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.