Advice

On struggling with mortality

Dear Coquette,

I struggle to accept my own morality and have become obsessed with the work of Aubrey de Grey. I am even counting on his research succeeding within my lifetime, and I think this expectation is unhealthy. I know you just recently covered mortality, and while I’m not having panic attacks, I’m still terrified. I’m in complete denial of death, and I’m having trouble accepting the fact that de Grey’s research could very well fail, or not be finished within my short existence. What advice could you offer someone who knows there’s no afterlife to look forward to, but still won’t accept mortality?


Every generation has an eccentric doctor with a wacky beard who thinks the human species can thwart the aging process and cheat death. Aubrey de Grey is just a 21st-century John Harvey Kellogg.
 

That’s not criticism, by the way. Extending human life is a noble pursuit, and I like Aubrey. He’s got some really fantastic ideas and an even more fantastic beard, but please don’t let him fool you into thinking you can live forever. The average lifespan isn’t going to skyrocket into triple digits any time soon. Sorry, dude. Inevitability is a bitch, and one day, you are going to die.

I know. It’s scary. You’re born pink and helpless into an infinite universe. You experience a narrow, self-centered consciousness still very much tethered to its lowly reptilian origins. If you’re lucky, the gray meat behind your eyes keeps warm long enough for you to experience about 40 million minutes of self-awareness. That’s it. That’s all. When the blood stops flowing to your skull, your consciousness will simply cease to exist.

Don’t worry. You won’t feel a thing.

Seriously, though. Stop being so afraid of death. Let go of your fear. Not to belittle the impending abyss, but it’s really no big deal. The vast sea of nothingness after your die is no different than the vast sea of nothingness before you were born, and yet you’re not the least bit terrified of what happens before birth. Why, then, are you so terrified of what happens after death?

You’re only freaked out because you have a limited understanding of the causal arrow of time and an ego that relentlessly insists upon itself. You can’t help but notice the clock ticking, and your ego can’t handle the idea that the clock eventually stops. Thing is, that’s probably going to end up being a silly way to view what it means to die.

The fact that the clock is ticking in the first place is most likely going to turn out to be a limitation of our skewed perception of reality. I’m not saying time doesn’t exist. I’m just saying that human beings have a pretty crappy track record of making assumptions about the true nature of the universe.

Hell, it took our species about 99% of its existence just to figure out that the planet we lived on was round. We’ve made some lovely improvements since then, but I think our current linear interpretation of time is also merely a stage in our cognitive evolution.

If we humans are lucky enough to develop and get a peek at that next level stuff, I have a sneaking suspicion that one day, asking what happens after you die will be similar to asking what happens after you walk off the edge of the Earth.

Of course, this type of frivolous philosophical pondering isn’t going to change the fact that every last living creature is eventually going to kick the bucket. Consciousness will end, and our egos will all be annihilated.

The trick to accepting your mortality is to annihilate your ego before death does it for you. That’s what all the religious and spiritual teachers are trying to tell you to with their myths of resurrection and rebirth. They understand the value of being able to die before you die. Once you’ve done that, you can live happily with no fear of death.

It would be great if de Grey’s research eventually proved successful and we could all live for a thousand years, but all that extra life won’t bring you any more enlightenment and inner peace until you’ve faced your fears and come to terms with your own death.

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