End of the Road

Time and darkness, the greatest equalizers. One takes everything to the same form, while the other makes form irrelevant.

Lost are we the children of electricity. We go to sleep in our impure darknesses clothed in flickering electronic lights, our silent digital sentinels watching through the fake night. For this is not the pure night our fathers came home to over geological ages, this is not the pure ancient darkness of the universe they learned to hold close as they slept.

And learn the lessons from this we shall. For this only means that the final equalization into formless darkness and endless time shall be abrupt, unfamiliar, uncaring, for the universe slows down for nobody. And no mercy or patience shall be shown to excuse our brick, iron and electronic hideaways where we fled life all our lives.

That is what is waiting at the end of the road. All our roads end at that one point. Formless darkness. Endless time.

And all your lights and firework and expensive digital sentinels are but a successful commercial distraction while you wait. Congratulations, you’re alive.

The Death of Consciousness

Up until a couple of years ago, I had a pretty strong conviction that some grand, strange things happen after we die. A sort of ultimate union with the source in which all consciousness become one and individuality and identity are lost forever. I used to imagine it as a grandiose play of bright flowing lights in a space of otherwise black nothingness.

My ideas have changed since. They may change again, and even change back, but as of now they are different. I still don’t know, of course, what really happens after we die. No one really can at the moment, but one possibility I had not considered at all sounds pretty valid to me now.

Have you ever fainted? I have never fainted, but I hear that when you come around, it’s as if you enter into light again from an unmeasured period of complete blankness. As if you had simply left for somewhere. This is different from sleep. We drift off to sleep and drift out of it. We dream in it. I don’t know about others, but I have an approximate sense of time even as I sleep. When I wake up, I can roughly tell how long I’ve been sleeping. I’m more accurate in the order of minutes, and not so much when I’ve been sleeping for hours. But at least the errors are of the same order as that of the duration of sleep. It’s like a CMOS clock that keeps ticking after you turn off your computer. So sleeping is not a complete blank, except in the special case of people with a specific brain injury that renders them incapable of dreaming. They have testified that sleeping for them is a period of complete blankness, which even causes them to always feel unrested.

What is blankness? It will undoubtedly be difficult to describe it, for our language is built with the purpose of communicating conscious experience, which blankness is the absence of. To put it simply though, a period with no conscious experience whatsoever must be a period of blankness. What is it like? Again, by its very definition, it cannot be like anything because you never feel it. You are nowhere when it happens. You just come around later with no memory of it whatsoever. I don’t know if you retain a sense of time passed after you recover from a fainting, but from things I have heard, I don’t think so. It’s as if someone just cuts off the flow of time at one point and stitches it to another point some time down the line, and you miss whatever happened in the story of the universe in the middle.

Thus, blankness is physically achievable, whether via fainting, brain injury, going into a coma, or some other mechanism. Even though it may be an experience many of us have never had and thus cannot even imagine (I don’t think there’s anything to imagine about it even if you’d had it), it is undebatably possible. And people have come back from it and described it as complete blankness, devoid of experience or journeys or revelations or other worlds.

So why isn’t it possible that the experience after death is just that? Just nothingness? It is already evident that spending time without any conscious experience of anything is possible. With death this state just has to continue forever. If it is quite possible for you to ‘be nowhere’, why not in death? Why is it so difficult for some, including my past self, to believe that?

Almost the whole of what we call this enigmatic consciousness is shaped and structured by our raw sensory perception. Our consciousness, supposedly abstract and transcendental of our physiology, nevertheless turns out to be a collection of inward imaginings of various physical stimuli. We can think, you say, which has nothing to do with our senses. But what do we think? We think images, happenings, things in motion, colour and sound, time flowing and events unfolding as we perceive them in our mind through much the same routes that are analogous to our raw physical senses. We cannot imagine feeling a magnetic field or ultraviolet rays or perceiving another thinking mind. No matter how much we claim our consciousness to be transcendental of our physical senses, we cannot imagine any experiences outside the standard sensory perceptions.

If our consciousness, the only kind of consciousness that we all know personally, is thus so tied down to our biology, then when that biology demonstrably stops working at what we know as death, why shouldn’t our first assumption be that consciousness also switches off right there? If a problem with a small part of our physiology can evidently cause us to faint and switch off our consciousness, why should we expect that with absolutely no part of it working any more, we shall have experiences and meet people and go places? That we shall be judged for our actions in our lifetime, and accordingly be sent to different destinations? It sounds just like life all over again, with conscious experiences deriving from the same sensory perceptions we are used to, and logical decision-making abilities, except without the service of any of our physical senses or our brain whatsoever. Isn’t that weird? Isn’t there a problem here? Now think of all the religious war we have fought over the things that supposedly happen once we’re dead and how many consciousness-es we have snubbed out in the process.

The more I think of this, the more my favourite little theory of the grand bright uniting lights falls apart in  a hundred sad little pieces. I am known to cause myself these unhappy things, armed with just a keyboard.

But indeed, why are we so easily persuaded to believe that there exists experience after our body has stopped working? Why do we, after an entire lifetime of continuous real-time proof that our consciousness is inseparable from our physicality, expect it to just carry on after death? Is it because we fear nonexistence? I, for one, do. Although I cannot put down simply why one should fear it, it is a deep-seated fear among many. But I have a hunch that it is a baseless, irrational fear. It is not simply a fear of the unknown, as some would opine. I do not, for example, as far as I can tell in my limited self-analysis, have a fear of the unknown. I think it is instead a fear of estrangement, of being torn away from all that we know and love and depend on. Familiar people, things we like to do, and all that we love about the world. These are things that exist, and they will be absent in nonexistence. The only limited substitution we can imagine for nonexistence is thus complete solitude, in a stifling static blackness. But it is, as we see now in the light of the discussion, a false picture. For in nonexistence, one cannot oneself exist. Experiencing nothingness, in the form of static blackness, is not non-experience. If there is no experience, one cannot experience this nothingness either. Thus, there can be no loneliness, no estrangement, no sadness. There can only be nothing. Sadness therefore lies only in our moments of thinking about a false picture of nonexistence, not in nonexistence itself. So what are we finally worried about? Should we worry at all? One moment you’re here and you’re happy with everything around you, the next moment you’re not there, you’re not anywhere. What’s to worry about? It’s completely twisted, this fear and deep sadness that we have built around the prospect of death.

In conclusion, I still don’t know if this is what happens after death, but it sounds like a likely possibility, and also by Occam’s razor I suppose any alternate, more elaborate theories can be dumped in favour of this one. In the end nobody can be sure. But we’ll all find out anyway, won’t we?

What do you think happens after death? Why do you think so? Hit me with your thoughts.

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Edward’s Death

‘I’m going away.’

This text reached seven people within a few minutes of half past two in the night of the last Tuesday of September, 1999.

All of them had been sent simultaneously from a cell phone number that switched off two minutes later.

With that, Edward commenced the process of witnessing his own death. And the effect of his death on the people around him. Relatives, friends, lovers, haters.

Edward wanted to find out what he really meant to people and what they inwardly thought of him. Realizing that his existence was an unavoidable hurdle in this evaluation, he had finally decided to take himself out of the equation.

Nobody had ever done this before, because nobody was sure they could hide today in a world so small for the rest of their life. But Edward had spent time working it all out.

As the phone sank into the cold midnight waters of the Pacific, Edward walked away from the moonlit beach, a bleak, unremarkable figure, receding slowly into the late night drizzle, giving himself up to the waiting darkness of the forest.

The Death of a Dirty Little Sewer Rat

There was a dirty little rat that fell down a sewer pipe once. This happened because it was a sewer rat.

In the beginning the pipe was wide and it fell straight down. Then it bent into a horizontal bit. The rat couldn’t climb back up, so it kept crawling on its dirty little feet along it, hoping to find a way (sewer rats are stupid) and then suddenly in the darkness it fell again through another vertical bit. Its hind legs had slipped first, so it fell head upwards. This bit of the pipe grew narrower down, and at one point the dirty sewer rat got stuck.

It was too freaking fat to slip any further down, and its legs were all stuck so it couldn’t climb back up. It was dark everywhere, the walls were moist and smelly and the air heavy and foul, but I don’t think rats mind that.

Its legs were all bent and crooked really tight against the walls of the pipe, though, and it must have hurt a lot. I can’t tell.

It tried to move, jerk its spine around, but this only lodged it deeper and tighter into the pipe. Its legs hurt much more, and there now wasn’t enough room for its little body to swell for it to breathe.

It stayed that way for some hours. As it breathed, its weight slowly made it slip a tiny fraction down, further down, tighter and tighter.

Then came the water, because that’s what sewers are for. There was so little room around the rat that the dirty gurgly sewer water choked up on top of it and the rat was about to drown. But slowly it trickled through gaps around it and the rat could breathe again out of the water. At the time it was under the water, it had swallowed quite a bit of it, wretched creature, and some dirty food alongside that comes floating in sewer water. That’s why rats live in sewers in the first place.

This way it went for days. The dirty rat was lodged in the pipe tight enough for it to hurt a lot and to only allow very shallow, very frequent breaths, but just loose enough not to kill it. The water, when it jammed on top of it, receded through the holes around it just as the rat was about to drown. The morsels in the sewer water were just enough to keep the dirty thing alive. When the sewer clogged from below and water rose slowly up from the bottom, it used to stop just below its snout. There it used to lie for hours, the dirty sewer rat, unmoving, eyes under the dirty dark water, nostrils breathing the foul dank air.

I don’t know if it wanted to die. But even if it did, it couldn’t. It was stuck on the border between life and death, slightly to the side of life, unmoving.

And thus the sewer rat kept being, head up all the time because it had no choice. It lost all senses of its forelegs a few days down, then its hind ones. There was only impenetrable darkness all around. But there were sounds. In the day, through the hollow iron pipes would arrive echoes of the outside world. People walking on the street, the honking of cars, the scurrying of other rats around the sewer system. These scenes had been a daily routine once, and now the rat could only link them to those pictures in its little dirty head as it lay stuck in the unforgiving, unfriendly, uninterested darkness.

A few weeks down, when the dirty mite had shrunk to a thin layer of skin over its skeleton, and slipped even more down the pipe, it realized it was rotting from the bottom up. This is natural, as sewer water is very good for decomposing things. But I don’t know how it was, really, for the rat, to feel its bottom half again after a long time, as the parts inside its body that had retained sensation were now exposed and being eaten through by the same water that provided nourishment.

I think it took a week or so for the rotting to spread to enough organs to kill the dirty little sewer rat. During these days, I don’t know what it used to think all the time. You’d have to think something, I guess. Every waking moment you must think something. I don’t know about rats, but we must. I just wonder what it used to think all the time, the great unmoving time. That’s all I wonder.

Dawn

So I was thinking, when dawn breaks, what really happens?

There’s a blueness before dawn, on some days. Everything, the streets, trees, the pavement, is blue. Take a deep breath, it’s like inhaling life.

And night, I wanna talk about night, and perhaps darkness.

Isn’t it magic, and how thoroughly strange, that there was a round blue rock going around in an inert universe of dead atoms, a universe unconscious and unobserved. Excuse me, I’m a bit unfocused today.

Then there were molecules sticking to each other in a soup. Of course there was nobody to see or report, so it could well have been different.

But let’s say there were these long sticky molecules, and those molecules changed over time, and now here we are, those molecules, with our smartphones and cloud computing.

Isn’t the universe inert, dead and unobserved any more? What’s changed?

I believe there’s a strange sphere in the Oort cloud watching over us. It’s only a few millimeters across, and with a wall of liquid radon. Inside it there goes on something that our Physics cannot explain, because our Physics was written inside that orb.

I think event horizons are like dying. We’re all curious about what’s on the other side. You can go across, but cannot come back. You cannot pass any information through about what it’s like. And you don’t wanna go in. Watching someone go across feels like forever. Yeah, that sounds like death.

Guess what, the blueness is breaking outside now. Another sleepless night.

I once tried to imagine a world without time. This is the way I thought:
If there’s a world without the x-dimension, it just means everything in the world has the same x-coordinate.

Do this with time, and you’ll forever be stuck in a moment. If you try to move around, you’ll create infinite copies of yourself. Worse, they would already be there, because there is just one moment. All your thoughts from all points of time will always be simultaneously present in your head. You won’t be able to tell which point of time it is. There shall be no causality, no doing anything for any purpose, no stories, no loss or grief. Either you shall never grow old, or your pre-birth, life, your death and beyond shall coexist in you.

There will be no blueness when dawn breaks. If there is any, it’ll always be blue with the dawn breaking, and you can’t tell it’s beautiful because you haven’t seen anything else, and so cannot imagine anything else. It shall be obvious, like an axiom.

This obviousness about things is something I wanted to put in a word about.
I believe that this world is too strange to take for granted. There is a pristine, virgin, unbelievability to it that we rape everyday with our nonchalant attitude towards it. A rock, a plant, a star. Don’t bat an eyelid. But go glassy-eyed over the latest PlayStation.

Laugh about it today. Laugh at mankind. At society, the whole lot of which goes to sleep at the same time.

We have left ourselves no time to be surprised at clouds and ants and bicycles. The unliving, the living, and the unliving born of the living. Don’t you think the idea of spectacles is peculiar and funny, forging bits of metal to hold bits of silica always in front of your eyes to bend the light off objects differently? Don’t you think it is marvellous? Wake up! Tear out that skin of frigid obviousness into bloody tatters and climb out. Let the magical molecules of the fresh air of this magic world pinch every point they touch. Feel the unbelievable world raining down on you.

Now the blue has given way to white. It’s morning, and I have no more business staying awake.

Take care.