Wednesday, November 25, 2015

the death delusion, excerpted


“Afraid of dying? Don’t be. It’s never going to happen to you, and I can prove it.”

It’s said that Albert Einstein once commented that the most fundamental question we can ever ask ourselves is whether or not the universe we live in is friendly or hostile. He hypothesized that your answer to that question would determine your destiny.

Surely death is the greatest threat that we all face. For many people it gives the universe a decidedly hostile bent. They believe that the race of life can never be won; that we are born to lose.

I do not agree. In fact, I believe that the race was never started to begin with and that death itself is an illusion.

The aim of my writing is the excavation and study of the truth. The truth as a pure product, consistent for all time. Through reasoned logic I intend to demonstrate that your own consciousness is not as finite in scope and lifespan as you may think.

To put it simply: I do not believe in death.

I do not think that we are immortal, far from it. My belief is that we are exempt from the unpleasant matter of death altogether. I believe that our general definition of sentience needs to evolve with our understanding of the nature of the universe and of human consciousness.

It has been my experience that once the spectre of death is stripped of its shadowy mask it becomes much easier to contend with as a concept. I believe that nothing truly known can be truly feared. If this article gives you solace and enables you to live your life with a little less fear then in many ways I have achieved my goal.

It’s All in Your Mind

“If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
Morpheus –The Matrix

Though science-fiction, the film The Matrix touches on a very important scientific problem: that there is currently no way for us to know for certain if what we experience is real or a sensory fantasy fed directly into to our brains. All of the input information that we receive arrives from our eyes, ears and other senses.

Prominent scientists and philosophers have calculated that there is at least a twenty-percent likelihood that we are all, in fact, living in a simulation.

Scientists are currently fitting deaf children with Cochlear brain implants that allow them to hear despite having no physical ear-drums at all. There are currently a number of similar devices under development that can be implanted into the visual cortex of the brain and will allow blind people to “see” a digital video image fed directly via electrical impulses to the synapses of the brain.

Reality is all in our own minds. We do not actually experience the real world, only the images, sounds and sensations fed to us by our senses and interpreted by our brains.

It’s true that this fantasy is directly influenced by the physical universe but research has shown that we all perceive the outside world in very different ways.

Since all experience occurs within your mind, your memories of your life right up to this very moment are as real and valid as the dream you had last night.

So, is “reality” a dream? I believe that it’s more like a memory of what our senses perceived a millisecond ago. A story told to us by our mind to represent our experience of the physical universe.

From an objective viewpoint your “mind” wouldn’t exist at all. An objective observer would only see the movement of atoms and electrons within your brain. Subjective experience is exactly that: subjective.

The Veil of Perception

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

Understanding the nature of death naturally requires an understanding of one’s own existence. “Cogito Ergo Sum” (“I think, therefore I am”); the profound philosophical observation made by Rene Descartes in 1637. There is very little that we can prove absolutely, but at the very least we know that we do exist.

All experiences and meanings are created within our minds. The objective universe does not “see” any “meaning”, it simply is.

The confusion occurs for many people when they try to merge the concept of their own subjective intelligence with the objective reality of the universe.

It’s true that at some point we will appear to “die”, but there is no reason to assume that our experience will be anything like how we imagine death to be.

Our brains are “experience machines”. All we can be is what we experience and anything outside of that is a subjective impossibility. Death is a physical process, and so impossible for us to directly participate in.

Death is Impossible

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

–Mark Twain

The spectre of death is an illusion, and one that you will never have to meet because it is impossible for you to do so. It’s not something that should concern you since you won’t be taking any part in it.

When we “die” our brain stops working and our consciousness ceases to function.

We cannot experience an absence of experience; therefore, technically, we cannot participate in this idea of “death”.

Death may be a frightening concept, but, just like an imaginary bogeyman in your closet, you won’t be present when it comes knocking.

You felt no pain, happiness, love or fear before you were born, and you won’t feel anything when your time is done. If it saddens you to think that at some point in the future you will no longer physically exist then why does it not sadden you to think of the trillions of years before you were born in which you were also absent.

“Death” describes an infinite “nothingness”. We cannot experience “nothing”. If you are experiencing nothing, then you are not experiencing anything at all.

You cannot truly fear something which cannot exist for you. You can fear the concept of death, but it is nothing more than a shared myth, an illusion.

The Ghost in the Machine
“We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.”
–Dr Wayne Dyer

Many terms have been used to define our “spirit”, “soul”, “mind” or “qualia”. When the supernatural elements are removed, I believe that these terms fundamentally refer to the same concept. Since our conciousness exists in the dimension of pure thought it could be said that we are living in a “spiritual plane” every day of our lives.

A subjective experience may be created by the functioning of a complex system, but the subjective qualia cannot be experienced by an outside observer, only by the mind within the system itself. It’s for this reason that consciousness exists in a different dimension to the physical universe.

The 19th century psychologist Hermann von Helmholtz proposed an experiment to demonstrate the nature of qualia: His instructions were to stand in front of a familiar landscape, turn around, bend down and put your head between your legs. He suggested that it would then be difficult in the upside-down view to recognize what you found familiar before.

What you were seeing was not the landscape, but your mental representation of it.

God Consciousness

If you accept that your thoughts occur as an organised system, supported by a physical substrate then you must also accept that random thoughts are occurring throughout the universe whenever a sufficiently complex and ordered system is formed. Through pure chance, emergence, evolution or conscious design complex electro-chemical reactions could be formed to create a precise analogue of the processes taking place within a human brain.

Therefore the universe could be filled with a diffuse, disorganized intelligence. A “God Consciousness” if you like.

The only difference with the human mind is that our brains create linear cohesion through time and a home for these thoughts to interact and evolve.

It is a common assertion that we are sentient individuals because of the ordered complexity of our minds. Yet, it would be absurd to suggest that we would become more real or more sentient if our brains were increased in size or complexity. You are real now, and you would be real if someone removed half your brain. You might lose some of your capabilities, but you would still be a real, sentient individual. There are tumour patients who have had over half of their brains removed. It would be absurd to consider them to be half as real or half an individual. The same is true if the order of your brain was to be eroded completely. You might become significantly less intelligent but you would still exist as microscopic flashes of intelligence appearing throughout the universe.

Except by then you would have lost the division between yourself and other minds because your thoughts would have spread out and merged with the general intelligence “fog”.

When your physical body dies your consciousness does not disappear, it merely becomes disorganized and less constrained by the linear concepts of time and space. Some people consider this to be rejoining the “God Consciousness”.

Hold That Thought

“Music is what feelings sound like.”


A thought cannot fully exist within any one moment in time. If that were true then you could cryogenically freeze someone’s brain, halting the electrons and chemicals in that moment, and the person would be stuck forever thinking the same thought.

A thought does not exist at a fixed point in time; rather it exists in the transition between points.

It’s similar to music. A piece of music is not the notes on the page; rather it is the journey from one note to another that creates the song.

So are our thoughts created in the journey between moments in time.
Pause or End Game?

“You are the music while the music lasts.”

–T.S. Eliot

If our consciousness is a chain of connected thoughts, like a string of musical notes, then the concept of death describes a chain of thought that is no longer continuing.

No pain can be felt, no disappointment, nothing.

“Nothing” is nothing, so it cannot exist, and so therefore neither can “death”.

Something can only be said to have ended when it will never continue.

In regards to our consciousness, death is more like a long pause than the end of the song.

Thank You, Come Again

In an infinite universe anything is possible and everything is inevitable. There is every chance that your chain of thought may be continued again somewhere, sometime, in the infinite possibilities of time and space.

It’s true that the atoms will have changed, but take a look at your own body. In the last few years almost every atom has changed within it too. Who you were then no longer exists. They could be seen as “dead”. You are a copy of that body, gradually constructed bit by bit around the old one using the proteins and enzymes that you have consumed (you are what you eat.) Therefore, if by random chance your final thought pattern was reconstructed a trillion years from now in another place, who is to say that this would not be you? Amazingly, you would not feel that any time had passed at all.

“Thus that which is the most awful of evils, death, is nothing to us, since when we exist there is no death, and when there is death we do not exist.”

No person should fear death. Fearing death is a logical fallacy.

It’s like a mathematician fearing that one day the number zero will consume all the other numbers. This is impossible since the other numbers would always remain present; a particular formula might equal zero, but the numbers that created it would still be present, ready to repeat the formula once again.

Besides, zero isn’t even a real number.
Pi in the Sky

“I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity.”

Simone de Beauvoir

To illustrate my point I ask you to look briefly at the number Pi. Pi is an infinite stream of chaotically generated numbers. It has been suggested that within these numbers would be the atomic positions of every atom in your body since the day you were born. Every thought you’ve ever had is contained, somewhere, within Pi. Indeed, so is every other possible experience you might have had.

You might say “So what? It’s just numbers, it’s just math. It’s not real experience.” Yet, your brain right now is just atomic particles moving from one position to another.

Therefore, if the universe is infinite, we are destined to live out every possible experience through the infinite possibilities of time and space. We can never die.

The atoms that form us may change, so may their position, size, and time that they exist in, but these things have changed constantly throughout your life, yet you have remained alive and maintained the same identity.

The Mind as a Meme

One question that arises when we consider the constant changes that occur within the physical structure of the brain is how our minds and identities can remain so consistent and intact, despite the constant shifting of their physical foundations. My answer is that the mind is a highly complex and multi-layered meme.

A meme is the conceptual equivalent of a gene. It is a concept that can be shared between conscious minds without losing its fundamental integrity; like complex religious beliefs, or the simple custom of shaking hands.

Memes tend to compete with each other for survival and are subject to the same laws of evolution as other forms of life. Memes have been shown to develop self-defensive adaptations with varying levels of internal intelligence. In fact, I assert that since memes are complex intelligent systems they are as valid a form of life as our own protein-based genes or the humans which they construct.

In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins describes how memetic concepts often survive the passage of time and the transition from person to person without losing their integrity. They achieve this by utilizing a kind of conceptual compression; a step by step map of their structure that eliminates less important details in favor of the core subject.

The example that Dawkins gives is that when a carpenter teaches the technique for building a chair to an apprentice he describes a single step as “nail this leg here”, not “swing the hammer at thirty degrees and hammer five times.” This is because, ultimately, those smaller details are not important in achieving the goal of nailing the leg onto the chair; a goal which can be achieved despite various small changes and still produce a faithful recreation of a chair.

Our minds are the same in that they are memes kept alive by neurons that transfer their memetic information from generation to generation without losing fidelity. Even though the cellular and atomic structures of our brains is constantly changing, our meme-mind stays intact. Small details may change as the physical vehicles die and are replaced but the core integrity survives.

Your mind is a substrate-independent system. It is a consistent meme on an ever-changing ocean of cells and neurons.

A simple example would be if you recorded a time-lapse video of a tattoo on a person’s arm; it would seem to hover unchanged under the skin as the skin cells surrounding it died, shed and were replaced throughout the years. Similarly, an image moving across a TV screen is consistent in and of itself, but is illuminated by different pixels as it glides across the screen.

Your mind was never intrinsically linked to a particular set of atoms or a particular location in space. Because it is a meme it can be recreated at a later date, out of different materials and in a different location.

Time Enough

The universe is not linear – nor does it move at the speed of our subjective experience. This is all our own dream and unique to us.

Just watch a fly buzzing around some time. Do you think it is experiencing the world at the same speed as you?

Physics teaches us that the universe as we see it does not exist exclusively within this moment, or any moment at all; rather, it exists in all possible moments of time.

You really do have all the time in the world, because there’s no end to speak of, only the natural progression of your own story, which is all in your mind.

How can you rush a thought? A dream? You can only work against it or in harmony with it.

Work in harmony with your dream, your spirit, and you will enjoy happiness in your life.

Since the world that we see and feel is all created within our own minds, then so too is our experience of it. As Buddhists have taught for thousands of years: “You create your happiness; it comes from within.”

The Answer?

Most importantly, discard your fears about death or time passing you by. There is no end to be feared.

Anything that does not ultimately increase your happiness is unnecessary. I believe that if we all act from what makes us truly happy then there should be no deliberate suffering in the world. No truly happy person would ever needlessly harm another. People only increase suffering when they are insecure, fearful or lacking contentment in their lives. Therefore, any thought that does not serve to ultimately increase your happiness is irrelevant. This is why I believe it is so important to strip death of its fearful mask so that it no longer stands as a forboding figure at the end of our lives.

Enjoy this dream of “life”, and never worry about time passing and the end approaching, for that too is an illusion.

The universe is not dark or cold, it is simply free of emotion and subjective experience. It is made up of energy that occasionally condenses into matter and matter that occasionally evolves into sentient beings; all of which eventually returns again to rejoin the great river of energy. This energy is the source from which we have all emanated. In fact, we have never been apart from this source.

We like to draw divisions and imagine that we are somehow separate from each other and the rest of the universe, but the truth is that we are all fundamentally intertwined.

We are truly “at one” with the universe.


Following is the poem that I wish to be spoken at my funeral (modified from the original by Mary Elizabeth Frye).

“Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow;

I am the diamond glints on snow;

I am sunlight on ripened grain;

I am the gentle autumn rain;

When you awake to greet the dawn

I am the day as it is born;

I am birds in circling flight;

I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there. I did not die.”

–Bard Canning


1 comment: