Can you comprehend nothingness?

Nothing after death. People say that it is just like sleeping, but the thing about sleeping is that you always wake up! Can you comprehend nothingness? If so, would you mind explaining it in a manner that I can comprehend?


Posted: October 13th 2010

flagellant www

First of all, if you are deeply asleep at night, you are unable to participate in life. In this respect, you might as well be dead. However, in the morning, you wake up and resume your interaction with things, ideas, and other people. In this case, being pseudo-dead is a temporary condition; we can experience a return to active life after deep sleep and the experience is repeatable. However, being truly dead is not an experience anyone can ever describe: everything is worse than switched off: it’s broken beyond repair; you have no mind, no consciousness, and no ability to react with your surroundings.

As an aside, people who claim they have come back from the dead haven’t, full stop; period. Either they have survived oxygen starvation to the brain for a period short enough not to have had an effect, or they have suffered brain damage – a stroke – which is enough to affect brain function. When someone is said to come back from the dead, the statement is mistaken: death is final and absolute. People who describe recovering from a near-death experience have nothing factual to offer. They did not die and, while their life may have been in danger, they recovered.

Some years ago, I had major surgery. I was in a ward with others undergoing similar surgery. Our experiences were identical; I know this because I talked about it to many of them. There was no vision of paradise while anaesthetised, and we all simply woke up. I think all of us had come to terms with our mortality – I certainly had – and we all described the experience as being deeply asleep: no glimpses of heaven, no chitchat with 'god’, nothing supernatural. I can recollect my euphoria, though, as I regained consciousness, and realised that I had survived, because I had arranged to waken to one of my favourite pieces of music and my joy on hearing it was palpable. Living should be such a joyous experience.

If oxygen is withheld from the brain for long enough, the damage is irreversible and we die. One day, it will eventually happen to all of us; it is inevitable. I long ago rejected the concept of an afterlife as a comfort; when things are immutable, they just are. Part of maturing is accepting things that cannot be changed and ceasing to worry about them.

The concept of nothingness may be difficult to comprehend, but it is irrelevant. The point to grasp is that death is absolutely the end: consciousness dies with you so you cannot experience anything. Indeed, there will be no 'you’ to do any experiencing.

Posted: October 17th 2010

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I comprehend not existing, rather than nothingness of myself or in general—nothingness would need properties in order to discuss it, and as soon as it is given properties, it is no longer nothing.

I comprehend not existing by noting the many people that I knew no longer exist and that the people alive at present did not exist at one time, including myself. The properties of not existing are easy to grasp. For example, I can’t hug/kiss my dead mother and sisters, I can’t eat with them, etc. And I couldn’t do the same with my five-year niece ten years ago.

Our sentience and strong sense of survival passes onto the next generation, via DNA, carried by a person no longer us. I am a finite creature, with a start and an end. It is easier to accept that I did not always exist, but harder to accept that I will end just as abruptly as I began because I have lived a life between those two points making it inconceivable at times to accept that I have no control when it ends for me which can happen at any time. Then again, I had no control over when life began for me either.

Therefore, accepting the consequences of my being such a finite creature can be challenging, but my coping with reality does not include pretending to myself that I will live forever in some disembodied state on some unearthly plane with an entity that started it all because there is no evidence for any of that. My mere desire not to stop existing is insufficient for me to cleave to such non-evidential faith.

Posted: October 16th 2010

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bitbutter www

I think that the self is an intrinsic part of any act of imagining, so it’s not possible to imagine nothingness. When we try, we always ruin it by placing ourselves in that otherwise 'empty void’.

I think it’s apt to compare death to certain unconscious states, because the experiencing self is (or seems) absent from both. We can’t imagine what 'it’s like’ to be dead, but we’re just as incapable of imagining what 'it’s like’ to be unconscious. There is no 'what it’s like’ in either case because the experiencing self isn’t active.

Posted: October 16th 2010

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SmartLX www

I wonder the same thing, actually. It’s certainly notoriously difficult to imagine oblivion, or not existing, because you imagine the world without you through a sort of mental “camera” which, in a way, is still you. I couldn’t say with confidence that it’s impossible though.

Unfortunately, when many people imagine death without an afterlife they actually imagine an afterlife without the scenery, and end up with a nightmare scenario of an eternity in silence and darkness, a mind going mad in the void. That’s not going to happen because if there’s no afterlife then there’s no post-death you. (Unless of course total sensory deprivation is actually the experience you get in a minimalistic Hell.)

I leave it alone and think of other people. The time after you’re gone is hardly a time to be self-centred, because there’s no self. When you cease to exist, you cease to be important except in terms of your legacy as it affects others. That’s your money, your achievements, your inspiration and all the rest of it. To me that’s important than what happens to a me that isn’t there.

Posted: October 16th 2010

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