May 16, 2012
I just finished reading an article I found on Arts & Letters Daily, a site I frequent probably more than any other. It’s called Is Death Bad For You? The basic gist of it is this: If death is bad for you, when is that so? Not now, you’re alive. And when you’re dead, it’s obviously not going to be a problem for you then either. So what’s the big deal?
This idea is not a new one. Philosophers have argued it long ago.
“So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not then concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more.”
But I personally find this perspective very pessimistic. I guess it’s the most natural way for our brains to think about it, but if you consider the problem more carefully, I don’t see why we should look at it that way.
The facts of this world can be interpreted many different ways. We say, “Look, we know that consciousness is generated by brain activity and once you die, that brain activity ceases. You’re dead and you rot back into the dirt by which you came. That’s the end of you. Eternal slumber from then on out.” Well, I’d agree you’re “dead”, as in, I’d observe that your body has stopped functioning. I could even watch your body rot back to dirt if I wanted to (I don’t want to). But instead of focusing on death, let’s examine how you were born. Lifeless matter — food your mother ate — was assembled into your bodily form in her womb. As you were assembled, consciousness arose and you began experiencing the world. Various processes could reassemble another body after you’ve “died” and you may well just be reborn.
Just the other day I was out for a walk and made my way down a sidewalk beside very tall field grass. I thought to myself, “Isn’t it amazing how grass seeds fall to the Earth and dirt is converted into this marvelous plant? Life sure is something.” That same dirt became wheat, which was made into bread, which your mother ate and was converted to you. That raw “stuff” which you’re assuming is nothing but “eternal slumber” woke up, didn’t it? Don’t forget about the other half of the process.
Nobody knows nor fully understands how brain activity gives rise to consciousness. For all we know, other processes in the universe may generate subjective consciousness as well. It’s a difficult problem.