Death as Extinction: The Only Intelligent View?
Updated: Nov 28, 2019
“A genius is the one most like himself.”
Many intelligent people feel their conclusions about the ultimate bleakness of existence are supported by a scientific vision of the world. It’s a vision they take to be undistorted, rational, and obvious. When we look at a dead body, isn’t it obvious the person has disappeared and that what remains is inert matter? No smile, no twinkle in the eye, no warmth. Isn’t it obvious we no longer get to interact with that person?
To believe the person’s spirit is still alive is just to make up a story. It is to claim that something fantastical and invisible is going on. This, they think, is counter to the sober spirit of Science.
But that something fantastical and invisible is going on is exactly what our most sober Science tells us. Physics now tells us a story about reality that is more outrageous and un-obvious than any novel, movie, myth, or religion has ever made up.
Quantum physics tells us that each of the trillions upon trillions of electrons, protons, and neutrons that make up everything around us is not really a particle at all, but an ethereal and mysterious entity called a probability wave. Humans haven’t noticed this because every time we look at a probability wave, it becomes a particle. Furthermore, each of these countless probability waves is spread across the entire universe. You’re steeped in them right now.
This is not a joke. It's a description of reality backed by mathematical equations, the evidence of exhaustive experiments, and the technology of the digital age. No quantum physics, no microchips.
Physics doesn’t prove anything spiritual. But the story that those who we love are still alive in some form when their bodies die is backed by other kinds of evidence. This evidence is simply not, for the most part, officially recognized.
I believe that those who think there is no such compelling evidence have simply not looked very hard. They have not read books or talked to people that seem to lie on the outskirts of respectability, outside the mainstream, outside the buzz and chatter of society.
It’s true there is much silliness and many kooks in those hinterlands. But like the mythic journeys through dark forests, it’s where you have to travel to find the truth. The journey requires testing, honing, and ultimately relying on your own judgment and inner compass.
Those who don’t make that journey believe more in authority figures—in the recognition and institutions of mainstream culture—than in that inner compass. They allow themselves to be contained by what mainstream culture deems appropriate. Even though, at the same time, they sense that this culture is deeply sick and stifling to their spirit.
And often people don’t make that journey because they are afraid of looking foolish. Many people live their whole lives caged by that fear. Looking foolish feels like a kind of annihilation. Like, in other words, death feels to them.
This is why we venerate people like Robin Williams and many others who can stand up onstage and be themselves—open, funny, free. It’s as though they are born again. They have risked looking foolish. They have passed through to the other side of it and shown there is no extinction.
Rather, there is greater life.
My book, Making Belief, explores these ideas in much more depth.
You can get a copy here on my website or here on Amazon.
Cover photo by my friend, Joe Talosig.