Monday, February 18, 2013

Personal Interpretation of Impending Non-Existence

One afternoon, when I was 10 years old, I decided to take a nap on my couch.  I woke a few hours later pretty disoriented.  The house was empty and it was newly dark outside.  As I lay on the couch trying to figure out the time or at least what part of the day I was in, I was hit with a thought that had absolutely nothing to do with the situation I was in.  The thought: I will die one day and never be conscious again.  The thought shortened my breath and I began dry heaving.  I went outside on my back patio to get some fresh air and instead I vomited.  I have not been the same since.

As I got older, the futility of living and the idea of nonexistence grew.  They permeated my regular modes of thought.  Although I began basing my system of morality on generally utilitarian principles, I could not justify acting upon these principles as a means to reach some kind of intrinsic value; I opposed utilitarianism's principles of happiness because I did not believe happiness had value in and of itself.  Instead, I acted on utilitarian ethics because I attached a negative value to human suffering.  I had accepted the idea that nothing, by our own definition of the term, has intrinsic value because anything that would have intrinsic value is temporary; our happiness ends and it becomes as if happiness never happened in the first place.  The utilitarian definition of intrinsic value, then, becomes whatever supplies permanent happiness.  Because nothing supplies this, we are plagued with knowing our happiness and lives are limited.  This knowledge hinders how happy we can feel, especially when compared to those who either tend not to think about death or believe they will not die at all.

As I grew even older and went to college, I began to gradually appreciate my experience of living, and I believe it is likely I appreciate life much more than the average person.  Appreciation is not the same as happiness, however, and the thought process usually goes something like this: 1. Spurt of happiness 2. Recognition of temporariness of happiness 3. Loss of happiness after realizing it is temporary 4. Appreciation for the ability to experience happiness. 

Essentially, appreciation is knowing happiness will end, and number two and four in the thought process go hand in hand.  Logically, those who are happiest should dislike the idea of no longer existing the most, as they lose the most upon dying.  Whether one loses a positive, happy experience or the potential to obtain such experience, we are undoubtedly afraid of losing everything should we value anything even in the slightest.

And so to the atheists who claim they are comfortable with the idea of dying, or that the idea of dying does not hinder their ability to feel happiness to the fullest extent or feel both happiness and appreciation at the same time, I call BS.  We like the idea of eternal life—we just cannot bring ourselves to believe in it.

Here are a few Wikipedia pages with information on the references in this post:


Ragnar said...

You're clueless.

Anonymous said...

Ragnar said it all

Costin Popescu said...

You don't have to be comfortable with the idea of dying. But that shouldn't stop you from being happy. Also, I think that happiness should be felt, not reasoned.

I think that by constantly setting goals for yourself and achieving them you can feel happy. Or by having people with which you have emotionally rewarding relationships.
There are even a lot of poor people who are very happy, even though they don't really have material stuff.

Happiness can come in many forms, and a lot of times it can be irrational, so don't dismiss the atheists who claim to be happy.

I would also love the idea of having a spaceship, or a stargate, doesn't mean I can't be happy without them.

Anonymous said...

Atheist here. Not scared of death. You conclusion is invalid, please adjust your experiment and try again.

Anonymous said...

I was once asked by a friend who just learned that I was an atheist if the idea that this life and this world is all that there is was scary to me. It's certainly not. But It's almost as if tons of weight has been lifted from my shoulders and replaced with brand new weight. There is no concern of upsetting a god and being forced into the fiery pits of hell in the event of a misstep during life, but there is now a concern of not living this life to the fullest. Therefore, I try to find good in every day and every person and consider how fortunate I am to be here as is in the first place.

To say that you believe you "appreciate life much more than the average person" is incredibly naive. To say that my claims to "feel happiness to the fullest extent or feel both happiness and appreciation at the same time" is "BS" just because you don't think you can is an upsetting generalization. I'm sorry that you have so much trouble with the idea that happiness is fleeting, but sadness is fleeting as well. So is life. And despite the fact that you believe I'm lying to myself, I'm actually pretty okay with that.

Anonymous said...

"We climb up the mountain of time, bearing with us the instruments of our own death. At first the goal is far distant. We do not think of it; the present is enough: the morning on the mountain, the song of the birds, the sun's brightness. We feel we do not need to know about our destination, since the way itself is enough. But the longer it grows, the more unavoidable the question becomes: Where is it going? What does it all mean? We look with apprehension at the signs of death that, up to now, we had not noticed, and the fear rises within us that perhaps the whole of life is only a variation of death; that we have been deceived and that life is actually not a gift but an imposition. Then the strange reply, “God will provide”, sounds more like an excuse than an explanation. Where this view predominates, where talk of “God” is no longer believable, humor dies. In such a case man has nothing to laugh about anymore; all that is left is cruel sarcasm or that rage against God and the world with which we are all acquainted. But the person who has seen the Lamb—Christ on the Cross—knows that God has provided... Because we see the Lamb, we can laugh and give thanks."

Pope Benedict XVI

Anonymous said...

"It is in the face of death that the riddle a human existence grows most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter. All the endeavors of technology, though useful in the extreme, cannot calm his anxiety; for prolongation of biological life is unable to satisfy that desire for higher life which is inescapably lodged in his breast."

Gaudium et Spes, Section 18

Ian said...

There is considerable evidence that the more religious terminally ill patients are the more grimly they hang onto life demanding every available life extending medical procedure. The less/non religious are more likely to go into the abyss without fuss.

Carmel S, Mutran E., 1997 -; Cicirelli VG, 2000 -; Heeren O, 2001 -; Balboni TA, 2007 -;
Religion's Impact on End-of-Life Care -

Paxalot said...

The idea of eternal life is far more terrifying than the idea of mortal death. Most people simply have not thought through the consequences of having to live a trillion years times infinity. Death gives life meaning. I wish everyone a good life and a good (quick) death.

william schwartz said...

Everybody I know is afraid that nothing will happen, medical staffing that the money won't be forthcoming. They can't parole people fast enough to solve the financial hickey.

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