What is so frightening about nonexistence?

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I was wikiwalking on a certain hazardously readable website when I found this in the Real-Life section of the Fridge Horror page:

Take a moment to imagine that there is no afterlife. That there are no souls. That means that after you die... nothing. Absolutely nothing. And even if you get that, it's almost as if you still think you'll be living or you'll get another life. But what if you don't? Then it's literally NOTHING left. When this hits you, it's one of the scariest feelings you can ever have. And the fact that most people on this site are already in their 20s, 30s, 40s etc, it feels like time has flown by and your already half-way through your life. Then take in account the fact that people constantly die from unnatural causes.

I don't understand this fear. There are so many ways that being conscious for eternity could be worse (remember the mind-prison in KOTOR?), even in an afterlife that starts out pretty nice. To me it sounds not much different than the timeless, thoughtless state one is in between closing one's eyes and opening them a few moments later, only to realize that 5 or so hours have passed. What's so bad about that?

Anybody have thoughts on this?

EDIT: Reading further on the page, there seem to be a lot of things that people worry about too much or for strange reasons. Getting scared into veganism from the realization that you're made of meat as well? Isn't that like being afraid of nuclear fission because you're all atoms too?

I guess because nonexistence is foreign to us. Everything we have experienced in our lives, heck, EVERY SINGLE ASPECT of our lives has been nothing but existence. Even those dream worlds that may exist in our minds are in existence, albeit only in our minds.

Nobody has ever experienced nonexistence in their lifetime, as life is nothing but existence, so of course it's a bit difficult to comprehend fully. The idea that the afterlife will be nothing but eternal darkness, except you can't see anything so it won't be darkness and that you won't be experiencing it and... Yeah... It's actually quite a bit to wrap your head around.

I think it stems from a fear that everything we do in life is pointless unless we have the ability to confirm our actions have impacted later generations.

I'm open to the possibility of an afterlife or reincarnation and once I die, if nothing exists beyond death, I won't have a consciousness that can regret my beliefs anyway.

McMullen:

To me it sounds not much different than the timeless, thoughtless state one is in between closing one's eyes and opening them a few moments later, only to realize that 5 or so hours have passed. What's so bad about that?

It's kind of funny that this statement is extremely similar to my religion's definition of hell. Not my personal definition though, but I'm not exactly the best example of the church's faithful.

-Dragmire-:

It's kind of funny that this statement is extremely similar to my religion's definition of hell. Not my personal definition though, but I'm not exactly the best example of the church's faithful.

If you have no objection, may I ask what religion that is? I'm curious.

I think part of the problem is a misunderstanding of the premise. From what I've seen, it's incredibly common for people to interpret 'nothing after death' as 'your consciousness still exists and for the rest of eternity you have nothing to occupy your still lingering mind', as opposed to the idea that you simply cease to exist. But even that has a degree of fear that it inspires. Think of the general fear of death. Same idea, often the same rationale. Except in the case of oblivion it's even more permanent.

I don't "believe" you will be concious after you die, in a rather dark way of thinking, all of our memories, our personalities, are just the cells in out brain sending chemical and electrical impulses so when you die, your conciousness also ends.
In my conclusion, that is true eternal peace, a release from thought. This is my way of getting over the fear of death, that there is nothing to fear.

Well, what definition of "frightening" are we using?

Death means losing every single thing we love on the most fundamental love. Yes, we won't know we're missing it while we're dead, because we've lost even the mind to realize it, but we enjoy it while we have it, and that's what matters.

Some people see the bright side of life and existence even on the smallest level. Which is why death can be so horrifying. Because even the smallest level of existence does not exist. While these people like life so much they look past suffering and only see the bright side. For death, there is no "bright side of at least existing".

These people who simply like existing and don't want the process to end, enjoy simply being able to see, hear, feel, smell, and think on some level. And losing all of them would be a loss. And once you lose the ability to be conscious on some level, on everything. For someone who simply enjoys being conscious and existing on some level, losing all consciousness and suffering brain death is worse than typical psychological or physical suffering. Because there's nothing to look on the bright side of.

I think that people who trivialize nonexistence and put it below suffering are often people who are first world citizens who haven't struggled to live, and live past things. People who are blind or struggle to live daily do so because merely living is an enjoyability for most people far beyond suffering. The rewards of being conscious and mentally alive are beyond the suffering of struggling to eat daily, survive AIDS, be blind and deaf, or ect. And why death is so scary or "frightening", or a generally disturbing idea.

Many people say dying isn't that bad. But would you kill yourself if you went blind, went deaf, contracted AIDS, or had to struggle to eat? I personally wouldn't and I can't relate to the mind that would.

Fear of the unknown; it's oldest and most universal fear of mankind.

Unlike most other fears which we can face and ultimately comprehend, true death is irreversible and thus cannot be experienced first-hand and comprehended truly.

It's easy to act pragmatic and state that it's just the termination of a cycle of matter (which is clinically true, yes) but such answers often fail to satisfy the truly curious, and create yet more questions (and entire philosophies meant to address the irrational nature of our sentience, or existence).

McMullen:

EDIT: Reading further on the page, there seem to be a lot of things that people worry about too much or for strange reasons. Getting scared into veganism from the realization that you're made of meat as well? Isn't that like being afraid of nuclear fission because you're all atoms too?

I for one am terrified of nuclear fusion and fission. They're called nuclear bombs.

OT: The end of existence is not something that bugs me. An eternal consciousness would be terrifying. Eternity is the most unfathomable construct we have, no matter what the eternity is, you would eventually lose your mind, but you'd eventually get bored of that too. Yes, you would get bored of being insane. In the end(of this train of logic), the thing you would desire most is an end.

McMullen:

-Dragmire-:

It's kind of funny that this statement is extremely similar to my religion's definition of hell. Not my personal definition though, but I'm not exactly the best example of the church's faithful.

If you have no objection, may I ask what religion that is? I'm curious.

Sure, Catholic.

Many people think of a golden cloud city when they think of a Catholic heaven and a fiery pit filled with lava for a Catholic hell but, unfortunately, this is the (from my memory of grade 9 religion class... it's been a while) definition they go by:

Heaven: a state of blissful consciousness after the body returns to the soil(dies) that is fully aware of God's presence(and nothing else).

Hell: a state of consciousness after the body returns to the soil(dies) that is not aware of God's presence(or any presence, basically).

EDIT:

WouldYouKindly:

McMullen:

EDIT: Reading further on the page, there seem to be a lot of things that people worry about too much or for strange reasons. Getting scared into veganism from the realization that you're made of meat as well? Isn't that like being afraid of nuclear fission because you're all atoms too?

I for one am terrified of nuclear fusion and fission. They're called nuclear bombs.

The sun also uses nuclear fusion, without it we wouldn't exist.

That being said, I'm afraid of getting terrible sunburns...

WouldYouKindly:

McMullen:

EDIT: Reading further on the page, there seem to be a lot of things that people worry about too much or for strange reasons. Getting scared into veganism from the realization that you're made of meat as well? Isn't that like being afraid of nuclear fission because you're all atoms too?

I for one am terrified of nuclear fusion and fission. They're called nuclear bombs.

OT: The end of existence is not something that bugs me. An eternal consciousness would be terrifying. Eternity is the most unfathomable construct we have, no matter what the eternity is, you would eventually lose your mind, but you'd eventually get bored of that too. Yes, you would get bored of being insane. In the end(of this train of logic), the thing you would desire most is an end.

Oh, there are (or, for the most part, were) good reasons to be afraid of fusion and fission, just as there are good reasons to become a vegan. It just seemed that of all the reasons to avoid meat or nuclear power, being composed of a variation of the same raw material that is never actually used in either industry is an odd one.

Because people generally don't want to stop existing.

I don't see how much simpler it could be put.

It's anticipation is all.

If people are so worried about it all ending so fast, or that they are careening unstoppably into entropy's bosom, stop and think for a moment if you aren't simply speeding up that process by dwelling on that topic more than it deserves.

Though, if the inevitability of it may inspire apathy toward life and how you use it, at the very least consider that there -are- still going to be people coming after you. If you aren't going to live your life to it's fullest conclusion, why not try to leave a positive impact on those around you?

As to the OP...yeah, like that. Only your eyes probably won't be opening again.

It's a fear of the unknown and the inability to comprehend the state of not having a consciousness. Even though the basic elements from which you are made will continue existing, you as a person will not and we're scared of that because we cannot comprehend the state of "not being". It's similar to thinking what's outside the Universe in the sense that no matter how much you actually ponder you'll never truly grasp the concept. Since we are unable to form a conclusion using logic we resort to emotions and therefore a completely different type of thinking.

For example, try and think of nothingness. You can't, because your mind cannot comprehend such a concept. To our brains, the idea of "nothingness" is downright bizarre. In an attempt to understand it we project what we can understand unto the things we cannot understand and eventually make the assumption that even nothingness is a state of existence. When logic fails we resort to emotions. The conclusion might not be logical but it doesn't matter because you can understand it.

It's the same with death. We cannot comprehend a state of nonexistence and so we project what we do understand, existence, unto something we cannot understand, nonexistence. This is why the belief in an afterlife is so common in our society. The conclusion might not be logical but you're content with just being able to understand something which your mind simply cannot grasp.

.

ninjastovall0:
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Because it would look like that.

The dead don't mind being dead. You know, being dead and all.

So why should I? I reckon they've got more experience with being dead.

Now dying, there's a scary thought. But death? Meh, no problems there.

I had a dream when I was about 8 or 9, about death and the afterlife. You know what the scariest part of that dream was for me? The full realization that if there was an afterlife, that it would be for eternity. I found the very concept of being in the same place forever, no matter how blissful or how many of my loved ones were around, to be terrifying. It's funny how even back then, I found nothingness to be the more comforting post-mortem outcome. Looking back on it, I'd say that was probably my first big nudge down the road to becoming atheist.

I think it just comes from the inability to wrap my mind around not existing. The entire world basically exists to me through my own senses. The idea of being blinked out of existence like that, the whole universe might as well have ended. It is not something I actively worry about but it would indeed suck.

ninjastovall0:

ninjastovall0:
.

Because it would look like that.

That's not scary.

I'd imagine it would be like falling to sleep. You don't know exactly how much time will pass before you wake up.

The sole reason fairy tales focused on the "after life" exist are because human beings have an incredibly hard time coming to terms with the fact they just won't exist one day. We're selfish and our brain thinks selfishly, so it's hard to grasp - especially for smaller minded folk.

That's a huge part of the reason religion existed. Along with the need for a patriarchal figure to structure their life. Humans like the sense of order and purpose, so making up a God seems pretty great.

Anyway, being dead will be like before you were born.

McMullen:
-Trope'd!-

Non-existence, eh? Never really contemplated it. Didn't have to. I read Descartes. He did all the work for me. Not really what I call a 'fear' thing. Don't really understand how you can be afraid of literally nothing. I thought they told me there was nothing to fear but FEAR itself, not fear to nothing itself. Have you noticed that I'm rambling? I think I'll cut myself sho-

It is less of a fear of nonexistence and more of a fear of the unknown.

(My captcha was upside down wtf)

Who cares. I have nothing to complain about all of those billions of years before I was born, so why should afterward be any different?

Your nonexistence upon your death should not bother you any more than your nonexistence before birth. Mark Twain said something along these lines...

Existence is preferable to non-existence?

Just that we have no idea what it feels like and can't really fathom the idea of non-existence. That being said, I'm not scared of non-existence. If it has to happen, it has to happen.

McMullen:
I was wikiwalking on a certain hazardously readable website when I found this in the Real-Life section of the Fridge Horror page:

Take a moment to imagine that there is no afterlife. That there are no souls. That means that after you die... nothing. Absolutely nothing. And even if you get that, it's almost as if you still think you'll be living or you'll get another life. But what if you don't? Then it's literally NOTHING left. When this hits you, it's one of the scariest feelings you can ever have. And the fact that most people on this site are already in their 20s, 30s, 40s etc, it feels like time has flown by and your already half-way through your life. Then take in account the fact that people constantly die from unnatural causes.

I don't understand this fear. There are so many ways that being conscious for eternity could be worse (remember the mind-prison in KOTOR?), even in an afterlife that starts out pretty nice. To me it sounds not much different than the timeless, thoughtless state one is in between closing one's eyes and opening them a few moments later, only to realize that 5 or so hours have passed. What's so bad about that?

Saying that a conscious eternity COULD suck worse does not change the fact that a nothingness eternity WOULD suck.

The idea bugs me a bit because of several reasons:

- Considering all the good and bad times, I love consciousness, its rewarding. Its real and I do not want to miss out on the fruits of life, especially if I cant sit back and enjoy remembering my life in a place like Heaven (hopefully not hell). Yeah I am a christian, just not a strict one.

- As a christian I like to think all the good decisions people make are not for nothing. Otherwise being selfish is the pragmatic way of life and donating or helping someone without expecting a reward or same treatment simply means your a fool. I sure don't want that to be true. And vise-versa I do not want horrible people to go completely unpunished.

- I like to think our human race is more special than the animals on this planet etc. Would be good to know if we do have souls that either re-exist or enter an afterlife

- Its difficult for me to comprehend why and how the universe exists with its complex life forms, evolution and behavior without a meaning we could theorize, guess or ever find out

So yeah, keeping all those factors in mind I get a bit intimidated by the idea. But I still shake it off quickly by realizing I am still young and assume I have plenty of time before worrying. I wonder if I will have a crisis with it in the future :/

Asita:
I think part of the problem is a misunderstanding of the premise. From what I've seen, it's incredibly common for people to interpret 'nothing after death' as 'your consciousness still exists and for the rest of eternity you have nothing to occupy your still lingering mind', as opposed to the idea that you simply cease to exist. But even that has a degree of fear that it inspires. Think of the general fear of death. Same idea, often the same rationale. Except in the case of oblivion it's even more permanent.

I think this is what most people (or at least, atheistic people) imagine when they try to comprehend death. The problem lies that the act of imagining is inherently opposite of death.

AndyFromMonday:
For example, try and think of nothingness. You can't, because your mind cannot comprehend such a concept. To our brains, the idea of "nothingness" is downright bizarre. In an attempt to understand it we project what we can understand unto the things we cannot understand and eventually make the assumption that even nothingness is a state of existence. When logic fails we resort to emotions. The conclusion might not be logical but it doesn't matter because you can understand it.

That's the reason right there, except not quite. Because I can and have managed to imagine nothingness. It might be because I'm a really deep person who has never stopped contemplating and exploring ideas with my mind for my entire life, but I did it. I'm only able to do it with great effort, and it only lasts for a few tenths of a second before the mind rejects it, because it is too terrifying to grasp for any serious length of time. It is THAT scary, when I first managed it I lay awake on my bed for five minutes with an elevated heartbeat.

I believe that any atheist who is not afraid of death does not truly understand what it is. Being able to think about nothingness on an intellectual level can only take you so far, your mind has to truly experience it through strict control of a powerful imagination before you can truly understand it.

It can sometimes help to try it on a grander scale. Riddle me this; why is there something rather than nothing. Let that sink in, try to grasp an absence of absolutely everything.... Oh God I did it just then by accident. It manages to be far more terrifying than even death.

Just keep trying, and eventually you may see what I mean.

Its the fear of the unknown I think. But really... I do have to agree that any kind of afterlife would suck. Why?

Well... look at the Christian concept of afterlife for starters (would go into some other examples, but I'm not familiar enough with them to comfortably do so)...

its either eternal happiness or eternal agony.

Both would get incredibly boring after a while. Juxtaposition is what makes life interesting.

Similarly, even if we could sort out the inevitable population control issues associated with true immortality, life would get completely pointless. To quote a character from VTMB... "Life would be stagnant and agonizing, the only emotion would be existing..."

TakeyB0y2:
I guess because nonexistence is foreign to us. Everything we have experienced in our lives, heck, EVERY SINGLE ASPECT of our lives has been nothing but existence. Even those dream worlds that may exist in our minds are in existence, albeit only in our minds.

Nobody has ever experienced nonexistence in their lifetime, as life is nothing but existence, so of course it's a bit difficult to comprehend fully. The idea that the afterlife will be nothing but eternal darkness, except you can't see anything so it won't be darkness and that you won't be experiencing it and... Yeah... It's actually quite a bit to wrap your head around.

Wonderfully put, this is basically why some people think it's scary.

I think they went over this in Hamlet. The "To be, or not to be" speech.

i can't even begin to think of something without a consciousnesses i might be misusing the word here please correct me if i am. consciousnesses is what we are, when we sleep without dreams remember that, but its like your first memory can't remember anything after that. now your stuck like that, not losing consciousnesses but never having it again, not going all black just not there. no colors, no feeling, no thought, no understanding, nothing. you can't even fathom that.
Thank Lord jesus christ, i don't believe in that, but then eternity of life that scares me too
-_-'

C-Mag:
snip

My original post focused mostly on a persons interactions with the unknown and how things we don't understand make us think differently, be it logically or emotionally. I don't want to delve into this discussion but still, I don't believe it's possible to imagine nothingness. Not only do we not have a concrete definition of what nothing "is" but we have never seen it and therefore anything we actually imagine as "nothing" cannot be what it actually is.

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