“For many folks, what’s most terrifying about death is the ending of their own being. Each of us is, naturally, at the center of a remarkably vivid life. We’re center stage in our own dramas of love and hardship, victory and defeat. The idea that it could just end, that we could just end, evokes nothing short of horror for many people. As Woody Allen famously put it: ‘Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering — and it’s all over much too soon.’
This kind of existential terror never made a lot of sense to me. To explain why, I need you to know that when I was 9, my older brother was killed in an automobile accident. I saw him that afternoon, and he waved to me from across a field. Then I never saw him again. I was already an astronomically inclined kid, and that event, the most significant of my entire life, propelled me even deeper to questions about existence and time. Through all the grief and the questioning, one thought about death has always stayed with me:
I’m not concerned about the many years of my nonexistence before birth. Why then should I be concerned about the many years of my nonexistence that will follow death?
In other words, even though none of us existed 1,000 years ago, you don’t find many people worrying about their nonexistence during the Dark Ages. Our not-being in the past doesn’t worry us. So, why does our not-being in the future freak us out so much?
I am on record as being militantly agnostic about consciousness and death. I tend toward the ‘it’s all over when it’s over’ camp, but that, for me, is more of a hunch than a scientific position. Still, no matter how the universe is constructed with regard to death and its aftermath, empirically I think we can conclude that dread in any form is an unnecessary response. When it comes to our impending nonexistence, all we need do is let the past be our guide,” – Adam Frank, “What If Heaven Is Not For Real?”
(Photo: Sequoia rings by Gabriel Rodríguez)