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Echoes and Mirrors» Blog Archive » This is the sort of thing I wake up thinking about.

This is the sort of thing I wake up thinking about.

Never Say Die: Why We Can’t Imagine Death:

Consider the rather startling fact that you will never know you have died. You may feel yourself slipping away, but it isn’t as though there will be a “you” around who is capable of ascertaining that, once all is said and done, it has actually happened. Just to remind you, you need a working cerebral cortex to harbor propositional knowledge of any sort, including the fact that you’ve died—and once you’ve died your brain is about as phenomenally generative as a head of lettuce. In a 2007 article published in the journal Synthese, University of Arizona philosopher Shaun Nichols puts it this way: “When I try to imagine my own non-existence I have to imagine that I perceive or know about my non-existence. No wonder there’s an obstacle!”

This observation may not sound like a major revelation to you, but I bet you’ve never considered what it actually means, which is that your own mortality is unfalsifiable from the first-person perspective. This obstacle is why writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe allegedly remarked that “everyone carries the proof of his own immortality within himself.”

Even when we want to believe that our minds end at death, it is a real struggle to think in this way. A study I published in the Journal of Cognition and Culture in 2002 reveals the illusion of immortality operating in full swing in the minds of undergraduate students who were asked a series of questions about the psychological faculties of a dead man.

I feel dread welling up within me today, and I still have to deal the the problems of drawing breath and taking an exam on poetry tonight. How can I qualify my existence when there isn’t a before I existed point from which to start? I think my blood-sugar is low.

In Taoism the ultimate goal is nothingness, and enlightenment is an understanding of this. There is something to be said for this and it’s comforting that some men have understood, if only in a very generalized way, the contradiction of their own consciousness.

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