7 minute read
November 7, 2018
A collection of short essays compiled from the 52Weeks series between September 29, 2018 and November 3, 2018, curated here to document our theories of existence. See the related short essays, Life.
Because of its nebulous nature there is difficulty simply writing about death, but in the coming weeks we will take a brief opportunity to consider the nature of our end. While not a cheerful topic, we consider it captivating, and necessary to consider if we want to stay grounded in life.
Despite its simplicity, we do not know what it means to die, and to even begin to comprehend first requires a discussion of the origin of life, to provide sufficient background for contemplating its destination. More to come.
It is necessary at some point in his life that he comes to feel from the fullness of himself—even if for only a short moment—that this unconscious preference and love that he has for an impermanent human existence, as well as the wrong value and importance he attaches to it, are nothing but a kind of hypnotic state from which he must struggle to awaken and free himself—a state having its origin in the collective thinking and mind of humankind.
Origin of Awareness
After the universe began, innumerable rocks found places among an infinite number of stars, among them scattered different elements from which different life forms have likely emerged through a process similar to the evolution on Earth, but depending on local conditions. So, just like here, the occurrence of life in the universe is nothing more than a certain arrangement of matter being in the right place at the right time.
It is no coincidence that life on this planet evolved based on oxygen and water. Over the eons since Earth found a place orbiting our sun, these elements coalesced from the matter dispersed here, their abundance and stability being favored by the conditions borne from Earth’s position in our solar system. Eventually life sprang forth, first simple, and then, over time, gradually more complex as it evolved to compete in the ever-changing primitive environment.
As life has evolved, so has its perception. Because its origin is material, consciousness has developed over time, and it is as much a part of life as oxygen and water. Yet, even though it germinated from matter, it is immaterial and unique – a paradox that has baffled us since the beginning.
A conversation about death requires consideration of both life and awareness, so we next contemplate the evolution of consciousness to understand the condition of its end.
Evolution of Consciousness
Our awareness is probably the result of a random mutation eons ago. It was carried forward in our species just like any other physical trait, and probably exists in other species, too. Maybe we developed a consciousness to buffer our increasingly complex minds from the onslaught of random environmental information, or maybe it was just a fluke, who knows — but we can be sure its generation and retention depends on matter, just like the rest of us.
My conception of our awareness is totally organic. The model I subscribe to does not involve a third party, but I do believe our consciousness evolves, both individually and socially:
As technology changes our lives, we are now transitioning out of an era of biological evolution, and humans are entering a period of fine-tuning. Effectively, our species is finding its identity in the same manner a maturing individual gains insight. And while outliers hold back the slow progress we are making, eventually we will evolve to the point our species, as a whole, is sufficiently aware of itself that we can move on to a later period of evolution by choice through logic. Clearly we aren’t there yet.
Despite how we romanticize it, our consciousness is fairly simple. It accounts for everything we know about ourselves and the reality around us. Without it we wouldn’t even be aware we exist.
So what exactly happens when it ends?
Cessation of the Mind
Death has been a question since my grandfather died when I was eight. I have always been confused by the Christian life process, and could never relate, particularly to the storyline for how I would see him again, a consideration which, even before ten, I never acknowledged. My problem with Christianity has always been the duality of death: either we will eternally suffer in hell or thrive forever among our loved ones — but nothing in between — and I never believed in it.
Thirty years later curiosity about Eastern philosophies gave me a much better perspective and isolated me even more from my Catholic roots, but not even Buddhism resolves the death concept because I do not believe in reincarnation or any spiritual recycling.
Perhaps it’s a simpler concept than we think. In my construction, life originates only from local materials, so death is simply a return to our initial state of nothingness, an absolute end. Our hope for transcendence probably comes from the fact that we sleep and go through regular unconscious periods, seemingly returning from the void every day, giving us the illusion of cycles.
The human brain fills in the gaps of our ignorance. It deceives and placates us with narratives to explain why we are alive by occupying our existence with thoughts and rabbit holes. Take all that away, and what’s left but the random, meaningless coincidence of our consciousness?
But, maybe I’m wrong, too.
Perspective and Fallacy
If the aspirant cannot muster in himself the inner courage patiently to face and suffer again and again the truth of what he is in himself, with all his open or hidden negativities, ill will, conceit, laziness, instability, stupidity, unreliability, and so on, then his sadhana will not have fulfilled its true function for his transformation. Edward Salim Michael Even though we share the same reality, our minds each render an independent perception of life. If we each experience it differently, what does that make reality?
Death is equally subjective, and your conception of it is just as valid as mine. What is more important is that we live without depending on the definition of what that means because, no matter what happens at its end, life will change. Death is the only constant.
Regardless of its meaning, the uncertainty of reality brings paradoxical hope for the future: next week we explore our potential escape from the end of the universe.
The Future in My Logic
Most of our current dogma says consciousness is borne outside us. But what if my construction is closer to the reality of it, and human awareness is only a product of our mind? At least then living things could potentially control its own destiny within the realm of the physical universe, and our descendants might find a way to transfer their consciousness from one entity to another using future methods that mimic our biology. Living beings might have the capability to preserve the mind so it survives indefinitely, or at least long enough to compound sufficient knowledge to overcome known physical limitations, including at the galactic or even dimensional levels.
But, no matter how advanced we become, as organisms our hazards are numerous. If we don’t destroy our planet, one day the Sun will end it, and if we do manage to find another home and survive over the eons, the universe itself will finally contract into its periodic recombination of all matter; all things will inevitably die. Or, so we think.