What Happens When You Die?

This is day # 6 of 30 days of blogs on philosophy. Over the next 6 days, I will continue to attempt to provide answers to some big life questions as a learning exercise.

What happens when you die?

The short answer is that no one knows. Not me. Not you.

No one has the answer to the question. Even though there are a lot of people who think they do.

When you stop to consider how many people believe in an afterlife, it is actually pretty astounding. There are billions of people, who think that when you die you will go on forever in some other dimension because that is what it says in a book.

I don’t mean to be insensitive towards any religious readers of my blog. I think it is perfectly okay to choose what you want to believe, so long as it doesn’t harm other people. But I want you to be honest with me, you don’t have any reason to think there is an afterlife.

The trustworthy answer to the question “what happens when you die?” is I don’t know.

Nothing can be proven because once you die, you lack the ability to prove anything to people who aren’t dead.  There are people who have come close to dying. Heart attack survivors, who have had experiences of bliss, or of walking towards a light. They may have experienced dying, but they haven’t been dead.

Like every concept, you can debate the meaning of death forever. It could be defined in any number of ways. Whether that is an irreversible state of not being alive, or simply when your heart stops pumping blood. But instead of looking for answers in the tiny group of people with near death experiences, I can look for answers in my own personal experience.

If I am looking for clues for what it is like to be dead, or in another way of saying it, to not exist, instead of looking at anecdotes from a few people who were dead for minutes, I could look at my own experience of not existing.

“Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up… now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep.” – Alan Watts

What was it like to wake up without ever having gone to sleep?

What was it like to come alive? To be conscious for the first time as a child.

Once again the answer is not something you can know. You can’t experience what it is like to come alive because YOU don’t exist until you are alive.

So we all know that we don’t know what it was like to not exist before we were born. This can inform us to say that we probably won’t know what it is like to not exist once we are dead.

But, that isn’t provable. It just seems more likely than the afterlife scenario.

So where does that leave us?

I think that it is safe to say:

  1. We know that we are alive right now.
  2. We don’t know what will happen when we are dead.

And how does that affect your life?

Many of the systems of thought that promote the idea of an afterlife, strongly promote the idea of sacrificing pleasure in life, in order to gain favor for the afterlife.

This is the equivalent of someone with $10 and no ability to ever make more money dumping it into a slot machine with the worst odds EVER.

You only know for sure that you are alive right now. You don’t know how long it will last for, and you don’t know what will happen when it is over.

It makes sense to make some short-term sacrifices in order to plan for a long life because you can see all around you evidence that people are living a long time.

It doesn’t make sense to make sacrifices throughout your life because there is no evidence of an afterlife.

I’m going through these questions to clarify my thinking on them, and hopefully, provide value to others who are reading. If you agree or disagree with me, I would love to hear from you in the comments! Let me know how you would answer this question, or what you think my answer is missing!

1 Comment

  1. I disagree with you on the notion that we don’t, and can’t know, what happens when we die.
    “The trustworthy answer to the question “what happens when you die?” is I don’t know.”
    Well the truth is we have to admit that we don’t know anything with 100% certainty other than the fact that we exist (decartes logic), but that should not stop us from accepting things as true if our certainty is high enough. We will never “know” if there are unicorns dancing at this very second on the other side of the moon. We can never prove this, but that does not mean when it comes to forming a belief on the subject that the most appropriate answer is “I don’t know”. I can use logic and reason to say that I am as sure as anything I can be sure about that those unicorns don’t exist.
    As an naturalist (which atheism is a subset of, at least for me), I am absolutely positive that when we die, the experience is exactly like it was before we were born, specifically the lack of any experience. While I can’t use the experience of death as evidence, I can use the evidence of how the world appears to work as evidence. Take computers for example. We know how computers work, we know their circuit boards are necessary for a computer to turn on. If we go in and smash up the mother board and the computer doesn’t turn on, we know why. With humans, we have so much evidence that the experience we call life, which is so awesome, comes as a result of our brains insanely awesome neuro-circuitry. We that stops working (ie we die), it is completely logical to conclude that any experiences that come from a result of it working stops too.

    I’m passionate about this realization because it’s what got me to realize that I will actually die one day, and while one can sit and be sad about that fact, I use it as fuel to make the most of the life that we have, which you highlight very well in this post.

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