Many of the things we do are contingent upon a hopeful certainty that long after our deaths, the world will persist indefinitely. Presumably, our children will continue where we left off, and whatever achievements we laboured for will leave behind a legacy. In fact, believing the world will continue to exist after your death is the main motivation for many forms of conservational efforts, our ability to put up with great misery and suffering, as well giving life some sense of meaning, if any.
Looking around, there appears to be plenty of reason to believe that life has persistence. Babies are born and slowly grow up, even as the young and old die. It’s a believable cycle of successive replacements, giving a sense of continuity even after we breathe our last. However, as with many theories of the universe and the mind, we don’t have any objective proof to stand by that conclusion. (though we can continue to speculate)
Where the frontiers of human consciousness start and end, science is at its infancy. There is much we now know than we ever did, but far too much of the human mind, whether it’s about romantic love, gender differences or hidden biases, continue to stubbornly remain shrouded from those who seek to pry open its secrets. Still, we know that our brain is the chief architect in engineering our reality. When it fails in this area (through trauma or mental disorders), an overwhelming sense of disconnect starts to fester.
For example, we know of case studies of a woman who feels that her arms do not belong to her or the man who feels trapped in the mind of a female. And those who take LSDs (drugs that alter consciousness) often talk about how it warps their perception of reality in a dizzying euphoria. In The Matrix, though it’s a sci-fi movie, machines can hijack our brains by stimulation to manufacture a false reality. You’d never know the difference between an illusion and the truth. Our mind is so powerful that one cannot help but wonder if any of this ‘reality’ we are experiencing now is genuinely real.
Or consider modern day role-playing games (RPGs). While you may play as the main character set against the backdrop of a rich universe, other non-playable characters (NPCs) have complex background intrigue that can rival your own storied history. These NPCs follow detailed schedules, live out their own lives, may get married and have children. They have their ethical codes, serve their own needs, and will disagree to work alongside you.
At times, their dialogues and your ways of responding to them can be immensely branched and varied. However, despite how believable this fantasy world is, should your character die, the game ends there and then. And would it not be possible that the same holds true in reality? Your death becomes an endless sleep from which everything comes to an end. No more progress is made. Nothing else is known or can be known.
Entertaining such a possibility has a number of consequences. It becomes easier to justify leading a lifestyle of maximising pleasure, often with the intent of putting your own interests ahead of others. A great deal of inspirational quotations lose their veneer and life becomes somewhat more mundane. Perhaps the only reason why any of us struggle so hard is because we take it as a given that life continues after our demise.
But maybe the opposite is also true. If nothing carries over after our death, there’s little reason to stay in grief over our mistakes (though we should still learn from them), no need to over-compensate for our deficiencies, and much more joy to be had in maximising this ephemeral experience with the rare few whose company we so dearly enjoy.
So have you thought about (HYTA) whether the world continues to exist after you die?