Suspension Of Belief
Who here has borne witness to the Museum of Death? It is where the serial-killer-fetishists go to experience divine solipsism. Where the young bucks, with their green mowhawks and studded leather vests, display their courageous carelessness in front black-lipped females, who in turn pay them just enough attention between coquettish gasps to string them onward, as sirens might tempt sailors headlong into a storm. Onward to gawk at the bottled fetuses; to grin at the crime-scene photographs; to commit vulgar hand-gestures toward the videod instant of death in the backroom theatre... It is a strangely ritualistic non-religion; a secular hell; the worship of the end and all the gruesomely creative ways people have managed to accomplish and document it.
Is this the correct reaction to death?
If your answer is no, is there a correct reaction?
People often get the idea that disbelief is the de facto condition; that one must will oneself to believe something, or to “suspend disbelief” in order to understand a story. But I think that it’s the other way around. (Rather obnoxious of me to adopt “I think” here, as though my thoughts on the matter are entirely my own. They’re not of course. Innumerable influences are at play. But in any case, onwards with the theory at hand!)
We are born believers. Right from the start we believe our parents will take care of us, the world will enlighten us, our heart will guide us. To break away from those initial beliefs is a terrible thing. Still, after we’ve been given ample reason for disbelief, and without anyone having to tell us, we innately believe that there is a reason behind everything, even when we do not understand what that reason or reasons might be. The proof is our undying curiosity, even in the face of prospective death, we continue to take risks, to push boundaries, to seek truth. We are then forced to question; to suspend our belief. Belief, to me, is child-like and innocent; rife with potential, full of lovable credulity, but void of understanding. I’m not saying this to credit atheism, as that too is a kind of belief as long as it is absolute, which it is by definition. Saying “There is no God!” or “There is no afterlife!” is just as childish as saying there are these things, with any degree of certainty. I’m also not crediting agnosticism, but this is mostly out of spite. Who isn’t disgusted by the smarmy agnostics; with their easy affirmations and thoughtless pride, with their stringent belief in continual disbelief?
Nevertheless, I must (or maybe choose to) admit that they might have perhaps gotten one (or more) things possibly a little (or not at all) sort-of right: The universe may or may not be infinite, but our knowledge of it uncertainly might not be.
Of course, all these contemptibly ambivalent terms offer nothing of value to a person who earnestly seeketh wisdom from fellow invaluably credulous know-nothings. So I’ll go at it from another direction.
Imagine for a moment, you come across a society which is predicated on the notion that there definitely is a heaven, that when someone dies they have unequivocally gone to a better place. It sounds comforting until you realize that a reasonable reaction to that mode of belief is to end one’s life as soon as possible in order to get to the better beyond. Death becomes a celebration. Life is cheapened or ended prematurely. Some religions, such as Catholicism, solve this issue by telling you that suicide is a sin, which seems to me a very dismissive way of answering an earnest quest for knowledge. There is a real and petrifying danger in a person’s certainty of an afterlife, as that person has the capacity to do anything; to kill others and potentially himself, with very little fear or remorse. But there is also something admirable in it. Ever wonder why a Klingon doesn’t fear death? It’s because they know where they’re going. As long as they die in honorable combat, they’re going to Sto’Vo’Kor. And the more certain they are of it, the happier they are to die. Similarly, in the real world, duels were fought well into the 19th century. Death in the name of honor was glorified and applauded. The further back you go, it seems, the more extreme the examples: Pirates, Vikings, Gladiators. -which sounds romantic and muscular and sweaty and all, but was in actuality probably deeply horrific to our modern sensitivity.
There’s nothing more frightening to pedantically reason-based animals such as ourselves than what we don’t know. And, in our increasingly secular world, we know less about death than ever before. The answers that religion used to provide us were paramount to our sanity; heaven; the eternal life for our loved ones, hell; comeuppence for evil-doers. Without them, it’s startling to realize just how little we know, and just how much we fear because of it. One thing is for certain: Today is not a good day to die.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
I kinda shifted to reincarnation belief once I learned about it. It honestly made more sense to me, since as we learned in that dangerous science class energy can neither be created nor destroyed it can only be transferred.
If you imagine life as energy it makes sense. Kill a plant/animal, fuel your own life energy. Everything that exists draws energy from something. And when your vessel can’t keep up with the life energy inside it any longer it dies out (thus ensuring you stay in the cycle) and your energy goes back into play for something else to use.
I know some religions view this cycle as suffering. Maybe they are “body half dead” kinda people, or they have had a series of truly awful incarnations and maybe souls carry that trauma forward.
The idea of soul trauma isn’t new. We have myths of angry spirits/ghosts, and if you just imagine that plugged into a new body it kinda shakes out. However, and this is where my philosophy gets a bit twisted, I also don’t view any soul as a whole absolute.
I believe our souls are amalgams of the experiences of not only past humans but past animals, insects, and plant life too. After all, we absorbed their life force to feed our own - and as they say, you are what you eat. Moreover if you look at the proliferation of humanity and the rate at which we have destroyed life on our planet to make way for our own, honestly where are we getting all these new “human” souls from?
Imagine if you could do a 23 and Me check on your soul makeup. Maybe you are 10% old loyal farmdog, 15% peace loving 60′s hippie, 35% crazy viking warrior, 20% ant souls smashed all together when their hill fell, 12% jaded studio musician, and 5% majestic queen bee whose hive died out as the bees all disappeared due to global warming. All these past experiences contributed to the unique moment in the universe that is now you.
I believe some religions may teach this and I have much still to study on that front. But my own final take is this: try to reduce your soul trauma footprint. Not only for life in general - I mean, we can’t all eat farm-to-table so just do your best - but for ourselves and each other.
Make choices that reduce pain. Think of the future - don’t check out at death’s door because that revolving mechanism will only come back to kick you in the next life. Work for progress/change for everyone, if not out of the kindness of your heart than out of a sense of self preservation. Because next life you could be that homeless person with mental health issues. Or that mother crying over her dark skinned son on the news. Or a gender you really can’t identify as because your soul needs to express itself differently.
And never forget those are just the human lives. There are no guarantees you’ll luck out again in human form. You could end up a fat chicken on a factory farm. Or the dog euthanised at the shelter for being too violent. Or that cockroach killed by pesticide. Or the tree that was planted to replace the old ones, only to grow faster and be felled too.
Live your life as best you can. Because the sum of your experience - the good, the bad, the lessons learned, the battles hard fought, the miracles witnessed, the tragedies suffered, the beauty unearthed, and the breaths inhaled - all add up to this crazy world we live in.
And I will try to maintain a “body half lived” outlook on it all.
The Safe Bet
Humans are so damn obsessed with the afterlife.
And golly, there are so many options to choose from - heaven and hell, of course, with all its variations, then there’s reincarnation, and lastly, but certainly not the least likely: oblivion.
Let’s stop for a minute and entertain the infamous Pascal’s Wager on this particular matter:
If we believe in an afterlife, and it really does exist, and we live our lives with the main purpose of being accepted by that desired posthumous destination, then those efforts can yield infinite gain. If it is not real, but we live our lives like we believe in it anyway, well... we don’t really lose anything (or do we?).
On the other hand, if the afterlife exists and we happen to squander our ticket (by, say, being a thoughtless hedon), then we would have infinite loss. And by that I mean, spending the rest of eternity constantly being whipped by horned demons while simultaneously being on fire definitely sounds like the worst case scenario.
Alternatively, it’s probably not very much fun to reincarnate as an earthworm.
So if you were a betting man (or woman), how would you wager?
It sounds like it makes perfect sense to work for a ticket to the pearly gates just in case. Doesn’t it? Pascal even goes as far as to say: even if you can’t believe, just act like you do. It’s still the safer bet, apparently.
The biggest pitfall of Pascal’s wager of course, is that it assumes there are only two choices. Afterlife or no afterlife. God or no God. It kind of skips the vital question of: but wait, which God? Which afterlife? Depending on which one you decide, the process of acquiring your eternal ticket can be very different. Because what if you buy the wrong ticket?
In ancient Egypt, for example, you better have a really nice tomb.
I’m being facetious. Nobody really has a definitive answer, do they? Or if they do, it’s more likely they just decided to double down on their wager. Like a gambler who went full tilt.
I do find it very interesting, though, that from essentially the beginning of time the vast majority of humans pretty much decided: “yeah, there’s gotta be something after all this, right? It can’t just be nothing... can it?”
It’s almost as if to long for the hereafter is in our genes or something. Though, to be fair, oblivion after death - after life - does sound pretty anticlimactic.
I will do my best to cut to the chase. I can write a million words for this topic but this should be something you might actually read.
Some people have a great fear of death, why? Some people have a great fear of living. It's unpredictable and it's unclear.
Some people do not fear death but, pain, why? Death is one thing but pain is another.
If you believe in a heaven of such a place, why? Because I want to be where God is.
what makes you so sure your view is the correct one?
These questions have no answers. Believing in Heaven is believing in God. Why?
Because If I choose to follow God, and He isn't real, I have lived my life as a lie and felt loved by something that didn't exist, but if choose to decline that love, and Jesus Christ did die on the cross for my sins, then I not only took the death of God's son for granted but lost everything in the process and will forever sit in the guilt of betraying Him. The question is what is the bigger risk. If I choose God and he isn't real, I lost nothing, but If I refuse Him, and he is real, I lose everything.
That's why I choose God. Because I am afraid of death and death isn't your body dying off, it's the guilt of betraying God's love.
That's my answer.
As someone who has contemplated suicide, you'd think that I would have a solid idea of what comes next. Maybe you think I've seen into veil. Maybe you assume that I laugh in the face of death. But none of these are true. I don't know what comes next.
But personally, I think death is the end. I think people have created stories to explain the unknown.
I think most people are just gone. But we are left to deal with their loss. And the way we cope is by imagining that they're in a better place. Or maybe, by imagining that they're in a worse place, as a sort of atonement for the wrongdoings they did to you.
However, I do believe in ghosts. But that seems to contradict the idea of no afterlife. So maybe there is some hellish purgatory: no Heaven, no Hell, just lost souls floating aimlessly, slowly being driven insane by their intangible immortality. But in reality, I think that there's no "correct" idea of what happens after death. Based on my experiences, I do not think there is an afterlife. However, I know there are some people who are firmly convinced that there is an afterlife. And so, when I do die, when I finally bite that poisoned apple, I will be open to whatever comes next, be it Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Elysium, the Fields of Asphodel, or the Fields of Punishment, or Shangri La, or Valhalla.
I think the worlds after death that we come up with are not words of a prophet, but words of a person coping with loss. And, in my opinion, it's a perfectly reasonable way to cope with that loss.
between here and the hereafter.
As a person who’s never been too far removed from death, this question fascinates me. By that I mean I’ve lost many acquaintances, family members, friends. The first part of my life I believed in the hereafter because I was told. Then I had a crisis of faith, I guess you could call it, did some soul searching for the better part of a year, and landed right back at the beginning, choosing to keep my initial beliefs.
I was pretty young when my 17-year-old cousin hanged himself. I vaguely recall a family member of his having their picture taken at his gravesite, and in review a hand was placed to their shoulder. No one could figure out who it belonged to. I’m pretty sure no one had placed a hand to their shoulder at the time the picture was taken. Was it my cousin, allowed back to comfort the bereaved? Was it an angel? This question was never answered, but I believe it was a sign. A sign of something beyond the corporeal realm.
Another cousin of mine died of cancer in his twenties. My uncle mourned him for several years, before himself dying to a medical mistake, when his diabetes medicine damaged his liver. At the funeral one of my aunts told of a call his family had gotten, from D’s (name withheld for privacy) cellphone. D was the son he’d lost all those years before. I assumed his cellphone had surely been deactivated by then. What explanation could there be, then? Some solicitor hijacked the number? What were the odds it would be that exact one? My aunt said the person who’d received the call answered, only to hear dead silence on the other end. They interpreted it thusly: my uncle was with D, and the call was our assurance.
I believe in Heaven. Hell. The latter scares me more than nothingness ever could, at this juncture. I come from a very spiritual family. There have been a couple accounts of family members having dreams and visions of dead family members shortly before their own deaths. It’s come to be a sort of harbinger. Perhaps it’s to ease the fear of the process. I’ve heard someone say: “It’s not the dying; it’s the getting there.”
(Also these are old accounts and my memory isn’t the greatest so take everything I say with a grain of salt, and allow for a margin of error.)
Another topic that sort of ties in:
Do I believe in ghosts? I’ve actually considered posting about this before. My interpretation of ghosts is that they’re actually evil spirits impersonating the dead. I believe the dead move on once the soul and spirit part from the body. “Absent from the body, present with the LORD.” That kind of cements it for me. And think of it like this: I’ve heard of a ghost encounter where a little girl died in this house and close to a century later “she” was tormenting the new family who’d moved in. What motive would a little girl have to do that, unless it was something evil impersonating her? Another reason to dislike the dark side—they deface the memories of innocent people by impersonating them. But again, that’s just my hypothesis.
I could probably go way deeper with this, but I’m gonna’ stop there...
All There Ever Will Be
First Law of Thermodynamics says energy cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.
All that is and ever will be is energy. A stone appearing solid, is as any object, vibrating atoms...only energy, as are we.
There is no emotion, no fear in the changing of energy from form to form, with the eternal knowing none will ever be lost or augmented. This is all there is and ever will be...and the energy we are is not ours and has never been ours.
There is no beginning, no end.
Perceptions aside, we are like the stone. Does the stone fear being ground to dust? Does it fight the process? Protest? Believe it has any ownership over the ourcome?
Nor should we.
Is dust heaven? Perhaps, to a stone grounded in one place unless kicked, thrown or cemented as the foundation to a great building. Dust moves with the greater dynamic energy of the winds merging, flying, traveling to the ends of creation and back.
And again, so will we.
The transition of form, a shifting of eternal finite energy, is all there ever will be.
A post with no easy answers..
We've had many challenges here on prose, that ask the question 'what is life like in heaven? '
it is fun to make stories about a world of endless dimensions, where you do everything you want, meet everyone you miss, and come to know everything you wonder about all your life. there are tortilla butterflies that fly around, and they are always the right flavor, and the benches come with a built-in salsa bowl. . you meet Lincoln and Beethoven, and all the people you lost. it is a beautiful thing, this paradise.
then there are the hellish challanges: people that go to hell, and suffer for all of eternity. maybe they are turned into a low-end soft drinks. the fizzy, dark drinks handed out on budget flights.
reincarnation is another; what would you be turned to? another person? an animal?
how about a tapeworm? how about a fungi?
maybe a ghost?
maybe an eternal return? reliving your life again and again , like a Tralfamadorian would.
or perhaps we move on to concepts that don't pop up often in challenges, do we reach over to an unexplainable plain of existance, beyond anything we could understand, uniting with the great entity and yet separate all at the same time? would that be fun to write about?
without the benefit of a high speed DSL, books, algebra, statistical methodology, or any other means of investigation, our ancient ancestors came up with many poignant insights into reality. they used intuition and their imagination to draw up conclusions about the world. it is surprising how many things they hit spot on; the existance of a creator, the moral imperative, the way of moderation, and the very real understanding that there is an intellectual limit to what we could understand about this world.
all these discoveries, this intuitive leaps were made not out of a pressing need, like toolmaking, but from a slow accumulation of life experiances.
when confronted with the question of the 'everafter' , most pre-agricultural cultures were mostly disinterested. life was what it was, and the next step was not very relevant. a person died, and his spirit lingers, watching us. but this was a short-term explanation. can we expect these ghosts to keep at it for all of time to come?
of course that was the point. time had limited scope. measured in seasons and generations. not millenia, and epochs.
with sedantry life, humanity started doing math, and we started struggling with the real scope of eternity. then we started organizing our afterlife to cope with this change; life is a part of an eternal progress. we must not be allowed to fade or metaphysically degrade. this calls for sacrifices, chronicles, mausoleums.
the simplicity of life and death was turned into this traumatic rat-race. even here opinions varied. Judeism for example, is very clear about the absence of a real concious existance after our death. we must wait for judgment day to be stirred up back to life.
christianity and islam, hinduism and budhism, take a much more structured approach. with rings of hell and rings of heaven, a beurocracy to oparate it, rules and regulations.
and here we are, struggling to put into words what we think the world is like past our own deaths as it is a product of our civilization.
death is not easy to accept. every one lives his life and devotes a large part of that life to keep the show going, or to ensure the survival of others. it stands to reason that when we come across a person that stops living, we are filled with dread. what is going to happen to him now? who is going to brush away the flies, and give him shelter?
we solve this question by coming up intuitively with, 'oh yeah, this guy isn't dead. he's just metamorphosed into a different state of being. no worries then, and let's get something to eat'. but mourning has an unrelenting nature, and we need to complicate and exxagarate things, just for ourselves. just so we don't have to let go.
so seeing the progression of thought regarding death, i can't help but feel skeptical. our needs to deal with death change over time,and so our perception changes over time. if this was a unshakeable truth, would it be so changeable?
our conciousness derives from complex interactions of neural networks in the brain. some networks do math, others identify sounds and patterns, others light up emotional reactions (or overreactions), spaceial reasoning, etc.
our 'soul' therefore is a synnergetic aggregate of these networks. when one of these functions become imapred, there would be some noticable difference in behavior or capabilities.
death is the end of all these capabilities, behavior and sensation, as the system just stops working.
i believe that as sad or scary it is to admit, the Innumerable elements , that makes us alive, our memories, ways of behavior, are all limited by time. the massive complexity is so tenuous, so fragile, so fleeting, that they will never be reformed and reconstructructed, simulated or recreated in any way, shape or form.
i would argue also, speaking as a man of some religious belief, that the main component in this world is change. the world is never fully created but under constant change and evolution.
we face many changes in our lives as well. we encounter joy and sorry, triumph and loss. our continued existance under these fantastic changes is brought into being, but also dissolved in time. to deny the end of existance is to deny the change in the world.
what could remain? some idealized person that we were? our consciousness at the very last moment? or maybe it is a different moment, selected for us as if our lives were a saved up video game.
the question now, is how to overcome the fear of death, and not its finality.
here i find myself as stupified as anyone else. death, being the final dissolation of the self is a terrifying prospect.
i could quote comforting cliché, offer to appreciate life, or to live life to the most, but in the end, they are but a superficial treatment to an unease that is too deep.
what is the point of life? i often think that the answer is at once way over my head and too simple to be satisfying. death is even a greater problem, 'cause it has much less of a of a possible positive spin than life.
there are no 'the thing to remember..' that will really make that feel better. unless you already succeeded in looking away from the problem.
but maybe the expectation of success of conforting death is just as wildly fanatical as the implied structure of a beurocratic afterlife.
the importance to life is subjective. it come to us BY us. meaning in death is just as subjective. objectively, our death contributes very little, but as we look at the death of others, we learn the grief and suffer the anguish of loss. the person that died, is not able to appreciate this feeling, but the fact that he caused us to mourn so bitterly gives evidence of this person's very objective importance.
the thing is that like those neural networks, so do people also exist as part of a greater network of interaction, of memories and wisdome. humanity versus humans. our lives receive an added dimension of meaning as part of this meta-organism. the effect we had, to contribution we offered, the destruction we imparted. perhaps in that, our death also can be to some extent mitigated. after we die we shall be forgotten eventually as individuals. even the tombstone will be worn away, like the eroding pyramids, but perhaps, something we did, even if it has little importance originality or a recorded history, will continue on as some faint echo of what we were.
i think that in that , we can find comfort, and a hope that our actions would bear some remembrance down the ages.
I Decline to Abstain
To answer the question is to err. Certainly, it is a contemplation unique to the human order, the mark of a higher nature and the signal instinct of a preternatural gift; of one who uses supernal talents to climb down from the tree and shed his tail. A mistake all the same.
Anyone who carries the slightest scruple into his ratiocination, who assess his motivations and wonders why he is so determined, can have anything but an easy time trusting his answer on this score. There is too much at stake on either side of the question for honesty to prevail, as might be otherwise in those easy moral ejaculations that is the custom of hatred and violence. How should doubt bridle rapture, or enfeebled faith open the curtains on benighted surrender? It is not to be asked of the mind to overrule the wants of the heart in this matter.
Nonetheless, it seems that for all its impossibility, answering is still the correct way to go about the conundrum, whose very scheme is taken as the miniature of life itself: a flawed question which begets flawed answers.
Then by the heritage we share with this vexing question, the only way to truly fail the test is to decline to answer. There is too much humanity here to be wagered in prudence, to not be boiled and blistered and bitten by the dilemma, to throw up the sponge and insight uncertainty; to import devices from the sterile, white-lacquered laboratory for investigating the sublime. Let go of the sounding line! You cannot measure these depths. Cast yourself overboard, and plunge into obsidian waters. Undress yourself of earthly caution, throw off the mask and bare your soul; succumb to the tossings of the waves.
A fear of death can be a good thing, a very powerfully thing if utilized, but still, I think of death far more than what is healthy. I am not a religious person, and so I often treat the after as a canvas for fantasy worlds, and maybe that's a sin, to like religion for the story and never quite believe the tales, but I find myself unable to commit, because I don't think humans are capable of knowing a god the way most religions claim to, how could us mere mortals be able to comprehend or even know our creator when we can't even fully comprehend ourselves. If a god were to exist, then I don't think we will ever really know.
As to what I do believe the after is, well I know of this only as much as I know of life before my birth, nothing. I can only imagine that it would be nothing, I could fool myself into believing in an afterlife. But would that belief ever be geniune? I can never be certain, but right now, my belief is that the after is the same nothing as before birth, a belief that is no more solid than it's alternatives, but it's the only one that makes sense to me.
However, just because it makes the most sense to me, don't mean I like it. I would rejoyce if you came to me, a folder of solid evidence in your hands and told me 'Look, an afterlife does exist, or even reincarnation'. I cannot fully speak for why others may fear death, but for me, I fear death because I don't like the idea of nothing, yes, I won't feel or know anything. Nothing means nothing... But, I want to continue existing, I know it's irrational, I won't want for anything once I am nothing.
Still, I want to feel emotions, I want to feel the world around me and I want that for others as well. I don't like goodbyes, even saying it to a long time acquaintance is uncomfortable, so how could I ever begin to say it to myself.
To become nothing in death, would be to say goodbye to yourself.