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.