Ask a Skeptic: What happens at death?

Reprinted from Huffington Post 9-Aug 2013

What do you think happens when your time runs out [death]? Does it all go black or something else? — R.B.

My short answer is death is the end of consciousness, of existence. I do not believe there is anything beyond — no heaven or hell, no returning of the spirit, no reincarnation. I don’t believe those things because the evidence for those claims is poor. The evidence is strong, however, that our brain is responsible for our “consciousness,” so when the brain is deprived of the means to function, the sense of self is gone as well as our physical functions ceased.

To some people that seems so cold, final, and unsatisfying. It’s none of those things to me. While I don’t place a spiritual meaning on death, I have a humanist view of it. So here is the longer answer.

I believe that some people, when they undergo the process of death, get to experience the shutting down of the brain that feels like overwhelming euphoria. It’s what people describe when they have a “near-death experience.” It sounds awesome. If you are going to go, it would be great to go with such a cool last experience. While it sounds morbid to look forward to that, death is the last experience of life so, make the best of it.

I’ve come to accept that this life is all we have. Nonbelievers truly savor life because of this idea. We appreciate beauty, a wide variety of ideas, diversity and complexity of nature, and the great achievements made by human societies. The world is a more fascinating place when you comprehend this complexity and how it naturally came to be instead of saying “God did it.”

When I lost my grandmother, my aunt, and even my pets, I am deeply appreciative of their existence and the positive effects they had on me. Their memories remain and influence those of us who interacted with them. I feel that is transcendent. There is no life after death someplace else, your life continues in memories and the influence you had on those around you.

Therefore, I live my life trying to be a good example and a positive influence and to enjoy the time I have here before it all goes black.

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4 thoughts on “Ask a Skeptic: What happens at death?

  1. “I’ve come to accept that this life is all we have. Nonbelievers truly savor life because of this idea.”

    It is at least as valid for a nonbeliever to (truly) abominate life, for the same reason.

  2. Nice Post. At this festive time of the year, this post brings to mind Scrooge’s remark to Jacob Marley’s ghost. When asked why Scrooge did not readily believe (his senses) in the existence of Marley’s supernatural appearance:
    “Why do you doubt your senses?”
    “Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

  3. Wouldn’t it be more “scientific” to assume that we, like ALL living things, in other words, energy just simply changes form?
    “death is the last experience of life” is inaccurate since life (including humans) is actually just energy. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

    Purely personal speculation:
    Once we “die” it seems most sensible that our energy transfers to another body (reincarnation) since there is an abundant supply, and a pattern/cycle billions of years old is already set in motion. Easy peasy. Welcome to the hamster wheel of life (again). Curiously, just like I can’t recall much of my childhood, hell..I can barely remember much detail from a couple years ago; I can only imagine why I don’t have the capacity to recall the last billion years. My question is is it of intelligent design (sake of boredom) or a design flaw (will our computer brain eventually evolve it’s memory recall)?

    Toodles!

  4. Sorry, this doesn’t make sense in terms of the laws of physics and how nature and energy works.

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