When I first accepted atheism as my own personal philosophy, I could feel the excitement of rebellion as well as a comforting relief "knowing" that God wasn't real, and neither was Hell. I've found some wonderful people with very diverse views and comprehensive, intelligent understanding of the universe and our place in it. It's been a grand, exciting time for me.

 

And yet I can't shake that one unending, horrifying sensation that's been at the back of my mind the whole time: abject terror of death.

 

I suppose it's one thing to say that spiritually that our bodies pass on and some part of us lingers to do something else. Maybe have grand adventures within the greatness of our galaxy or develop into something grander than just entities in hollow human shells. But as an atheist, I cannot accept this. I'm forced, by virtue of scientific progress and personal comprehension, that once I kick the bucket, I'm gone. All I'll be is wormfood and happy memories to a mournful group of friends and family.

 

I have a very dear friend who is losing someone very close and dear to him to cancer. He's told me (and I'm sharing his feelings) that the biggest reason he can't accept atheism is because he doesn't want to imagine his sister as wormfood. He wants to imagine that he can see his sister again happily on the "other side". And in grief, he's demanded that I keep myself open for that possibility, and I've agreed. How could I not, when I feel the same fear he's going through?

 

In all the beauty, grandeur, and glory of the natural universe and the fantastic amazement one can have for its processes, there's one undying fact that won't be ignored: we are all tiny and meaningless to this universe in which we live. We exist for not even the tiniest fraction of existence and pass on without a single thought. Now, instead of saying, "What's the point of doing anything now when there's something in the afterlife?" I'm saying, "What's the point of doing anything now when there's no point except to get up, live, then die?"

 

I've heard the argument that it's a cold, frustrated, bitter imagination that refuses to accept this world for what it is and demand that something must be behind it or must have created it. But it feels even more inhumane to say that we are tiny, insignificant dots in the grandeur of the universe.

 

And some atheists wonder why the religious hold onto their "bullshit dogma". Sometimes it seems like there's greater peace in ignorance than coming to terms with your own meaninglessness.

Tags: death, life, meaningless, philosophy

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I'm inclined to use the word death reluctantly, because it's such an abstract concept philosophically.

Your concept of death seems even weirder

Not sure what you mean by mind body duality.

That mind or the soul can exist independent of the body

My argument is that if death doesn't actually exist for us because we haven't experienced it, then there can be no 'after'.

I don't really know where you're heading with this. People die - i.e their entire body stops functioning & starts decomposing. That is death. We all will eventually experience it. It is a reality. What after that?

I would say I sometimes toy with the idea that consciousness is not wholly located in our own bodies, that our own consciousness may partly reside in the minds of people we know, so when our own bodies cease to function, while that part of our consciousness that depends on our own body disappears, it's as well to consider the extent to which residual consciousness continues in others.

Oh, wow. This is one of the most absurd things I've ever read. Can't wait for you to clarify it. As it stands I think you believe that every time you meet someone new, a consciousness transfer takes place. And that after you die, the people who you've met who are still alive keep your consciousness alive inside them! Are you kidding me?

How would this work? Is your consciousness infinite? It would have to be or the more people you meet, the less your consciousness remains inside of you. Or maybe there is inside consciousness & outside consciousness - that keeps getting distributed among the people you meet. Like when you meet a person, a part of your consciousness residing inside others gets taken out in equal parts & goes into the new person. How would that even work? What if the people you know are spread all over the world. Does this consciousness transfer takes place only for personal meetings or phone conversations & internet meetings, like the ones we have here, in other social networking sites, online games, chat rooms etc trigger this consciousness transfer too. Is there a fixed level of consciousness transfer between two people. Like when you first meet, and then thats it, no more transfer. Or is it a continuous process? That is, the more you interact, the more consciousness you transfer between yourself? So conversely, would not interacting with someone over a long period of time diminish the consciousness that you have of them in your head? Does it completely go away?

How do we store that much consciousness in our heads? The more people you meet the more consciousness you take in.

If there is infinite consciousness and/or spending more time with someone increases consciousness transfer, then are some people more alive than others? Maybe some are more alive when they are dead than many people when they are alive.

Seriously, can't wait for you to clarify here.

Though, there is a slight chance you mean that people live on in the memories of people who they met, but the way you worded your comment, it seems unlikely.

Incidentally if death is permanent cessation of vital bodily functions then these clinical deaths you mention from which people have been resuscitated can't be death, not really, can they?

No, they experience & come back from clinical death :P

After the word 'absurd' the rest of your thinking about 'infinite' consciousness is entirely yours, nothing to do with me.

I was merely asking what did you mean by your statement that - 

I would say I sometimes toy with the idea that consciousness is not wholly located in our own bodies, that our own consciousness may partly reside in the minds of people we know, so when our own bodies cease to function, while that part of our consciousness that depends on our own body disappears, it's as well to consider the extent to which residual consciousness continues in others.

I was just trying to show how absurd this statement was. You still haven't explained what you meant by it. Another argument you're running away from?

I mean, you can call my ideas weird if you like but I'm not the one claiming that we're all going to experience our bodies decomposing!

Man you really need to start using your head, but I should've expected this from you, so I'll rephrase

Death is a reality. We all will die. We all will experience it. After out body stops functioning, that is after we die, it will start decomposing. What do you think after the body stops functioning & starts decomposing?

Better?

Sam Harris said in a debate(I'm paraphrasing here)

When someone makes a statement like that, he immediately pays a price. That price is ill-concealed laughter, and that is a good thing.

If you don't want to be ridiculed, then it would be wise not to say/post ridiculous statements.

And how eloquent of you to quote Sam Harris, out of context, talking about a separate subject from this one!

The subject might have been different, but the quote applies here.

Currently, the only way to achieve immortality of any kind would be to do something huge. Doesn't matter if it was good or bad. People will always remember both Hitler & Gandhi. And so will Newton, Galileo, Einstein and many more such people.

But who knows, maybe sometime in the future they might find ways to keep people alive, in some form or another, indefinitely. But until then, death is a reality. Only your work, your ideas & your memory will live on through the people who knew you or were influenced by your work or ideas. For how long you will be remembered depends on how great were your ideas & work.

I don't call that immortality.

Its the immortality of your ideas, your work, your memories etc, not of the person. Not a huge fan of it, but hey, it'd be great if I could achieve it.

Like the rest of us, he is incapable of experiencing his own death, so for him it never really happened.

But it did happen.

Before he pulled the trigger he knew he was gonna die. And his body felt the shock of dying, of the bullet going through his body, even if it was for a split second. That he didn't get to consciously process it doesn't matter. He did feel it.

No matter how much he achieved, or how many children he left, he is no longer around to appreciate it.

Thats why death is such a huge bummer.

In the absence of an afterlife in any spiritual dimension, I postulated that the only way a person's consciousness could continue would be in the physical dimension, reliant on other people's physical presence and their memory.

The way you stated it, you postulated a spiritual dimension of your own. But if you meant living on in the memory of people who knew you or knew of you, then how is it any different from what I said?

But if you want to Mr Dismissive by quoting Sam Harris talking about something completely different that has no relevance here

Pfft! You aren't gonna let that go are you? That quote applies very well in that situation. It doesn't matter if it was originally used in some other discussion. Thats the beauty of quotes. They can be used again & again, in different discussions.

It is rather dogmatic to suggest that because certain words or concepts have been appropriated by a particular group whose precepts you disagree with, that all such ideas must by default be incompatible with your own world view. I personally find nothing wrong with the sentiments, just the religion - the institutions that think they know more about the world and the cosmos and how humanity should be than our greatest scientists by virtue of books written thousands of years ago by people who were either delusional, on drugs, or liars.

My atheism is simply a rejection of the supernatural. It is not a fear or aversion to theism to the extent that I must dogmatically police my own thoughts and reject concepts and words just because they border too closely with ideas that historically have been conscripted by religion. Just because theism has latched, like a parasite, onto the poetic aspects of the human psyche and attempted to claim them for itself, doesn't mean we must cede that ground and believe that all appreciation of beauty and yearning for the transcendant is inseparable from the supernatural.

It is the difference between saying "humans should change our nature and stop wanting those things because religion offers them", and saying "we have historically seemed to always want and fear certain things, but we should stop looking to religion for the answers, because religion doesn't really have those answers".

As to your logical dissection of the experience of death, fear of death exists in people, whether those fears are logically sound or not. We can argue the semantics and debate whether or not it is fear of the actual state of 'death', or fear of the loss of those we love, or simply an inaccurate extension of certain experiences (such as loss, and darkness, and loneliness).

That we cannot experience a state of death does not mean the best way or only way to overcome our hangups is to rationalise it away. All living things have a survival instint that goes beyond an anticipatory fear of what we may experience at the cessation of life. Thus the idea that we cannot experience anything when we're dead therefore there is nothing to fear, doesn't really address the actual source of that fear. What supernatural beliefs offer people is the false consolation that when you die the story doesn't end.. or rather that it ends in an eternal 'happily ever after'.

It is certainly useful to acknowledge that there is no monster on the other side, but I think what people truly want is to be able to look beyond the veil of shadows and think that they can see something there (or be told that someone else can do the looking for them). When we've lost someone we care about we want to imagine that they await just beyond that corner.

I think the question is whether we should spend our time forever peering into the shadows, living our lives throwing coins around that corner in the vain hope that it will ease the unseen path of someone we've lost, or whether we spend it exploring the world that we do see, and appreciating those we love to the fullest while they are here with us, and remembering those who are not.

That death cannot be 'experienced' as we experience other aspects of our existence does not mean death does not exist as at least a metaphorical concept, and being able to rationalise away the experiential aspect of death does not destroy it as a concept.

The 'fear' cannot simply be confined into an illogical anticipatory instinct about what we will find and experience after we cease to exist (ie it is not simply a fear of hell or suffering or the emptiness that we will experience for eternity that underpins the fear of death, though those ideas have managed to aggregate around our idea of death over time).

Beneath all that, I do believe there is a deeper fear unrelated to an unjustified anticipation of an unsavory experience. It doesn't have to be anticipatory, it doesn't have to be fear of an actual object or experience. It doen't have a logical or reasonable or factual basis, it exists most likely as an extension of the survival instinct of most species that have managed to not go extinct.

And I think the only way we can truly confront our fear of death is to understand why we have those hangups and addressing them. Or at the least acknowledging them and denying those fears the ability to have power over us. What you perceive as people trying to rationalise death into existence seems to me to be nothing more than an acknowledgement of fact, that it exists as a real concept in the human psyche and that people do fear it, even if there is no basis for it in the individual after life actually ends.

And I don't see that saying death is simply non-existence actually confronts death, wholeheartedly or otherwise. It seems to be more of a denial of its existence by stubbornly redefining what death means.

Answering someone's statement "I'm afraid of dying" with "no you're not" doesn't actually stop them holding that fear and doesn't make the fear any less real.

And finally, I don't think what you're saying is radical, just short-sighted and dogmatic. Those 'old patterns of thinking' do not by necessity lead to religion. Religion has simply insinuated itself into those aspects of the human psyche and marketed itself to people by appealing to those aspects, probably because of the power our emotions, our desires and our fears hold over us.

The solution is not to pretend a part of humanity does not exist, but to confront theism and weed it out, leaving the rest intact and functional without the dogma and superstition to poison it.

The way to counter dogma isn't with more dogma :P.

What you call revolutionary seems to be nothing more than reactionary. The creation of a new dogmatic structure that, instead of purely rejecting religion, seeks to specify various ill-defined aspects of the human psyche and irrationally label them 'theistic' (without concrete evidence or particularly good or well thought out reasons). Once you start expanding your criteria for what you essentially consider 'anti-atheism' or perhaps an 'enemy of atheism' or maybe 'theistic collaborator', you begin to create essentially a new (and rather irrational) dogmatic system, which frankly could nolonger be defined as atheism.

Like I said, I think all aspects of human society to be human in origin. Theism may have infiltrated into it, but to say that everything which has been touched by theism is owned by theism is giving religion more credit and more power than it deserves.

 

Death has historical, cultural and probably psychological depths of meaning that encompasses both the irrational fear of emptiness which comes after (which appears to be your definition and what you're citing as the reason why there is nothing of death to fear). But it is also one's instinctive aversion to the cessation of one's existence that is present in most non-suicidal lifeforms. Death involves the idea of the loss of our worldly accomplishments - our relationships as well as in the more material sense -, and a sense of lost or unfulfilled opportunties. Also inseparable from the concept is our grief at the loss of loved ones who predecease us - children, lover, family, friends.

I think our idea of death encompasses all these things, as well as the more theistic aspects such as fear of what one finds in the afterlife and what we personally experience as individuals. Even excluding those aspects however there is much more depth to the concept and I don't think anyone can simply state their personal definition and insist the rest of the world adopt that as the only valid dimension to the concept.

What I mean when i say that you refuse to 'confront' death is that rather than acknowledge that people may be describing a whole range different and interconnected things its experiential aspect of the individual, you can therefore rationalise the entirity of the fear away. This fails to recognise that death encompasses many other aspects beyond the experiential, which are all very much intergral to human psychology and emotion.

 

OK so you've called me dogmatic a few times. Repetition makes truth I suppose.
It's that you are in fact dogmatic that makes it true.

 

 

I agree. That's why I didn't say it. You said it, then you rebutted it. There's a word for this... oh what is it now?
You agree that you are giving theism more power than it deserves? When you say that we must avoid words and thoughts because they are theistic and that when you look, all you see is theistic muscle and heart and brain, and conclude it must be completely 'cured', you are in fact saying you think everything theism touches belongs to religion and must be shunned. If you agree with that, then you admit you're being unreasonable and reactionary.
I'm not sure where you got the rebut idea from so I don't know or care what word you're looking for. But I think the phrase I'm looking for is 'learn to read'.

 


I very specifially said 'idea of loss' because that was what I meant. This particular concern has nothing to do with whether we will experience that loss as conscious beings, or the consequences and adverse experience we anticipate. It is simply the aversion to the idea that all that we had achieved will no longer be ours because we nolonger exist.

 

It's not the death that matters, it's the loss, and the absence.
You cannot separate the fears surrounding death from the ideas and emotions relating to loss and absence.
While you can stubbornly state: "They died but that doesn't really matter because it's not their death that's upsetting you but the fact that they are absent from you". But you're just drawing a distinction where none exists.
Or, perhaps, it is like saying, when confronted with someone's grief: "No, no, no! Do NOT say that you cannot get over your child's death. The only correct way to express what you are feeling is to say your son died, and then to also state that you cannot get over their absence".

 

If you then rationalise the physical death you still are not addressing the issues being expressed in the first place. And similarly, when people speak of the fear of death and dying, it doesn't necessarily mean they speak only of the experience of being dead.
Constantly and persistantly stating how death entails an absence of experience, and therefore conluding that there is nothing to be afraid of doesn't address anything beyond what's confined within your own pedantic and limited definition.
If you cannot recognise that when people express their emotions and thoughts concerning death, they can also be referring to some or all the associated factors, and that by addressing just the end of experience that an individual's death entails (and INSISTING that it's the only correct way to speak of the situation) you are not in fact confronting the full meaning and nuances of what is actually being conveyed. It seems to me your only real means of dealing with death is to play pedantic word games to rationalise it away.
The human psyche and human behaviour are not beholden to, or bound by these created rules of language, and human emotion and understanding are not restrictable in such a manner.
But given how adamant you are about recoiling from allegedly pseudotheistic words and concepts, it seems your ability to comprehend the world is completely and exclusively defined by the rules and limitations of one language amongst the countless that have ever existed.

The meaning of life is the pursuit of immortality. Immortality by dual definitions: 1) the continuation of your species and 2) the continuation of your legacy (memory.)

Our being here is a product of chance, yes. Is fate real? No. Are we special in the grand scheme of things? Not really. However small the reactions are that follow our actions, the effects that follow our causes, there is nobility in that which we do. To experience love, to teach a child new things, to behold the majesty of nature, to master a new skill -- it all does seem pointless when you look at how brief our lives are, but take heart in knowing that life does exist and you have been a part of it.

Fearing death is silly. No one of a level mind actually fears death. The only thing we fear is leaving the party while it's still going on, missing out on the new things that generations after yours will see and experience. Lucretius said it best -- "We will suffer just as much throughout the eternity after we die, as we did throughout the eternity before we were ever born."

Sam Harris once pointed out the absurdity of fearing death. He explained that we sort of lose our consciousness every night as we go to sleep, and we don't fear the fact that we are leaving our bodies behind to embark into these dreams, it's just a natural cycle that's always been with us. Death is as natural as sleeping, and should be embraced as great boon .... not a curse. True immortality is a road wrought with disaster, heartache, and boredom. What reward in this life or any life after it could ever be appreciated, when you know that it is eternal?

I think the discussion has become more complicated than necessary, at least certainly for me. Death isn't something I can relate to as it not a something at all to me. I can surely understand that feeling of pointlessness in that we are like sponges soaking up knowledge and memories only to cease to exist. For myself it's far more important to bestow upon my children whatever knowledge I may have that the future in which they partake in my absence will be better and more fulfilling for them and hopefully by extension for others. Be the sponge, and squeeze all you can into them.
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