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Thinking About Death

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eath is a forever puzzle and fascinating topic in philosophy, religion and spiritual discussions. It might not be an exaggeration to say that religion is created to answer the question of death. Then what is the question of death? Strictly speaking, it is not even a question, it is just an unsettled feeling. The traditional questions include: What happen after we die? Will the soul linger on after my body decayed? Without my watchful eyes and conscious, will the world still exist? Will everything become an infinite darkness? Where I will be without me? From a secular, natural, and materialistic view, all these questions are nonsense. Without me, there will be no "I", and we should not even ask: "Where I will be, and What will happen". Nothing will happen, the world will continue go around without me. I just no longer exist. Our existence is finite, and limited, not just in time, also in space. I didn't exist before I was born, and I will not exist after I die. Similarly, at this moment, I only exist in the place I sit, in the place I stand, but not in the place at the other side of the planet, actually in 99.99999...% of the planet and the universe. If we don't worry about my nonexistence in all the other aspects, why should I worry about the time span after I die? So, logically, there is nothing special for the time after I die. But unfortunately, a logical answer like this rarely satisfies the majority of the people. For most people, the question of death, and the fear of after-death is not a logical question, it is an emotional question, it is the fear, it is the sadness. If we want to provide an answer as powerful as the religions answer, then we have to satisfy the emotional needs, to fill the unsettled feeling when people think about death. Our answer, however should be a truthful one, not the traditional religions ones which are based on false hopes and lies.


We have an unsettled feeling about death, because we view this world mostly from our own eyes and perspective, thus, we don't know how to think about the world without ourselves. In another word, we don't know how to think about our own nonexistence. We have an unsettled feeling about death, because we longing for infinity, ever lasting, eternalness. . I bet none other animal worry about the death, although they do avoid dangerous death-leading behaviors, but they don't worry about it for its long term perspective, and then turn to worship something "holy" just to mitigate this worry. Only specie like our human, who can think, does that. This is a by-product of our thinking ability. From the evolution point of view, we are the only specie who developed this capability to worry about our future. This worry, built on our ability to think, allows us for long term planning, which brings us a big edge in terms of survival in specie competition, and in the development of our civilization. But unfortunately, like most philosophical paradox, we extend concepts and vocabularies beyond their applicable ranges. Besides asking what I will do tomorrow, we start to ask what I will do after I die. This of course is wrong. We forget the fact that this long term planning for ourselves should stop at some point. However, even if we know this logically, emotionally we are so use to think about tomorrow, we cannot emotionally grasp the fact that there will be no tomorrow for ourselves, that thought drives us crazy.


Then, what is the answer? (1) Since this is a problem created by our capability to think, we should find an answer by our new thought; (2) Since this is an emotional question, we have to shift our value systems, our longing to adjust our emotional orientation; (3) Since this is a problem originated from only using our personal angle to view and feel this world, (thus we don't know how to think about this world if we imagine that this personal angle and view disappear someday), we have to change the way to view and feel this world.


Regarding to new thought, and logic thinking, we already pointed out that there is nothing beyond our death. Logically, there is no point to talk about me after my death. That is the end of story. Our nonexistence at other place and other time only emphasizes the importance of our existence at the current place and current time. What we can do is to focus on our current existence, and to live the life to its fullest. As long as we do the things we want to do at this moment, and as long as such things do not inflame harm to other people or our limited future (before we die), then we should do it with our full zest. As long as we embark on such busy activities, and preoccupy ourselves to make ourselves happy, then the sad feeling about death will disappear. One thing worth to be noticed is that the whole point of our effort (or the effort of any religions teaching) is not really to make life good after our death (there is no life after death). Instead, it is just to make us feel good when we think about our death, and the time after our death. So, the whole point is to make us happy at this moment. The focus is now, not after our death. Since we are still alive now, then from the secular and naturalist view, there is hope to solve the death problem, i.e., solve it by finding a way of thinking to make us feel good while we are still alive.


Regarding to the emotional orientation and our value system, the first question we can ask is: why should we long for infinity, for eternal existence. Why that is better than our limited and transient existence? Why we like to be forever? Nothing is forever, nothing is static. Everything is changing, and our death is just part of that changing process, feel happy about it! From the big side, our Cosmo is not static. The whole universe is created from a big bang, and it is keep expanding. In some scenario (maybe not in our universe), the whole universe can go through an expansion and shrinking cycle, from big bang to big crunch. In the small side, we can never step in a same river twice, things change around us. Many insects live for only one day or so, and most bacteria live only for hours or even minutes. So, why resist the change, and why value the infinite? We should value change, we should value transient thing, and we should value present. Good should not be measured by quantity, instead should be measured by quality. As long as we live our life fully, happily, and enthusiastically for every hours, then we have a good life, regardless whether we lived for 20 years or 80 years, or forever.


You might ask, if we value our current life, our current moment of existence, and think and feel it is good, should we want more for the good thing. It is natural to ask for more for the good thing. So, it is natural for longing for more of our good life. Well, to rebut such argument, think about some bad thing in life. Although we strive for happiness in this life, but life is not always 100% happy. There are always sadness, tragedy, and sorrow. Without these negative sides in life, the positive side (the happiness) will not exist. Happiness exists as a measure to drive us to the positive side, to guide our behavior to survive in the life competition. Happiness and sadness, they are the two sides in their dialectical relationship. The religions promise of ever happy life in heaven after your death is an empty promise. There could not be only happiness, without the sadness to support it. If there is one thing which makes you happy, you do it, and do it every moment of your life, then it will quickly cease to be happy. In all the religions teaching, I haven't seen anything they promised which will really make me happy forever. Honey and Milk? Too much of that might be bad for your health (well maybe after the death, we don't care about health, then without our body to taste, why honey and milk is any good). 72 angels? That sounds nice. But only because I am lacking of such service in this earthly life. If I have such service in heaven every day, I am sure I will be tired of it very soon. Besides, without body, I cannot enjoy that much. So, thinking this way, life is not just for the good part, life is a struggle, life is a transient experience. Sure, you can be a never tiring fighter, want to fight through life, repeat the process again and again, but would it be nice to lay down, to end the process, and to let the other people, the young and energetic, to fight their own battle? Once a person told me: it is the most terrible and dreadful idea if life is really forever, never an end. As we grow older, less energetic, we really want to have an end.


Lastly, regarding the way to view this world, to experience our life, we can change our concept and practice, so we have a larger perspective, and can connect our experience to other people's experience. Then, letting other people to fight their life battle, is as good as to let you to fight your life battle again. In a sense, their experience is also your experience. In our current culture, we put a lot of emphasize on individualism. The trouble is, we seem to only have individualism, nothing else. We view the world only from our own individual experience. As a result, if we imagine to lose ourselves (death), then we can no longer find another angle to view this world anymore. That contribute to a puzzle feeling when we think about the death, and a sense of complete lose (which cause sadness and fear). What we can do to avoid such feeling is to find another angle to view and experience this world, to use that as a back up to our own angle. So, in our imagination (thinking process), even if we remove our own angle (imagine we are dead), we can view this world from the other angle. To find this other angle, we need to connect our own feeling to the feeling of other people, to view ourselves as an integrated part of the life experience of the whole humanity (or community). As we have the ability to think and worry about the future (which cause our problem regarding to death), we also have the unique capability for sympathy. We can use this capability to experience other people's feeling, and to eventually regard other people's feeling as part of your own feeling, and to treat your own experience (and existence) as part of a larger experience (existence). If we can reach that emotional stage, then although our individual existence will disappear, but the larger existence of the human being (or just your friends) will be there for a much longer time. We will not worry that much about our own death, because we know from the bottom of our heart (emotionally), that the other feeling will continue to be there, and the world will continue to move around.


When we think about tomorrow, and knowing that tomorrow we will still be alive, all we have is a thought, is an assurance that tomorrow I will be there to live and to feel the world. For me, the "current me", that is just an imagination in my mind (because tomorrow has not come yet). But that is enough to make me feel good and settled at this moment. As we discussed before, the feeling at this moment is what important. Now, if we think about death, the thought that there will be no more me in the future makes me feel not so good at this moment. Now, if we can think about our friend, the persons closest to us, they will still be there after we die, and they will continue to feel the world, and we also know their feeling (almost as much as we know our own), then what is the worry. To the current me, the "me" at this moment, whether tomorrow is me or them to exist doesn't make that difference. Because they (tomorrow's me, or your friends) both can only exist in the imagination of the current me, so as long as I can imagine other people's feeling as well as I can imagine the feeling of tomorrow's me, then there is no difference, because life's continuation is guaranteed. So I should care other people as much as I care tomorrow's me. Here, I am not advocate to abandon individualism and to embrace collectivism or communism. Individualism is still important, as it still fit most naturally to our human nature. However, besides individualism, we should share each other's feeling, and share them in some deep and even intimate sense. Only that, we can feel that our existence is an integrate part of a larger existence. As a result, our death is not the end of the life experience of the whole. Other people's life experience is as important, as lovely, as our own life experience. So, to care about other people, to share other people's feeling, at the end is to the benefit of ourselves, to solve the problem of death, to make the current me happy. In that sense, we can live forever, because we can live through other people's life. Notice that, other people, and tomorrow's me, they are both secondary to the current me. They only exist in the mind of the current me. So, the current me is still primary. We first need to care about the current me. Then we can care about tomorrow's me, then other people. So, this is still individualism, and we still care about ourselves first. We just added the other people's feeling to the list for things to care and share. So, even if tomorrow's me die, we still have other people as a continuation, as a back up. Sharing other people's feeling also expand our life experience, thus there is also a direct benefit to the me at this moment.


To reach such emotional status of caring and sharing other people's feeling, we need love. Love in its deep sense is care. We might need to live in a more intimate way with our friends, and not be afraid of sharing the intimate moments with our closest friends. This might require a change of our life style, of the way of life. In our current culture, most individual lives in an emotional island. In order for us to feel be the part of the whole, we need to be more intimately connected, to share our emotion. One natural way to share other people's feeling and care for other is for our kids. The knowledge that our children will live on after we passed away can indeed calm us down. Another possible way to connect to other people's feeling is to use our natural intimate tendency between man and woman to build such connection. But this might require some fundamental changes in our moral standard. This is interesting, from the topic of death, we have derived some required changes in our way of life.


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