As author of Angel of Death, I am often asked the Ultimate Question: “What will it be like after I die?”
My answer is simple: “What was it like before you were born?” This response invariably leads to quizzical looks, so I press on with another question. “When were you born?”
“What was it like in 1965?”
“I don’t know,” the person replies. “I wasn’t born yet!”
“Imagine that you died in 2066. What will it be like in 2067?” I ask, and when the person throws out his or her hands in frustration, I say, “It’ll be just like 1965.”
The simple fact is that each of us is a consciousness. We weren’t conscious until we had a body to create our consciousness. We weren’t even conscious for the first two or so years of life, which is why we don’t remember them at all. We were little bodies, little beings, but we weren’t conscious.
And that’s the whole point. We in the Western world are used to thinking of ourselves as immortal souls that existed before our bodies and will exist after our bodies.
Why, then, do we have no memories before we were born? Why, then, do we not even have memories from the first two years after we were born? It’s because we weren’t conscious yet.
When most of us talk about a soul, what we mean is ourselves–our identities, our personalities, our unique experiences. But each of these is just our consciousness–something created by our developing bodies.
The consciousness is really who we are, but it comes into and goes out of existence every day. When we go to sleep, our consciousness ceases, and when we awaken, it returns.
So when people ask what it will be like to die, I say, “It’ll be like going to sleep and never waking up.”
Our consciousnesses are products of our bodies and brains–our biology. When we get drunk or high, our consciousnesses are altered. When we are starved or dehydrated, our consciousnesses are altered. When our bodies die, our consciousnesses cease to be created by them.
It’s such a simple realization, and yet it is so fraught with terror for most Westerners. But, to them, I ask, “Was it so terrible the year before you were born?”
Does this mean that an individual human life has no worth? Of course not! Every consciousness is unique. Every mind will exist exactly one time in the universe and will not recur.
Our very culture spends thirteen years voluntarily educating every consciousness. At $4,000 per student per year, that’s $62,000 per person that we invest in consciousnesses. Then, for a college education, parents shell out another $100,000. That, plus the cost of feeding and clothing that person for 22 years means that we, as a society, place at least half a million dollars on every consciousness.
But it doesn’t come down to dollars. We all have lost some irreplacable someone. It feels like half the universe has vanished. Why? Because, for one consciousness, there is nothing as precious as another consciousness. These are two miracles. Here are two impossibilities of nature communing.
My view may be deeply unsettling for many people, but it lets us be who we are–miraculous consciousnesses–without being what we are not–immortal beings that do not need a body.
It is a lie. And if you think it is not a destructive lie, think of your typical suicide bomber.June 2nd, 2010
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