Friday, October 7, 2011

What Are You Afraid Of

Fear! Besides the need to eat and the urge to satiate our carnal lust, it is the most present remnant of our animal nature. As this blog is largely about me and my opinions I figured I'd share with you, my most modest readership, my biggest fear. As I'm fairly sure most of us have shared this fear at some point in our lives, I'd like to begin by discussing...THE DARK!

Now, I'm not afraid of the dark, and I haven't been for a long time, but it's a starting point that I think we can all relate to. So, think back to when you were afraid of the dark (or just imagine for you select few weirdos). Remember that it wasn't actually the dark you were afraid of? You were scared of the things that were hiding in the dark. The monster under your bed (sure it was just dirty socks), the shapeless beast in your closet (also known as your winter coat). And woe be unto you if you had a tree outside your window during the winter. Street lights or other ambient light casting eerie shadows through your window that looked like the hands of a wicked witch reaching out to grab you. This fear of the dark, or rather the fear of what lurks in the dark is the one enduring similarity we have with our Paleolithic ancestors. And because our "fight or flight" response is so strange (it does the same thing whether you want to fight or flee) it is also the greatest motivating force of humanity... what is beyond what we see?

Imagine if you will a man sitting in a dark moonless wood. He hears an owl...but he's never seen one! "What is that thing making that noise?" he says. With the advent of fire to cast light into the darkness he can finally figure out what that noise is. And knowing what it is, he no longer fears it...unless what he heard was a which case he knows to run for his life! The point is, darkness draws us in and keeps us firmly rooted in place, depending on our individual dispositions. With time, we grow accustomed to our surroundings...we learn where things are, what they are, what makes that noise, and we no longer fear them! As a kid I didn't like getting out of bed at night...even with the night light plugged in (I had a Garfield night light that was awesome). But now...even in pitch blackness, I'll get up, walk to the door, open it, walk through the house and go to the fridge without a hesitation! You know what I'm talking about... being beyond "feeling your way" or counting out steps, but just having the layout of your home in your head and navigating it as though it were perfectly lit!

But what is the greatest unknown in human existence? That's easy..."what happens to us when we die!?" THAT, boys and girls, is my greatest fear! Not dying... pain or fading or blaze of glory, the act of becoming dead doesn't bother me...but, being dead! Think about it...if you can! Let's assume for the moment that there is no such thing as an afterlife or reincarnation or any such thing. From a purely biological point...once you're dead, it's over. The human body is essentially a chassis for transporting our consciousness, and when it dies...the cart and power supply for the computer that is the human brain is kaput! No more stimuli affect your brain because your brain is no longer operational. It's worse than going to sleep. Rendering yourself unconscious is (usually) a temporary state. And even then, your subconscious mind is busy at work in the form of dreams...and making your heart beat and your lungs breathe... and there's a generally accepted understanding that you'll eventually wake up!

But what happens when all of that stops? Imagine not hearing, not seeing, not feeling, not tasting, not smelling...complete sensory deprivation. Then add on not feeling your heart beating in your chest or breathing... got all that? OK, now don't think...not a single thought... it's impossible! But if you manage it for even half a second...that's what I imagine hell truly is! Forget lakes of fire and the gnashing of teeth. Forget eternal torture...that I could deal with. But absolute nothingness scares the shit out of me! My last breath isn't the problem, it's what happens afterwards...

Now, I don't want to get into a theological discussion (at least not this week), but strictly from a physical, scientific point of view, what do you imagine happens? We know that certain connections are made in the brain, neurons and synapses and such, that provide for us what we call knowledge and memory. But what happens when the sand is no longer pouring through the hourglass? What are we then? A (relatively) uniformly organized conglomeration of elements... "We are all star stuff" to borrow a phrase? Not at all comforting with out the metaphysical constructs of consciousness. We are legion, each a nation unto ourselves (I'm pretty sure I borrowed that phrase too)...but discounting whatever marks we may have left on the world at the time of our passing, what is really left? 

That scares me! A last great adventure! (just borrowing phrases from all over the place now) The ultimate unknown! We can't just go and come back. But it's there...the horizon we all cross eventually! And honestly, I can't imagine a time when I'll ever be ready to go on that journey! 

What about you? What do you think happens after we're dead? What prerequisites do you have for shuffling off this mortal coil? (legitimately!)

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