is possible to conceive of a "God", such as a Pantheistic one, and yet there might still be NO afterlife, it is also possible to conceive of another reality beyond this one, and there would NOT have to be such a being as we would call God.
That comes down to the ultimate nature of reality itself - what if the entire universe is but a computer program in some "larger" reality, and what if we are, in fact, the programmers that have written ourselves into it? - or, we have been written into it by others? Death, then would be simply a return to the "programmers" reality.
There is no chance, or even a realistic hope, of these questions having any final answer anytime soon. So, in fact, nothing about a future state - or the lack thereof - can be known now. To make any other claims is to delude ourselves and the answer is out of reach to any honest mind.
That's the way I handle it - I simply admit I don't know, and will not until I leave here - and I don't worry about it.
"This would not be conclusive proof, either. Much more reasonable to assume it some form of hallucination, delusion, etc. "
I agree, I have no problem with this, but I do have a little quibble. This statement can also apply to "reality" as we experience it, and there in lies a problem. I could say, "Prove to me the reality YOU experience is the same reality *I* experience." That can be boiled down to, as my Philosophy professor put it, "Prove the color RED I see is the same as what YOU call red."
It can't be done. Of course we can line up a whole bunch of different colors and, when asked to select the red color we might point to the same square, but that, in itself, does NOT prove we are preceiving that color the same - leaving aside color-blindness, of course. The point is there is a subjective experience that short of a Vulcan mind meld - HAHA!! - will never let us really experience what someone else does.
So ALL of what we call the material world - as far as "Experience" goes - has a subjective factor to it. We recently adopted a cat from the local humane society. He will be sleeping soundly in the living room and abruptly jerk awake as though startled by some sound. Through observation I've learned he actually hears my wife's car coming from a MUCH greater distance than I can. Both dogs and cats - and cats even more so than dogs - have the ability to hear a range of sounds far beyond what WE can. Does that range of sounds NOT exist because WE can't hear them?
Of course not. In the same way a friend of mine undergoing a critical operation "died" on the operating table several years ago -and they brought him back. He told me he saw nothing, but he DID hear the "Most beautiful music I've ever heard in my life." By what criteria can I judge him wrong? I KNOW, rationally, that it was most likely an audio hallucination of some sort. But is that a DEFINITE proof that that is what it was? No. Short of being in his head, I can't experience what he did. And the only way to assert otherwise - "It was a hallucination", period, is to take as dogmatic a position as a BELIEVER in god, or an afterlife.
Experience is the key. And much of our human experience IS subjective and I for one cannot be dogmatic about that. We simply do not know, nor have we even experienced enough - nor can we - for that kind of certainty.
We will find out when the time comes.
The idea doesn't bother me at all. Life scares me more. I don't know what will happen from day to day and it's always a tooth and nail fight with small spaces of peace and quiet. Death may be the end for me but I don't mind. I've lived a good life but most importantly to me, I'm who a want to be so I'll die the man I wanted to become in this life. We can't all cure cancer but we can all live up to our own expectations. So I didn't change the world. So what. I changed the lives I touched and I think mostly for the better. That's enough for me.
I think the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus tackled this problem best. He said that people feared death only because of the mistaken belief that after death there is awareness.
According to Epicurus, when we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain.
In ancient Rome, many adherents of the Epicurean philosophy had their tombstones engraved with the epitaph: "Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo" (I was not, I was, I am not, I don't care).
Another quote that I rather like on this subject comes from Mark Twain:
"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."