I am not an atheist. I call myself agnostic because of how much I dislike the idea of nothingness forever. I know that nothing is the most likely outcome of death, but I don’t want to believe it. Maybe it’s silly, but once you’ve had a whiff of mortality, how can you be OK with it?
I don’t mean a brush with death. I mean the epiphany that you will one day not exist. It happens very quickly but it is the worst thing your mind can do to you.
I think most people have had this experience, but some haven’t. It’s odd. I can tell because when you say to these people, “You know those horrible moments when you get a fleeting sense of what it means to die?” They go, “Sure.” So you say, “No, but those moments of deepest terror. You know what I’m talking about?” And they say, “I don’t know. I guess I get sad sometimes thinking that I could die tomorrow with so much left undone.”
And that’s when you know you’re talking about different things.
The first time this happened to me, I was eight and watching The War starring Elijah Wood. The second time I was listening to “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal. I don’t know why either of these things triggered the experience, but they did, and it sure was lousy.
Once you have it, you can’t really un-have it.
I’ve spent a lot of time dreaming up alternatives to oblivion for all eternity. These dreams are not backed up by science proper, but science as a sort of stock character for whom I’ve written a part. That’s why I’m not an atheist.
The most obvious alternative lies in the near-death experience. When the brain shuts off, the chemicals in it give you a good kick into the ether. If your last moments of consciousness feel like Heaven, that’s probably as good as having gone to Heaven. (By the way, 17-30% of NDEs are highly unpleasant, which means that we actually have stats on how many people go to Hell.) There’s just one problem, though: what if you get shot in the head?
So my favourite alternative–and maybe somewhere in the world there is a whacked-out physicist who could substantiate it–posits that each of our lives are permanent bubbles in the universe. This appeals to me for two reasons: One, since I more or less enjoy life, I don’t need to conceptualize a higher plane; two, and more significantly, it hurts so much to know that the best moments in life are gone forever.
Here’s the twist: good moments are rarely as good in the moment. They only come into their own in memory. I can think of many moments that were 7/10 at the time, and now it feels like the end of the world that I can never live them again. The gaping divide between moment and association is one of the most devastating things about being alive. But maybe the two meet in death.
I know this doesn’t really make sense. But maybe it could happen.