I fear nothingness

"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries, we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with
color, bountiful with life. Within decades, we must close our eyes
again." -
Richard Dawkins
Since I've entered the atheist blogosphere, I've come across a number of posts regarding facing death as an atheist. Some are them are incredible pieces of writing, and I agree with and applaud them for being so inspiring. Yet, I can't seem to accept it as rationally as the rest of you do.
"I expect death to be nothingness and, for removing me from all possible fears of death, I am thankful to atheism.”- Isaac Asimov
I can't argue with the logic of this. It's flawless and profound in its simplicity. Death is the end of my existence, and without existence, I cannot fear. I won't ever even realize that I have died, I may only notice the moments preceding it: I can only miss being alive while I am alive. I will never actually experience the end since there is
nothing to be aware of, and yet despite this logic, the thought of death still terrifies me. Perhaps it's my greatest irrationality.

It's the thought of not existing that gets me, that all that is me will just flicker out of existence. My memories, my thoughts; everything that I am and have been will just dissolve into a never ending nothingness. And to me, that is a bleak, bleak notion. I love existing. I adore thinking of, observing and experiencing this precious life. I
love hearing the beautiful sounds, seeing the magnificent sights and feeling the overwhelming emotions that make us human. I love having something to to call a me and simply being. I don't like the idea of returning to a void of nothing.

I want to witness the future. I want to watch science unravel the mysteries of the cosmos, conquer disease and sickness and possibly engage in some form of extra-terrestrial contact. I want to exist and continue on existing! But, alas, wishes alone cannot materialize. I must accept the inevitable finality it imposes, however much I dislike the notion. Here, I can empathize with the theists position. I understand the allure of the afterlife and how difficult and unappealing the atheists view can be (for some). But, I will not let my logic succumb to wishful thinking and emotionalism. I cannot, and will not, abandon what I know to be true in replace of my desire for a happy ending. I'll opt for reality over fantasy every time, however dreary the consequences it poses.
"I do not fear death, in view of the fact that I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." - Mark Twain
Undoubtedly, this is completely true. Up until roughly sixteen years ago, I never existed. And this hasn't affected me in the least. However, now, I do exist. And that's where it changes. Now that I've had a taste of this
wonderful existence, now that I've enjoyed the monumental and astronomically unlikely privilege of being, I don't want to leave. After all, parents are never scared of harm coming to their children until they are born. Lovers never worry about losing the other until they meet. Unless you have something, you can't truly understand the
effects of losing it.
I'll admit that this analogy is slightly strained. When one loses something within life, they are aware of it and thus experience the loss. When one loses life, you cannot be aware of it as you are no longer conscious. You lose the capacity to miss and feel anything, and thus, you cannot miss life once death has taken over. But, since we have not yet ceased to be, we can imagine the loss (and of course experience it indirectly) and still hold the desire to live. Now that I have the opportunity to life, I don't want it taken away.

The thought of losing existence is terrifying, because life is all we really have. Once that has been snuffed out, we have absolutely nothing. We are no longer anything. Once our circuiting has switched off; the entirety of you - your memories, personality, habits, quirks and history, is gone. It's like a lamp switch except that there's
nothing to turn it back on. The moment your brain flicks off, you're lost forever. You've faded into an eternity of nothingness, remembered only by the legacy and bones you've left behind. Even if we were able to restart you brain somehow, the mind that is you is still dead. Everything that is you, is gone.

An unbroken thread
There is an upside to this, although I feel that it pales in comparison to the stark realization of death. One day, I will cease to be. My body will decompose and the impulses in my brain that allow for my consciousness will slow down and eventually stop. The atoms that momentarily coalesced to become me, will disperse and return to form other beings and organisms of the Earth, perhaps even reaching the rest of the cosmos. After all, this has happened to every being and structure in the universe. As Carl Sagan puts it, we are merely "star stuff": the sentient, astounding results of nuclear fusion within stars and scattered by ancient stellar explosions. The atoms in my right arm were probably even formed in a different star than those found in my left hand. Perhaps even in a different galaxy. And these stars themselves are the results of a cohesion of Nebulas, those breathtaking cosmic gas clouds people love to awe over. And I definitely think that's there's a beauty in this; us being children of stars, eventually returning home, only without us to realize it.

The time limit death imposes forces us to truly appreciate the rarity and significance of the fleeting glimpse that we get of life. It motivates us to not dwindle and waste time worrying over the unavoidable or the trivialities of life. Its presence serves as a reminder to embrace our temporary awareness; to truly value our brief witness to the cosmos.

There's no point in masking it with promises of eternal bliss and whimsical fantasies. We have a much more awe-inspiring history than any religion can offer. We're "star stuff" after all, and whether we like it or not, we will return to just that.

(From my blog, www.teenageatheist.com)

Views: 85

Comment by Natasha Kenny on September 19, 2010 at 2:10pm
Great post.Loved it.
Comment by Raithie on September 19, 2010 at 3:08pm
Thanks! Feedback, anyone? Agree / disagree?
Comment by Allen J. Thoma on September 19, 2010 at 4:03pm
Good writing and I think most of us would agree with you. Of course the universe only truly began for all of us as our awareness of it and our place in life slowly dawned on us(even though it is billions of years old). Although much older than you, I agree with you and I don't want to cease to exist. But for me (and my contemporary Boomers) I probably only have a few tens of more years. There is a small outside chance that you could cheat death (at least your generation). Ray Kurtzwiel hopes to do that but I think he is like me, too old. If we can save the environment (global warming) there is a chance for you to live forever as science is expanding at an exponential rate and will soon be able to repair you and give you more years and then later even more and so on in perpetuity (provided you are careful and avoid all accidents).
I have always thought that the allure of religion is the promise that you will not cease to exist. But for me, false promises are meaningless. It would be great to live forever, but since I won't make it, the purpose is to be like Epicurus - lead a good life, have friends, use your brain/intellect and enjoy life.
Comment by Sydni Moser on September 19, 2010 at 10:10pm
I was far more regretful about the fact that I will die one day in my youth, than I am now as a NEAR senior citizen... I don't lament that fact that I won't know the future (actually kinda happy about that), or that my sense of self will cease to exist, instead I find myself quite thankful for ever having lived... Who knows what I'll feel when the 'grim reaper' comes knocking, I'll let you know.

PS - Great post!
Comment by Lisa on September 20, 2010 at 12:15pm
Last year I finally got my wisdom teeth out. The time I was under was gone. Literally gone. No dreaming, no sense of time lost,a big fat nothing. At the time, it was of course painless.....except for the fact that I woke up and was able to reflect on the experience. After death, there is no reflection. As they say at the doctor's...."this won't hurt a bit".
Comment by Bill on September 20, 2010 at 12:15pm
Great post. I have a hard time believing you are 16! No offense meant, but you grapple with concepts that most adults cannot reasonably express. I have a 16 year old son, and his style of communication is mostly monosyllabic grunts!
Comment by Michael Sizer-Watt on September 20, 2010 at 6:13pm
I find what Twain said comforts me. My wife and I didn't like the idea of either of us being left behind without the other, so we decided that we'll just commit suicide together when we're ready (not soon). That is very comforting.
Comment by Buck O'Roon on October 2, 2010 at 6:13pm
I have never understood the argument of simply accepting the inevitability of death and enjoying the time you have. The nothingness which will swallow our fears will also swallow our joys, rendering your short existence futile. If nothingness is so comforting, why do we fret so at the death of a child? They will not miss what they will never know. And why do we still weep at the death of the old, when they have 'had a good, long life'? To see hale and hearty, of any age, suddenly cut down breaks our hearts. Nothingness will not comfort them; it will only take every hope of comfort from them.

We all crave life. I know of no reasonable person who lives merely recklessly, pursuing pleasure at all costs. Most seek to contribute to society so that we may live on in some sense, for in the absence of literal immortality, a figurative one is to be cherished. Death may, indeed, be inevitable, but we only believe so because we have been taught as much since youth. If such thinking always prevailed, we would not have crossed the seas, discovered the power of flight, stretched our legs on the Moon, dreamt of universal justice, or any of the other wonderful things that once did not exist, that once were deemed impossible.

You are yet young, Raithe, and obviously quite intelligent. My advice is fight! Fight death, disease, and all the ravages of aging with every ounce of reason and imagination you can muster. This can be done in as indirectly as being a champion of progress or as directly as becoming a bioengineer.

Certainly, there are other pressing concerns to which you should dedicate some of your efforts and you should find time each day to celebrate the simple joys of living, but immortality, among its other benefits, offers the time and peace of mind to address every other challenge facing us. If you can be counted among those who deliver the world its elixir of immortality, you will be owed more gratitude than any in history. And if you should fail or find death to be a truly insurmountable challenge, your situation will be no different than it already is; you will not be around to regret the time you waste.
Comment by Buck O'Roon on October 2, 2010 at 11:27pm
There was a time people believed that sailing beyond the horizon meant falling over the edge of the world. There was a time when powered flight, much less space travel, was considered a laughable idea. And today, among atheists and theists alike, there is a consensus that death is inevitable and cannot be eradicated. I ask merely for the evidence to back up this claim.

That there is no god to grant us immortality does not necessarily mean we cannot grant it to ourselves. Why, then, do humans feel so especially doomed, considering we are the only species capable of consciously redesigning ourselves?
Comment by Buck O'Roon on October 3, 2010 at 6:39pm
Neal ~ Despite your misquotation - my statement was "Death may, indeed, be inevitable, but we only believe so because we have been taught as much since youth." – I readily acquiesce that I have made a gross generalization. Certainly there are exceptions. However, you are also guilty of a fallacy in stating "we all still die." You are adopting the same all-inclusive "we" that you would accuse me of using. People are still dying, yes, but I am not dead and unless you have come to some unfortunate end in the last several hours, neither are you. Just because a thing has happened 100% of the time in the past is not proof that it will always happen.

Furthermore, there were two parts to my evidentiary request. To the inevitability of death, you have answered unsatisfactorily. To the possibility of eradicating death, you have not answered at all. For the sake of clarifying my request, I will rephrase: Can you provide a physical law or set of laws or any other unequivocal evidence for why the indefinite extension of human lifespans would not be possible?


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