You Can't Think About Nothing

Even though we are convinced that physical death is not the end of your existence, if it is the end should you be frightened by the certainty of your demise? If indeed you cease to exist, you need not fear death, for after your death you will feel neither pain, nor pleasure, nor peace, nor torment. “You” will no longer exist, therefore “you” will feel nothing. The resulting void is just that, a complete and total void.

There is nothing to fear, for there will be no one to experience anything negative. There is nothing to look forward to, for there will be no one to experience anything positive. The only way you can visualize what is usually called a “nihilistic” death is to picture yourself after death as being in the same state you were in before birth (of course you were not really in any state at all). Such a fate would leave nothing to be feared.

Philosophers often speak of the void that would follow physical death without life after death as the abyss, the unknown, the approaching void, etc. All of these suggest that we are on a journey to a “place” which lies at the end of our physical lifetimes. If on our death we cease to exist, this idea that we are traveling to our ultimate destiny is false. We are not traveling to an abyss, the void, or the unknown, for these words suggest that we are moving toward something. I recognize the seeming absurdity of the language, yet if on our death we cease to exist, then “nothing” totally consumes us.

This is the heart of the problem, we cannot in any way whatsoever understand or visualize “nothing”. When we think about “nothing”, we turn it into “something” that can be thought about. The moment we attempt to comprehend or visualize “nothing”, we interject something into “nothing”, preventing us from reaching our goal. The only way we can answer the question “what is nothing?” is to answer it by not asking it, for if we ask the question we destroy the answer.

If we are no more than physical beings, and if “nothing” follows our physical death, then at the moment of our physical death, “nothing”. The possibility of “nothing” absolutely frees us from any concern we may have about a physical life that has an end, and demands that we live for the possibility that there is “something”. We discuss why this is true in the next chapter.

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