Coming to grips with my own mortality

Entry no. 16954_

SPOILER ALERT: Everyone dies in the end.

Even you, dear reader, will one day cease to exist. Your body will decay, and your elementary particles will be returned to the ecological system of which you were a part. Then, after some indeterminate length of time, your name will fade into antiquity. As time progresses, your memory will be retained by fewer and fewer people; until some day, it will be forgotten completely. This brevity, this impermanence is the only true absolute in life.

However, don’t think this is just some cheap shot at you; not in the slightest. Indeed, the fact that we as a species are destined for extinction is as much a certainty as is our eventual death. That’s right, the entirety of what we currently call the human race will someday die off. It could happen suddenly (read: asteroid), or it could happen more gradually (read: Neanderthal). The point is that some day—whether by space rock or super volcano, evolution or climate change—our species will eventually cease to exist.

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for.

Vladimir Nabokov

Morbid, much?

I agree, this may seem rather morbid or nihilist; thinking about the eventual demise of everything. However, not enough people do, in my opinion. I mean, everyone understands that they will perish some day, but rather than acknowledging and confronting that fact, most people simply put it out of their mind until that day inevitably comes knocking. This practice can be detrimental to our well-being in more ways than one. Studies have shown that existential death anxiety can lead to damaging effects in both the short and long terms; contributing to things like emotional instability and even physical harm to oneself or others.

I too had compartmentalized the inevitability of my own death. Like most people, I decided that death was not a pleasant topic to think about and quarantined such thoughts in a dark corner of my mind. It wasn’t until my own death seemed imminent that those thoughts broke free of their bonds and made a mad dash into my consciousness. This had a profound effect on my overall outlook on life, and of course, death.

Jacques Auguste Regnier, Old Mortality
Jacques Auguste Regnier, Old Mortality

No, I’m not depressed.

Contrary to popular belief, thinking about death is not necessarily indicative of depression. When death does a ding dong ditch at your door, as it did at mine last year, contemplating death is only natural. Since that day, I have lived with the unfortunate knowledge that there is a real possibility my mother might outlive me. This has not, however, diminished my will to live. But more importantly, at a time when accepting Pascal’s Wager might seem almost logical, it is actually my steadfast non-belief in superstition which has given me the most comfort.

Instead of relegating my future to the hands of the supernatural, I’ve gleaned solace from an inherently secular, scientific point of view. I do not believe in the concept of an afterlife. In my opinion, an eternity of anything would negate its meaning. Supposing, for instance, that the bible is right and there is such a thing as an afterlife… An eternal life in Heaven would not be what I consider “living”. Webster defines eternity as “infinite, or unending time”. Regardless of the amount of time you spend in an eternity, there will always be an eternity left in your future. When faced with the infinite, even a trillion years is but the blink of an eye.

To infinity, and beyond!

There is a theory in statistics which states that: Given an infinite amount of time, a monkey at a typewriter will eventually wind up writing Hamlet. The premise of the theory is that any finite string of characters (such as the works of Shakespeare) must eventually occur as a substring of an infinite string. This principal doesn’t just apply to monkeys at typewriters, however; it can be scaled up. Therefore, eternal life in Heaven would, at some point, cease to offer rewards to its members.

After praising god in every way conceivable, after partaking in an eternity of happiness and pleasure, and after walking the streets of gold forever, what then? When does the eternal life become eternal and pointless existence? In this way, I feel that an eternity in Heaven would offer very little difference to an eternity in Hell. The torture and agony of the souls in Hell would eventually fade just as the happiness and bliss of those in Heaven. After which time, you’re left with nothing more than a bunch of pitiful souls existing in a state of misery for the rest of eternity.

I refuse to simply exist. I will live.