I’ve spent a lot of time in my life wondering about death, its meaning and what could hide beyond it. I remember the first time I thought about death, when I was six years old, and would lie in bed during a sleepless night trying to force my mind to understand what would it be like to cease existing. Since that first night, death has been one of my favorite philosophycal and artistic themes.
Most of my life I’ve believed that there was something more after death, like the typical light at the end of the tunnel and a peaceful place to live forever with the people you loved on Earth, or even God waiting for us. But, although this should be a hopeful and positive view of death, it didn’t calm me, and I feared death more than anything else. During this year, different things that have changed in my life and new views I’ve encountered have made me considered new ideas about how to approach the mistery of death and, eventually, my thoughts on the matter have drifted a lot from what I thought most of my life. These are the main two things that have made me reflect:
- My research on the field of neuroscience: this year I’m taking a master degree on computational neuroscience at university and I hope I could work for the research teams in the future. Studying neuroscience have helped me to understand a lot better how information is stored and processed in the brain and what could be the phenomena that leads to the raise of concioussness.
- I have come clean about my atheism: my family and some of my closest friends were religious so I didn’t feel comfortable with the fact that I’ve been an atheist all my life and didn’t want to admit it. I tried going to church and forced in me religious thoughts and feelings. Luckily, this year my mother had a faith crisis and has turned away from church, so that help me to finally accept the fact that I’m an atheist without any regret or doubt. Well, I’m not an atheist completely because I believe in Spinoza’s God, but at the bottom, is basically the same for me.
So, finally, here is what I think of death now:
Sometimes we lose our minds trying to find complicated answers for simple questions when the solution to them is in front of our eyes. And death is one of these simple questions. What is it like to be death? We all know the answer to this, because each one of us have already been dead. Where were be before we appeared in this life? Where were be all the time before we were born? We didn’t exist. And so its logical to think that once we’ve stopped existing in our body, we come back to that primal state of non existence, same as before being born. Even we go back to a state almost equal to that every night when we go to sleep and our conscience is turned off and every connection to our body cut off while we wander in a fantasy away from the world around us. So, for me, there’s nothing at all after death, only the absolute emptiness of non-existence.
But then, doesn’t soul exist? What happens with all our memories, our personality, the essence of who we are? Maybe here I am a bit dazzled by the novice enthusiasm I feel about the way neuroscience explains our mind and I’m being reductionist, but as far as I know, our memories, manners, personality, etc., etc. are just information stored in the synaptic connections and neural networks in our brain. If the brain stops working and is destroyed, all that information about who we are gets lost with it forever and we’re gone. So nothing of what make us who we are will transcend.
Having said this, I actually think there might be something that do transcend us: our conscience. By conscience here, I mean the part of our mind that is aware and operates as an observer of the world around us and processes that information, without it being attached to memories or anything that has something to do with who make us what we are. I think that’s the only part of us that keeps on living after death, so that the only thing that we’ll remain of us when we leave this world is our conscience and the state in which it is. And, after we die, that conscience will live again as a different human being or animal, or whatever is alive. But it won’t be us anymore. So for our individual experience, this doesn’t matter that much, since our life still concludes with death and non existence and the info of who we were stays in our brain forever.
I know some of you may be thinking that this is all terrible and hopeless. But it’s been the contrary for me: since I’ve accepted that there may not be anything else after death, I feel calmer than ever about it and I don’t fear death that much anymore. This new view of death have made me realize how beautiful and valuable is our time in this world since every moment is unrrepeatable, the improbable of having had the opportunity to be born as we are and experience the world and feel all a human being can feel and, in brief, I’ve learned to value life and the people I love so much that when the time comes and I face my death, I’ll be only thankful and happy for having lived, not scared. On the other hand, it’s true that thinking we’ll never see again the people we loved and lost or that who we are we’ll be forever lost along with our memories and everything we experienced is sad and nostalgic, it makes more important and valuable the time we have here and we spend with other people.
Also, if everything we are is just information stored in our brains, a new range of possibilities appears and who knows if some day with the help of technology we could erase death and keep our memories, personality and conscience attached to a computer or a simulation, etc. and build our own afterlife on Earth.