Ask a Skeptic: What happens at death?

Reprinted from Huffington Post 9-Aug 2013

What do you think happens when your time runs out [death]? Does it all go black or something else? — R.B.

My short answer is death is the end of consciousness, of existence. I do not believe there is anything beyond — no heaven or hell, no returning of the spirit, no reincarnation. I don’t believe those things because the evidence for those claims is poor. The evidence is strong, however, that our brain is responsible for our “consciousness,” so when the brain is deprived of the means to function, the sense of self is gone as well as our physical functions ceased.

To some people that seems so cold, final, and unsatisfying. It’s none of those things to me. While I don’t place a spiritual meaning on death, I have a humanist view of it. So here is the longer answer.

I believe that some people, when they undergo the process of death, get to experience the shutting down of the brain that feels like overwhelming euphoria. It’s what people describe when they have a “near-death experience.” It sounds awesome. If you are going to go, it would be great to go with such a cool last experience. While it sounds morbid to look forward to that, death is the last experience of life so, make the best of it.

I’ve come to accept that this life is all we have. Nonbelievers truly savor life because of this idea. We appreciate beauty, a wide variety of ideas, diversity and complexity of nature, and the great achievements made by human societies. The world is a more fascinating place when you comprehend this complexity and how it naturally came to be instead of saying “God did it.”

When I lost my grandmother, my aunt, and even my pets, I am deeply appreciative of their existence and the positive effects they had on me. Their memories remain and influence those of us who interacted with them. I feel that is transcendent. There is no life after death someplace else, your life continues in memories and the influence you had on those around you.

Therefore, I live my life trying to be a good example and a positive influence and to enjoy the time I have here before it all goes black.


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