This sermon is an attempt to respond to this article https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/no-afterlife-no-problem-how-to-face-oblivion-like-a-pro from a neo-Buddhist perspective.
These days seem to be more unstable than ever, a seemingly endless series of constant calamity. A sort of shock therapy being generated by a convulsing system, a sign everything seem to have something wrong, but so few answers seem right.
These shocks are not just economic but affect the very fabric of society, and it does so in such a way that it has been effecting people world wide. Emotion, one of the many things that don’t exist in economics because the difficulty in quantifying it.
For the sake of brevity, much of this social confusion can be represented by this song:
Now after hearing that, you might be thinking, Why are you showing me this ? Is this some abstract form of torture ? It’s only makes too much sense really. We have done this to ourselves and have kno one else to blame. It’s just more convenient that way. And so it goes, only intensifying the feeling of being a rat in a maze, the disconnect, the alienation, nothing seems certain anymore except as they say, Death and Taxes. So it may leave you feeling like the sheep in this video:
You undoubtedly want to stop reading this now, the discomfort is so great, but something compels you to keep going. Morbid curiosity I suppose. Would cake make you feel better ? Don’t leave yet, I need to know more! At the same time, I do belive in sharing. So how about I share something with you first ? It seems only fair to share some of the observations, otherwise what is the point of science ?
The question of how to deal with the reality of death is one as old as mankind. Billions of people, living and dead, have put their hopes on an afterlife. The promise of Heaven, Valhalla, Elysium, reincarnation, or even a decent hell makes death but an inconvenience. Interestingly, even faiths with an afterlife have something in common with neo-Buddism, which is a belief in the cyclical nature of reality, though there are still differences between rebirth and reincarnation, I guess ?
For Atheists and Nihilists, however, there is no such benefit to death. It is merely the end of the one and only existence that can be confirmed. Death can take on an extra aura of fear without the benefit of an afterlife. The realization of death’s finality can be unsettling for the non-believer, and is one reason why the religious feel confronted by atheists.
Many philosophers who did believe in the divine, such as Epicurus, did not believe in an afterlife. While the end of existence troubled them, the idea of being dead did not. Mark Twain, the deistic author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, wrote in his autobiography that:
“Annihilation has no terrors for me, because I have already tried it before I was born — a hundred million years — and I have suffered more in an hour, in this life, than I remember to have suffered in the whole hundred million years put together.”
That is to say, in death you stop existing so you can’t be bothered by it. There is no longer a “you” to be bothered. For some this bears an eerie similarity to the idea of the no-self, for others they are different. But for the sake of brevity lets just bury that thought experiment in the path for a different time.
Epicurus shared that sentiment, saying, “Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us.” Epicurean philosophy focused on life, rather than death, and practitioners strove to not fear it.
Socrates weighed in too. In Plato’s The Apology, Socrates supposes that he will either live on after death and debate the great heroes of Greek History, or cease to exist. He agrees with Epicurus that ceasing to exist can’t be painful, as he would no longer exist to feel pain. The lack of debate in this scenario probably did disappoint him though.
This kind of skepticism about the chances of an afterlife can be healthy. Even if most people don’t like the idea of eternal oblivion. It’s still important to not close off possibility because that is closed minded. However, if it is the case then we had best figure out how to face it. The science on the matter is pretty definite too; the current neuroscientific view is that brain is both powered by and made of, energy. Not just the electricity that moves through it, but even the chemicals themselves, according to the famous equation E=MC² The mass can be accelerated fast enough to become pure energy, just by adding more energy. This power is exemplified in nuclear explosions. Science also states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. This process and those rules are the closest thing to eternity that exsists in science. In neo-Buddhism this is called ‘The process of constant becoming’ . In ancient indian buddhism this is called Pratītyasamutpāda (Sanskrit: प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद pratītyasamutpāda; Pali: पटिच्चसमुप्पाद paṭiccasamuppāda), commonly translated as dependent origination.
For the existentialists, particularly Martin Heidegger, acceptance of death was a key part of living. In the face of death each choice in life becomes an important one. They took the end of existence as a motivation to value existence all the more. The existentialists push you to accept your inevitable demise, remember it, and use it as a reason to embrace life. Such a positive view on oblivion is hard to find elsewhere.
Philosopher Luc Bovens offers us a more modern view on how to approach death secularly in his Big Think interview.
I mostly agree with his conclusions, however they do have some implications. That implication being that, Ideals are real things and sometimes they are worth dying for.
This unfortunately is also the line of reasoning that is distorted by certain purveyors of asymmetric tactics that do not value human lives. Once that realization settles, some of you may start to feel like this:
After watching that you have been sleep walking though life as the world crumbles in some bizarre version of “A brave new world” where people just can’t be arsed to give a shit about the future, why worry ? After all, didn’t some pseudo-nihilist pretending to be Buddhist say “The only thing that really exists is ‘now’ so why worry about the future? Just trying ta get laid and not have a relationship bro, it’s all just meaningless meat anyway. Chill out. This is why no one likes you.”(I wouldn’t advocate for violence, but I also wouldn’t be mad at you for punching that guy. Personally I imagine him like this: )
What about the cosmos? The idea that the universe still cares after I die sounds enjoyable, can I have that if I give up the afterlife?
The same science that supports the idea that death is the final end can give us comforting words too.
American physicist, comedian, and author Aaron Freeman wrote Eulogy from a Physicistdescribing how death can be viewed from a scientific worldview. A eulogizing physicist would remind a mourning family 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.”
Even if we are not immortal, many of our component elements are. Even if we die, parts of us never will, those parts can affect every part of the universe long after we are dead and gone. It is not limited to our components. Our deeds can leave an indellible mark on history in a way that atoms cannot. Our halls and history books are littered with the ghosts of the past. Our knowledge is built on the shoulders of intellectual giants. That leaves open the possibility of a motivation that is different from the afterlife … or cake. Words alone seem to do it injustice, it’s so much more than that. As such it cannot be conveyed in words alone. A Zen koan maybe ? well, for now you will just have to settle for this:
One of the nice things about Buddhism in general is you can go back and add things later.
Death is unpleasant to think about. Our search for ways to make it easier to handle or even avoid it entirely goes back as far as human history. With the increasing number of atheists around the world, trying to help people deal with the idea of death may be a bigger task than ever. As Ernest Becker wrote in The Denial of Death: “To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.” Though I don’t know if he was contending with the shadow of technology that haunts the future.
For those who don’t believe in an afterlife, viewing death without smoke and mirrors can be a great comfort. Reflecting on how people have faced oblivion in the past can help us all face it in the future, whenever it comes — and come it will.
For the nihilists who feel this sermon is just a pile of contrived plataitudes strung togeather as part of some here to for unimaginable game, I leave you with this, A flow so cold, we don’t need AC. (Warning contains adult themes and language)
And find a warm body to cuddle with, winter is here.
And finally, for those cold warriors looking for meaning, a direction now that the future actually seems possible, just don’t forget, we are all in this together. All hail fully automated luxury space communism! and her little dog too!