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Interesting subject and post, Michael!

Here's how I see it. I think that fear is always based on past experience. We don't truly fear death. How could we? We can only fear that which we know.

Likewise, we don't fear an eternal life after death. We fear an eternity of that with which we're already familiar: ennui.

Now you might argue that we do indeed fear the unknown. But the truth is, we fear it because we suspect that it will duplicate experiences we've already had, or are currently having. Uncomfortable ones.

(By fear, I'm speaking of phobias that are neurotic. Do animals fear death? Their behavior seems to show that they do, but all we know for sure is that they act strenuously to avoid pain and death. I doubt that whatever fear they feel invades their sense of well-being and distorts their lives, as is often the case with humans.)

So non-believers fear death, but only because they assume the "experience" will be painful—as illogical as this seems. But where fear is concerned, logic hardly matters.

And others fear life after death—and for exactly the same reason. Why? Because they have little familiarity with, or faith in, a state of being that is worth hanging on to. Until, that is, they have an experience like:

"I was suffused with feelings of peace and contentment; perhaps "bliss" would be the better word. All around me was a golden orange field of pure light. I had the sense that this state of existence would continue indefinitely." 

"People who have undergone NDEs, OBEs, certain kinds of psychedelic trips, vision quests, and other transcendent experiences often lose their fear of death and, apparently, any fear of eternity"

It works for me. Not that I ever feared eternity. It's more that it puts you in touch with the "deeper" aspects of yourself that are - at least seemingly - eternal.

"A few years ago I was wondering how anyone could exist "forever" and not go crazy with boredom. That night I had a vivid dream in which I was a bodiless awareness in a humming void. I was suffused with feelings of peace and contentment; perhaps "bliss" would be the better word. All around me was a golden orange field of pure light.* I had the sense that this state of existence would continue indefinitely. "

I had an experience a couple years ago that was similar, except my perceptions were over-taken by sound that morphed in music. Just going and going, ever more soulful and beautiful and just when I thought it could get any more intensely beautiful and the little bit of me (my normal ego) that was left was reduced to something repeating "WOW!" over and over, it go turn up the "volume". This went on for a few hours earth time, but was truly an experience of eternity; an energy filled, ecstatic, infinity that I became a part of and was a part of me.

But that loss of ego was a little frightening at first. Once I surrendered, bliss.

IMO, the key to being ok with all of this is to get past the intellectualizing.

I am surprised that Azarian would even be thinking about eternity,let alone conceptualizing it to the point of fear at such a young age.

"We often hear Skeptics say, "Naturally we'd all love to believe in eternal life, but there's simply no evidence for it." But maybe some of them would not love to believe it. Maybe the idea actually fills them with dread, which could explain why they do their best to dismiss the evidence out of hand."

Suffering is the feeling of being trapped with no escape.

But why dig into someone's motivations? That is done by both skeptics and proponents, and it is irrelevant to the matter unless it overshadows our judgment about the evidence.

I do not understand the fear of eternity. I am afraid that there is no personal afterlife, but I think that does not prevent me from rationally judging the evidence and conclude that it is most likely that there is a personal afterlife.

And then there is the question of afterlife ≠ eternity, because it is conceivable an afterlife that is not eternal, although according to NDEs and mediumship, afterlife seems to be eternal and involves endless adventures, which excludes eternal boredom.

Eric Newhill wrote: "IMO, the key to being ok with all of this is to get past the intellectualizing."
That chimes with the little ditty I posted here about a month ago:

Walk Right In
Unpinned, unhinged,
The door swings wide
On the keyless side

"And then there is the question of afterlife ≠ eternity, because it is conceivable an afterlife that is not eternal, although according to NDEs and mediumship, afterlife seems to be eternal and involves endless adventures, which excludes eternal boredom." - Juan

Boredom is the very least of my worries. I can honestly say that I am never bored . . . . . not even for one moment. If all else fails, I can live inside my head. :)

As I think I've said before, there's no reason we should feel boredom after death the same way we do now even if eternity was an endless progression of years; boredom evolved as a prompt to intelligence and investigating new ways to stay alive, and wouldn't need to stick around when there's no more reason to do that.

Potentially relevant reference; in Pratchett's "Eric", the souls of the damned don't mind being in Hell because they no longer have nervous systems and so can stop feeling pain, so instead the demons start torturing them with boring things; Sisyphus can't roll the rock up the hill anymore until the demon finishes reading out a very long instruction manual to him.

"But why dig into someone's motivations? That is done by both skeptics and proponents, and it is irrelevant to the matter unless it overshadows our judgment about the evidence."

Sounds like you've answered your own question, Juan. :)

I had a similar experience when I was about five or six years old. I wasn't afraid of it all, but I was a little obsessed with the fact that the universe (space) is infinite. I used to think about it how it goes on and on forever, which in some ways seems impossible, and on the other hand, how could it not go on forever?

I still think about it every now and then, and I still can't really wrap my mind around it. I don't think the human mind is made for it.

Most cosmologists today believe the universe is not infinite. If the Big Bang Theory is correct, there's a finite amount of matter in existence, which has been expanding outward ever since the Big Bang.

The current thinking is that the universe is finite but unbounded, as explained here:

http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/247864/signification-of-finite-but-unbounded-universe/247894

Michael said:

"Most cosmologists today believe the universe is not infinite."

But let's put this in perspective. I bet not a single one of those guys in the finite camp would take something like the NDE seriously. These are hardcore materialists.

I believe there is both a rational and irrational component to our fear of death.
If someone is having a great life, the fear of it coming to an end someday is perfectly rational. If on the other hand one is having a crap life, the fear of death is irrational. This must surely be the case, as non-existence is certainly an improvement on an existence full of pain and suffering (we may not be able to imagine non-existence, but we can certainly imagine non-suffering).
There have been periods in my life when the thought of not existing seems like pure bliss. Nonetheless I still feared death, albeit to a lesser degree than at times in my life when I was enjoying life. This suggests the truth of the above statement. The residual fear of death at times in my life when I was having an awful time could be reasonably identified as being the aforementioned irrational component of fear.
So what is it exactly about death that we fear, even when the alternative is pain and suffering? It seems intrinsically contradictory to fear something we cannot imagine, but whilst we cannot imagine the experience of non-existence we can certainly imagine the state of affairs of not existing. Perhaps what we fear is a particular state of affairs (a world where we don’t exist) rather than the experience of not existing.
But why would we fear that particular state of affairs? After all, the world was that way before we were born.
Perhaps a more informative question to ask is: Is the fear of death fundamentally biological, or can we expect all sentient beings to possess a similar fear? Suppose we were to build sentient robots one day. Would they fear death in the same way that we do, irrespective of the underlying technology and structural design? In other words: Is fear of death a guaranteed property of all conceivable forms of sentience, or at least sentient beings experiencing mortality? Perhaps any entity which possesses sentience will fear its own potential non-existence due to some ‘law of sentience’ we currently do not understand.
Does god fear death, or at least the hypothetical thought of it?

But it is more relevant to inquire into the evidence of the afterlife than on the motivations of the people on this subject.

It has never occurred to me to doubt that the fear of death is anything more than a biological drive. Clearly, animals fear death because, like us, they strive to avoid it whenever it threatens. The only difference, I suppose, is that they don't trouble themselves by thinking about it in the abstract.

But it's a good question to ask whether non-biological intelligence would simply look at the prospect of death from a philosophical point of view. My guess is that they would.

"If someone is having a great life, the fear of it coming to an end someday is perfectly rational. If on the other hand one is having a crap life, the fear of death is irrational. This must surely be the case, as non-existence is certainly an improvement on an existence full of pain and suffering (we may not be able to imagine non-existence, but we can certainly imagine non-suffering)."

I disagree. For me a hellish afterlife is preferable to definitive destruction, because it will always be possible to get out of that hell, but not with definitive destruction.

"But why would we fear that particular state of affairs?"

Because once you're conscious, you want to remain that. Even so, I argue that it is more relevant to inquire about evidence of afterlife than to treat this topic.

I was deliberately factoring out the possibility of an afterlife, since the subject we are discussing is the fear of death. I have admittedly taken a slightly different angle to the original post, and have looked at it from the point of view of death resulting in a genuine non-existence. I am by no means asserting this is actually the case, but have used this hypothetically for the sake of examining fear of death from that particular angle. I have done this simply because to many people, rightly or wrongly, that is exactly what death means. So consequently that is how I wish to approach the issue of why we fear death so much. Yes I agree that being trapped in a hellish environment is (marginally) worse than being stuck here on Earth as a human who is undergoing extreme trauma, but I am hypothetically presupposing in my comments that death simply means non-existence.
The basic premise in the previous post was: Non-existence is not a bad thing in an absolute sense, but only relative to a certain quality (or lack thereof) of existence. Given that in general we tend to fear death (non-existence) even in situations when the alternative is perpetual suffering, this indicates an irrational component to our fear. The implicit assumption in the previous posts which I read before posting my reply was that we cannot fear what we can’t imagine (debatable), but I suggested in response that we could nonetheless fear a state of affairs; something we can easily imagine. I don’t take this ‘state of affairs’ explanation very seriously, but was simply trying to think of all logical possibilities.
I think you could well be correct in saying that once conscious we wish to remain so. But is this some kind of automatic consequence of being sentient (which I think is what you are suggesting) or could it be more accurately regarded as some kind of fundamental ‘law of sentience’. It is much more natural and automatic to believe the former rather than the latter. Nonetheless that is by no means certain.

As I said elsewhere, one would think a suicidal insomniac would at least get to not fear oblivion, and yet here and several of my acquaintances are. I don't know what that proves about suffering except that it's sometimes unpleasantly ironic.

If there is nothing beyond death then, surely, the actuality of it is of no concern to anyone.

When we have a general anaesthetic we are completely oblivious to the world. If we never awoke from that oblivion we would know nothing of our condition.

So the only fear, as far as I can see, is the innate fear of death; the fear that has (presumably) evolved to keep us going till our last natural breath.

The only thing that concerns me is the thought of leaving behind people and animals that might need me. And my worst fear is that, should there be consciousness beyond death, I might have to be aware of the suffering of my loved ones and feel utterly unable to help them.

Michael said: "Whether death is seen as eternal existence or nonexistence, it remains the unknown. And people do fear the unknown." Of these two unknowns, nonexistence seems the less fear worthy, as there is no "you" to experience anxiety, depression, etc. Presumably, suicides anticipate nonexistence as an eternal relief from the pain that drives them to take their lives. And, believers in the finality of death claim that death is simply a return to the state of nonexistence that preceded our conception and birth.

Nonexistence is likened to the timeless state of dreamless sleep. Socrates, in his meditation on death, noted that his best nights were those free of dreams. If death be such, he thought, it is a sleep to be welcomed. Raymond Moody observed, however, that dreamless sleep is enjoyed precisely because we awaken from it.

The peace of dreamless sleep is familiar, it is something we regularly experience and, personally, the thought of dozing off and never awakening is rather comforting. Yes, no more joys and pleasures, but no troubles and worries either. Non-existence is 100 percent care free. So, we can comprehend what it might be to sink into a dreamless sleep from which we never awaken.

Michael gives a sound remedy for those suffering from Apeirophobia, that eternity is not an infinite stretch of time. Eternity exists outside of time. This, is eternity, the ever present now. Why worry what my life will be like a million years from now, for that now to come is the same eternal present in which these words are being typed by me and read by you.

"We often hear Skeptics say, "Naturally we'd all love to believe in eternal life, but there's simply no evidence for it." But maybe some of them would not love to believe it. Maybe the idea actually fills them with dread, which could explain why they do their best to dismiss the evidence out of hand."

I do not think that is a relevant reason why skeptics reject evidence. The main reason is lack of *hard* evidence, which is repeatable at will, in controlled lab environments. This is why we must continue to investigate the evidence rather than discuss these motivations.

"Boredom, repetition, and other issues associated with lengthy time periods are irrelevant to a state of existence in which time does not exist."

Some time has to exist. No time implies no consciousness in my opinion. And boredom has no place if there are infinite things to do.

Mark
“I think you could well be correct in saying that once conscious we wish to remain so. But is this some kind of automatic consequence of being sentient (which I think is what you are suggesting) or could it be more accurately regarded as some kind of fundamental ‘law of sentience’.”
Not sure I completely follow what you are saying here. Are you able to elaborate?

in meditation the eternal now is also a state of being that is spoken of.

Rather than an endless eternity, the eternal now is the blissful present moment, constantly being renewed, as if every 'moment' is brand new.

In such a state, 'boredom' cannot be comprehended.

These states are not easy to fathom in ordinary consciousness, which is why people panic about eternity - they are projecting ordinary experience onto states in which ordinary experience does not apply.

Carl, yes certainly I can.
I guess the best way to explain the point I am trying to make is as follows: Scientific theories are generally underpinned by a set of postulates (particularly within the field of theoretical physics). These are statements which are assumed to be true either because they are self-evidently correct or simply because they cannot be further justified within the theoretical framework which they form the basis of. Think of Newton’s three laws of mechanics for instance. These laws are taken as self-evident truths, and not derived from more basic prinicples within Newtonian physics. The logical consequences of these three laws however give rise to the full range of theorems which form Newtonian mechanics. A similar principle applies to pure mathematics. Euclidean geometry is derived from five axioms that are taken as true and do not (and indeed cannot) be derived from more fundamental axioms or principles.
Someone posted above “Because once you're conscious, you want to remain that”, which I think neatly encapsulates the common intuitive way of understanding the fear of death. The basic idea being conveyed here is that a conscious entity would naturally want to remain so, and would not need (or necessarily be able) to justify this from a more fundamental standpoint. To illustrate this point, suppose in the future someone builds a conscious robot, and then tells it they are going to pull the plug. Would the robot get stressed about this, even if it were a mere slave robot condemned to an endless existence of performing mundane household chores, with no quality of life? Further, suppose this robot has inbuilt intelligence to such a degree of sophistication that, unlike humans, it is able to have a complete insight into all its behaviour patterns and motivations. If the robot was then asked why it feared death (assuming of course that it did fear death) would it justify this fear using a type of syllogistic reasoning reminiscent of deriving theorems from axioms or postulates, or alternatively would it simply state words to the effect of; “Well of course I don’t want to die. I am conscious and naturally wish to remain so.” This latter response would suggest that fear of dying is an immediate natural consequence of being conscious, and could not be meaningfully analysed in terms of more fundamental principles.
It is not immediately obvious which one of these possibilities is the correct one. On this current thread both viewpoints have been implied to be the correct one.

Douglas said:

"in meditation the eternal now is also a state of being that is spoken of.

Rather than an endless eternity, the eternal now is the blissful present moment, constantly being renewed, as if every 'moment' is brand new.

In such a state, 'boredom' cannot be comprehended."

Exactly.

"These states are not easy to fathom in ordinary consciousness, which is why people panic about eternity - they are projecting ordinary experience onto states in which ordinary experience does not apply."

I agree. This is what I meant when I said that we don't fear death, and we don't fear the unknown—we fear being trapped within a misery we've already experienced, or are now experiencing. We fear that which we know all too well!

Juan wrote, "The main reason is lack of *hard* evidence, which is repeatable at will, in controlled lab environments. This is why we must continue to investigate the evidence rather than discuss these motivations."

What experiments would you suggest that would provide "hard," repeatable, laboratory-based evidence for life after death?

"What experiments would you suggest that would provide "hard," repeatable, laboratory-based evidence for life after death?"

NDEs under controlled lab environments to ensure that data obtained are not results of known senses, inference or luck, repeatable mediumship at will, devices to communicate with deceased human beings regularly.

"In that unchanging state, there is no past, no future, no time, no measurement, no desire, no frustration. There is only total unquestioning acceptance. Everything simply is. "

What's the difference between that and plain old, vanilla death? If you're in that changeless state you can't be thinking, perceiving or accepting, all of which imply change.

"NDEs under controlled lab environments to ensure that data obtained are not results of known senses, inference or luck, repeatable mediumship at will, devices to communicate with deceased human beings regularly."

I don't see how NDEs could be tested that way, since by definition the test subject would have to be brought to the brink of death.

Mediumship has been extensively tested under controlled conditions, going back to the 19th century, and more recently by Gary Schwartz, Julie Beischel, and the team of Patricia Robertson and Archie Roy, among others. More tests are always welcome, but if 150 years of experiments haven't changed the Skeptics' minds, I doubt anything will.

As for devices that enable after-death communication, the only examples I can think of are the so-called Spiricom device, which worked erratically at best, and various EVP/ITC cases, most of which unfortunately seem to be explainable by "data mining," random noise interpreted as words, or fraud. There may be legitimate cases, but they seem to be very rare and often ambiguous. Still, I agree that this is an area where more work should be done. As far as I know, however, there's no serious work being done on technology-mediated ADCs at present, so there's nothing for this blog to report on.

Another thought. Perhaps in general a conscious entity will not so much fear death as simply prefer to carry on existing? Perhaps it is only biological organisms (at least carbon-based ones) that translate this preference into a fear. So accordingly, the hypothetical robot in my previous post might say “No, I do not fear death, but would prefer to remain conscious indefinitely if at all possible.”

"I don't see how NDEs could be tested that way, since by definition the test subject would have to be brought to the brink of death."

Experiments as in Flatliners movie although they would be morally questionable.

"Mediumship has been extensively tested under controlled conditions, going back to the 19th century, and more recently by Gary Schwartz, Julie Beischel, and the team of Patricia Robertson and Archie Roy, among others."

But these experiments did not show mediums that fall into trance and present the form of being of a deceased, they did not pretend to prove postmortem communications but to study the functioning of mediumship.

Then there is the idea that there is no theoretical foundation for the afterlife; scientists do not usually accept a phenomenon unless they have a theoretical framework to relate it to a scientific discipline.

About the comment of Jake, I agree. Consciousness always implies time.

Mark. I think I understand what you are saying about deriving theorems from axioms but it is not at all clear to me how this could be applied to fear of death. How would that work?

Mark Green, some very good and interesting thinking, thanks!

Michael wrote,

||I don't see how NDEs could be tested that way, since by definition the test subject would have to be brought to the brink of death. ||

B-b-but, didn't you see, back in 1990:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099582/?ref_=nv_sr_2

And you know it's a viable concept, cuz they're remaking it!

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2039338/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

:)

Another thought to throw into the discussion...

Let's suppose for a moment that materialism is correct and after death we cease utterly to exist.

Non-existence involves no mental processes. Thus, I think people tend to imagine that non-existence imposes a kind of eternal burden upon the mind. 10 years from now I'll have to "handle" non-existence, 100 years I'll have to "death with" it, 1,000,000 years from now I'll have to "put up" with it...

The only mental processes we ever experience are those when we are alive. So, wouldn't it be the case, even granting the assumptions of materialism, that we would find ourselves back at the beginning of our lives once we die?

Or, to put it another way, since it's from conception to death that we exist in a particular part of space-time, don't we eternally exist "there"?

This line of thought, however, brings up the question of the nature of time. Does the past truly cease to exist? Or does it continue to exist, albeit in the past? If we confirm the latter, then the question arises as to how the present has the "power" to exist. Time is not a process per se; there is, for example, no gear that we could stop from turning in order to stop time. Yet, per Einstein, we also know that time can be influenced by acceleration, gravity, etc. (e.g., time stopping at the event horizon of a black hole). The idea of the past ceasing to exist, utterly, does not seem Einsteinian and therefore not "scientific," though I don't know what scientists think they know on this issue.

Let me put it another way: if the past does not exist, what makes the present exist? If one says, "Because it's actually now," then I would say, "OK, what makes the now *now*, inasmuch as there is no *process* behind time?"

So let us suppose that materialism is true and the past continues to exist in some sense within spacetime. So do we wake up after death as a baby and do the same things all over again? Well, no, it's not *again.* The thing about consciousness is that we are constantly pushed forward by time and we keep the past in the form of memory. The paradox is that we are always existing "atop" this mountain of memory to which we do not feel we have complete and clear access. Even if there is a "me" who "continues" to exist in 1981, I cannot access him fully. Meanwhile, "he" is blind to the future in which I exist.

In any case, I think theistic and New Age thought take care of this whole problem rather neatly by positing that not only does the past exist but it also remains accessible. And psi does indeed seem to confirm this, and I think introspection about the nature of memory does too.

Further, speculation along the lines of the above leads in the direction of intuitive acceptance of life after death. To me, materialism in some sense posits that we are already dead and lacking in existence, thus making it unclear why we experience consciousness in the first place. Positing the eternal existence and accessibility of information and the indestructibility of consciousness seems to solve a lot of fairly mind-bending problems.

The above is more than a little sloppy, but I hope it will make intuitive sense to someone!

I should say, "To me, materialism in some sense *implies*."

Materialists would probably deny such an inconvenient implication, however.

Carl writes “Mark. I think I understand what you are saying about deriving theorems from axioms but it is not at all clear to me how this could be applied to fear of death. How would that work?”
To start with it is easy to see how syllogistic reasoning can be applied to a purely physical explanation for fearing death. Richard Dawkins provides an example of applying purely physical principles to such fears, arguing in a typically syllogistic fashion how genes will essentially dictate our entire range of motivations and emotions for the sole purpose of genes being propagated throughout successive generations.
I am simply suggesting the possibility of a more fundamental explanation which transcends particular biologies, and perhaps even physical systems altogether. There could well be a huge variety of different sentient life forms scattered around the universe. If we were to encounter the entire spectrum of life across the universe would we find it universally true that all sentient beings intelligent enough to comprehend their own mortality would either fear or be adverse to the idea of becoming non-existent? This of course would not in itself preclude a purely physical explanation, but certainly would suggest an explanation which does not appeal to specific biologies.
Now suppose there are life forms in the universe which are not coupled in any way to a physical substrate. Would we continue to find a fear (even if only hypothetical) of non-existence permeating this non-physical realm. Suppose that even in this non-physical realm, death was a reality. Would these mortal non-physical entities be concerned about their impending demise? If true, then the likely answer to the question of why death is feared would transcend even a physical explanation, and would most likely be inextricably linked to consciousness itself (what else could it be linked to?)
Now suppose this is the case. We might at this stage stop to pause and wonder if the question – why do conscious entities fear death - even has any meaning. Could it be that consciousness automatically carries with it a fear of a discontinuation of consciousness? This is what I mean by an axiom – fear of death cannot be meaningfully analysed by appealing to more fundamental factors. It is what it is. End of.
If this is not the case then surely the answer must be contingent on more fundamental principles. What these principles could be I have no idea. I am not even sure that using words such as ‘axioms’ and ‘syllogisms’ is strictly correct when applied to purely mental phenomenon, but it is as close as I can get to explaining what I mean.
This kind of discourse will probably make very little sense to a philosophical materialist who will see the mental as an epiphenomenon on the physical. In order for this kind of reasoning to appear coherent one would probably have to take the idea of an independent mental realm seriously.
I hope that answers your question Carl

Juan wrote: For me a hellish afterlife is preferable to definitive destruction, because it will always be possible to get out of that hell, but not with definitive destruction.

I totally agree. One of the things that I've always said about the Christian faith I was raised in and now doubt the dogma of. If there is a hell then I have absolute faith that the Holy Spirit/ Christ/ Ground of all being loves me too much to leave me there forever. But, oblivion is forever. That is one reason that materialist so much remind me of fundlmentalist religious people. They thump their great god "science" not as a method to learn but as holy writ or an all knowing entity much as religious people pound scripture. As for eternal existence. Yes, I can get my head around it. Because I already feel I exist and eternity isn't a passage of time. It is being. As a good friend of mine once said before he passed. "I like Being." So do I and I know that he still does.

Matt Rouge makes some excellent observations or food for thought. Matt some of the stuff you posted reminds me somewhat of a British author named Anthony Peake who seems to have some of the same thoughts about starting over or continually living out our lives. I personally do think we are eternal. I'm always kind of struck when I hear (as I heard yesterday from a talking head on T.V.) say "I wasn't alive then" when talking about the past. Does that mean you believe in life after death or something from nothing? I'm very skeptical of the thought that my developing brain is the absolute cause of my whole being. I once said that I thought it odd that we know the brain takes in information (for instance we are told of joy or sorrow or we watch a sporting event to see who wins.) Yet, we are told at the same time the brain isn't a receiver but the root cause of everything. Seems a little inconsistent to me. But, a materialist quickly pointed out that was just "qualia" which honestly? Explained nothing concerning the brain as receiver possibility. :-)

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