10 Bright Ways to Think about Death

sands of timeIt may seem paradoxical, but what more rational way for a Bright to say good-bye to the old year and welcome a new one than to consider the end of everything?

That’s why I’ve compiled some approaches toward death held by various clear thinkers. Philosophers, psychologists, scientists, poets, and novelists have expressed a wide array of attitudes about dying. I find each of the ones below worth pondering. Perhaps one or more will help you make your own peace with mortality.

1. Plan ahead. When it comes to death, many prefer life-long denial, according to Virginia Morris, author of the practical (and entertainingly written) Talking about Death. By giving serious thought to what you want to have happen at your end, you may have a chance at experiencing the kind of dying scenario you’d prefer. The vast majority of us apparently get the opposite of what we hope for, living wills and “do-not-resuscitate orders” notwithstanding.

2. Get used to it. The opposite of denial is to accustom yourself to the reality that everyone, absolutely without exception, regardless of dreams and hopes and faith, has to die, including you. Treat the dread like any other phobia and think about it so much, in a controlled way, that it eventually bores you a little and terrifies you a little less.

3. Don’t gather regrets. Arrive at your deathbed without the added gloom of feeling you’ve made irreparable mistakes. If you’re particularly lucky, you may have some time to tidy up loose ends and various kinds of remorse, but better not to count on that.

4. Connect. Talk about death with someone who shares and thus validates your fears. Reading psychiatrist and novelist Irvin D. Yalom‘s book, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death, feels like sitting in the presence of a wise, earnest, soothing friend. Lacking a loved one or a therapist who “gets it,” make a point, Yalom suggests, of connecting with the larger community, including making use of online support groups.

5. Find your meaning. Existentialists like Yalom and literate thinkers such as Julian Barnes in his Nothing to Be Frightened Of note that fear of dying often brings up fears of not having lived well enough, as well as not long enough. So make time to think about living a fulfilling life. Yalom mentions Nietzsche’s “eternal return” thought experiment, in which you imagine living your identical life “again and again for all eternity.” The idea there is to lead us “away from the preoccupation with trivial concerns to the goal of living vitally.”

The Novelists Speak

6. See the biggest picture. The idea Barnes explores near the end of Nothing to Be Frightened Of is my favorite. It’s also the bleakest and may not work for you (as it doesn’t really work for Barnes). It’s the idea that, sometime in the coming six billion years before the sun burns out, evolution will discard “us,” these current millennia’s humans, as it favors the most adaptable. Art will not defeat death; the far future will not recognize us at all. While that very big idea doesn’t offer license to be selfish, it does suggest (to me) how very inconsequential is the task of sweeping the driveway or the pain of a tennis elbow.

7. Wanting more is selfish.  From The Crow Road, a novel by Iain Banks):

The belief that we somehow moved on to something else — whether still recognizably ourselves, or quite thoroughly changed — might be a tribute to our evolutionary tenacity and our animal thirst for life, but not to our wisdom. That saw a value beyond itself; in intelligence, knowledge and wit as concepts — wherever and by whomever expressed — not just in its own personal manifestation of those qualities, and so could contemplate its own annihilation with equanimity, and suffer it with grace; it was only a sort of sad selfishness that demanded the continuation of the  it was only a sort of sad selfishness that demanded the continuation of the individual spirit in the vanity and frivolity of a heaven.

8. Just be here now. In the novel The Music Teacher, by Barbara Hall, who is a  novelist and producer, one character says:

Nothing is real, and nothing is not real. Things just are. That’s why you try to be in the moment. Because you might as well be somewhere. And all evidence seems to point to the fact that being here, now, is where all the good stuff happens.

And another responds:

Like when you’re playing a riff, and you’re not worried about finishing it. You’re just in it.

9. Being the center of everything becomes less important with age. From an article in the N.Y.Times Magazine by Daphne Merkin about novelist Margaret Drabble:

 “As I get older,” Drabble confided, “I do fear my physical world is getting thinner. When I was younger, I led multiple lives. When I’m here in Porlock, everything flows in again. It doesn’t matter if I’m thinning out. . . . The trees are full, the sea is full and I am getting more ghostly. The physical world is taking over and absorbing me and eventually my ashes will be scattered in the churchyard.” And then, taking her aptitude for seeing beyond the glare of self-interest — beyond the moment’s buzz — to its natural extension, she muses unblinkingly on the inevitable void that awaits even those who fill the world with words: “My being the center has ceased to be of importance.”

10. Death is simply part of life. From Christine Falls, the debut crime novel of Benjamin Black (the pen name of John Banville, who won the Man Booker Prize) (the main character is a pathologist who has been beaten up by those who don’t want him snooping into a possible crime):

He had thought he was going to die and was surprised at how little he feared the prospect. It had all been so shabby and shoddy, so ordinary; and that, he now realized, would be the manner of his real death, when it came. In the dissecting room the bodies used to seem to him the remains of sacrificial victims, spent and inert after the frightful, bloody ceremony of their souls’ leaving. But he would never again view a cadaver in that lurid light. Suddenly for him death had lost its terrifying glamour and become just another bit of the mundane business of life, although its last.

  • Do you have an insight, suggestion, or personal philosophy to add to the conversation? Please share.

Copyright (2012) by Susan K. Perry
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66 Responses to 10 Bright Ways to Think about Death

  1. kleinem says:

    Taking off from this quote from item 5, “Julian Barnes in his Nothing to Be Frightened Of notes that fear of dying often brings up fears” IMO fear of what happens after death.
    I have given some thought as to what is being in a state of death like.

    Since “Consciousness has not yet become a scientific term that can be defined ” and …. “The brain mechanisms underlying the effects ( of consciousness ) are not well understood” [ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness ] , what ‘is’ in the state of death likely must be left to conjecture.

    I conjecture that consciousness (whatever it may be) ceases and what ensues is like that phase of sleep of the living in which dreaming is not occuring and seemingly at that living conscious level… one is aware of nothing, hence a state of true mindlessness.

    P.S. I would not offer this conjecture of mine, as an explanation for what happens when one dies, to a child.

    What do others conjecture in that regard?

    • Graham Turner says:

      plan your memorial service(not a funeral)
      include your favourite pieces of music
      get your best friend to read a eulogy
      no hymns no readings from the Bible instead have readingsthat you find worthwhile. (My favourite is “a life well lived”)
      compile a list of close friends and family that you would like to attend
      decide what sort of party you would like to be thrown after the service
      put all this in writing and discuss with those most likelyto be in charge

  2. George Schiro says:

    I attended my aunt’s funeral as a very young man. Then I accompanied my uncle back to his home. It was a somber moment when I asked “Uncle Manny, what do you suppose death is like?” After a little reflection he responded “I suppose that it’s like what we experienced before we were born.”

    Death seemed much less frightening after that. Since then I have read similar speculations about the experience of death from a variety of others more well known than my uncle.

    There is no darkness, no void. Death is the latter half of eternity.

    I agree with “kleinem” on one point. Our “after death” time (which equals our “before birth” time) is something we commonly experience every night that we sleep without dreaming, as if we are practicing for the afterlife every night without realizing it.

    When you sleep at night without dreaming (or more accurately, without the memory of dreaming), how much time seems to have elapsed the following morning? The answer is “no time at all.” So the actual elapsed time could be an hour, 8 hours, weeks, years or … eternity. You can’t tell the difference. Every night we practice sleeping for eternity. Yet we don’t fear sleep.

    I disagree with “kleinem” on another point though. It is worthy of debate whether or not children really need the make-believe for their own emotional well being.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      It’s always a bit of a quandary to decide what a child can handle when it comes to explaining death. I wouldn’t make up stuff (heaven or anything like that to soften the reality). It’s often a shock for a child to learn that everyone dies. My own son, when he was small, said something like, “If we’re going to die, then it would be better not to be born at all.” Which is a pretty amazing conclusion, when you think about it. And my other son obsessed for a long time about death when he learned about it. My own thoughts are that one ought to be as matter-of-fact about death as one is able to be, when broaching the subject with a child.

      By the way, some people DO have a hard time letting go into sleep for the reason you mentioned, that there’s a sense of surrendering to the same nothingness as death, every time they fall asleep.

      For me, it’s not a fear so much of my own non-existence, but of the sorrow I’ll leave behind and the end of my chance to experience all the lovely good stuff that life can offer. I don’t like the system, but then I also don’t like that I can’t gorge myself on chocolate licorice without gaining weight or feeling ill. Reality wins.

  3. Fergus says:

    I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and in a way I was a gunslinger myself. So, when my path ends in the clearing, I just want to stand there with my head held high.

  4. adam says:

    And just what is wrong with being selfish?  Life is fundamentaly selfish – its goal is self perpetuation.I don’t see it as realistic or even wholesome to try and suppress fear of death.  This is a deep seated, natural urge.  Those organisms that were indifferent to staying alive were driven out of the gene pool by creatures like us, who will cling ferociously to life on almost any terms.  Trying to talk oneself out of fear of dying is like trying to deny one’s appetite for food or sex.  In the end it never works.Rationaly speaking, I wouldn’t want to live for eternity.  There is nothing that I would want to do forever and an existence where there were no limits or deadlines would be an empty one.  I was born for struggle, limitations and conflict. But then rationaly speaking,  I shouldn’t be eating pizza right now either.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      I think it’s only when you’re obsessed with a fear of dying that you interfere with the enjoyment of the time you have. And, of course, as much as we might like to eliminate the fear altogether, that’s unlikely for most of us, for the reasons you cited.

  5. John Moore says:

    Selfishness (egotism) is where the pain of death comes from in the first place. If you let go of your individual self-identity, then death will be meaningless.Just consider: In what respect are you really alive right now? And who are you?For me, I think of myself like one grain of sand on a vast beach.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Many of us aren’t able to achieve that sense of oneness with the world most of the time. Somehow, my convoluted mind and consciousness don’t conform to the metaphor of a grain of sand. Can you really think like that for more than moments at a time? I’m actually curious.

    • Raynote says:

      Hey, I’m so much more than a grain of sand! That’s for the semitic peoples of the desert, the ones of the monotheist religions! Not for me. No, I am everything to the universe and the universe is everything to me. I am the child of the universe and I am so grateful that it made me and that I am alive. And being alive means that one day I will die, yes! And the coming of death makes life all the more precious to me: each and every day is precious and unique!

  6. Adrienne Scroggie says:

    Everyone that ever lived up to 100 years ago, has died, many others have died since then. If they all did it successfully I am sure that I can do it too.  So, no problem, can’t be that hard, I can not fail. 

  7. Brian Wilder says:

    May I suggest that anyone who is thinking about death go and read Christopher Hitchens last book, ” Mortality”.
    And then remind themselves that every living thing eventually dies, and remember that “life is just a brief interval between two eternities” and we only get one shot at it, so make the most of everyday.
    Death is one thing – dying is something else. To ensure a decent death, go out and support the legal introduction of euthanasia in your country, as several countries have now already done.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      So true, especially the “one shot at it” part. And I totally agree: our energies are well spent ensuring that everyone has a chance to have a dignified, decent death, self-chosen when desired. As with keeping abortion legal, euthanasia should also be available. The way our system and many families keep their elderly sick relatives hanging on in misery is so very irrational.

  8. J D Sachs says:

    I believe our fear of death is rooted in the way we view time. If you view your life as a phonograph record, then our here and now just happens to be the place where the needle is touching the vinyl, but all the other experiences are always there (with one vital difference, which I’ll cover in a moment).Last night I had a terrific meal at a restaurant.  As I sit here writing this, that meal is a fond memory, but it is also still happening. This is not a philosophical trick – it is quite real. If you travel to those coordinates in time and space, you will find me there, enjoying that meal with a satisfied smile. Some day there will be a version of me that does not have that memory any more, and after that there will be a world where I don’t exist at all, but it doesn’t matter –  I will always be there, having that experience at that time and place.The vital difference which I mentioned is part of my philosophy, and not something I can prove. It is what differentiates reality from the determinism of a phonograph record, and allows us free will. I believe that the version of me who has just enjoyed that meal is always completely free to choose whatever dessert he desires.  Sometimes he’ll choose chocolate pie, sometimes chocolate cake, occasionally chocolate mousse. (It will almost certainly be something chocolate, though –  even Chaos Theory has its limits ):

    • Andie says:

      JD Sachs, I can completely identify with this idea. I was recently contemplating this widely iterated notion amongst atheists of the deceased “living on” in one’s memory and this very same thought occurred to me: That just because somebody has died, they still ‘exist’ albeit in an earlier point in time. Additionally, -and this comes from the point of view of losing someone rather than contemplating one’s own mortality- I had to concede that a large part of what constitutes our perception of others in their lifetime relies on our memory of events and conversations, which happen while we are away from that person. This individual’s friends and loved ones will all have a different experience of who this person is (or was), and the comfort is sharing these memories with others. One pain of grief is acknowledging that these memories are no longer coupled with an anticipation for seeing that person again. When I think back on the most difficult grief I’ve had to go through, even as a (lazy) believer, it wasn’t envisioning moments of reunification with that person in a sunny garden in paradise that gave comfort, but rather sharing memories with friends and family, and also shared speculations, eg “Wouldn’t John have loved this music?” or “He would have howled with laughter at that comedian.”

  9. Ian Mason says:

    And in the

    So many
    million years from now,
    near a galaxy’s edge,
    an aging
    star expands,
    worlds to atoms.

    Vapour and
    dust become surf
    on a
    red-hot solar wind,
    through icy space
    until they
    find gravity.

    They are
    the atoms
    everything that ever
    breathed and bred
    on this
    lovely Earth.

    yours, the remains
    of all we
    were, knew,
    loved and
    on an
    interstellar safari.

    Some will
    become dust
    on a comet
    roaming free
    or in an
    eccentric orbit
    the millenia.

    Some will
    become water,

    the drops
    in a rainbow
    above a
    blue-green world
    that has
    its life to come.

    All will
    be a part
    something, somewhere
    until the
    Universe slows down
    to its
    final, eternal rest.

  10. dave says:

    Isn’t life great. Isn’t life wonderful. The chances of my atoms and molecules coming together at one time and one place to go through the cycle of life are quite staggeringly small. Then for me (with a little help from parents and friends and professionals 🙂 to be able to guide my atoms and molecules through ‘3 score and ten’ years without mishap is still a chancy, risky business. (60 down, ?? to go;  :))   Fantastic!The way I look at it is the last experiences of my life will be just the same as any other parts have been. They will still need managing and preparing for by me and my family to get the most out of them.  I will need to continue to be selfish by:organising my financial affairs to cover any nursing home care costsnot falling out with my nearest and dearest and staying within range of their support as I get frailereating, drinking, exercising and sleeping wellliving my life as long as I can with a grin on my face because…………Isn’t life great. Isn’t life wonderful.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      It’s not always great or wonderful, certainly not for everyone, but it is absolutely amazing for any one set of genes and atoms and whatever else to come together to make any one of us who can now sit at our machines and share these thoughts.

  11. Pingback: “10 bright ways to think about death” « sparrows and sandcastles

  12. Lee Aikin says:

    I had to contemplate death profoundly while caring for my mother dying of congestive heart failure and my husband dying of Alzheimer’s.  Neither wanted to die in hospital hooked up to machines at the end, and despite having DNR’s, this is still a danger for us all. Fortunately, neither had a very painful condition and near the end they slipped into a coma and died quietly a few days later.   I was able to arrange in home Hospice visits which helped at the very end.  I was able to have family in after they died for a wake, before the funeral people came to take them for cremation.  I also had other emotional support and a good long cry from time to time really helped.Since many of us are liberals, we no doubt are very concerned about  the success of Obamacare.  One thing that can really keep costs down is arranging a natural at home death.  I found ways to keep my mother and husband in decent health until very near the end saving much money, and have posted two articles on my blog: gleeaikin.blogspot.com about this, on June 29, 2012, and August 6, 2012.Many years ago I had an epiphany in which I felt how the atoms of my current life form were connected to all the beings who had existed before and all that would exist in the future.  I kid my atheist sweetheart by saying when we are dead our atoms will dance together through all eternity.  Who knows, maybe they will.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      You were reasonably fortunate that your mother and husband were spared some of the worst horrors of over-medicalized deaths. May you and your sweetheart dance together NOW, whether or not your atoms do so through all eternity. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  13. Beth K says:

    Thanantology (the philosophy of death and dying) has long been an interest of mine – both as a theist and an atheist.

    My thoughts now on death and dying (those are two very separate things) have become much more relaxed since renouncing beliefs in the supernatural.

    On dying, they have not changed too much. The dying process itself is absurd in the US, and in much of the world. Indeed, half of all healthcare costs most people incur over a lifetime are spent in the last year of life. Indeed, we would have much better lives if we saved much of that money spent prolonging a painful, unsatisfying life and spent it instead on curing the curable conditions and preventing the preventable conditions. Some of that can be taken care of with living wills, healthcare proxies, psychiatric advanced directives, and the often-forgotten “statement of beliefs”. The last one has no legal power in itself, but if the issue goes to court, and IF you have a judge who really wants to see that your wishes are carried out, it helps to have a statement of your philosophies and beliefs and what you do and do not want written out, notarized, and kept in the hands of a trusted person or copies given to several such people. If euthanasia were to be legalized in cases which are truly hopeless, and prolonging life will just be prolonging suffering and impoverishing your family, it seems absurd that we’ll allow our people to live that way while if we were to keep a dog or cat alive under such conditions it would be considered animal cruelty!

    On death, my lack of supernatural beliefs makes it seem much more comforting. For one thing, there is not going to be “someone to answer to” and no set of rewards or punishments that occur after death. My death will be much like the eternity of before I was conceived. The type of theism I believed in contained the concepts of karma – what you sew in this life you will reap in a subsequent life or an afterlife. That is just cruel and arbitrary if someone does not know or remember for what he or she is being rewarded or punished. Restated, it makes no sense to punish someone for something they do not remember. Or, to reward them for something they do not remember. Back to the pets, it would be cruel to punish a puppy for deficating on the carpet last week – the pup does not remember it! The puppy would just think you’re being mean. Giving rewards for something the animal does not remember is not a training tool. If you wish to train your pet, you reward them for doing the desired action RIGHT AFTER, so it gets associated. If someone does not remember after a reincarnation, and they are rewarded, it will not help someone “grow”.

    Death is not like dreamless sleep or a coma. I go into dreamless sleep every night, and have been in a coma. There is a sense of passage of time while in sleep – even dreamless sleep – and some awareness of what is going on around me. I had thoughts, dreams, and something which qualifies as a “near death experience” in the coma.

    BTW, my thoughts on “near death experiences” now involve the brain knowing/feeling things are shutting down, it getting less oxygen and nutrients, and interpreting the firings of neurons according to whatever afterlife images one believes in or knows about. The images of the afterlife and the gods were not of a pantheon that I ever considered to be especially likely or “real”.

    My sadness over my own death partly involves those I would leave behind, and having to observe them missing me, or having to do without me. I realize now that there will be no “me” to feel sad or to observe anything. About all I can do is to set things up to make the transition as easy as I can for them – to leave my affairs in order, or instructions on how to wrap them up.

    Thanantology has shown me that there are numerous ways that people imagine life after death. There is one which is not dependent upon any supernatural effects. That is, “You continue to live for as long as you are remembered”. I am doing what I can to “make my mark” on this world, to leave it a better place than it would have been without me. There will be none of my personal consciousness to enjoy this sort of “life after death”, but I can leave some things I’ve done or gotten going – in my circle of friends, family, and community – which will enable some part of who or what I am to live on.

  14. James Conrad says:

    Don’t forget, some people look forward to death, i.e., the end of all.  For some life is a burden especially, at old age, because of disease or other unpleasant circumstances.  Choosing the end time, i.e., suicide, should be available to all.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      I couldn’t agree more, James. When I’m feeling my age, or watching my parents go through what they have to go through, I am slightly heartened by knowing there is an end, a peace to look forward to, like a good night’s sleep. We, as a society, should not be denying people the choice of their own ending, especially if they’re suffering with no relief available.

  15. Mandy says:

    Myself and my brother have always been incredibly afraid of death. Even from a young age, I remember discussing it with him late at night when we had to share a bedroom on holiday, or during festive seasons. We both shared that sick, terrifying feeling in the bottom of your stomach when you even try and comprehend not existing. Eternal sleep forever. We are now both in our mid-20s, and haven’t discussed it in the last few years.As I have discovered, explored, and questioned by own atheistic views further, I have become less afraid of death. The more I understand science, life, the stars, evolution, everything, I understand it is a natural, inescapable thing. I still get incredibly sad when losing loved ones, angry when those are taken too young, but I don’t get as scared any more when I think about it at night. Instead of shutting it out, I have tried to welcome my feelings, which remind me how alive I am right now! and that makes me want to tell everyone how much I love them, and to do everything and anything that makes them happy.I love life and all it’s dichotomies, which death is a part of.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Beautifully expressed, Mandy. Knowing there is a time limit should help all of us appreciate what (and who) we have. To rage, rather than to love, seems such a waste of a limited resource: our time.

  16. Three short comments: 1. When I was a Catholic I was taught to reflect on the four last things: death, judgement, hell and heaven.  I still do this for the first of these, although the others don’t exist for me now.2. The Buddhists make a big point of reflecting on death. 3. In fiction,  I particularly like “Replay”, by Ken Grimwood. (review in my book review pages) “Our dilemma, extraordinary though it is, is essentially no different than that faced by everyone who’s ever walked this earth: We’re here, and we don’t know why. We can philosophize all we want, pursue the key to that secret along a thousand different paths, and we’ll never be any closer to unlocking it.”

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Good quote. And that’s quite an extensive web site you have, Anthony.

    • Allen Mersereau says:

      ‘We can philosophize all we want’ This point confuses me a bit. Surely philosophy, especially in the active mode, writing, debate, …to protest, has more value than this writer allots it. I mean our dilemma is much more than simply ‘We’re here, and we don’t know why’.

  17. John O'Neall says:

    Since we all agree on searching for natural explanations to phenomena, I presume we are all convinced Darwinists.We are what we are due to natural selection, i.e., to a process of selection for greater or lesser survival among a population of basically similar beings which can nevertheless differ in some trait or another. The key is the bit about survival, which is completely impossible without its opposite, death. In fact, if everything survived, we would not be here, as the earth would have become overpopulated with bacteria or something billions of years ago. So let’s make the best of a situation which generally very good for us and try not to get all excited about the less good part.You can also take a totally different view. As we go through life, we pass through pleasures and through trials. Each trial can be viewed as an exam, like in school, to see how well we do. Death is just the final exam. I want to succeed it as well and as stylishly as I can.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Unless tests make you nervous, as they do to me. I refuse to judge or be judged on the manner of my demise. (Though I think I get what you mean, John.)

    • Raynote says:

      Yes, John, natural selection and the whole process of evolution is fascinating. In fact, “we’re here and we know why”!

  18. Myra Rubinstein says:

    Every one of the ideas above is worth reading and considering.  If I could add one very practical thought which is both selfish and giving….  Give parts of your body the opportunity to live on beyond your lifetime and another person the opportunity to live a more full lifetime by becoming an organ donor.

  19. Nigel says:

    My impression of life is that nobody gets up in the morning the same person that went to bed the night before. Where are my delicious toddler children today? They’re all middle aged Moms and Pops and no longer so cute. I am greeted by adults who ask; “remember me?”  How could I when last I saw them they weren’t even adolescents? I search the mirror for the ambitious young guy who knew it all. But he has died already. All I see is a withered and wrinkled old guy who hardly knows anything, The only way to be remembered forever is in a still photo; in a frozen moment in space/time. 

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Gloomy, but so true. And yet, when we love someone, we do tend to hold onto a core perception of them. As we tend to do with ourselves (when we’re not looking in the mirror). None of us, then, really knows anyone else, not as they really are NOW. Sad, huh?

  20. Luke Stanley says:

    “Be here now” has it’s place, but death is good for bringing things into a focusing contrast, creating opportunity for those still with time ahead.

  21. rudi hoffman says:

    There are some great comments here.  I am a bit surprised, however, to find in this demographic the sanguine attitude that “Death is a part of life, the same as it has been forever…”Maybe not.We are now living at a momentous time in the history of the planet where science and technology have overcome challenges thought to be an intractable part of the human condition.  The rational extension of this…is that some readers of this line may live to see the year 3000 CE.Scientific life extension…and cryonics…while both currently still in nascent, and admitadley not yet proven forms…will certainly give SOME of us a non-zero chance for something like physical immortality.  While some of us have thrown off the shackles of religion, the “deathist” thinking involved in religion still controls much of the thinking here.  Let’s be skeptical, but not pre-scientific, in our attitudes about the elephant in the room called death.The most RATIONAL attitude about death for atheists is “How the hell can I do everything scientifically POSSIBLE to delay and possibly beat death?”  (And, of course, the even worse ravages of aging.)More videos on this at my website rudihoffman.com.For joyous centuries,Rudi HoffmanPort Orange, FL

    • Dave says:

      Hmmmm…… Sorry to pour cold water on your brain wave Rudi. If I was born several hundred years from now and had the opportunity/power to defrost you Rudi, guess what, I don’t think I would. I would want my selfish genes to provide for my offsprings not to fill their world with crazy old men from the past! 🙂

      • jerry t. searcy says:

        Crazy old men from the past!!! Such crude thinking (as if you are actually exercising thinking!) Rudi, if revived, would be able to offer people of that faraway time a personal description of our current age, kinda like someone from the middle ages reappearing today. If such a thing happened the world would be spellbound at ever word spoken by this visitor from the middle ages ! If cryonics actually works future humans will have hundreds (thousands?) of such personal experiences to enjoy and learn from. Besides, if cryonics works just think of the fun one might have! MIGHT have…for the pessimist among us.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      I suppose it’s a good thing for human progress that some individuals are happy to offer themselves for the experiment of cryonics. We may learn something, after all, which might benefit some unborn descendent of mine or yours (even if not in the way you hope and dream).

  22. Van Youngman says:

    Back in October I was very sick and was sent by my primary to several doctors and eventually a surgeon.  Before the final diagnosis, I was asked, “Who is your oncologist?”  It was then I knew I would die shortly. My reaction was of calm acceptance, For the past year I had thoroughly digested Hitch’s reflections on the process and had made up my mind that death was nothing more than an incredibly good night deep sleep with night extended into eternity.  It was fine before I was conceived and it will be fine now.    The only problem was the dying part and my pulmonary physician assured me he’d ease me through that. Then the diagnosis came and it was Hodgkin’s lymphoma which a few years ago would have been bye-bye like Richard Harris. Lots have happened since then and after several rounds of chemo, my oncologist expects a complete cure. So, being 76 and still teaching, it looks like I have a few more years at the party.

  23. LanceThruster says:

    I find that my connection to eternity is being part of the “eternal now.” And I also like Alan Watts’ observation on cosmic consciousness —“Cosmic consciousness is the feeling that you love people, but can’t explain why.”

  24. Mike Perry says:

    I Second Rudi! You beat me to the punch, sir! Congratulations. Actually Rudi is an old friend of mine and we both are interested in, and (publicly) have arrangements for, cryonics–being cryopreserved at clinical death for eventual reanimation if/when it is possible to do that. (I didn’t know he would post here, though, we are not “colluding.”) My feeling is that wanting to live beyond the time nature may have allotted you is in a sense “selfish” but it can be in the form of enlightened self-interest, a strong positive rather than a negative. And I am a firm fan of striving to become something more than what nature has allotted us to be: to be non-aging, non-dying, and doing it through reason, science, and technology rather than appeals to “higher powers.” Also, I will say that I don’t think all can be considered “known” already about whether a person is precluded forever from return to consciousness after the demise of the body. Suppose, for instance, that a near-copy of you is created in some remote scenario, maybe by an advanced civilization or even a purely random process. The copy has your memories, dispositions, etc. and additionally “knows” it is now in a different time and is having additional experiences. Arguably, it is you (or a continuer of you, which is all that you become as you age, a continuer of your former selves), having new experiences. If you can accept the idea that more than one “you” might arise in this way (and what is wrong with that?), it would be a nonsupernatural means for you to be resurrected and have an afterlife.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      As I said above, let science and those who are willing guinea pigs try all they can to extend life. I just don’t know if I’d want to come back in an alien world or as one of multiples of me, nor do I think future scientists would necessarily care about me as a person, but would use my defrosted self to continue their experiments. Hypothetically, I can see where such experimentation could be of benefit to humanity in the long run. Kind of like cloning. Let’s all hope that only those with prosocial goals make progress with this type of science.

  25. Chuck Walworth says:

    I remember that when I was a child and a few times as an adult, there were nights when I would close my eyes to sleep, and then on the instant, it was morning…as though 8 or 9 hours had not passed.  There was no sense of any time having passed on those nights at all…if you get my drift…just a fully refreshed awakening to a new day.  I think that death is like those nights….there is no sense of any passage of time, no darkness and no light, no nothing, and no one there to feel anything.  8 hours or 10 weeks or a trillion years all pass at the same speed.  I see nothing to fear in that at all.

  26. Francois says:

    Having a naturalistic world view for me means there is nothing supernatural before nor after my life, period.  I agree with “adam” that that doesn’t mean there is no fear of death.  It seems logical that our quest to survive in any form whatsoever is linked to our evolution and is printed in our genes, Otherwise we probably would have been wiped out by other species. These genes of survival probably explain our huge egoistic tendencies. This necessity of egoistic survival is partly what makes us “invent” huge religious systems.  And these “huge religious systems” allow us to belong a “clan” that will then fight the “other” human clans always in a quest of survival.I believe strongly in this logic and hate it.  I wish we could shed it in some far away future.

  27. frish says:

    I have been living with aged and failing parents for 11 years now.My father died, after 15+ years of progressively worse senility, on 9/11/08.His bride of 62 years, my mom, died 11/21/12, my father’s birthdate. My perspective on death was informed by my mother, she simply wore out! The official cause of death: “Unassigned Debility”Both my parents donated themselves to UCLA for medical education.From my study of Anthorpology, I know several things that aren’t Earth Shattering, but…1. We live far more SOLITARY llives (in the US for surel) than at any time in human history.a. when we lived in Extended Families (which is what we did for most of the past 200,000 years), there were births and deaths and all manner of things, but they occurred as a matter of course, unlike how death is treated in society today.  b. Grief and Mourning are not given much importance…very difficult to accept death in general, seems unfair… 2. We live LONGER and not necessarily better at the end…- we have more time to “worry” about what will happen “after”.3. There is an illusion of a separate consciousness that seems detached (or detachable) from our physical being.- It’s a nice illusion, but, each of us is a singular entity, body and “soul” if you will, and therefore consciousness has no where to go, it simply ceases.I’d be happy to hear how a soul evolved…can’t see any reason for one!Yes, I’mj intellectually aware I will die someday, but I’m trying to have some fun first.Mom wrote an article for “User Experience” a magazine for those concerned with “Computer Human Interface”  (CHI) she being an old lady, an under-served class of ‘end users’…Here it is, echoing some of what was shared above:

    I want to live until I die, and I’ll bet you do, too. But as
    I get older, I find I’m constantly compromising, and living less of life than I
    want or deserve.

    Here’s a small example. I can’t do the fancy stitches that I
    used to do in knitting. Why? Because I can’t concentrate well enough and I keep
    making mistakes. Then the work isn’t up to my standards and I’m aware of it. I
    can manage all the activities of daily living, and that means I’m not ready for
    an institution or even the daily support of a caregiver under the terms of my
    long-term care insurance.

    But I’m living beyond an age or a capability for what I
    consider minimum functionality for pleasure.

    My parts are wearing out:

    ■■ I can’t chew gum anymore because it sticks to
    my dental work.  I loved to chew gum.

    ■■ I can’t chew well in general. For example, I
    can’t bite into an apple, whole. Many pleasures of food elude me.

    ■■ I have lots of mobility issues: the ankle with limited range of motion, the foot
    with the painful callus, and an arthritic knee.

    ■■ I can’t put my jewelry on anymore because I don’t have the fine motor dexterity to open and close the clasps
    on the necklaces. For earrings, hooks are fine, but I can’t handle the posts.

    ■■ I can’t travel to far away places anymore. I
    appreciate the ramps that accommodate those in wheelchairs. But, many hotel rooms
    that are architecturally approved as “handicapped” are built for people in
    wheelchairs. I need a walk-in shower, not a tub; outside of certain hotels in
    the U.S., where can you find these while traveling?

    ■■ Hearing loss is very limiting and very upsetting. It annoys other people to
    repeat for me. If I’m not wearing my hearing aids, I can’t talk from room to
    room anymore, out of line-of-sight. “Oh, it wasn’t important,” is the too
    frequent response.

    There are a few areas where I feel fortunate today.

    Anyone who lives long enough will develop a cataract. Even though
    I was reluctant to have anyone messing around with my eyes, I accepted the
    recommendation when the doctor said I should have cataract surgery. I can read
    street signs unaided now. I can read the caller ID on my Treo, a feat that
    amazes my friends who are non-technically oriented; “How did you know it was
    me?” So the vision situation was resolved and restored.

    Some people want to live until after they’re dead; not me.
    You probably can match me story for story with tales of someone who died from
    too much involvement of the medical profession.

    ■■ A man I knew was diagnosed with cancer. When offered either chemotherapy or
    nothing, he chose the chemo and was miserable for the remainder of his life. It
    may have extended his life in time, but not the quality of his life.

    ■■ A woman with terminal disease wanted to end it quickly; she preferred to end it
    and make sure her heirs—not the doctors—got the majority of her estate.

    ■■ More than twenty-five years ago, in her early 90s with rapidly decreasing
    abilities of all sorts, my mother had a wound that wouldn’t heal. The doctors
    tried a dozen different topical and internal medicines and finally,
    reluctantly, recommended amputation. We said no, if this will kill her, so be
    it. She was beyond the ability to take part in the rehabilitation that would be
    required, and she always had a preference for life of quality over extreme
    measures. “Just make her comfortable,” was our request. They stopped all
    medications, and guess what? The wound disappeared by itself.

    The point here is the fact that the doctors made a
    recommendation to keep the body alive, rather than provide palliative care.
    It’s annoying, frustrating, and depressing. I’m not happy with this downhill
    slide, and I’m painfully aware of all these losses. What is the limit? I can’t
    see so well—okay, now I see a bit better—but I still can’t hear, I’m in pain,
    and can’t walk so well. When does it stop? When is enough enough? And, of
    course, the appropriate response is, “Who’s going to decide?”

    The subject is dying: when is the time? Who gets to decide?

    It’s demeaning and depressing not to be able to do what I
    consider ordinary things, and not be permitted to make the decision for myself about
    when is the right time to go.

    —Sue Frishberg

    Originally Published in :  
    User Experience Volume 8, Issue 1, 1st Quarter 2009Death is required since we have sex.  If we simply divided, we could essentially live forever.  But, with sex comes death, otherwise there wouldn’t be room for offspring!

  28. Randal Lanning says:

    About three months ago I was given the shock that I had Lymphoma, fortunately the slow growing kind (Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma) although it had progressed already to stage four in that it is in my bone marrow as well making it also Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. My last physical had me as healthy so this was a shock. My doctor assures me that I will live into my sixties and seventies although I am in my fifties now. Needless to say, “cancer” always seems like a death sentence.My birthday is in a few days in which I will be 52. I know that anything I do will mean nothing to me a millisecond after my death to me as I will not even know it happened.Life is for one thing: procreation. Everything else one does with it is up to them. I don’t fear death, I do fear lying back no longer able to do anything and wishing I had done some of the things I wanted to do. I want to say, “You know, I had a great life. I did this and that and just enjoyed it and now it’s time to rest. I’ve done it all.”So far, I’ve done most everything I’ve wanted to do and I’m still not done. But I will reach that point, “I’ve done it all.”

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Yes, to leave the planet with no regrets, with nothing crucial undone, with all the loose ends tied up: a worthy goal, in my opinion. Not enough for some, but nothing is.

  29. Allen Mersereau says:

    Life is for the spiritual, death is for religion. It seems to me that a lot of rational people here are putting undue weight on life by talking about death. death is not a part of life, death is the begining of death, your body rots away to the earth from which we came, nothing more. what remains are the people we leave behind, it is to their lives, and our eternal vanity, we make any immortal gestures. death is for religionists to yap about in any philosophical sense… but I may be wrong

  30. JaJaKauai says:

    My only real thoughts about death are making it the easiest & minimum cost for the living.  IF loved ones wish to have a memorial service for me, the only request I do insist on is a eulogy as follows (copied & pasted from an unknown source): “You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got. And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever. And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives. And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. “

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Lots to think about there. I like the last phrase especially, though I’m sure it’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

  31. jerry t. searcy says:

    Cryonics! Ever hear of it? There’s no guarantee that frozen brains will ever be repaired & the person returned to existence but in my opinion there is one guarantee: To not be frozen means eternal oblivion! In a sound-byte, the difference between cryonics & all other ways of dealing with death (except perhaps plastination) is the possibility of oblivion vs the certainty of oblivion

  32. Steve says:

    There is death, and there is dying, two different things as someone above pointed out.

    Dying is a process. Death is a state. “State of death.”

    No, wait… That depends on perspective. The perspective in scope here is one’s own. “Death,” from one’s personal perspective, is not a state because “state” applies to something. In contrast to “something”, the process of dying culminates in “full sto

  33. Ed Litchfield says:

    Thanks for the discussion on death. For me it is a struggle to understand my own demise or at least to accept it.
    I think the fear of my own dying and death is the basis of all my fears.
    So by coming to grips with death I hope to wrestle fear generally.
    One thing that has helped a bit is the realization that ‘life without end’, that is, existing forever, is more terrifying for me than dying. There is some consolation in accepting that one day all this will end.

  34. Georges Melki says:

    Two thousand years ago, some clever Romans(brights?) used to have the following epitaph put on their tombstones: NF F NS NC, an acronym for Non Fui, Fui, Non Sum, Non Curo, which means “I was not-I was-I am not-I don’t care”.
    It is really unbelievable that very few people in the 21st century have reached this level of detached acceptance of death as a natural phenomenon!

  35. steve says:

    Every time we sleep, we wake up a little different. One day we will go to sleep and we will not wake up as us. The atoms that we were made of will head off to become other things, other memories.

    This has already happened. Each time you breathe, eat, drink, poop, or pee, you exchange atoms with the universe. One day you will give all your atoms to the universe.

    This has already happened. Your atoms have been many things and many beings before they became you. Many have been through the cores of stars. Many have been bugs or plants. Some have been cute children or wise old people.

    Do you mourn what your atoms have been? Why should you? One day what is you will forget that it is you, that is all that death is. It happens every day. It’s no big deal. “You” have done this many, many times already 🙂

  36. Scott Jackson says:

    There’s cryopreservation, which holds out the possibility of reanimation perhaps 100-200 years down the road. That’s the closest I’ll come to heaven, and it’s a chance I’ll take.

  37. I agree with this and recently was confronted with it a bit due to my father’s cancer diagnosis. I found myself reading more Yalom on the subject of death and realizing how it triggered so much death anxiety within me. All of it has made me realize how much I want to accomplish in my life before my own eventual death and that I should appreciate each passing year and moment more fully. One of our bloggers wrote a pretty spot on piece about learning to be more in the moment which also was helpful to me. Hopefully it will be helpful to you as well.


  38. UIZ says:

    As per Hindu, death is real.

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