Now that I’ve got your attention, let me just say that my title is perhaps just slightly overstated. I probably should have called this article “I’m Pretty Sure I Know What Happens To You When You Die” but that doesn’t have the same ring, does it? Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this question for a long time and I’ve finally found the answer (actually I came upon the answer a long time ago but I was too lazy to write it up).
Before I pull back the curtain on this ancient conundrum, let me just say that the answer is not warm and fuzzy. So if you’re not ok with a little metaphysical tough love then now would be a great time to move on to a more uplifting blog.
Ok, for those of you still reading (hi Mom!), sit back, make yourself comfortable and prepare for some enlightenment. So…what happens to you when you die is…wait for it…
Nothing. That’s right, a whole lot of nothing. You don’t go to heaven. You don’t go to hell. You don’t get to meet god (she’s way too busy for the likes of you). You don’t even get to meet St. Peter. You’re not reunited with your deceased loved ones (although I admit that’s a nice thought). And you don’t get to frolic with angels. You go into a profound state of non-existence.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been there, man. I don’t mean I’ve been dead. I mean I was once before in a state of non-existence. So were you. Remember? Before you were born, you didn’t exist. For a really long time. Six billions years of non-existence – those were some boring times, weren’t they?
No one has any memories from before they were born. That’s because your memory is a product of the rich configuration of neurons you’ve spent your whole life assembling in that hunk of cells called your brain. Without those neurons and some associated biochemical goo, you’d have no memories and there really would be no you. That’s why you have a hard time recalling anything before your birthday.
So given what I think of as me came into existence on my birth date (or thereabouts), when the hunk of brain cells in my very hard head run out of oxygen and die, all those memories and personality taints – everything that makes me me, will die with the rest of my body, at which point I will return to a state of non-existence. All those other theories, which sound so nice and serene, are really just adult fairy tales, designed to make us feel like our lives have some sort of cosmic meaning and that we’re so special that we must somehow live on after our bodies have stopped working.
Some people might say: “Wait a minute, if my life doesn’t have some sort of cosmic significance, why should I bother being a good person? Why not just do all those filthy things I think about doing every 7.4 seconds?”. And the answer couldn’t be more simple: when you do “the right thing”, when you help other people, when you work hard, you get a good feeling. It’s called fulfillment. You don’t need someone to give your life meaning by telling you a fairy tale about some reward at the end of the rainbow. Your life has as much meaning as you choose to give it.
So work hard, have fun, be a good person, help other people, try not to be too selfish and the result is you’ll probably live a happy and fulfilling life. And then you’ll die. That’s just the way it goes. In the meantime, enjoy your state of existence while it lasts. Trust me, the second time through non-existence is even longer than the first. :)