Set aside any belief in an afterlife, even the vaguely hopeful “I’ll return to the energy of the universe” sort of view. The realization that your run of life is finite is troubling. At first, when we begin to think about the full extent of our lives, we tend to think of that extent as a short stretch of time found within a very broad scope of time: I exist for several decades within – what? – billions and billions of years. It’s a tiny blip, hardly anything at all. And, automatically, we associate the very short episode called “our lives” with more ordinary episodes, like seeing a movie on a Sunday afternoon. In that case, we enjoy the movie, and after that, we drive home. But then a second realization hits: after this life, there will be no driving home. There will not be anything for us – no recalling of favorite moments, no do-overs, not even a moment of nostalgia. Nothing. That life we just had will be all we ever are, forever. The pit of existential despair opens before us, and boy howdy, does it ever stink.
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I’m with you. I wonder, however, if fear of death is ultimately rational? Perhaps this is something that we are just programmed to fear. Irrational, pointless, but part of our nature. Some philosophers, like Thomas Nagel, have argued for a rational fear of death. Nagel’s argument has to do with death as a privation. I think, however, that this argument fails because it fails to acknowledge that our life is finite and there is a limit to what we can experience, so it must cut off somewhere. Despite this, I think fear of death cannot be overcome or avoided, it can only be faced with courage.
Hi (again) Matt! – You may also be interested in Benatar’s arguments in Better Never to Have Been. It hovers over the same questions, though his argument generally is that life with any amount of pain in it is worse than not existing at all (it’s better for there to be the privation than the life). More here – https://huenemanniac.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/better-never-to-have-been/ . It’s a challenging argument for an unpopular conclusion!