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com Recommend this article. “Afraid of dying? Don’t be. It’s never going to happen to you, and I can prove it.” It’s said that Albert Einstein once commented that the most fundamental question we can ever ask ourselves is whether or not the universe we live in is friendly or hostile. He hypothesized that your answer to that question would determine your destiny. Surely death is the greatest threat that we all face. For many people it gives the universe a decidedly hostile bent. They believe that the race of life can never be won; that we are born to lose. I do not agree. In fact, I believe that the race was never started to begin with and that death itself is an illusion. Before outlining my hypothesis, I should make it clear that the aim of my writing is the excavation and study of the truth. The truth as a pure product, consistent for all time. Through reasoned logic I intend to demonstrate that your own consciousness is not as finite in scope and lifespan as you may think. To put it simply: I do not believe in death. I do not think that we are immortal, far from it. My belief is that we are exempt from the unpleasant matter of death altogether. I believe that our general definition of sentience needs to evolve with our understanding of the nature of the universe and of human consciousness. It has been my experience that once the spectre of death is stripped of its shadowy mask it becomes much easier to contend with as a concept. I believe that nothing truly known can be truly feared. If this article gives you solace and enables you to live your life with a little less fear then in many ways I have achieved my goal. The Alpha and the Omega “Death, in itself, is nothing; but we fear, To be we know not what, we know not where.” John Dryden Everyone eventually reaches the point in their lives where they become fully aware of the inevitability of their own death. It is at this point that they choose to either embrace the overwhelming significance of the realization or to recoil in horror. They may be tempted to abandon reason in favor of prescribed answers and short term comforts – such as spirituality, superstition or religion. Yet, what is the price that we pay when we allow fear and wish-thinking to warp our perception of reality? A very high one, in my opinion. Maintaining a strictly rational approach can be the harder choice in the short term but in the long term, I believe, yields far greater rewards. I believe that the most powerful and courageous choice we can make is to embrace the power of reason, no matter how difficult or uncertain the journey may be. We should attempt to approach life as the ultimate scientist; with an open mind and without preconceptions. The reward for our efforts will be the truth, and that is to be prized above all else. A common belief is that to live a fulfilling life we should simply pursue happiness for ourselves and for others. Yet, even our very happiness is subject to the laws of truth. How can we be sure that our actions are making us truly happy if we don’t have a rational understanding of ourselves and the universe that we live in?
Surely the greatest gift of sentience is the ability to consider one’s own existence and mortality. The Veil of Perception “Reality is merely an illusion. Similarly. allowing blind people to “see” a digital video image of the world around them. then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. “Sapiens” is Latin for “being wise” or “knowing”. that there is little that we can prove absolutely except that we. to neglect it is to abandon what makes us uniquely human. coupled with the human genus it forms “Homo Sapiens”. in fact. sounds and sensations fed to us by our senses. Is “reality” a dream? I believe that it’s more like a memory of what our senses perceived a millisecond ago. Scientists are currently fitting deaf children with Cochlear brain implants that allow them to hear despite having no physical ear-drums at all. ears and other senses. we are the only animals that know . This self-awareness is the crowning achievement of the human intellect. . A story told to us by our minds to represent our experience of the physical universe. Subjective experience is eternally. Prominent scientists and philosophers have calculated that there is at least a twenty-percent likelihood that we are all. therefore I am”) is the profound philosophical observation made by Rene Descartes in 1637. We do not actually experience the real world. the film The Matrix touches on a very important scientific problem: that there is currently no way for us to know for certain if what we experience is real or a sensory fantasy fed to our brains directly. there are a number of devices under development that can be implanted directly into the visual cortex of the brain. ourselves. smell. only the images. Reality is all in our own minds. exist. It’s All in Your Mind “If real is what you can feel. living in a simulation. Since all experience occurs within your mind. Literally. taste and see. An objective observer would only see the movement of atoms and electrons within your brain. What I do have is a deep sense of wonder at the possibility that we may be able to explain our universe using reason alone. From an objective viewpoint your “mind” wouldn’t exist at all. “Cogito Ergo Sum” (“I think. the memories that you hold leading right up to this very moment are as valid as any dream. It’s true that this fantasy is directly influenced by the physical universe but research has shown that we all perceive the outside world in very different ways.” Morpheus – The Matrix Though science-fiction.” Albert Einstein Understanding the nature of death naturally requires an understanding of one’s own existence. All of the input information that we receive arrives to us from our eyes. albeit a very persistent one.about ourselves and about the world around us. I cannot think of anything more appalling than the thought of someone having lived and died without ever having considered the nature of their own existence.I find no satisfaction in the apparent grandeur of religious myth and dogma. The beauty and majesty of any explanation is enhanced by its truthfulness. absolutely subjective. This is what fundamentally separates us from animals.
bend down and put your head between your legs. “Death” describes an infinite “nothingness”. you won’t be present when it comes knocking. Our brains are “experience machines”. then you are not experiencing anything at all. only by the mind within the system itself. but. You felt no pain. The confusion occurs for many people when they try to merge the concept of their own subjective intelligence with the objective reality of the universe. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born. I believe that these terms fundamentally refer to the same concept. and so is. but the subjective qualia cannot be experienced by an outside observer. When the supernatural elements are removed. but it is nothing more than a shared myth. If it saddens you to think that at some point in the future you will no longer physically exist then why does it not sadden you to think of the trillions of years before you were born in which you were also absent. we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. “mind” or “qualia”. but there is no reason to assume that our experience will be anything like how we imagine death to be.” Dr Wayne Dyer Many terms have been used to define our “spirit”. Death may be a frightening concept. turn around. something that we cannot participate in.All experience and meaning is created within our minds. and you won’t feel anything when your time is done. and one that you will never have to face. If you are experiencing nothing.” Dr Wayne Dyer The spectre of death is an illusion. love or fear before you were born.” Mark Twain “…your lifetime is but a parenthesis in eternity. by definition. just like an imaginary bogeyman in your closet. It’s true that at some point we will appear to “die”. The Ghost in the Machine “We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience. it simply is. an illusion. He suggested that it would then be difficult in the upside-down . Death denotes a complete lack of experience. All we can be is what we experience and anything outside of that is a subjective impossibility. We cannot experience “nothing”. happiness. and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it. It’s not something that should concern you since you won’t be taking any part in it. The objective universe does not “see” any “meaning”. “soul”. A subjective experience may be created by the functioning of a complex system. You cannot truly fear something which cannot exist for you. The 19th century psychologist Hermann von Helmholtz proposed an experiment to demonstrate the nature of qualia: his instructions were to stand in front of a familiar landscape. Since our conciousness exists in the dimension of pure thought it could be said that we are living in a “spiritual plane” every day of our lives. Death is Impossible “I do not fear death. You can fear the concept of death.
your illusion. They are shed from our bodies and replaced at a constant rate. This is highlighted in cases where these representations break down. It’s just gone. Dream On “Have you ever had a dream. What you were seeing was not the landscape. They could become spaceships or trains. does the person that you were in the dream die? No. Light waves bounce off of objects and return to us at different wavelengths. In truth. Even the world that we see around us is still a representation formed within our brain as an interpretation of what our senses perceive. it was not sufficiently useful for us to perceive the ultraviolet or infra-red spectrums. The atoms within your brain are replaced every twelve months and most of your body is replaced about every seven years. where does the house go?” Girl: “It’s in the bin. It is therefore impossible to truly conceive of anything in the physical universe. such as during psychoactive drug experiences or in severe mental illnesses. The same is true for the other senses and experiences. Your experience of daily life is as real as your dreams. most of what we see is simply an representation for the physical world which helps us to understand and interpret it. The experience of pain is not intrinsic to the flame. the visual experience of color is entirely created in our brain. since both exist completely within your own mind.view to recognize what you found familiar before. When you wake up. It is a interpretation of what is occurring and it exists only within your mind. it is simply a signal sent by the pain receptors in your hand to alert you that your body is being injured. those are just the pieces. who you are right now is an illusion. Neo. but your mental representation of it. The arrangement doesn’t stay with the pieces and it doesn’t go anywhere else.” Boy: “No. then. . For example. such as pain. This evolutionary trait developed because it served a useful purpose for our species. if you hold your hand over a fire you experience the sensation of pain.” XKCD A popular scientific observation is that all of the atoms in our bodies are in constant transition. that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” Morpheus – The Matrix All subjective human experience exists in the dimension of pure thought. so we did not evolve this capability. such as schizophrenia. The truth is. All of our experience occurs within our brain. Conversely. But. Our brain attempts to delineate these differences by assigning different colors to these wavelengths. the same can be said for when you are awake. who you were was only an illusion created in your own mind. It is for this reason that our experience of life could be compared to a dream-state. I’ll Be There in Spirit Boy: “When you take apart a Lego house and mix the pieces into the bin. The house was an arrangement. whilst other creatures did. For example.
yet what they are mapping is simply matter and energy moving through space. as long as its structure is maintained. As with any system in the universe. but when this reaction occurs within a human brain an emotion is said to have occurred. but the system itself remains. bone and grey matter that houses it. The components of the system may change. but not reliant on. a physical substrate. the protein-based biology of our brains.Therefore. furthermore. forming by natural means the largest computer in the galaxy… we find the First Sirian Bank not only alive. it is not the thought as experienced by the thinker. there is no evidence to support the notion that your consciousness is inextricably linked with the biological package of meat. God Consciousness “…this world known as the First Sirian Bank is a planet with a… crust consisting almost entirely of crystalline silicon… over the billenia earthquakes and so forth have caused the formation of billions of transistor junctions within that crust. Through pure chance. . evolution or conscious design complex electro-chemical reactions could be formed to create a precise analogue of the processes taking place within a human brain. in a PC a program can be copied from a magnetically-encoded disk drive to an electronically-encoded RAM chip whilst maintaining its integrity. What we have is conciousness. of course. a particular physical substrate. This leads us to the conclusion that our minds may one day be copied into a computer. how can you say you are the same person that you were a year ago? You can. but not restricted to. supported by a physical substrate then you must also accept that random thoughts are occurring throughout the universe whenever a sufficiently complex and ordered system is formed. emergence. Similarly. because your subjective consciousness is not a physical entity. The two can influence each other but are separated by a fundamental divide. a complex system which is reliant upon. that this copy would itself be a sentient individual. but possessed of a universe-view sufficiently advanced to call him Human. There is a gulf between the dimensions of objective facts and subjective experience. The Chemistry Between Us If you take the chemicals that create the emotion of love and combine them on a petri dish then have you created love itself? Most people would say that you haven’t. The qualia is “lost in translation”. our minds are sustained by a physical substrate. If the carbon-based biology of your conciousness is constantly changing without your mind disappearing. I believe that the concept of a “soul” has been created by people as a means to escape their existential fear and remains unsupported by evidence or reason. Scientists can describe the physical properties of a single thought by recording the electrical and chemical activity in the brain. it is an intangible system that is supported. then why couldn’t your mind be safely transferred to a silicone-based substrate. in our case. As uncomfortable as it may make some people feel.” The Dark Side of the Sun – Terry Pratchett If you accept that your thoughts occur as an organised system. such as a computer processor? The truth is that it doesn’t matter what form your mind takes.
…These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they’re made out of meat. predict. disorganized intelligence. Artificial Intelligence “For thousands of years. that we should be meat’s dream. or that the qualia is lost. Your mind can never die since death is an event restricted to the physical world and does not exist in the dimension of pure thought. A Wake “They’re made out of meat. but you would still be a real. You might lose some of your capabilities. It would be absurd to consider them to be half as real or half an individual. it merely becomes disorganized and less constrained by the linear concepts of time and space. sentient individual. You are real now. The same is true if the order of your brain was to be eroded completely. The only difference with the human mind is that our brains create linear cohesion and a home for these thoughts to interact and evolve. The wake is evidence of the boat. Some people consider this to be rejoining the “God Consciousness”. and you would be real if someone removed half your brain. It is a common assertion that we are sentient individuals because of the ordered complexity of our minds.” “A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate. Russell If the right chemical reaction was created in a test tube which exactly mimicked the thought processes of a person sitting in a cafe eating a raspberry tart. but it is not the boat itself.” Terry Bisson If you cut open a brain you can’t see the thoughts. and manipulate a world far larger and more complicated than itself. You might become significantly less intelligent but you would still exist as microscopic flashes of intelligence appearing throughout the universe.” Stuart J. how a mere handful of matter can perceive. only the physical clues that demonstrate that a thought is occurring.Therefore the universe could be filled with a diffuse. Yet. the ones you have probed?…” “… We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we’re just a dream to them. In fact the “person” would not even realise that they existed in a test tube rather than a cafe since they would only be aware of what they perceived through their thoughts. then who is to say that this thought hasn’t actually occurred? Just because it has not taken place in a brain does not mean that it is less real. There are tumour patients who have had half of their brains removed. we have tried to understand how we think: that is. The electrical currents and chemical reactions are like a wake left in the ocean behind a boat that cannot be seen. When your physical body dies your consciousness does not disappear. it would be absurd to suggest that we would become more real or more sentient if our brains were increased in size or complexity. understand.” “…And the ones who have been aboard our vessels. Except by then you would have lost the division between yourself and other minds because your thoughts would have spread out and merged with the general intelligence “fog”. The . A “God Consciousness” if you like. You are only aware of what you perceive through your thoughts.
If by random chance your final thought pattern was reconstructed a trillion years from now in another place.S. In an infinite universe anything is possible and everything is inevitable. consistent conciousness. Music is the same. “Nothing” is nothing. In regards to our consciousness. and so therefore neither can “death”. gradually constructed around it bit by bit using the proteins and enzymes absorbed through your diet. A piece of music is not the notes on the page. Thank You. you would not feel that any time had passed at all. If that were true then you could cryogenically freeze someone’s brain. so it cannot exist. like a string of musical notes. Hold That Thought “Music is what feelings sound like.” . Zero-Point “Thus that which is the most awful of evils. In the same way. no disappointment. halting the electrons and chemicals in that moment. No pain can be felt. and the person would be stuck forever thinking the same thought. in the infinite possibilities of time and space. It’s true that the atoms forming your mind will have changed. Come Again A life can only be said to have ended when there is no chance of it continuing again. death. There is every chance that your chain of thought may be continued again somewhere. nothing. our consciousness exists on an everchanging ocean of atoms within our skull (which is on a planet flying through space) yet we experience ourselves as a fixed.” Anonymous A thought cannot exist within any one moment in time. but take a look at your own body: in the last few years almost every atom has changed within it. death is more like a pause than an end. they could be seen as “dead”. sometime. is nothing to us. You are a copy of that body. Pause or End Game? “You are the music while the music lasts. who is to say that this would not be you? Amazingly. but only we can experience our own consciousness. rather it exists in the transition between points.wake provides evidence that the boat is moving. and when there is death we do not exist. yet if you stood below deck and closed your eyes you would not feel as if you were moving at all. rather it is the journey from one note to another that creates the song. So are our thoughts created in the journey between moments in time. since when we exist there is no death. A thought does not exist at a fixed point in time.” T. The existence of our mind is evidenced by the “wake” left in our physical brains. Eliot If our consciousness is a chain of connected thoughts. Who you were then no longer exists. then “death” describes a chain of thought that is no longer continuing.
” These details are not important in achieving the goal. a step-by-step mapping of their structure that eliminates less important details in favor of the core concepts. but the numbers that created it would still be present. we are destined to live out every possible experience through the infinite possibilities of time and space. The atoms that form us may change. ready to repeat the formula once again. and yet I do not accept finity. a particular formula might equal zero.” Medgar Evers One question that arises when we consider the constant changes that occur within the physical structure of the brain is how our consciousness can remain so consistent. Our minds are the same in that they are memes kept alive by neurons that transfer their information from one generation to the next without losing fidelity. In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins describes how memetic concepts often survive the passage of time and the transition from person to person without losing their integrity. You might say “So what? It’s just numbers. Fearing death is a logical fallacy. Even though the cellular and atomic structures . It is a concept that can be shared between conscious minds without losing its fundamental integrity.” Yet. We can never die. within Pi. My answer is that the mind is a highly complex and multi-layered meme. or the simple custom of shaking hands. Memes have been shown to develop self-defensive adaptations with varying levels of internal intelligence.” Simone de Beauvoir To illustrate my point I ask you to look briefly at the number Pi.Epicurus No person should fear death. Memes tend to compete with each other for survival and are subject to the same laws of evolution as other forms of life. Your conciousness can be reduced to pure math. it’s just math. so is every possible experience you might have. Every thought you’ve ever had is contained. Pi is an infinite stream of chaotically generated numbers. but they have shifted constantly throughout your life without destroying your consciousness. In fact. It’s like a mathematician fearing that a particular formula could erase all of the numbers. I assert that since memes are complex intelligent systems they are as valid a form of life as our own protein-based genes or the humans which they construct. Pi in the Sky “I am incapable of conceiving infinity. It’s not real experience. your brain right now is just atomic particles moving from one position to another. like complex religious beliefs. The example that Dawkins gives is that when a carpenter teaches the technique for building a chair he describes a single step as “nail this here”. The Mind as a Meme “You can kill a man but you can’t kill an idea. a goal which can be achieved despite many small changes whilst still producing an accurate recreation of a chair. A meme is the conceptual equivalent of a gene. This is impossible since the numbers would always remain present. They achieve this by utilizing a kind of conceptual compression. It has been suggested that within these numbers would be the atomic positions of every atom in your body. Indeed. somewhere. despite the constant shifting of the physical foundations. If the universe is infinite. not “swing the hammer at thirty degrees and hammer five times.
This is why I believe it is important to strip death of its mask so that it no longer stands as a forboding figure at the end of our lives. discard your fears about death or time passing you by. your spirit. As Buddhists have taught for thousands of years: “You create your happiness. It is a consistent meme on an ever-changing ocean of cells and neurons. No truly happy person would ever needlessly harm another.” The Answer? “If I am killed. Similarly. Your mind was never intrinsically linked to a particular set of atoms or a particular location in space. which is all in your mind. because there’s no end to speak of. Just watch a fly buzzing around some time. Your mind is a substrate-independent system. rather. and you will enjoy happiness in your life. People only increase suffering when they are insecure. . out of different materials and in a different location. Do you think it is experiencing the world at the same speed as you? Physics teaches us that the universe as we see it does not exist exclusively within this moment. How can you rush a thought? A dream? You can only work against it or in harmony with it. our meme-mind stays intact. Because it is a meme it can be recreated at a later date. fearful or lacking personal contentment. I believe that if we all act from what makes us truly happy then there should be no deliberate suffering in the world. I can die but once. only the natural progression of your own story. it would seem to hover unchanged under the skin despite the skin cells that surround it dying and being replaced over time.” Abraham Lincoln “Some people are so afraid do die that they never begin to live. then so too is our experience of it. This is all our own dream and unique to us. Since the world that we see and feel is all created within our own minds. Small details may change as the cells die and are replaced but the core integrity survives.” Henry Van Dyke The ultimate answer is to find meaning. You really do have all the time in the world. Therefore. an image moving across a digital screen remains consistent despite being illuminated by different pixels as it moves. is to die over and over again. Time Enough The universe is not linear – nor does it move at the speed of our subjective experience.of our brains are constantly changing. peace and happiness in your life. Anything that does not ultimately increase your happiness is unnecessary. but to live in constant dread of it. Work in harmony with your dream. or any moment at all. it comes from within. An analogy would be if you recorded a time-lapse video of a tattoo on a person’s arm. it exists in all possible moments of time. Most importantly. There is no end to be feared. any thought that does not serve to increase your happiness is irrelevant.
The universe is not dark or cold. but the truth is that we are all fundamentally intertwined. I am the soft starlight at night. I am sunlight on ripened grain.Enjoy this dream of “life”.” ——— . it is simply free of emotion and subjective experience. for that too is an illusion. We like to draw divisions and imagine that we are somehow separate from each other and the universe. all of which eventually returns again to the great river of energy. It is composed of energy that occasionally condenses into matter and matter that occasionally evolves into sentient beings. I am a thousand winds that blow. indeed. When you awake to greet the dawn I am the day as it is born. and don’t worry about the end approaching. I am birds in circling flight. I am not there. FIN Following is the poem that I wish to be spoken at my funeral (modified from the original by Mary Elizabeth Frye). I am the gentle autumn rain. I did not die. I do not sleep. We are truly “at one” with the universe. we have never been apart from it. I am not there. I am the diamond glints on snow. Do not stand at my grave and cry. “Do not stand at my grave and weep. This energy is the source from which we have all emanated.