Philosophy of Death
Notwithstanding the certain rupture in the continuity of consciousness due to death, or a less certain rupture in that of a soul, we have another uninterrupted flow — that of life and of the world. This flow is the end result of a series of projections and perhaps the work of our mirror neurons. Let me explain. We know that the world doesn’t stop just because someone dies. Most of us middle-aged folks have lost a loved one, and, for all the grief, we know that life went on. So we can easily see that when we die, despite all the grief we may succeed in making our loved ones feel through our sheer good deeds, life will go on. Won’t it?
It is our absolute certainty about this continuity that prompts us to buy huge life insurances, and somewhat modulates the risk-reward analysis of our moral actions. I am not going to deny the existence of this continuity, tempted though I am to do just that. I merely want to point out certain facts that may prevent us from accepting it at its face value. The evidence for the world going on after our death is simple, too simple perhaps: We have seen people die; but we live on. Ergo, when we die, other people will live on. But you see, there is a profound difference between somebody else’s death and your death. We are thinking of death as the end of our consciousness or mind. Although I loosely group your mind and my mind as “our” mind in the previous sentence, they are completely different entities. In fact, a more asymmetric system is hard to imagine. The only mind I know of, and will ever know of, is my own. Your mind has an existence only in mine. So the demise of my mind is literally the end of your mind (and indeed all minds) as well. The world does come to an end with my death, quite logically.
This argument, though logical, is a bit formal and unconvincing. It smacks of solipsism. Let’s approach the issue from a different angle. As we did earlier in this essay, let’s think of death as dreamless slumber. If you are in such a state, does the world exist for you? I know the usual responses to this question: Of course it exists; just because you cannot feel it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. You know it exists, and that is enough. Now, who is this you that knows?
Therein lies the real rub. Once you cease to have a consciousness, be it thanks to sleep or death, you lose the ability to experience everything, including the existence of anything (or lack thereof). Now, we can take the normal approach and just assert that things have an existence independent of your experiencing it; that would the natural, dualistic view — you and everything else, your experiences and their physical causes, cause and effect, action and reaction, and so on. Once you begin to doubt the dualistic worldview and suspect that your experiences are within your consciousness, and that the so-called physical causes are also your cognitive constructs, you are on a slippery slope toward another worldview, one that seriously doubts if it makes any sense to assert that the world goes on after your death.
The world is merely a dream. What sense could a dead man’s dream possibly make?