Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thoughts about death and life

Fear of death is a powerful and helpful motivator to take actions to keep us alive, such as treating a medical problem or fighting efficiently in a physical battle.

However, in this post I want to analyze the fear of death as an abstract idea (not as a fear of some immediate, concrete threat). Just the fear that someday you will die.

I'll start with some analysis of scary thoughts about death, and whether they are rightfully scary or not:

  • Dying as a painful experience and as "the end of me".
    Death is just your consciousness ceasing to exist. When you die you do not experience "yourself" as not existing - you simply experience nothing.
    Worst possible option is some pain before death, but it's not a big deal - it lasts a short while - no more big of a deal than the pain felt under injury or some disease after which you get better. Sure, it hurts, but we can all take some amount of pain (even if severe) bravely. So strike out pain as a big issue regarding death.

  • The disgusting idea of your body turning into a rotting corpse: Well, you're not there to witness that. The whole process takes place after you are no longer conscious. the disgusting physical aspect is only a problem for you regarding other people's death - but usually in today's society you can easily avoid the view of the dead body, let someone else take care of the funeral arrangements, and just keep in your mind the memory of the person as he was when he was alive - and this is what other people you know will experience in regard to you - so really us humans only experience one another in the nice clean form of moving, thinking, living people - and we have very little touch with the ugly side (except for undertakers). Seeing that this is the case, there is no point thinking of the ugly side, since you won't deal with it anyway - and just act like for you it doesn't exist (because it is actually true for your life - unless you're an undertaker/grave robber).

  • Fearing the thoughts before death - about whether or not your life has been good.
    My answer to this is: Why fear that time? This will be a feeling that could last, say, I don't know, a few moments or a few days. You have numerous days to have all the other variety of feelings. It is senseless to spend all those days now preparing yourself for a single short moment in the future.

So given that these three options are struck out - what else is left to fear about death? All it is, is just your consciousness stopping, like what happens when you're under full anesthesia (or sleeping). Suppose you don't wake up from either one - no pain will be involved. There will simply be nothing but the cessation of life. Death is meaningless - it is simply the absence of everything. Life is what counts.
And when you realize that this is all death is - all that is left is to focus on living - on the enjoyment you can achieve while alive. Wasting time thinking of death is utterly useless (other than the time required to understand this fact) - all it accomplishes is wasting the time you do have on negative feelings. It will be the equivalent of going on vacation and spending all of it worrying and crying about the time when it will end.

Practical point to consider: what do you do if you DO have thoughts about death? Answer: you act to eliminate them by repeatedly reminding yourself the uselessness of thinking about it, followed by shifting your focus to something else. After enough time of repeating this your subconscious automatizes this correct approach and such thoughts don't appear anymore.

[As a general rule of maximizing the enjoyment from your life: Only allow negative emotions in your life to the extent they can be used to better your life (by motivating you or helping you to correct a problem) - but do not dwell on them when they arise from a situation you can do nothing about. ]

The only legitimate scary thought about death (which is actually a scary thought about life) is to live an unhappy life without the option of anything better in the future (since death eliminates the option of having a future).
So long as you are alive and think you will remain so for a long time, feeling bad can be tolerable, because you can always keep in mind that in the future more good things await. This is why in times of feeling bad thoughts of death become more scary - because death in this case means no hope for anything better. But if your life is good, and if you know you used your time in a satisfactory way - the end of the "vacation" is easier to accept.

What this scary thought of death comes down to - is fear of unexploited life, of life without the highest enjoyment you could achieve.

It all comes down to one conclusion: Live your life the best way you can to maximize your enjoyment, and stay focused on this goal.


  1. Thanks for this. I'm just not sure if the fear of a vacation coming to an end is a good analogy. There's a real problem is a person's life outside vacation is such a scary place to return to.

  2. I'm not sure what you mean. It sounds like you're talking about being afraid to come back from a good vacation to a crummy life?
    If so I don't see how this relates to the analogy.
    Please explain a bit more.

  3. I think the intention of the analogy (which is quite clear) is that if you worry about how quickly your vacation is going to pass, you will miss out on actually enjoying the time you have on vacation. The fact that people should enjoy their life and not have to escape it through a vacation is true, but irrelevant, to the point being made.

  4. What about after death? where will you go? will u ever be reincarnated again with your own consciousness?

    1. It's a fantasy, meant to alleviate the fear of death or the fear of living an unfulfilled life.

  5. Death is not anything like the end of a vacation, we exist to prolong life, and if religion wasn't existent, I think immortality would be within our grasps.