I struggle to comprehend death

There, I said it. (Wrote it. Whatever.) A couple of days ago (or was it yesterday?)… the futility of existence leaves me wondering if it really matters… an atheist friend wrote a Facebook status about death. This is a subject I think about a lot, probably too much. I commented that I struggle with it, with comprehending the end of my own life and the finality of it, and he replied that he imagines it to be like sleeping, since his mind shuts down when he is asleep.

Well, that comparison doesn’t work for me. I don’t know if my sleep patterns are unusual; I doubt that they are… But when I’m asleep, my brain is active, highly active. Sometimes I lay there thinking about all kinds of things… My problems, my past, problems at work, wonder what I’m going to do about certain things that are on my mind, and so on. I’m an insomniac – this is true… but I don’t only think about those things while I’m awake. I think of them in my sleep as well. Then I wake up, and like dreams, most of those thoughts slip away within seconds, but I’m well aware of how deeply I’ve been thinking in my sleep. My son, and others in the past, have interrupted my sleep to ask me questions… and their amazement is always the same. Even if I have been snoring my head off, I comprehend the questions heard in my slumber, wake up just enough to answer and remember the annoying chat, and continue snoring. Then I might ponder how annoying the interruption was, ponder it even in my sleep, but sleeping I am.

Last night I needed to pee, and thought about it in between my dreams for a while – I don’t know how long… thought about the fact that I needed to wake up and pee; then eventually did at 2:22AM. There’s nothing unusual in this story for me. My brain is especially busy when I’m asleep. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember.

The point is, death is nothing like sleep. It isn’t even like being in a void of eternal darkness. Darkness, even a void, would imply being aware of nothingness. But our brains are the organs in which all our thoughts occur, they are the homes of that abstract thing we call the mind. There is no evidence of anything external to our physical bodies, so when our brains die, our awareness ends. Death is when the individual that I am, when my awareness, which I have both when awake and asleep, comes to an abrupt and final end. There is no void when you are dead. There is not even nothing. You are no longer there to perceive either something or nothing. Death is when you are gone. It’s not like when you are asleep; it’s like the time before you were conceived.

I, and I think everyone else, cannot imagine this. It is human nature, not only to have this overpowering instinct to survive, but to be unable to comprehend the finality of death. So we pretend it isn’t the end. We convince ourselves that after we die, we wake up somewhere else, in some other plane. Call it Heaven. Sorry, but it isn’t so. If you can get past this, understand the harsh reality, even if only intellectually like myself, maybe you can stop believing in bullshit; stop clinging to supernatural, magical fantasies like religion.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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7 Responses to I struggle to comprehend death

  1. bbnewsab says:

    I think it depends on what you mean by the phenomenon called “sleep”.

    As a matter of fact sleep is a multifaceted phenomenon. In some stages of sleep there is an experiencer present in your brain (head), in other sleep stages not.

    So if you accept that sleep is not just one single state, it’s also easy to see that sleep can be a variety of altered states of consciousness, all depending on brain waves, brain connectivity and so on.

    Of course a void (nothingness or nullity) may contain/be something, theoretically (physically) speaking. But that I consider to a kind of word-splitting. To experience is not the same as pure physics. That is, physics is just ONE small part of the phenomenon called experiencing. And definitely not the most important part, not the sine qua non of experiencing.

    In fact, If your brain is out of order (dead), you can’t experience anything of this something that is to be found in the physical (meaning of) nothingness.

    Death means your brain doesn’t generate any experiences any longer. The brain is shut down, doesn’t function any more.

    So stop chewing on the question if death is like a sleeping brain or not. It’s the wrong question to chew on, Jerome.

    Death is about having no access to an (intrinsic) experiencer or interpreter of what is happening, going on.

    A metaphor: You don’t know right know what’s going on here in Sweden, where I live. And I bet you don’t care if you know or don’t know that kind of stuff. It’s irrelevant information for you where you live in South Africa. Your experiencing brain disregards (brushes aside/off) that kind of information. And you don’t mind, you don’t bother.

    If your brain is dead (non-functioning), it’s (kind of) even worse. Then you have no mind (at all) left to mind with, to be bothered by.

    That state is worse than being a zombie. So when you’re brain dead, then you not even are a zombie. Instead you’re a no one, a nothing, a nullity. With no ability whatsoever to experience.

    Oh, how I wish I could express myself fluently in English. But I hope you’ll at least understand my point here, Jerome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      Actually you express yourself better in English than some native English speakers…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      Regarding expressing being dead, I struggle with it too. I tried as best I could in my second-last paragraph. It is a difficult concept to explain. But I think it comes down to more of a difficult concept to understand, by a reader.

      We are so tied to our perception that life goes on after “physical” death, many may read it and just not get it, no matter how well it is explained. People will cling to the belief that consciousness is something apart from the physical body, which is absurd. When you’re dead, you no longer exist. That’s all that should need to be said.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. notabilia says:

    Great topic, and to your credit that you frame it so well. Atheism needs to be running into all kinds of philosophical conundrums and issues, and death is definitely high on the hit parade.
    “The Soul Fallacy,” bu Juline Moslino, is an excellent stimulus for the topic, written in very accessible, convivial popular science, and its conclusions are well worth sharing. The western world is still afflicted by this horrible, suffering-dealing immaterialism which causes all kinds of malingering anxiety around death. We are all material beings, gifted with the curse of cognition that allows us to know that our demise as sentient beings will arrive around the bend. My neurons will stop firing and wiring, immediately upon death, and that’ll be that for this spin as a human for those brain cells. All the matter that is housed, and will be housed, in my body will return to the universe to sprinkle around various natural reconfigurations.
    That’s the deal, as you say: the “you” that is us will no longer exist. Since we cannot conjure that non-being in our minds except through illusions, I can accept that as the final, simple word, and try to imagine dying when I am aware that I have a terminal illness and refuse to put myself, or my partner, or society, through the needless suffering of fear-based invasive treatment.
    Keep up the big topics – we all grapple with them, in our own ways.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. bbnewsab says:

    Quote from notabilia: “Great topic, and to your credit that you frame it so well[, Jerome]”

    I can but agree. This blog is one of the best I follow!

    And I follow a lot of blogs.

    So I know what I’m talking about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      Glad to be appreciated!

      It’s funny, you know… I used to be afraid to speak my mind and express my thoughts. How boring I thought I was. But these days I love it, especially with writing.

      Like

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